Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Guy Aldred an the SPGB (March 1952)

From the March 1952 issue of the SocialistStandard

The following reference to the S.P.G.B. was published in the December issue of “The Word” which describes itself as “an organ of the United Socialist Movement, edited and published by Guy A. Aldred.”
   “There is also the attitude of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, who issued a manifesto urging people not to vote until everyone had joined the S.P.G.B. or became a Socialist. This curious attitude— which approaches Anarchism—was the result of the 1950 experience at the ballot-box. Carefully analysed, the attitude of the S.P.G.B is seen to be one of futility and hypocrisy. Instead of uniting at this time of crisis in a stand against war and rearmament, which could have been done without a single sacrifice of principle and actually with a great advantage to the propaganda status of the S.P.G.B., members of this stupid and stagnant party wrote ‘S.P.G.B.' across their ballot papers.”
Mr. Aldred, who contested Glasgow Central constituency in October, 1951, is angry because the S.P.G.B. did not support him. He described himself as a “Peace and Independent Socialist” candidate.

Let us deal first with the several inaccuracies in his statements. Of course, the S.P.G.B. did not issue a manifesto “urging people not to vote until everyone had joined the S.P.G.B. or became a Socialist.”

The S.P.G.B. does not commit the absurdity of advising non-Socialists how to vote or the equal absurdity of telling Socialists who know it already, that Socialist votes should go only in support of Socialism and that it is useless to vote for Capitalism. What our Manifesto did—a very different thing from Aldred’s misrepresentation—was to point out to Socialists and to nobody else that in the absence of S.P.G.B. candidates “you will be able to register your vote for Socialism by writing ‘Socialism’ across the ballot paper. This will serve to advertise the number of those who have realised that the use of the vote to support any other candidate no matter how he describes himself, is a vote for capitalism.”

Then Mr. Aldred tells his readers that this “curious” S.P.G.B. attitude “was the result of its 1950 experience at the ballot-box.”

The S.P.G.B. was doing this right from its formation in 1904, which means that it was doing it at the time when Mr. Aldred applied for membership of the S.P.G.B., and in 1928 when he offered to give his support to S.P.G.B. candidates on certain conditions. And although he calls it “curious” he has himself in the past committed the decidedly curious action of standing as an “anti-Parliamentary” Parliamentary candidate, and in the article from which we quote he declares that abstaining from voting “is sound expression of both Socialist and Anarchist principles.” If it is sound Socialist principle to vote for Socialism or to abstain from voting (two views which Aldred professes to agree with) it is hard to see why the S.P.G.B. line should strike him as curious.

But then consistency was never Aldred’s strong point. In his article he calls the S.P.G.B. “stupid and stagnant” but declares that he wanted our “stupid and stagnant” support, and that if it had been given, “ a Peace vote . . . at Central Glasgow, would have been a tremendous event” It recalls his declaration in 1928 (“The Commune” July, 1928), when, after denouncing the S.P.G.B. (quite falsely) for advocating “the nationalisation of the l.L.P. under which the wage-labourer remains a wage-labourer,” be offered to support S.P.G.B. candidates at elections; but not on the condition that we abandoned our purely imaginary advocacy of nationalisation, but on the condition that we pledged ourselves to challenge the oath of allegiance!

Elsewhere in Aldred’s article in “The Word” he tries to explain his own policy and his attitude to the Labour Party, I.L.P., Communist Party and Anarchists, a group which for some curious reason he believes to represent “ the Socialist and working-class organisation of the country.”

His chief complaint is that they “substituted Toryism for Capitalism, as the enemy.” It seems to have surprised as well as angered him. But anyone who imagines that the above-named group ever stood for the abolition of capitalism and who can describe them as “Socialist” is capable of being surprised at any normal demonstration of their anti-working class activities.

He even falls for the nonsense of supposing that the Communist Party which runs capitalism in Russia is all right, and it is only their communist stooges in Britain who are no good. He writes: “Surely it is time that the Communists in the Soviet countries realised what a worthless, inept and inadequate bunch the Communist Party is in Britain.”

How the Russian Communist Party would laugh at such simplicity.

And while Aldred takes these other parties to task for lighting Toryism instead of lighting capitalism (as if they didn’t know that their chances of getting elected depended on doing just that!) he himself does the same by substituting “war and rearmament” as the enemy, instead of capitalism. He writes:—“I stood for the recognition of Communist China and the Five Power Peace Pact.” He wanted “Unity on the part of the Pacifist and Socialist thinking groups,” and “a Peace vote, a definite anti-war vote.”

Since he attaches so much importance to the recognition of Capitalist China why didn’t he support the Labour Party which gave that recognition over a year ago or even the Tory Party which made no statement about rescinding it? If he waits long enough he will probably find Tories and Labourites uniting to support more Five Power Peace Pacts (or 25 Power Peace Pacts), and all the Capitalist Powers including Russia and China getting together to cut the cost of armaments—and of course capitalism all over the world will be as strong as ever, and just a little more firmly established through the confusion spread by people like Mr. Aldred.

Editorial Committee



24/10/17. 'Chinese Communist Party' Congress delegates voted
unanimously to add 'Xi Jinping Thought' to their Constitution.

From Sichuan and Beijing down to,
Ex-Portuguese Macau;
The Chinese rocked to the 'Red Book',
Of dear old Chairman Mao.

But these days all the millionaires,
With 'Anti-Rightist'* glee;
Are now hip-hopping to that rap,
'The Thought of Chairman Xi'. (1)

This 'Great Leap Forward'* surely means,
In China, everyone;
Is still revolting, though not with,
'The Barrel of a Gun'*! (2)

The 'Counter-Revolutionaries'*
Who under Mao, were purged;
These same ‘Revisionists’* returned,
When Deng Xiaoping emerged. (3)

The Party failed in it’s attempt,
To 'Rehabilitate'*;
The 'Capitalist Roaders'* who’d,
Begun to dominate.

