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Philosophical Topics

Volume 48, Issue 2, Fall 2020

The Political Philosophy of Socialism

Carol C. Gould
Pages 81-103

Socializing the Means of Free Development

This paper investigates the import for a conception of democratic socialism of Marx’s well-known principle “From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs,” arguing that it is best taken together with another of his principles: “The free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.” It considers their implications for the near term rather than some possible ultimate form of communal society, and also brings in a principle that I have developed previously—equal positive freedom—which in some ways synthesizes the other two. In analyzing the abilities and needs principle, the notion and extent of needs are explicated, seeing them as including not only material needs, but needs for recognition and for relationships. Marx’s crucial insight that distribution largely depends on the organization of the production process also comes into play. On these bases, the paper proposes that a system of democratically managed firms forms the centerpiece for democratic socialism, supplemented by some other institutions that would work to meet basic needs. The paper also proposes a role for the norms of reciprocity and solidarity, in addition to those of freedom and equality that are most evident in the three principles. Finally, the relative inattention to social reproduction in the early Marxist tradition is addressed with an interpretation of the notion of socializing care and a consideration of its import for institutional design, including cooperative ways of providing such care. Throughout, Marx’s distinctive notions of social individuality, socialized wealth, and the free development of individuals are appealed to for the guidance they can provide for interpreting the abilities/needs principle for the period ahead.