"When one talks to people about socialism or communism, one very frequently finds that they entirely agree with one regarding the substance of the matter and declare communism to be a very fine thing; “but”, they then say, “it is impossible ever to put such things into practice in real life” Engels
“Yes, Socialism is an excellent thing, but, alas! it is Utopia!”
Human society is a particular case in universal evolution. Nothing is eternal and unchangeable. Everything is variable. Every given social form is entirely relative, entirely conditional. Classes and systems succeed each other and differ from each other. For centuries, people have imagined utopias where advances in technology and attitudes create freedom for all. Capitalism distorts the vision of a future society. We can only see a different system in terms of our present one. The first victim of education is imagination. From a very early age every worker is taught to be “practical”, “realistic” and stop “dreaming dreams”. And yet imagination is the very act of being human. Whatever other aspects make human beings different from other animals, the human capacity to imagine is one of the most striking. The stifling of imagination is essential if the owners are to retain their class monopoly of the planet. The great revolutionary act for the working class is to imagine an alternative to present day society. Fantasy is the first act of rebellion said Freud. Let us indulge ourselves here in that most human of all pursuits – let us imagine the future.
A very natural question arises: “If one can visualise a possible future society then one should be expected to tell something of what that society will be like”. And so one should and so one can, but only within certain limits and with many reservations. In making projections into the future one should realise that one is dealing with the realm of speculation. Where a definiteness of opinion can be allowed is in the realm of the actual: what is and what has been. With the future the best we can hope for is to observe trends in the present and the creation and development of potentials, etc. These can be projected as trends into the future scene which may grow to greater potentials and into actualities that may become definite powers, agencies and institutions. Science does not deal in certainties but in high probabilities. It does not depend on clairvoyance or astrological forecasts for its findings. Nor does it admit the determinists, who tell us that this shall be and that shall not be. Yet, notwithstanding what has been stated, one must allow that Science, in its ever restless search for greater knowledge, must permit itself flights of imagination, so to speak, for lacking these it would hardly venture on those essential journeys into the future. In much the same way a socialist speaks of “visualising a future social system”. Science does create for itself what are termed “working hypotheses”; that is to say, it presumes certain things to be so, and for the purpose of establishing a point of departure for definite scientific inquiry it takes its hypothesis as established fact. Of course it recognizes that this at best is speculation but proceeds to then gather data that may prove, or disprove, such hypothesis. In the same way we permit ourselves certain speculations and in so doing “we visualise a future society which will be organised for public good”. But we must never lose sight of the fact that these are speculations, but like the “working hypotheses” of the scientist can be considered valid to the extent that such speculations arise naturally out of our knowledge of the past and the present – and in the absence of any contrary body of facts. The question is thus put “How will production and distribution be carried on in this visualised possible future society?” Socialism is often described in negative terms: a society with no money, no classes, no government, no exploitation. But it is also possible to speak of socialism from a positive viewpoint, emphasising the features it will have, as opposed to those it will not. The future always looks strange when people's minds are imprisoned within the past, but the nearer we get to the next stage in social development the less strange the idea of production for need becomes. There are thousands of workers walking around with ideas in their minds which are close or identical to those advocated by socialists; as that number grows, and as they gather into the conscious political movement for socialism, the doubts of the critics grow fainter and more absurd and what once seemed unthinkable rises to the top of the agenda of history. “Have you not heard how it has gone with many a Cause before now: First, few men heed it; Next, most men condemn it; Lastly , all men ACCEPT it - and the Cause is Won". We must not suppose that socialism is therefore destined to remain a Utopia
Blue-prints aren't drawn up in indelible ink
As stated it is not particularly scientific to lay down an exact blueprint of how future socialist society will be organised. We are not concerned about designing a blueprint for socialism - to say that this or that is how the future must be. No individual, or any minority of socialists, can abrogate to itself the decisions about how to live. These must be determined democratically by the people who make the socialist revolution. We can also imagine that the detailed structures of socialism in the different parts of the world won’t have to be exactly the same and will become clearer the nearer we approach it. Drawing up a detailed blueprint for socialism is also premature, since the exact forms will depend upon the technical conditions and preferences of those who set up and live in socialism. 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. Socialism is not a blueprint as to all aspects of the alternative society to capitalism, only a definition of what its basis has inevitably to be. What we can do, however, is to offer a glimpse into society as it could become once it is freed from the stranglehold of the money-men. We can describe certain basic principles and guidelines, and give an indication in very broad and tentative outline of the way we think society might be conducted. But the exact administrative structure and precise mode of behaviour of people in a socialist society will be determined by the specific material conditions of that society. What these specific material conditions will be, and how people will react to them, cannot be known to us at the present time.
Marx and Engels had relatively little to say about the future, partly because they held the drawing up of blueprints for an ideal society to be the very essence of utopianism, utopian as in idealistic, in the sense of an ideal society projected into the future and unconnected with existing social trends. Before the coming of industrial capitalism, the yearning for an egalitarian society could only be a yearning, without any concrete analysis of social reality. By refusing to write recipes for future cookshops, by failing to talk about the future society except in very general terms for fear of being dubbed “idealist”, they in fact signaled that the building of socialism, as distinct from the opposition to capitalism, was not high on their agenda. Yet for socialists the building of the new society, by spelling out what common ownership, democratic control, production solely for use, and free access mean as a practical alternative that people can support now, must now be part of our agenda.
It is not easy to convince someone of the necessity and feasibility of a fundamentally new society by simply elaborating the description of the future. No matter how appealing that future society might appear, compared to present-day reality, it will probably still seem to be a figment of the imagination. Nevertheless, what Marx and Engels did say was usually positive and in line with their generally optimistic view of human nature and the capacity of workers to build a better, more equal and more truly human society than that of capitalism. In particular, Marx wrote of the variety of useful and pleasurable work that would be available to people, in this well-known passage:
"In communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, to fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic"
On another page he summed up the same thought as follows:
"In a communist society there are no painters but only people who engage in painting among other activities" (Nor should we forget his son-in-law Paul Larfargue penned a pamphlet with the title "The Right to be Lazy")
Communism, as envisioned by Marx, was to be "a society in which the full and free development of every individual forms the ruling principle", a society "in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all". What Marx and Engels envisaged for the future society, from its very beginning, was a kind of participatory democracy organised without any political leaders or administrators at all, which requires some effort of imagination and historical understanding for the present-day readers to grasp
"Communism puts an end to the division of life into public and private spheres, and to the difference between civil society and the state; it does away with the need for political institutions, political authority, and governments, private property and its source in the division of labour. It destroys the class system and exploitation; it heals the split in man's nature and the crippled, one-sided development of the individual...social harmony is to be sought not by a legislative reform that will reconcile the egoism of each individual with the collective interest, but by removing the causes of antagonism. The individual will absorb society into himself thanks to de-alienation, he will recognize humanity as his own internalized nature. Voluntary solidarity, not compulsion or the legal regulation of interests, will ensure the smooth harmony of human relations… the powers of the individual cam only flourish when he regards them as social forces, valuable and effective within a human community and not in isolation. Communism alone makes possible the proper use of human abilities" so wrote Kolakowski, a Marxist commentator
But some statements by Marx and Engels about the socialist/communist future seem to show that they were not entirely immune from a conception of that future still rooted in the capitalist past. A particular worry about scarcity of goods in the early stages led Marx to consider labour time vouchers or certificates:
"What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; and which is thus in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birth-marks of the old society from whose womb it emerges. Accordingly, the individual producer receives back from society—after the deductions have been made, exactly what he contributes to it. What he has contributed to it is his individual quantum of labour"
Two points here. One is that modern production is social, not individual. It is doubtful whether the value of the "individual quantum of labour" could have been measured in Marx's time except in the crudest terms of time. It is even more doubtful whether such a measure could be made today. The second point is where Marx made it quite clear that, if labour time vouchers were used in socialism, this would be a temporary measure resulting from the comparatively low level of technology. Today potential abundance resulting from improved technology has made the idea of labour time vouchers quite outdated. It will no doubt become even more outdated in future. In a particular situation of actual physical shortage perhaps resulting from crop failure we can assume that the shortage can be tackled by some system of direct rationing such as prioritising individuals needs by vulnerability (accordig to needs), and if there is no call for that criteria, by lottery, or simply by first come - first served.
The socialist goal will be achieved by force of argument, by democratic methods, not by force of arms or authoritarian methods.
"Communism rises above the enmity of classes, for it is a movement that embraces all humanity and not merely the working classes. Of course no communist proposes to avenge himself against any particular individuals who are members of the bourgeoisie… Should the proletariat become more Socialist in character its opposition to the middle classes will be less unbridled and less savage… It may be expected that by the time the rising comes the English working classes will understand basic social problems sufficiently clearly for the more brutal elements of the revolution to be eventually overcome—with the help of the appearance of the Communist Party" (Engels).
This shows a progression of Marxist thought from a capitalist present that is in many ways divisive and brutal, to a communist/socialist movement that is in a transitional stage from divisiveness/brutality, to a future society that will embrace all of humanity. Engels quite reasonably expected workers to become less brutal as they adopted socialist ideas. The working class puts and end to human exploitation not as a conscious goal on behalf of all humanity, but as the inevitable by-product of ending its own exploitation. It accomplishes the general interest of humanity by acting in its own self-interest. This “movement” of the working class could be said to be implicitly socialist since the struggle was ultimately over who should control the means of production: the minority capitalist class or the working class (i.e. society as a whole). At first the movement of the working class would be, Marx believed, unconscious and unorganised but in time, as the workers gained more experience of the class struggle and the workings of capitalism, it would become more consciously socialist and democratically organised by the workers themselves. The emergence of socialist understanding out of the experience of the workers could thus be said to be “spontaneous” in the sense that it would require no intervention by people outside the working class to bring it about. Socialist propaganda and agitation would indeed be necessary but would come to be carried out by workers themselves whose socialist ideas would have been derived from an interpretation of their class experience of capitalism. The end result would be an independent movement of the socialist-minded and democratically organised working class aimed at winning control of political power in order to abolish capitalism. As Marx and Engels put it in The Communist Manifesto, “the proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority”.
