Friday, March 25, 2016

Notes on production for use (1982)

From the December 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

An example of the way in which the class relations of capitalist production are in conflict with the development of the forces of production is the division of the world into approximately 150 rival nations. Across the world, each national frontier is a dividing line behind which a ruling class strives to accumulate capital. It is rightly said that capitalism is not essentially a system of production but a system of capital accumulation. Every capitalist hope is production, profit, capital accumulation, but because all this hinges on market capacity, which is limited, a good deal of the time it is no profit, no capital accumulation, no production; and this is an obvious constraint on the development of the productive forces.

Another factor which prevents the full use of the world as a single productive unit results from national economic divisions. Each national capitalist class has to attempt to balance its books as a national enterprise, so the pattern of trade, imports, exports and therefore the order of world production is constrained by the problem that governments face about the balance of payments.

A further factor is economic vulnerability in the face of precarious markets. Even though a particular capitalist country may enjoy advantageous conditions for the production of a particular commodity, it is very dangerous to rely too much on a narrow production field. For example the price of sugar fell from 42 US cents a lb in October 1980 to 13.5 cents a lb in September 1981. In these circumstances, any national ruling class which relied heavily on the sale of sugar would have to consider hedging their bets with diversification.

Also there are political, military and strategic factors. At the moment the American government is trying to prevent the building of the natural gas pipe line from Siberia to Western Europe. They feel that in the face of these trade links between state capitalist Russia and Western Europe, their own political influence will weaken. One of the penalties they are threatening to impose on Western European capitalism is the withholding of technical expertise. Such attempts at the national monopoly of techniques through secrecy and the patent laws, particularly where these techniques also have military uses, is a further example of how the division of the world into rival capitalist nations prevents the full use of the world productive forces for human use.

Paradoxically, the possibilities of organising the world as a single productive unit have been given historically by the spread of capitalism and the development of trade and a world division of labour. But all the present political, economic and war mongering chaos is now part of a redundant system which forms an unnecessary barrier against the organisation of the world in line with human need. To continue with it is madness. By establishing the world as a commonly held resource operated with co-operation all these absurd national divisions can be swept aside.

The material advantages that production for use would gain by developing the world as a single productive unit are many, and it is important to remember that production for use will be required to organise itself under the pressure of necessity. A great deal has been made of the way in which socialism would make its social decisions and there is no doubt that those determining the direction of social policy would be the result of a universal democratic procedure in which everyone would participate. The development of the means of world communication allow this to be a technically easy, and therefore practical, procedure which can be organised along with the widest distribution of relevant information.

But it should not be assumed that with socialism, humanity will enjoy unlimited options about what it might choose to do. At any point in history, the options open to society are given by the actual circumstances of development, and this social framework of options will also exist with socialism. However socialism, by sweeping aside the economic shackles of capitalism, will widen the possibilities of social action with the objective of satisfying human need. It is also self evident that since we now suffer a shortage of wealth in relation to human need, production for use will be required by necessity to increase production as quickly as possible.

The organisation of production for use then is bound to aim at the most rapid increase in the production of wealth and the expansion of necessary services. This is particularly the case with food production and medical care. Also, in line with this, production for use would have an interest in using resources in the most speedy and efficient way. With food production, the advantages of organising the world as a single productive unit is that it is possible to organise a more intensive growth of crops in those places where they grow easiest and best.

If this necessarily involves the specialised use of a particular region there is no reason why, in the interests of maximum output, this should be considered undesirable. Most of the objections to monoculture arise from the economic insecurities of capitalist trade, and the vulnerability of national economies which are too specialised in their production. But with production for use, this is not a consideration. Particularly with food, specialised area production does have the advantage of maximum output in relation to inputs of social labour. It also allows for the concentration of production equipment, storage facilities and ancillary factors.

With the formulation of a world plan, each part of world production can be kept in balance, especially the question of relating local production for local needs to area specialisation, with a wider distribution. Although we might speak of local production, in fact, with the complex elaboration of all the interdependent parts of the modern division of labour, no single item of wealth can be isolated from total world production. It is impossible to produce any food anywhere without calling on the products of different parts of the division of labour, be it fertillisers, tractors, or even hand tools. Quality seed production is a specialised area of agriculture. There would be no point in producing tractor engines if this was not in balance with the production of tyres for the vehicle. Engines and tyres involve different parts of total world production and the production of all these factors has to be kept in balance.

Not all social decisions will be given automatically by necessity, and some issues would undoubtedly raise controversy. For example, some people like to drink coffee, which is not produced in the areas where it is mainly consumed, but strictly from the point of view of calorie production from existing land resources it is a nutritional waste. Recovering from capitalism’s chronic calorie shortage, does production for use go on producing 6 million tons of coffee on land resources which almost immediately could be used for, say, the production of cereals or soya beans? The anti-smoking lobby would delight in citing the current production of 5 million tons of tobacco on very useful soil, as a similar example.

Production for use would have to consider what most productive steps could be taken in the short term alongside longer term projects. With food production, the most easily cultivated and fertile soil has already been taken up, but there is no doubt that these resources could be exploited far more intensely. This could be achieved in two ways, each of which takes a different time period. The speediest way is with an increase in the numbers of people working the land, using simple tools and equipment. The other way is to go in for more mechanisation, which takes longer because it first requires an expansion of manufacturing and all that this necessarily involves.

The most immediate advantage that production for use will enjoy will be a vast increase in the numbers of people available for the production of useful wealth. With the redundancy of all the useless functions of capitalism and with the elimination of the waste of unemployment, the numbers of productive people would increase enormously. Many of these could begin work on food production immediately. In the longer term there are extensive land areas which production for use could bring into food production, but they require a considerable input of social labour before they can be brought under cultivation. Typical examples are the semi-arid zones of Africa and Australia. These zones require some re-structuring of the soil components to give them the necessary plant nutrients. Most importantly they require irrigation schemes which can only be brought into operation after the completion of extensive engineering projects. The time required for the completion of such projects may be measured in years rather than months.

Most agriculturalists agree that the key to increasing world food supplies is with increased cereal production such as rice, wheat and barley, and the rich oil seeds such as soy beans, sunflower seeds, ground nuts, rape seed and olives. An increase in the supply of these foods correspondingly widens the options on the production of other food forms, such as animal protein. The semi-arid land areas are at present barely used, yet they have an enormous potential for the production of cereals and oil seeds. Production for use, simultaneous with the short term steps that it could take to increase food supplies, could commence the longer term projects of bringing such potential resources into use.

The size of productive units must be considered in relation to the development of the means of communication. Feudal production was mainly confined to the manor. Mercantilism opened up primitive world markets. With the canal, railway and shipping systems of the industrial revolution it was possible to speak of a world division of labour. Further developments such as air transport and giant sea carriers, and above all electronic technology, mean now that there can be very few finished products which do not embody additions of labour from all goods over the world. The result of this is not only an ability to move goods around the world; the development also has its impact on consciousness. Production for use will be the historical outcome of these developments.

The co-ordination of the world division of labour for production for use can be achieved by modern information and communication systems without the need for centralised control. A complete monitoring of world production is now technically possible at any level throughout the entire system. With a shared and equal interest between all people in world production, control can be maintained by a system of decentralised co-operation.

The only remaining barriers against this completed system of integrated world production are the class relations of capitalism, the profit motive, and the political division of the world into rival capitalist nations.
Pieter Lawrence

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