Communism is a world without money. But the disappearance of money does not signify the end of all evaluation of costs. The societies and human activities of the past, present and future are necessarily faced with this problem whether or not they use monetary symbols. The criteria selected for these evaluations obviously vary according to the essential nature of the society in question.
In a highly developed capitalist society, where money has become the general equivalent for products, money appears in the eyes of all as a necessity even if everyone does not have the same amount and does not use it in the same way. It is a good that is almost as necessary for human life and almost as natural as oxygen. Can one survive without money? Both the rich and the poor have to reach for their wallets to cover their most essential needs or their most frivolous whims.
Corresponding to the objective, although limited, place occupied by money, there is the subjective and imaginary place occupied by money in the social consciousness. All wealth is eventually assimilated by monetary wealth by the servants of the economy. Things that have no price seem to lose all value even if they are the most indispensable goods required for life: air, water, sunlight, sperm and soap bubbles. Paradoxically, our era has finally, although in the sense that the triumphant commodity assumes responsibility for turning everything into a commodity value, bottled water and deposited sperm in a bank.
Where the vulgar are content with noting the ubiquity and the omnipotence of money and attempt to avail themselves of the favours of this capricious divinity, the learned economists assume responsibility for apologetics in its favour. Not only is money indispensable in today’s society, and indeed is based upon an unfortunately undisputed everyday experience, but it is indispensable for all social existence that is even minimally civilized. Monetary circulation is to the social body what the circulation of the blood is to the human body. The history of progress is the history of the progress of money, from the primitive forms of money to today’s letter of credit. Do you want to liberate society from money? You must be mentally retarded, an advocate of a return to barter. We may mention in passing that not only has capitalism not eliminated this much-discredited barter but has constantly reinvented it, notably at the level of international exchange.
Money has become a veil that has dissimulated economic reality. Gone are the milling machines, the engineers, spaghetti … only dollars or roubles appear. It is always necessary for the control over money, its creation, its circulation and its distribution to correspond to an in-depth control of the entirety of use values into which the economy is converted. Hence the deception.
Money is often the focus of dissatisfaction but it is not the existence of money itself that arouses discontent but the parsimonious way it finds its way into our wallets. The more it is criticized, the more of it is demanded. Everyone wants to destroy the golden calf and abolish idolatry, but only in order to more effectively fill their own pockets. You have the choice between the brutalization of labour, the risk of getting mugged, and the randomness of the lottery….
Although the economists will object, we have to say that money is a very strange thing. This becomes clear the moment that one ceases to think about it and its undeniable economic utility in order to focus instead on its usefulness for humanity.
Let us try to be naïve for a moment.
How is it possible, by what kind of infernal magic, that wealth, which makes possible the satisfaction of needs, has come to be interred in money? It was free to take any particular form to become visible, it could have appealed to our memories of the good times and to the example of Our Lord Jesus Christ, by choosing bread and wine which are things that are useful and agreeable. But, no! It preferred to embody itself in the form of gold and silver, which are among the most rare and least useful metals. Even worse, today it only shows itself to the common run of mortals in the form of paper.
The only need that money responds to is the need to exchange, and it will disappear with the disappearance of exchange.
It is monstrous to want to abolish money while preserving exchange or wanting to equalize exchange in all of its applications. During the early 19th century some “Ricardian Socialists” proposed that commodities should be exchanged directly with respect to the quantity of labour required for their production. The Bolsheviks Bukharin and Preobrazhensky advocated the same illusion in 1919:
“Thus, from the very outset of the socialist revolution, money begins to lose its significance. All the nationalised undertakings, just like the single enterprise of a wealthy owner … will have a common counting-house, and will have no need of money for reciprocal purchases and sales. By degrees a moneyless system of account-keeping will come to prevail. Thanks to this, money will no longer have anything to do with one great sphere of the national economy. As far as the peasants are concerned, in their case likewise money will cease by degrees to have any importance, and the direct exchange of commodities will come to the front once more…. The gradual disappearance of money will likewise be promoted by the extensive issue of paper money by the State…. But the most forcible blow to the monetary system will be delivered by the introduction of budget-books and by the payment of the workers in kind….”
– Nikolai Bukharin and Evgeny Preobrazhensky, 'The ABC of Communism', The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 1966, pp. 334-335
Attempts were made to at least partially de-monetize the economy by expressing transactions between enterprises only by means of quantifiable operations. Nothing very notable or very communist was thereby achieved.
