Among American socialists, “market socialism” (a publicly owned economy relying mainly on the market mechanism for its allocative decisions) has
commonly been considered a misnomer—when it has been considered at all. But in France a faction of the Socialist party, supported by close to 40 percent of the membership, advocates a form of socialism in which market forces would play a major role. It’s an old story that in the Communist countries of Eastern Europe it is considered “progressive and even radical to advocate greater reliance on markets.”
Now at last there are signs of interest in the U.S. From May 1978 on, for over a year, In These Times held an extended discussion on market socialism, beginning with three articles by Leland Stauber and continuing with readers’ responses. And in a recent Dissent, Michael Harrington came close to investing the market with a primary role, in his “What Socialists Would Do in America—If They Could” (Dissent, Fall 1978).
Harrington writes that “a transitional socialist society would make full use of the virtues of the market mechanism….” It is true that he speaks of the market almost exclusively in relation to consumer goods. On the other hand, nowhere does he indicate any substitute mechanism for allocating the factors that go into the making of consumer goods. He expressly rules out a system of “centralized command planning with the bureaucracy setting thousands of prices and production targets.”
Harrington would combine the techniques of French-style “indicative planning” with a wide extension of democracy. National priorities are to be determined through input by nongovernmental groups, which are guaranteed free access to professional research facilities and to the mass media, as well as by public and worker representatives at all
levels of corporate decision-making. This combination is taken to be a way of overcoming the tendencies of a market economy to respond primarily to profit considerations, and to get it to respond to social priorities. The techniques of indicative planning include: collection and analysis of data, wide publicity, discussion among the various sectors with representatives of owners, managers, technicians, labor and government and, finally, projection of the goals and targets, of a “Plan.” B