Letter to the Editor
There are three questions that I would like to put to you concerning the operations of a future socialist state.
1. Whenever I talk to others about the abolition of the wages system, free housing, and communal use of the means of production they react strongly. They think that under such a system no-one would work and that chaos would ensue. Lenin's assurances to the Soviet Communists was that one in every ten idlers would be shot! How would the Socialist Party deal with this problem to generate national productivity?
2. I do agree that the wages system should be abolished, but envisage much resistance to it. It is possible that there will be a need for a voucher system in the initial phase (which is not revolutionary). What I would like to know more of, is how the shops and distribution centres will distribute the goods to the people under socialism. What system of organisation do you think will be required for fair and equal distribution? What kind of demands will determine the scale of the operation?
3. How would you prevent anarchy and crime – including theft which might be carried out by syndicates springing up as opportunists and creating a black market under socialism?
I look forward to your reply.
Reply: Let's clear up one misunderstanding straightaway. You seem to be under the impression that the Socialist Party is like other parties and that, one day, it will “come to power” and run things. This is not our view. We do not see our role as to do things for people. Rather we see the future mass socialist party as the organisation that people will form to do things for themselves, in particular to win control of political power. So it's not the Socialist Party that will come to power; it will be the socialist-minded majority who will be assuming the power to change and run society. What happens will be their responsibility, to be decided democratically. In fact, once the wage and salary working class has won political control, the socialist political party they will have formed to do this has no further role and will be dissolved.
1. So, to rephrase your question, how would socialist society deal with what used to be called “the lazy man”? Certainly not by shooting one in ten of them (did Lenin really advocate that? If so, he was worse than we thought). For a start, we don't think there will be that many. Remember, socialism will not have been established unless a clear majority wanted it and understood what it involved. We would think that in the early stages people would be motivated by a desire to clear up as soon as possible the mess left by capitalism and to build a decent society, and that they'd be prepared to make sacrifices in order to do so. Later, when socialism was up and running, we would expect people to want to work at doing something useful and creative and to meet and co-operate with other people. Very few would want to stay at home and contribute nothing.
People don't like “work” today essentially because it is “employment”, i.e. working for someone else, and not interesting, nor often obviously useful and sometimes downright dangerous. But these same people are prepared to exercise themselves – i.e. to work – quite hard in their free time, digging their gardens, repairing their cars, doing up their homes, i.e. on something they consider useful and beneficial. So it's not work – exercising their mental and physical energies – as such that is regarded as the problem but the conditions under which it is exercised. Socialism should be able to remedy that.
2. As to the distribution of things once they've been produced, you're quite right to say that a permanent voucher system would not be revolutionary and not very different from using money today. Although in the very early stages of socialism there might have to be some very temporary rationing of some goods, the aim will be to move as rapidly as possible to “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs”. This should be possible because (a) people's needs are not limitless, and (b) a lot more useful things can be produced than today, once the waste (e.g., arms, the whole buying and selling system) and artificial scarcity (imposed by the economic law of “no profit, no production”) of capitalism have been eliminated. Socialist society will be capable of producing enough to go over to free distribution and free access to what people need.
3. How to prevent crime and the emergence of a black market? First, about 95 percent of all crime is property-related and so would disappear in a socialist society: why steal what you can have for nothing? It's the same with a black market: why buy something you can have for free? As to the remaining 5 percent of crimes, i.e. crimes against people, much of this too could be expected to die out as the frustrations and psychological problems caused by money worries that lead to much of it will disappear too. Any remaining violence or other non-social behaviour will be a medical problem, to be treated as such, i.e. not by punishing people but by treating them, if necessary for the protection of the rest of the community in a confined place. For a more developed argument about crime, did you read the lead article in the May Socialist Standard?