Inicio > Economía marxista > “The plan versus market controversy in the Marxist tradition”: Stavros Mavroudeas

“The plan versus market controversy in the Marxist tradition”: Stavros Mavroudeas


This paper surveys the ongoing saga of the relationship between plan and market within the Marxist Political Economy.The first part studies the early soviet controversies on this subject. Two opposing main poles are recognised: the first is represented by Preobrazhensky and the second by Bukharin. Furthermore, the theoretical foundations and the implications for economic policy of these two approaches are being clarified. The second part surveys the socialist calculation debate. The third part analyses the Sweezy-Bettelheim debate on the nature of the Soviet Union and the plan-market contradiction.Finally, the last part describes the latest debates on market socialism and attempts to review the positions taken in all the abovementioned debates with regard to the plan-market relationship.   


The relation between plan and market holds a central position in the Marxist discussions on the transition from capitalism to socialism. In this sense it has an obvious relevance to the problems of economies purporting -rightly or wrongly -to be socialist and their transformation back to capitalist (market) economies. Most of these Marxist discussions hinged upon concrete socio-economic problems, namely the nature and the problems of the so-called socialist countries. It is not in the scope of this paper to opine on the nature and the problems of these countries, so it will consciously abstract it. In contrast, attention will be paid to the theoretical problem of the relation between plan and market, and more specifically whether market has a place in a socialist economy. The main issues underpinning this relation are being brought forward. Finally this paper attempts an overall review of the different phases of the debates.

The abovementioned debates derive from a noticeable lacunae in the Marxian legacy concerning the nature of socialism. Marx -in stark contrast with the Utopian socialist tradition -has avoided to draw detailed plans for the socialist society, with the exception of certain suggestions for the society of the freely associated producers beyond capitalism. For Marx the precise character and the detailed operations of the socialist society would be the outcome of historical concrete conditions and of the conscious decisions of its social forces. Notwithstanding, Marx has left a number of significant theses concerning the general aspects of a socialist society.

According to Marx in socialism social production should be organised collectively, consciously and planned by the immediate producers themselves. The immediate producers should recognise social needs and allocate the necessary productive forces accordingly. This process should take account of the necessary proportionalities between the departments of productionand between the sectors and branches of the economy. The products of the different production units should not be exchanged through market but they should be allocated consciously* for this reason there are not commodities. The same holds for the labour-power. The immediate producers contribute through conscious and collective processes their ability to labour. Each immediate producer contributes to the total social labour according to his abilities and receives a part of the social product according to his needs. Thus in socialism the separation of the immediate producers from the means and the outcome of production is being removed. Production is socialised directly -in contrast with the indirect (through market deformations) and exploitative (through the appropriation of surplus-value by non-producers) socialisation of production in the capitalist m.o.p. Marxian socialism is conceived as a “society of free and associated labour” with no state, no commodity production and no wage labour.

Additionally to these general characteristics, Marx in his ‘Critique of the Gotha Programme’has deigneated the general phases of a process of transition to socialism. In this he distinguished between a lower stage and a developed stage. During the former the means of production are socially owned but the means of subsistence are divided in two parts: one provided through non-market social channels and the other bought in the market. Thus, all the means and the outcome of social production have been socialised directly, with the exception of labour-power. At this stage immediate producers do not contribute collectively their labour-power but exchange it individually and privately. Therefore, the labour-power -and consequently a part of the means of subsistence that enter the private consumption of immediate producers -is a commodity. So a market exists at the lower stage but this operates on a non-exploitative basis (i.e. without the use of wage-labour and on the basis of exchange equivalence). In this case all productive forces are directly socialised, with the exception of labour-power. The renumeration of labour follows a form of the law of value -exchange equivalence according to labour effort -but this is purged from relations of capitalist exploitation and its subsequent derivatives (general rate of profit, production prices etc.). In popular terms, every immediate producer contributes to social production according to his abilities and receives an equal part of the social product.

In the developed stage -communism -labour-power is also directly socialised and therefore means of private consumption are being allocated through non-market channels and without following exchange equivalence. The abovementioned general characteristics of the socialist m.o.p. are fully developed at this stage, market is totally extinguished and social plan is the regulator of social production and income distribution.

The Marxian general elaborations have provided a framework but they do not have closed the question about the specific relations pertaining to socialism. As theory -and the labour movement’s social praxis and historical experience -advanced, the question re-appeared with new characteristics each time.

A number of possible answers to the plan-market riddle in socialism has appeared in the literature. A once very popular thesis was that market relations are just a left-over of the capitalist past, it has no organic relation to the set of social relations of production pertaining to socialism and they, therefore, should be -more or less gradually -eliminated. Another position -popular, during the last phases of the so-called socialist countries, both within govermental and oppositional circles -was that market relations are integral part of any viable socio-economic system. Hence market or quasi-market relations are necessary for socialism. Models of Socialist market or Market socialism are the outcome of this approach. Finally, a different line of approach argues that socialism passes through different stages and the plan-market relation is contradictory but also dynamic. This approach follows Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme distinction. However, its different trends have to answer -and indeed differ on that -whether a developed socialist economy has a place for market.

Artículo completo en pdf: The plan vs. market controversy in the Marxist tradition

Categorías:Economía marxista
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