According to the media, socialism is dead whereas capitalism is triumphant. I submit that both claims are false. Socialism is not dead because it was never alive except on paper, and capitalism is far from being in good economic or moral health: it stumbles from one crisis to the next and it thrives on exploitation and the depletion of nonrenewable resources. As Keynes (1926, p. 53) wrote long ago: «Our problem is to work out a social organization which shall be as efficient as possible without offending our notions of a satisfactory way of life».

What used to be called “real socialism” was not authentically socialist, because it involved dictatorship instead of self-government, and nationalization instead of cooperative ownership. As for capitalism, it is subject to unavoidable market disequilibria and destructive business cycles, and it prospers through exploitation, in particular the looting of the Third World. Furthermore, both capitalism and so-called real socialism have been degrading the environment and they must grow and expand to flourish-and economic growth impoverishes the environment, while expansion leads to war. For these reasons, neither of these social orders is functional, sustainable, or morally justifiable.

Because neither corporate capitalism nor “real socialism” works well, and because neither is morally justifiable, we must try to design and construct a better social order. This alternative society should have a moral rationale: it should make it possible for everyone to enjoy life, and morally imperative to help others live an enjoyable life. I suggest that this new social order should constitute an extension of political democracy (popular representation cum participation) to encompass biological (gender and ethnic) democracy, economic democracy (cooperative ownership and self-management), and cultural democracy (cultural autonomy and universal and lifelong access to culture and education). Given the complexity of modern society, this goal calls for technical expertise and national ‒ nay, worldwide-control and coordination. In short, I submit that the new social order we need in order to implement welfare, social justice, democracy, peace, and a sustainable economy, is integral democracy informed, though not dominated, by science-based sociotechnology. I propose to call it technoholodemocracy. (Recall essay 29.)


Classical or raw capitalism proved economically too unstable and politically too vulnerable. It has therefore been tempered by a large number of government controls and relief measures adopted over the past hundred  years. However, even reformed capitalism and the accompanying welfare state have notorious defects, such as ecological unsustainability and pronounced inequalities in the access to wealth, political power, and cultural resources. Moreover, welfare capitalism seems to have reached its limit: it cannot be improved by instituting further social programs, for these would only increase welfare dependency, bureaucracy, tax burdens, and the fiscal deficit. Still, welfare capitalism seems to be the best social order invented so far. Hence, it should make a good launching pad for a socially just and environmentally sustainable social order.

Because capitalism is technically and morally flawed, we need to question its very basis and, in particular, its philosophical underpinnings. The philosophy behind the ideology that extols capitalism is individualism, both ontological and moral. According to it, society is an aggregate of autonomous individuals, everyone of whom is, or ought to be, free to pursue her own interests. This view is contrary to fact: As a matter of fact, society is a supersystem composed of social networks, and as such it has features that their individual components lack. And moral individualism, i.e., egoism, is morally wrong, because it overlooks our duties to others and thus weakens the social networks that support and control individual agency. (Recall essays 21 and 28.)

The rejection of individualism does not amount to the espousal of holism (or collectivism). Holism is false because it underplays individual action, and it is morally wrong for regarding the individual as a pawn of so-called higher instances, such as the race, the nation, or the party. No wonder that holism was the philosophy behind both the traditional Right (in particular fascism) and communism. (The New Right is extremely individualistic, to the point that it calls itself libertarian.)

The alternative to both individualism and holism is systemism. This is the view that society is a system of systems, every one of which is composed by interacting individuals, and is characterized by systemic or emergent properties. Thus, systemism combines the valid points of both individualism and collectivism. In particular, it encourages combining competition with cooperation, as well as balancing rights with duties. Its maximal principle is “Enjoy life and and help live (an enjoyable life)”.


What passed for socialism in the nearly defunct Marxist-Leninist camp was never such. Marxism-Leninism mistakes nationalization for socialization,  and party dictatorship for the rule of the people: it is statist and undemocratic. It has aptly been characterized as bureaucratic capitalism. Engels himself would not have approved of it, because in his Anti-Duhring (1878) he called the state ownership of business ‘spurious socialism’. Besides, neither he nor Marx ever expressed any enthusiasm for central planning.

I submit that the two pillars of authentic socialism are cooperative ownership and self-government. More precisely, I define genuine socialism as the classless social order characterized by (a) the cooperative ownership of the means of production, exchange, and finance; and (b) the self-management of all business firms ‒ that is, democracy in the workplace. Shorter: Socialism = Cooperativism.

