Question about Rationing Scarce Items in an Anarchist-Communist Society

26 posts / 0 new
Last post
rosie2
Offline
Joined: 20-07-11
Jul 22 2011 04:13
Question about Rationing Scarce Items in an Anarchist-Communist Society

hi comrades! my anarchist friend uses the black cat forum and showed it to me, then someone there told me about this forum. turns out my friend uses this one too, and tends to double post the same thing on both places to maximize responses. i think that's a smart idea so i'm gonna do that too! grin

in anarchist-communism, there is a rationing of luxuries, scarce items, and environmentally destructive goods (example: cars) and services (example: plane trips). they're rationed and distributed according to quotas and need. this sounds fair.

my question for all you readers is how do we keep track of people's consumption of these scarce items, to make sure they are not consuming more than is allowed? the only thing i can think of is some sort of electronic swipe card that people use to keep track of their consumption of scarce/rationed items. (it's NOT a credit card / bank card, because it's not for purchasing, just for tracking, and is only used for RATIONED items... non-rationed items can be consumed freely without tracking.) does that sound like a good idea? is there a better idea for how to keep track?

or maybe you think we shouldn't keep track, we should just use the honor system? we produce a certain amount of the scarce or environmentally destructive good, according to a democratically determined quota... we then make it public knowledge that there is only, say, 2 of item X available per capita, so please consume accordingly, and there is only one of item Z for every five people, so only consume if it's necessary for you. but then we follow the honor system, and we assume that people will consume scarce items within the proscribed limits. if this is what you propose, i have my doubts this would work, but maybe you can explain why you think it would work.

i hope to hear a diverse range of views! smile

RedHughs
Offline
Joined: 25-11-06
Jul 22 2011 04:51

There is considerable disagreement as to whether rationing would exist in an anarchist-communist society.

For example, why would an anarchist society have "luxury" goods - what would they be, gold jewelry? diamond rings? Autographed pictures of George Bush?

I would imagine transportation could happen primarily with buses, trains and bicycles. It is possible that single passenger automobiles would be retained for some purposes. But there wouldn't be a reason for anyone to own them. They'd just be there to be driven around (though likely with some coordination mechanism to make they didn't get lost, etc).

As far as longer distance travel, it's possible you might ration plane trips. But you could also create very pleasant, low-energy consumption sailing ships which would make up in enjoyment what they lacked in speed.

So, I wouldn't talk an "honor system" but rather simply "structurally eliminating" the goods are presently scarce and desired. I would argue that in present day capitalist society, people desire various goods as either a means to social prestige or a validation that they have this prestige - the "fetish of the commodity" - a relationship between people masquerading as a relationship between a person and a thing. If you have a community which directly validates and accepts everyone, then most of the need for "luxury goods" would vanish.

Chilli Sauce's picture
Chilli Sauce
Offline
Joined: 5-10-07
Jul 22 2011 07:07

While the idea of "structural elimination" of scarcity is a very, ehhem, rationale way to approach the problem, I think some common sense rationing will be built into the production system. Since we'll be producing for use, everyone will probably be entitled to one watch or one mobile phone. If someone decides they want ten 10 (or want a second grand piano when they already have one), they'll probably be a mechanism to 'cut them off', so to speak.

And, if say, there's a bad harvest or something and some particular food becomes scarce, then it will make sense that the 'distribution committee' (or whatever) would take that into account and limit how much each individual is entitled to--perhaps taking into consideration things like nutritional/medical needs etc. Don't know if you need a card for it, but it is rationing.

Steven.'s picture
Steven.
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Jul 22 2011 08:32

Yeah, I think a combination of those two things is sensible. Wherever possible eliminate structural scarcity, and where not possible you could have some sort of electronic ration card like oyster for anything else. If there were any items which had to be rationed and there weren't enough for a least one each (like a luxury speedboat say), then they could be allocated for specific periods of time either using a queue or a lottery system (if queues became ridiculously long, like current 25 year queues for an allotment, say, then it may be better to use lottery allocation). Some people could be given priority for certain items, say if they had certain medical conditions, were terminally ill etc

LBird
Offline
Joined: 21-09-10
Jul 22 2011 08:49
rosie2 wrote:
or maybe you think we shouldn't keep track, we should just use the honor system? we produce a certain amount of the scarce or environmentally destructive good, according to a democratically determined quota... we then make it public knowledge that there is only, say, 2 of item X available per capita, so please consume accordingly, and there is only one of item Z for every five people, so only consume if it's necessary for you. but then we follow the honor system, and we assume that people will consume scarce items within the proscribed limits.

