Monday, August 10, 2015

Feasible Socialism (Conclusion)

Socialism means a moneyless, wageless, stateless commonwealth. This was the general understanding of what socialism meant. Marx didn't talk about a "transitional society". He talked about the lower phase of communism. It was still communism...that is, a classless society. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need”

Who decides what your ability or need is? It would take some sort of position of power to determine who is in need and who has ability. Power naturally corrupts and tends to find ways to increase and consolidate power. After time, you are left with those who have consolidated power to abuse, and those who don't. Therefore who decides? The answer, you do! This is the whole point of the communist slogan "from each according to ability to each according to need". The autonomy of the individual is maximised and as a result, we all benefit. As the Communist Manifesto put it:
"In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all"

Specifically a communist (aka socialist) society - or at least what Marx called the "higher stage" of communism - exhibits two key features:
1) Free access to goods and services - no buying and selling. No barter. You simply go to the distribution point and take what you require according to your self determined needs. This depends on there being a relatively advanced technological infrastructure to produce enough to satisfy our basic needs. Such a possibility already exists. Capitalism, however, increasingly thwarts this potential. In fact, most of the work we do today in the formal sector will be completely unnecessary in a communist society - it serves only to prop up capitalism. What possible use would there be for a banking system under communism, for example? We could effectively more than double the quantities of resources and human labour power available for socially useful production by scrapping capitalism. Communism will destroy the need for greed and conspicuous consumption

2) Voluntary labour. Your contribution to society is completely voluntary. There is no wage labour or other forms of co-erced labour. You can do as little or as much work as you choose. And you can do as many different kinds of jobs as you want, too. The presumption is that people would freely choose to work under communism for all sorts of reasons:
- the conditions under which we work will be radically different, without an employing class dictating terms work will become fulfilling and pleasant
- we need to work, to express ourselves creatively
- with free access to goods, conspicuous consumption will be rendered meaningless as a way of gaining respect and social esteem. Which leaves only what we give to society as a way of gaining the respect of our peers. This should not be underestimated; it is one of the most important motivational drives in human beings as numerous studies in industrial psychology have confimed
- Socialism depends on people recognising our mutual interdependence. There is, in other words, a sense of moral obligation that goes with the territory
- Socialism will permit a far greater degree of technological adaptation without the constraints of the profit system. Intrinsically backbreaking or unpleasannt work can be automated. Conversely some work may be deliberately made more labour intensive and craft based.
- Even under capitalism today most work is unpaid or unremunerated - the household economy, the volunteer sector and so on. So it is not as if this is something we are unaccustomed to. Volunteers moreover tend to be the most highly motivated as studies have confirmed; they dont require so called external incentives
- We will get rid of an awful lot of crappy and pointless jobs that serve as a disincentive to work
- since we would be free to do any job we chose to what this means in effect is that for any particular job there would be a massive back-up supply of labour to cover it consisting of most people in society. In capitalism this cannot happen since labour mobility is severely restricted since if you have a job you cannot just choose to abandon it for the sake of another more urgent job from the standpoint of society

With these two core characteristics of a socialist society - free access to goods and services plus volunteer labour - there can be no political leverage that anyone or any group could exercise over anyone else. The material basis of class power would have completely dissolved. What we would be left with is simply human beings being free to express their fundamentally social and cooperative nature

Free access communism is not going to be brought to the point of collapse by the fact that we cannot all have a Porshe or Ferrari parked outside our front door. Imagine what it could be like without a boss class on our backs? Imagine what our workplaces could become without the cost cutting constraints of capitalism and having the freedom to decide on these matters ourselves. Imagine not being tied tdown to one single kind of job all the time but being given the opportunity to experiment with different jobs, to travel abroad to work in new places, to taste new experiences. Imagine a moneyeless, wageless communist world in which most of the occupations that we do today - from bankers to pay departments to arms producers to sales-people - will simply disappear at a stroke releasing vast amounts of resources and, yes, human labour power as well for socially useful production. Kropotkin was quite right. We dont need the whiplash of the wages system to compel us to work. The mere fact that we recognise our mutual interdependence in a society in which we will fully realise our social nature will suffice to impose upon us a sense of moral obligation to contribute to the common good of our own free will. Indeed we already, to some extent, do this today even under capitalism, given that fully half of all the work that we do today is completely unremunerated. How much more conducive will a communist moral economy be to the performance of unremunerated work is not hard to see.