But still they claim they’re ‘Socialists’,*
Though with a 'Chinese face'*;
Their 'Communism'* fully part,
Of the world's marketplace! (4)

(1) Xi Jinping is pronounced SHE JEENG-PEENG.

(2) 'Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun'. Mao Zedong.

(3) Mao’s successor who more openly accepted the market economy.

(4) * The many preposterous slogans of the farcically named
'Chinese Communist Party' would have us believe that “Socialism
with Chinese characteristics” is anything other than Capitalism.
© Richard Layton

The Party an Parliament

One of the achievements of the Socialist Party is simply that in the long period of the Labour Party ascendancy it was for all practical purposes the Socialist Party alone, which maintained an uncompromising socialist position. Even if today there are others who have come to argue that socialism is a wageless, money-free, state-free society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production, this in no way detracts from the tremendous service which the Socialist Party performed in keeping alive the idea of what socialism is. Nor is this the only major contribution of the Party which has never deviated from the principle that the emancipation of the working class must be the act of the working class itself. It has consistently denounced leadership and insisted that a socialist society can never be achieved until the majority have clearly understood what socialism is and have taken a conscious decision to establish the new society. The SPGB also pioneered the state-capitalist analysis of Soviet Union era Russia.

Socialism is a universal system of society where there will be no buying and selling. Consequently, all institutions which are now functioning only for the running of this buying and selling will disappear. Money, banks, insurance companies and several other institutions will disappear. All the resources of the world, the means, and instruments of wealth production and social services necessary to the sustenance of mankind will be held in common by the whole people of the community as you and I breathe air or drink water. All the people will happily work and they will have free access to their needs. Each and everyone will determine his own needs. There can be no wages system. Wages, of course, mean that somebody is working for somebody else – they imply rich and poor, two classes. To talk of wages under socialism is ridiculous. What is proposed is,that the whole system of money and exchange, buying and selling, profit-making and wage-earning should be entirely abolished and that instead, the community as a whole should organise and administer the production of goods for use only, and the free distribution of these goods to all the members of the community according to each person’s needs.

The Socialist Party has frequently pointed out how little difference there is from the workers’ point of view between State capitalism and private capitalism, whether under a Conservative or a Labour government’. Socialism will be a state-free society. The State, which is an organisation composed of soldiers, policemen, judges, and gaolers charged with enforcing the law, is only needed in class society, for in such societies there is no community of interest, only class conflict. The purpose of government is to maintain law and order in the interests of the dominant class. It is, in fact, an instrument of class oppression. In socialism, there will be no classes and no in-built class conflicts. The phrase ‘socialist government’ is a contradiction in terms. Where there is socialism there is no government and where there is a government there is no socialism. A distinction between government and the democratic administration has to be made. We refrain from extensive speculation about the precise organisation of the state-free society, pointing out that such decisions must be made by those establishing socialism, in accordance, no doubt, with ideas and plans formulated in the course of the revolutionary process. Many different kinds of bodies might be used by those in a socialist society. There is intrinsically nothing wrong with institutions where delegates assemble to parley (Parliaments, congresses, diets or soviets). What is wrong with them today is that they are controlled by the capitalist class. Remove class society and these various assemblies can be adapted to function in the interest of the whole people. The basis of industrial organisation and administration will start from the arrangements existing under capitalism at the time of the transformation, and this will present no difficulties because the socialist movement will already be thoroughly international, both in outlook and practical organisation. As far as the machinery of organisation and administration is concerned, it will be local, regional, national and international, evolving out of existing forms.

We, in the Socialist Party, insist that majority socialist consciousness is a prerequisite for socialism. The task of spreading socialist understanding and desire is not to be evaded, even though the faint-hearted may shy away, aghast at the prospect of trying to convince the world’s workers of the need for Socialism. It may seem an enormous task but there is no choice in the matter. Socialism depends upon the conscious support of its people. Unless people understand socialism and want it, they will never build it. The revolution must be a democratic act. Political action must be taken by the conscious majority, without depending upon leadership. It is upon the working class that the working class must rely on their emancipation. Valuable work may be done by individuals, and this work may necessarily raise them to prominence, but it is not to individuals, either of the working class or of the capitalist class, that the toilers must look. The movement for freedom must be a working-class movement. It must depend upon the working class vitality and intelligence and strength. Until the knowledge and experience of the working class are equal to the task of revolution there can be no emancipation for them.

To say – as some critics have – that the Socialist Party stands only for socialism through parliament’ or are ‘parliamentarian socialists is misleading. As Alex Anderson, of the Party's early years put it when asked the question, ‘Does the SPGB really propose to establish socialism through the ballot box?’, his reply was ‘Yes, but more importantly we must win it through the brain box.’  This association of the conquest of state power with the concept of a consciously and democratically organised working-class majority is distinguished from the reformist parliamentarianism of those who, in the name of ‘socialism’, seek to enter parliament for other purposes than to express the majority mandate formally to abolish class rule. Engels points out that the conquest of state power will be the final act of the working class.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Guy Aldred and the SPGB (1952)

From the June 1952 issue of the Socialist Standard

In our issue for March we published an article, “Muddled Critic of the S.P.G.B.,” commenting on some remarks about the S.P.G.B. made by Mr. Guy Aldred in his journal “The Word.”

In the April issue of “The Word” Mr. Aldred published our article in full and said that he intends to reply to it in his next issue.

In the meantime, in the April issue, he deals angrily with one passage in our article. Mr. Aldred had earlier written that the attitude of the S.P.G.B. at the 1951 election was “the result of its 1950 experience at the ballot-box.”