This, in fact, was Marx’s conception of “the workers’ party”. He did not see the party of the working class as a self-appointed elite of professional revolutionaries but as the mass democratic movement of the working class with a view to establishing Socialism, the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production.
Marx and Engels' own vision of communist revolution pre-supposed the masses' prior self-education. Perhaps the key distinguishing feature of Marx and Engels' thinking was precisely their conviction that the masses could and would educate themselves, organise themselves, liberate themselves, and rule themselves. The nature of a revolutionary movement was seen by Marx and Engels as crucial for the kind of post-revolutionary society that could be expected to emerge. A mass movement of workers meant that a democratic regime was feasible after the overthrow of bourgeois rule. A small conspiracy of professional revolutionaries implied a dictatorial post-revolutionary regime.
Democratic control is not an optional extra of socialism. It is its very essence. Democracy does not mean that all decisions have to made at general assemblies of all concerned or by referendum; it is compatible with certain decisions being delegated to committees and councils as long as the members of these bodies are responsible to those who (s)elected them. Certainly, workers' councils or something akin to them, as workplace organisations of the workers, are bound to arise in the course of the socialist revolution. But to claim that they are the only possible form of working class self-organisation is to go too far, is in fact to make a fetish of a mere organisational form. What is important in working class self-organisation, however, is not the form but the principle. As stated, what is important is not the form of organisation but the democratic - and socialist - consciousness of the working class. This can express itself in a great variety of organisational forms.
Being Human in Nature
Marx was fond of quoting the 17th century writer Sir William Petty’s remark that labour is the father and nature the mother of wealth. Marx’s materialist conception of history makes the way humans are organised to meet their material needs the basis of any society. Humans meet their material needs by transforming parts of the rest of nature into things that are useful to them; this in fact is what production is. So the basis of any society is its mode of production which, again, is the same thing as its relationship to the rest of nature. Humans survive by interfering in the rest of nature to change it for their own benefit. That humans have to interfere in nature is a fact of human existence. How humans interfere in nature, on the other hand, depends on the kind of society they live in. Humans are both a part and a product of nature and humans have a unique significance in nature since they are the only life-form capable of reflective thought and so of conscious intervention to change the environment. It is absurd to regard human intervention in nature as some outside disturbing force, since humans are precisely that part of nature which has evolved that consciously intervenes in the rest of nature; it is our nature to do so. True , that at the present time, the form human intervention in the rest of Nature takes is upsetting natural balances and cycles, but the point is that humans, unlike other life-forms, are capable of changing their behaviour. In this sense the human species is the brain and voice of Nature i.e. Nature become self-conscious. But to fulfil this role humans must change the social system which mediates their intervention in nature. A change from capitalism to a community where each contributes to the whole to the best of his or her ability and takes from the common fund of produce what he or she needs. Competitive pressures to minimise costs and maximise sales, profit-seeking and blind economic growth, with all their destructive effects on the rest of nature, are built-in to capitalism. These make capitalism inherently environmentally unfriendly. Attempts to “green” capitalism, to make it “ecological”, are doomed by the very nature of the system as a system of endless growth. The only framework within which humans can regulate their relationship with the rest of nature in an ecologically acceptable way has to be a society based on the common ownership and democratic control of productive resources, freed from the tyranny of the economic laws that operate wherever there is production for sale on a market. Humans are capable of integrating themselves into a stable ecosystem and there is nothing whatsoever that prevents this being possible today on the basis of industrial technology and methods of production, all the more so, that renewable energies exist (wind, solar, tidal, geothermal and whatever) but, for the capitalists, these are a “cost” which penalises them
Free Access Socialism
Although we cannot specify in advance a utopian blueprint lets try and describe free access socialism. Suppose that the new social system were to start tomorrow, we are not proposing just the abolition of money. In fact, the abolition of money alone, would solve no problems and undoubtedly create many difficulties. But what we propose is, that the whole system of money and exchange, buying and selling, profit-making and wage-earning be entirely abolished and that instead, the community as a whole should organise and administer the productions of goods for use only, and the free distribution of these goods to all members of the community according to each person’s needs. Simply put, in socialism there would be no barter economy or monetary system. It would be a economy based on need. Therefore, a consumer would have a need, and there would be a communication system set in place that relays that need to the producer. The producer create the product, and then send the product back to the consumer, and the need would be satisfied. For socialism to be established 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. Socialism does presuppose that productive resources (materials, instruments of production, sources of energy) and technological knowledge are sufficient to allow the population of the world to produce enough food, clothing, shelter and other useful things, to satisfy all their material needs. The new social system must be world-wide. It must be a World Commonwealth. The world must be regarded as one country and humanity as one people .
We do not call for population control, for penurious thrift, and self-denial. Socialists don't call for “fair” shares of so many acres of land, so much food, so many consumer goods, so much money with which to buy, sell, and carry on trade (even if all people were equal, a hierarchy would soon arise again and society would be back to square one). The fair share of a member of the socialist commonwealth is the right and the possibility of the abundant satisfaction of the needs from the common store-house, the right to participate as an equal in the common production. All previous societies have been rationed societies, based on scarcity of food, clothing and shelter. The modern world is also a society of scarcity, but with a difference. Today’s shortages are unnecessary; today’s scarcity is artificial. More than that: scarcity achieved at the expense of strenuous effort, ingenious organisation and the most sophisticated planning. The world is haunted by a spectre – the spectre of abundance. Socialism means plenty for all. We do not preach a gospel of want and scarcity, but of abundance.
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. Conventional economists 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. If the assumption of abundance is not regarded as far-fetched (which, we say it is not) then there is an even "better method" of ensuring individual consumer choice than voting with money: free access
Capitalism is not just an exchange economy but an exchange economy where the aim of production is to make a profit. Profit is the monetary expression of the difference between the exchange value of a product and the exchange value of the materials, energy and labour-power used to produce it, or what Marx called “surplus value”. 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. 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. The economic signals of the market are not signals to produce useful things. They signal the prospects of profit and capital accumulation. If there is a profit to be made then production will take place; if there is no prospect of profit, then production will not take place. Profit not need is the deciding factor. Under capitalism what appear to be production decisions are in fact decisions to go for profit in the market. The function of cost/pricing is to enable a business enterprise to calculate its costs, to fix its profit expectations within a structure of prices, to regulate income against expenditure and, ultimately, to regulate the exploitation of its workers. Unfortunately, prices can only reflect the wants of those who can afford to actually buy what economists call “effective demand” . – and not real demand for something from those without the wherewithal – the purchasing power – to buy the product (or even to express a preference for one product over another. I may want a sirloin steak but i can only afford a hamburger). Socialism will make economically-unencumbered production decisions as a direct response to needs. With production for use, the starting point will be needs.
Stock or inventory control systems employing calculation in kind are absolutely indispensable to any kind of modern production system. While it is true that today they operate within a price environment that is not the same thing as saying they need such an environment in order to operate. Most students of logistics will be able to explain how unnecessary dollars and cents are for its operation. 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 tried and trusted tool of warehousing and supply chains which can be utilised . And even so the existence of buffer stocks provides for a period of re-adjustment. We even have the existence of store "loyalty cards" and consumer research that can be put to more creative and constructive non-commercial usage. Socialism does not necessary involve the creation of new layers of administrations but simply the transformation of them.
The “law of the minimum” was formulated by an 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 greatest use of those things that are abundant. Factors lying in between these two poles can be treated accordingly in relative terms.
Actually to claim that all factors are scarce (because the use of any factor entails an opportunity cost) and, consequently, need to be economised is not a very sensible approach to adopt. Effective economisation of resources requires discrimination and selection; you cannot treat every factor equally – that is, as equally scarce – or, if you do, this will result in gross misallocation of resources and economic inefficiency.
In any economy there needs to be some way of prioritising production goals. How might these priorities be determined? We can apply Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs” as a guide to action. 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 .
We can also speculate, that some kind of “points system” might be used with which to evaluate a range of different projects facing such a society. Again those more qualified can explain how cost-benefit analysis is not dependant upon dollar and cents calculations, as (even now) ecological concerns are required to be taken into consideration in planning. In fact each day we all individually use various methods of adding up pros and cons to determine actions. Naturally, 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.
A broad picture would be that production-for-use would operate in direct response to need. These would arise in local communities expressed as required quantities such as grammes, kilos, tonnes, litres, and so forth, of various materials and quantities of goods. These would then be communicated as required elements of productive activity as a technical sequence, to different scales of social production , according to necessity. Each particular part of production would be responding to the material requirements communicated to it through the connected ideas of social production. It would be self-regulating, because each element of production would be self-adjusting to the communication of these material requirements. 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. If the register of needs and the communication of every necessary element of those needs to the structure of production would be clear and readily known. 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. These would be definite quantities of required glass. The glass works has its own suppliers of materials, and the amounts they require for the production of 1 tonne 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, and here the communication of required quantities of things could extend further to the world organisation of production. Regional manufacture could produce and assemble he component parts of tractors for distribution to local communities. These would be required in a definite number and , on the basis of this definite number of final products, the definite number of component parts for tractors would also be known. The regional production unit producing tractor would communicate these definite quantities to their own suppliers, and eventually this would extend to world production units extracting and processing the necessary materials. This would be the self-regulating system of production for need, operating on the basis of the communication of need as definite quantities of things throughout the structure of production. Each production unit would convert the requirements communicated to it into its own material requirements and pass these on to its suppliers. This would be the sequence by which every element of labour required for the production of a final product would be known. This system of self-regulating production for use is achieved through communications. Socialism would make full use of the means communications which have developed. These include not only transport such as roads, railways, shipping etc. They also include the existing system of electronic communications which provide for instant world-wide contact as well as facilities for storing and processing millions of pieces of information. Modern information technology could be used by socialism to integrate any required combination of different parts of its world structure of production. Only a few functions would have to be dealt with at world level. Most could be carried out (as in practice at present) at a level that can be called regional (in world terms). It is at this level that production of intermediate goods and machines and equipment can be envisaged as being produced, for distribution for use either in other factories or by local communities. Local communities can only be the basis for consumption and for democratic decision-making but not for production. Of course the actual degree of centralisation and decentralisation will be up to the people around at the time to decide in the light of their traditions, experiences and preferences.