This kind of socialism is more in line with Mill’s than with Marx’s or Lenin’s. In fact, in Mill’s Principles of Political Economy (1891, p. 775) we read: «The form of association, however, which if mankind continue to improve, must be expected in the end to predominate, is not that which can exist between a capitalist as chief, and workpeople without a voice in the management, but the association of the laborers themselves on terms of equality, collectively owning the capital with which they carry on their operations, and working under managers elected and removable by themselves.» (More on economic democracy and market socialism in Miller 1977 and Dahl 1985.)

In principle, cooperativist socialism should be more satisfying and therefore more sustainable than other social orders, and this for the following reasons. First, for putting an end to class divisions and hence to class conflicts. Second, for relying on reciprocity, a far stronger social bond than either subordination or impersonal market relations. (See Kropotkin 1914.) Third, for substituting personal initiative, responsibility, and open debate for blind obedience to management. And fourth, for involving the decentralization required not only to make grassroots participation possible, but also to endow firms with the elasticity required by a rapidly changing environment, as well as to cut the bureaucratic waste and the excessive salaries and perks paid to (though not always earned by) top-level level executives in corporations. The spectacular success of the Mondragón network of about a hundred highly diversified cooperatives in the Basque country shows that cooperativism can be made to work well even in a capitalist environment (Whyte and Whyte 1988).

Cooperativism is also morally correct, because it is fair to every cooperant and because it gives her a say in the way her own life is to be run, particularly at her workplace. In fact, whereas under alternative social orders only a few are propertied (or control everything even when they do not own anything), under cooperative socialism everyone owns and controls a slice of the pie-or, to put it in paradoxical terms, everyone becomes a capitalist and has a say in management. She is not only a shareholder, but is also represented in the boardroom. This is not only morally desirable; it is also psychologically effective, for no one looks better after property than its owner.

Is cooperative socialism desirable and viable? I submit that it is neither, and this not in being excessive, but in being insufficient. In fact, cooperative socialism (a) is sectoral rather than systemic, for it only concerns the ownership and management of the means of production: it says nothing about politics, culture, or the environment; (b) it ignores the inevitability, nay desirability, of (bounded) competition alongside cooperation; in particular, it plays down personal interests, aspirations, and initiatives, all of which are bound to originate rivalries and conflicts; (c) it does not tackle the problem of coordinating the cooperatives on the local, national, and global scales; in particular, it does not address the problem of the unequal receipts of different cooperatives, e.g., those that mine diamonds and those that make classical music; and (d) it keeps silent about the management and public control of public goods such as security, public health, education, science, the humanities, and the arts — that is, about the state. In short, cooperative property and self-management management are necessary but insufficient, except on a small scale.

Cooperative socialism, in sum, is neither desirable nor viable because it is narrowly economicist, hence shortsighted. We need a social order based on a more comprehensive view of society ‒ one inspired by the systemic view of society. The systemic alternative to the known social orders will be sketched anon.


 I submit that both political and economic democracy are necessary to build a just and viable society. But I also suggest that they are insufficient, because the former only concerns the polity, whereas the latter only concerns the economy. I claim that, in view of the fact that society is composed of three interlocked artificial systems embedded in nature, namely the economy, the culture, and the polity, we should strive for integral democracy combined with technical expertise and regard for the environment. In other words, the idea is to expand democracy and join it with management science, normative macroeconomics, the law, and other branches of sociotechnology. Let me outline this proposal.

Let us recall that technoholodemocracy (or integral technodemocracy) means the social order that promotes equal access to wealth, culture, and political power. This is the goal. The means is, to paraphrase Lincoln, the enlightened rule of the people, by the people, and for the people, in all and only social matters — economic, cultural, political, and environmental — with the advice of experts. Shorter: Holotechnodemoeracy is equality through cooperative property, self-management, political democracy, and technical expertise. The latter enters in the design and evaluation of the policies and plans required at all levels for the efficient functioning of the cooperatives, their federations, and the state. This schema calls for a few clarifications. First, integral technodemocracy does not involve literal egalitarianism, let alone forced equalization a la Pol Pot: it only involves what may be called qualified equality, a combination of egalitarianism with meritocracy. This results from combining three principles: (a) the socialist maxim «To each according to his needs, from each according to his abilities»; (b) Locke’s principle of the rightful ownership of the fruits of one’s labors; and (c) Rawls’s principle, according to which the sole inequalities justified in the distribution of goods and services are those that are likely to benefit everybody, namely the reward of merit and the correction of misdeed (Rawls 1971).

