Another important point not to overlook is that we are seeking a “steady-state” economy or “zero-growth” which corresponds to what Marx called “simple reproduction” – a situation where human needs were in balance with the resources needed to satisfy them. Such a society would already have decided, according to its own criteria and through its own decision-making processes, on the most appropriate way to allocate resources to meet the needs of its members. This having been done, it would only need to go on repeating this continuously from production period to production period. Production would not be ever-increasing but would be stabilised at the level required to satisfy needs. All that would be produced would be products for consumption and the products needed to replace and repair the raw materials and instruments of production used up in producing these consumer goods. The point about such a situation is that there will no longer be any imperative need to develop productivity, i.e. to cut costs in the sense of using less resources; nor will there be the blind pressure to do so that is exerted under capitalism through the market. Of course, technical research would continue and this would no doubt result in costs being able to be saved, but there would be no external pressure to do so or even any need to apply all new productivity enhancing techniques. And we can set out a possible way of achieving an eventual zero growth steady state society operating in a stable and ecologically benign way. This could be achieved in three main phases.
First, there would have to be urgent action to relieve the worst problems of food shortages, health care and housing which affect billions of people throughout the world. There would be need for an immediate increase in the volume of production of many kinds of goods to relieve those people who were suffering from the effects of the old system and to supply the needs of those who were in the process of transferring themselves from obsolete to useful occupations. For example, the agricultural parts of the world, freed from the restraints of the present money-based system would pour out the abundance of health-giving foodstuffs to feed the half-starved populations of the world. Secondly, longer term action to construct means of production and infrastructures such as transport systems and for the supply of permanent housing and durable consumption goods. For the first time, the conditions would exist for turning into reality the beautiful plans for housing people in real homes instead of the sordid slums which the present social system has called into existence. These plans exist today – on paper – and will remain so, while it is necessary to have money to get a decent home. Released from the money-necessity, architects, builders, designers, artists, engineers, and scientists would be enabled to get together to build towns, homes and work-places which would be a joy to live and work in, a job at which even today their fingers are itching to get. How long this period would last depend on the size and mess left by the present system. We don’t think it would take very long since we have seen how quickly even the obstacles of the present social system can be overcome and how backward countries can be developed by modern industrial methods. It should not, therefore, take very long for those parts of the world which are already highly industrialised to turn out enough goods to make the whole of humanity tolerably comfortable as far as the fundamental necessities of life are concerned. Thirdly, having got rid of the worst relics of the old order, production would then be adjusted so that there could be an eventual fall in production, and society could move into a stable mode, making due provision by storage for the possible natural calamities such as earthquakes.This would achieve a rhythm of daily production in line with daily needs with no significant growth. On this basis, the world community could live in material well being whilst looking after the planet. Socialism will seek an environmental friendly relationship with nature. In socialism we would not be bound to use the most labour efficient methods of production. We would be free to select our methods in accordance with a wide range of socially desirable criteria, in particular the vital need to protect the environment. What it means is that we should construct permanent, durable means of production which you don’t constantly innovate. We would use these to produce durable equipment and machinery and durable consumer goods designed to last for a long time, designed for minimum maintenance and made from materials which if necessary can be re-cycled. Many consumer goods are used occasionally. Perhaps sharing them in a neighbourhood will replace the idea that everyone needs one of everything. This will reduce the number of these items required. That means reduced production. In this way we would get a minimum loss of materials; once they’ve been extracted and processed they can be used over and over again. It also means that once you’ve achieved satisfactory levels of consumer goods, you don’t insist on producing more and more. Total social production could even be reduced. This will be the opposite of to-day’s capitalist system’s cheap, shoddy, throw-away goods with its built-in obsolescence, which results in a massive loss and destruction of resources.