The first and most important point is that we are not starting from the beginning. Its not a blank sheet. We are taking over and inheriting an already existing economic system which has in place various means of determining allocations and trade-offs. There are countless professional and trade associations and marketing boards and government departments which have the research and diagnostic tools available, plus the trade union movements with its skills and knowledge. All those bodies may at present be based on commerce but they can be quite easily democratised, socialised and integrated organisationally. 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. There is no point in drawing up in advance the sort of detailed blueprint of industrial organisation that the old IWW, the Syndicalists or the Guild Socialists used to and what Parecon now does, but it is still 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.
The Plan but not THE Plan
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. Although centralised world-wide planning of production and distribution has become more and more possible with the evolution of communication systems and the information-handling capabilities of computers, it has, at the same time, become less and less necessary or desirable. There are bound to be democratic decisions taken about certain aspects of production and distribution from time to time, at local, regional, continental and even global level. But, for the great mass of adjustments and controls, ordinary channels of supply and demand (real demand) will provide the most flexible and responsive basic system for regulating socialist society's production and distribution. The almost infinitely complex network of manufacturers, growers, distributors and suppliers will, however, need well-organised communication and co-operation amongst themselves, as well as ready access to a richness of information about research, designs, methods, output, capacity, local preferences, etc., which is simply impossible in capitalism. The problem with a centrally-planned model of socialism was 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. We witnessed in Russia how it was unable to determine prices by central-planning. Prices were set, re-set, fixed then re-fixed, plans were made then re-appraised, re-defined, changed and dropped. Socialism however is a decentralised or polycentric society that is self regulating, self adjusting and self correcting, from below and not from the top. It is not a command economy but a responsive one. The rule will be “fitness for purpose”, such as the regions of the world most suited for the production of certain goods be used for their production, because it would be stupid to do otherwise. In the World Commonwealth goods will be “distributed” not “exchanged”, neither “exported” nor “imported” ; just as if the whole world’s goods were pooled and then each region were to draw what is required. When we declare that production will be planned, do not make the mistake of imagining some super-bureaucratic organisation or World State imposing such a plan. This is not suggesting that a single agency based in New York or Geneva or wherever would be making policy decisions for everyone on the planet. Its function could be to provide information and propose various development strategies so that alternativescould be decided democratically. From where we stand now a lot of people would say that priority should be given to ecologically benign methods such as wind, wave, solar power, etc. With the freedom to make such a decision without the economic constraints of capitalism, socialism could do it. The sole motive would be the needs of people and this would be in sharp contrast to the way in
which governments decide matters now from the point of view of national economic and military interests. Capitalist organisations are mostly hierarchical, consisting of a few people at the top who give orders and the many lower down or at the bottom who take them. Communication is usually top down. Socialist organisations will be mostly lateral, meaning that all participants will work according to a democratically agreed plan. Communication will be free-flowing, not one-way.
Having produced all that is required, all that is now necessary is to distribute it to the people so that each person’s needs are fully satisfied. 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 (although, other arrangements are possible if that were what the members of socialist society wanted). 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. In the case of perishable goods it would merely be a matter of transport from factory or farm direct to the local distributing centres, and in the case of other goods to large regional, county or city stores or warehouses. From there it is but a step to the local distributing stores which would stock the whole range of necessary goods - a kind of show-room or warehouse - and from which goods could be delivered to the homes of people, or, collected by them if so preferred. After all the daily, weekly, and monthly needs of any given number of people in a district are easily worked out, even nowadays - take, for example, the distribution of milk - so it should not be very difficult to find out what stocks the local stores would require.
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. The average requirements of a person are known: say X pounds of this, Y pounds of that; multiply by the number of people in that locality concerned, and you have on an average the total amount necessary to be “shipped” to that place for local distribution. This is now, although in a difficult and complicated way, exactly what’s being done. Doesn’t the wheat importer, know almost exactly, how much wheat he can distribute to his customers and doesn’t he import accordingly? Things will be different, but only in a small way. Whereas now you have dozens of importers for wheat, in the socialism there will be a food control or administration. Its function will be to organise production so that there is no shortage or excessive surplus, and that distribution to the demands of the people are satisfied. The food control in each region will arrange for the satisfaction of the needs of that region, and will in addition plan for distribution of its own products in excess of its needs, to other regions. There will no doubt be need of a world organisation - probably a statistical body - to control the whole output. It has already been explained how distribution would proceed from this point. From place of production to distribution depot, and from there to local depots. From the local depots there would be daily delivery of perishable goods, such as we have today for milk, and possibly weekly and monthly deliveries of other foods. Clothes, furniture, electrical items and other goods not required frequently or regularly, would be obtained at large outlet stores somewhat similar to as we have today. These will be placed at points in the various localities according to the needs and convenience of the local population. At these stores people will do their “shopping” without money, much as they do today. The electronic stock control systems now in use in many major stores and the computer-controlled warehousing (such as Amazon) gradually being installed by large distributors already permit the constant monitoring of consumption of goods to be carried on, future demand to be predicted within quite fine limits and automatic, and almost instantaneous, re-ordering to be carried out. Modern information systems make it feasible for anyone, anywhere in the world, who has access to a telephone-linked computer to find out all the specifications and quantities of goods or services that are available or in demand. In the post-capitalist world it is this greatly enhanced information network which will replace and supersede the market and the price mechanism. The immense volume of information about the daily facts and figures of all production, distribution and services which is in the possession of the working class - and which is today barely used, except to total output figures andcompile balance sheets - will be accorded its true value in socialist society as the data for conscious social control of the means of life by every member of society. "Democratic control" will be far more than a matter of voting when contentious issues arise. It will be the continual exercise of informed individual power in the co-operative processes of sustaining and enhancing social life.
It would be necessary to calculate the amount of inputs that would be needed to achieve a certain level of production. This kind of input-output calculation would need to occur on different geographical scales–from "local" forms of calculation to the regional and even global. This connects to our second question about the extent of localised versus centralised decision making in socialism. Looking at local forms of organisation, individual units of production in capitalism (factories, offices etc) already have IT systems for calculating the resources that are required in production, as well as stock control systems for managing the supplies of resources. Aside from the parts of that are concerned with monetary accounting, these systems could be of use to the socialist society inheriting them. To ensure the smooth functioning of the system, statistical offices (and many of those now exist in various shapes and forms) 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.
To summarise a typical sequence of allocation and information flows in a socialist economy might be as follows. Lets assume a store stocks a certain consumer good – say, shoes and boots. From past experience it knows that it will need to re-order approximately 1000 pairs from its suppliers at the start of every month or, by the end of the month, supplies will be low. Assume that, for whatever reason, the rate of stock turnover increases sharply to say 2000 pairs per month. This will require either more frequent deliveries or, alternatively, larger deliveries. Possibly the capacity of the distribution point may not be large enough to accommodate the extra quantity of footwear required in which case it will have to opt for more frequent deliveries. It could also add to its storage capacity but this would probably take a bit more time. In any event, this information will be communicated to its suppliers. These suppliers, in turn, may require additional leather, to make the shoes or boots to be processed and this information can similarly be communicated in the form of new orders to suppliers of those items further down the production chain. And so on and so forth. The whole process is, to a large extent, automatic – or self regulating – being driven by dispersed information signals from producers and consumers concerning the supply and demand for goods and, as such, is far removed from the gross caricature of a centrally-planned economy.
Thus , we can counter many critics claims that moneyless society cannot calculate opportunity costs and allocate rationally :-
1) calculation in kind
2) a self regulating system of stock control - which identifies quantities of stocks available and provides a reliable indication of consumer demand (via the 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.
With this approach it is possible to ascertain opportunity costs. Assume a particular factor X has 20 units in stock (as revealed via the self-regulating system of stock control mentioned above - feature 2). Assume there are two end-uses for X , end-use A and end-use B. Assume A requires 12 units of X and B requires 10 units of X.Clearly the full requirements for X for both A and B cannot both be met. If we chose to met A's requirements fully then the opportunity cost of this is a slight reduction in the output of B - and vice versa. Deciding which end use should take priority is a function of feature 4 of a socialist allocative mechanism.
This mechanism will direct producers towards economically efficient outcomes for the economy as a functioning whole since every part of it is connected to every other part via a feedback system. The rapid development of computer technology offers a new kind of response to the pro-market arguments concerning calculation and decision-making. The provision of information will be an essential part of the democratic structure of socialism and the task of designing the systems that can best manage this will be one of the biggest challenges facing socialist society. Information Technology can provide the building blocks for new forms of organisation, facilitate rather than dictate social organisation, once it is used to work in the interests of the whole of society.
In socialist society, productive activity would take the form of freely chosen activity undertaken by human beings with a view to producing the things they needed to live and enjoy life. The necessary productive work of society would not be done by a class of hired wage workers but by all members of society, each according to their particular skills and abilities, cooperating to produce the things required to satisfy their needs both as individuals and as communities. 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. As to collective needs (schools, hospitals, theatres, libraries and the like), these could be decided by the groups of individuals concerned, using the various democratic representative bodies which they would create at different levels in socialist society. Thus production in socialism would be the production of free goods to meet self-defined needs, individual and collective . Society require a rational, long-term attitude towards conserving resources and yet present day society 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 for ever; 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.
