Saturday, January 04, 2020

The ‘Freedom’ Party

 Capitalism operates irrespective of whether a particular economic unit is the property of an individual, a limited company, the state or even of a workers’ cooperative.

What socialists call for is a community where each contributes to the whole to the best of his or her ability and takes from the common fund of produce what he or she needs. The Earth can no longer be owned; it must be shared. Its fruits can no longer be expropriated by the few, they must be rendered available to all on the basis of need. Power must be freed from the control of the elites and be redistributed in a form that renders its use participatory. That is “free economics”, that is “economic justice”.

Production and technology will be to meet human need, each person or group determining their own reasonable needs within a social context. There will be no buying or selling, but instead, plenty of giving and taking.

 Many have consistently failed to acknowledge or have dismissed as irrelevant the fact that the right of private property leads to control by property owners (propertarians) over those who use, but do not own, property (such as workers). The capitalist system leads to a very selective and class-based protection of “rights” and defence of liberties.

For example, under capitalism, the “freedom” of employers inevitably conflicts with the “freedom” of employees. When stockholders or their managers exercise their “freedom of enterprise” to decide how their company will operate, they violate their employee’s right to decide how their labouring capacities will be applied and so under capitalism the “property rights” of employers will conflict with and restrict the “human right” of employees to manage themselves. Capitalism allows the right of self-management only to the few, not to all. Bosses have the power, the work-force is paid to obey. Workers are subject to control from above which restricts the activities they are allowed to do and so they are not free to act, make decisions, participate in the plans of the organisation, to create the future and so forth. Thus we have “free” workers within a relationship lacking freedom. Representing employment relations as voluntary agreement simply mystifies the existence and exercise of power within the organisation so created. Capitalist apologists who consider themselves libertarians are ignoring the vast number of authoritarian and coercive social relationships that exist in capitalist society. In the labour market it is clear that the “buyers” and “sellers” of labour power are not on an equal footing. Under capitalism competition in labour markets is skewed in favour of employers. Thus the ability to refuse an exchange weighs most heavily on one class than another and so ensures that “free exchange” works to ensure the domination and so exploitation of one by the other. Inequality in the market ensures that the decisions of the majority of people within it are shaped in accordance with that needs of the powerful, not the needs of all.

To defend the “freedom” of property-owners is to defend authority and privilege. Free exchange is NOT a revolutionary concept. Free access is revolutionary.

But just to make sure it is clearly understood that for socialists, the means and ends cannot be separated. The establishment of socialism can only be established by the working class when the immense majority have come to want and understand it. The machinery of coercion which is the State has to be taken out of the hands of the capitalist class by political action. Industrial democracy is a possibility only when the capitalist class have ceased to rule the State. The struggle for democracy is the struggle for socialism. It is not a struggle for reforms, for this or that political system, for this or that leader, for some rule change or other—it is the struggle for an idea, for a belief, a belief that we can run our own lives, that we have a right to a say in how society is run, for a belief that the responsibility for democracy lies not upon the politicians or their bureaucrats, but upon ourselves. At the moment a small group of people control all the wealth and property, and it is upon their interests that everything hinges. It is only by removing such people, and not by tinkering with the form that true democracy can be reached .

Until you support and work towards the society that is based upon the principle ”from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs”, then you remain fixated upon the status quo of a society constrained by artificial rationing through the market and money system, a “can’t pay - can’t have” society that is inherently coercive, that has police and courts and jails to ensure its continued existence. As oft quoted "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread. ”

If libertarians seek real liberty then it is free access to goods and services which will deny to any group or individuals the political leverage with which to dominate others which has been a feature intrinsic to all private-property or class based systems through control and rationing of the means of life . This will work to ensure that a socialist society is run on the basis of democratic consensus. Free access to the common treasury and no monopoly of ownership , not even by the producers who call for ownership of their own product, (such as promoted by mutualists and syndicalists) can deprive individuals in society of common ownership of the means of production and distribution .

Goods and services would be provided directly for self determined needs and not for sale on a market; they would be made freely available for individuals to take without requiring these individuals to offer something in direct exchange. The sense of obligations and the realisation of universal interdependency arising from this would profoundly colour people’s perceptions and influence their behaviour in such a society.

Building a society that is based upon such a system of generalised reciprocity, that is truly a revolutionary concept .

According to von Mises, rational economic calculation is only possible on the basis of prices fixed by the free play of market forces. In other words, the only form of rational calculation that can be applied to the production of wealth is monetary calculation. Von Mises claimed that a socialist society was impossible because it would be unable to calculate rationally which productive methods to adopt. This argument merely amounts to the tautology that only a market economy is able to perform economic calculations couched in market prices’ and that it is‘reading into socialism the functional requirements of capitalism.

In reality it is the wasteful, destructive and exploitative capitalist system that is incapable of rationally allocating resources.

