Are "islands of socialism" within capitalism really inconceivable?

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groovysocialist's picture
groovysocialist
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May 3 2017 22:40
Are "islands of socialism" within capitalism really inconceivable?

I really have to wonder. The transition from feudalism to capitalism was largely centered around various "islands of capitalism" where capitalist and protocapitalist relations took root while other areas sustained their feudal relations. Eventually, the discrepancy between the functioning of the state and the economic realities of the country became so wide that the whole facade collapsed.

Another, as of yet unexplored, instance of this occurring was with Roman production: The freeholds of the Republican and early Imperial eras of Roman history gradually declined in favor of the more productive villa, which eventually evolved into the manor. The villa finds it origins in olive cultivation in Spain and in France, small islands among largely different production relations. Over time, the self-sufficiency of villas eroded Roman authority in the various areas ruled by the Western Roman Empire and eventually, it simply dissolved.

Indeed, it seems to me that the economic base begins changing long before the political establishment catches up, and that it is this discrepancy that generates crises in the first place.

It is perhaps tempting to bring up the development of Prussia, Austria, Japan etc. as examples of "peaceful" mode of production change, but was it really all that peaceful? Most countries that progressed from feudalism to capitalism in this era either A. Were affected by revolutions of their own, as was the case with Prussia in 1848 and with Japan during the Boshin War, B. Were imperialised by capitalist countries and had capitalism forced upon them, or C. They did not advance significantly beyond feudalism in the era, as could be seen in Russia and Austria.

Again, the same can be said for the transition for freeholds and tribal production to feudalism. The Carolingian Empire brought feudalism all the way to the Elbe at swordpoint, the Kingdom of Asturias exported it to the Muslim Kingdoms in Southern Spain, the Byzantine Empire adopted feudalism in the midst of it's hundreds of civil wars and the general erosion of it's authority, and many more examples I haven't touched upon.

What makes this sort of transition impossible in the context of capitalism to socialism, and how are we able to overcome that? Class consciousness and revolutionary spirit did not spontaneously arise in the French, it was cultivated by material advancements between the 14th century to the 18th century. Why would the proletariat suddenly, and without basis, gain class consciousness and revolutionary spirit?

And if such a transition is possible, what can we do to foment it? How do we create these islands?

Vlad The Inhaler's picture
Vlad The Inhaler
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May 4 2017 09:35

Fascinating and complex question that is never far from my mind either.

The traditional Marxist view was that as Capitalism hit the buffers the system would become so obviously unable to deliver that workers would seize the state and begin to administer it in a planned way and through this the simple superiority of a planned economy for human need would out compete the Capitalist economies of the world and as workers recognised the potential inherent in planning they would flock to its banner.

The major flaws in the traditional Marxist view are that
(1) Political power cannot be truly held without absolute economic power and absolute economic power cannot be held while private property is maintained.

(2) Marxists typically view Nationalisation as the mechanism of planning. I am reminded of Tony Benn's famous mantra of "If we can find the money to kill people, we can find the money to help people" or sometimes put "If you can have full employment by killing Germans, why can't we have full employment by building hospitals and schools," This was the Social Democratic view for most of the 20th century, that all that was needed was to become the government in a Capitalist nation, put the economy to social use and watch as the state outstripped its unstable Capitalist competitors. Nationalisation is not the same as Socialisation. Only the latter offers a future free of conflict between worker and state. Nationalisation can only ever result in Welfare Capitalism which solves none of the inherent contradictions of Full Fat Capitalism meaning crisis and inter class conflict are inevitable. An interesting summary of this point can be found in this article Jacobin
(3) Marxists failed to comprehend the impact that the super profits of Imperialism would have in buying off sections of the working class in the developed Capitalist heartlands. Maoism is essentially the theoretical development created to deal with this conundrum although obviously a woefully malformed one. This meant that at best we had a global-stand off between the Capitalist developed world and the semi-peasent planned economies of the rest of the world, nuclear warheads trained on the Capitals of each.