Another important point not to overlook is that we are seeking a "steady-state” economy or "zero-growth" which corresponds to what Marx called “simple reproduction” - a situation where human needs were in balance with the resources needed to satisfy them. Such a society would already have decided, according to its own criteria and through its own decision-making processes, 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. Of course, 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. 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. There would be need for an immediate increase in the volume of production of many kinds of goods to relieve those people who were suffering from the effects of the old system and to supply the needs of those who were in the process of transferring themselves from obsolete to useful occupations. For example, the agricultural parts of the world, freed from the restraints of the present money-based system would pour out the abundance of health-giving foodstuffs to feed the half-starved populations of the world. Secondly, longer term action to construct means of production and infrastructures such as transport systems and for the supply of permanent housing and durable consumption goods. For the first time, the conditions would exist for turning into reality the beautiful plans for housing people in real homes instead of the sordid slums which the present social system has called into existence. These plans exist today - on paper - and will remain so, while it is necessary to have money to get a decent home. Released from the money-necessity, architects, builders, designers, artists, engineers, and scientists would be enabled to get together to build towns, homes and work-places which would be a joy to live and work in, a job at which even today their fingers are itching to get. How long this period would last depend on the size and mess left by the present system. We don’t think it would take very long since we have seen how quickly even the obstacles of the present social system can be overcomed and how backward countries can be developed by modern industrial methods. It should not, therefore, take very long for those parts of the world which are already highly industrialised to turn out enough goods to make the whole of humanity tolerably comfortable as far as the fundamental necessities of life are concerned. Thirdly, having got rid of the worst relics of the old order, production would then be adjusted so that there could be an eventual fall in production, and society could move into a stable mode, making due provision by storage for the possible natural calamities such as earthquakes.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 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. Many consumer goods are used occasionally. Perhaps sharing them in a neighbourhood will replace the idea that everyone needs one of everything. This will reduce the number of these items required. That means reduced production. 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.
The threat of the bureaucracy assuming a new class in socialism cannot arise. 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. The notion of status and hierarchy 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.This will work to ensure that a socialist society is run on the basis of democratic consensus. 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. A socialist economy would be free access to the common treasury with no monopoly of ownership, and not even the actual producers who in the past have called for ownership of their own product, as promoted by mutualism and syndicalism, can deprive individuals in society to the common ownership of the means of production and distribution. A socialist society will be one in which all people will be free to participate fully in the process of making and implementing policy. Whether decisions about constructing a new playground, the need to improve fish stocks in the North Sea, or if we should use nanobots to improve our lives, everyone everywhere will be able to voice their opinion and cast their vote. However, the practical ramifications of this democratic principle could be enormous. If people feel obliged to opine and vote on every matter of policy they would have little time to do anything else. The traditional image of huge crowds with their hands up in council meetings, or queues of people lining up to put a piece of paper in a box, is obviously becoming old-fashioned, even in capitalism. On the other hand, leaving the decision-making process to a system of elected executive groups or councils could be seen as going against the principle of fully participatory democracy. If socialism is going to maintain the practice of inclusive decision making which does not put big decisions in the hands of small groups but without generating a crisis of choice, then a solution is required, and it seems that capitalism may have produced one in the form of 'collaborative filtering' (CF) software. This technology is currently used on the internet where a crisis of choice already exists. Faced with a superabundance of products and services, CF helps consumers choose what to buy and navigate the huge numbers of options. It starts off by collecting data on an individual's preferences, extrapolates patterns from this and then produces recommendations based on that person's likes and dislikes.With suitable modification, this technology could be of use to socialism - not to help people decide what to consume, but which matters of policy to get involved in. A person's tastes, interests, skills, and academic achievements, rather than their shopping traits, could be put through the CF process and matched to appropriate areas of policy in the resulting list of recommendations. A farmer, for example, may be recommended to vote upon matters which affect him/her, and members of the local community, directly, or of which s/he is likely to have some knowledge, such as increasing yields of a particular crop, the use of GM technology, or the responsible use of land by ramblers. The technology would also put them in touch with other people of similar interests so that issues can be thrashed out more fully, and may even inform them that "People who voted on this issue also voted on…" The question is, would a person be free to ignore the recommendations and vote on matters s/he has little knowledge of, or indeed not vote at all? Technology cannot resolve issues of responsibility, but any system, computer software or not, which helps reduce the potential burden of decision making to manageable levels would. How could too much voting be bad for you.
Becoming Human Again
Humans behave differently depending upon the conditions that they live in. Human behaviour reflects society. 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. Also as Marx contended, the prevailing ideas of society are those of its ruling class then 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. 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 that will be unsustainable as more peoples are drawn into alienated capitalism. In 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 organised in such a dog-eat-dog manner. In capitalist society there is a tendency for individuals to seek to validate their sense of worth through the accumulation of possessions. In socialism, status based upon the material wealth at one's command, would be a meaningless concept. Why take more than you need when you can freely take what you need?
It is this which helps to underpin the myth of infinite demand that people want too much? In a socialist society "too much" can only mean "more than is sustainably produced." Perhaps, in innocence, the earliest inhabitants of socialism will indulge in a few feasts of conspicuous over-consumption (who would be surprised at such action after years of poverty and social inferiority?), but such antics will soon end when the physical consequences of such irrationality are felt. If people decide that they (individually and as a society) need to over-consume then socialism cannot possibly work. However, this does require that we appreciate what is meant by "enough" and that we do not project on to socialism the insatiable consumerism of capitalism. 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. Habits of manners, attitudes and values are absorbed by an individual through experience of immediate social environment and society at large. Individuals can, through their own actions, change their attitudes and values, and alter the material conditions of their life. They can do this from the basis of their initial experiences and in response to stimuli present in the general social environment. Through men and their social environment acting and reacting on each other is how social evolution occurs. It is a basic need of the individual, in order to sustain healthy stable existence, to be supported in his life by the acceptance and approval of those with whom he has entered into a relationship. Since 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. People act selfishly or anti-socially only when they can see no other way of getting what they want. If there is another way by co-operation, for instance there is no reason to suppose that they will not choose it when they see it is better to do so.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 characterise such a society as being built around a moral economy and a system of generalised reciprocity.
Working in Socialism
Work should not really be equated with employment. Employment is wage labour and the ability to work is a commodity the workers are forced to sell. As such it has alienating factors associated with it; e.g. Monday to Friday , 9 -5 , is “their” time, whilst the weekend is "our" time, where we can enjoy working in the garden or painting. Employment is based on the division of labour. The upshot being workers are tied to one job for years on end, instead of being people able to do all kinds of things, which socialist society – run by conscious decisions instead of blind forces – will allow. It is a moot point as to how far the division of labour can be removed from socialism; not every one can have the steady hand and requisite knowledge of a surgeon. People most fitted for a certain task will do it because they want to, and not through bureaucratic compulsion or unfortunate necessity. Socialist society will not eliminate inequalities of talent: one person might be a greater pianist than another will ever be, while another will run faster than another could ever train to run. But this does not mean that socialism will establish a hierarchy of pianists or athletes or poets or brain surgeons. In a cooperative society it will be recognised that poets cannot write their literary masterpieces unless the miner is willing to bring the coal from under the ground. Humanity lives interdependently. And who is to say that miners will not be poets when they are not down the mine and the greatest chess player in socialism will not sweep the streets so that the greatest brain surgeon can walk to the hospital without rats biting at the ankles? The rigid division of labour which is a feature of the present system will not exist in socialist society.
The changes that the working class of the world has developed under the whip of capital, have modified conditions of living and working, and particularly the prospects for future society, in a fundamental way. They have made the production of abundance a real and obvious social possibility. There is now very little that modern science and technology can not do, given sufficient resources and effort. Except for large products, such as ships or steel girders, enormous manufacturing plants are no longer technically necessary. Such items as cookers, fridges, a vacuum cleaner, a washing machines, TVs would have to be produced en masse. This doesn't mean that they need be produced under the conditions that exist today in factories under capitalism. Far from it. Factories in a socialist society can and will be structured and run quite differently: slower pace of work, shorter hours, non-polluting technology, democratic participation in decision-making, even be set amidst trees and gardens. They would be making goods to supply all the local communities in a given area (except, perhaps, for some factories producing very specialised equipment as for hospitals or scientific research). The potential of automation for post-capitalist, democratic society is enormous (this society only automates to increase profits and for no other reason.) When used in conjunction with computers it is virtually limitless in its possibilities. Whereas tools may be said to supplement human limbs, and machines - themselves using tools - can be thought of as amplifying human energy and speed, automation represents an extension, an amplification, of the human nervous system and, with computers, the brain. Automation makes decisions and gives instructions for them to be carried out. Operating machines by giving them information opens up other possibilities too. Information can be sent over almost any distance, as the control of the various exploratory space vehicles demonstrates. Remote control of machines in dangerous or humanly inaccessible locations is now, therefore, becoming common practice (but only where profitable) The potentialities of remote control for the free society of the future are, in contrast, rich and liberating. A person who had taken on responsibility for a particular production process or service could monitor its progress and make adjustments from wherever he or she happened to be. With good satellite communication links, machines and equipment in isolated stations, performing a variety of environmental control or supply functions, could be supervised from almost any distance. As far as the technology is concerned, there is now no reason why human beings should do any of the dull, dreary or dirty jobs that are necessary to provide the wealth and services of an advanced, affluent society. Machines can - could if they were under the control of a free democratic society - do all of these tasks for us.
One of the strangest objections to socialism is “who will do the dirty work?”. Imagine such doom-sayers arguing “I don't want to live in a world without want and hunger , and where my needs are satisfied, if it means I have to do dirty work once a week.”
