Friday, February 26, 2010

A Socialist Model

We in the SPGB 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 already 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 less 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.

Since the needs of consumers are always needs for specific goods 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 (other options are , of course , possible and feasible ).
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. When introducing new products it is not necessary to start out producing millions of units. You make a few thousand prototypeswith some form of consumer testing and feed-b ack and measure how rapidly consumers take them from the store. Whether it will be the individuals whose job is to develop new products (chemical engineers, mechanical engineers, etc.) who can decide on their own to submit the requision for resources to the manufacturing line, or whether some degree of communitity endorsement is also needed, will be society's policy choice. It wouldn't be the workers' choice whether or not they want to make them.

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.

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.

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 reasonable 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 such a rat-race . If people didn't work society would obviously fall apart. To establish socialism the vast majority must consciously decide that they want socialism and that they are prepared to work in socialist society. 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. Under capitalism, there is a very large industry devoted to creating needs. Capitalism requires consumption, whether it improves our lives or not, and drives us to consume up to, and past, our ability to pay for that consumption. In a system of capitalist competition, there is a built-in tendency to stimulate demand to a maximum extent. Firms, for example, need to persuade customers to buy their products or they go out of business. They would not otherwise spend the vast amounts they do spend on advertising. There is also in capitalist society a tendency for individuals to seek to validate their sense of worth through the accumulation of possessions. The prevailing ideas of society are those of its ruling class so we can understand why, when the wealth of that class so preoccupies the minds of its members, such a notion of status should be so deep-rooted within workers . It is this which helps to underpin the myth of infinite demand. It does not matter how modest one's real needs may be or how easily they may be met; capitalism's "consumer culture" leads one to want more than one may materially need since what the individual desires is to enhance his or her status within this hierarchal culture of consumerism and this is dependent upon acquiring more than others have got. But since others desire the same thing, the economic inequality inherent in a system of competitive capitalism must inevitably generate a pervasive sense of relative deprivation. What this amounts to is a kind of institutionalised envy and an alienated capitalism .

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, in general, and its anachronistic notion of status, in particular.

All wealth would be produced on a strictly voluntary basis. Work in socialist society could only be voluntary since there would be no group or organ in a position to force people to work against their will. Free access to goods and services denies to any group or 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. Goods and services would be provided directly for self determined needs and not for sale on a market; they would be made freely available for individuals to take without requiring these individuals to offer something in direct exchange. The sense of mutual obligations and the realisation of universal interdependency arising from this would profoundly colour people’s perceptions and influence their behaviour in such a society. We may thus characterise such a society as being built around a moral economy and a system of generalised reciprocity.

In a socialist society, there will be no money and no exchange and no barter.
Goods will be voluntarily produced, and services voluntarily supplied to meet people's needs. People will freely take the things they need.Socialism will be concerned solely with the production , distribution and consumption of useful goods and services in response to definite needs . It will integrate social needs with the material means of meeting those needs . Common ownership means that society as a whole owns the means and instruments for distributing wealth. It also implies the democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth, for if everyone owns, then everyone must have equal right to control the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth.

By the replacement of exchange economy by common ownership basically what would happen is that wealth would cease to take the form of exchange value, so that all the expressions of this social relationship peculiar to an exchange economy, such as money and prices, would automatically disappear. In other words, goods would cease to have an economic value and would become simply physical objects which human beings could use to satisfy some want or other. The disappearance of economic value would mean the end of economic calculation in the sense of calculation in units of value whether measured by money or directly in some unit of labour-time. It would mean that there was no longer any common unit of calculation for making decisions regarding the production of goods.

Socialism is a money-less society in which use values would be produced from other use values, there would need no have a universal unit of account but could calculate exclusively in kind .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. Calculation in kind entails the counting or measurement of physical quantities of different kinds of factors of production. There is no general unit of accounting involved in this process such as money or labour hours or energy units. In fact, every conceivable kind of economic system has to rely on calculation in kind, including capitalism. Without it, the physical organisation of production (e.g. maintaining inventories) would be literally impossible. But where capitalism relies on monetary accounting as well as calculation in kind, socialism relies solely on the latter. That is one reason why socialism holds a decisive productive advantage over capitalism by eliminating the need to tie up vast quantities of resources and labour implicated in a system of monetary/pricing accounting.

Socialism is a decentralised society that is self correcting , from below and not from the top . Planning in socialism is essentially a question of industrial organisation, of organising productive units into a productive system functioning smoothly to supply the useful things which people had indicated they needed, both for their individual and for their collective consumption. What socialism would establish would be a rationalised network of planned links between users and suppliers; between final users and their immediate suppliers, between these latter and their suppliers, and so on down the line to those who extract the raw materials from nature. 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. Planning is indeed central to the idea of socialism, but socialism is the planned , but not Central Planning , production of useful things to satisfy human needs instead of the production of wealth as exchange value, commodities and capital. In socialism wealth would have simply a specific use value (which would be different under different conditions and for different individuals and groups of individuals) but it would not have any exchange, or economic, value.

Needs would arise in local communities expressed as required quantities such as kilos , tonnes , cubic litres, or whatever , of various materials and quantities of goods . These would then be communicated according to necessity . Each particular part of production would be responding to the material requirements communicated to it through the connected lines of social production . It would be self -regulating , because each element of production would be adjusting to the communication of these material requirements . Each part 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. Local food production would require glass, but not every local community could have its own glass works . The requirements for glass could be communicated to a regional glass works . The glass works has its own suppliers of materials and the amounts they require for the production of glass are known in definite quantities. The required quantities of these materials could be passed by the glass works to the regional suppliers of the materials for glass manufacture . This would be a sequence of communication of local needs to the regional organisation of production, and thus contained within a region .

Local food production would also require tractors , for instance , and here the communication of required quantities of things could extend further to the world organisation of production . Regional manufacture could produce and assemble the component parts of tractors for distribution to local communities . The regional production unit producing tractors would communicate to their own suppliers , and eventually this would extend to world production units extracting and processing the necessary materials .

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.

Stocks of goods held at distribution points would be monitored, their rate of depletion providing vital data about the future demand for such goods, information which will be conveyed to the units producing these goods. The units would in turn draw upon the relevant factors of production and the depletion of these would activate yet other production units further back along the production chain. There would thus be a marked degree of automaticity in the way the system operated. A maintenance of a surplus reserve would provide a buffer against unforeseen fluctuations in demand .The regional production units would in turn communicate its own manufacturing needs to their own suppliers , and this would extend to world production units extracting and processing the necessary raw materials .

Socialism will seek an enviromental 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.

Labels: ,

2 Comments:

Anonymous Joshua Nelson said...

Hey,

I didn't say you could use that image. That's from my blog, under my copyright. If you want to use it you should have at least credited me. I would prefer that you had asked.

The steady state economy is not socialism, though there are similarities. Please take down the image.

Thanks,
Joshua

4:24 am, June 29, 2010  
Blogger ajohnstone said...

Done!
Tyranny of copyright
http://www.worldsocialism.org/canada/imagine.200505.may.pdf

Also perhaps a basic understanding of capitalism will help you understand the unrealistic hopes of a zero-growth economy under capitalism. As Marx said "accumulate accumulate that is the Moses and the prophets..."

1:29 am, June 09, 2011  

Post a Comment

<< Home