This brings me to the nub of your excellent question.How do non statist forms of Socialism get round these problems. Firstly, while any traces of the Capitalst Mode of Production (either political or economic) remain there will be classes and where there are classes antagonisms and conflict will emerge. Secondly, a fixation on out-producing Capitalism in terms of commodities is an outright delussion. These are relatively easily dealt with by Anarchism and some varients of Left-Communism. The most troubling question is how Anarchist/genuinely Socialist communities (big or small) interract with the Capitalist world outside. Engaging in trade, while almost certainly necessary, opens up the Socialist community to all manner of contradictions whilst isolation and non-engagement risks inertia and decay. We are not going to demonstrate our seperior indistrial capabilities and thus win workers to our banner. We are not going to be able to offer them the banal perks of consumerism or the illusions of "Social climbing". We have to be able to measure progress in another, yet equally tangible, way. Abstract notions like democracy and freedom will not be enough. People want tangibility. They'll even settle for Jam Tomorrow as long as they have seen it and maybe had a little taste.

In terms of defending ourselves against violence, well that's an entirely different question. If a Capitalist "Military-Industrial" Complex wanted to crush us, with all of the might at their disposal I'm not sure that there would be much we could do about it, but the same goes for pretty much any insurgent group unless you become the very thing you hate, i.e - China.

Spikymike
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May 4 2017 09:30

Some of the 'Communisation' currents of thinking have tried to tackle this problem at least on a theoretical level better than the more traditional Marxist currents, but against the hope of a potential rapid extension of social revolution across national boundaries by the global proletariat (effectively avoiding the stabilising effect of trading partnerships with capitalist enclaves) others have given up and withdrawn into a Nihilist communism!

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Vlad The Inhaler
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May 4 2017 09:33

What are you defining as Nihilist Communism?

Spikymike
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May 4 2017 10:06

VTI,
Search on this site and Ye shall find a starting point. May return to this theme later.

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darren p
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May 4 2017 11:06

I don't think the first paragraph of the OP is really correct.

http://libcom.org/library/agraian-origin-capitalism-darren-poynton-2011

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Entdinglichung
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May 4 2017 11:24

capitalism will only tolerate non-capitalist islands if they're negligable or no threat, e.g. in the case of India and North Sentinel Island

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Serge Forward
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May 4 2017 13:07

North Sentinel no threat? Last visit I got a spear in the arse!

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Entdinglichung
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May 4 2017 13:47

you deserved it wink

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May 4 2017 15:28

@darren p
"I don't think the first paragraph of the OP is really correct."

Indeed, some of the specifics changed from country to country. In the case of England, manorial relations never were all that strong, and freehold farmers remained common. This set the stage for the English Civil War and enclosure, a combination of processes that hoisted England out of their medieval mode of production long before the rest of Europe.

Because of the unique historical path that England as on, their revolution should not be considered "typical." They were very different from contemporary Western European states in terms of economic organization as of the 1300s. We find that their revolution didn't quite spread in the same way that the French Revolution did, and I'd argue that this is largely due to the uniqueness of their circumstances. Also, I'm not sure that their cities had advanced to capitalist production at the time that their agriculture did, and if they didn't, the Islands of capitalism point still stands, albeit less of an "island" and more of a "continent" surrounding islands of freehold farms and pre-industrial cities and the like.

@Entdinglichung
"capitalism will only tolerate non-capitalist islands if they're negligable or no threat, e.g. in the case of India and North Sentinel Island"

I'd agree with this. Capitalism of course will seek subvert any social revolution that threatens it. However, what if such a social revolution was not obviously subversive? Could market socialism via worker cooperatives or other structures be the first step? On one hand, it provides a framework for interfacing with the capitalist economy without necessarily being subsumed into it. On the other hand, just by participating in the baseline activities needed for a market socialist project to be successful one must subject themselves to making a profit. I think it could be argued, though, that since profit wouldn't necessarily be the main objective, a market socialist project would have the means to subvert it's opponents by directly sacrificing some profit to make it's business more appealing for consumers and employees than it's capitalist counterparts.

Or is the answer outside of market socialism entirely? Or are the nihilist communists right, and there is nothing we can do?

