FEASIBLE SOCIALISM — a concrete programme for the left (part 4)

This article is a the last from the series of texts by Harry Ratner, a British longstanding socialist activist. Part I, part II and part III have been published previously on our website. Your comments are welcome.

The Democratisation of the State

The ?state? has been mentioned several times in the sections dealing with overall economic planning. What sort of state is envisaged?

Certainly the existing state machine has inbuilt obstacles to the achievement of socialism ? for example in Bretain the fact that parliament has no real control over the cabinet, which can declare war, introduce a state of siege, etc, without parliamentary approval, the House of Lords, the royal prerogative, etc, etc.

A radical restructuring of the state machine to widen democratic control and initiative from below is obviously necessary. But this does not mean that socialists cannot or must not use existing institutions. So long as parliament is still relatively freely elected, and so long as alternative structures have not arisen naturally, as a result of social movements, it is ludicrous for socialists to talk of ?destruction of the state machine? and its miracolous replacement by non-existent ?soviets?.

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FEASIBLE SOCIALISM ? a concrete programme for the left (part 3)

This article is a continuatin of the series of texts by Harry Ratner, a British longstanding socialist activist. Part I and part II have been published previously on our website. Parts IV is currently edited and will be up next week. Your comments are welcome. 

Public Ownership or Merely Control?

Economic policy in Britain during the Second World War provides an example of how it is possible to combine effective planning of the economy with market mechanisms. Physical controls on the use of resources (raw materials) were imposed so that firms could only secure these commodities if their use was essential to the war effort. More significant was the establishment of state control over capital investment. Thus a firm was only able to secure finance from the banks for expansion of its productive capacity by applying to the Capital Issues Commission, which only granted authorisation if this was considered essential to the war effort, or necessary for the meeting of civilian needs within the overall parameters set by the War Cabinet. Similarly, the building of a new factory or the closure of an existing one had to be authorised, and was sanctioned only if it fitted in with the needs of wartime production. Despite the destruction by bombing, the U-boat blockade, and the strains of war, the system worked ? even though the banks and industry remained in private ownership.

Read moreFEASIBLE SOCIALISM ? a concrete programme for the left (part 3)

“The police behave like nazis” and other shocking facts from Greece

As the Greek governing coalition grows ever more unpopular, SYRIZA, the radical alternative, is poised to win any coming election. But does it have the programme and leadership to solve the crisis in favour of working people? Here ILIAS MILONAS, a member of the Party’s Central Committee and its left-wing faction Left Platform, questions the road down which SYRIZA’s leadership is trying to take the party. And raises warnings about the rising threat of the neo-fascist right.

Where does Syriza currently stand in public opinion?

SYRIZA has stabilized at around 30% in public opinion polls, after their 27% share in the last elections. The Greek people do not have an absolute trust in SYRIZA but they are suffering a lot from the hard measures of the government and the Troika (the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank ? editor) and in the reality, they have no other political alternative. This support for SYRIZA should be better but the masses have not the enthusiasm of previous years and no trust in politics generally. Also, the political attitude of the SYRIZA leadership lately doesn?t help very much. Their public speeches have lost the radicalization of the period before the elections as they try to promote a more ?realistic? program.

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Cockshott&Cottrell’s planning techniques a moot point

Towards a new socialism by W. Paul Cockshott and Allin Cottrell (Spokesman Books, 1993) is an intriguing book. The model of socialism the authors espouse assumes from the outset that the main means of production are owned in common. C & C then address the problem of how the socialist economy will be planned. They advocate using direct measurement of labour time. Workers will be paid according to the time they have put in and the amount of work required to carry out tasks will be used as the basis for the plan. Their model is mathematically sophisticated.

C & C advocate using input-output models. They deal with the objection raised by Alec Nove in The economics of feasible socialism that there were 12 million different commodities in the Soviet Union at the time he wrote his book (1983). Nove argued that if all these commodities are interconnected in an input-output model of the economy it would be quite impossible to plan the interconnections between them all. Nove, ?quoted the estimate of one O. Antonov that to draw up a complete and balanced plan for the Ukraine would take the labour of the whole world?s population over a 10 million year period.?

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P2P and Marxism II ? How does P2P collaboration differ from other forms of collaboration?

