Socialism is a decentralised or polycentric society that is self-regulating, self-adjusting and self-correcting, from below and not from the top. It is not a command economy but a responsive one. Planning in socialism is essentially a question of industrial organisation, of organising productive units into a productive system functioning smoothly to supply the useful things which people had indicated they needed, both for their individual and for their collective consumption. What socialism would establish would be a rationalised network of planned links between users and suppliers, between final users and their immediate suppliers, between these latter and their suppliers, and so on down the line to those who extract the raw materials from nature. 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. Planning is indeed central to the idea of socialism, but socialism is the planned (consciously coordinated and not to be confused with the central planning concept) production of useful things to satisfy human needs.
The needs of consumers are always needs for a specific product at a specific time in a specific locality, we will 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.
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 (and those exist now in a variety of forms) would 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 statistical offices would be calculating. Such calculations would also indicate whether or not productive capacity would need to be expanded and in what branches. The centres would 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. As stated before 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. Each part of of production would know its position. If requirements are low in relation to a build-up of stock, then this would an automatic indication to a production unit that its production should be reduced.
The supply of some needs will take place within the local community and in these cases production would not extent beyond this, as for example with local food production for local consumption .Other needs could be communicated as required things to the regional organisation of production. Regional manufacture would produce and assemble required goods for distribution to local communities. Decisions will be made at different levels of organisation: global, regional and local but with the bulk of decision-making being made at the local level.
James Herod, author of “Getting Free, Creating an Association of Democratic Autonomous Neighborhoods” has suggested an interesting model for the structure of a future socialist society that is worthwhile quoting.
A Notion of How We Might Want to Live
Households are units of roughly two hundred people cohabiting in a building complex that provides for a variety of living arrangements for single individuals, couples, families, and extended families. The complex has facilities for meetings, communal (as well as some private) cooking, laundry, basic education, building maintenance, various workshops, basic health care, a birthing room, emergency medical care, and certain recreational activities. Households are managed democratically and cooperatively by a direct assembly of members (the household assembly).
Projects include all cooperative activities (more than one person) in agriculture and husbandry, manufacturing, higher education, research, advanced medicine, communications, transportation, arts, sports, and so forth, plus cooperative activities undertaken within the household itself (cooking, teaching, child care, health care, maintenance, etc.). The buildings are designed and constructed for these various activities. Internally, projects are managed democratically and cooperatively by a direct assembly of members (the project assembly). Some projects, perhaps most, are controlled, in the larger sense, directly by the neighborhood, through the neighborhood assembly. Other projects are controlled by agreements worked out among several or many neighborhood assemblies.
Peer circles are units of roughly thirty to fifty people. All persons in the neighborhood belong to just one peer circle, located at their primary project. For some this is in the household, but for most it is located at a project outside the household or even outside the neighborhood. All projects are broken down into such circles. These circles meet within the project to discuss issues and, where necessary, coalesce into project-wide general assemblies. Votes are taken within meetings, but they are tallied across meetings, within each project. Peer circle meetings are necessary because genuine face-to-face discussion and deliberation are seriously constricted in groups larger than fifty people.
Because households contain many persons whose primary project is not within the household, but who are nevertheless living there and will want to be engaged in the self-governing of the household, I will refer to the household assembly as a distinct entity, different from project (workplace) assemblies, even though the household includes peer circles for such projects as cooking, teaching, child care, and health care.
The neighborhood assembly is the core social creation. It is an assembly of the entire neighborhood, roughly two thousand people, meeting in a large hall designed to facilitate directly democratic discussion and decision making. In practice, of course, the size of neighborhood assemblies will vary considerably. Yet its upper limit is determined by the number of people who can meet in one large hall and still engage in democratic, face-to-face, unmediated decision making.
An Association of Neighborhood Assemblies
Neighborhood assemblies join together, by means of a pact or a treaty agreement, to form a larger association. An overall agreement defines the association in general, and there are also specific agreements for particular projects.
The neighborhood assembly is the neighborhood governing itself. The neighborhood makes its own rules, allocates its own resources and energies, and negotiates its own treaties with other neighborhoods. The neighborhood controls the land on which it sits, and all projects and households within it.
Please note what this arrangement of social relations does not have: hierarchy, representation, wage slavery, profit, commodities, money, classes, private ownership of the means of production, taxes, nation-states, patriarchy, alienation, exploitation, elite professional control of any activity, or formal divisions by race, gender, age, ethnicity, looks, beliefs, intelligence, or sexual preference. This neighborhood, so organized, is the basic unit of a new social order.
Those familiar with radical traditions will recognize in this sketch a melding of the anarcho-communist focus on community, the anarcho-syndicalist emphasis on workers’ control, and the feminist stress on abolishing the distinction between the public and private spheres of social life. It is my belief that each of these cannot be achieved without the other. The achievement of workers’ control alone would leave no way for the community as a whole to allocate its resources (e.g., to decide whether to phase out a project or start up a new one), whereas the achievement of community control alone, without simultaneously controlling the means of production, is meaningless, empty. And the failure to democratize and socialize households, including them (and hence reproduction) as an explicit and integral part of the social arrangements, would leave a gender-based division of labor intact, thus perpetuating the public/private dichotomy.
The actual task we face, then, is to transform existing structures (buildings and factories) and social relations (property, family, work, and play relations) into the desired ones. We need to try to imagine how our model neighborhood would look after having been converted from a typical urban neighborhood. Let’s see first if we can convert the existing physical plant into something more useful for democratic, cooperative living, keeping in mind that this is the easy part; the hard part is transforming social relations. I will deal with this more below in discussing how to get there.