Who will do the dirty work? Socialism will not be a Utopia where all the problems of existence have vanished. Socialism can do lots of things, but it can't make shit smell of roses - that is one little fact of life we'll just have to put up with. Unpleasant work will still have to be done. Machinery will do it, said Oscar Wilde. “All unintellectual labour, all monotonous, dull labour, all labour that deals with dreadful things, and involves unpleasant conditions, must be done by machinery”. This will release each individual to help the community in his or her own way by doing service or producing things which will satisfy each person’s need to be active, to contribute and to help. Wilde summed it up: “The community by means of organisation of machinery will supply the useful things, and...the beautiful things will be made by the individual”.
Unappealing dirty work can probably be taken care of by utilising labour-saving machines. But where it is impossible and where dirty work will have to be done in socialist society we can be quite sure of two things: Firstly, it will NOT be done by the same people ALL the time. All able members of society will take turns at such work . Secondly and not to be forgotten is that it will be carried out by socially conscious men and women who appreciate that society belongs to them and therefore its less pleasant tasks must be performed by them. In the knowledge that we own and control the earth, and all that is in and on it, it is unlikely i think that human beings will refuse to attend to the dirty work within socialism.
The fact is that most jobs under capitalism are either completely or partially unnecessary. Many of those that are necessary are performed by people working long hard hours while others suffer poverty of low wages and low status. At first, everybody would carry on with their usual duties for the time being, except all those whose duties being of an unnecessary nature to the new system, were rendered idle: for example, bank and insurance clerks, commercial travellers, advertiser and PR. These people would, in time, be fitted into productive occupations for which they considered themselves suitable. Elimination of all jobs required only within a capitalist system would reduce necessary tasks to such a trivial level that they could easily be taken care of voluntarily and cooperatively, eliminating the need for the whole apparatus of economic incentives and state enforcement. Work will be an essential part of life in socialism; it will be a part of the individual's personal development, a necessary, healthy expenditure of energy and a social bond with co-workers. The hours needed to work will be considerably reduced as unemployment will no longer exist , and from the additional extra labour being made available from no longer required capitalist occupations which will not exist in the moneyless, free access society of socialism. There will simply be many more hands to do the unpleasant but necessary stuff. Socialism will entail new applications of technology and the abolition of unnecessary routine work. Dangerous and unpleasant work will be eliminated unless absolutely essential. It may be reasonable in some ways to compare work in socialism with people’s hobbies now: things done for their inherent enjoyment, not because of the wage packet. And just as the appeal of some hobbies and pastimes is incomprehensible to outsiders, so different people will find different kinds of work attractive.
As for the lazy greedy shirkers who may contribute less and take more, why should this be a problem in a society which is based on the satisfaction of needs? Socialist society will contain millions of babies and infants who will not be able to milk the cows. There will be those in socialist society who are too old or too disabled to go down the mines. There is no reason why society should not allow them to take according to their differing needs. And those people living in a socialist society who are too idle to work will not be a drain on society’s resources for very long, for if they lie in bed for long enough they will die—of boredom. If work is organised, not to meet your need but for someone else's profit, it is understandable that you will avoid it if you can. But if you are working for yourself, for others like yourself, or for the community as a whole you will be unlikely to shun work. What is it most people like about their jobs? It’s the interaction with their work colleagues. But of course if people didn’t work then society would obviously fall apart. If people cannot change their behaviour and take control and responsibility for their decisions, socialism will fail.
Socialists have tended to refrain from extensive speculation about the precise organisation of a future socialist system but the above descriptions of what is possible demonstrates quite clearly that socialists are not planning an unachievable Utopia. Capitalism has made abundance a possibility, and made workable the "Communistic abolition of buying and selling”. We are taking the people of today and the world of today and simply changing the not very technically different methods of working and organising the resources of society for use and not for the profit of a minority. The nature of its administration will be in accord with the historical circumstances existing at the time of the revolution. 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 forms that exist today. When we come to the question of how production solely for use will operate in socialism we begin with the fact that a world-wide structure of useful production already exists and therefore we already have a working model in front of us. The task is to identify the useful mechanisms which co-ordinate production and distribution now as distinct from the value factors of buying and selling in the markets, which under capitalism constrain useful production. In socialism, these useful mechanisms will operate on their own, freely and directly for need. Our proposals for practical socialism include the ways in which useful institutions and decision-making bodies could be adapted from “the existing state of things”. Socialism will be based on is production for use, with objects being made or services being provided because they are useful to people, rather than with a view to making a profit. In some ways, this is similar to what happens in many households at the moment. People cook, clean, wash their car, because these are useful activities, not because they hope to make money from them. Equally, people grow vegetables in their garden or allotment for their own consumption or that of their friends and neighbours. In Socialism such principles will simply be extended to the whole of production. The corollary of production for use is free access to what has been produced. People will simply take what they need from the “shops” or storehouses, as and when they want it. There will be no point in hoarding things for a rainy day, or in taking masses of stuff. For one thing, there is only a certain amount of most things - e.g potatoes or toilet paper that people can consume. But would some people want lots? Maybe some will want lots of CDs, but the extra resource used in producing lots of copies is very small, so this will not be such a great problem.
We are not so naive as to imagine that the changeover from world capitalism to world socialism will occur over a single weekend. The changeover can be envisaged as taking place over a relatively short period of time of, say, five years (we don't know.) Yet even before the full establishment of socialism people will have started to do what is needed to begin creating the new world. Local life will soon became largely self-administering and local plans will be devised to make the best alternative uses of buildings that no longer served their original purpose, such as banks, ammunitions factories and stately homes. Communities able to grow their own food can very quickly become self sufficient: food surpluses distributed elsewhere to areas of need without any requirement to pass through the asphyxiating intermediary of the market although later it will not be a question of communities passing on their surpluses to one another (most, if left to themselves, wouldn't have any surplus); it is a question of them being interlinked in a single network of production which in the end embraces the whole world. Wider co-ordination will ensue. It is as well to be aware to what extent local communities are interconnected and interdependent and that this places severe limits on what needs could be met locally. The fact is that people in small communities aren't able to produce all they need, or anything like it. The final stage of the production of a range of goods for everyday use could be done locally--food, clothes, shoes, furniture--as well as repairs but neither (most of) the raw materials nor (in most cases) any of the metals to make the tools and machines used in this final stage could be produced locally. The community will ascertain what are the requirements of the people - anything and everything that the people desire. Food, clothing, housing, transport, sanitation — these come first; all effort will be to supply those first; everyone will feel it a duty to take some part in supplying these. Then will follow the adornments and amusements. There will be a real sense of working together for a common goal - a true community. If you read people’s reminiscences of the Second World War or the Depression of the Thirties, you will find time and again the refrain, “Times were hard, but everybody pulled together.” It matters not how accurate these memories are; what is crucial is the way that cooperation and solidarity are seen as positive values, to be cherished and kept in the memory.
For real democracy: imagine a society where all the people would be of equal status, with equal, free access to resources owned by the community, as a whole (e.g. food, shelter, health-care, education, transportation, etc.). Imagine a world with no leaders and no elite to lord it over us. A society where everyone can have an equal say in the issues that concern them. Above all, a world, in which all the people own and share the wealth that we need in order to live. The precise, day-to-day details of the running of this future society will be up to the people at the time, but what we can be sure of is that there will be open access to the administration of society for those interested in particular issues, such as food production, health, education, building of houses, the environment and local matters. Immense satisfaction will be experienced by huge numbers of individuals as, on the one hand they will be able to contribute their mental and physical energies into increasing the commonly held wealth of society, whilst on the other hand, they will satisfy their own self-defined needs from the common store.
"It's a nice idea but it will never happen" is one of the most common responses to the suggestion that it is in our interests to work towards building a socialist society. The assumption is that socialism will rely upon everybody being altruistic, sacrificing their own interests for those of others. In fact socialism doesn’t require people to be any more altruistic than they are today. We will still be concerned primarily with ourselves, with satisfying our needs, our need to be well considered by others as well as our material and sexual needs. It is enlightened self-interest that will work for the majority. The coming of socialism will not require great changes in the way we behave, essentially only the accentuation of some of the behaviours which people exhibit today (friendliness, helpfulness, co-operation) at the expense of others which capitalism encourages (acquisitvness, competition)
Given the control of human affairs that a socialist system would bring, people in socialism would be able to take charge of their destiny. What is undeniable is that we are a species with great talents. In science, technology, in art, crafts and design we can call upon a wide range of great skills. The point now is to release these for the benefit of humanity and a new era for humanity will have begun. Production for profit will have been confined to a barely-understandable and barbaric past.
Housing is one problem of capitalism which has been a constant source of difficulty and is part and parcel of working class life. Few members of our class escape some aspect of housing trouble .Whether it is the complete crisis of homelessness, or the stress involved in keeping our homes through paying rent or repaying a loan. Most members of our class live in relative poor housing, some of which is within the bounds of adequacy, while the rest reflects the worst in living conditions. Our quality of housing acts as good guide to the degree of suffering associated with the many other problems inherent in our class position such as bad health , poor nutrition and inadequate education. We can therefore accept that the problem of housing reflects the problems of capitalism. When socialism is established it will be necessary to set up councils at local , regional and global levels for the administration of social affairs in every aspect of productive activity. Also there will have to be councils whose functions will be to co-ordinate the work of the various specific councils. The majority of the people in a local area will make decisions affecting that area specifically, the people in a certain region will make decisions for that region and everyone will make global decisions. This will mean that everyone must have access to vast amounts of knowledge, concerning what each area produces , where it is stored , how what is needed can be got from one place and moved to another. All this knowledge can be computerised. When it comes to voting on specific issues people need go no further than their living room. People could, if they wished, check on how a certain project was progressing so that whatever was happening could be under the constant scrutiny of society as a whole.