In the communist world products will circulate without money having to circulate in the opposite direction. A balance will not be established at either the household or the enterprise level: all output of commodities will not correspond to an entry of money and vice-versa. It will be established directly in a comprehensive way and will be measured directly for the satisfaction of needs.
By the end of exchange we obviously do not mean that children will no longer be able to trade marbles or baseball cards or affectionate caresses. A limited degree of barter will subsist on a small scale. Above all at the beginning it will fill gaps in the general network of production and remedy any of its rigidities.
The best proof that the secret of money does not lie in its material nature is that monetary standards have changed according to time and place. Salt and cattle were once able to play this role. The precious metals, notably gold, were finally selected only due to their uselessness. In a time of scarcity gold cannot be withdrawn from circulation and consumed. When gold is withdrawn from circulation in order to be hoarded or to be used in ornamentation this is a result of its economic value. Its qualities and above all its rarity have given it priority at a certain level of economic development. In the first stage of the commodity system salt could be used as money due to its usefulness and due to the fact that its sources were concentrated in certain locations. It was the perfect object of circulation.
Today money demonstrates a tendency towards dematerialization. Its value is no longer backed by any other particular commodity but by the banking and financial system that control and manipulate it. It is still a means of exchange but has become above all an instrument at the service of capital. This allows it to be managed and utilized adequately to finance investments, and to provide credit to capital.
The destruction of money does not mean burning banknotes and confiscating or melting down gold coins. Such measures may be necessary for symbolic or psychological reasons, in order to disorganize the system. But they are not enough. Money would reappear under other forms if the need for and the possibility of money were to persist. Wheat, canned sardines, sugar … could be means of exchange and payment for labour. “You do this work, I will give you ten kilos of sugar with which you can obtain meat, alcohol or a straw hat.”
The problem is, first of all, that of the struggle for production, for organization, against scarcity. Next comes the enactment of repressive and dissuasive measures with respect to those who would seek to use the period of reconversion to operate on the black market. Gold and other precious materials will be requisitioned by the revolutionary authorities so as to eventually be … exchanged with those sectors not yet under revolutionary control, for arms and for subsistence goods.
Money is the expression of wealth, but of commodity wealth. It is not itself the direct satisfaction of needs, but the means to satisfy them. It is therefore also the wall that separates the individual from his own needs.
The aspirations of men are the reflection of the things, the commodities that confront them. To have needs and to satisfy them is to be capable of buying and consuming. In this game one can only be swindled. Wealth, real happiness, cannot be acquired and must be publicly displayed as an unattainable dream.
• The Law of Value
Money is used for exchange. But money also signifies measurement. What money measures in exchange, the price of the commodity, has its origin outside the sphere of exchange.
How is an equilibrium established, within the capitalist system, between what is produced and what is consumed? Between the effort expended and the benefit obtained? How is one choice determined to be more rational than another?
The problem applies to each particular commodity, which is a use value and an exchange value at the same time. The use value is the benefit that the commodity can supply. The consumer is thought to be able to directly assess this use value. Exchange value, expressed in the price, corresponds to the expense for which this good is purchased. It takes the form of monetary expenditure for the buyer but is above all and in principle an expenditure of labour.
The price of a good is determined by the forces that are exercised at the level of the market, by supply and demand. Beyond this aspect, however, price refers to the cost of production that is expended in labour directly utilized and in the labour contained in the materials used for production.
Each commodity therefore expresses the need for an equilibrium between the social expenditure and the social profit, which is reflected in the need for a financial equilibrium between business enterprises and households. The need for an equilibrium, but not of exactly that equilibrium! A good’s price only corresponds in a very distorted way to the quantity of real labour effectively expended in its production and likewise to the socially necessary quantity of labour needed for its production. Equilibrium is not established at the level of the individual commodity but at the level of the system as a whole. And here this equilibrium is rather a kind of disequilibrium.
So, is the price of a commodity determined by the quantity of labour that it contains? Yes and no. Yes, because price has a tendency to vary in proportion to the increase of productivity, because a product that requires twice the time to produce than another runs the risk of costing twice as much, because the total mass of labour determines the total value of commodities. No, because one cannot establish a necessary and direct link between each commodity and the labour it contains. And this is true because if the price of a commodity were actually to be determined by the concrete labour crystallized in it, then the lower the productivity, the lazier the workers and the more expensive the commodity! In reality, those that have high cost prices are not at all favoured on the market. Those that win the market competition are those that economize on the costs of production and labour. And this is so because the formation of prices is affected by the tendency towards the establishment of an average rate of profit.