The Left-wing tend to be nothing more than the reformist advocates of some kind of state-administered capitalism, paying lip service to authentic socialism but in practice obstructing any real movement towards socialism. The Left-wing, by and large, does not stand for socialism and persistently misrepresents what socialism is all about by identifying it with some kind of state involvement in the economy. To suggest that free access communism would be less efficient than capitalism ignores among other things that at least half the work done under capitalism serves no socially useful purpose whatsoever and contributes nothing to human wellbeing in any meaningful way - it is merely done to keep the capitalist monetary system ticking over. For instance, most of the work carried out today in the formal sector of the capitalist economy will no longer be needed in communism. What useful work does a banker or pay-roll official do today, for instance? Absolutely nothing. When production for sale on market ceases to exist and we produce simply and solely for need, a huge and growing chunk of the work we do today will no longer be required. Conservatively speaking, we can at least double the available manpower and material resources for socially useful production. If that is not a huge advance in efficiency then what is? In free access communism we will be able to do more with far less because we will producing directly for use and not for sale. The capitalist monetary system is the most extraordinary wasteful form of economic organisation but we are sure the capitalists will be gratified to learn that someon the left should spring to the defence of their system against the communist alternative.

The notion that capitalism can only be defined as a system where capital is owned privately for a profit is absurd. Doesn't capital owned by the state for example count as capitalism? Doesn't the very fact that means of production take the form of capital, irrespective of who owns it, make the system capitalist? The theory of state capitalism does not require there to be a class of private owners of capital, for there to be capitalism. This is a legalistic de jure approach to capitalism whereas a historical materialist approach looks instead at the de facto relations of production. It argues that there was a capitalist class in the Soviet Union that collectively owned the means of production as a class by virtue of their complete control of the state - the nomenklatura. Ownership and control are in fact inseparable. Ultimate control IS ownership. We are not saying there were no differences between the state capitalism and the private or mixed-economy capitalism but in their essentials they were the same. In Socialism Utopian and Scientific Engels noted how capitalism was rapidly evolving away from private ownership of capital for profit by individual capitalist to joint stock companies and on to ownership by the state. Here is what he said concerning the latter

"The modern state, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine, the state of the capitalists, the ideal personification of the total national capital. The more it proceeds to the taking over of the productive forces, the more does it actually become the national capitalist, the more citizens does it exploit. The workers remain wage workers - proletarians. The capitalist relationship is not done away with. It is rather brought to a head." Socialism Utopian and Scientific"

This does not seem to be compatible with the notion of "private profit" or ownership by private individuals but, clearly, what Engels is saying here is that state ownership is still very much capitalism. Of course you can chose to define it in whatever way you want but in the Marxian tradition the relation between "capital" and "wage labour" is absolutely pivotal to any real understanding capitalism. Hence statements like these.

“Capital therefore presupposes wage-labour; wage-labour presupposes capital. They condition each other; each brings the other into existence.” (Wage Labour and Capital)
“To say that the interests of capital and the interests of the workers are identical, signifies only this: that capital and wage-labour are two sides of one and the same relation. The one conditions the other in the same way that the usurer and the borrower condition each other."

So, no, it is not essentially to do with "private" ownership and profit. This is misleading. This idea that capitalism rests on de jure legal ownership of capital by private individuals is essentially an idealist notion which defines a mode of production in terms of its legal superstructure. With state ownership your have in effect collective ownership by the capitalist class via their control of the state apparatus itself. From the point of the view of the worker it makes absolutely no difference whether their employers is the state or a "private" business. From the point of view of the consumer too state property is private property and for which reason a payment is required.

"The capitalist relation is not done away with. It is, rather, brought to a head. But, brought to a head, it topples over. State-ownership of the productive forces is not the solution of the conflict, but concealed within it are the technical conditions that form the elements of that solution."

Engels is saying is that by bringing the scattered means of production under state ownership this will facilitate the transformation of these means into common property. So instead of having to deal with many separate individual capitalists we would have only to deal with the "national capitalist" as it were. This is what is meant by the "technical conditions" Engels speaks of - the centralised structure of decision making that socialism would inherit from (state) capitalism

As opponents of central planning we would disagree strongly with Engels on this particular point. Neverthless, Engels is clearly NOT suggesting that state ownership of the means of production, even though it faciilitates centralised decisionmaking (which he seems to have thought would be important and useful for a socialist society) is anything other than a form of capitalist ownership.

