From the February 1983 issue of the Socialist Standard
What determines the nature of work is its social context. With the change from capitalism to socialism, the social form of labour will change. Under capitalism labour functions within an exchange relationship of economic values — labour time for wages. With socialism, labour will simply be carried on as an expression of cooperation within a direct relationship between productive activity and needs.
Work itself is an important human need, and by reducing it to a mechanical function and an economic category within an exchange economy, capitalism destroys this vital aspect of work. It makes it a time serving activity, drained of human meaning. As a result, people wish to avoid it.
Capitalist production is enclosed within an exchange economy. It does expand, but only as the self-expansion of capital takes place through the exploitation of the working class—through the use of wage labour. The capitalist's use of labour power results from an exchange of wages with the worker's labour time. This is the investment of portions of capital as variable capital. It is this portion of total capital which is "self-expanding". Labour power is variable capital because, when it is put to use by an employer, it creates values over and above its own value (surplus value). These surplus products of labour power, commodities, then enter into a general relationship of value on the markets, where, as a result of sales, these values have realised in money form. Thus we have an enclosed system of exchange, the key element of which is the self-expansion of variable capital, which is the worker put to work through the exchange of wages for labour time.
With socialism, on the basis of common ownership, the producers are elevated to a social existence which is formed by direct relationships of co-operative activity about mutual needs. In breaking out of the capitalist relationships of value, labour will express a direct productive relationship between people, and will be released for human need. Socialism will abolish all economic relationships of exchange. With production for human need no significant economic relationship will exist between items of wealth, and there will therefore be no need to compare or measure their methods of production in terms of any common factor such as labour time.
The capitalist exchange relationships between commodities themselves, including the human commodity, labour power, will be replaced by a direct relationship in the line of productive activity; items of wealth, and human need. This direct relationship of wealth to need replaces the capitalist relationship between things. The price mechanism which transmits an economic message throughout capitalist production, to do with cheapness and competitive, profit-making success, will be replaced in socialism with a direct relationship of production to human needs.
Production of use will be the organisation of necessary production in line with consciously chosen levels of consumption with no intervening economic factors between the two activities. The organisation of production therefore will resolve itself as a problem of quantity analysis. These will be absolute quantities of things in relation to need, not relative quantities of labour time in the things themselves. Socialism will quantify its needs and then organise production in direct response.
The choice of production methods would not resolve itself simply as the selection of the most efficient method of production, that is, the method which embodies the least amount of labour time. The capitalist market pressure to embody the least amount of labour time. The capitalist market pressure to embody the least amount of labour time in production will be replaced in socialism by all the requirements of need. These will include material necessity, work itself as a human need, social safety, care of the environment, conservation, animal welfare, and so on.
For example, the massive release of pollutants into the atmosphere may be part of the cheapest and most efficient way of converting fossil fuels into electricity, but socialism would not do it. The confinement of animals for long periods in cramped spaces may be part of the cheapest and most efficient method of converting cereals into animal protein, but socialism would not do it.
Paradoxically, socialism will make more economical use of resources and labour, because it will strip away all functions which are irrelevant to the direct relationship of activity to need. This fact was recognised by Marx. "The capitalist mode of production, while on the one hand, enforcing economy in each individual business, on the other hand, begets. by its anarchical system of competition, the most outrageous squandering of labour power and of the social means of production, not to mention the creation of a vast number of employments, at present indispensable, but in themselves superfluous." (Capital, Vol. 1, p.540, Allen & Unwin.)
Socialism will enjoy the latitude to combine different methods of production where this might be considered necessary by the community. It will deploy all its resources more freely according to practicality and desirability regardless of possibly different rates of working efficiency.
Socialism will enjoy more people available for the production of useful wealth; without the limits of market capacity it will enjoy greater use of production methods; without price competition it will enjoy wider selection of production methods; with the ending of national barriers it will enjoy a more rational deployment of world resources; and without capital investment it will enjoy greater adaptability of social production.
Socialism will combine all these practical advantages with all the criteria for the selection of production methods according to need, such as material necessity, the enjoyment of work, safety, care of the environment, conservation.
In this context work is no longer a mechanical function but the satisfaction of vital human need.