To this we replied: —
   "The S.P.G.B. was doing this right from its formation in 1904, which means that it was doing it at the time when Mr. Aldred applied for membership of the S.P.G.B., and in 1928 when he offered to give his support to S.P.G.B. candidates on certain conditions." .
Mr. Aldred says that we have knowingly made false statements, firstly in saying that he applied for membership, and secondly in saying that he did so in 1904. He says he did not apply for membership and that the incident in question did not happen in 1904 but in 1906.

Taking first the question of the year, may we suggest to Mr. Aldred that instead of getting so excited about our alleged mis-statement of the date, he should read again our statement reproduced above. It did not mention the date of the incident. What it aimed to convey was that as the S.P.G.B.’s attitude was the same ever since its formation in 1904, his application, whatever its date, must have been at a time when the S.P.G.B. held that attitude.

Mr. Aldred’s main objection is, however, to the statement that he applied for membership. In referring to this we notice that he does not give his readers his own version of the incident though he refers them to the Socialist Standard of November, 1906, for information contained in letters written by him.

We wrote without looking up the November, 1906 correspondence, and find that in fact Mr. Aldred did not apply for membership at that time. What he did was to write informing us that he was at once resigning from the Social Democratic Federation and wanted a membership form of the S.P.G.B. On the same day he wrote to the S.D.F. a letter spying: “I shall apply to the Socialist Party of Great Britain for membership.”

He followed this up two days later with a letter to the Socialist Standard explaining how, after opposing the ' S.P.G.B. in the past, “ I feel I owe an explanation to your readers for having accepted its principles.”

A fortnight later he wrote again saying that he had decided after all to remain in the S.D.F. “to use the S.D.F. platform for placing before members those revolutionary ideas.”

This last letter also contained the following: — 
  “So far as organised representation is concerned, I will only add that, in my opinion, the S.P.G.B. embodies in its constitution, the best organised expression of class-conscious socialism."
So Mr. Aldred didn’t apply for membership. He agreed with the S.P.G.B., and intended to apply for membership and wrote for a membership form, and then changed his mind and decided to remain in the S.D.F. putting S.P.G.B. views and risking expulsion. But he didn’t apply for membership because having decided to leave the S.D.F. and apply to join the S.P.G.B. he changed his mind again though he still agreed with the S.P.G.B.

We can only wonder why Mr. Aldred makes so much fuss about it

Editorial Committee

Capitalism without capitalists

The Socialist Party is not primarily concerned in moralistic arguments of “fair play” and “fair pay” to indict capitalism. The caviar and yachts of the billionaires matter little to compare to the misdirection of production: the subordination of consumption to accumulation and the immensity of organised waste and destruction.

Mankind will never be free from exploitation and oppression until all work is voluntary and access to all goods and services is free. Socialism, according to the Socialist Party, means a world-wide society, democratically controlled, without profits, wages or money. This is a practical proposition now. Attempts to end such problems as war, poverty and degrading drudgery, inside a society based on wages and profits are bound to fail. Many organisations and persons come forward with plans to re-arrange the wages system. Their most crucial error is the belief that the essential features of capitalism can be retained, and can be turned by “workers’ management” towards humane and liberatory ends. They envisaged an exchange market economy in which everybody would be paid in circulating money a more or less equal wage with which to buy goods which would be on sale at a price equal to their value (amount of socially necessary labour embodied in them).  They imagine that slavery can be operated in the interests of slaves. They are wasting their time. Advocating a self-managed market economy is not advocating socialism at all,

The basic contradiction of capitalism is that between socialised production and class monopoly of the means of production, which manifests itself as working class discontent with its general conditions of life, not just its work experiences under capitalism. A failure to recognise this is the one great weakness of the leftist groups. Some appeal to the authority of Marx where writing in 1875 Marx conceded that, in the early stages, consumption would have to be rationed (he suggested this be done by means of labour-time vouchers, but specifically said that these would no more be money than a theatre ticket was), but eventually all goods and services would be free for everybody to take according to need. Today, nearly a hundred and fifty years later, this stage could be reached very rapidly once socialism had been established.

If the market is to remain it should be obvious that if any enterprise produces to sell, and pays its bills out of its returns, it will be subject to the same basic market laws as any other enterprise. Of course, at the moment these laws are observed and interpreted by management, which then makes the decisions and’ imposes them on the other workers in the interests of the shareholders. These very same laws must have the same force whoever does the managing and even if the shareholders, so to speak, are the workers. This is a suggestion which advocates of cooperatives ought at least to consider. Workers collectively administering their own exploitation is not the aim of the Socialist Party.  Movements for “workers’ management,” “workers’ participation” and “workers’ control” are used by capitalist apologists to give workers the impression that the enterprise they work for in some way belongs to them. If all employees can be drawn into the process of management and can be given the illusion of an identity of interests between workers and employers, this helps to stifle the trade union struggle and enhance the process of exploitation. This is not what the radical cooperativists want, but then neither was the monolithic monopolistic structures of nationalisation what Leftists sought. “Workers’ management” is a cul-de-sac, to replace the cul-de-sac of state-ownership.

The Socialist Party understands that the socialist revolution is a complex and many-sided struggle to eliminate the wages system itself. We do not advocate workers control of production whilst striving to retain the market economy of capitalist production. Without the destruction of the market, the ramifications of capitalism would grow stronger, not weaker. Workers cannot control production and retain the wages system. The Socialist Party calls for the abolition of commodity production and wage labour and describes socialism as"a system where men and women can have full control over social wealth in common, for use, and so control their own natures. It is a completely different kind of production; for the sake of useful consumption of the society as a whole, not for the creation of commodities to exchange by buying and selling. While under capitalism use-values are only the material form of exchange-values, and commodities are produced for sale, under socialism production cannot be limited by the requirements of profit, of capital accumulation, but must be determined by the needs of the human community. The consumption of the working class cannot be limited by its wages or the value of its labour power, but will be determined by its needs and technical capacity of the productive apparatus which it sets in motion. The elimination of wage labour, of production based on the law of value, is not a task for some future or higher stage of socialism, but the immediate task. Socialism is not just concerned with emancipating workers as workers (i.e. wealth-producers) but as human beings (i.e. as men and women).  The Socialist Party goal is not to establish "workers power” but the abolition of all classes including the working class. It is thus misleading to speak of socialism as workers ownership and control of production. In socialist society, there would simply be people, equal men and women forming a class-free community.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Lest we forget

Obituary from the January 1965 issue of the Socialist Standard

We deeply regret to announce the death of Comrade Robert Barron on 21st November. He was a member of the Glasgow Branch for over thirty years. Bob Barron was a loyal and active member who devoted a whole lot of his time in spreading the Socialist case wherever he went. Although not a speaker, he was the type of member who forms the backbone of any organisation. The hard work behind the scenes, and, out of the limelight, is always very important and essential. Comrade Barron was a constant attendee at Branch and propaganda meetings and a keen distributor of our literature amongst his friends and workmates. Declining health over the past three years prevented his continuing, but it did not reduce his interest and enthusiasm for the cause. We extend our deepest sympathy and regret to his family and relatives.

John Higgins

Smoking, Scotland and Poverty

Smoking remains Scotland’s ­biggest cause of preventable illness and death.

Central to any discussion about smoking is that nicotine is as ­addictive as heroin, and that cigarettes are engineered to be ­addictive. 

The factors that push people to smoke and make it harder for them to quit include stress, anxiety and boredom, but also what is normal in people’s communities, such as a lack of alternative coping mechanisms or a lack of hopeful or optimistic plans for the future. 

This is where smoking becomes a social concern – and when some groups experience these ­factors more than others it should come as no surprise that they are statistically far more likely to smoke. So, we are able to understand why smoking rates in the most disadvantaged communities are several times higher than those in the most advantaged, why we see that half of all ­people out of work long-term smoke, and how it comes to be that a third of all tobacco smoked in the UK is used by people with mental health issues. 

This is the dominant narrative for smoking in Scotland today, with the casual fag with a drink at the weekend increasingly a distraction from the main concerns.

ASH Scotland signed the recent joint letter calling on Scotland’s political parties to give robust support to the new Poverty and Inequalities ­Commission. Yet the focus of ASH is tobacco and smoking, so why sign a letter that centres on economic inequality.  Smoking is not usually about free choice and people who do willingly choose to smoke now counts for just 7 per cent of adults in Scotland, a figure that is falling year on year. Looking at the factors that push them to smoke and prevent them from stopping is the purpose. Scotland still has the highest health inequality in Western Europe


Business Bites

In the Metro newspaper October 26th under the title of "Business Bites" two contrasting items demonstrated the difference between capital money and wages money.

"The boss of Lloyds Banking Group was bullish about Britain's economy as the lender revealed pre-tax profits more than doubled to £1.95 billion in the third quarter. Antonio Horta-Osorio said employment was at a record high and the weaker pound would help exports."

That is money loaned and returned with profit. Capital result.

The adjacent item read.

"Credit card borrowing rose again last month amid mounting fears of a consumer debt boom. The 7.8 per cent year on year rise compared with 7.3 per cent in August, says a report by UK Finance. Annual growth in overall consumer credit edged up from 1.4 to 1.5 per cent in September."

Wages moneys don't return profits. Wages being needed for consumer purposes and not being enough necessitates many workers to borrow.

Are the mounting fears of a consumer debt boom the same for the bosses as they are for the workers? I'll leave you to work that one out.



Explaining socialism

When the Socialist Party speaks of socialism/communism it is talking about organising society based on the principle of 'from each according to ability, to each according to need'.  The Socialist Party was founded and strives for a society based on cooperation, solidarity and meeting human needs - a cooperative commonwealth. Instead of private-ownership or state-control of the means of production - land, factories, offices and so on - a socialist society is based on the common ownership and democratic control of those means. This also means a money-free society where our activity and our products -no longer take the form of things to be bought and so and therefore it is going to be free of prices, including the price of labour. There will be no wages. The principal concern of people inside a socialist world will producing enough for us all to survive without the threat of deprivation and destitution, enforced by the wage system.  Without the profit motive of production uner capitalism, any technological advancement in automation and robotics which makes manufacturing and distribution easier, instead of just laying workers off and making those remaining work harder like happens at present, we can all just work less and have more free time.

Many tell us that socialism sounds like a good idea in theory but wouldn't work in practice. However, ask yourself this. "Does capitalism work?" Billions live in dire poverty amidst unimaginable wealth, and we head relentlessly towards environmental catastrophe we believe the answer is "No. Capitalism is failing us". And while no system will be perfect, we believe there is ample evidence that socialism would function far better than capitalism.

In recent years, with the revival of the ideological Right as a reaction to the failure of the wishy-washy middle-of-the-road social reformism that had been in vogue since the war, we in the Socialist Party have been singled out for special attention by those partisans of unbridled capitalism who call themselves "libertarians" and "anarcho-capitalists". This is probably because we are the only group calling itself socialist to put forward a coherent definition of what socialism is and prepared to go into the details of how we think a classless, stateless and in particular moneyless society might work.
The point these ideological defenders of capitalism love to attack us on is the idea of abolishing markets, prices, money and all other aspects of buying and selling. This they say would be impossible, as demonstrated by a certain Ludwig von Mises in an article on "Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth" published in German in 1920 (and first published in English in 1935 in Collectivist Economic Planning edited by Hayek).
Von Mises, they claim, showed that a socialist society was impossible because it would be unable to calculate rationally which productive methods to adopt. This they call "the economic calculation argument". According to von Mises, rational economic calculation is only possible on the basis of prices fixed by the free play of market forces. In other words, the only form of rational calculation that can be applied to the production of wealth is monetary calculation.
Although money, and so monetary calculation, will disappear in socialism this does not mean that there will no longer be any need to make choices, evaluations, and calculations. Our argument is that these evaluations and calculations, including those conceding the non-monetary "cost" of objects in terms of the effort and materials used to produce them, will be done directly in kind, without any general unit of account or measurement, neither money nor labour-time.
This follows from the very nature of socialism as a society geared to producing wealth directly to satisfy human needs. Wealth will be produced and distributed in its natural form of useful things, of objects that can serve to satisfy some human need or other. Not being produced for sale on a market, items of wealth will not acquire an exchange-value in addition to their use value.
In socialism their value, in the normal non-economic sense of the word, will not be their selling price nor the time needed to produce them but their usefulness. It is for this that they will be appreciated, evaluated, wanted… and produced. So estimates of what is likely to be needed over a given period will be expressed as physical quantities of definite types and sorts of objects. Nobody, not even von Mises has denied that this could be done without problems:
calculation in natura in an economy without exchange can embrace consumption-goods only (von Mises, p. 104)
Von Mises' argument was that the next step—working out which productive methods to employ—would not be possible, or at least would not be able to be done "rationally" avoiding waste and inefficiency without "economic calculation" - monetary calculation based on market prices. Our answer is that the choice of which productive methods to employ, will like working out what consumer goods are needed, be based on estimations and calculations in kind.
A monetary economy gives rise to the illusion that the "cost" of producing something is merely financial; indeed so associated is the word cost with financial and monetary calculation that we are obliged to put it in inverted commas when we want to talk about it in a non-monetary sense. But the real cost of the pencil I'm using to write this article is not 10 pence, but the amount of wood, slate, labour, electricity, wear and tear of machines, used up in producing it. This will continue to be the case in socialism. Goods will not grow on trees, but will still require expenditure of effort and materials to produce them.
The point is that in socialism this expenditure of effort and materials will be estimated and calculated exclusively in kind, directly in terms of wood, slate, machinery wear and tear, electricity, and so on (including working time, but as this will be a special case we'll come back to it later). Since socialism will be concerned with conserving resources it will want to adopt those productive methods which, other things being equal, use less rather than more materials and energy and this will be one, but only one, of the factors to be taken into account in deciding which technical method of production to adopt.
Monetary calculation, whether to discover which productive method is the most profitable (as imposed by capitalism and praised by the followers of von Mises) or for any other purpose (as proposed by various partisans of state capitalism and other unrealistic would-be reformers of capitalism), is a very peculiar sort of calculation since it involves reducing all use-values to an abstract common denominator. Use-values can indeed be compared but only in concrete situations since the same object can have a different use-value at different times and under different circumstances.
Monetary calculation, however, seeks to compare all objects in terms of an objective standard applicable in all circumstances; to do this it needs to identify a feature common to all objects. Such a common feature can indeed be found: that a certain "cost" in terms of materials, energy and labour expended has had to be incurred to produce them (ultimately the labour-time required to produce them from start to finish, and—this is the basis of the labour theory of value—the materials and energy expended, being produced by labour, can also be reduced to given amounts of necessary labour-time). It is this cost that is supposed to be measured by money.
Money, then is the universal unit of measurement, the "general equivalent" that allows everything to be compared with everything else under all circumstances—but, and this is what the partisans of monetary calculation forget, only in terms of their labour-time cost or the total time needed on average to produce them from start to finish.
To make this the only consideration that counts (as is imposed by the economic laws of capitalism) is an absurd aberration. It is like making volume the most important thing about bottles containing different liquids and then concluding that a litre bottle of water has the same significance as a litre bottle of wine or of oil or of sulphuric acid or whatever. But we are doing exactly the same if we say, or if we believe that different goods selling at the same price have the same "value", or are "worth" the same, in terms of their real usefulness to people.

Market Values or Human Values?

So the argument between monetary calculation and calculation in kind is much broader than it first seems. It is not merely a technical argument about how to calculate and what units to use for this, but is an argument about the real meaning of words like "value" and "worth". Socialists, as opponents of monetary calculation, say that it is not monetary or market values, in the end, total average production time, that is the most important thing about a good but its usefulness in satisfying some human need; that the real values are use-values, human values. We are saying that these are the factors that should be taken into account when making choices and calculations about production, not simply production time.
This presupposes that calculations concerning production can be carried out without money or without some money-substitutes some other general unit such as labour-time. Such non-monetary calculation of course already happens, on the technical level, under capitalism. Once the choice of productive method has been made (according to expected profitability as revealed by monetary calculation) then the real calculations in kind of what is needed to produce a specific good commence so much raw materials, so much energy, so much labo. 
In socialism it is not the case that the choice of productive method will become a technical choice that can be left to engineers, as is sometimes misunderstood by our critics, but that this choice too will be made in real terms, in terms of the real advantages and disadvantages of alternative methods and in terms of, on the one hand, the utility of some good or some project in a particular circumstance at a particular time and, on the other hand, of the real "costs" in the same circumstances and at the same time of the required materials, energy and productive effort.
To advocate monetary calculation, then, is to advocate that only one consideration—the total average production time needed to produce goods—should be taken into account when making decisions about which productive methods to employ. This is patently absurd but it is what is imposed by capitalism. Naturally, it leads to all sorts of aberrations from the point of view of human interests. In particular, it rules out a rational, long-term attitude towards conserving resources and it imposes intolerable conditions on the actual producers (speed-up, pain, stress, boredom, long hours, night work, shiftwork, accidents).
Socialism, because it will calculate directly it kind, will be able to take these other, more important, factors than production time into account. This will naturally lead to different, in many cases quite different, productive methods being adopted than now under capitalism. If the health, comfort, and enjoyment of those who actually manipulate the materials, or who supervise the machines which do this, to transform them into useful objects is to be paramount, certain methods are going to be ruled out altogether. The fast-moving production lines associated with the manufacture of cars would be stopped forever (except perhaps in a museum of the horrors of capitalism); night work would be reduced to the strict minimum; particularly dangerous or unhealthy jobs would be automated (or completely abandoned).
Work can, in fact, must become enjoyable. But to the extent that work becomes enjoyable, measurement by minimum average working time would be completely meaningless, since people would not be seeking to minimize or rush such work.
However, there will still be some kinds of work that socialist society will want to minimize. For instance, dangerous or repetitive work. Once again, this would be one of the real factors that will have to be taken into account when decisions are made as to what productive methods to adopt. Other factors would be conserving resources (so out would go "planned obsolescence" and in would come solid goods made to last), saving energy, avoiding pollution and generally maintaining a sustainable ecological balance with the rest of nature.
As a matter of fact, even under capitalism, enterprise managers do not just base their decisions on market prices, long-term or short-term. They are obliged by law (and also by trade union pressure) to take into account a whole series of other factors such as safety, anti-pollution and planning permission. The over-riding consideration remains, of course, expected profits (the difference between anticipated sales receipts and monetary cost of production). This means that these factors are of minor importance and only reflect the minimum standards that are not incompatible with profitmaking and, being imposed from outside against the logic of short-term profit-making are always being broken. But they do, however marginally, enter into productive decisions, thus showing that it is possible to take into account other considerations than minimum production time.

The Priorities in Socialism

In socialism the situation will be quite different: these factors will be automatically taken into account in the decision-making process and will not have to be imposed from outside as a sort of after-thought since among the highest priorities of production will be the health and welfare of the producers. We can imagine the decisions as to choice of productive methods being made by a council elected by the workforce, or by a technical subcommittee of such a democratically-elected council. In making their choice they will first take into account, not minimizing average total production time as the economic laws of capitalism enforce today, but the health, comfort, and enjoyment of the workforce, the protection of the environment and the conservation of materials and energy.
Since materials and energy, and work to the extent that it is not interesting and creative but only routine, are real "costs" the aim will be to minimize them. As there will be these clearly defined objectives and constraints, mathematical aids to decision-making such as operational research and linear programming, at present prostituted to the end of maximizing profits, can be used to find the optimum productive methods.
Another point that must be understood is that socialism will not have to start from scratch. It will inherit from capitalism a going technical system of production which it will be able to adapt to production for use. Some methods will have to be stopped straight away or as soon as possible but others will only need modifying to a greater or lesser extent. Again, when socialism will have cleared up the mess inherited from capitalism, it will become a society in which methods of production too will only change slowly. This will make decision-making about production much simpler.
We add straight away to avoid any misunderstanding that, even in the period at the beginning of socialism when production will be clearing up the mess in terms of deprivation and poverty left by capitalism, monetary calculation won't be necessary. The necessary expansion of production can be planned and executed in real terms.
So, the so-called "economic calculation argument" against socialism collapses in the face of detailed analysis. The alternative to monetary calculation in terms of exchange value is calculation in kind in terms of use values, of the real advantages and real costs of particular real alternatives in particular real circumstances.
Abridged and adapted from the debate here

Friday, October 27, 2017

Golden years? We think not.

43% of Scots aged 40 to 64 believe they will not have enough money to retire when they reach state pension age, a survey for Age Scotland found.
 A total of 44% said they were planning to work into their late 60s and beyond to enjoy a better retirement lifestyle. More than a third (36%) planned to continue working in their current job with the same hours. Not having enough money was the most common reason to continue working.
Age Scotland Chief executive, Brian Sloan said: "It's worrying that retirement seems increasingly unaffordable for a growing number of Scots...As the state pension age increases, working longer is set to become part of life..." 

Responding to Critics

Abundance and Scarcity

First, we have to define what scarcity is. Orthodox economics argue it is limited supply - versus- boundless demand. Our wants are essentially “infinite” and the resources to meet them, limited claim the economists. Von Mise and Parecon claim that without the guidance of prices socialism would sink into inefficiency. According to the argument, scarcity is an unavoidable fact of life. It applies to any goods where the decision to use a unit of that good entails giving up some other potential use. In other words, whatever one decides to do has an "opportunity cost" — that is the opportunity to do something else which one thereby forgoes; economics is concerned with the allocation of scarce resources. However, in the real world, abundance is not a situation where an infinite amount of every good could be produced. Similarly, scarcity is not the situation which exists in the absence of this impossible total or sheer abundance.

Abundance is a situation where productive resources are sufficient to produce enough wealth to satisfy human needs, while scarcity is a situation where productive resources are insufficient for this purpose. Abundance is a relationship between supply and demand, where the former exceeds the latter. In socialism, a buffer of surplus stock for any particular item, whether a consumer or a producer good, can be produced, to allow for future fluctuations in the demand for that item, and to provide an adequate response time for any necessary adjustments. Thus achieving abundance can be understood as the maintenance of an adequate buffer of stock in the light of extrapolated trends in demand. The relative abundance or scarcity of a good would be indicated by how easy or difficult it was to maintain such an adequate buffer stock in the face of a demand trend (upward, static, or downward). It will thus be possible to choose how to combine different factors for production, and whether to use one rather than another, on the basis of their relative abundance/scarcity.
We are seeking what some call a "steady-state economy" or "zero-growth", a situation where human needs are in balance with the resources needed to satisfy them.

Such a society would have decided on the most appropriate way to allocate resources to meet the needs of its members. This having been done, it would only need to go on repeating this continuously from production period to production period. Production would not be ever-increasing but would be stabilised at the level required to satisfy needs. All that would be produced would be products for consumption and the products needed to replace and repair the raw materials and instruments of production used up in producing these consumer goods. The point about such a situation is that there will no longer be any imperative need to develop productivity, i.e. to cut costs in the sense of using fewer resources; nor will there be the blind pressure to do so that is exerted under capitalism through the market. Technical research would continue and this would no doubt result in costs being able to be saved, but there would be no external pressure to do so or even any need to apply all new productivity enhancing techniques.
In a stable society such as socialism, needs would most likely change relatively slowly. Hence it is reasonable to assume that an efficient system of stock control, registering what individuals actually chose to take under conditions of free access from local distribution centres over a given period, would enable the local distribution committee to estimate what the need for food, drink, clothes and household goods that would be required over a similar future period. Some needs would be able to be met locally: local transport, repairs and some food produce are examples as well as services such as libraries and refuse collection. The local distribution committee would then communicate needs that could not be met locally to the bodies charged with coordinating supplies to local communities.
The individual would have free access to the goods on the shelves of the local distribution centres; the local distribution centres free access to the goods they required to be always adequately stocked with what people needed; their suppliers free access to the goods they required from the factories which supplied them; industries and factories free access to the materials, equipment and energy they needed to produce their products; and so on. Production and distribution in socialism would thus be a question of organising a coordinated and more or less self-regulating system of linkages between users and suppliers, enabling resources and materials to flow smoothly from one productive unit to another, and ultimately to the final user, in response to information flowing in the opposite direction originating from final users. The productive system would thus be set in motion from the consumer end, as individuals and communities took steps to satisfy their self-defined needs.
Socialist production is self-adjusting production for use. It will be a self regulating , decentralised inter-linked system to provide for a self sustaining steady state society. And we can set out a possible way of achieving an eventual zero growth steady state society operating in a stable and ecologically benign way. This could be achieved in three main phases.
First, there would have to be urgent action to relieve the worst problems of food shortages, health care and housing which affect billions of people throughout the world.
Secondly, longer term action to construct means of production and infrastructures such as transport systems for the supply of permanent housing and durable consumption goods. These could be designed in line with conservation principles, which means they would be made to last for a long time, using materials that where possible could be re-cycled and would require minimum maintenance.
Thirdly, with these objectives achieved there could be an eventual fall in production, and society could move into a stable mode. This would achieve a rhythm of daily production in line with daily needs with no significant growth. On this basis, the world community could live in material well being whilst looking after the planet.
Socialism will seek an environmental-friendly relationship with nature. In socialism we would not be bound to use the most labour efficient methods of production. We would be free to select our methods in accordance with a wide range of socially desirable criteria, in particular the vital need to protect the environment. What it means is that we should construct permanent, durable means of production which you don’t constantly innovate. We would use these to produce durable equipment and machinery and durable consumer goods designed to last for a long time, designed for minimum maintenance and made from materials which if necessary can be re-cycled. In this way we would get a minimum loss of materials; once they’ve been extracted and processed they can be used over and over again. It also means that once you’ve achieved satisfactory levels of consumer goods, you don’t insist on producing more and more. Total social production could even be reduced. This will be the opposite of to-day's capitalist system's cheap, shoddy, throw-away goods with its built-in obsolescence, which results in a massive loss and destruction of resources.
We have said above that the most urgent task will be to stop people dying of hunger but the supply of decent housing will require a vastly greater allocation of labour than any necessary increase in food production. This means that a great surge of required materials and equipment will flow through the units producing building supplies. A structure of housing production that is generally adjusted to the market for housing under capitalism, which is what people in socialism would inherit, will in no way be able to cope with a demand for housing based on need. So, within the wider context of a democratically decided housing policy, in which questions of planning and the environment would have been taken into account, the job of implementing housing decisions would eventually pass to the committees or works councils throughout the construction industry.
We see the technological perfection in modern society – automation. And we see also a productive apparatus capable of producing more than suf´Čüciency for all. The age-long problem facing man – production – has been solved. The very evolution of capitalism itself has solved the problem of production. The material conditions are now ripe for the establishment of Socialism. The " World of Abundance" referred to by socialists has never referred to the open-ended consumerism encouraged by the advertisers but has rather as its target a stable and more satisfying way of life in which the scramble to accrue things is no longer central. With material survival removed from the marketplace by the abolition of commodity production we can expect that individuals will calm down their acquisitive desires and pursue more satisfying activities.
For socialism to be established, there are two fundamental preconditions that must be met. Firstly, the productive potential of society must have been developed to the point where, generally speaking, we can produce enough for all. This is not now a problem as we have long since reached this point. Secondly, the establishment of socialism presupposes the existence of a mass socialist movement and a profound change in social outlook.

When we propose different scales of social co-operation such as local, regional and world scales, this is not a question of there being a hierarchy with power located at any central point. What we anticipate is both an integrated and flexible system of democratic organisation which could be adapted for action to solve any problem in any of these scales. This simply takes into account that some problems and the action to solve them arise from local issues and this also extends to the regional and world spheres. Crucial to the question of democracy is not just the ability to make decisions about what to do but also the powers of action to carry out those decisions. But with the abolition of the market system, communities in socialism will not only be able to make free and democratic decisions about what needs to be done they will also be free to use their resources to achieve those aims. Problems are not solved with money resources. They are solved by people using their labour, skills and the necessary materials and there is in fact an abundance of these material resources. But it will take the relations of common ownership to release them for the needs of communities and this will also mean that communities will be free to decide democratically how best to use those resources.
If people didn’t work then society would obviously fall apart.
If people want too much? In a socialist society "too much" can only mean "more than is sustainably produced."
If people decide that they (individually and as a society) need to over-consume then socialism cannot possibly work.
This does require that we appreciate what is meant by "enough"
To establish socialism the vast majority must consciously decide that they want socialism and that they are prepared to work in socialist society. The establishment of socialism presupposes the existence of a mass socialist movement and a profound change in social outlook. It is simply not reasonable to suppose that the desire for socialism on such a large scale, and the conscious understanding of what it entails on the part of all concerned, would not influence the way people behaved in socialism and towards each other. Would they want to jeopardise the new society they had helped create? We think not. If people cannot change their behaviour and take control and responsibility for their decisions , socialism will fail.
Free-access socialists strive to create a society where people have accepted socially mutual obligations and the realisation of universal interdependency and we understand that this would profoundly affect people’s choices, perceptions, conceptualizations, attitudes, and greatly influence their behaviour, economically or otherwise.
We will use the tools and systems that capitalism bequeathes us, which will be suitably modified and adapted and transformed for the new conditions. There are countless professional and trade associalitions and marketing boards and government departments which have the research and diagnostic tools available , not to mention the trade union movement . All those bodies may be at present based on commerce but can be quite easily democratised , socialised and integrated organisationally .
Stock or inventory control systems employing calculation in kind are, as suggested earlier, absolutely indispensable to any kind of modern production system. While it is true that they operate within a price environment today, that is not the same thing as saying they need such an environment in order to operate. The key to good stock management is the stock turnover rate – how rapidly stock is removed from the shelves – and the point at which it may need to be re-ordered. This will also be affected by considerations such as lead times – how long it takes for fresh stock to arrive – and the need to anticipate possible changes in demand. The Just- In- Time systems are another well tried and trusted method of warehousing and linking up supply chains which can be utilised .
Then there will be the existence of buffer stocks to provides for a period of re-adjustment. It may be argued that this overlooks the problem of opportunity costs . For example, if the supplier of baked beans orders more tin plate from the manufacturers of tin plate then that will mean other uses for this material being deprived by that amount. However, it must be born in mind in the first place that the systematic overproduction of goods – i.e. a buffer stock – applies to all goods, consumption goods as well as production goods. So increased demand from one consumer/producer, need not necessarily entail a cut in supply to another or at least, not immediately. The existence of buffer stocks provides for a period of re-adjustment. Another point that this argument overlooks the possibility of there being alternative suppliers of this material or indeed, for that matter, more readily available substitutes for containers (say, paper rather than plastic).
Some kind of “points system” might be used to evaluate different projects facing society - cost-benefit analysis which is not dependant upon dollars and cents calculations .Under capitalism the balance sheet of the relevant benefits and costs advantages and disadvantages of a particular scheme or rival schemes is drawn up in money terms , but in socialism a points system for attributing relative importance to the various relevant considerations could be used instead. The points attributed to these considerations would be subjective, in the sense that this would depend on a deliberate social decision rather than on some objective standard. In the sense that one of the aims of socialism is precisely to rescue humankind from the capitalist fixation with production time/money, cost-benefit type analyses, as a means of taking into account other factors, could therefore be said to be more appropriate for use in socialism than under capitalism. Using points systems to attribute relative importance in this way would not be to recreate some universal unit of evaluation and calculation, but simply to employ a technique to facilitate decision-making in particular concrete cases. The advantages /disadvantages and even the points attributed to them can, and normally would, differ from case to case. So what we are talking about is not a new abstract universal unit of measurement to replace money and economic value but one technique among others for reaching rational decisions in a society where the criterion of rationality is human welfare.
There is the “Law of the Minimum” which was formulated by the agricultural chemist, Justus von Liebig in the 19th century. Liebig’s Law can be applied equally to the problem of resource allocation in any economy.For any given bundle of factors required to produce a given good, one of these will be the limiting factor. That is to say, the output of this good will be restricted by the availability of the factor in question constituting the limiting factor. All things being equal, it makes sense from an economic point of view to economise most on those things that are scarcest and to make the greatest use of those things that are abundant.
Priorities can be determined by applying Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” as a guide. It would seem reasonable to suppose that needs that were most pressing and upon which the satisfaction of other needs are dependant would take priority over those other needs. We are talking here about our basic physiological needs for food, water, adequate sanitation and housing and so on. This would be reflected in the allocation of resources: high priority end goals would take precedence over low priority end goals where resources common to both are revealed (via the self-regulating system of stock control) to be in short supply.
To ensure the smooth functioning of the system, statistical offices ( and those exist now in a variety of forms ) would provide estimates of what would have to be produced to meet peoples likely individual and collective needs. These could be calculated in the light of consumer wants as indicated by returns from local distribution committees and of technical data (productive capacity, production methods, productivity, etc) incorporated in input-output tables. For, at any given level of technology (reflected in the input-output tables), a given mix of final goods (consumer wants) requires for its production a given mix of intermediate goods and raw materials; it is this latter mix that statistical offices would be calculating . Such calculations would also indicate whether or not productive capacity would need to be expanded and in what branches. The centres would be essentially an information clearing house, processing information communicated to it about production and distribution and passing on the results to industries for them to draw up their production plans so as to be in a position to meet the requests for their products coming from other industries and from local communities.
On the one side would be recorded the resources (materials, energy, equipment, labour) used up in production and on the other side the amount of the good produced, together with any by-products.Each part of of production would know its position . If requirements are low in relation to a build-up of stock , then this would an automatic indication to a production unit that its production should be reduced . The supply of some needs will take place within the local community and in these cases production would not extent beyond this , as for example with local food production for local consumption .Other needs could be communicated as required things to the regional organisation of production. Regional manufacture would produce and assemble required goods for distribution to local communities .
The socialist economy is not a command economy but a responsive one to provide for a self -sustaining steady state society. There would be a marked degree of automaticity in the way the system operated. What decisions that may be required will be made at different levels of organisation: global, regional and local but with the bulk of decision-making being made at the local level.