@Vlad The Inhaler
"We are not going to be able to offer them the banal perks of consumerism or the illusions of "Social climbing". We have to be able to measure progress in another, yet equally tangible, way. Abstract notions like democracy and freedom will not be enough. People want tangibility. They'll even settle for Jam Tomorrow as long as they have seen it and maybe had a little taste."

I think this section is immensely important, but

"We are not going to demonstrate our seperior indistrial capabilities and thus win workers to our banner."

I think it's conceivable that, with the right tactics, a "socialist business" of some sort could out-compete it's capitalist peers, I really do.

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May 4 2017 17:27
groovysocialist wrote:
I think it's conceivable that, with the right tactics, a "socialist business" of some sort could out-compete it's capitalist peers, I really do.

In my opinion it is difficult to claim that we have moved from Capitalism into Communism/Socialism, even as a business, if commodity production is present (i.e - making things in order to sell them for money i.e - Capital that we intend to plough back into production).

We could attempt to replace money with a voucher system or IOUs but that is still currency of one form or another. We're still exchanging one commodity (our product) for another (the Voucher/IOU) in order to convert that latter back into the former.

Even the shared ownership of a business does not make it Socialist. A company with zero waged employees but 10 owner-workers are just operating a co-op.

Whether we judge a Socialist business as out-competing a Capitalist one boils down to the metric that we use. It depends on what metric you're measuring it in

In terms of sheer volume, I really don't see how we could. Capitalism is, after all, the mode of production of over-abundance (infinitely, if it chose to use its energies to achieve it). Capitalism is also the mode of production best able to maximise productive efficiency through exploitation. Socialism has never and should never make a claim that it can compete with Capitalism on this criteria. Yes Capitalism wastes a lot of Capital on its infrastructure and certainly creates social waste (in terms of a commodity surplus) but this is all factored in already.

Assuming the co-operative model, If we set up a company and start making computer chips, we have to create computer chips for less than it costs our competitors to, who have the benefit of abusing cheap labour in the developing world. There are only so many ways to achieve savings. Your raw materials, or constant capital, which the Capitalist company can acquire cheaper by using exploitative business networks, improve the technology that we use which is doable but only until our Capitalist competitors copy our ideas and then we're back to square one, and they will have teams of professionals who are dedicated to this task. The last is to take a wage/dividend that somehow undercuts a "living" wage from a sweat shop in the rural Bangladesh. That does not sound to me like an example that will have many people choosing to follow it.

Digital and intellectual properties offer hope but the most readily available are consumer goods (books, games, tv shows, music and movies). The really important stuff, the patents and schematics are highly guarded and policed with typical Capitalist ferocity. The Capitalists will never hunt down regular downloaders in the same way they do those who threaten the viability of self-sufficiency.

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May 4 2017 22:15

@Vlad The Inhaler

You bring up some very thought-provoking points here, definitely things to consider. I appreciate the response.

el psy congroo
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May 6 2017 15:00
Spikymike wrote:
Some of the 'Communisation' currents of thinking have tried to tackle this problem at least on a theoretical level better than the more traditional Marxist currents, but against the hope of a potential rapid extension of social revolution across national boundaries by the global proletariat (effectively avoiding the stabilising effect of trading partnerships with capitalist enclaves) others have given up and withdrawn into a Nihilist communism!

Nihilist communism has absolutely nothing to do with surrendering to capitalism.

I get the name confuses a lot of people. But that has more to do with an unwillingness or disability to become un-confused, with ignorance, machismo, etc.

"Nihilist: in lurches and flashes I recognise both my disconnection from, and integration within, social production. I am in no position to contribute to, participate in, or take control over the processes that form me. I am in no position to prevent, slow down, or halt the environment that constrains and uses me. I am a character, not an actor. Sometimes, as in a dream, I become aware that my presence, my behaviour, my words are written and directed from elsewhere. Sometimes, I become sufficiently aware of the field of my determinations and I make inky scratches upon myself as a reminder of my vanities. The condition of my defeat, which is also a mode of minimal preservation, and which I permanently inhabit, appears as a frozen act of self-interruption, or a prolonged stay of execution. I am stopped here, at some border and I will not cross it. Nor will I turn back. I seem to have been waiting for a very long time for the world to close over me.