The threat of the bureaucracy or a technocracy becoming a new class in socialism cannot arise. Free access to goods and services denies to any group or individuals the political leverage with which to dominate others, a feature intrinsic to all private-property or class based systems through control and rationing of the means of life. The notion of status and hierarchy based upon the conspicuous consumption of wealth would be devoid of meaning because individuals would stand in equal relation to the means of production and have free access to the resultant goods and services. This will work to ensure that a socialist society is run on the basis of democratic consensus. This will work to ensure that a socialist society is run on the basis of democratic consensus. Decisions will be made at different levels of organisation: global, regional and local with the bulk of decision-making being made at the local level. A socialist economy would be free access to the common treasury with no monopoly of ownership, and not even the actual producers who in the past have called for ownership of their own product, as promoted by mutualism and syndicalism, can deprive individuals in society to the common ownership of the means of production and distribution. A socialist society will be one in which all people will be free to participate fully in the process of making and implementing policy. Whether decisions about constructing a new playground, the need to improve fish stocks in the North Sea, or if we should use nanobots to improve our lives, everyone everywhere will be able to voice their opinion and cast their vote. However, the practical ramifications of this democratic principle could be enormous. If people feel obliged to opine and vote on every matter of policy they would have little time to do anything else. The traditional image of huge crowds with their hands up in council meetings, or queues of people lining up to put a piece of paper in a box, is obviously becoming old-fashioned, even in capitalism. On the other hand, leaving the decision-making process to a system of elected executive groups or councils could be seen as going against the principle of fully participatory democracy. If socialism is going to maintain the practice of inclusive decision making which does not put big decisions in the hands of small groups but without generating a crisis of choice, then a solution is required, and it seems that capitalism may have produced one in the form of ‘collaborative filtering’ (CF) software. This technology is currently used on the internet where a crisis of choice already exists. Faced with a superabundance of products and services, CF helps consumers choose what to buy and navigate the huge numbers of options. It starts off by collecting data on an individual’s preferences, extrapolates patterns from this and then produces recommendations based on that person’s likes and dislikes.With suitable modification, this technology could be of use to socialism – not to help people decide what to consume, but which matters of policy to get involved in. A person’s tastes, interests, skills, and academic achievements, rather than their shopping traits, could be put through the CF process and matched to appropriate areas of policy in the resulting list of recommendations. A farmer, for example, may be recommended to vote upon matters which affect him/her, and members of the local community, directly, or of which s/he is likely to have some knowledge, such as increasing yields of a particular crop, the use of GM technology, or the responsible use of land by ramblers. The technology would also put them in touch with other people of similar interests so that issues can be thrashed out more fully, and may even inform them that “People who voted on this issue also voted on…” The question is, would a person be free to ignore the recommendations and vote on matters s/he has little knowledge of, or indeed not vote at all? Technology cannot resolve issues of responsibility, but any system, computer software or not, which helps reduce the potential burden of decision making to manageable levels would. How could too much voting be bad for you.
Becoming Human Again
Humans behave differently depending upon the conditions that they live in. Human behaviour reflects society. Under capitalism, there is a very large industry devoted to creating needs. Capitalism requires consumption, whether it improves our lives or not, and drives us to consume up to, and past, our ability to pay for that consumption.In a system of capitalist competition, there is a built-in tendency to stimulate demand to a maximum extent. Firms, for example, need to persuade customers to buy their products or they go out of business. They would not otherwise spend the vast amounts they do spend on advertising. Also as Marx contended, the prevailing ideas of society are those of its ruling class then we can understand why, when the wealth of that class so preoccupies the minds of its members, such a notion of status should be so deep-rooted. It does not matter how modest one’s real needs may be or how easily they may be met; capitalism’s “consumer culture” leads one to want more than one may materially need since what the individual desires is to enhance his or her status within this hierarchical culture of consumerism and this is dependent upon acquiring more than others have got. But since others desire the same thing, the economic inequality inherent in a system of competitive capitalism must inevitably generate a pervasive sense of relative deprivation. What this amounts to is a kind of institutionalized envy and that will be unsustainable as more peoples are drawn into alienated capitalism. In capitalism people’s needs are not met and reasonable people feel insecure. People tend to acquire and hoard goods because possession provides some security. People have a tendency to distrust others because the world is organized in such a dog-eat-dog manner. In capitalist society there is a tendency for individuals to seek to validate their sense of worth through the accumulation of possessions. In socialism, status based upon the material wealth at one’s command, would be a meaningless concept. Why take more than you need when you can freely take what you need?