When socialism is established it will have two important projects concerning housing . One will be to find homes for the millions throughout the world who have none. The other will be to clear the world of the horrible slums and shanty towns in which so many of its population live. Therefore an enormous world-wide reconstruction project would begin which would involve the democratic participation of nearly everyone, in one way or other. It would have to be decided, what region and what local area requires houses, how many, what type or style, what materials they will be made from and how much of each is required. Obviously, with this will go the many and various decisions concerning town planning, roads , recreational facilities, "shopping centres". Though the work involved may require many people, they will be forthcoming from all the occupations made redundant by the overthrow of capitalism, such as production for war and anything concerning finance, advertising, etc. Schools for training and re-training people in the various skills will be set up, and as far as the productive work goes they will have the machinery capitalism created plus whatever advances on this the first members of socialist society will make. People with specific skills related to housing, or those who wish to learn them, can volunteer at an administrative office similar to present man-power or job-centres and can be notified where their skills can be used.
After socialism has solved the initial task of clearing away capitalism’s rubble in every respect (feeding, clothing, housing, educating, clearing away the pollution, curing curable diseases), then it will be apparent that the change in society will be more than just production for use instead of profit, but will entail vast changes from top to bottom in every part of society. Nowhere will this be apparent more than over how we group in communities. Cities as we know them to day will probably no longer exist as people won’t want or need to be condensed in a particular area (the fulfilment of the Communist Manifesto demand for the "gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country".) When starvation has been stopped and when every human being has a roof over their head, then socialist society can turn to satisfying people’s needs in a more sophisticated way , and this will certainly be the case in housing. Whenever there is a need for a new type of house, a town or a building for the use of the community, architects will submit plans and models which can be voted on by the community as a whole in a given area. Though there may be competition between the various architects and planners , it will be from the premise of who can best beautify the locality . One can be certain that there will be new types of dwellings. Along with the disappearance of cities as we know them will also go the high-rises, those up-turned shoe-boxes where people are crammed in like sardines, to be replaced with buildings where people can at least live like humans. With whatever changes in the family structure the new social conditions will create will also come a need for new types of homes ; there may be a type of communal home. And it may be that the design of a building will be determined by its functions, its given physical environment and the materials to be used. Whatever the case, people will be able to choose their home to suit their own particular needs concerning physical comfort and recreational requirements.
Socialism will have its problems, although on a massively reduced scale compared to any previous form of society. Socialism will not be a society without emotion. Conflict between individuals and possibly between communities may exist. But socialism will deal fairly and sensibly with its problems and will not try to disguise them. Societies achieve conformity to their purpose and general standards not only by laying down formal rules but by reinforcing these rules with the alternative pressures of individual acceptance or rejection. Friends who fall out, withdraw and reject by not speaking to each other. Larger groups may sanction a member by expulsion or sending to Coventry. A society punishes its members with banishment or imprisonment. In all these cases it is accepted that imposed isolation from the group is painful and therefore salutary. But the law as we know it today will have no place in a socialist world. Socialism is not an idealised fairyland where anybody may do just as they like. If an individual’s actions impact adversely on those around them, the community would not be slow to apply sanctions. The only question is, what would those sanctions be? In a cooperative community, it is quite possible that the labels ‘uncooperative’, or ‘self-serving’, or ‘wasteful’, or ‘propertarian’ would be such stigmas that people would go to considerable lengths to avoid earning them. At any rate, punishment in socialism, were there ever a need for it, would be socially agreed and socially administered, in general proportion to the offence committed. Even if the occasional murder still takes place, the person committing it will merit treatment and support rather than the punitive measures usually imposed today.
In “The German Ideology,” Marx said, “Civil Society embraces the whole material intercourse of individuals within a definite stage of the development of the productive forces.” This makes a distinction between the “whole material intercourse of individuals” and the class relations of production. Whilst the main function of the state with its law and coercive machinery is to regulate and enforce the class relations of production, there remain some features of law and its enforcement which have no apparent connection with class relations and can therefore be said to be a part of civil society. It is examples of this law that would be continued into socialist society. These include laws that they arise from moral or ethical questions – they vary over time and between countries without making the slightest difference of productive relationships. They arise from the organisation of civil society. Similarly we have laws on drunk or dangerous driving. You would need these laws in any modern society. They do not arise from the regulation and enforcement of the wage labour/capital relationship – they arise from the need for safety. They would be continued in socialism. Similarly we have laws on professional qualifications – for doctors, surgeons and pharmacists. Licences for car drivers, air pilots, and ships captains and so on. Again, these laws arise from the need for safety. Socialism will be organised for needs, so they will be continued in socialism. Very important in a socialist society will be planning law. There will be a democratically decided policy on town and country planning – the idea that anyone will be able to act against it by putting up buildings or other structures wherever they like is absurd – you cannot take it seriously. In socialism your planning permission will give you free access to all the necessary materials, but you will only be able to build with planning permission. Again, very important in socialism will be constitutional law. This will define both the freedoms and the boundaries of decision making amongst public bodies – the committees running institutions such as hospitals and schools, production units and the various parish, district and urban councils. The idea that without constitutional law you could have all these bodies making decisions against each would be total madness. The dictionary defines law as the rules of the community. That is adequate for our purposes. Rules are not always made by one person or group to oppress another. And since we agree that socialism will be a society with rules – it follows that there will be law in socialism. So within socialist society there will, we suggest, be regulation of sorts and maybe even places of detention. Violent or other anti-social behaviour will be addressed not by punishing people but by treating them, if necessary for the protection of the rest of the community in a confined place. But will the inmates find themselves banged up and slopping out? Surely not. We would think that their very inability to participate appropriately in society would be sufficient reason to extend to them the finest care, compassion and support that we can muster. Although it will be global as opposed to tribal, people will still live in small localised communities and, freed from capitalism's physical and mental shackles, will spontaneously look out for one another. It is after all our nature to do so.
The first point to make is that farming methods will be adopted according to health benefits, not wealth benefits and satisfying genuine hunger not hunger for profits. The proposal that the world community in socialism could immediately stop deaths from hunger and rapidly increase the supply of food is based on the freedom that all people would enjoy to co-operate with each other to produce food directly for needs without the constraints of the market system. With food, it is possible to increase production rapidly because a lot can be done with hand labour. It is not necessary to first expand means of production. Whilst industry and manufacture may take time to bring in more machinery and equipment, local initiatives could mean more people using their local land resources for more intensive production. But, to begin with, a socialist world could immediately stop people dying of hunger with a more equal distribution of scarce supplies. At the same time local initiatives would greatly improve the supply of food within a very short time
However, we also have an example of a rapid increase in food production during World War II when the normal operation of the market system was suspended. Though this example may seem perverse so far as socialism is concerned, it does indicate what can be achieved when production and distribution is organised, even for a short period, outside the normal constraints of market laws.
Before the Second World War Britain imported approximately 55 million tonnes, or 3/4 of the country's food by ship each year. In England and Wales arable acreage was about 9 million; whereas 16 million acres were under grass and a further 5 ½ million was “rough grazing” (once reasonable pasture). One acre of permanent grass (for animal fodder) fed 1 or 2 people; one acre sown with wheat fed 20 people; and one acre sown with potatoes fed 40 people.
What was achieved was that over a period of about four years food production in Britain was increased by 70 percent. Nationally, some 6 ½ million new acres were ploughed up between 1939 and 1944. Harvests of wheat, barley and potatoes increased by over 100%; milking cows increased by 300,000; other cattle by 400,000. This was at the expense of fewer sheep, pigs and poultry but enabled the country to completely reverse its reliance on foreign food. In terms of calories, the net output had been quadrupled by 1943-44. By the end of the war, food imports had been reduced from 22 million to 11 million tons and Britain was producing well over 60% of its food. From 815,000 allotments in 1939 the number rose to 1,400,000 by 1943. allotments were estimated to contribute some 1.3 million tonnes of food produce. 90,000 women of the Land Army came from very different backgrounds. The daughters of doctors, solicitors, labourers and factory workers from the industrial areas joined together, driving tractors, milking cows and cleaning out pigs. By all accounts the work was hard but enjoyable. The living conditions on farms were often crude but mostly morale was high. With the ending of occupations such as those in insurance, finance and banking, millions of people would become available for useful production in socialism. Restaurants were run by local authorities, who set them up in a variety of different premises such as schools and church halls. They evolved from the LCC’s Londoners’ Meals Service which originated in September 1940 as a temporary, emergency system for feeding those who had been bombed out. By mid-1941 the LCC was operating two hundred of these restaurants.
War Agricultural Committees were formed immediately on the outbreak of war . They were leading farmers and nurserymen, with a good knowledge of local conditions, who had volunteered, unpaid, to help in the campaign to get full production from the land in their particular county. These Executive Committees, numbering eight to twelve members,Ministry of Agriculture propaganda poster predominantly farmers, were given delegated powers by the Minister under the wartime Defence Regulations. There was usually at least one landowner, one representative from the farm workers and one woman representing the Women’s Land Army. They formed Sub-Committees to cover different aspects of work, and District Committees to ensure that there was at least one Committee member in touch with every farmer, up to say 50 or 60, in his area of 5000 acres. Later, some District Committees embraced a representative from every parish. The role was to tell farmers what was required of them in the way of wheat, potatoes, sugar beet or other priority crops, and to help the farmers to get what they needed in the way of machinery, fertilisers and so on to achieve the targets which were set them. The Sub-Committees covered the following concerns: Cultivations, Labour, Machinery and Land Drainage, Technical Development, Feeding Stuffs, Insects and Pests, Horticulture, Financial and General Purposes, Goods and Services and War Damage. The Committees employed paid officers such as the Executive Officer and assistants in each county and District Officers to keep the show running smoothly in every locality. Technical Officers were also employed to advise farmers about such matters as the lime requirements of their soils, the making of silage, the treatments of soil pests, the care of machinery and the improvement of livestock. Farmers could get expert advice free, which contributed enormously to increase the output that farmers achieved.
