A response to “don’t markets allow for more freedom of choice than planning by some central committee?”

Some ancap (“anarcho”-capitalist) came onto the MLM Communism 101 Facebook group and eventually put forth this question. This was my response.

There are a lot of mistaken assumptions in your question. Let me try to do them really quickly.

1. Free markets are never coming back. All we will ever have from this point forward are cornered markets divided between monopolies, or planning.

2. Even in the era of free markets 375 years ago, the freedom of choice was only for those who had money–the overwhelming majority of people producing the goods for sale were doomed to an even more brutal existence than they had been living as peasants, and they could never afford them.

3. Freedom of choice is a misunderstanding of the nature of freedom. If I can live in this soul-destroying suburb with a tropical design scheme or that soul-destroying suburb with a midwest design scheme, and I don’t give a fuck about either, what good is this choice? What good is the addition of twenty additional design schemes if my only option is suburbs? This is the kind of choice presented to us under capitalism: difference that doesn’t make a difference.

What makes freedom meaningful is the choice between things that hold meaningful differences between us. If all the human beings on this planet grow up psychologically malnourished, all the idiosyncrasy in each individual is dulled. The choice of who we’re friends with, whom we love, etc. etc. is all less meaningful. If we grew up in a society that oppressed no one, and gave literally everyone all the resources that they need to truly flourish, everyone’s idiosyncrasies would be given fertile soil to blossom into their own unique fruit. And everyone could enjoy that fruit, and be inspired by that fruit. We would have a society whose richness and diversity and harmony-through-diversity are inconceivable to us today. As Marx put it, “the free development of each would be the precondition for the free development of all.”

We cannot have this kind of society without a planned society.

4. The history of the socialist countries of the 20th century is complex, and it is incredibly unlikely that you have an accurate picture of it.

Super-rich capitalists run our society. They control the media, the education system, the think tanks, and basically all official and commonplace apparatuses for generating and spreading opinions. They have control over commonsense and “obvious” understandings. This is who taught you how the USSR was, and how the People’s Republic of China was.

I am a Maoist, I hold that the USSR thru the 50s and the PRC from 1951 thru 1978 were a genuinely new type of society, and that after those points they simply returned to capitalism.

I think if you examine those eras compared to what came before or after them, or really to any other point in history, you will find more meaningful freedom of decision than had ever existed, or has existed since.

6. Your opinion of how human beings work is flawed. We aren’t born with preferences that contradict each other. Class society generates two groups of people with irreconcilable interests: the capitalist class wants to stay pampered and powerful, while the working class wants liberation. Obviously there is a worry for the capitalist class if the majority got a vote. But who cares? Their pamperedness comes with the brutal oppression of billions.

In a classless society where all things are produced by democratic decision-making, but certain things (such as a guarantee to every individual of all the things they need to completely flourish) are non-negotiable, no decision where the minority “loses” can be meaningfully harmful for the losing faction. One faction might want to colonize Mars, the other might want to focus more on undersea research.

Boohoo for the faction that doesn’t get as much funding as it wants.

7. Your concept of “central planning” is without a doubt based on false ideas of how it operates.

In all future socialist countries, as it was in the PRC under Mao, a method will be employed that should be better understood as “democratic-centralist” planning.

The way this operated and would continue to operate is according to Mao’s principle of the mass line.

Some of the most important premises of the mass line are that
* “The people, and the people alone, are the motive force in the making of world history.
“The masses are the real heroes, while we ourselves [that is, the communist leadership] are often childish and ignorant.”
* “The masses have boundless creative power. They can organize themselves and concentrate on places and branches of work where they can give full play to their energy; they can concentrate on production in breadth and depth and create more and more undertakings for their own well-being.”
Working from this understanding, we see that the center undertaking the planning isn’t implementing *any* of its own ideas. It takes all of the ideas, demands, and needs from the masses themselves. If, say, all the products are too drab in a certain way, that is an expressed need, and the planning would solicit ideas about how that could be changed from the masses themselves, and the most popular and clever of those ideas would be bounced off of the rest of the population, and made sure that they benefit the broad masses and further the struggle for a free and democratic society–and if they do, those ideas will be implemented.
In this way, the “central” planning is the very opposite of how it’s usually imagined, of a center of a handful of self-styled geniuses at the top forcing their own ideas about what’s good for the masses onto the population. To the contrary, they are only implementers of the ideas of the masses themselves. In this way, what is produced will be even *more* responsive to the deepest needs of the people using these products and inhabiting this society than anything produced by a market.
Because capitalism, to the contrary, doesn’t care about meeting the entirety of the masses’ deepest needs–it cares about selling a lot of some product or small set of products, and if that means making them addictive, or expensive, etc., then all the better. In this way, capitalism produces far worse and more inhumane products than democratic-centralist planning does.
It’s really telling that so many who grow up in capitalism believe that all of our most meaningful choices are about which products to buy. In communism, the products just *work* and fade into the background, and all our important decisions to make are who we want to be in relation to other fully-actualized human beings and the non-human universe.