It is sometimes argued that world socialism would mean the power of central control over local democracy. There is a lot of debate over different options where the control should be placed. But a system of world democratic administration in socialism need not be based in either world, regional or local spheres. We can envisage an integrated system that would be adaptable and could be used for decision-making and action on any scale between the local and the world. Practical necessity would require such adaptability and we can suggest some principles which determine this.
In socialism, for the first time, local communities will be free to make decisions about the development of their areas. With the release of productive resources solely for needs, for the first time, they will enjoy real powers to act on those decisions. These would be decisions about local services such as health, education and transport, public facilities such as parks, libraries, leisure centres and sports grounds; local housing, the siting of production units, management of farming, care of the local environment, cultural events, and so on.
We anticipate that with people being able to cooperate much more in their own interests there would be a stronger and more active sense of local community than exists now and this would be expressed through bodies adapted from present parish and district councils. The principle determining the practice of local democracy would be that decisions affecting just local populations would be made by them and not for them by any larger or outside body.
The importance of local democracy has to be seen in the context of modern production which is worldwide. There may be some scope for local production for local needs but in the mean, even simple articles of use are made with additions of labour which extend across the globe. For example, a ballpoint pen needs world mining, the oil industry, chemicals and world transport, etc. We eat fruit, vegetables and spices from every climate. Our lives would be much more limited if we were restricted to what could be produced or grown in our local areas.
With the abolition of capitalist corporations many of which duplicate their operations on a world scale it is likely that socialism would want to use the most economical structure of production. This could operate from world-scale extractive industries like mining to regional centres of industrial processing and manufacture and final distribution to local populations. This could correspond to a similar network of administrative levels on the world, regional and local scales.
An obvious example of a production that has to begin from a world perspective is energy. The use of the earth’s finite resources such as fossil fuels, the prediction of world energy needs, concern for the increase of radio-activity and carbon gases in the environment, the risk of accidents, the development of benign technologies, etc, all combine to make energy policy a world issue. This is a case where in socialism a single world energy authority would have the advantage of a complete overview of the problems and would be able to draw on information from every community.
This is not to suggest that such a single agency based in New York or Geneva or whatever would be making policy decisions for everyone on the planet. Its function could be to provide information and propose various development strategies so that alternatives could be decided democratically. From where we stand now a lot of people would say that priority should be given to ecologically benign methods such as wind, wave, solar power, etc. With the freedom to make such a decision without the economic constraints of capitalism, socialism could do it. The sole motive would be the needs of the people and this would be in sharp contrast to the way in which governments decide matters now from the point of view of national economic and military interests.
The example of energy policy means that people in socialism won’t just be concerned about whether a piece of local land should be sued for housing, growing food, a cricket pitch or left as it is. People will also be engaged with issues affecting them which extend far beyond their local areas. So, as well as being citizens of their parish or district they would also be citizens of the world with all the opportunities for, and responsibilities of decision-making and action in every sphere of life.
One of the great technical developments under capitalism has been electronic communications with satellites linking communications and the rapid processing and distribution of information. These media alter our awareness of being in the world and the boundaries between what is local and distant are shifted or become blurred. From one moment to another we are able to take in local news, issues and events and those on the regional or world scene.
The importance of these media is not only for their potential as means of organising administration and production, they are just as important for enjoyment and leisure. In socialism, we could enjoy great sporting festivals such as the Olympic games and the World Cup without them being tainted by nationalism or commercialism. Similarly, such music festivals can be shared by many millions across the globe.
The internet and social media also bring home to us with force and immediacy the often tragic results of disasters such as earthquakes and floods. Even in the cynical, alienated world of capitalism people do what they can to help and with the resources available in socialist world organisations would move swiftly to minimise the damage and the suffering.
In a quite different way which can equally show the common identity of all people expeditions into space demonstrate that every person on earth shares a tiny planet in a vast cosmos. No doubt these exciting projects will continue in socialism organised by a World Space Agency.
So, as well as the face-to-face contacts of our daily lives at work, home, at the shops, at sporting occasions or leisure centres with friends, neighbours and relatives, and as well as our part in local affairs, at the same time we would be involved with all other people in world issues and events of every kind.
The abolition of class ownership and production for profit together with the establishment of common ownership and production for needs will begin a period of great re-organisation. In production the principle will be that work related to marketing and the profit system will become redundant – it will cease. Examples are banking, selling and accounting. Work that is socially useful and related to the real needs of people like farming, building, energy supply, transport, etc., will be continued and further developed. Practicality will require that socialism will begin with the structures it takes over, and these to be fully democratised.
The same principle will apply to decision-making bodies and administration. Socialism will begin with its delegates being in control of national and local governments and from this point, the role of these bodies as part of a state machine will be replaced by the democratic organisation operating solely for the needs of communities. It follows that all the socially-useful parts of the previous state machine will be continued.
At the local level, these include planning, education, health and transport developments, etc.
At the national level, there are useful ministries such as housing and agriculture and those which administer health and education on a broader scale. The United Nations also includes useful world bodies such as the World Health Organisation and the Food and Agricultural Organisation. This is the worldwide structure already developed by capitalism which would be taken over and developed for the needs of the world’s population. For example, one problem that socialism would have to solve as quickly as possible will be the supply of enough good quality food for every person. This will require cooperation at every social level and the existing FAO, national ministries of agriculture and local departments could be swiftly adapted to the task.
The Way Forward
The practice of a fully democratic system requires more than a communications technique. The potential of the various media to bring people together over great distances cannot be realised in the divided world of capitalism where power remains in the hands of governments and those who own and control production and the earth’s resources.
Federalists aim at world administration but they are talking about world government – a world capitalist state. People would still be class divided and subject to all the tyrannies and insecurities of the profit system. In any case, governments are not going to give up the economic interests of the class they represent in favour of world administration.
Only the workers of all countries share a real interest in working to establish a world based on common ownership where all means of production and all resources will be held in common by all people. Production would then operate through voluntary cooperation and part of that cooperation will be the work of deciding what should be done in the interest of the whole community and then acting on those decisions. This is the basis on which the world communications and administrative bodies which have been developed for the objectives of capitalism can be used for the whole population. That we have no country but still have a world to win is still our best slogan and the best hope for all people.
Adapted from the writings of Pieter Lawrence