What then remains of the law of labour-value inherited from the classical economists that says that the value of things is determined by the labour contained in them? This law is a general law that, by means of the formation of prices, determines the general developmental trends of the system. Capital expands and is distributed as a result of the economies of labour time that it can realize. Like a river, even if its path is not the shortest route, even if it meanders in oxbows, even if it has many bends, finally it blindly follows its natural slope by destroying everything that stands in its way. The unnoticed profit that capitalism generates in order to invest here or there, to choose this or that technology or machinery, far from contradicting this tendency is nothing but the tortuous path by which it is imposed.
Finally, the law of value does not refer so much to the connection between the commodity and its price on the one hand, and on the other between the creative labour and its dissociation. By converting labour into value, the particular task is separated from labour and from the worker in order to be situated as a satellite in economic space, in which it moves according to its own laws. When all the commodities become autonomous and compete with each other they end up by obtaining the value among themselves by way of exchange and by means of money. With communism, the law of value disappears, a law whose development was intimately bound with that of exchange and that of the latter’s influence on human activity.
What about the global equilibrium between expenses and income within the system itself? This equilibrium is a disequilibrium. From the point of view of value society produces more than it spends. The surplus is accumulated. Without this capital would not be capital.
Marx has shown that there is a special commodity that has the property of producing more value than is required for its production. This explains why capital in motion grows, from transaction to transaction, instead of remaining the same. This commodity is labour power; its price, which is lower than the value it creates, is the wage. The difference is the surplus value.
The worker does not sell his labour on what is falsely called “the labour market”, but his capacity to work, a part of his time. Labour is not a commodity; it has no value. It is the basis of value. Labour, Engels said, has as much value as gravity has weight.
When capital emerges from the sphere of circulation in order to enter the den of realization, the expenditure of the unpaid labour of the workers is increased, without which the law of value would be a joke; if this were not so then profit would appear to arise from mere price gouging or else would have to break with the laws of exchange. Each commodity-capital can be broken down into constant capital, which corresponds to the amortization of the raw materials and machinery utilized, variable capital, which corresponds to the wages, and surplus value or added value, which corresponds to unpaid labour.
Money is the bearer of a profound mystification. It conceals the original nature of the expenditure that really created the product. Behind wealth, even mercantile wealth, are nature and human effort. Money seems to produce interest, it seems to breed. The only source of value, however much it appears to derive from commerce and all the more so the more it does derive from commerce, is labour.
It is true that the most servile economists assign a small place to labour as a source of wealth alongside capital and land. This does not even partially abolish the mystification. It is not labour as such to which this favour is conceded, it is labour as a counterpart of labour as an accounting entry. It is not money that is reduced to labour but the contrary, it is labour that is reduced, by way of the wage, to money.
• Free Distribution
One might be tempted to conclude that, with the disappearance of money, communist society will no longer have to regulate costs, and that it will not have to calculate the value of things. This is a fundamental error.
The fact that a good or service is distributed free of charge is one thing. The assertion that this costs nothing is something else entirely. This illusion is a direct legacy of the functioning of the commodity system. We are accustomed to identify cost with payment. We only see the payment, the monetary expenditure. We overlook the expenditure in effort and materials that gave rise to the product in the first place.
In capitalism as well as in communism free distribution is not equivalent to the absence of costs. The difference between communist free distribution and capitalist free distribution is that the latter is merely a semblance of free distribution; in the capitalist version, payment has not been eliminated, but has simply been deferred or shifted to another party. The fact that education and advertising are free does not mean that they are external to the commodity system and that the consumer does not ultimately pay for them. The freely distributed commodity is a very perverse thing. It implies an imposed or semi-imposed consumption, and hinders our ability to make choices and to refuse what is “offered” to us.
In the new society the cost of things will have to be ascertained and if necessary calculated in advance. Not because of a Manichaeism of accounting procedures or to avoid fraud, which will no longer have any reason to exist. It will be done in order provide the framework for deciding whether the particular expense incurred was justifiable, and to reduce it if at all possible. There will have to be an effort to assess the positive and negative effects on the human and natural environment of the satisfaction of a need or the implementation of a new project.
