Letters to the Editors from the June 2006 issue of the Socialist Standard
Redirecting production to meeting needs
An important part of the Socialist Party’s case for socialism as a world wide system where production takes place on the basis of need and for social use with free access to goods and services, is that there is sufficient productive capacity to produce such an abundance of socially needed and useful goods and services so as to enable free access, thus eliminating scarcity and the need for money. At the present time there is self-evidently no such abundance in the actual production of socially needed and useful goods and services and it would appear on the surface that the gap between current reality and your aspiration is enormous.
I would be interested to know if there has been any work to try and prove that the required capacity to generate such abundance is in fact already in existence and that all that is required – as you imply – is that the existing means of production and distribution be simply redirected to socially useful ends, once a socialist majority takes power out of the hands of the capitalist class? It ought to be relatively straightforward to – in albeit speculative and approximate terms – quantify the sort of total productive capacity, presumably in terms of required labour hours, required to generate an abundance of essential goods and services, to meet the basic needs of every human being in the world.
Then compare that with total productive capacity at the present time. Then show how much of existing productive capacity would be released upon the cessation of wasteful, non essential and dangerous activities e.g. military production, state bureaucracy, finance related activities, shoddy consumer goods etc and therefore potentially able to be redirected to socially useful and needed production. Then build in an assumption about much existing productive capacity could then be increased through the employment of labour saving technologies and at the same time show how massive reductions in working lives, working weeks and days – which must be one of the prime outcomes of the successful establishment of socialism and the true liberation of the working class – would be delivered, and still leave sufficient labour power to generate abundance.
To do this would be to surely produce an extremely decisive and compelling case for immediate social change, instead of having to rely on rather glib and optimistic assumptions, which to most people at the moment seem completely unreal.
It is true that the growth and expansion of capitalism has developed a structure of global production that could be a basis for a socialist system. However, this is very different to saying that it is currently adequate to provide for needs. The main reason is that under capitalism production is determined by market capacity for sales and taking the system as a whole, market capacity is always much less than would be required to satisfy needs. It follows that people in socialism would need to expand useful production and practicality means that it would take time. However, the freedoms that would be enjoyed which would make this straightforward.
The bringing in of new means of production would be free from the constraints of capital investment; the abolition of the market would mean that it could no longer determine what could be produced; with voluntary cooperation replacing the wage-labour relationship communities would decide what should be done and would be free to organised their resources to achieve those aims.
This would be democratic control of the organisation of production directly for needs. Some work has been done on the question of how existing useful production should be increased to be able to meet needs. For example, it has been suggested that world food production would have to increased by at least 60 per cent to get to a position of sufficiency for everybody on the planet. In general this is a complex question; a growing socialist movement would no doubt develop its plans for what should be the priorities action following the establishment of common ownership. What we can say is that a socialist system would release huge powers of production with perhaps the only constraint being that they would have to be used in ways that safeguard the environment
S is for Socialism
In an article in The Nation (17 April) entitled “The Left Needs More Socialism”, Ronald Aronson states clearly that it is time for the ‘left,’ ‘progressives’, etc to stop being afraid of using the ‘s’ word, recognise what they stand for and call a spade a spade. He doesn’t actually promote socialism per se but does promote what it stands for and says that progressives are failing to offer a real alternative (specifically in US politics but, by implication, in other parts of the world too). “… the real Marxism, although no longer embodied in movements or governments, has never been truer or more relevant.
Most of the world’s main problems today are inseparable from the dynamics of the capitalist system itself.” He stresses the inevitable dichotomies of the capitalist system and gives examples of socialism’s values “nourishing community life”, e.g. “The socialist standards of fairness, democracy, equality and justice are as much a part of daily life as are capitalism’s values of privilege, unequal rewards and power.” He states that “…social movements for environmental protection, women’s rights, racial equality sooner or later run up against institutional constraints imposed by capitalism.
Then they discover they can’t achieve their goals without becoming anti-capitalists” and goes on to suggest that as such individuals and groups “try to coalesce around increasingly global alternatives” they should not be timid in naming this ‘socialism’. I read the article with a growing feeling of warmth towards him for putting the case so convincingly to readers, most of whom will call themselves leftists, progressives, democrats or liberals, but most of whom, also, are wary of associating themselves with the ‘s’ word and need to be pushed out of their comfort zone. If they really do want a different world, a different way of living they first have to face up to the facts and see that a little reform here and there will not give them what they’re seeking, and complaining about ‘the others’ won’t do it either.