O.k., I have been goaded into responding, so I'm going to try and do a good job, though I will undoubtable miss many things.
I am a socialist -- theoretically and actively I have been involved in this movement (the "left" for lack of a better word) for my entire adult life. So I want to try and deflate some of the arguments that have passing around here, particularily from the "libertarian" right.
But first, I'm going to address the article posted. I agree and don't agree with various portions of it. I like the way it points out the arrogance of a capitalist ideology which pronounces itself the end-all-and-be-all of human relations for the rest of time. Every ruling class in the history of the world has attempted to paint the foundations of its rule in terms of eternal, "natural" laws. It so happens that capitalism encourages a set of beliefs which can be summed up in many of the truisms already posted on this forum: "everyone is naturally greedy", "private property is an inalienable, natural right", "alternative systems cannot work", "the free market is the best arbiter of the value of commodities." It's horseshit. Time will wash away the capitalist form of organizing value in the same way it wiped away the feudal, or ancient Egyptian slave-based society, as another poster said.
What I don't agree in the article posted with is the assumption that history, technological forces, etc. will naturally lead to some natural, inevitable ascendance of some form of "communism" as a new form of social organizing. If global society changes and is modeled after a more socialistic model of human organization (and I hope it does), it will be because people have made that happen -- by force, because capitalism will use cojnverse force to try and put change down -- not because of some eternal transcendent principle. At the beginning of the 20th century there was a whole school of Marxists who thought in much the same way as the author of this article (Karl Kautsky and Edward Berstein being two of them) I believe they were proven incorrect by the course of history. It is only when people go into struggle, intellectually, or physically, and make this new society, that things change.
On the other hand, I don't think super-intelligent technocrats and computers will build the new society. Ordinary people will. On the basis of real, genuine democracy.
Anyways, let me briefly (because these debates could take up whole books) address the essence of a few of the arguments here.
FIRSTLY, over definitions of what is and isn't socialism or communism. A messy area -- but let's keep in mind this is a semantic debate more than anything. What is and isn't socialism is less relevant a question as: "what is and isn't a better form of society that isn't based on the rule of the market?"
I think we can all agree, no matter how we characterize the societies that were in Eastern Europe (I call them Stalinist societies, "degenerated worker's states" is another term, "state capitalist" is another, etc.) that these were not superior models. I personally would argue that _some_ of these societies were born out of genuine democratic and what-i-call-socialist revolutions, but in the long run they degenerated into dictatorial, elite driven, parasitical bureaucracies. It clearly isn't what we want. You can insist on calling that socialism, if you like, but I wouldn't agree with you. I think the word "socialism" has a deeper and more meaningful history in our intellectual history and in the practice of the "worker's movement" as we call it, that goes beyond what happened in the USSR and affiliates.
These states called (and still call themselves) socialist societies. Should we take them at their word? I don't think so, no more than we should take the United States government at its word that its society is a "democracy." There is very little that is democratic about the United States -- even its electoral system is suspect. The classical revolutionary socialist critique of parliamentary democracy is that its definition of democracy is that its domain of democratic choice is very, very limited; you know what they say: if voting really changed anything, they'd make it illegal.
SECONDLY, is socialism necessarily the rule of the state, "big government" over society? I don't think this is at all the case, some may argue otherwise, but they are, in my opinion, dupes of a particular right wing smearing of socialist ideas in the 20th century. Marx writes of the "state" and "government" as being primarily institutions for the bourgeoisie. The state, nations, etc. are forms that the capitalist class _must_ have in order to negotiate all its competing interests, at times to go to war for their interests against other capitalists in other parts of the world, or put down unruly workers. Since we (socialists) oppose capitalism, we also oppose its state and government! Primarily the State is something to which any _genuine_ socialist is absolutely and totally opposed! We struggle for its demolition, though some may try to demolish it by taking it over, instead.
I would insist that actually reading the Communist Manifesto and remaining true to what Marx _meant_ rather than what has been grafted onto him by a half century or more of Stalinist distortion and right wing lies, reveals that when Marx talked about socialism/communism he was not talking about a form of society characterized by the dominance of the state over society, but rather the abolition of the state itself in favour of the organic forces of society (which he saw as mainly concentrated in the working class) maintaining democratic control over capital. What does this really mean? It means the inverse of many of the forms established under Stalin in the USSR: instead of the wholesale nationalization and control of factories and industries by the State, he meant wholesale _socialization_ (something entirely different!) and direct democratic control of such things by worker's themselves!
Read Lenin's State and Revolution for a good critique of the "socialism = state control" line; even if Lenin wasn't fully capable of following his own practice in power, his arguments in that book are some of the best in terms of critiquing the idea that a socialist society is just the mere takeover of the existing state and its extension.
In practice? I think there are real historical examples of what we (revolutionary socialists mean by this). One was at the second Paris Commune in the late 19th century, where workers and citizens established their own spontaneous directly democratic organs of control and planning during their revolution. Another was in Spain during the Spanish Civil War where anarchists and socialists worked together to establish coordinating bodies that voluntarily collectivized agriculture, some industry. etc. during the fight against Franco. Another was in Russia in roughly 1905-1918, in the "soviets"...
We are for planning of society by a whole range of democratic organizations whose roots run much deeper than just our three-layer (municipal, state/provincial, federal) parliamentary or republican systems. We want to see a blossoming of a whole range of democratic bodies: neighbourhood councils, communtiy run banking collectives, autonomous women's groups, childcare collectives, worker-run/owned industry councils, local regional economic planning councils, etc. etc.
THIRDLY, many question the possibility of socialist planning, point to von Mises, etc. Much more complex, deeper territory, but let's dig in a _bit_ (no room for a full hashing out of ideas, of course!).