A needle, or a car—are the time and the effort devoted to their production as well as all the concomitant social costs of their use justified? Is it better to build a production facility in this location or somewhere else? Is a certain production process justified in consideration of its utilization of finite mineral resources? One cannot leave such things to chance or intuition. It is easy to see that all of this implies evaluation, calculation and forecasting.
If we retain the notion of cost, which is so redolent of economism, this is because it is not simply a matter of choice and measurement, an intellectual process, but a physical expenditure. Regardless of the technical level there will be activities that are more costly and jobs that are more arduous than others. It would be especially sad and strange if everything were to become easy and a matter of indifference in a communist society, even more so than it would be if this were to happen to other kinds of societies.
The commodity presents a double face: use value and exchange value. They seem to depend on two irreducible orders.
Use value, or utility, depends on the qualitative. The user compares and evaluates the airplane and the orange, in order to decide which would suit him better. The choice cannot be made independently of his situation and his concrete needs.
Exchange value depends on the quantitative. Goods are all evaluated and objectively arranged in the framework of a single standard, whether the goods in question are airplanes or oranges.
Communism is not so much a world that perpetuates the realm of use value, finally liberated from the exchange value that parasitized it, as a world where exchange value is repudiated and becomes use value. Advantage and disadvantage come from the same order of things and are no longer either united or separated back to back. Value ceases to be value in order to reappear as concrete and diversified expenditure. Labour ceases to be the basis and the guarantee of value. There is no longer a single standard that allows for quantitative comparisons between all things, but concrete expenditures and labours, of various degrees of burdensomeness which should also be taken into account. Having ceased to perform its role as the basis of value unified by the exchange process, labour ceases to be LABOUR.
“The bourgeois economy is a double economy.
The bourgeois individual is not a man, but a trading company. We want to destroy all trading companies. We want to abolish the double economy in order to found a new one that is one single unit, which history already knew during the times when the cave man went to collect as many coconuts as there were comrades in his cave, with his hands as his only tools.”
– Amadeo Bordiga, 'Property and Capital', 1950
Everything will be free because the “gift” will replace the act of selling. Those who carry out one or another kind of labour with the object of satisfying their own desires or being useful to others, will be paid directly by their own efforts.
Is this something new? No, since even today it never occurs to anybody to charge anyone else for the price of the saliva they used up in the course of a debate. In a conversation one does not exchange a certain time for speaking or a certain decibel level, one attempts to say what one has to say, because one feels that it has to be said. The interlocutor or the auditor does not owe us anything in exchange for their attention. Awaiting a response, the risk of running into incomprehension, silence, or the lie, are all part of the game. They are neither the expectation of payment nor the risks of the market. In everyday life the word is not a commodity; speaking is not a job.
What is true today of the word, when it is not recorded and sold as a commodity, will be true tomorrow for all of production. The estimation of the cost of production will no longer be distinct from the effort dedicated to its fulfilment. The very first step in this calculation will be the impulse that will lead towards this or that kind of activity. A book or a pair of shoes will be “offered” in the same way that words can be offered today. The gift implies, up to a certain point, reciprocity, the word implies the response, but this is no longer the anonymous and antagonistic process of exchange.
• Labour Time
Since the time of Ricardo, the official economist of the English bourgeoisie, who during the early 1800s maintained that the value of a product was based on the quantity of labour necessary for its production, there has been no lack of people who demanded that the worker should receive the whole value of his product. Profit was morally condemned as theft. The problem of socialism was thus the problem of remuneration, of a fair day’s pay.
An American communist, F. Bray, went even further. He saw equal exchange as not the solution, but a means for preparing the solution which is the community of goods. He envisioned a transitional period when no one could get rich by receiving only the value of his labour. Each worker would receive from the public warehouses the equivalent of what he had produced in the form of various objects. Equilibrium would therefore be maintained between production and consumption.
In The Poverty of Philosophy, Marx rendered homage to Bray but also criticized him. Either equal exchange leads to capitalism:
“Mr. Bray does not see that this equalitarian relation, this corrective ideal that he would like to apply to the world, is itself nothing but the reflection of the actual world; and that therefore it is totally impossible to reconstitute society on the basis of what is merely an embellished shadow of it. In proportion as this shadow takes on substance, far from being the transfiguration dreamt of, is the actual body of existing society.”[/i] Or else it leads to exchange: [i]“What is today the result of capital and the competition of workers among themselves will be tomorrow, if you sever the relation between labour and capital, an actual agreement based upon the relation between the sum of productive forces and the sum of existing needs. But such an agreement is a condemnation of individual exchange….”
