Building Socialism

CFP: 'Science & Society' special issue

In the face of capitalist triumphalism, with its seemingly endless vistas of polarization, poverty, alienation, crisis and ecological catastrophe, the classical Marxist theory of socialismand communism remains the only credible alternative vision for human development. Yet the experience of the post-capitalist societies of the 20th century, inspired by Marxism, was clouded by the narrow technical, political and cultural foundations on which they were built. Their genuine achievements were marred by authoritarian and repressive qualities, qualities that were in turn aggravated by continuous external isolation and aggression.

In this context, recent Western literature on socialism has been dominated either by a retreat to a minimalist "market socialism," alone thought to have a future in a world whose horizons are dominated by capitalist values and realities, or by a return to the stirring but imprecise imagery from the classics of Marxism - viz., calls for the "abolition of the law of value" and for a "society of freely associated producers." Unsatisfied with either of these alternatives, we believe there is a deep need for renewed work on socialist theory that has a firm basis in both historicalexperience and Marxist political economy, work that faces up to the difficult challenge of outlining the actual structures and institutions of a possible future socialist society. Thus, we call for contributions to a special issue of Science & Society, with the working title "Building Socialism Theoretically: Alternatives to Capitalism and the Invisible Hand."

An evident premise of this endeavor is that socialism, unlike all earlier modes of production, including capitalism, must be visualized; it does not develop spontaneously, fully grown, within the old society, requiring only a political revolution to confirm developments already in place. Socialist movements, in turn, cannot ask their adherents to struggle and sacrifice for a new form of society only on the basis of vague appeals to the values of equality, solidarity and democracy. The hard questions concerning what might be built to replace capitalism must be confronted directly.

Our starting point is the salutary advance by Marx and Engels away from the Utopian Socialisms of their time to the adoption of a scientific foundation for socialism, which places it firmly in the train of social evolution and seeks to identify its material basis in the actual development of capitalist society. In insisting upon the need to visualize socialism, we distinguish forcefully between utopian and scientific visualization. Put another way, the utopian moment is negated by scientific socialism, but it does not disappear. Rather, it is incorporated as a source of the "passionate possibilities" (Marx) on the basis of which the scientific visualization of socialist reality can proceed.

The focus of the issue will be on models of socialism that go beyond the general principles developed by classical Marxism, in the sense that they are structurally and institutionally well-specified. Authors are encouraged to discuss how the institutional frameworks they envisage address: a) the issues of calculation, motivation and discovery that have been identified in the experience of the Soviet model of administrative command planning and in the socialist calculation debate; b) the classical socialist principle of replacing the ex post coordination of the invisible hand under capitalism with ex ante coordination through economic planning under socialism; and c) the traditional socialist objectives of equality, non-alienated social relationships and self-government. Papers on the historical materialist conditions of different stages in possible transitions from capitalism are also welcome.

The Guest Editor of the issue is Pat Devine. Working deadlines are: proposals, July 1, 2000; papers, October 1, 2000. Anticipated publication date is: Fall 2001. Proposals, inquiries, abstracts and papers should be sent both to the Guest Editor at address shown below and to the S&S Editor.

Posted: 11 February 2000