Communism: Not a belief; not a commitment; not a discipline. Only a reference to what caused me to arrive at this point a decade and a half ago. My source material is the unravelling contradictions expressed by the ultra-left in the decades from the 1950's to the 1990's. These contradictions continue to frame the self-conditioning, or subjective, component of my awareness. Communism now appears precisely as the practical and imperative refusal of every communist proposal: Not the party (neither formal nor historic); Not the class itself; Not historical materiality; Not the real movement; Not the dialectic; Not voluntarist measures taken; Not determinism; Not what is to be done; Not fully automated luxury communism; Not solidarity; Not class struggle; Not dictatorship of the proletariat; Not transitional stages; Not one no many yeses; Not value critique; Not autonomy; Not accelerating the means of production; Not communising measures; Not primitivism; Not human community; Not the network; Not the reading group; Not the brotherhood or secret society; Above all, not marxism."

As a friend recently imparted to me, there ain't much worse than being communized.

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May 6 2017 16:12
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As a friend recently imparted to me, there ain't much worse than being communized.

How can you be communized? That's not how that shit works.

Quote:
Nihilist communism has absolutely nothing to do with surrendering to capitalism.

That's not what Spilymike said though, he said withdrawn into Nihilist Communism, which is, as I am sure you know, not really concerned with doing much (since, if I understand the Duponts, communist activity is actually counter-productive. So I'd say Spikymike is saying a retreat into inactivity, not about a surrender to capitalism.

You keep doing this. You make an assumption or interpretation and then you take that as the correct interpretation rather than asking whether that was was the poster meant.

el psy congroo
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May 6 2017 20:19

I know what he said. I'm using the term just like Marx and the Bolsheviks did. If people like Artesian ever took power we'd be forcefully communized. Cause communism is Bolshevik approved worker's councils plus petroleum and all that crap....

el psy congroo
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May 6 2017 20:20

And Spikymike is ICT right? Not much difference there

S. Artesian
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May 6 2017 21:02
el psy congroo wrote:
I know what he said. I'm using the term just like Marx and the Bolsheviks did. If people like Artesian ever took power we'd be forcefully communized. Cause communism is Bolshevik approved worker's councils plus petroleum and all that crap....

I'm OK with what Marx did. And I'm OK with some of what the Bolsheviks did. Like demand immediate withdrawal from WW1. Like oppose any support to the Kerensky government. Like organize the resistance to Kornilov. Like organize the military revolutionary committee of the Petrograd soviet to overthrow the provisional government. Like organize a red army to defeat the whites and their backers in the civil war.

The quote from Lenin is socialism is soviets plus electrification, and in the context of the Russian Revolution, I think that was a pretty good condensation, distillation of what the Russian Revolution required to move towards socialism-- workers councils and advancing the productivityof labor. Neither, however, could be achieved or sustained without an international revolution.

Lots of problems with Lenin and the Bolsheviks-- but "soviets + electrification" is definitely not one of them.

Jacob Richter
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Nov 7 2017 04:58

In terms of political "islands of socialism," much more scrutiny needs to be put on municipalism and provincialism, methinks. Even Rosa Luxemburg lauded (wrongly) municipalism.

blarg
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Nov 8 2017 18:06

What if a cooperative said, we're going to produce certain basic necessities like food, childcare, education, transportation, medical care, housing, whatever, and whoever puts in X hours of work per week gets a membership entitling them to free access to all the things we produce.

It would be difficult to get it established, but in theory something like that could function as a limited "island of socialism". In the early stages it would only be able to produce some of the necessities, not all, so people would still have to rely partly on working part-time for wages, or state assistance or whatever.

Not saying everyone should drop what they're doing and get to work trying to set something up like this, but it's something to think about. I also don't think this sort of thing would somehow naturally grow to replace capitalism or even necessarily help much with saving the world from it, but it would be cool to be part of. No need for it to be physically centered at one specific location either, but could be spread throughout a metro area. Still probably easiest in an economically depressed area where money is scarce and land is cheap.