Such an increase of 70 percent today, on a world scale and within four years, would be more than enough to provide every person with choice and free access to good quality food. The organisation that led to increased food production in Britain during World War II indicates practical ways of achieving similar results in socialism. Potentially, the organisation already exists. In place of national governments, the UN could be democratised as a World Council which could become a centre for co-ordinating a world-wide war on hunger. The FAO could also achieve its potential as a key organisation at last able to achieve real results. To devolve the work, agricultural committees could be set up in every country and these could be further de-centralised through county and district committees, (or equivalent bodies in all countries). At every level throughout this structure, the FAO could provide skilled staffs able to draw on its store of world data and technical information to advise and assist the work. This network could be extended to local farms with an ability to adapt to every local condition.
Common ownership would give all communities immediate access to land. In the short term, people in the areas of greatest need could concentrate their local efforts using the best means available. At the same time the regions most able to do so could assist with increased supplies. There can be no doubt that throughout the world, within a season, the plight of the seriously undernourished would be greatly improved. In the longer term, communities in socialism would be able to look beyond the immediate priorities of desperate need and begin to sort out the appalling state of world agriculture that is a consequence of the exploitation and destructive methods of capitalist agribusiness. It not only exploits farm workers of all lands, it exploits the soil and anything in nature it can get its hands on. There is of course widespread concern, not just about starving people but also about the damage and loss of natural food assets across the world. This is the continuing despoliation of land and ocean resources, the excessive and inappropriate use of weed killers and chemical fertilisers together with the cruel treatment of animals. Also within agriculture we shall be reassessing the relative values of different methods of producing our food. We shall be free to look at the results of studies knowing that there is no hidden agenda or biased information. When we have the correct, unambiguous facts in front of us decisions can be made unemotionally about land use. Chemical fertiliser or natural manure and traditional methods? Monocrops or mixed farms? Grain for food or fuel? Grain for humans or animals?
With shrinking aquifers and glaciers there is huge wastage of water with some countries' current irrigation methods, poor infrastructure, old or outdated technology in some industries, money-based equations for water use when mining for minerals and a billion dollar business selling bottled water at up to a thousand times the cost of water from the tap with how many thousands of gallons wasted in the process? In the likely future scenario demographics will probably change a great deal but we shall be in a position to totally re-think the use of the global water supply and consider every stage from aquifers, dams, irrigation methods, industrial use and domestic consumption. Water and the infrastructure required will be considered in minute detail as to how best to use, re-use, conserve and generally value it as a basic necessity of all life.
It will make sense in general to reduce food miles – to relocalise agriculture for everyone's benefit. By doing so huge savings will be made in fuel and energy use.But local food production is limited by variations of soil and climate, which means that local projects would contribute to balanced production throughout the regions of the world. On this larger scale the grain-producing regions of America, Canada, Australia and Asia would continue to be important. Wheat, maize and rice are basic to world agriculture and new areas could be developed for the production of these cereals together with the whole range of nutritious fruits and vegetables. With the ending of rival capitalist states and the market system the world community in socialism would have the great advantage of being able to make the best use of the land resources of the planet in whatever location may be considered best. A priority in such decisions would be care of the environment. The possibility that conservation methods might require more people would not matter. There would be no economic pressure to carry on using destructive production methods that use the least amounts of labour. Certainly in the transition period whilst we are investing our human energies into appropriate infrastructure we can cut emissions drastically and restore food security and control to local communities, always remembering decisions will be made locally. On the global scale we will move right away from decisions imposed and implemented by world financial authorities and transnational corporations in favour of working for the common good. Respect will automatically be conferred to local knowledge and traditional methods understanding that the objective will be to satisfy food, fibre, fuel and other needs.
Education is an integral part of any social system. Feudal society required little of the peasants by way of education. The Industrial Revolution demanded more - workers who could make, tend and repair machines, and some who could keep records and books. In the 20th century the process was continued - mass education was fashioned into an increasingly refined training and selection mechanism for the labour force.
There is a conventional mythology surrounding the noble ideals of education. Schools are said to be places where young minds are nurtured, where boys and girls are prepared to become responsible citizens. In the present society the main aim of education is to provide the knowledge and skills base necessary for employment in capitalism. Dominated by commodity relationships and values, education both reflects and contributes to those relationships and values. Under capitalism most people don’t get the chance to develop their capacities.
The inherent inequality between teacher and pupil has led some critics to question the value of "schooling". The concern has been that hierarchical and autocratic teacher-pupil relationships concentrate power in the hands of teachers and lead children to acquire attitudes of docility and submission to authority. A critique of authoritarian schooling as simply preparation for employment led to a movement for "de-schooling"
So, what would education be like in a socialist society? A detailed description obviously cannot be given, however, it is very clear that, in complete contrast to capitalism, socialism will put human need first. The welfare and needs of people, both as individuals and as a community will be treated as a priority. The importance of developing to the full, the mental, physical and social abilities and talents of everyone, as individuals, will undoubtedly be recognised. Most significantly, education will inevitably be considered a lifelong process and certainly not something to be compartmentalised into time slots, like happens under the present system. As a result of this, people will be able to lead far more satisfying lives than could ever be even remotely achieved under capitalism. This satisfaction would derive from the contributions to the overall material, intellectual social and cultural wealth of society which people would be able to make and, of course, from the fact that, as individuals, they would be able to enjoy the fruits of the common store. Learning is better stimulated through a holistic and experiential approach and would be available on demand at all life stages. From the moment a baby emerges from the womb (perhaps, even before that) it begins the process of learning. "Playing" is a part of that process. We cannot visualise a socialist society where children are regimented into education, conveyor-belt style. Basic schooling would take a huge shift away from the narrow confines of a rigid, test-based curriculum. Endless possibilities would be available from an early age to stimulate children. No financial budget means more "educators, facilitators, trainers, coaches, mentors" etc. to guide young and old through a much wider educational experience. Universal education can only raise levels in all areas important to the well-being of society whether knowledge, awareness, tolerance, capabilities, wider appreciation of self and others, resulting in wealth being measured in human terms. It will take time for world socialist education to develop its own character, and there is no reason to suppose that it will take the same form for everyone everywhere.
A quotation from the Communist Manifesto sums up the situation well:
“In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”
Here, the term “free development” can be taken to include education. In socialist society, there would be no financial constraints since the monetary system will have been abolished and production will be carried out solely for human need. The stresses and strains of cutbacks and needless austerity measures will finally have been abolished forever and at last, humanity will be able to move forward, considerably through genuine and effective education, towards real progress, both as individuals and as a community. The knowledge and skills needed to run a society which inherits the best from the past and rejects the worst will be circulated and developed among adults, and the ability to think creatively and critically transmitted from generation to generation. There will surely be different approaches to — even controversies about that task.
Large-scale sanitation in the developed world, vaccines, and even the NHS itself, must be seen as gains for the working class in some aspects. The whole process of the foundation of the NHS was a contradictory one, serving the interests of capital and, as a byproduct, that of the workers. The strong empathy and support that most workers in Britain have for the National Health Service is after all support for free access, "to each according to needs", for the idea that healthcare be freely available to all regardless of wealth. Some health and welfare services are now available to some people free at the point of delivery or consumption. In socialism the principle of free access according to reasonable need will be universally applied. Yet in socialism there won't be such a widespread demand for health and welfare services. Very different goods could then be manufactured, possibly using alternative technologies, with work organised in different ways, so as to reduce the possibility of ill health arising in the first place. And although it would be absurd to say that all disease would be abolished, we can assume that a real concern for the health of the population would be reflected in planning and decision making. Such a society is not a pipedream, but the logical outcome of the working class taking control of their own struggles. The demand for a healthier society is in effect a revolutionary demand, since health-damaging aspects of production cannot be removed in response to political reform.
In an ideal world, the application of medical interventions would be guided by the criterion of scientific objectivity and driven solely by the concern to meet human needs. So would healthcare be any different if socialism were established? Yes it would. Why? Take one or two minutes out and just think how the non-existence of wages, profits and budgets would change the present situation. Then think about the end of the hierarchies that dominate healthcare at present and no more layers of useless bureaucrats skimming their share. Instead healthcare would be conceived and administered, democratically by us, the people who brought socialism about. Globally, doctors, nurses, scientists and everyone at present involved in healthcare at the human level would act as guides, informing people as to where healthcare is capable of going once the artificial barriers of money had been eliminated. The recruitment, training and deployment of committed volunteers will take much organising and administration. The emphasis will be on activities and tasks rather than on occupational labels: nursing, brain surgery, portering, scientific research, and so on, rather than nurses, brain surgeons, porters, scientific researchers. Everywhere we shall treat each other as friendly co-operators.
Although we cannot specify in advance a utopian blueprint for a socialist health policy what we can say about the likely effects on health and illness of future socialist society is that the promotion of good health and the care of the injured and sick won’t be restricted by money considerations. There will be no profit to be made out of employing people in dangerous occupations, supplying them with unhealthy substances or encouraging their harmful addictions. No sales-people will advertise items and services that at best have no good effect on health and at worst damage it. Health and injury insurance and the compensation industry won’t be necessary. The types and incidence of health problems are likely to differ in the early stage of socialism from later stages when the legacy from the money system will have receded. Also, some parts of the world today have different degrees of economic development, commonly referred to as under-developed, developing and developed. We don’t know the extent to which present trends, such as urbanisation and environmental degradation, will continue, accelerate or be reversed. One thing we can say for certain is that socialism will release us from useless and harmful capitalist employment. We shall be free to take up work that will meet the needs of ourselves, others and the community, society and world in which we live. This is not to say that there won’t be problems to overcome. Natural disasters and pandemics won’t end with capitalism, although more effort will doubtless be devoted to avoiding and coping with them. Health and welfare problems resulting from natural disasters like floods or earthquakes will continue to require emergency measures. But the problems won't be as extensive. For one thing, people living in disaster-prone areas will be offered removal to safer environments.