It is this which helps to underpin the myth of infinite demand that people want too much? In a socialist society “too much” can only mean “more than is sustainably produced.” Perhaps, in innocence, the earliest inhabitants of socialism will indulge in a few feasts of conspicuous over-consumption (who would be surprised at such action after years of poverty and social inferiority?), but such antics will soon end when the physical consequences of such irrationality are felt. If people decide that they (individually and as a society) need to over-consume then socialism cannot possibly work. However, this does require that we appreciate what is meant by “enough” and that we do not project on to socialism the insatiable consumerism of capitalism. The establishment of socialism presupposes the existence of a mass socialist movement and a profound change in social outlook. It is simply not reasonable to suppose that the desire for socialism on such a large scale, and the conscious understanding of what it entails on the part of all concerned, would not influence the way people behaved in socialism and towards each other. Habits of manners, attitudes and values are absorbed by an individual through experience of immediate social environment and society at large. Individuals can, through their own actions, change their attitudes and values, and alter the material conditions of their life. They can do this from the basis of their initial experiences and in response to stimuli present in the general social environment. Through men and their social environment acting and reacting on each other is how social evolution occurs. It is a basic need of the individual, in order to sustain healthy stable existence, to be supported in his life by the acceptance and approval of those with whom he has entered into a relationship. Since goods and services would be provided directly for socially-determined needs and not for sale on a market; they would be made freely available for individuals to take without requiring these individuals to offer something in direct exchange. People act selfishly or anti-socially only when they can see no other way of getting what they want. If there is another way by co-operation, for instance there is no reason to suppose that they will not choose it when they see it is better to do so.The sense of mutual obligations and the realization of universal interdependency arising from this would profoundly colour people’s perceptions and influence their behaviour in such a society. We may characterize such a society as being built around a moral economy and a system of generalized reciprocity.
Working in Socialism
Work should not really be equated with employment. Employment is wage labor and the ability to work is a commodity the workers are forced to sell. As such it has alienating factors associated with it; e.g. Monday to Friday , 9 -5 , is “their” time, whilst the weekend is “our” time, where we can enjoy working in the garden or painting. Employment is based on the division of labour. The upshot being workers are tied to one job for years on end, instead of being people able to do all kinds of things, which socialist society – run by conscious decisions instead of blind forces – will allow. It is a moot point as to how far the division of labor can be removed from socialism; not every one can have the steady hand and requisite knowledge of a surgeon. People most fitted for a certain task will do it because they want to, and not through bureaucratic compulsion or unfortunate necessity. Socialist society will not eliminate inequalities of talent: one person might be a greater pianist than another will ever be, while another will run faster than another could ever train to run. But this does not mean that socialism will establish a hierarchy of pianists or athletes or poets or brain surgeons. In a cooperative society it will be recognized that poets cannot write their literary masterpieces unless the miner is willing to bring the coal from under the ground. Humanity lives interdependently. And who is to say that miners will not be poets when they are not down the mine and the greatest chess player in socialism will not sweep the streets so that the greatest brain surgeon can walk to the hospital without rats biting at the ankles? The rigid division of labor which is a feature of the present system will not exist in socialist society.
The changes that the working class of the world has developed under the whip of capital, have modified conditions of living and working, and particularly the prospects for future society, in a fundamental way. They have made the production of abundance a real and obvious social possibility. There is now very little that modern science and technology can not do, given sufficient resources and effort. Except for large products, such as ships or steel girders, enormous manufacturing plants are no longer technically necessary. Such items as cookers, fridges, a vacuum cleaner, a washing machines, TVs would have to be produced en masse. This doesn’t mean that they need be produced under the conditions that exist today in factories under capitalism. Far from it. Factories in a socialist society can and will be structured and run quite differently: slower pace of work, shorter hours, non-polluting technology, democratic participation in decision-making, even be set amidst trees and gardens. They would be making goods to supply all the local communities in a given area (except, perhaps, for some factories producing very specialized equipment as for hospitals or scientific research). The potential of automation for post-capitalist, democratic society is enormous (this society only automates to increase profits and for no other reason.) When used in conjunction with computers it is virtually limitless in its possibilities.
Whereas tools may be said to supplement human limbs, and machines – themselves using tools – can be thought of as amplifying human energy and speed, automation represents an extension, an amplification, of the human nervous system and, with computers, the brain. Automation makes decisions and gives instructions for them to be carried out. Operating machines by giving them information opens up other possibilities too. Information can be sent over almost any distance, as the control of the various exploratory space vehicles demonstrates. Remote control of machines in dangerous or humanly inaccessible locations is now, therefore, becoming common practice (but only where profitable) The potentialities of remote control for the free society of the future are, in contrast, rich and liberating. A person who had taken on responsibility for a particular production process or service could monitor its progress and make adjustments from wherever he or she happened to be. With good satellite communication links, machines and equipment in isolated stations, performing a variety of environmental control or supply functions, could be supervised from almost any distance. As far as the technology is concerned, there is now no reason why human beings should do any of the dull, dreary or dirty jobs that are necessary to provide the wealth and services of an advanced, affluent society. Machines can – could if they were under the control of a free democratic society – do all of these tasks for us.
