Socialism For Realists

I recommend reading Sam Gindin’s paper “Socialism for Realists” to be found in the current issue of the relatively new socialist journal, Catalyst. Sam spent most of his working life as a union economist and assistant to the President of the CAW, and writes often with Leo Panitch, most notably as co-authors of The Making of Global Capitalism.


I will not attempt a summary here, except to say that Sam tries to sketch a plausible framework for what a socialist economy might actually look like. By “socialist” he means that the economy would be mainly based on public ownership of the means of production (with a role for small enterprises and for different forms of public ownership), plus meaningful worker control at the workplace. His main focus is on how to strike the needed balance between state economic planning, and decentralization of decision-making to workers and their enterprises.

He stresses that any conceivable socialism will not exist in a post scarcity world and that serious collective decisions will have to be made on what to produce, how to divide output between public and private consumption, and how to divide productivity gains between rising consumption and shorter working time. A strong state will clearly be needed, albeit that the state can become much more democratic and some important decisions can be left to local authorities.

Markets will play a role within a feasible socialism, though as an element in overall planning. A labour market and wage differentials will continue to exist in a context of much greater income equality, some form of guaranteed income or employment, and a high social wage in the form of collective goods and services.

Perhaps the most original part of the paper is a reflection on how sector councils and linkages between them might build a bridge between worker controlled enterprises and central planning.

Hopefully, the paper will be widely read and debated. It challenges even democratic socialists to be much more ambitious, and will resonate with those who agree with Sam that being anti-capitalist is not enough, and that we need some kind of model of a possible future in mind to inspire a strong political movement for radical change.

One quibble — as acknowledged by the author, there is no discussion of how a planned economy would fit into global capitalism, or for that matter, of the feasibility of global socialism. I suspect the framework is only relevant if an economy has a high degree of internal coherence and self-sufficiency, as in the immediate post War period, which will in and of itself be very difficult to achieve.


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