Factories and shops would be the easiest of all to convert. These can be used pretty much as they are (after they have been seized, of course). Space will have to be cleared somewhere in them for peer circle meetings and projectwide assemblies.
More difficult is how to convert a street full of individual residences into households. This can probably be improvised as follows: build passageways and tunnels between the buildings; set aside certain rooms for workshops, child care, and health care; block off certain streets to enclose the unit; expand one or two kitchens into a communal unit; rearrange bedrooms; and clear an apartment for a meeting hall.
It will also be difficult to find a meeting space for the neighborhood assembly. There are options, however. There may be a union hall, church, roller skate rink, or high school gym in the neighborhood. But also, warehouses, supermarkets, and department stores have large open floors that could be cleared and made into meeting halls. Most of these spaces, though, could not hold two thousand people. It may be necessary to begin with smaller neighborhood assemblies – say, five households of two hundred each – for a neighborhood assembly of one thousand members, instead of ten households for a neighborhood assembly of two thousand members.
Later on, after the flow of wealth out of the neighborhood to the ruling class has been stopped, and after the stolen wealth of the ruling class has been reappropriated, neighborhoods will undoubtedly want and have the resources to build specially designed neighborhood assembly halls as well as new household complexes. But at first, we will have to make do with what already exists. The wealth of centuries is embedded in the existing architectural plant – a plant that reflects capitalist values, priorities, and social relations. It will take a long time to tear down and rebuild this physical world in a way that expresses the needs of a free people.
But when we do rebuild, the mark of our new civilization will be its assembly halls. Just as earlier worlds have been characterized by the temples and theaters of ancient Greece, the castles and cathedrals of medieval Europe, and the banks and skyscrapers of modern capitalism, so the new social world of a cooperatively self-governing people will be known by its meeting halls. They will undoubtedly come in all shapes and sizes. Besides the large general assembly chambers for neighborhoods (neighborhood assemblies), there will need to be small caucus rooms in every project and household for peer circle meetings as well as projectwide and householdwide assembly rooms. A deliberating people will design, build, and equip excellent and beautiful spaces for deliberation.
To complete this sketch, we would need to imagine at least two more arrangements, one for a typical small town and another for a typical peasant village – two rapidly disappearing social entities (given the continuing violent enclosures forced through by our corporate rulers). Peasant villages the world over, although under heavy attack, nevertheless still possess a basis for community, with many communal traditions yet intact. These traditions are not always and everywhere relevant to creating a free and anarchistic society, but some of them are. Karl Marx, after all, believed that Russia could skip capitalism and move directly to communism by building on the peasant commune. Small towns still exist too, in every country. Even in a highly urbanized country like the United States, there are still 20,000 towns with a population below 10,000 – 15,000 of which are below 2,500. There is no reason why these small towns couldn’t switch to direct democracy right now if they wanted to.
It will be easier to transform small towns and peasant villages into our desired neighborhoods than suburbs or dense urban areas. But maybe not. Megalopolises and suburbia will surely wither away, decade by decade, into the new civilization, as the countryside is repopulated with livable, cooperative, autonomous communities of free people.
A neighborhood is a small place, relatively speaking. Although there may be many villages or small towns left in the world with populations as low as 2,000, they are rapidly disappearing. Most settled areas are much more densely populated. Consider a town of 90,000, for example, which is a small town by today’s standards. An average neighborhood assembly size of 2,000 members means we will have 45 neighborhood assemblies in the town. A city of 600,000 will have 300 neighborhood assemblies. A city of 1,800,000 will have 900, and a city of 9,000,000 will have 4,500.
This shows us immediately the tremendous power of this strategy. For the people in a small town of 60,000 to reconstitute themselves into 30 deliberating bodies to take charge of their lives, resources, and neighborhoods is an unbelievably powerful revolutionary act. Just the mere act of assembling is revolutionary, without even considering all that these assemblies can do. Capitalists depend a lot on keeping us all isolated. Our assembling starts to destroy that isolation. It is an act that will be next to impossible to stop; it is an act that has the power to destroy capitalism and the potential to build a new civilization.
This is the way to think of the revolution. It is a people reassembling themselves (reordering, reconstituting, and reorganizing themselves) into free associations at home, at work, and in the neighborhood. Capitalists will fight this. They may outlaw the meetings, bust them up by force, arrest those attending, or even murder those in attendance. But if we are determined, they will not be able to block us from reconstituting ourselves into the kind of social world we want.
Basic Agreements of the Association
The basic social unit is the neighborhood assembly, as described above. For many purposes, however, these neighborhood assemblies will want to cooperate with other neighborhood assemblies. They will coalesce to accomplish certain objectives. In other words, they will sometimes form larger associations. They will do this by treaty negotiations, negotiating agreements to govern all supra-neighborhood projects. Sometimes these agreements will involve just a few neighborhood assemblies, and sometimes many. That is, agreements will encompass larger or smaller numbers of neighborhood assemblies depending on the nature of the project. A telephone system will require a regional or even interregional pact. A local park may involve only three or four neighborhoods. The highway system will require regional agreements. A large manufacturing facility may involve fifteen or twenty neighborhood assemblies, and likewise for hospitals, large research facilities, orchestras, and so forth. A considerable amount of the activity in the world at present is governed by such treaties and not by legislation (for example, the worldwide postal service among nations). Also, contracts between corporations are more in the nature of treaties (mutually agreed on terms and conditions) rather than laws (although they are enforced by a nation’s laws). So we should not be frightened by this. The number of interneighborhood agreements that the neighborhood assemblies will have to work out to regulate our common endeavors will be well within the range of complexity manageable by human intelligence. It probably won’t exceed a couple hundred agreements (not counting trade agreements, which may run into the thousands).”
The above is merely for discussion and not for imposition