Friday, September 9, 2011

Johanna Bockman's "Markets in the Name of Socialism"

Johanna Bockman is Associate Professor of Sociology and Global Affairs in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at George Mason University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Markets in the Name of Socialism: The Left-Wing Origins of Neoliberalism, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Markets in the Name of Socialism does pass Ford’s test, though the reader would probably need information from the previous pages to understand it. On this page, I am talking about the Yugoslav system of worker self-management socialism, a new kind of socialism developed by the Yugoslavs after Joseph Stalin expelled them from the Soviet bloc in 1948. Yugoslav leaders envisioned a socialist society in which companies run by workers competed on markets and in which the state would soon disappear. Yugoslav leaders began to decentralize and dismantle the state and to put the companies in the hands of the workers in the hopes of creating stateless communism. This vision set into motion reforms in the 1950s and 1960s. While these reforms had limited success in Yugoslavia, they inspired others around the world.

In the book, I follow discussions in Eastern and Western European countries about various kinds of socialisms – worker self-management, market socialism, stateless communism, and so on – which right-wing conservatives later distorted into arguments for capitalism and against socialism. Surprisingly, Yugoslav economists, like Branko Horvat discussed on page 99, and other Eastern European economists often did not use Marxist political economy in their work analyzing and building socialism because they understood Marxism as a critique of capitalism not a blueprint for socialism. Instead, they used the same economics that was and still is mainstream in the United States: neoclassical economics. These economists understood the free market models assumed in neoclassical economics as only realizable in a socialist society. Free markets assume numerous firms competing on a somewhat equal terrain, not the large corporations with their authoritarian management structures found in capitalism. On page 99, I discuss Branko Horvat’s views: “capitalist firms in reality did not act like the model of a purely competitive firm” and the worker-managed firm and the Yugoslav form of socialism “provided a better environment for competitive markets than capitalism did.” Such economists’ interest in neoclassical economics and socialism brought together economists from the socialist East and the capitalist West, including the United States, to discuss their common professional work. In 1989, Eastern European economists thought they might finally get rid of Soviet state socialism and realize radical reforms to create truly free markets and truly liberating workers’ power, but elites around the world rejected these plans, coopted and distorted the ideas from these socialist discussions, and mobilized them for neoliberal capitalism.
Learn more about Markets in the Name of Socialism at the Stanford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue