Friday, December 21, 2018

Understanding what a socialist society will be

Socialist society, as the Socialist Party repeatedly makes clear, will be a non-market society, with all that that implied: no money, no buying and selling, no prices, no wages. The Communist Manifesto specifically speaks of “the Communistic abolition of buying and selling”  and of the abolition not only of capital (wealth used to produce other wealth with a view to profit) but of wage labour too. In Volume I Marx speaks of “directly associated labour, a form of production that is entirely inconsistent with the production of commodities . . .”  and in Volume II of things being different “if production were collective and no longer possessed the form of commodity production . . .”. Also, in Volume II, Marx in comparing how Socialism and capitalism would deal with a particular problem twice says there would be no money to complicate matters in socialist society: “If we conceive society as being not capitalistic but communistic, there will be no money-capital at all in the first place . . .”  and “in the case of socialized production the money-capital is eliminated”.

In other words, in socialism, it is solely a question of planning and organisation. Marx also advised trade unionists to adopt the revolutionary watchword “Abolition of the Wages System” and, in his Critique of the Gotha Programme, stated “within the co-operative society based on the common ownership of the means of production, the producers do not exchange their products”  for the simple reason that their work would then be social, not individual and applied as part of a definite plan. What they produce belongs to them collectively, i.e. to society, as soon as it is produced; socialist society then allocates, again in accordance with a plan, the social product to various previously-agreed uses.

Karl Marx used five words to describe future society: communist, associated, socialised, collective and co-operative. All these words convey a similar meaning and bring out the contrast with the capitalist society where not only the ownership and control of production but life generally is private, isolated and atomized. Of these the word Marx used most frequently — almost more frequently than communist — was association. Marx wrote of future society as “an association which will exclude classes and their antagonism”  and as “an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all”. In Volume III of Capital Marx writes three or four times of production in future society being controlled by the “associated producers”. Association was a word used in working-class circles in England to mean a voluntary union of workers to overcome the effects of competition. This was Marx’s sense too: in a future society, the producers would voluntarily co-operate to further their own common interest; they would cease to be “the working class” and become a classless community.

In these circumstances, the State as an instrument of political rule over people would have no place. The State as a social organ of coercion is in the Socialist Party view, only needed in class-divided societies as an instrument of class rule and to contain class struggles. As Marx put it, in a socialist society “there will be no more political power properly so-called since political power is precisely the official expression of antagonism in civil society”  and “the public power will lose its political character. Political power, properly so called, is merely the organised power of one class for oppressing another”. Socialist society would indeed need a central administration but this would not be a “State” or “government” in that it would not have at its disposal any means of coercing people, but would be concerned purely with administering social affairs under democratic control. As Marx explained it would be “the conversion of the functions of the State into a mere superintendence of production”, and he also declared that “freedom consists in converting the state from an organ superimposed upon society into one completely subordinate to it”. In other words, once socialism had been established and classes abolished, the coercive and undemocratic features of the State machine would have been removed, leaving only purely administrative functions mainly in the field of the planning and organization of production. It is significant that Marx never defined communist society in terms of the ownership and control of the means of production by the State, but rather in terms of ownership and control by a voluntary association of the producers themselves. He did not equate what is now called “nationalisation” with socialism. The feature of communist society, in Marx’s view, would be consciously planned production. He writes of a society “in which producers regulate their production according to a preconceived plan”  and of “production by freely associated men . . . consciously regulated by them in accordance with a settled plan”. Socialism would allow mankind to consciously regulate their relationship with Nature; only such a consciously planned society was truly human society, a society compatible with human nature.

The Socialist Party holds that the future communist society would be a class-free community, without any coercive State machine, based on the common ownership of the means of production, with planning to serve human welfare completely replacing production for profit, the market economy, money, and the wages system — even in the early stages when it might not prove possible to implement the principle “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need."

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