It was Kropotkin who said:
"No hard and fast line can be drawn between the work of one and the work of another. To measure them by results leads to absurdity. To divide them into fractions and measured them by hours of labour leads to absurdity also. One course remains: not to measure them at all, but to recognise the right of all who take part in productive labour first of all to live – and then to enjoy the comforts of life" (The Wage System)

Communism is not about "setting prices at zero" as some like Paul Mason has been inferring. It is about doing away with the whole notion of price and exchange value so that the very concept of "setting prices at zero" is a meaningless one as far as communism is concerned. To talk of setting prices at any level presupposes still a capitalist framework. If the supermarkets tomorrow said 'All cans of beans are free' the shelves would be cleared in hours. But if they said the same the next day, and the next, it would become pointless to go and fill your arms with cans of beans, and easier to just go and take a reasonable stock to keep close to hand. That is, money (likewise price) is not abolished, but the need for money is rendered redundant. Just because individuals in a free access economy are not restricted by money or labour vouchers from taking what they want does not mean they will want to take everything they can possibly lay their hands on. As for labour vouchers. Similarly just because these same individuals will not be externally compelled to work by the fact that their consumption is explicitly linked to their work contribution does not mean they will not contribute to the work. The point about a communist society proper - or higher communism - is that there is no objective or external econonomic mechanism - like money or labour vouchers - mediating beween the individual and his or her needs or wants. This includes the desire to work which would become as Marx put it in the Critique of the Gotha Programme, "life´s prime want". A means by which we express ourselves, our individuality. Kautsky has the right take on that, why bother mimicking the pricing mechanism when there is already a perfectly good way of doing that?

Money is a social relationship. It links buyers and sellers in a market and therefore presupposes these things. But communism implies common ownership of the means of production. Where everybody owns the means of production it is not logically possible to have economic exchange. Exchange implies owners and non-owners. When I exchange something with you I am exchanging property title to this thing for some other thing. If you own a factory producing widgets you can sell these widgets on because you own them by virtue of owning the factory that produced them. It follows that if everyone in society owned the factory there would be no one to whom these widgets could be sold or exchanged. If there is no economic exchange then there is no reason to have a means of exchange - money. Money is a mean of exchange amongst other things and what it implies is the existence of an exchange economy which is completely incompatible with the idea of your "public" owning the means of production. Exchange denotes a transfer of ownership rights of the things being exchanged. This cannot happen where everyone owns the means of production, common ownership rules out the exchange of products and hence money. Logically then if you advocate the use of money and hence exchange, this means you advocate a system based on sectional or private ownership of the means of production - not common ownership. Money is not some kind of neutral tool of administration; it is fundamentally a social relationship between people. Of course, money existed before capitalism but, in its generalised usage, it corresponds to, and demonstrates, the existence of capitalist relations of production as a monetised economy par excellance. Since there will be no economic exchange transactions in socialism - socialism being based on common ownership of the means of production - this reason falls away along with the need for money.

This is why socialists totally reject the idea of using money not only - obviously - in a communist society but in any supposed transition to such a society. A transitional stage that continiued to use money would not be a transition at all. It would still be a capitalist society based on generalised commodity production. That is why Marx advocated labour vouchers - which we reject as too as both unnecessary and far too cumbersome - precisely because it was not money.

Many leftists have aligned themselves with the argument of the arch pro-capitalist Ludwig von Mises in asserting the need for a common universal unit of accounting. According to this argument, only by means of such a unit can we directly compare different bundles of inputs and thus supposedly select the "least cost "combination. For Mises this unit is money; for some so-called leftists labour values. The purpose of a common unit of account is to expedite economic exchange - what communism will lack - rather than the actual efficient deployment of resources as such. Having a common unit of account has nothing to do with the technical organisation of production itself and everything to do with capitalism's own priorities such as the need to determine profitability and the rate of exploitation.

Free access communism is a form of "generalised reciprocity" par excellance, a “gift economy”, which as the term itself suggests denotes the absence of any kind of quid pro quo set up.

1) The amount of work that needs to be done by comparison with today will be much less because of the elimination of all that socially uselsss labour that only serves to prop up the capitalist money economy - from bankers , pay to tax collectors and a thousand and one other occupations. Less work means a much reduced per capita workload on average which, in turn, means less resistance to working since our attitutde to work is partly conditioned by how much time we are required to do it. If you only have to do 2 hours per week on a boring job you are going to regard it differently than if you have to do it for 20 hours

2) A volunteer economy means that we are not stuck with just one job but can try a variety so there is a labour reservoir in depth for any particular job - even the most onerous or boring - and to an extent that is simply not possible under capitalist employment.

