Sunday, February 14, 2010

An Open Letter to Those Describing Themselves as Socialists

We state below some of the principles on which, from our point of view, a genuine socialist party must be based and we hope by making a useful contribution to your discussions. We have divided our report into four parts:

I Socialism
II The Path to Socialism
III Futility of Reformism

IV A Model of Socialist Society

I. Socialism

1) The socialist party must first be clear in its socialism, that socialism must be a system of society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments of production and distribution and in the interest of the entire community. Socialism is a global community without borders, where goods are produced only for use. Buying and selling, and with them prices, wages, money, profits and banks will disappear. Instead, everyone will have free access to the common store according to his need. Socialism is a fully democratic society. The coercive state machinery of class society will be replaced by the simple democratic administration of the affairs of society.

2) The government ownership of industry, or nationalisation, is state capitalism. Workers in state industries are still exploited for profit by the wage system and still need to organise into unions and to strike to protect their interests. The nationalised industries are run on capitalist lines to produce for sale. This has absolutely nothing in common with socialism. Socialism and communism are not different systems of society , both describe the same society based on social ownership . For us, the words "socialist state" are contradictory. Where there is socialism there is no state , and where there is a state then there is no socialism.

II. The Path to Socialism

3) Socialism can be established only by the political majority of the working class who want and understand socialism. To establish socialism, the working class must first gain control of political power and to do so, we must organise a political party.

4) That the majority should want and understand socialism has been a principle that has always distinguished us from all other parties who call themselves socialists. Once the nature of socialism is understood as a free society based on voluntary work and free access to all the fruits of this work, it is clear that socialism can only be established by the conscious action of the majority. The voluntary cooperation and social responsibility that socialism demands cannot be imposed by a minority of leaders . The principle of leadership is anti-socialist.

5) When it is recognised that there must be a majority of socialists who understand and want socialism , a majority with a socialist consciousness, then violence is not necessary, unless the pro-capitalists use it first . The socialist majority will use the popular vote as it is to show they are a majority and also to send its delegates to parliament and local councils, thus gaining control of the state apparatus.

6) We maintain that barricades and street battles are out-moded revolutionary tactics. In the modern political situation - the overwhelming numerical superiority of the working class, universal suffrage, political democracy, an army and civil service recruited among workers - the working class can and must use the elections and the parliament as a way leading to power for socialism. A socialist party should contest as often as possible elections, but only on a socialist programme . Where there are no socialist candidates, the party should advocate blank or spoiled ballot papers but does not engage in anti-election propaganda of the anarchist type.
The idea of an anarcho-syndicalist general strike of industrial unions as a means of overthrowing the capitalist yoke is obviously impractical because it would leave the means to crush such a strike, the state apparatus, in the hands of the capitalists.

III. The Futility of Reformism

7) The party that the working class use as a tool to gain political control must be organised on a democratic basis.The structure of the socialist party will have to reflect the democratic nature of the society it is seeking to establish. Its policies and administration must be entirely in the hands of its members, there should not be leaders and those who are designated to perform different functions must be accountable to members. Full free and frank discussion of party policy should exist .In keeping with the tenet that working class emancipation necessarily excludes the role of political leadership , the SPGB is a leader-less political party where its executive committee is solely for housekeeping admin duties and cannot determine policy or even submit resolutions to conference ( ec meetings are public and the ec minutes are available for public scrutiny on the web as proof of our commitment to openness and democracy ) . All conference decisions have to be ratified by a referendum of the whole membership . The General Secretary has no position of power or authority over any other member. This is the basis of the SPGB party structure .
At a certain level of development of the socialist movement in each country, socialists should organise themselves into a party, with its own democratic rules , rather than remain discussion or study or reader groups that may have been previously more convenient and appropriate . A political party can only be what its members are. If a socialist party wants to remain as such, it must recruit only the socialists in its ranks. This is particularly necessary in a democratic party where all members have equal votes on policy decisions . Passing a test on basic knowledge of socialism must be a condition of admission to the ranks of the party of socialism.

