A Model of Socialist Society
By Alan Johnstone
02 May, 2014
One comment on my series of articles said: “If the world socialist movement declines to outline how the revolutionary transformation would take place or what the new society would be like, it is impotent.”
I hope this essay addresses part of that failing. The next few articles will concentrate upon how to achieve this new society.
A Model of Socialist Society
Socialists caution against the creation of blueprints. There is no point in drawing up in advance the sort of detailed blueprint of industrial organisation. For a small group of socialists, as we are now, to do so would be undemocratic. We also recognise that there may not be one single way of doing things, and precise details and ways of doing things might vary from one part of the world to another, even between neighbouring communities. Socialists cannot determine what the conditions will be when socialism is established. As the socialist majority grows, when socialism is within the grasp of the working class, that will then be the proper time for making such important decisions. It is imprudent for today’s socialist minority to be telling people how to administer a socialist society. When a majority of people understand what socialism means, the suggestions for socialist administration will solidify into an appropriate plan. It will be based upon the conditions existing at that time, not today.
We can, however, reach some generalised conclusions based on basic premises and can outline broad principles or options that could be applied. We do not have to draw up a an exact detailed plan for socialism, but simply and broadly demonstrate that it is possible and therefore refute the label of ‘utopianism’.
It is reasonable to assume that productive activity would be divided into branches and that production in these branches would be organised by a delegate body. The responsibility of these industries would be to ensure the supply of a particular kind of product either, in the case of consumer goods, to distribution centres or, in the case of goods used to produce other goods, to productive units or other industries.
Since the needs of consumers are always needs for a specific product at a specific time in a specific locality, we assume that socialist society would leave the initial assessment of likely needs to a delegate body under the control of the local community. In a stable society such as socialism, needs would change relatively slowly. Hence it is reasonable to surmise that an efficient system of stock control, recording what individuals actually chose to take under conditions of free access from local distribution centres over a given period, would enable the local distribution committee to estimate what the need for food, drink, clothes and household goods would be over a similar future period. Some needs would be able to be met locally: local transport, restaurants, builders, repairs and some food are examples as well as services such as street-lighting, libraries and refuse collection. The local distribution committee would then communicate needs that could not be met locally to the bodies charged with coordinating supplies to local communities.
The individual would have free access to the goods on the shelves of the local distribution centres; the local distribution centres free access to the goods they required to be always adequately stocked with what people needed; their suppliers free access to the goods they required from the factories which supplied them; industries and factories free access to the materials, equipment and energy they needed to produce their products; and so on. Production and distribution in socialism would thus be a question of organising a coordinated and more or less self-regulating system of linkages between users and suppliers, enabling resources and materials to flow smoothly from one productive unit to another, and ultimately to the final user, in response to information flowing in the opposite direction originating from final users. The productive system would thus be set in motion from the consumer end, as individuals and communities took steps to satisfy their self-defined needs. Socialist production is self-regulating production for use.
To ensure the smooth functioning of the system, statistical offices would be needed to provide estimates of what would have to be produced to meet peoples likely individual and collective needs. These could be calculated in the light of consumer wants as indicated by returns from local distribution committees and of technical data (productive capacity, production methods, productivity, etc) incorporated in input-output tables. For, at any given level of technology (reflected in the input-output tables), a given mix of final goods (consumer wants) requires for its production a given mix of intermediate goods and raw materials; it is this latter mix that the central statistical office would be calculating in broad terms. Such calculations would also indicate whether or not productive capacity would need to be expanded and in what branches. The centres for each world-region would thus be essentially an information clearing house, processing information communicated to it about production and distribution and passing on the results to industries for them to draw up their production plans so as to be in a position to meet the requests for their products coming from other industries and from local communities. The only calculations that would be necessary in socialism would be calculations in kind. On the one side would be recorded the resources (materials, energy, equipment, labour) used up in production and on the other side the amount of the good produced, together with any by-products.
