1990s >> 1991 >> no-1048-december-1991

Who’s afraid of socialism?

The view is not uncommon that socialist society would quickly starve to death because no one would find it worth their while to grow food or indeed to make anything. Complete lassitude. Maybe, but if millions of people took the trouble to invest in all the effort required in building a socialist world and then let it fall apart through indolence, then the history of the human race must be a fiction, and the law of self-preservation a nonsense.

This view is one not only ill-considered, but expressive of a particular economic system and social ideology elevated to a primary principle of human behaviour: that no act is of value in itself, but only to the extent that it serves to accrue as much of the acts of others as possible for as little as possible. Here the norm for capitalism is used as the norm for socialism, and because it does not fit. socialism is rejected as impossible.

Here, also, is to be found the idea that what, who and how you are is the result of individual character. To have any success in life is a personal achievement, proof not only of ones superiority over others, but of justice rewarding ability and dedication. A natural order! To admit socialism is to reject all this; to allow all the advantages of a good life to those who have not earned it by virtue of personal endeavour and inborn talent.

Nothing is of value it seems unless someone else is deprived of it. The value of ones success is measured against the failure of others—the pecking order, so important to a self-esteem that knows and honours its place, in expectation of the bliss to come. “Who will do the dirty work?” is the cry of the already bruised ego. Not me, please sir! The fear that it might well be me. “If there are no leaders, who will tell us what to do?” Am I to be cheated of the chance to boss others around? What sort of a life will it be with no chance of promotion? What would I work for?

The fear of socialism has nothing to do with socialism; for the fear is now and socialism is not. Fear comes from insecurity, both emotional and physical; and insecurity is the inescapable lot of the wage slave. Ingrained in our consciousness and behaviour is the idea of reward, of the prize. Reward shall go to the deserving and be withheld from others. It is the ideology which supports the wages system and grew out of it.

Satisfying demand

Since it is the institution of private property that deprives all of the enjoyment of what is produced by all—and also many of the opportunity to contribute to the common good—then let us get rid of it.

Socialism deprives no one of anything other than the ability to be better off than anyone else. Socialism is not a system of rationing or centrally-planned scarcity. It is a society that can make what it wants to. and where individuals can take from this what they want. A whole range of skills would be required by a society of such complete and infinite variety. Invention, design. organisation, medicine, education, agriculture—as endless as human needs.

In running a factory for example, there are many tasks. All are important to the overall task. In capitalism these are valued in a hierarchical sense, taking its pattern from society at large, from menial to managerial. In socialism they will be valued simply because they are all necessary.

Yet, in certain respects, socialism would be not all that unfamiliar to the time traveller. There will be, as now, demand for goods and services. Howr will this demand be satisfied and how will this differ from today? In purely practical terms, not all that much. There are two basic elements: production and distribution, of which the latter must include transportation and consumer access.

The essential difference is the absence of exchange at all stages of the process, because exchange in money values is but the expression of private property which will have gone. What you want you could get from a self-service supermarket, which as far as one can judge is as good a system as any, but minus the three-headed Cerberus which presently stands guard at the checkout. demanding payment; the constant reminder that what is socially produced is not socially owned.

A checkout of sorts, would however, have its uses. Firstly, to record stock usage for the purpose of re-ordering and setting stock levels and. secondly, to provide information on the degree of demand for particular items. If demand falls off. it could be an indication that people no longer wanted the items concerned.

Consumer research would have a very important part to play in finding out what people actually did want. So that socialism would be a “demand-led” economy to a far greater extent than is possible today within the constraints of capitalist economics.

One of the principal activities of manufacture. in co-operation with distribution, would be the creation and running of consumer research centres, to involve people at every stage in the planning for new products (and the possible ending of old ones). So that any plan to produce something new would involve discovering what people thought of present products, checking this against the proposed improvements of the new product, and then deciding in the light of the information thus gained how to proceed.

As cost of production and price to the consumer are no longer issues, product ranges to suit the pocket—so much a feature of capitalist production—become unnecessary and so waste is reduced.

In addition to consumer research centres, a democratic system to oversee production and distribution through user councils can be envisaged, with levels of representation from local to area, and so on as necessary, so that all interested parties could be kept informed of what was going on.

Money, it has been claimed, is the consumer’s voting paper in the market election. The significance of this claim depends upon how much democracy there is in the market election system—on how many “voting papers” people have. If you have no money you won’t be able to vote at all while the more money you have the more votes you get: which is hardly a democratic arrangement.

Who needs money?

Money has a mystique—magic powers. Because it is the universal measure of values. being unrelated to any one thing, it has the promise of everything. As far back as 1581, the age of merchant capitalism. John Hales in his Discourse wrote: “Money is, as it weare. a storehouse of anie com-moditie ye would have”. Money is not. though, the only way to initiate or to measure demand. Those who claim it to be so are seeing capitalism as an abstract system from which people have been excluded. Money as the reflection of private property restricts demand.

Need or the desire for a particular item initiates demand, and this can be measured through some system of inventory and stock control. In both retailing and manufacture. money values are mainly used to establish profit and loss accounts, which in socialist society would not exist. Because money values are volatile and constantly changing, even under capitalism in ordering goods from a manufacturer who in turn requests production from the factory, it is only physical quantity that has real meaning. And so it would be in socialist society.

The much-trumpeted “demand-led economy” of today is in reality no such thing. Consumer choice may be the theory of entrepreneurs and their political guide dogs, but not their practice.The steady erosion of personal choice, at the diktat of a never-ending quest to reduce production costs, is the everyday experience of all. Standardisation of products, limitation of product ranges, and the gradual disappearance of all but the few dominant names, provide variations on an ever-decreasing number of themes. You have only to go around the country to see the lookalike town centres, sporting all the familiar names above the doors and inside on their counters.

It is not easy to break the bonds of traditional thinking to comprehend a society of free people engaged in the rational pursuit of the means of everyday life for their own good. If we attempt to see our lives stripped of their incumberances; to realise that money and the property system only add the dimension of struggle to it (of earning a living—instead of living life) that, at least, will be a start.

Ian Jones