Second, holotechnodemocracy involves combining cooperation with competition. In particular, it joins cooperative ownership with the market. We need the former to strengthen solidarity and avert exploitation and privilege. And we need competition to encourage emulation, initiative, creativity, excellence, selectivity, and advancement, as well as to keep costs down and minimize waste. However, competition ought to serve the public interest as well as personal interests. This kind of competition may be called coordinated or managed competition, in contrast with the individualist or cut-throat competition typical of paleocapitalism. And coordinated competition requires some planning, regulations, bargaining, and strategic alliances. In short, we need the social or controlled  market rather than the free market. (For a mathematical model of competitive cooperation, or regulated competition, see Bunge 1976a.)

Third, the efficient management of large-scale systems calls for the central coordination of their component units: it requires setting up federations and states, and eventually a world government. All of these macrosystems should deliberate democratically with the help of expert advice, and they should act in the interests of their components. In particular, the state should be the neutral umpire and technical advisor and assistant in the service of all. It should facilitate coordination rather than impose it bureaucratically or militarily from above, it should mediate in cases of conflict, and it should act sometimes as a catalyzer and at others as a buffer. Of course, nothing of this is new: what would be new, and needs to be done, is the actual performance of such activities.

Fourth, integral technodemocracy would require a far smaller and weaker state than any other social order since the birth of industrial civilization. lization. Indeed, the good society does not need big government, because (a) a full-employment economy has no need for relief programs; (b) equity, reciprocity, solidarity, intelligent bargaining, cooperative property, and grass roots political participation render strong law-enforcing agencies all but redundant; (c) well-educated and morally upright citizens can participate pate competently and honestly in the administration of the common good; and (d) a peaceful world society needs no professional armed forces.

Fifth, liberty, which is very restricted in a class society, and contract, which is largely a fiction in it, should flourish in an integral democracy. Indeed, freedom and, in particular, the liberty to enter into symmetrical contracts, can only flourish among equals: freedom and fair contracts are largely illusory wherever power is concentrated in the state, corporations, rations, parties, or churches.


Is integral technodemocracy one more utopia? Perhaps, but who said that all utopias are necessarily bad? We need utopias to plan for a better future, particularly in our time, as the survival of humankind is threatened by overpopulation, depletion of resources, environmental degradation, new plagues, war (nuclear as well as conventional), and fanaticism. Since capitalism and bogus socialism, each supported by an obsolete philosophy, have brought us to the brink of global disaster, we must find a third way.

The next problem is to design feasible and minimally destructive political procedures for effecting the transition from the old to the desirable able social order. The transition should he gradual, because revolutions cause too much pain and division, and because it takes time to reform institutions and learn new habits. And the policies and plans guiding the transition should be systemic rather than purely economic, if only because no economy can move in a political, cultural, and environmental mental vacuum.

In the capitalist democracies, the new social order might grow from a fragmentation of the megacorporations, which have become dysfunctional anyway. The resulting fragments could be reorganized as cooperatives, perhaps with the financial and technical assistance of progressive governments. The main obstacles to a peaceful transition are intellectual inertia, political apathy, and the military power behind economic power.

In the ex-communist nations, the transition should be even easier, because they have no capital to speak of: they only have resources (human and natural) and capital goods, and at present their main goal is survival rather than short-term profit maximization. The main obstacles here are the lack of a democratic tradition and the advice of Western economic consultants to adopt a “shock therapy”, which is destructive of the safety-net and of the solidarity and other good habits and institutions  that may remain.

However, these are political speculations. What matters from a philosophical viewpoint is that holotechnodemocracy is supported by a systemic social ontology — more realistic than either individualism or holism-as well as by a selftuistic morality centered around the principle “Enjoy life and help live an enjoyable life”, which combines rights with duties and pleasure with work.

Pseudosocialism is dead: long live authentic socialism enriched with political, cultural, and biological democracy, as well as with sociotechnology and concern for the environment.


Source: This essay has been published in Concordia 25 (1994): 93-99. (© Verlag Mainz, Aachen). It has been reprinted in Scientific Realism: Selected Essays of Mario Bunge (Prometheus Books, First Edition August 2001).


[*] Mario Bunge is an Argentian theoretical physicist and philosopher. He was, until his recent retirement at age 90 (he is now 98), the Frothingham Professor of Logic and Metaphysics at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, where he had been since 1966. Mario Bunge is a polymath and a prolific intellectual, having written more than 400 papers and 80 books, notably his monumental Treatise on Basic Philosophy in 8 volumes (1974–1989), a comprehensive and rigorous study of those philosophical aspects he takes to be the core of modern philosophy: semantics (theories of meaning and truth), ontology (general theories of the world), epistemology (theories of knowledge), philosophy of science and ethics.