Stock or inventory control systems employing calculation in kind are, as was suggested earlier, absolutely indispensable to any kind of modern production system. While it is true that they operate within a price environment today, that is not the same thing as saying they need such an environment in order to operate. The key to good stock management is the stock turnover rate – how rapidly stock is removed from the shelves – and the point at which it may need to be re-ordered. This will also be affected by considerations such as lead times – how long it takes for fresh stock to arrive – and the need to anticipate possible changes in demand.
Socialism will be a self-adjusting, decentralised inter-linked system. A socialist economy would be polycentric, not centrally planned. The problem with a central planning model of socialism is its inability to cope with change. It lacks any kind of feedback mechanism which allows for mutual adjustments between the different actors in such an economy. It is completely inflexible. Socialism does not necessary involve the creation of new layers of administrations but simply the transformation of them. It is not a command economy but a responsive one to provide for a self-sustaining steady state society.
And we can set out a possible way of achieving an eventual zero-growth, steady-state society operating in a stable and ecologically benign way. This could be achieved in three main phases.
1) There would have to be emergency action to relieve the worst problems of food shortages, health care and housing which affect billions of people throughout the world.
2) Longer term action to construct means of production and infrastructures such as transport systems for the supply of permanent housing and durable consumption goods. These could be designed in line with conservation principles, which means they would be made to last for a long time, using materials that where possible could be re-cycled and would require minimum maintenance.
3) With these objectives achieved there could be an eventual fall in production, and society could move into a stable mode. This would achieve a rhythm of daily production in line with daily needs with no significant growth. On this basis, the world community could reconcile two great needs, the need to live in material well being whilst looking after the planet.
A moneyless society can calculate opportunity costs and allocate resources rationally by :-
1) Calculation in kind
2) A self-correcting system of stock control - which identifies quantities of stocks available and provides a reliable indication of consumer demand (via the depletion rates of stocks)
3) The law of the minimum - whereby you economise most on those factors of production that are relatively scarcest
4) A social hierarchy of production goals - which sorts out the allocation of scarce factors where competing demands are placed upon them.
Humans behave differently depending upon the conditions that they live in. Human behaviour reflects society. In a society such as capitalism, people's needs are not met and people feel insecure. People tend to acquire and hoard goods because possession provides some security. People have a tendency to distrust others because the world is organized in such a dog-eat-dog manner. To establish socialism the vast majority must consciously decide that they want socialism and that they are prepared to work in socialist society. The establishment of socialism presupposes the existence of a mass socialist movement and a profound change in social outlook. It is simply not reasonable to suppose that the desire for socialism on such a large scale, and the conscious understanding of what it entails on the part of all concerned, would not influence the way people behaved in socialism and towards each other. In socialism, status based upon the material wealth at one's command, would be a meaningless concept. The notion of status based upon the conspicuous consumption of wealth would be devoid of meaning because individuals would stand in equal relation to the means of production and have free access to the resultant goods and services. Why take more than you need when you can freely take what you need? In socialism the only way in which individuals can command the esteem of others is through their contribution to society, and the stronger the movement for socialism grows the more will it subvert the prevailing capitalist ethos .
Free access to goods and services denies to any group of individuals the political leverage with which to dominate others (a feature intrinsic to all private-property or class based systems through control and rationing of the means of life). This will work to ensure that a socialist society is run on the basis of democratic consensus. Decisions will be made at different levels of organisation: global, regional and local with the bulk of decision-making being made at the local level.
Anything less than the demand for full free access socialism does not go far enough. In the final analysis, those who oppose it lack the confidence that either there are sufficient resources on the planet to provide for all, or that human beings can work voluntarily, and co-operate to organise production and distribution of wealth without chaos, and consume wealth responsibly without some form of rationing. In the end, these critics remain fixated to the lazy person, greedy individual critique of human behaviour.
How Socialism Can Organise Production Without Money
Money Must Go (very dated but very clear)
Alan Johnstone is a member of The Socialist Party Of Great Britain
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