One of the strangest objections to socialism is “who will do the dirty work?”. Imagine such doom-sayers arguing “I don’t want to live in a world without want and hunger , and where my needs are satisfied, if it means I have to do dirty work once a week.”
Who will do the dirty work? Socialism will not be a Utopia where all the problems of existence have vanished. Socialism can do lots of things, but it can’t make shit smell of roses – that is one little fact of life we’ll just have to put up with. Unpleasant work will still have to be done.
Machinery will do it, said Oscar Wilde. “All unintellectual labour, all monotonous, dull labour, all labour that deals with dreadful things, and involves unpleasant conditions, must be done by machinery”. This will release each individual to help the community in his or her own way by doing service or producing things which will satisfy each person’s need to be active, to contribute and to help. Wilde summed it up: “The community by means of organisation of machinery will supply the useful things, and…the beautiful things will be made by the individual”.
Unappealing dirty work can probably be taken care of by utilising labour-saving machines. But where it is impossible and where dirty work will have to be done in socialist society we can be quite sure of two things: Firstly, it will NOT be done by the same people ALL the time. All able members of society will take turns at such work.
Secondly, and not to be forgotten, is that it will be carried out by socially conscious men and women who appreciate that society belongs to them and therefore its less pleasant tasks must be performed by them. In the knowledge that we own and control the earth, and all that is in and on it, it is unlikely to think that human beings will refuse to attend to the dirty work within socialism.
The fact is that most jobs under capitalism are either completely or partially unnecessary. Many of those that are necessary are performed by people working long hard hours while others suffer poverty of low wages and low status. At first, everybody would carry on with their usual duties for the time being, except all those whose duties being of an unnecessary nature to the new system, were rendered idle: for example, bank and insurance employees, and sales-people p;us all those security personnel to protect private property, not to mention the great numbers in the police and armed forces. These people would, in time, be fitted into productive occupations for which they considered themselves suitable. Elimination of all jobs required only within a capitalist system would reduce necessary tasks to such a trivial level that they could easily be taken care of voluntarily and cooperatively, eliminating the need for the whole apparatus of economic incentives and state enforcement. Work will be an essential part of life in socialism; it will be a part of the individual’s personal development, a necessary, healthy expenditure of energy and a social bond with co-workers. The hours needed to work will be considerably reduced as unemployment will no longer exist, and from the additional extra labour being made available from no longer required capitalist occupations which will not exist in the moneyless, free access society of socialism. There will simply be many more hands to do the unpleasant but necessary stuff. Socialism will entail new applications of technology and the abolition of unnecessary routine work. Dangerous and unpleasant work will be eliminated unless absolutely essential. It may be reasonable in some ways to compare work in socialism with people’s hobbies now: things done for their inherent enjoyment, not because of the wage packet. And just as the appeal of some hobbies and pastimes is incomprehensible to outsiders, so different people will find different kinds of work attractive.
As for the lazy greedy shirkers and free-loaders who may contribute less and take more, why should this be a problem in a society which is based on the satisfaction of needs? Socialist society will contain millions of babies and infants who will not be able to milk the cows. There will be those in socialist society who are too old or too disabled to go down the mines. There is no reason why society should not allow them to take according to their differing needs. And those people living in a socialist society who are too idle to work will not be a drain on society’s resources for very long, for if they lie in bed for long enough they will die—of boredom. If work is organized, not to meet your need but for someone else’s profit, it is understandable that you will avoid it if you can. But if you are working for yourself, for others like yourself, or for the community as a whole you will be unlikely to shun work. What is it most people like about their jobs? It’s the interaction with their work colleagues. But of course if people didn’t work then society would obviously fall apart. If people cannot change their behaviour and take control and responsibility for their decisions, socialism will fail. And consider all those aspiring artists and novelists who endeavor to create their contribution to culture. Are we to have committees to consider if their efforts are acceptable and worthy or not?