Socialism and Planning

Socialism will be a planned society. For the first time in human history man will have not only extensive control over his physical environment but also — more importantly — control over his own social relations. With the ownership of the means of production vested in the community, and under its democratic control, we will be able to produce goods and services directly to satisfy human needs, without the intervention of the market or any means of exchange. People will freely determine, and take, what they need to live and to enjoy life. Information regarding the types and quantities of goods required will be fed back, either direct to the places of production or possibly to some control communications agency. Those people in the particular production units concerned will then decide, on the basis of the existing level of technology, how best to arrange their affairs so that the necessary goods may be supplied. The problems which a Socialist society will face will be of a purely technical and administrative nature, without the complications of capitalism involving wage bargaining, investment, buying and selling, insurance, banking, etc. The government over people will give way to the administration of things.

Because Socialism is a planned society however, it is not to be thought that conversely all planning means Socialism. Socialist planning means Socialism. Socialist planning is by and for the community; capitalist ‘planning’ is a futile attempt to regulate the market in the interests of profit and those who live off profit. Capitalist society, far from having a community of interests, is firmly based on an irreconcilable antagonism of interests between owner and non-owners of the means of production — the capitalist and working classes. Attempts at planning by the State, where they are not laughed at, are feared by the working-class and rightly so. The coercive state machine will not exist inside Socialism, for the class division in society having been abolished there will no longer be any function for it to perform.

The confused association of any kind of planning with the object of Socialists is particularly dangerous in the field of “Town Planning” where the state, both nationally and locally, is playing increasingly extensive roles. Many town planners, it is true, have a genuine desire to arrange matters for the benefit of all, but they are working with an established set of priorities over which they have little influence. Inevitably profits are taken into account first, so that in deciding on the retention or phasing out of villages and towns, or the construction of transport systems, what is “reasonable” and “practical” often conflicts with human happiness. The sad fact is that people who suffer directly from such moves, because they accept capitalism, are forced to accept its priorities, or at least the terms in which any discussion of priorities is to take place. Thus a natural beauty spot cannot generally be saved from the intrusion of overhead electricity pylons, merely because it is beautiful. It would usually have to be proved that the profits made from, say, tourism were enough to cover the extra cost of excavation for underground cables. More often than not where people do protest against the designs of the planners they are accused of being selfish, holding up “progress” or not being concerned for the “general good”, which the fluent town planner is all too able at claiming to represent.

There are those of course who point to the “irrational” objections made to much town development, which they claim would be as much a problem in Socialism as under capitalism: East Enders preferring London slum life to New Town conditions for instance, or the inhabitants of a small decaying mining village preferring their present life to that in a large modern housing estate. These objections however are only irrational if one accepts the myth that rising material consumption in the form of an extra bathroom, television set, etc. is the panacea for human satisfaction. It is here that the two sides of planning show themselves to be in conflict. For it is the inability to plan for the economic and social security of people, that makes them reluctant to accept the benefits of town planning. Both the East Enders and the mining villagers have established a degree of community through long contact, and common suffering which has bound them into a force capable of withstanding some of the pressures of capitalism. A bathroom and central heating are no compensation for the loss of this to the atomised existence of the big city dwellers.

Only Socialism is capable of solving this problem, by enabling people to have control over their own lives, with democratic organisation of the productive process, geared to satisfying human need. To take a simple illustration, if in Socialism it would take less materials and human effort to have one large town instead of two smaller communities, if the people concerned preferred the second arrangement, then that would be the course pursued. There is no question here of which would attract and retain industry, for in both cases industry would be under the control of the community, and would consequently be sited in accordance with their needs and not the needs of a privileged minority for profit as to-day.

M. Ballard