8) Moreover, to remain socialist, the party must seek support solely on the basis of a socialist programme . Inevitably, in the present circumstances, the result will be that the party will be comparatively small in number, but there is no other logical way to build a genuine socialist party. History showed us the fate of the social democratic parties , which despite a formal commitment to socialism as an "ultimate goal" , admitted the non-socialist to their ranks and sought non-socialist support for a reform programme of capitalism rather than a socialist programme. In order to maintain their non-socialist support , they were themselves forced to drop all talk of socialism and become even more openly reformist . Today the social democratic parties are firmly committed to capitalism in theory and in practice. We say that this was the inevitable result of the admission of non-socialists and advocating reforms of capitalism. That is why we have always advocated socialism and never called for the reform of capitalism. We are not saying that all reforms are anti - working class, but as a socialist party advocating reforms , it would be its first step towards its transformation into a reformist party. Regardless of why or how the reforms are advocated, the result is the same: confusion in the minds of the working class instead of growth of socialist consciousness.

9) The preservation of the environment is a social problem which requires humanity to establish a viable and stable relationship with the rest of nature. In practice this implies a society which uses, as far as possible, renewable raw materials and energy and practise the recycling of non-renewable resources; a society which, once an appropriate balance with nature has been formed, will tend towards a stable level of production, indeed towards “zero growth”. This does not mean that changes are to be excluded on principle, but that any change will have to respect the environment by taking place at a pace to which nature can adapt. But the employment by capitalism of destructive methods of production has, over two centuries, upset the balance of nature.
It is not “Humanity” but the capitalist economic system itself which is responsible for ecological problems. It is only after having placed the means of society’s existence under the control of the community that we will be able to ensure their management, no longer in the selfish interest of the capitalist class , but in the general interest.
Most environmentalists accept the economic dictatorship of the owning minority since they don’t understand the link that exists between the destruction of the environment and the private/state ownership of the means of production.Because by definition capitalism can only function in the interest of the capitalists, no palliative can (nor ever will be able to) subordinate capitalist private property to the general interest. For this reason only the threat of a socialist movement setting down as the only realistic and immediate aim the establishment of social property of society’s means of existence so as to ensure their management by and in the interest of the whole community, would be able to force the capitalists to concede reforms favourable to the workers for fear of losing the whole cake. Yet more reason to advance the maximum programme of socialism.

10) As the trade union movement stands to-day it is still craft and sectarian in outlook, still mainly pro-capitalist.The struggle on the economic field has to be, and is, carried on by socialists and non-socialists alike. The ideal trade-union, from a socialist point of view, would be one that recognised the irreconcilable conflict of interest between workers and employers, that had no leaders but was organised democratically and controlled by its members, that sought to organise all workers irrespective of nationality, colour, religious or political views, first by industry then into One Big Union, and which struggled not just for higher wages but also for the abolition of the wages system.This cannot become a full reality until large numbers of workers are socialists. We cannot have a union organised on entirely socialist principles without a socialist membership. The small number of workers who really understand the meaning of socialism is such that any attempt to form a separate socialist economic organisation at present would be futile, for the very nature of the workers' economic struggle under capitalism would compel such an organisation to associate in a common cause with the non-socialist unions during strikes and all the other activities of the class struggle. A socialist party , therefore, urges that the existing unions provide the medium through which the workers should continue their efforts to obtain the best conditions they can get from the master class in the sale of their labour-power.

11) A socialist party must oppose nationalism in all its forms . The interests of working people are the same in all countries and they should never be enemies of each other . Anti-imperialist nationalism is the ideology of an actual or aspiring capitalist class that seeks the way to its own independent state ; they are striving to carve out a place for themselves within the existing system, not to overthrow it. The logic of such movements is to subordinate the interests of workers to those of the capitalist leadership. Socialists have always said clearly that workers have no country .

IV A Model of Socialist Society

Socialists caution against the creation of blueprints . There is no point in drawing up in advance the sort of detailed blueprint of industrial organisation . For a small group of socialists , as we are now , to do so would be undemocratic.We also recognise that there may not be one single way of doing things, and precise details and ways of doing things might vary from one part of the world to another, even between neighbouring communities.
Socialists cannot determine what the conditions will be when socialism is established. As the socialist majority grows, when socialism is within the grasp of the working class, that will then be the proper time for making such important decisions. It is imprudent for today’s socialist minority to be telling people how to administer a socialist society. When a majority of people understand what socialism means, the suggestions for socialist administration will solidify into an appropriate plan. It will be based upon the conditions existing at that time, not today.
We can , however, reach some generalised conclusions based on basic premises and can outline broad principles or options that could be applied. We do not have to draw up a plan for socialism, but simply and broadly demonstrate that it is possible and therefore refute the label of “utopianism” .

