The Imagination of the “Impossiblists” 5/6


Housing is one problem of capitalism which has been a constant source of difficulty and is part and parcel of working class life. Few members of our class escape some aspect of housing trouble. Whether it is the complete crisis of homelessness, or the stress involved in keeping our homes through paying rent or repaying a loan. Most members of our class live in relative poor housing, some of which is within the bounds of adequacy, while the rest reflects the worst in living conditions. Our quality of housing acts as good guide to the degree of suffering associated with the many other problems inherent in our class position such as bad health, poor nutrition and inadequate education. We can therefore accept that the problem of housing reflects the problems of capitalism. When socialism is established it will be necessary to set up councils at local, regional and global levels for the administration of social affairs in every aspect of productive activity. Also there will have to be councils whose functions will be to co-ordinate the work of the various specific councils. The majority of the people in a local area will make decisions affecting that area specifically, the people in a certain region will make decisions for that region and everyone will make global decisions. This will mean that everyone must have access to vast amounts of knowledge, concerning what each area produces, where it is stored, how what is needed can be got from one place and moved to another. All this knowledge can be computerised. When it comes to voting on specific issues people need go no further than their living room. People could, if they wished, check on how a certain project was progressing so that whatever was happening could be under the constant scrutiny of society as a whole.

When socialism is established it will have two important projects concerning housing. One will be to find homes for the millions throughout the world who have none. The other will be to clear the world of the horrible slums and shanty towns in which so many of its population live. Therefore an enormous world-wide reconstruction project would begin which would involve the democratic participation of nearly everyone, in one way or other. It would have to be decided, what region and what local area requires houses, how many, what type or style, what materials they will be made from and how much of each is required. Obviously, with this will go the many and various decisions concerning town planning, roads , recreational facilities, “shopping malls”. Though the work involved may require many people, they will be forthcoming from all the occupations made redundant by the overthrow of capitalism, such as production for war and anything concerning finance, advertising, etc. Schools for training and re-training people in the various skills will be set up, and as far as the productive work goes they will have the machinery capitalism created plus whatever advances on this the first members of socialist society will make. People with specific skills related to housing, or those who wish to learn them, can volunteer at an administrative office similar to present man-power or job-centres and can be notified where their skills can be used.

After socialism has solved the initial task of clearing away capitalism’s rubble in every respect (feeding, clothing, housing, educating, clearing away the pollution, curing curable diseases), then it will be apparent that the change in society will be more than just production for use instead of profit, but will entail vast changes from top to bottom in every part of society. Nowhere will this be apparent more than over how we group in communities. Cities as we know them to day will probably no longer exist as people won’t want or need to be condensed in a particular area (the fulfilment of the Communist Manifesto demand for the “gradual abolition of all the distinction between town and country by a more equable distribution of the populace over the country”.) When starvation has been stopped and when every human being has a roof over their head, then socialist society can turn to satisfying people’s needs in a more sophisticated way , and this will certainly be the case in housing. Whenever there is a need for a new type of house, a town or a building for the use of the community, architects will submit plans and models which can be voted on by the community as a whole in a given area. Though there may be competition between the various architects and planners, it will be from the premise of who can best beautify the locality. One can be certain that there will be new types of dwellings. Along with the disappearance of cities as we know them will also go the high-rises, those up-turned shoe-boxes where people are crammed in like sardines, to be replaced with buildings where people can at least live like humans. With whatever changes in the family structure the new social conditions will create will also come a need for new types of homes; there may be a type of communal home. And it may be that the design of a building will be determined by its functions, its given physical environment and the materials to be used. Whatever the case, people will be able to choose their home to suit their own particular needs concerning physical comfort and recreational requirements.

Socialism will have its problems, although on a massively reduced scale compared to any previous form of society. Socialism will not be a society without emotion. Conflict between individuals and possibly between communities may exist. But socialism will deal fairly and sensibly with its problems and will not try to disguise them. Societies achieve conformity to their purpose and general standards not only by laying down formal rules but by reinforcing these rules with the alternative pressures of individual acceptance or rejection. Friends who fall out, withdraw and reject by not speaking to each other. Larger groups may sanction a member by expulsion or sending to Coventry. A society punishes its members with banishment or imprisonment. In all these cases it is accepted that imposed isolation from the group is painful and therefore salutary. But the law as we know it today will have no place in a socialist world. Socialism is not an idealised fairyland where anybody may do just as they like. If an individual’s actions impact adversely on those around them, the community would not be slow to apply sanctions. The only question is, what would those sanctions be? In a cooperative community, it is quite possible that the labels ‘uncooperative’, or ‘self-serving’, or ‘wasteful’, or ‘propertarian’ would be such stigmas that people would go to considerable lengths to avoid earning them. At any rate, punishment in socialism, were there ever a need for it, would be socially agreed and socially administered, in general proportion to the offence committed. Even if the occasional murder still takes place, the person committing it will merit treatment and support rather than the punitive measures usually imposed today.

In “The German Ideology,” Marx said, “Civil Society embraces the whole material intercourse of individuals within a definite stage of the development of the productive forces.”