Although, monetary calculation, will disappear in socialism this does not mean that there will no longer be any need to make choices, evaluations and calculations. In socialism it will be the use value of goods not be their selling price (nor even the time needed to produce them) but their usefulness. It is for this that they will be appreciated, evaluated, wanted and produced. So estimates of what is likely to be needed over a given period will be expressed as physical quantities of definite types and sorts of objects. The operational basis for this system would be calculation in kind (e.g. tonnes, kilos, litres) instead of monetary calculation.

Goods will be voluntarily produced, and services voluntarily supplied to meet people’s needs. People will freely take the things they need. Socialism will be concerned solely with the production , distribution and consumption of useful goods and services in response to definite needs. It will integrate social needs with the material means of meeting those needs .

Common ownership means that society as a whole owns the means and instruments for distributing wealth. It also implies the democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth, for if everyone owns, then everyone must have equal right to control the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth.

Socialism will be a self-adjusting decentralised inter-linked system. A socialist economy would be polycentric, not centrally planned. It is not a command economy but a responsive one to provide for a self -sustaining, steady-state society.

Capitalism differs from previous class societies in that under it production is not for direct use, not even of the ruling class, but for sale on a market. Competitive pressures to minimise costs and maximise sales, profit-seeking and blind economic growth, with all the destructive effects on the rest of nature, are built-in to capitalism. These make capitalism inherently environmentally unfriendly. The framework within which humans can regulate their relationship with the rest of nature in an ecologically acceptable way has to be a society based on the common ownership and democratic control of productive resources, freed from the tyranny of the economic laws that operate wherever there is production for sale on a market

We know that humans are capable of integrating themselves into a stable ecosystem and there is nothing whatsoever that prevents this being possible today on the basis of industrial technology and methods of production, the renewable energies exist (wind, solar, tidal, geothermal and whatever) but, for the capitalists, these are a “cost” which penalises them in face of international competition. No agreement to limit the activities of the multinationals in their relentless quest for profits is possible. Measures in favour of the environment come up against the interests of enterprises and their shareholders because by increasing costs they decrease profits. No State is going to implement legislation which would penalise the competitiveness of its national enterprises in the face of foreign competition. States only take into account environmental questions if they can find an agreement at international level which will disadvantage none of them. But that’s the problem, isn’t it? Competition for the appropriation of world profits is one of the bases of the present system. So it is the capitalist economic system itself which is responsible for ecological problems and the capitalist class and their representatives, they themselves are subject to the laws of profit and competition. Some future apologists of capitalism are promising us !

 In a stable society such as socialism, needs would most likely change relatively slowly. Hence it is reasonable to assume that an efficient system of stock control, registering what individuals actually chose to take under conditions of free access from local distribution centres over a given period, would enable the local distribution committee to estimate what the need for food, drink, clothes and household goods that would be required over a similar future period.

If people want too much? In a socialist society “too much” can only mean “more than is sustainably produced” . If people decide that they (individually and as a society) need to over-consume then socialism cannot possibly work. But, under capitalism, there is a very large and complex web of industry devoted to creating needs. Capitalism requires consumption, whether it improves our lives or not, and drives us to consume up to, and past, our ability to pay for that consumption. In a system of capitalist competition, there is a built-in tendency to stimulate demand to a maximum extent. Firms, for example, need to persuade customers to buy their products or they go out of business. They would not otherwise spend the vast amounts they do spend on advertising.

Another side of the consumerist argument is that in capitalist society a tendency for individuals to seek to validate their sense of worth through the accumulation of possessions. The prevailing ideas of society are those of its ruling class so we can understand why, when the wealth of that class so preoccupies the minds of its members, such a notion of status should be so deep-rooted within workers . It is this which helps to underpin the myth of infinite demand.

It does not matter how modest one’s real needs may be or how easily they may be met; capitalism’s “consumer culture” leads one to want more than one may materially need since what the individual desires is to enhance his or her status within this hierarchial culture of consumerism and this is dependent upon acquiring more than others have got. But since others desire the same thing, the economic inequality inherent in a system of competitive capitalism must inevitably generate a pervasive sense of relative deprivation. What this amounts to is a kind of institutionalised envy and an alienated capitalism.

Human behaviour reflects society. In a society such as capitalism, people’s needs are not met and people feel insecure. People tend to acquire and hoard goods because possession provides some security. People have a tendency to distrust others because the world is organised in such a dog-eat-dog manner.

In socialism, the notion of status based upon the conspicuous consumption of wealth would be devoid of meaning because individuals would stand in equal relation to the means of production and have free access to the resultant goods and services. Why take more than you need when you can freely take what you need? In socialism the only way in which individuals can command the esteem of others is through their contribution to society.