3) With free access to goods and services there is only one way in which you can acquire status and the respect and esteem of your fellows - through your contribution to society. Conspicuous consumption and the accumulation of private wealth would be rendered meaningless by the simple fact that all wealth is freely available for direct appropriation

4) The terms and conditions of work will be radically different without the institution of capitalist employment. It is often these terms and conditions - in particular the authoritarian structure of the capitalist workplace - that are the real problem rather than the work itself

5) Without the profit motive there will be far greater scope to adapt technology to suit our inclinations. Some work might be subject to greater automation; other work might be made more artisan or skilled-based

6) In a communist society our mutual interdependence will be much more transparent and the sense of moral obligation to give according to one's ability in return for taking according to one's need will correspondingly be much more sharply defined and enhanced as a motivating factor

7) A communist society cannot be introduced except when the great majority understand and want it. Having struggled to achieve it can it seriously be maintained that they would willingly allow it to be jeopardised? The reductio as absurdum argument

8) Work, loosely defined as meaningful productive activity is actually a fundamental human need, not simply an economic requirement. Try sitting around on your ass for week doing nothing and you will soon find yourself climbing up the wall out of sheer boredom. Prison riots have been known to break out on occasions when frustrated prisoners are denied work opportunities and even under the severe conditions they have to contend with.

9) Even under capitalism just over half of the work that we do is completely unpaid and outside of the money economy. This is by no means just confined to the household sector - think for example of international volunteers such as the VSO - and it gives the lie to the capitalist argument that the only way you can induce people to work is paying them to do it

Since you don’t have a quid pro quo set up with free access communism, individuals are free to do whatever work they chose. What work needs to be done as explained can be readily communicated through the appropriate channels such as job centres, online facilities and so on. You don’t have the same kind of dichotomous view induced by a quid pro quo set up which pits your self-interest against the interests of others. So social opinion become becomes a much more powerful force in society. Work that needs to be done most urgently and is not perhaps being done to the extent required - e.g. garbage collection - gains in status to the extent that it remains undone. People work for all sorts of reasons not just because they "like it". This is why we find the usual objections to free access communism being trotted out to be simplistic and reductionist. Labour at this higher stage is no longer coerced labour in the sense that an individual's access to goods (via their "income") is made dependent upon his or her contribution. On the contrary, the labour of freely associated individuals becomes life's "prime want". It becomes entirely voluntary labour, freely offered. The compulsion to produce without which human life could not continue will then operate exclusively on the social plane and not directly upon individuals who, neverthless, will have realised their fully social nature in a communist society and respond accordingly to the requirements of society to produce and reproduce its own means of existence. This is what constitutes the essence of communism - the realisation of our true social nature and of the need to contribute to society's maintenance and wellbeing - and it is why I have long argued that communism needs to be conceived as what is technically called a "moral economy"

The problem for the notion of apportioning labour time according some single vast society wide plan. Because production is a socialised process, because everything is interconnected - you need to ensure a certain amount of input X is produced in order to ensure that a certain amount of consumer good Y is produced - the ratios of millions upon millions of inputs and outputs have to be worked out in advance and the relative proportions or amounts have to be produced precisely in accordance with the Plan because the knock on consequences of any shortfall, say, will ramify through the whole economy and upset the carefully worked out calculations of the central planners. So finally on to the question of labour time allocation within the context of a definite social plan. It seems to me that if you are going to allocate labour in this predetermined a priori fashion then, in order for the definite social plan to be effectively implemented to the letter, you would need some way of ensuring that labour in its multiple forms is supplied in precisely the quantities needed in order to ensure that the technical ratios of inputs and outputs embodied in the plan are complied with. How can this can this be done without the most resolute and coerceive central direction of labour and the conception cannot possibly accommodated to the principle "from each according to ability to each according to need". It cannot be done and the fact that it cannot be done points to the need for a radically different perspective on the nature of a communist society to the one he is proposing. Actually even Marx's speculations on the nature of work and the abolition of the division of labour in communism directly contradict this notion in the famous quote from the German Ideology:
“For as soon as the distribution of labour comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic. This fixation of social activity, this consolidation of what we ourselves produce into an objective power above us, growing out of our control, thwarting our expectations, bringing to naught our calculations, is one of the chief factors in historical development up till now.”

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