Just a couple of points, rosie, about the assumptions built into your reasonable questions.

'Making things public knowledge' suggests that there will be a separation between those 'making decisions' and the 'unknowledgeable public' who have, afterwards, to be informed. This is a basic assumption that Libertarian Communists question. We assume, in our turn, that the 'public' (to use your term) will be the ones making the decision about 'consumption'. Therefore, if there are socially-determined 'shortages' (and almost all shortages will be socially-determined, not 'natural') these 'shortages' will have been chosen by democratic methods.

So, if there is only '2 item x per person' or only '1 item z per 5 people', those limits of '2' or shortages of '5' will have been decided by the very people affected by those limits and shortages. The assumption must be that they'll have decided these rationing quotas for good reasons. I would suggest that often the 'good reason' will be a shorter working week or preventing environmental damage, but that's for those choosing shortage to decide. The people themselves will set their own 'proscribed limits'.

This schema, of course, all falls down if another assumption is that 'human nature' will prevent, as you call it, 'the honour system' from working. This, essentially, says that even if an individual has the power to democratically decide with their fellow comrades 'what to produce and consume', they will ignore their own collective decision because of 'individual selfishness'.

This is an assumption that ignores the social construction of what's considered 'natural'. There have been societies in the past that socialise their children in very different ways to the way we have been socialised, and the hope is that, given a very different society, the very idea of "breaking one's honour" in the eyes of one's relatives, friends and work companions, with whom one discussed and voted, will have become almost unthinkable.

But, for the criminals (for it will be a social crime) there will be decent and proper rehabilitation.

The real issue for us here is, 'will human nature prevent such an outcome?'. If human nature is naturally individual and selfish, Communism can't work.

Steven.'s picture
Steven.
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Jul 22 2011 09:30

LBird, I agree with the first part of your post where you make the important point that the scarcities will mostly have been democratically decided upon anyway.

But I take issue with this latter statement, although I don't really want to derail this discussion into one about human nature:

LBird wrote:
If human nature is naturally individual and selfish, Communism can't work.

this is incorrect. If human nature is individual and selfish, then it is in the interest of the majority of individuals to stop other individuals taking more than their fair share. Thus communism would be a system in the interests of the vast majority of selfish individuals.

But anyway, let's not derail the thread. This is about rationing.

LBird
Offline
Joined: 21-09-10
Jul 22 2011 09:42
Steven wrote:
But anyway, let's not derail the thread. This is about rationing.

Well, as usual Steven, I disagree!

'Rationing' suggests an external power preventing consumption, whereas I would argue that 'choosing not to consume' places the power with the (social) individual.

In this sense, I'm questioning the whole philosophical basis of the thread's title. If we don't question many of the assumptions of our society, like 'rationing' and 'scarcity', then we will continue to have our brains weighed down by the current nightmare of bourgeois thinking.

ajjohnstone
Offline
Joined: 20-04-08
Jul 22 2011 10:33

Depends whats being rationed...obviously for some stuff it will be distributed "...according to needs" ...medical items... certain food ... household appliances etc etc...the sick the old the young, or families being in the front in some sort of prioritisation measure.

Other things of less importance but in short supply, simple way is "first come first served"...those who are badly want to obtain something will demonstrate determination just like those who line up for days for concert tickets or the first new x-box or whatever ...

or perhaps there could be a simple lottery system, we have an actual free lucky dip in our works sports club for Man U hospitality seats...those who wanted them could simply enter their names and take pot luck with whatever game they eventully ended up with.

Its a problem that i don't really view as important to be answered since there are many fair ways rationing can be administered and the best methods will be decided appropriately at the time in consideration of the actual situation and different communities will opt for a variety and not necessarily identical schemes, depending on cultural history.

