Editor’s Note: Notes on Socialism. This paper explores the history and types of Socialism.
Socialist economics starts from the premise that “individuals do not live or work in isolation but live in cooperation with one another. Furthermore, everything that people produce is in some sense a social product, and everyone who contributes to the production of a good is entitled to a share in it. Society as a whole, therefore, should own or at least control property for the benefit of all its members.”
The original conception of socialism was an economic system whereby production was organised in a way to directly produce goods and services for their utility (or use-value in classical and Marxian economics): the direct allocation of resources in terms of physical units as opposed to financial calculation and the economic laws of capitalism (see: Law of value), often entailing the end of capitalistic economic categories such as rent, interest, profit and money. In a fully developed socialist economy, production and balancing factor inputs with outputs becomes a technical process to be undertaken by engineers.
Market socialism refers to an array of different economic theories and systems that utilise the market mechanism to organise production and to allocate factor inputs among socially owned enterprises, with the economic surplus (profits) accruing to society in a social dividend as opposed to private capital owners. Variations of market socialism include Libertarian proposals such as mutualism, based on classical economics, and neoclassical economic models such as the Lange Model.
The ownership of the means of production can be based on direct ownership by the users of the productive property through worker cooperative; or commonly owned by all of society with management and control delegated to those who operate/use the means of production; or public ownership by a state apparatus. Public ownership may refer to the creation of state-owned enterprises, nationalisation, municipalisation or autonomous collective institutions. The fundamental feature of a socialist economy is that publicly owned, worker-run institutions produce goods and services in at least the commanding heights of the economy.
Management and control over the activities of enterprises are based on self-management and self-governance, with equal power-relations in the workplace to maximise occupational autonomy. A socialist form of organisation would eliminate controlling hierarchies so that only a hierarchy based on technical knowledge in the workplace remains. Every member would have decision-making power in the firm and would be able to participate in establishing its overall policy objectives. The policies/goals would be carried out by the technical specialists that form the coordinating hierarchy of the firm, who would establish plans or directives for the work community to accomplish these goals.
1. Planned economy
A planned economy is a type of economy consisting of a mixture of public ownership of the means of production and the coordination of production and distribution through economic planning. There are two major types of planning: decentralised-planning and centralised-planning. Enrico Barone provided a comprehensive theoretical framework for a planned socialist economy. In his model, assuming perfect computation techniques, simultaneous equations relating inputs and outputs to ratios of equivalence would provide appropriate valuations in order to balance supply and demand.
The most prominent example of a planned economy was the economic system of the Soviet Union, and as such, the centralised-planned economic model is usually associated with the Communist states of the 20th century, where it was combined with a single-party political system. In a centrally planned economy, decisions regarding the quantity of goods and services to be produced are planned in advance by a planning agency. The economic systems of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc are further classified as command economies, which are defined as systems where economic coordination is undertaken by commands, directives and production targets. Studies by economists of various political persuasions on the actual functioning of the Soviet economy indicate that it was not actually a planned economy. Instead of conscious planning, the Soviet economy was based on a process whereby the plan was modified by localized agents and the original plans went largely unfulfilled. Planning agencies, ministries and enterprises all adapted and bargained with each other during the formulation of the plan as opposed to following a plan passed down from a higher authority, leading some economists to suggest that planning did not actually take place within the Soviet economy and that a better description would be an “administered” or “managed” economy.
2. Self-managed economy
A self-managed, decentralised economy is based upon autonomous self-regulating economic units and a decentralised mechanism of resource allocation and decision-making. This model has found support in notable classical and neoclassical economists including Alfred Marshall, John Stuart Mill and Jaroslav Vanek. There are numerous variations of self-management, including labour-managed firms and worker-managed firms. The goals of self-management are to eliminate exploitation.
One such system is the cooperative economy, a largely free market economy in which workers manage the firms and democratically determine remuneration levels and labour divisions. Productive resources would be legally owned by the cooperative and rented to the workers, who would enjoy usufruct rights.
The economy of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia established a system based on market-based allocation, social ownership of the means of production and self-management within firms. This system substituted Yugoslavia’s Soviet-type central planning with a decentralised, self-managed system after reforms in 1953.
3. State-directed economy
A state-directed economy may refer to a type of mixed economy consisting of public ownership over large industries, as promoted by various Social democratic political parties during the 20th century. This ideology influenced the policies of the British Labour Party during Clement Attlee’s administration. In the biography of the 1945 UK Labour Party Prime Minister Clement Attlee, Francis Beckett states: “the government… wanted what would become known as a mixed economy”.
4. Market socialism
Market socialism consists of publicly owned or cooperatively owned enterprises operating in a market economy. It is a system that utilises the market and monetary prices for the allocation and accounting of the means of production, thereby retaining the process of capital accumulation. The profit generated would be used to directly remunerate employees or finance public institutions. In state-oriented forms of market socialism, in which state enterprises attempt to maximise profit, the profits can be used to fund government programs and services through a social dividend, eliminating or greatly diminishing the need for various forms of taxation that exist in capitalist systems. The neoclassical economist Léon Walras believed that a socialist economy based on state ownership of land and natural resources would provide a means of public finance to make income taxes unnecessary. Yugoslavia implemented a market socialist economy based on cooperatives and worker self-management.
The current economic system in China is formally referred to as a Socialist market economy with Chinese characteristics.
The Socialist Republic of Vietnam has adopted a similar model, but slightly differs from the Chinese model in that the Vietnamese government retains firm control over the state sector and strategic industries, but allows for private-sector activity in commodity production.
Edited by Hariharan Kumar