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Nov 8 2017 18:46
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What if a cooperative said, we're going to produce certain basic necessities like food, childcare, education, transportation, medical care, housing, whatever, and whoever puts in X hours of work per week gets a membership entitling them to free access to all the things we produce.

This non-sense was debunked way back by Engels in Anti-Düring. These "cooperatives" would still need to produce surplus value to survive, even in the later "stages". They would still need to trade for resources and equipment. A cooperative in a capitalist world will never be able to be self-sufficient. Even if say they can grow enough food for everyone, what happens when there is a failure?

It's basically a job but with company scrips instead of wages and without unionisation.

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Still probably easiest in an economically depressed area where money is scarce and land is cheap.

Cooperatives in poor areas is code word for gentrification.

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Nov 8 2017 22:01

Yeah, as comrade_emma said. The road to co-operatives are paved with good intentions, but in the end the members are merely representatives of both capital and labour at the same time. Due to competition from other capitalist entities, the co-operative will have to "rationalize" production which typically means giving yourself and your buddies a cut in wages or starting to hire wage-labourers to exploit them. I get why people may want to start co-ops, but they have proven to not work even in a prefigurative sense.

zugzwang
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Nov 9 2017 11:22
blarg wrote:
What if a cooperative said, we're going to produce certain basic necessities like food, childcare, education, transportation, medical care, housing, whatever, and whoever puts in X hours of work per week gets a membership entitling them to free access to all the things we produce.
comrade_emma wrote:
This non-sense was debunked way back by Engels in Anti-Düring. These "cooperatives" would still need to produce surplus value to survive, even in the later "stages". They would still need to trade for resources and equipment. A cooperative in a capitalist world will never be able to be self-sufficient. Even if say they can grow enough food for everyone, what happens when there is a failure?

I wouldn't describe workers forming intentional communities, in their different forms, to ease the burdens of living under capitalism as "nonsense." ICs could to an extent produce housing and food, but they couldn't reasonably "produce medical care" as a substitute to professional medical assessments and treatment. They would still need to participate in capitalist society (or have some form of support), either as sellers of something they produce or as wage workers, in order to obtain the essentials they couldn't produce themselves.

IC's depending on how they're structured may contain elements of socialism (democratic control over resources, decentralized decision-making on community matters, etc.), but to call them "islands of socialism," when members still have to sell their labor-power to survive etc., is taking it a bit far.

Worker coops may include members in deciding what to do with the surplus produced, as well as other business matters, but the goal is still to "valorize capital" or generate a surplus, which is then invested back into production and expansion in order to continue as a successful business and to compete against other businesses. They still have to engage in socially harmful business behaviors to remain successful and compete, unless they want to go bankrupt.

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Nov 9 2017 14:18

That has nothing to do with what I wrote or what blarg wrote though, or even with the "islands of socialism"-argument. Socialism is not decentalization and democracy as well.

zugzwang
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Nov 9 2017 15:11
comrade_emma wrote:
That has nothing to do with what I wrote or what blarg wrote though, or even with the "islands of socialism"-argument. Socialism is not decentalization and democracy as well.

I don't think what you wrote has anything to do with what blarg wrote, actually. I think he/she's referring to setting up commune-like collectives, not worker coops. I'd be interested to know what your understanding of socialism/communism is if decentralization and democracy play no part.

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Nov 9 2017 18:35

They explicitly called a cooperative and stated it as a place that one is to work, even for a wage in the lower stages. Even if it is a commune my point still stands, it does not work and is inherently capitalist. It does not lessen the burden of the worker, it might even intesefiy it. The commune/cooperative is still subject to capitalism and therefore still needs to produce surplus value, and it needs to continuously increase the surplus value production since it still needs to trade and so on. It also removes the option for things like joining a union.

Quote:
I'd be interested to know what your understanding of socialism/communism is if decentralization and democracy play no part.

I understand communism as at the very least the negation of capitalism. Decentralized production is not socialism, it is what we have now. It the critique of the political economy they are referred to as the anarchy of production.