– Karl Marx, 'The Poverty of Philosophy', Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1978, pp. 70-72
Not wanting to resort to exchange, certain revolutionaries, Marx and Engels in the forefront, understood the imperious need to regulate the problem of costs and their accounting in the future society. They looked for a standard of measurement to evaluate and to compare costs.
The standard proposed has commonly been that of the quantity of labour. This quantity has been measured by time, corrected at times by taking the intensity of the labour into account. All of society’s investments can in this way be reduced to a certain expenditure of time. The orange and the airplane no longer correspond to a certain quantity of money but to a given number of hours of labour. Despite the differences in their nature they can be compared according to the same scale of measurement.
This procedure seems logical. What could different goods have in common besides the labour they contain? This was where Marx started in Capital when he was describing labour as the source of value. What other standard could be found?
Marx and Engels adopted this idea without pausing to consider the practical details. Others have tried to elaborate it in more detail, basing it upon a precise accounting of hours of labour, that would allow for the evaluation of every good produced.
For our part, we have not evoked the call to go “beyond labour” only to immediately fall back miserably upon the measurement of labour time, at the very moment when the time comes to tackle the really hard practical problems.
The theory of the measurement of goods or of the forecasting of investments by means of the quantity of labour is false. It must be radically rejected. This is not a methodological dispute but a basic problem that affects the very nature of communism itself.
Measurement by means of labour is still economistic. It seeks to bring about the end of the law of value but it does not take into account everything this implies. Capitalist society has a tendency to perpetuate itself even while unburdening itself of the division into classes and of exchange value!
A solution was sought to a problem that has two aspects. The first is that of the workers’ pay. The second, more general, aspect concerns the distribution of the productive forces at the level of society as a whole.
How to distribute consumption goods without money? How to justly recompense the worker in view of the efforts he has contributed to production?
With respect to these questions Marx fell back in The Critique of the Gotha Program on the point of view of Bray, while purging it of its most tedious aspects. In a transitional period where the principle “to each according to his needs” still cannot be applied, remuneration will be based on the labour provided by each worker. It will only be based upon but not equivalent to it, since one part of what this labour represents must go to a social fund devoted to the production of production goods, support for invalids and the elderly, etc.… The worker cannot receive the full product of his labour. On the other hand, because the coupons that testify to the labour contributed by the worker do not circulate, exchange is totally destroyed at its source.
This is Marx’s purpose in demanding that society should have some kind of accounting unit:
“ … labour, in order to serve as a measure, must be defined by its duration or intensity; otherwise it would cease to be standard.”
– Karl Marx, 'Critique of the Gotha Program', in Marx: Later Political Writings, Cambridge University Press, New York, 1996, p. 214
For Marx, the problem of remuneration is of secondary importance and only applies to the lower stage of communism. The question of the distribution of the productive forces, on the other hand, is of fundamental and permanent importance.
“On the basis of socialized production the scale must be ascertained on which those operations—which withdraw labour-power and means of production for a long time without supplying any product as a useful effect in the interim—can be carried on without injuring branches of production which not only withdraw labour-power continually, or several times a year, but also supply means of subsistence and of production.”
– Karl Marx, 'Capital: Volume II', International Publishers, New York, 1967, p. 362
The calculation of necessary labour does not however imply that the law of value is perpetuated while money-capital disappears. The quantity of labour is allocated with reference to needs. In The Poverty of Philosophy, Marx wrote:
“In a future society, in which class antagonism will have ceased, in which there will no longer be any classes, use will no longer be determined by the minimum time of production; but the time of production devoted to different articles will be determined by the degree of their social utility.”
– Karl Marx, 'The Poverty of Philosophy', Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1978, p. 58
The law of value is nothing but an expression peculiar to commodity society of a more general rule that applies to every society:
“In reality, no society can prevent production from being regulated, in one way or another, by the labour time available to society. But insofar as this positing of the duration of labour is not effected under the conscious control of society—which would only be possible under the regime of communal property—but by the movements of commodity prices, the theory set forth with such precision in the Franco-German Yearbooks is completely vindicated.”
That is what Marx wrote to Engels on January 8, 1868. What did Engels have to say with regard to this issue?
“As long ago as 1844 I stated that this balancing of useful effects and expenditure of labour on making decisions concerning production was all that would be left of the politico-economic concept of value in a communist society. [Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, p. 95] The scientific justification for this statement, however, as can be seen, was made possible only by Marx's Capital.”