Some may even suggest it can be based on labour time vouchers...(i wouldn't )..but a few weeks vacation on an idyllic tropical island could be acquired by redeeming "air mile" labour time vouchers for , say, time spent in unpleasant arduous unpopular work in bad conditions.

Rob Ray's picture
Rob Ray
Offline
Joined: 6-11-03
Jul 22 2011 14:44
Quote:
'Rationing' suggests an external power preventing consumption, whereas I would argue that 'choosing not to consume' places the power with the (social) individual.

That might hold true for luxury items (though good luck getting 100% support for self-denial, tbh) but it doesn't for necessary goods, food being the most obvious and key tools - wrench for a bus mechanic etc - being another example.

Quote:
Other things of less importance but in short supply, simple way is "first come first served"...those who are badly want to obtain something will demonstrate determination just like those who line up for days for concert tickets or the first new x-box or whateve

I could see that being a bit of a disaster zone tbh, greedy people would end up constantly camping for stuff if there wasn't a limit.

Tojiah's picture
Tojiah
Offline
Joined: 2-10-06
Jul 22 2011 18:04
RedHughs wrote:
It is possible that single passenger automobiles would be retained for some purposes. But there wouldn't be a reason for anyone to own them. They'd just be there to be driven around (though likely with some coordination mechanism to make they didn't get lost, etc).

This is, in fact, already in place in certain areas in the US. Many college campuses have short-term rental cars that students can use for getting groceries, day-long travels, etc.

CRUD's picture
CRUD
Offline
Joined: 11-04-10
Jul 23 2011 00:10

The ministry of truth would set the chocolate rations at the proper level either that or every man women and child on earth will live the current American consumer lifestyle with the discovery of an earth like planet that we can plunder.

But seriously, socialism (advanced communism/anarchism) would change our priorities and many of us in the broader socialist movement don't feel comfortable confronting this question raised by the OP. I like what Bookchin has to say about it in "Ecology Of Freedom". Basically he figures we'd all consume less, there would be much less waste and the decisions to produce will be made locally and democratically in so limiting the amount of useless widgets in the world.

We can utilize different building materials, different materials for transportation etc. An alternative to fossil fuel is key and water should be valued more than it is today (with endless suburban landscapes wasting billions of gallons of water annually).

I would like to think an advanced communist society or anarchist society would be less materialistic and more community orientated.

arminius's picture
arminius
Offline
Joined: 11-08-06
Jul 23 2011 00:42
RedHughs wrote:
There is considerable disagreement as to whether rationing would exist in an anarchist-communist society.

I would imagine transportation could happen primarily with buses, trains and bicycles. It is possible that single passenger automobiles would be retained for some purposes. But there wouldn't be a reason for anyone to own them. They'd just be there to be driven around (though likely with some coordination mechanism to make they didn't get lost, etc).

As far as longer distance travel, it's possible you might ration plane trips. But you could also create very pleasant, low-energy consumption sailing ships which would make up in enjoyment what they lacked in speed.

This addresses some of this...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nFrN56CAk6s&NR=1

ajjohnstone
Offline
Joined: 20-04-08
Jul 24 2011 14:48
Quote:
As far as longer distance travel, it's possible you might ration plane trips. But you could also create very pleasant, low-energy consumption sailing ships which would make up in enjoyment what they lacked in speed.

Nor can we dismiss the return of the air-ship.

Tojiah's picture
Tojiah
Offline
Joined: 2-10-06
Jul 25 2011 03:43
ajjohnstone wrote:
Quote:
As far as longer distance travel, it's possible you might ration plane trips. But you could also create very pleasant, low-energy consumption sailing ships which would make up in enjoyment what they lacked in speed.

Nor can we dismiss the return of the air-ship.

A very non-trivial problem with long-distance transport has been maintaining the living conditions of the passengers while travelling. If a train ride is longer than a few hours, the passengers must be fed. If it is longer than a day, they must have a place to sleep. Same for sailing ships and the air-ship.

That said, ATR I imagine they could in many cases simply make multiple stops along the way so that the food and lodging need not be given on the carrier. This won't work for trans-atlantic or trans-pacific transportation, though. And there still is the question of whether people want to spend days moving from point A to point B when they would really want to get something done at point B.