Collaboration has existed before P2P production and many different forms continue to exist side by side with it. It could therefore be easy to dismiss P2P as nothing new under the sun. Yet that would be a mistake. Several things make P2P unique. In order to understand that it is worth comparing with other forms of collaboration.

The most common form of collaboration, outside the private sphere, exists at any workplace. Simply in order to get the work done people must collaborate. Superficially, it would be easy to identify the difference between P2P and other collaboration on the work place by saying that collaboration at a workplace is based upon bosses deciding and ?creating? a team. Formally speaking that is true, but in practice, collaboration at most workplaces is, like P2P, more of a bottom up collaboration.

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FEASIBLE SOCIALISM ? a concrete programme for the left (part 2)

One of the problems that will have to be addressed is how the activities of a multitude of autonomous enterprises producing for a market can be reconciled with rational economic planning.

The abolition of capitalist ownership and control and its replacement by social ownership is itself a great step forward. But it will not resolve the anarchy and planlessness associated with market forces. For example, if we have several autonomous enterprises producing the same commodities, that is, competing with each other in the market, just as under capitalism, some will be more successful, others will go to the wall, and we will end up with new monopolies (although these will be cooperatively owned), while the workforces of the failed ones will become unemployed. Some sort of overall regulation of the different sectors of industry would need to be enforced to prevent this, and to regulate the optimum number and sizes of the different enterprises.

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Pat Divine offers a utopia

Pat Devine?s book Democracy and economic planning (Polity Press, 1988) is a contribution to the Socialist Calculation Debate. The debate was launched by Ludwig von Mises, the iconic right-wing libertarian economist, in 1920 when he declared socialism (by which he meant any society where the principal means of production are owned in common) to be impossible.

Why? Mises asserted that economic calculation involves achieving what we want at least cost. In order to do this we need to compare the relative scarcities of resources available to us. Prices measure these relative scarcities and enable us to make rational choices. The determination of prices requires a market, including a market in the prices of ?factors of production? such as land and capital. If these are owned in common, they can have no price and their relative scarcities cannot be compared. But if a market and rent, interest and profit are reintroduced into the economy, what is left of socialism?

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FEASIBLE SOCIALISM — a concrete programme for the left (part 1)

It is not enough for the left to bemoan social-democrats? abandonment of any socialist or even specifically meaningful policies. Is neither enough to speak in general terms of the need for radical and socialist policies. The left must elaborate a feasible alternative programme in specific terms.


It is the highest time to spell out concretely what should be done by a socialist government, not in the distant future, but in the actual present. To quote Alec Nove 1, it must define a ?feasible socialism? conceivable in the lifetime of a child already conceived.

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  1. Aleksandr Yakovlevich Novakovsky (24 November 1915 — 15 May 1994), Professor of Economics at the University of Glasgow and a noted authority on Russian and Soviet economic history. More >>>

P2P & Marxism — the death of an old model

In order to change society it is necessary to understand it. Especially new phenomena that can give a hint as to what is in the making. One important new trend has been peer-to peer production, a new voluntary form of cooperation whose products are shared freely. Based on the previous discussion on this website, here is another contribution to the discussion.

The peer-to-peer movement has been accused of utopianism. While it is true that some pretty far fetched ideas exist in the movement (as in any movement), it is absurd to accuse something which has been developing by leaps and bounds in the past 10-15 years of being utopian.

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Which road for Greece? (part 2)

Published: 2 April 2013
Author: Pat Byrne

In Part 1 of this two-part assessment we explained some of the factors behind the rise of the left-wing SYRIZA movement in Greece to the point where it is now the most popular party in the country and could lead a future government. Here Pat Byrne highlights some important weaknesses in SYRIZA’s programme and proposes constructive changes that could determine its success or failure.

But what programme are SYRIZA offering and is it capable of solving Greece?s economic crisis?

Certainly, the election manifesto that SYRIZA stood on last year was extremely radical. This was to be warmly welcomed and received mass support among the population. But there are already signs that the majority of the Party leadership are moderating their proposals under the heavy pressure of the mass media and capitalist society. This was evident at last December?s Party Congress debates over the Party?s programme and in various contributions from leading figures since.

Read moreWhich road for Greece? (part 2)