– Frederick Engels, 'Anti-Dühring', Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1976, p. 403)
What Marx and Engels are telling us about communist society—and we see that they did have something to say about it!—follows directly from their analysis of capitalist society. Their ideas about the communist society of the future partake of both the assets and the deficiencies of their analysis of capitalist society.
The assets consist in demonstrating that the problems of the allocation of consumption goods and the remuneration of labour are not fundamental ones. It is the mode of production that determines the mode of distribution. To claim, contrary to the view of the beautiful souls, that the worker cannot receive the whole product of his labour, proceeds directly from an analysis of capitalism which shows that the value of a commodity represents, besides the wage and the surplus value, the constant capital. Instruments of production must be produced. Unlike previous social forms, capitalism and communism are societies provided with an abundance of tools.
Capitalism and communism are also societies undergoing constant change. There is no such thing as an unchanging condition. In these societies, it is not the case that everything is regulated in advance by reference to its past use and then eventually corrected by common sense. The estimation of costs is not so much a problem of accounting as a problem of forecasting. With regard to this fundamental point, there was a significant regression in the communists who came after Marx. Certain councilists would reduce the question to that of an almost photographic copy of reality and economic trends.
The following passage shows that, for Marx, today’s society and the society of the future have to resolve the SAME problem. The former, thanks to money-capital and credit, and the latter, by dispensing with both.
“… on the basis of capitalist production, more extensive operations of comparatively long duration necessitate large advances of money-capital for a rather long time. Production in such spheres depends therefore on the magnitude of the money-capital which the individual capitalist has at his disposal. This barrier is broken down by the credit system and the associations connected with it, e.g., the stock companies. Disturbances in the money-market therefore put such establishments out of business, while these same establishments, in their turn, produce disturbances in the money-market.”
“On the basis of socialised production the scale must be ascertained on which those operations — which withdraw labour-power and means of production for a long time without supplying any product as a useful effect in the interim — can be carried on without injuring branches of production which not only withdraw labour-power and means of production continually, or several times a year, but also supply means of subsistence and of production. Under socialised as well as capitalist production, the labourers in branches of business with shorter working periods will as before withdraw products only for a short time without giving any products in return; while branches of business with long working periods continually withdraw products for a longer time before they return anything. This circumstance, then, arises from the material character of the particular labour-process, not from its social form.”
– Karl Marx, 'Capital: Volume II', International Publishers, New York, pp. 361-362
Marx and Engels placed too much emphasis on the continuity of communism with capitalism. This is their deficiency.
They preserve the bourgeois separation between the sphere of production and the sphere of consumption. Already in The Manifesto, they distinguished the collective property in the means of production from the personal appropriation of consumption goods. They thus emphatically affirmed that they did not want to socialize anything but what was already common social property: the instruments of capitalist production. In The Critique of the Gotha Program, Marx still opposed individual and family consumption to the labour time contributed to productive and social consumption. But he does not say how the latter will be established.
There is some confusion between the mode of distribution of the products and their nature as “consumption goods” or instruments of production. On the one hand are the individuals and on the other is society conceived abstractly. There are isolated individuals, individuals in groups, and individuals in communities, who confront one another and organize.
In reality, however, when the State or the owner of an enterprise as the representative of the “general interest” disappears, Society as separate from the individual also disappears. There are then nothing but isolated men, men in groups, and men in communities, who organize in this or that way. An individual can lay claim to a power tool and a neighbourhood committee to several tons of potatoes.
The separation between, on the one hand, labour power composed of separate individuals, and social and collective capital, on the other, will disappear. One cannot invoke the necessity for remuneration in a transition period to preserve this separation. To the contrary, the advocacy of this necessity in Bray or in Marx is the reflection of the limitations of an era when communism was still immature.
Despite his critical and pertinent observations, Marx was still dominated by the fetishism of time. Whether considered as an instrument of economic measurement or as an instrument of extra-economic measurement:
“For real wealth is the developed productive power of all individuals. The measure of wealth is then not any longer, in any way, labour time, but rather disposable time.”
– Karl Marx, 'Grundrisse', Penguin Books, Baltimore, 1973, p. 708
Labour time is the basis of free time. The realm of freedom can only be based on the realm of necessity.