This makes a distinction between the “whole material intercourse of individuals” and the class relations of production. Whilst the main function of the state with its law and coercive machinery is to regulate and enforce the class relations of production, there remain some features of law and its enforcement which have no apparent connection with class relations and can therefore be said to be a part of civil society. It is examples of this law that would be continued into socialist society. These include laws that they arise from moral or ethical questions – they vary over time and between countries without making the slightest difference of productive relationships. They arise from the organization of civil society. Similarly we have laws on drunk or dangerous driving. You would need these laws in any modern society. They do not arise from the regulation and enforcement of the wage labour/capital relationship – they arise from the need for safety. They would be continued in socialism. Similarly we have laws on professional qualifications – for doctors, surgeons and pharmacists. Licences for car drivers, air pilots, and ships captains and so on. Again, these laws arise from the need for safety. Socialism will be organized for needs, so they will be continued in socialism. Very important in a socialist society will be planning law. There will be a democratically decided policy on town and country planning – the idea that anyone will be able to act against it by putting up buildings or other structures wherever they like is absurd – you cannot take it seriously. In socialism your planning permission will give you free access to all the necessary materials, but you will only be able to build with planning permission. Again, very important in socialism will be constitutional law. This will define both the freedoms and the boundaries of decision making amongst public bodies – the committees running institutions such as hospitals and schools, production units and the various parish, district and urban councils. The idea that without constitutional law you could have all these bodies making decisions against each would be total madness. The dictionary defines law as the rules of the community. That is adequate for our purposes. Rules are not always made by one person or group to oppress another. And since we agree that socialism will be a society with rules – it follows that there will be law in socialism.

So within socialist society there will, we suggest, be regulation of sorts and maybe even places of detention. Violent or other anti-social behaviour will be addressed not by punishing people but by treating them, if necessary for the protection of the rest of the community in a confined place. But will the inmates find themselves banged up and slopping out? Surely not. We would think that their very inability to participate appropriately in society would be sufficient reason to extend to them the finest care, compassion and support that we can muster. Although it will be global as opposed to tribal, people will still live in small localized communities and, freed from capitalism’s physical and mental shackles, will spontaneously look out for one another. It is after all our nature to do so.

Food Production
The first point to make is that farming methods will be adopted according to health benefits, not wealth benefits and satisfying genuine hunger not hunger for profits. The proposal that the world community in socialism could immediately stop deaths from hunger and rapidly increase the supply of food is based on the freedom that all people would enjoy to co-operate with each other to produce food directly for needs without the constraints of the market system. With food, it is possible to increase production rapidly because a lot can be done with hand labour. It is not necessary to first expand means of production. Whilst industry and manufacture may take time to bring in more machinery and equipment, local initiatives could mean more people using their local land resources for more intensive production. But, to begin with, a socialist world could immediately stop people dying of hunger with a more equal distribution of scarce supplies. At the same time local initiatives would greatly improve the supply of food within a very short time

However, we also have an example of a rapid increase in food production during World War II when the normal operation of the market system was suspended. Though this example may seem perverse so far as socialism is concerned, it does indicate what can be achieved when production and distribution is organised, even for a short period, outside the normal constraints of market laws.

Before the Second World War Britain imported approximately 55 million tonnes, or 3/4 of the country’s food by ship each year. In England and Wales arable acreage was about 9 million; whereas 16 million acres were under grass and a further 5 ½ million was “rough grazing” (once reasonable pasture). One acre of permanent grass (for animal fodder) fed 1 or 2 people; one acre sown with wheat fed 20 people; and one acre sown with potatoes fed 40 people.

What was achieved was that over a period of about four years food production in Britain was increased by 70 percent. Nationally, some 6 ½ million new acres were ploughed up between 1939 and 1944. Harvests of wheat, barley and potatoes increased by over 100%; milking cows increased by 300,000; other cattle by 400,000. This was at the expense of fewer sheep, pigs and poultry but enabled the country to completely reverse its reliance on foreign food. In terms of calories, the net output had been quadrupled by 1943-44. By the end of the war, food imports had been reduced from 22 million to 11 million tons and Britain was producing well over 60% of its food. From 815,000 allotments in 1939 the number rose to 1,400,000 by 1943. allotments were estimated to contribute some 1.3 million tonnes of food produce. 90,000 women of the Land Army came from very different backgrounds. The daughters of doctors, solicitors, labourers and factory workers from the industrial areas joined together, driving tractors, milking cows and cleaning out pigs. By all accounts the work was hard but enjoyable. The living conditions on farms were often crude but mostly morale was high. With the ending of occupations such as those in insurance, finance and banking, millions of people would become available for useful production in socialism. Restaurants were run by local authorities, who set them up in a variety of different premises such as schools and church halls. They evolved from the Londoners’ Meals Service which originated in September 1940 as a temporary, emergency system for feeding those who had been bombed out. By mid-1941 the two hundred of these restaurants were operating.

