1960s >> 1968 >> no-761-january-1968

Production for Use

You’ll only catch Labour Ministers using the word ‘Socialism’ in two situations. One is at the Party Conference when, hand on heart, they proclaim their “socialist faith”. The other is when they are talking about planning. For many others too Socialism and planning are the same. It is true that Socialism does involve planning in the sense of working out ways to achieve given aims. But it is a simple mistake of logic to argue that because Socialism involves planning therefore all planning is socialist.

Planning is only an organisational technique, a tool that can be used in any situation where set ends are to be achieved. Thus generals plan campaigns. Capitalists, too, plan within their factories how to produce a given output as cheaply as possible so as to get the greatest profit. In socialist society free men and women will plan production to meet their needs. Clearly it is useless to discuss planning without first asking: planning for what?

The aim of Socialism will be to provide for the many and various needs of all the members of the community. The satisfaction of human needs will be the guiding principle. So the aim of planning will be to provide what human beings want. The technical side of production will have to operate always within the framework of human welfare instead of as at present within that of profit.

As the means for producing wealth will belong to the community as a whole, Socialism will be a classless society. There will be no built-in conflicts of interest between different sections of society. Further Socialism will be thoroughly democratic since a society based on the rational co-operation of free men and women can only flourish if its members play an active part in running it. This means that the whole administrative structure for planning will be under democratic control. The planners will not be bureaucrats with the power to order people about but duly-chosen delegates carrying out a necessary function on behalf of the whole community. As all human beings will have free access to the wealth they need the conditions for the corruption of officials by material favours just will not exist. And, of course, the coercive apparatus, so necessary to capitalism, will long ago have been disbanded.

Planning in Socialism, then, will be the planned production of wealth for use. This is a huge organizational task but one which mankind, thanks to its experience of capitalism, is quite capable of performing. One of the basic contradictions of capitalism is that while outside the factory or firm it breeds chaos and competition, inside it introduces co-operation and planning. Again, today millions and millions of people the world over are linked in a network of technological productive relationships. Social co-operation to produce wealth is the rule. Social planning of the use of this wealth, like its social ownership, is not. These must await the coming of Socialism. In fact their achievement is the socialist revolution. But it is not difficult to see how capitalism paves the way for Socialism.

The first task that men and women in socialist society will face in providing for their needs is to decide what and how much they want. This is not difficult. It is a principle of statistics that though you cannot predict the needs and wants of individuals and small groups the more people involved in any survey the more reliable become the figures—as individual peculiarities even each other out. It is just a matter of research and statistics to work out how much, say, bread or shoes or houses will be needed over a given period. In fact these techniques are already used today by governments, universities and market researchers. And of course socialist society would lose nothing from planning to produce a little more than strictly it needed as a kind of insurance against disasters or even against faulty statistics. If too much were produced then the result would not be the disaster it would today, with factories closing and men thrown out of work. All that would happen is that stocks would be larger and people would know how to produce less next time. Similarly if too little were produced.

So, first, it is a question of using social research and statistical techniques to estimate future needs. Such estimates could he submitted for discussion and approval to the community. Naturally, the figures could be challenged and, if demanded, estimates based on different assumptions worked out in much the same way as now the Government Actuary will work out the implications of rival pension schemes submitted by management and unions in the state industries.

Once needs have been estimated and figures for various things agreed on the next problem is to decide how they should be produced—that is, where, under what conditions, with what techniques. Working and living conditions will be something that the planners will have to take as given. Minimum standards will have been agreed on previously, by the usual democratic methods, using human welfare and not technical efficiency as the criterion. For instance, from a technical point of view it might be better to set up a power station in some beauty spot. If the community decided that this place should not be spoiled then this would have to be taken into account by the planners. Similarly some production techniques may be ruled out because the community, or even the producers involved, judges them unsafe or unhealthy or degrading. Once the community has decided what working and living conditions it will not tolerate then, respecting these decisions, the planners can begin working out the best technical way to produce the wealth required. This is a complicated task, demanding the use of computing machines, since every branch of industry is dependent, in however indirect a way, on every other. A decision, for instance, to build more electric cars will mean that more steel, rubber and other things will he needed too. But once the basic ratios are known then the requirements of any combination of needs can be worked out. These ratios are governed mainly by technology which changes very slowly. This technique, associated with Wassily Leontief. is called input-output or inter industry analysis and should come into its own in the non-commercial society that Socialism will be.

Once produced the wealth must be got to the places where the people who want it are (strictly speaking, this is still part of the production process). As the means for producing wealth will belong to the community so, as soon as it is produced, will all new wealth. There is no question of trying to sell it since it was not produced for this purpose but to satisfy human needs—and also since of course buying and selling has no place in Socialism. There is just the technical question of getting the stuff to the distribution centres from where people can freely take what they need.

We have traced, in logical sequence, the process of planned production for use right from the decisions as to what is needed to the delivery of the goods to those who will use them. Note that this is just the logical sequence. There is no reason why the tasks of estimating what will be needed and how it can be provided could not be combined to get out a set of alternative plans to put before the community for choice.

We are not here drawing up any blueprint but merely trying to show that Socialism is technically feasible now. The technical basis for Socialism—a technology capable of providing plenty for all, skilled and adaptable working human beings, the statistical and planning techniques — has long existed. What is lacking is just the desire and will to establish it.

Adam Buick