By the replacement of exchange economy (the market economy) by common ownership basically what would happen is that wealth would cease to take the form of exchange value, so that all the expressions of this social relationship peculiar to an exchange economy, such as money and prices, would automatically disappear. Goods would cease to have an economic value and would become simply physical objects which human beings could use to satisfy some want or other. What is meant by needs should not be understood as mere personal consumption. It should not suggest a rampant consumerist culture. Production for needs would include a wide range of considerations such as the need to protect and conserve the environment. In defining socialism we should emphasise that it will provide for one vital need in a way that is impossible under the capitalist system. This is the need of peoples throughout the world to bring the organisation of their community affairs under their own democratic control and to develop them in the interests of the whole community.

The case that money IS essential if you value individual freedom couldn’t be further from the truth. It is only in a society where all people enjoy FREE ACCESS to goods and services which denies to any group or individuals the political leverage by which to dominate others. It has been a feature of all private-property or class based systems that through the control of and restrictions to the means of life, that people are controlled.

Böhm-Bawerk in “Marx and the Close of his System”, that the labour theory of value is wrong because Marx failed to take into account scarcity as a factor in fixing value which simply exposes his poor knowledge of what Marx has written. What he and Hayek want most to instil into the minds of the working class is that capitalist production and distribution of life’s necessities and wants is a natural and, above all, moral system. It is their “wet dream”.

Hayek may well criticise central planning basing his argument upon the Soviet Union but socialism ( real socialism and not state capitalism) is a decentralised society that is self correcting , from below and not from the top. Socialist determination of needs begins with consumer needs and then flows throughout distribution and on to each required part of the structure of production. Planning in socialism is essentially a question of industrial organisation, of organising productive units into a productive system functioning smoothly to supply the useful things which people had indicated they needed, both for their individual and for their collective consumption. What socialism would establish would be a rationalised network of planned links between users and suppliers; between final users and their immediate suppliers, between these latter and their suppliers, and so on down the line to those who extract the raw materials from nature. The responsibility of these industries would be to ensure the supply of a particular kind of product either, in the case of consumer goods, to distribution centres or, in the case of goods used to produce other goods, to productive units or other industries. Planning is indeed central to the idea of socialism, but socialism is the planned, but not Central Planning. The problem with a centrally-planned model of socialism was its inability to cope with change. It lacks any kind of feedback mechanism which allows for mutual adjustments between the different actors in such an economy. It is completely inflexible. We witnessed in Russia how it was unable to determine prices by central planning. Prices were set , re-set, fixed then re-fixed, plans were made then re-appraised, re-defined, changed and dropped.
 Free-Access Socialism however is a decentralised or polycentric society that is self regulating, self adjusting and self correcting. Marx saw communist administration as a federation of self-governing groups largely concerned with their internal affairs and collaborating for the comparatively few purposes that concern all the groups.
Again, beyond the comprehension of those professors of economics in their supposed critiques of Marx, Marx was not writing as a simple economist but was putting forward a “critique of political economy”, his main argument being that, whereas writers like Adam Smith and Ricardo regarded economic categories such as capital, wages, value, price, money, as eternal entities, natural features of human social existence, these were, in fact, categories of capitalism that will disappear when capitalism does.
Work in socialist society can only be voluntary since there will not be any individual or body in a position to force people to work against their will. Nor would there exist barter. Goods and services would be made freely available for individuals to take without requiring these individuals to offer something in direct exchange.

An effective anti-capitalist movement will have to be one that works for ending the impersonal economic mechanism that is capitalism by restoring control of production to society; which can only be done on the basis of the Earth’s natural and industrial resources having become the common property of all the people.

Marx does not claim for the workers “the full value of their labour.” Why not? Because, as he shows, “value,” in an economic sense, is a quality belonging to commodities only, and which, therefore, can only occur in a society where products are exchanged as commodities, the value of a commodity being measured by the socially necessary labour embodied in it. Labour being, therefore, the measure of value, can have no value of its own. But it is quite different with the labour-power of the workers. This labour-power in our society is a commodity has a value. And this value is determined by the quantity of socially necessary labour required for its production, maintenance, and reproduction, that is to say, required for the production, maintenance, and reproduction of the actually living labourer.

Take a wooden table, says Marx. It is just wood that human labour has turned into a table and taken to market. Wood + Labour = Table. Where is the mystery? When it gets to the market the table finds itself in the company of the stool and the chair. All three have use values, are made of the same wood, and may be in equal supply and equal demand - yet each has its own different price.

Why these different prices? Same wood, same demand, same supply. They are all the products of human labour. What is the difference between them that justifies different prices? The prices are reflections of the underlying values of the products. Could the values be different? What does Marx say determines value? It is the different quantities of socially necessary labour time embodied in the commodities.

The table, the stool, and the chair three "things" that are related to each other as the embodiment of the social relations and necessary labour of human beings that created them. Human social relations have been objectified as the relations between non human things. The chair is more valuable than the table but the reason is now hidden away from the perception of people.

"A commodity is therefore a mysterious thing," Marx writes, "simply because in it the social character of men's labour appears to them as an objective character stamped upon the product of that labour; because the relations of the producers to the sum total of their own labour is presented to them as a social relation, existing not between themselves, but between the products of their labour."

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