[OPE-L:2785] FW: Re: socialism and planning

andrew kliman (Andrew_Kliman@msn.com)
Fri, 2 Aug 1996 07:16:55 -0700 (PDT)

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Below is Paul C's reply to my ope-l 2770. It was evidently sent to me alone,
but Paul intended it for the list---Andrew

From: Paul Cockshott
Sent: Friday, August 02, 1996 4:51 AM
To: andrew kliman
Subject: RE: [OPE-L:2770] Re: socialism and planning

>Paul: "... under socialism the division of the social working day between
>necessary and surplus labour is essentially determined at the political
>Andrew: It is insufficient to assert this. What ensures that capitalistic
>exigencies don't determine the decisions made at the political level?

Paul C:
That is a fair point, but I dont think that there can be anything that
'ensures' that this will not take place. Politics is a process of
struggle in which the winner is not pre-guaranteed.

> Let's not forget that democracy,
>PARTICIPATIVE, DIRECT, democracy, originated in a slave society. What
>relations of production are needed so that the old crap will not re-emerge,
>and how can they be secured and defended?

Paul C:
Democracy only protects the rights of citizens. It is certainly
conceivable that a socialist democracy could behave in an exploitative
way to non-citizens, foreign prisoners of war or class enemies. If the
mass of the citizens hated or had no sympathy for them, they might well
applaud them being put to forced labour.

>In the *very best* of circumstances, elections of this sort are a very weak
>sign of what people really want. See Arrow. In reality, so many possible
>alternatives are not represented that they are no sign at all. And
>*plebiscites*, which Paul recommends, are well known to be the most
>manipulable "democratic" instruments.

Paul C:
I agree with Andrew on the inadequacy of elections, and with his criticism
of standard plebiscites. However, what I am suggesting goes way beyond what
has ever been put to the vote. No society has allowed the working population
to decide the division between necessary and surplus labour time, nor
the distribution of the surplus. What is put to the vote in conventional
plebiscites is a yes or no to a particular proposition. Whilst this has
been a very important democratic advance at times, for instance the
votes on divorce rights that have occured in some catholic republics,
it is still very limited. But what other means are there for collective
social control over the future direction of the economy?

I assume, of course, that there would be the obvious democratic procedures
for citizens to propose new questions to put to the vote.

>The very limited choices Paul constructs for people to "determine" under
>socialism, e.g.
>"The level of the tax should be determined by annual plebiscite with power to

>make small incremental or decremental changes."
>are IMO insufficient, at best, to express what they want, much less
>"determine" their destiny. At the very, very minimum, the great political
>advances made by the Paris Commune need to be studied very seriously, such as

>immediate recall of politicians and the payment of officials at average
>workers' wages.

The reason why I suggest that only small incremental changes in tax
levels can practically be voted on is simply that economies can only
adjust slowly to changes in the level of surplus labour. A 50% reduction
in total taxes in one year would imply a huge transfer of labour from
the provision of investment and public services to the direct provision
of consumer goods. This would just not be possible in a short time.

In my opinion there has been an excessive amount of hype surrounding the
consititutional provisions of the Paris Commune. Whilst I agree with the
provision that representatives earn only average wages, I think that the
recall of politicians is a very weak constraint on them. It is, if I am
not mistaken, part of the constitutions of some American states without
having produced and striking benefits. I prefer the original idea that
the entire council gets thrown out automatically every year and replaced
by randomly selected people.

>Also, Paul says nothing about how any of this will be
>ENFORCED. Who will have the arms? Who will control their production? Etc?

We are getting pretty far from political economy here, but I would
think that at least the following are required:

1. The existence of factory militias.

2. The existence of universal conscription to military service.

3. A provision for the election of officers.

However it should be noted that in both Hungary and the GDR there were
well equiped factory militias, who apparently voluntarily handed in their
weapons when called to do so by the political leaderships in 1988-89.
I recall that when I heard that the Hungarian militias had handed theirs in
I concluded that the counter-revolution had effectively taken place.

Merely having arms is not enough if the political will to hold onto them
and, if need be, use them, is absent.

>All this is *in addition* to what I think is the primary problem, namely that

>political forms alone do not solve economic problems. Maybe I've missed
>something, but I haven't seen how the mode and social relations of production

>will differ from what we now have.

I think you have missed something. Under the socialist mode of production
the political/ideological level is dominant, under capitalism the economic
level dominates. In this sense, socialism has more in common with other
non-capitalist modes of production where the politico-ideological level
is also dominant. It is only under capitalism that the social relations
of production appear as private 'economic' relations. In a socialist
economy, where production occurs in public factories , offices and farms,
you can not separate the social relations of production from politics.
There are no longer purely 'economic problems' in the sense that they
exist in a capitalist society.

>Paul: "The surplus should appear as an explicit tax deducted from peoples
> allocation of tokens for work done."
>Andrew: Does "work done" refer to the *amount* of concrete labor the
>individual actually contributes? Or abstract, socially necessary labor? If
>the latter, then aren't "tokens" a polite word for labor money?

Yes, provided that one takes Marx's point about such labour 'money' being
no more money than is a theatre ticket.

>Paul has not responded to my point that the need for an alternative and the
>need for a plan are different things, such that the former provides no
>justification for planning. What then is the justification?
>Given all the gaps and problems in Paul's plan, at least what I know of it,
>and the fact that "two heads are better than one," why not just recognize
>people will be better able to figure out for themselves the mechanisms that
>work than any one individual or group can, especially when s/he or it is not
>representative of and isolated from common people?

The point is that there are only two alternatives known for controling
and industrial economy - the capitalist market mechanism or socialist
It is the job of political economists to prettify one or the other
of these mechanisms, to attack the other, and if possible suggest
possible improvements to the one they favour. If you just leave it to the
people to figure it out for themselves, and do
not put forward suggestions for how to run a planned economy well, then
the people will - quite sensibly - accept the advice of the free market
Paul Cockshott