THE PRESENT STATE OF THE DEBATE
THE EFFECTS OF CRITICISM
IN spite of a natural tendency on the part of socialists to belittle its importance, it is clear that the criticism of socialism epitomized in the foregoing chapters has already had a very profound effect on the direction of socialist thought. The great majority of “ planners ” are, of course, still unaffected by it ; the great mass of the hangers-on of any popular movement are always unconscious of the intellectual currents which produce a change of direction.1 Moreover, the actual existence in Russia of a system, which professes to be planned, has led many of those who know nothing of its development to suppose that the main problems are solved ; in fact, as we shall see, Russian experience provides abundant confirmation of the doubts already stated. But among the leaders of socialist thought not only is the nature of the central problem more and more recognized, but the force of the objections raised against the types of socialism, which in the past used to be considered as most practicable, is also increasingly admitted. It is now rarely denied that, in a society which is to preserve freedom of choice of the consumer and free choice of occupation, central direction of all economic activity presents a task which cannot be rationally solved under the complex conditions of modern life. It is true, as we shall see, that even among those who see the problem, this position is not yet completely abandoned ; but its defence is more or less of the nature of a rearguard action where all that is attempted is to prove that “ in principle ” a solution is conceivable. Little or no claim is made that such a solution is practicable. We shall later have occasion to discuss some of these attempts. But the great majority of the more recent schemes try to get around the difficulties by the construction of alternative socialist systems which differ more or less fundamentally from the traditional types against which the criticism was directed in the first instance and which are supposed to be immune against the objections to which the latter are subject.
In the preceding section, Professor Halm has examined some of the solutions proposed by Continental writers. In this concluding essay, the recent English literature of the subject will be considered and an attempt will be made to evaluate the recent proposals which have been devised to overcome the difficulties which have now been recognized. Before we enter into this discussion, however, a few words on the relevance of the Russian experiment to the problems under discussion may be useful.