Steven.'s picture
Steven.
Offline
Joined: 27-06-06
Jul 25 2011 18:23

I think all of these would be very different in a communist society. At the moment we have to rush around with planes because we only have limited annual leave. If we didn't have to work pointless jobs, we could do things very differently, and enjoy the journey, travelling slowly around, visiting places on the way, etc

rosie2
Offline
Joined: 20-07-11
Aug 29 2011 23:46

hi and thanks to everyone who responded to my questions! i'm learning so much from this forum.

LBird wrote:
Just a couple of points, rosie, about the assumptions built into your reasonable questions.

'Making things public knowledge' suggests that there will be a separation between those 'making decisions' and the 'unknowledgeable public' who have, afterwards, to be informed. This is a basic assumption that Libertarian Communists question. We assume, in our turn, that the 'public' (to use your term) will be the ones making the decision about 'consumption'. Therefore, if there are socially-determined 'shortages' (and almost all shortages will be socially-determined, not 'natural') these 'shortages' will have been chosen by democratic methods.

good point but the "public" will still have to be informed afterwards on what has been socially-proscribed as scarce, even though they played a part in making that decision through voting and meetings. after all, if the result of the vote is that there is 2 of item X per capita, this might not at all be what i voted for... maybe i voted for 10 of item x per capita, or 1 of item X per 10 people, so in the end i still need to be informed of the result of the vote.

LBird wrote:
This schema, of course, all falls down if another assumption is that 'human nature' will prevent, as you call it, 'the honour system' from working. This, essentially, says that even if an individual has the power to democratically decide with their fellow comrades 'what to produce and consume', they will ignore their own collective decision because of 'individual selfishness'.

again, i might not like the outcome of the vote, so that might make me inclined not to respect the decision. although i think most people will respect the decision even if they don't like it, because as you said they'll have been raised that way.

LBird wrote:
But, for the criminals (for it will be a social crime) there will be decent and proper rehabilitation.

curious as to what you (and others) think the "decent and proper rehabilitation" should be? (or perhaps some think that there should be a consequence?)

CRUD's picture
CRUD
Offline
Joined: 11-04-10
Aug 30 2011 06:31
rosie2 wrote:
LBird wrote:
But, for the criminals (for it will be a social crime) there will be decent and proper rehabilitation.

curious as to what you (and others) think the "decent and proper rehabilitation" should be? (or perhaps some think that there should be a consequence?)

I vote for Alexander Berkman as head of the anarchist death camps! ( not serious)

I would think addressing the actual problem would be the difference- jurisprudence under capitalism is a bad joke. The main problem now is capitalism so with that gone much of the crime will go as well. Whoever we have left roaming the streets in discontent , I would assume, would be treated not as beasts and locked in a cage but as a part of the community- a person in need of guidance and direction. Perhaps a little kindness. As far as cereal killers and kid fuckers that's a different story but they are the extreme minority in USA prisons at the moment. I'd have a hard time having sympathy for a Jeffrey Dahmer type person but that's just it- the bourgeois media has portrayed the average prisoner to be a frothing at the mouth lunatic rapist worthy of nothing but contempt which is why prison conditions have been allowed to remain so shifty.

There's always going to be people that are sick in the head- there will always be violent crimes over jealousy or ego driven social 'pecking order' type stuff but it would be minimized and approached from a different viewpoint according to socialist jurisprudence. A viewpoint of healing and restoration to a well rounded happy social being.

http://www.free-books.us/Others/210445/An-Enquiry-into-Anarchist-Jurisprudence

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Restorative_justice

http://www.panarchy.org/kropotkin/prisons.html

RedEd's picture
RedEd
Offline
Joined: 27-11-10
Aug 30 2011 03:09

My hunch about reasonable prevention of anti-social behaviour in communist societies is that it will involve accompaniment of people who commit anti-social behaviour by people tasked with helping them stick to either productive or non-harming behaviours. So the people who have done anti-social shit will go around their daily lives as usual, but with similar people (i.e. people from the same 'community' and 'profession') around them who have undertaken to make sure they stop doing the stupid/violent/abusive shit they were doing before. This, in my opinion, would be the best remedy for people who do the sort of anti-social shit it would be possible to make criminal in a communist society, i.e. violence and harassment, including sexual violence and harassment .