The error does not lie in continuing to see necessity, sacrifice and production in the new society. The error lies in consolidating these elements under the rubric of “labour time”, reduced as much as possible, and universally opposing this to free time.
In "The Critique of the Gotha Program", Marx says that some day labour will constitute the most imperious human need. The Stalinists have constantly exploited this formula in a most odious manner. There is in any event a contradiction. Will labour in the communist society become a waste of time or a source of satisfaction? Is it therefore necessary to reduce labour time to a minimum, or should we, to the contrary, produce the maximum amount of labour possible to satisfy the demand for it? Only in capitalist society can labour appear as the most imperious need, as the only means to satisfy all the others. Only in capitalist society can it be both detested and demanded.
The whole idea of using labour time as a standard of measurement is somewhat fanciful.
The idea of measuring all productive activities by the time they require would be like measuring and comparing all liquids only by their volume. It is true that every activity takes a certain amount of time, just as a particular liquid occupies a certain volume. This is not a trivial point. A one-litre bottle of water could instead contain a litre of wine. But no one would ever deduce from that fact that a bottle of water is always equal to a bottle of wine, or alcohol, or soft drink, or hydrochloric acid. Strictly speaking, only from the narrow point of view of the wholesale dealer would this make sense.
Time is the only objective language that can be used to express the creative force of the slave or the worker, from the point of view of the exploiter. This implies external measurement, control and conflict. The duration and the intensity of the activity are privileged above its nature and its particular difficulty, which become matters of indifference. The subjectivity of what is experienced is sacrificed in favour of the objectivity of the standard of measurement. Creation and life are forced to submit to production and repetition.
Measuring by means of time is older than the commodity system. Instead of providing a certain quantity of a particular product, the exploited put a certain amount of their time at the disposal of the exploiter: the labour services of the feudal era, for example. This procedure was especially developed in the system of the Incas, a great agrarian empire under the unified rule of a bureaucracy where money was unknown. The labour services were performed in the form of days of labour spent in one or another task. This required a very rigorous system of accounting.
In the peasant or rural communities, an individual spent one day harvesting the fields of another person and vice-versa. The peasant and the blacksmith bartered their products on the basis of production time. The activity of a child was valued as a portion of that of an adult. These practices can be seen as the beginning of the use of time as universal standard and even of the submission of the planet to the commodity economy; but only the beginning. These marginal practices were more of the order of mutual aid than of exchange. The activities subject to measurement were of the same or concretely comparable nature. Measurement by time was not yet independent of the content of what was being measured.
With the dual development of the commodity system and the division of labour, measurement by means of time began to assume its fanciful character, becoming detached from the content of activity as the latter was diversified.
This process was accentuated when exchange penetrated into the sphere of production. Measurement by means of time developed in relation to the tendency of the economy to be based on labour time. The maximum amount must be produced in the least amount of time. The possibility to use time as a standard of measurement is inseparable from the compression of human activity within the smallest possible span of time. Not only did labour produce the commodity; the commodity produced labour through the despotism of the factory.
With this development, the practice of measurement by means of time lost its innocent airs, but was concealed behind money and justified by financial necessities.
Bourgeois ideologists, especially those who invoke Saint Marx, project this fetishism of time and production over all of human history. In their view, the latter is nothing but an incessant struggle for free time. If primitive peoples remained primitive this is because, dominated by their low level of productivity, they did not have the time necessary for the accumulation of a surplus. Time is scarce; one must concentrate into it the densest activity possible.
Instead of thinking only about how to save time, primitive peoples were instead busy with the most effective means of squandering it. These peoples often present the most indolent character. Besides the tools needed for hunting, they hardly sought to accumulate goods of any kind.
In the 18th century, Adam Smith renounced the attempt to base value on labour time with reference to modern times. But this labour-value did play a role, according to Smith, in those primitive societies where things were still relatively uncomplicated.
Imagine, if you will, some hunters who want to exchange among themselves the various animals they took in the hunt. Upon what basis can they do this, other than the basis of labour time, as a function of the time required to get the animals? This is the assumption made by an economistic and banker’s mentality when confronted by a situation where the rules of sharing and reciprocal bonds prevail.
Let us assume, however, that exchange already existed or that our primitive peoples decided to rationally employ their forces to acquire meat with the least expenditure of effort. Would they have constructed their system on the basis of necessary labour time?
