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Title: The iron law of democratic socialism: British and Austrian influences on the young Karl Polanyi
Authors: Dale, G
Keywords: Karl Polanyi;Guild socialism;Austro-Marxism;Determinism;Otto Bauer;Red Vienna
Issue Date: 2014
Citation: Economy and Society, 2014, 43(4), pp. 650-667
Abstract: A central thesis of Karl Polanyi's The great transformation concerns the tensions between capitalism and democracy: the former embodies the principle of inequality, while democracy represents that of equality. This paper explores the intellectual heritage of this thesis, in the ‘functional theory’ of G.D.H. Cole and Otto Bauer and in the writings of Eduard Bernstein. It scrutinizes Polanyi's relationship with Bernstein's ‘evolutionary socialism’ and charts his ‘double movement’ vis-à-vis Marxist philosophy: in the 1910s he reacted sharply against Marxism's deterministic excesses, but he then, in the 1920s, engaged in sympathetic dialogue with Austro-Marxist thinkers. The latter, like Bernstein, disavowed economic determinism and insisted upon the importance and autonomy of ethics. Yet they simultaneously predicted a law-like expansion of democracy from the political to the economic arena. Analysis of this contradiction provides the basis for a concluding discussion that reconsiders the deterministic threads in Polanyi's oeuvre. Whereas for some Polanyi scholars these attest to his residual attraction to Marxism, I argue that matters are more complex. While Polanyi did repudiate the more rigidly deterministic of currents in Marxist philosophy, those to which he was attracted, notably Bernstein's ‘revision’ and Austro-Marxism, incorporated a deterministic fatalism of their own, in respect of democratization. Herein lies a more convincing explanation of Polanyi's incomplete escape from a deterministic philosophy of history, as exemplified in his masterwork, The great transformation.
Description: This article has been made available through the Brunel Open Access Publishing Fund.
Appears in Collections:Brunel OA Publishing Fund
Dept of Politics, History and Law Research Papers

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