LBird
Offline
Joined: 21-09-10
Aug 30 2011 06:16
rosie2 wrote:
... this might not at all be what i voted for... maybe i voted for ...

.

rosie2 wrote:
...again, i might not like the outcome of the vote, so that might make me inclined not to respect the decision.

[rosie2 reflects...]

rosie2 wrote:
...although i think most people will respect the decision even if they don't like it, because as you said they'll have been raised that way.

Yes, 'they'll have been raised' to think and say 'we', not 'I'. Even now, lots of people put their objective class interests before their subjective personal interests, which amounts to thinking 'we', not 'I'. As we move towards a revolution, this must have already started to happen to huge numbers of workers throughout the world. Our socialisation processes in a Communist society will just be a continuation of the 'best practice' that humans have already come to consciousness about.

rosie2 wrote:
curious as to what you (and others) think the "decent and proper rehabilitation" should be? (or perhaps some think that there should be a consequence?)

For many, just pointing out their unreasonable behaviour will suffice ('reasonable' being socially determined). It takes a peculiar type to go against 'social disapproval', as we know from studies of societies other than bourgeois society.

I presume that there would be a socially-imposed 'escalator' of sanctions, moving through spoken 'social disapproval', the withdrawing of social goodwill (imagine your relatives, friends and comrades refusing to say a smiling 'Good Morning!' to you), temporary isolation (for a short period, none-one now even grunts to you, and you are treated as if you don't exist, you are a 'social pariah'), longer term ostracism, to expulsion from your own community.

Obviously, for the vast majority of people, it will never get to expulsion. Humans are social animals, and the most terrible punishment is 'looking a prick' in the eyes of one's peers. Just this will stop most people in their anti-social tracks.

That covers the overwhelming majority of cases where people end up in prison in our society.

For the dangerous to society, I imagine some form of confinement will be needed. 'Dangerous' will be, as always, socially determined. But the confined will have access to everything we do, except for the personal freedom to harm us. No 'punishment', just social safeguards.

Of course, if you believe in 'original sin' and the essential evil within all humans, just bursting to get out, this is all bollocks.

And anyway, who'd have an interest in brainwashing society into those religious myths? Or do you think that we're 'all individuals', and we come to our ideas about 'the nature of humans' alone?

If we are all 'selfish individuals' by nature, Communism isn't possible. Luckily, it's rather easy to prove 'selfish individualism' is a learned behaviour. Cut the 'pushers' and the 'addicts' will recover!

Chilli Sauce's picture
Chilli Sauce
Offline
Joined: 5-10-07
Aug 30 2011 09:43
Rosie wrote:
although i think most people will respect the decision even if they don't like it, because as you said they'll have been raised that way.

Personally, I don't think its about being raised a certain way; it's about the nature of a directly democratic society. Yes, you may lose a certain vote (anyone who's in an anarchist organisation today has had to respect a decision they voted against), but you're going to win on other votes. So it's a balance: you respect the ones you lose, based on the understanding and expectation others will respect the votes they lose on.

CRUD wrote:
cereal killers

LBird wrote:
If we are all 'selfish individuals' by nature, Communism isn't possible. Luckily, it's rather easy to prove 'selfish individualism' is a learned behaviour.

L, I'm sure you agree with me, but there's a difference between self-interest and selfishness. It's in my immediate self-interest to keep as much of the surplus value I create in the form of wages and benefits. It's in my long-term self-interest for a collective revolution to expropriate the means of production so the working class collectively control all the wealth we produce.

LBird
Offline
Joined: 21-09-10
Aug 30 2011 11:08
Chili Sauce wrote:
Personally, I don't think its about being raised a certain way...

Well, I imagine that we'll socialise our kids into:

Chili Sauce wrote:
...you respect the ones you lose, based on the understanding and expectation others will respect the votes they lose on

I can't imagine that we'd brainwash our descendents into bourgeois ways of thinking. Our morals, ethics, philosophies and expectations will be very different from the shite we're filled with now, and that we have to constantly struggle against.

'Cereal killers' - brilliant illustration!

Chili Sauce wrote:
It's in my immediate self-interest to keep as much of the surplus value I create in the form of wages and benefits.