It is reasonable to assume that productive activity would be divided into branches and that production in these branches would be organised by a delegate body. The responsibility of these industries would be to ensure the supply of a particular kind of product either, in the case of consumer goods, to distribution centres or, in the case of goods used to produce other goods, to productive units or other industries.
Since the needs of consumers are always needs for a specific product at a specific time in a specific locality, we will assume that socialist society would leave the initial assessment of likely needs to a delegate body under the control of the local community . In a stable society such as socialism, needs would change relatively slowly. Hence it is reasonable to surmise that an efficient system of stock control, recording 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 would be over a similar future period. Some needs would be able to be met locally: local transport, restaurants, builders, repairs and some food are examples as well as services such as street-lighting, 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-regulating production for use.
To ensure the smooth functioning of the system, statistical offices would be needed to 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 the central statistical office would be calculating in broad terms. Such calculations would also indicate whether or not productive capacity would need to be expanded and in what branches. The centres for each world-region would thus 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. The only calculations that would be necessary in socialism would be calculations in kind. 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.
Stock or inventory control systems employing calculation in kind are, as was 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.

As we have seen , socialism will be a self-adjusting decentralised inter-linked system . A socialist economy would be polycentric , not centrally planned. The problem with a central planning model of socialism is its inability to cope with change. It lacks any kind of feedback mechanism which allows for mutual adjustments between the different actors in such an economy. It is completely inflexible . Socialism does not necessary involve the creation of new layers of administrations but simply the transformation of them . It is not a command economy but a responsive one 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.

1) There would have to be emergency action to relieve the worst problems of food shortages, health care and housing which affect billions of people throughout the world.

2) 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.

3) 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 reconcile two great needs, the need to live in material well being whilst looking after the planet.

A moneyless society can calculate opportunity costs and allocate resources rationally by :-
1) Calculation in kind
2) A self-correcting system of stock control - which identifies quantities of stocks available and provides a reliable indication of consumer demand (via the depletion rates of stocks)
3) The law of the minimum - whereby you economise most on those factors of production that are relatively scarcest
4) A social hierarchy of production goals - which sorts out the allocation of scarce factors where competing demands are placed upon them.

Humans behave differently depending upon the conditions that they live in. Human behaviour reflects society. In a society such as capitalism, people's needs are not met and people feel insecure. People tend to acquire and hoard goods because possession provides some security. People have a tendency to distrust others because the world is organized in such a dog-eat-dog manner. 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. In socialism, status based upon the material wealth at one's command, would be a meaningless concept. The notion of status based upon the conspicuous consumption of wealth would be devoid of meaning because individuals would stand in equal relation to the means of production and have free access to the resultant goods and services . Why take more than you need when you can freely take what you need? In socialism the only way in which individuals can command the esteem of others is through their contribution to society, and the stronger the movement for socialism grows the more will it subvert the prevailing capitalist ethos .
Free access to goods and services denies to any group of individuals the political leverage with which to dominate others (a feature intrinsic to all private-property or class based systems through control and rationing of the means of life ) . This will work to ensure that a socialist society is run on the basis of democratic consensus. Decisions will be made at different levels of organisation: global, regional and local with the bulk of decision-making being made at the local level.

Anything less than the demand for full free access socialism does not go far enough. In the final analysis, those who oppose it lack the confidence that either there are sufficient resources on the planet to provide for all , or that human beings can work voluntarily, and co-operate to organise production and distribution of wealth without chaos, and consume wealth responsibly without some form of rationing. In the end , these critics remain fixated to the lazy person, greedy individual critique of human behaviour.

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Anonymous said...

How come you didn't use, Workers' Councils and the Economics of a Self Managed Society, by Cornelius Castoriadis, for a blueprint?