One poster asks: "what is capital today? Is it currency? Is it information? Is it economic potential? While the definition certainly wasn't cut and dry in Marx's time, it is certainly far more ambiguous now. "
The response to this is that a definition capital has never been cut and dry -- that was exactly the point of Das Kapital: the heart and soul of Marx's analysis lays in the pointing out of a very serious contradictions that lay in the very heart of the concept of capital. On one hand you have the exchange value of a commodity, on the other you have the use value of it. The tension in capitalism, and the cause of much of its internal crisis, is all about the fact that these two are not equivalent, and in fact often contradictory.
What better evidence of this is there than the deep and intense debate around intellectual properties, around "virtual capital" such as MP3s, software, copied movies, online books, etc? The capitalist market is hinged on the concept that the value of a good truly _is_ its exchange value in the market. But we in the free software world know otherwise: "commodities" and "capital" are totally full of contradictions -- no market can maintain a strict value regime over them without introducing serious conflicts. Marxist economists insist that the true value of a good is its use among people, and how much labour has gone into its production, its use, and so on. That cannot be measured, only appreciated.
Capitalist markets are efficient at allocating profit (the result of the exploitation of worker's labour going into a good) to industries to encourage more profit. Whether that yields long term desirable conditions for a society is up to the reader to decide. I think the condition of the world at the moment, especially disparity of wealth and the absolute horrible fashion in which so-called "developing" economies are structured indicates otherwise.
As for Von Mises, someone opened their big mouth and claimed that "socialist intellectuals" have yet to refute him, or that none of us like to debate it. Why don't you fire up google and look up "the calculation debate marxist economics", and "von mises critique" and see what you find? Here's a pointer to a really good paper for you: http://csf.colorado.edu/pkt/pktauthors/Cottrell.Allin/soccalc.pdf . Oh, you might as well check out the whole directory of papers from those two authors, where you'll find great computer science papers on persistence object databases theory theree as well: http://www.dcs.gla.ac.uk/~wpc/reports/
Marxist economics is a vibrant and entirely legitimate field of theory -- just because you are ignorant of it or don't understand it doesn't make it not exist. Perhaps you should read something other than rehashes of the Fountainhead on your bus ride to and from your little Objectivist Club meetings.
"Libertarians" like to point to the ideal free market as a panacea solution to these problems, but the most damning point of their analysis is that the capitalist decision makers that they are so enamoured with and see as the centre of their entire world-view themselves do not want such a free market. Why? Because capitalists as a class REQUIRE the intervention of the state to enforce the unnatural, unsustainable, unpopular, and fundamentally crisis ridden nature of capitalism as a system! Where capitalism persists it persists by consistently putting down by force its opposition by force and coercion.
The market is based on coercion because its fundamental basis, private ownership over large collectively used things like plots of land, factories, oil fields, yada yada, is precarious. That is what we mean when we say we want to abolish private property: we don't want to take your toothbrush or your Honda Civic or your house. That's not what we call "private property." We're referring to things which many workers labour in common on -- and currently only a small section of society profits from. We want to see control and ownership of those things (we call it "the means of production" for lack of a better word) shared collectively.
FOURTHLY: To the right wing "libertarians" and their delusion of markets without coercion, we say: the "market _is_ coercion!" Without the force of guns, police, selected tariffs, special rights for large multinational corporations, capitalism as a world system would fall apart as poor workers in the third world took what they needed to survive. Why work on a giant plot of United Fruit land for 50 cents a day when, as a group of peasants, you can lay hold of that land and run it yourself and pay yourselves?
When I was in Cuba a few months ago, we drove through the countryside and picked up many people on their way to and from field, home, city, etc. It. was fascinating, because this is exactly what they are carrying on: running their own society: in the 60s they ceized the assets of the big plantations (the Americans are still freaking out about it) and redistributed them to the peasants who worked them. Despite the crude and disgusting edifice of power that dictators like Castro have built over top of their victories, the Cuban people that I met are very proud of what they've accomplished, it will only be by force that the "free market" will be able to take it back from them.
So-called "libertarians" should hang their head in shame that key members of the Chicago school of economists, including Milton Friedman, "champions" of "liberty" and "free market" capitalism, were key advisors to the brutal Pinochet dictatorship in Chile after a bloody undemocratic coup aided by the U.S. government. So much for non-coercion.
FIFTHLY, what role does technology play in a new socialist society? Technology is contradictory in the sense that its development is pushed in particular directions because of the needs of the capitalist market. For example the development of the personal computer in its current form is all about office automation, a buzzword of the 70s and 80s: reducing the per-worker cost in a clerical environment, automating areas where workers had too much control or where wages were too high, etc. In this sense technology under capitalism often originates and operates with very repressive, or at least non-progressive, aims in mind.
However, technology, as a creation of the human intellect and coming out of people's own creative urges, also has a powerful opposite dimension: it also allows for human liberation, new outlets of creativity, processes of development and creation outside the circuit of profitability. The free software
movement is an example of this very process: solving problems and expressing creativity in new ways, and insisting on the freedom of the development process.
Under a fully developed socialist society the free software movement would be the norm. Note that the initial development of the Internet, of much of the GNU software, of many key computer science conceptions and ideas, happened very obviously within and because of very PUBLIC, i.e. not private capitalist institutions. I would go so far as to say that truly widespread, groundbreaking technology that positively benefits most of the population is rarely developed in the private sector because such technology rarely has obvious and clear possibilities for profitability.
It is in the public, social, and voluntary sphere that truly brilliant technology will develop in the future, and I think Alan Kay's quote "the computer revolution hasn't happened yet" is true because the socialist revolution hasn't happened yet!