THE economists and theorists of all Socialist schools of thought agree in the denunciation of capitalist competition and of its laissez-faire apologists. But behind this unanimity in denunciation can be discerned wide differences in approach and argument, differences which finally come into the open when any Socialist school tries to look beyond capitalist society and to answer the question whether Socialism itself is compatible with any form of competition. The different answers given to this question reflect broader differences between the various visions and conceptions of Socialism.
Perhaps the most crucial theoretical controversy over this subject took place between Marx and Proudhon more than a century ago. Proudhon saw Socialism essentially as a "free association" of small property owners, of independent producers owning their means of production. It was natural for him to envisage the economic activity of such a society in terms of competition. The evil of capitalism, Proudhon argued, was that it gave the banker and the industrialist a monopoly on the means of production and thus degraded the small artisan and peasant into wage-slaves. Under such conditions, genuine competition, which presupposed the equality and the freedom of those taking part in it, was impossible. The form which competition had taken under capitalism was therefore the Hegelian antithesis of free association and coöperation. Socialism would break the capitalist monopoly on the means of production; it would restore to the individual the tools of his labor; and thereby it would also restore competition to its proper rôle. From a factor of social disruption and distintegration, competition would become a factor of harmony; and Socialism would represent the final synthesis between association and competition. "Compétition," Proudhon wrote, "is as essential to labor as is division of labor . . . it is necessary for the advent of equality." It is inherent in human nature, and therefore "there can be no question of destroying competition, a thing as impossible to destroy as liberty; we have only to find its equilibrium. . . ."
Loading, please wait...