Socialism will be able to provide decent care for the elderly. These now take up half the beds on the orthopaedic, chest and other medical wards. They are seen as a burden. In a socialist society real care – and that takes a lot of time, a lot of people – will be possible. Also, people with learning difficulties – those currently dismissed as mentally handicapped – can be more integrated into the community. A lot of people are currently left in hospitals because the society beyond can't be bothered, or lacks the cash, to care for them. Socialist hospitals will keep patients in for longer periods. At the moment hospitals do their best to throw patients out so that their beds can be filled. People need to be properly looked after and capitalism isn't letting us do that as well as we can and should. Capitalism sees the unproductive disabled as a drain on profits. Socialism will promote the good life and society for all, regardless of health condition. The replacement of a society based on production for profit by one based on production for needs will not of course mean the disappearance of disabled people, but it will certainly change for the better the way they are treated. Whether someone enjoys perfect health or suffers slightly or severely from an ailment of some kind will make no difference to the free and equal access they will have to the goods and services society is able to produce. Men and women in difference states of health will be able to contribute to the work of society in different ways. They will be in a position to balance the needs of themselves, others, the community and world society with their own physical and mental abilities and tastes. In a socialist society where the capacity for wealth production, unhampered by the colossal waste endemic to this one, can be released to the full, human values will predominate and energy can be concentrated on the causes of disease and its prevention. Issues such as the need for pharmaceuticals to make billions of pounds in profit will not exist.
But is there anything to think that socialism has something to offer as an answer to the problem of human misery? In socialism we will still have some of the problems that make you feel miserable, scared, depressed or demented. Socialism is not a solution to all mental health problems, it is a solution only to those created by capitalist conditions of life, or to class conditions of life. While some of the problems are due to being human beings living within a social setting, others are due to being biological organisms, and as such will break down if we are damaged or just get old (e.g. aphasia, epilepsy, anger management problems, Alzheimer’s, front lobe syndrome, pharmacologically induced psychosis). While there could be a reduced use of medication and an increased use of social therapy, the power to detain people whose condition renders them dangerous to others will still be needed. Capitalism has long produced the potential for such individual development, the task now is to realise it, to persuade working people that there is more to living than the shit of capitalism—we are more than pigs, content with mere physical satisfaction. All the indications are that common ownership and democratic control are the best way to long life and happiness.
Minimising costs so as to maximise profits has harmful consequences. The health and welfare of the workforce and the effects on the environment take second place. That's what cutting costs means. This why at work we suffer speed-up, pain, stress, boredom, overwork and accidents. This is why we have to work long hours, shiftwork and nightwork. This is why the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe are all polluted. So in socialism there won't be such a widespread demand for health and welfare services.
Technology and Science
Near-future science fiction frequently explores the possibilities of imminent technologies – gadgets that haven’t been designed yet, but could be given recent real advances in technology and design. Whilst its track record on such predictions – such as us getting to Mars by 1977 and everyone having rocket cars by 2002 – have been a bit wide of the mark, others have been much closer and in fact actively conservative compared to the real historical record. Scientists can be very far-sighted but at the same time have only a very narrow field of view, like a blinkered racehorse. William Morris's News From Nowhere famously describes a deliberately low-tech socialist society in which people have eschewed the benefits of technology and adopted simple ways of doing things, although arguably he cheats by powering his 'force barges' with some mysterious energy source he never explains, thus hiding his technology rather than really abolishing it. Nonetheless, this is unusual in that most portraits of the future, whether socialist or not, depict a society of advanced technological splendour in which all our needs are met by a range of technical apparatuses only a voice-command away. The amount of electronic appliances in the average household now massively outweighs that of fifty years ago, and half a century from now we may shudder at the poverty of gadgetry suffered in the early 21st century. But it is not necessarily the case that a socialist society will produce an equal amount of high-tech gadgetry. Because socialist production will meet real rather than false needs, it could be that socialism might be a low-gadget society. Although mobile phones, i-Pods, palm-top PCs and so on can satisfy some actual needs, it is mainly sociologically- and psychologically-induced perceived needs they actually satisfy, such as the need for conforming to group norms, the desire for prestige, and the belief that a product brings contentment. And because these items are produced to satisfy manipulated needs, they can have little use value. So if socialism will be a society that relies far less on gadgets, it is only because it will be a more honest society than the present one, without artificial needs.
Most people have no direct experience of science, only of the technology that is an almost incidental by-product of it, yet capitalism pours billions into pure scientific research despite the fact that virtually none of it will ever yield a profit. Why? Because the one per cent that does make a profit will pay for the 99 per cent that doesn't. In capitalism, science is a huge gamble that only occasionally results in a win, but bets are never placed on research that helps people who can't pay.
Scientists do have their heroes, but they don't worship them as infallible gurus because it is recognised that argument from authority is inferior to argument from evidence. Socialists take the same view of Marx and other revolutionary thinkers. Non-market, non-hierarchical socialism, which has no such agenda and which can therefore collectively determine the best course of action based on the available evidence. In science good ideas are not taken seriously enough when they come from people of low status in the academic world; conversely, the ideas of high-status people are often taken too seriously. The scientific method suffers because science is organised hierarchically. The problem with science in capitalism is that scientists have mortgages to pay, so they need to chase funding because they can't afford to work for free. "Science uses commodities and is part of the process of commodity production. Science uses money. People earn their living by science, and as a consequence the dominant social and economic forces in society determine to a large extent what science does and how it does it."(The Doctrine of DNA by R.C. Lewontin.)
And what will socialism do with pure research? Carry on the same way? Hardly. What we can say for sure is that curiosity is not likely to be dimmed by some inexplicable post-capitalist apathy in a society that releases scientists as well as all other workers from the compulsion to direct their efforts towards only those endeavours that the
capitalist class sees an interest in funding. So what approach would socialist society take to the great scientific project? Priorities would certainly be different. Drug research, for instance, will not occur in capitalism if the estimated $800m cost is not likely to be recouped, thus diseases rife in poor countries are overlooked while the top three drug groups by global sales are fat reducers ($26b), anti-ulcerants ($24b) and anti-depressants ($20b). Much of the pharmaceutical industry would be obsolete or transformed anyway if one can assume, after capitalism, a dramatic fall in heart disease and obesity, two wealth-related conditions for which the present drug market is principally geared, and an even more dramatic fall in poverty and stress-related diseases which presently do not even merit scientific attention. Similarly, science would no longer be prostrate at the feet of the military. Global military spending for 2004 was $1trillion. The US spends 40% of this, is home to 5 of the top 6 military corporations (the sixth,BAE Systems, is in the UK), and is the biggest investor in military R&D ($62.8b in 2004) while the UK is the second biggest (£2.6b in 2003-4). While some other lines of research would probably end, for example cosmetics , including most animal testing which is for this purpose, there would be a clear need for continued work in climatology, energy, epidemiology and many others, but it is questionable whether a socialist community would have the same passion as George Bush to send humans to Mars, or to build space hotels. n socialism, science will still be a gamble, but with the difference that no knowledge thus gained can ever be money lost. It may be that the huge time, resource and work investment in such esoteric projects as Atlas and the Large Hadron Collider, the LIGO gravitational wave detector or the AMANDA neutrino telescope will continue in socialism, but if they do it will be because the population understands and respects scientific enquiry for its own sake, and not because they are expecting to get a new groovy gadget out of it.
The freedom from patent and copyright restrictions, which are forms of private ownership and will thus be abolished, will almost certainly unlock a tidal wave of new development which may revolutionise areas of science which are currently at a near-standstill, for instance drug research and computing. In addition, the justifiable fear of what corporations, governments and the military might do with horizon science will no longer hold back developments in gene research and nanotechnology. Lastly, the ending of male domination of science, in which men are four times more likely than women to be scientists will produce a vast influx of new talent and new ideas that can only advance scientific effort for the acquisition of knowledge and ultimately the betterment of humanity.
There are times, though, when even some scientists start to sound a little reactionary, self-righteous and sanctimonious on their own account. One such instance is the issue of animal rights. Scientists tend to be very defensive about animal research, but their arguments, that such research is always necessary, tightly controlled, responsible and largely painless, are at best questionable and sometimes plain wrong, depending as they do on an idealized representation of scientific research as it is supposed to be, and not as it actually exists in the dollar-hungry world of capitalist corporations. Scientists do not help their own case with simplistic no-brainer dilemmas like “your dog, or your child”, which imply that all testing is for the common good and which gloss over the large proportion of experiments done for cosmetics, food colourings, and other non-health-related products. Socialists are not unduly sentimental about animals, and consider that a human’s first loyalty should be their own species. Nevertheless, the degree to which human society is ‘civilised’ can reasonably be gauged by its treatment of animals and the natural world as well as by its treatment of humans, and socialism, in its abolition of all aspects of the appalling savagery of capitalism, will undoubtedly do its part to abolish all unnecessary suffering by non-human sentient creatures. Even in socialism, where there would be little likelihood of animal testing for non-medical purposes, eg. cosmetics (such research today account for around three quarters of testing). Socialist science would (if it decided to do so at all) conduct animal research only under conditions of strict and peer-assessed necessity, and with attendant informed public debate, two key factors notable for their general absence today.
Technology is often seen as either the salvation or the scourge of humankind. Some of us incline to be technophiles and others technosceptics and others a bit of both. That is not to say, though, that the case for socialism rests on developing technology. It is neither possible nor desirable to abolish technology. Without it we would have to go back to a much harsher form of living. Few people would deny that among the changes technology has brought there have been tremendous improvements to our productive capabilities, if not always to our personal circumstances, or that in a socialist society modern technology will be vital in making sure everyone gets adequate food, housing and medical care. What is required is to change the basis of society so that technology can be developed and applied in the interests of the majority. Neither nanotechnology nor genetic modification are required for socialism. Socialism will take, adapt and use technology as it finds it. What socialism must do, however, is change our relationship with our tools, so that we can take control of our own destinies.