Yeah, as you say, 'self-interest' is always socially determined. We just need to have different social structures which re-define 'self-interest'. There is no 'self-interest' outside of society. Even death itself doesn't seem to faze 'individuals' (sic) when they are socially convinced that they are dying for a good cause. I'm sure we'll all be the same when trying to prevent 'the bitch coming back into heat again', as Brecht said.

"For though the world has stood up and stopped the bastard,
the bitch that bore him is in heat again"

Chili Sauce wrote:
It's in my long-term self-interest for a collective revolution to expropriate the means of production so the working class collectively control all the wealth we produce.

Ahhh.... sweet reason!

Chilli Sauce's picture
Chilli Sauce
Offline
Joined: 5-10-07
Aug 30 2011 11:37

Of course, as society changes the socialisation the young experience will change accordingly. However, it seems to me that's there's a danger in assuming the socialisation is what will change society when it fact, it's society that has to first change. Does that make sense?

We build a directly democratic society socialist society--based on the struggles we have now but that also illustrates the interdependence of the economy--so that we realise it's in our self-interest to respect the decisions of a majority even if we're on the losing side of a vote. After all, chances are that we'll be on the losing side this time, but on the winning side very shortly on different vote over a different issue. (This logic obviously doesn't work in a class society based on hierarchy and power imbalances. Obviously.)

I'm don't know if it's so much about moral, ethic, or bourgeois cultural hegemony, but about social organisation.

LBird
Offline
Joined: 21-09-10
Aug 30 2011 12:04
Chili Sauce wrote:
However, it seems to me that's there's a danger in assuming the socialisation is what will change society when it fact, it's society that has to first change. Does that make sense?

Yeah, we have to change our society.

But...

Do we expect our kids to go through exactly the same process, of bourgeois brainwashing, struggle and revolution, or do we just embody our hard-learned lessons in our Communist socialisation process?

Trotsky, discussing Uneven & Combined Development, wrote:
Savages throw away their bows and arrows for rifles all at once, without travelling the road which lay between those two weapons in the past.

Why re-invent the wheel?

Our socialisation will maintain our society, not create it. We don't want our kids to 'travel' our 'road'.

Chili Sauce wrote:
I'm don't know if it's so much about moral, ethic, or bourgeois cultural hegemony, but about social organisation.

Hmmm... I wouldn't reduce morals, ethics or culture to just 'social organisation'.

Just like I wouldn't reduce society to individuals, then individuals to psychology, then psychology to chemistry, then chemistry to physics.

Unless you're going to argue that 'art' can be understood at the level of 'paint'!

No, I think morals are separate from organisation (although clearly related in some way).

Chilli Sauce's picture
Chilli Sauce
Offline
Joined: 5-10-07
Aug 30 2011 12:20
Quote:
Our socialisation will maintain our society, not create it.

In short, yeah, agreed.

CRUD's picture
CRUD
Offline
Joined: 11-04-10
Aug 30 2011 21:32
Chilli Sauce wrote:
Rosie wrote:
although i think most people will respect the decision even if they don't like it, because as you said they'll have been raised that way.

Personally, I don't think its about being raised a certain way; it's about the nature of a directly democratic society. Yes, you may lose a certain vote (anyone who's in an anarchist organisation today has had to respect a decision they voted against), but you're going to win on other votes. So it's a balance: you respect the ones you lose, based on the understanding and expectation others will respect the votes they lose on.

CRUD wrote:
cereal killers

LBird wrote:
If we are all 'selfish individuals' by nature, Communism isn't possible. Luckily, it's rather easy to prove 'selfish individualism' is a learned behaviour.

L, I'm sure you agree with me, but there's a difference between self-interest and selfishness. It's in my immediate self-interest to keep as much of the surplus value I create in the form of wages and benefits. It's in my long-term self-interest for a collective revolution to expropriate the means of production so the working class collectively control all the wealth we produce.

I always mix up serial and cereal. I'd be embarrassed if I gave a shit wink Maybe there actually has been a person who murders with cereal?

plasmatelly's picture
plasmatelly
Offline
Joined: 16-05-11
Aug 30 2011 21:50

CRUD wrote

Quote:
a frothing at the mouth lunatic rapist worthy of nothing but contempt

Sounds like your typical English Premier League footballer!