The idea that socialism is when production is decentralized and democratic is just wanting a world where the capitalist mode of production is maintained as such but without the exploitation.

blarg
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Nov 9 2017 19:49

What I said about wages was "people would still have to rely partly on working part-time for wages, or state assistance or whatever". Meaning individually, members would still have to find outside ways of providing themselves with those necessities which the cooperative/commune/whatever couldn't provide. That's all.

It's worth arguing against these kinds of projects if people are seeing them as a strategy for changing the world without dealing with state power and private property. That's not going to work. But if people want to do things like this for the sake of improving their own lives and their immediate community, that seems great to me, and whatever helps spread the ethos of communism and self-management is positive.

And why not medical care? It all depends on the scale of the project. As for unions, here in the U.S. it's fairly common for "co-operative" employees to unionize. Maybe elsewhere there are laws preventing this?

zugzwang
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Nov 9 2017 20:30
comrade_emma wrote:
They explicitly called a cooperative and stated it as a place that one is to work, even for a wage in the lower stages. Even if it is a commune my point still stands, it does not work and is inherently capitalist. It does not lessen the burden of the worker, it might even intesefiy it. The commune/cooperative is still subject to capitalism and therefore still needs to produce surplus value, and it needs to continuously increase the surplus value production since it still needs to trade and so on. It also removes the option for things like joining a union.

There are cooperatives other than worker coops. Just to quote a leftist text on it:

Quote:
Cooperatives are democratically run associations which can be established for production [(worker)], consumption, or housing. [...] Communes can be viewed as intentional communities that combine the three types of cooperatives in one arrangement.

I was under the impression he/she was talking about setting up commune-like collectives, or at least that's what it sounds like he/she was describing.

Quote:
[...]and stated it as a place that one is to work, even for a wage in the lower stages.

I believe brag meant working outside the cooperative/commune to support it.

zugzwang
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Nov 9 2017 22:21
comrade_emma wrote:
Quote:
I'd be interested to know what your understanding of socialism/communism is if decentralization and democracy play no part.

I understand communism as at the very least the negation of capitalism. Decentralized production is not socialism, it is what we have now. It the critique of the political economy they are referred to as the anarchy of production.

The idea that socialism is when production is decentralized and democratic is just wanting a world where the capitalist mode of production is maintained as such but without the exploitation.

Decentralized production does not mean not having rational planning, if I'm not mistaken. Central planning, as far as I understand the usage, means concentrating (economic or whatever) decision-making with a small group of people. You could have a rational and decentralized communist system (where money, classes and state have been abolished), that carries out production to meet people's needs.

To quote the AFAQ:

Quote:
In other words, the "planned administration of things" would be done by the producers themselves, in independent groupings. This would likely take the form (as we indicated in section I.3) of confederations of syndicates who communicate information between themselves and respond to changes in the production and distribution of products by increasing or decreasing the required means of production in a co-operative (i.e. "planned") fashion. No "central planning" or "central planners" governing the economy, just workers co-operating together as equals (as Kropotkin argued, free socialism "must result from thousands of separate local actions, all directed towards the same aim. It cannot be dictated by a central body: it must result from the numberless local needs and wants." [Act for Yourselves, p. 54]).

This might be worth a read,

https://libcom.org/library/libertarian-communism-introduction

Mike Harman
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Nov 9 2017 20:49

I'm not sure centralisation vs. decentralisation is a good distinction to make here.

Some things it makes sense to produce on a large scale (i.e. one production facility serving a whole region or multiple regions (wind turbines, boats, cranes), others you'd want to produce as close as possible to where they're used (fertiliser, some proportion of staple foods).

Also a communist society won't start with a blank slate, there's existing infrastructure and regional development that can be used or repurposed. Out of the Woods did a good piece on this: https://libcom.org/blog/disaster-communism-part-3-logistics-repurposing-bricolage-22052014

The process of deciding what and how much to produce is likely to require large-scale decision making, this can be various configurations of mandated and recallable delegates etc. but that's still centralisation in the sense that it's co-ordination upwards towards a central point - bottom-up centralisation but centralisation nonetheless. Doesn't mean everything has to go through that process, just the stuff that needs to.