War Agricultural Committees were formed immediately on the outbreak of war. They were leading farmers and nurserymen, with a good knowledge of local conditions, who had volunteered, unpaid, to help in the campaign to get full production from the land in their particular county. These Executive Committees, numbering eight to twelve members, Ministry of Agriculture propaganda poster predominantly farmers, were given delegated powers by the Minister under the wartime Defence Regulations. There was usually at least one landowner, one representative from the farm workers and one woman representing the Women’s Land Army. They formed Sub-Committees to cover different aspects of work, and District Committees to ensure that there was at least one Committee member in touch with every farmer, up to say 50 or 60, in his area of 5000 acres. Later, some District Committees embraced a representative from every parish. The role was to tell farmers what was required of them in the way of wheat, potatoes, sugar beet or other priority crops, and to help the farmers to get what they needed in the way of machinery, fertilisers and so on to achieve the targets which were set them. The Sub-Committees covered the following concerns: Cultivations, Labour, Machinery and Land Drainage, Technical Development, Feeding Stuffs, Insects and Pests, Horticulture, Financial and General Purposes, Goods and Services and War Damage. The Committees employed paid officers such as the Executive Officer and assistants in each county and District Officers to keep the show running smoothly in every locality. Technical Officers were also employed to advise farmers about such matters as the lime requirements of their soils, the making of silage, the treatments of soil pests, the care of machinery and the improvement of livestock. Farmers could get expert advice free, which contributed enormously to increase the output that farmers achieved.

Such an increase of 70 percent today, on a world scale and within four years, would be more than enough to provide every person with choice and free access to good quality food. The organization that led to increased food production in Britain during World War II indicates practical ways of achieving similar results in socialism. Potentially, the organization already exists. In place of national governments, the UN could be democratized as a World Council which could become a centre for co-ordinating a world-wide war on hunger. The FAO could also achieve its potential as a key organization at last able to achieve real results. To devolve the work, agricultural committees could be set up in every country and these could be further de-centralized through county and district committees, (or equivalent bodies in all countries). At every level throughout this structure, the FAO could provide skilled staffs able to draw on its store of world data and technical information to advise and assist the work. This network could be extended to local farms with an ability to adapt to every local condition.

Common ownership would give all communities immediate access to land. In the short term, people in the areas of greatest need could concentrate their local efforts using the best means available. At the same time the regions most able to do so could assist with increased supplies. There can be no doubt that throughout the world, within a season, the plight of the seriously undernourished would be greatly improved. In the longer term, communities in socialism would be able to look beyond the immediate priorities of desperate need and begin to sort out the appalling state of world agriculture that is a consequence of the exploitation and destructive methods of capitalist agribusiness. It not only exploits farm workers of all lands, it exploits the soil and anything in nature it can get its hands on. There is of course widespread concern, not just about starving people but also about the damage and loss of natural food assets across the world. This is the continuing despoliation of land and ocean resources, the excessive and inappropriate use of weed killers and chemical fertilisers together with the cruel treatment of animals. Also within agriculture we shall be reassessing the relative values of different methods of producing our food. We shall be free to look at the results of studies knowing that there is no hidden agenda or biased information. When we have the correct, unambiguous facts in front of us decisions can be made unemotionally about land use. Chemical fertiliser or natural manure and traditional methods? Monoculture or mixed farms? Grain for food or fuel? Grain for humans or animals?

With shrinking aquifers and glaciers there is huge wastage of water with some countries’ current irrigation methods, poor infrastructure, old or outdated technology in some industries, money-based equations for water use when mining for minerals and a billion dollar business selling bottled water at up to a thousand times the cost of water from the tap with how many thousands of gallons wasted in the process? In the likely future scenario demographics will probably change a great deal but we shall be in a position to totally re-think the use of the global water supply and consider every stage from aquifers, dams, irrigation methods, industrial use and domestic consumption. Water and the infrastructure required will be considered in minute detail as to how best to use, re-use, conserve and generally value it as a basic necessity of all life.

It will make sense in general to reduce food miles – to re-localize agriculture for everyone’s benefit. By doing so huge savings will be made in fuel and energy use.But local food production is limited by variations of soil and climate, which means that local projects would contribute to balanced production throughout the regions of the world. On this larger scale the grain-producing regions of America, Canada, Australia and Asia would continue to be important. Wheat, maize and rice are basic to world agriculture and new areas could be developed for the production of these cereals together with the whole range of nutritious fruits and vegetables. With the ending of rival capitalist states and the market system the world community in socialism would have the great advantage of being able to make the best use of the land resources of the planet in whatever location may be considered best. A priority in such decisions would be care of the environment. The possibility that conservation methods might require more people would not matter. There would be no economic pressure to carry on using destructive production methods that use the least amounts of labor.

Certainly in the transition period whilst we are investing our human energies into appropriate infrastructure we can cut emissions drastically and restore food security and control to local communities, always remembering decisions will be made locally. On the global scale we will move right away from decisions imposed and implemented by world financial authorities and transnational corporations in favour of working for the common good. Respect will automatically be conferred to local knowledge and traditional methods understanding that the objective will be to satisfy food, fiber, fuel and other needs.