There are pleasures and risks involved in hunting, concerning which the time employed in hunting is totally uninformative. What is the comparative value of a lion as opposed to an antelope, when considered on the basis of the duration of the hunt without reference to the different risks involved in each hunt? Certain modes of hunting may take more time but may also be more certain of success, less arduous, less dangerous, and more or less cruel.
If they still wanted to practice this type of measurement, could they do so? It is hard to evaluate with precision the time necessary to obtain this or that animal. By systematically hunting the most productive animals, from this narrow point of view, they would risk modifying the conditions and the necessary time for the hunt. In any event, one often goes out to hunt antelopes and comes home with rabbits. It is useless to predict the unpredictable.
Will we be told that this is no longer valid for our civilized epoch, and that the hunt is a very special case of productive activity? Let’s face the facts. It is the ubiquity of exchange that conceals reality. Measurement by means of labour time does not exempt us from the hazards of human existence or of the exhaustion of natural resources. These problems are not specific to primitive man but apply to all societies. Not acknowledged by the logic of capital they return with a vengeance….
Measurement by time only indirectly accounts for any repercussions on the environment and the difficulty of the activity concerned. Can it be used in communism by translating the transformation or destruction of a rural region, the exhaustion of a mine’s resources, or the production of oxygen in a forest, into its language? The inherent advantages or drawbacks of a production process will be reckoned in terms of the labour time that is virtually saved or virtually expended. It would surpass the absurdity of capitalism if it were to seek to consciously reduce use values and qualities to labour-values. What value does a stretch of countryside have? Should it be based on the expenditure that would be required to rebuild it from scratch? At this price, nothing would be worth undertaking.
To assess the different values of two labour processes of equal duration in which the risks or the discomfort of the jobs are different, do we have to find a single standard by which they can be compared? One hour of bricklaying would count as one and a half hours of carpentry. Let us say that the difference would be accounted for by the expenditure of time necessary to provide for the bricklayer, to wash his clothing … and we refuse to reduce everything to the expenditure of labour time, but then how can we establish the coefficients that express the differences in value or discomfort that distinguish the two jobs? Why, on the other hand, should we want to establish such coefficients when these differences depend on the conditions and the rhythm of the activities concerned and the inclinations of the participants?
When the workers take over, the advocates of measurement by time or remuneration as a function of labour time run the risk of being left behind. From the moment when activity ceases to be compulsory, its nature will change and its duration will be extended. The quantity and the character of production will no longer be evaluated with respect to the duration of the consumed labour. One person will produce enough in a little time, while another will take a long time to produce little. If remuneration were to be based on the time expended then we will need to have strict prison guards on the jobsite or we would soon be faced with an incitement to laziness.
Whether the workers will agree to guarantee a certain amount of production or devote a certain number of hours each day to productive labour, is a question of practical organization that is not directly pertinent to the determination of the cost of what they produce. In one factory it might take twice as long as another factory to produce objects of the same cost.
One can certainly speak of the social allocation of labour time at the community’s disposal, but one must not forget that time is not a material that one can dish out with a ladle. It will be men who will go to such and such a location in order to assume responsibility for such and such a task. From the moment when free time is no longer extraordinarily scarce and is not devoted to the satisfaction of absolutely vital needs, there will be some jobs that are more urgent than others, and men who work faster than other men.
With capital it is necessary to dissociate the price, the expenditure of labour power and what this expenditure contributes, and the labour that does not have any value. With communism this dissociation makes no sense. Labour power and labour, man and his activity, can no longer be separated.
This means, first of all, that there is no more surplus value, not even for the benefit of the community, or a new form of social surplus. One can no longer speak of accumulation or of expansion except in physical and material terms. To speak of socialist accumulation is an absurdity even if at any given moment more steel or more bananas are produced than before, even if more social time is devoted to production. These processes no longer assume the form of value or time employed.
As a result, this means that labour, which in capitalism has no value, acquires value in communism. This value that it acquires is neither moral nor monetary. This is not the apotheosis of labour but instead expresses its supersession.
Labour, the source of value, is not susceptible to numerical measurement. One can economize on it, but its identity is unquestionable. In communism this or that activity will no longer be distinguished from the effort made by the human beings who engage in it. Not all jobs have the same human cost. It is a matter of developing the least costly ones.
In capitalist society, if one shifts one’s perspective from that of capital to that of the worker, labour also has a cost; one job is preferable to another. When night arrives one feels one’s fatigue or anxiety. But finally the differences are small. Labour is always considered time that is more or less lost. No one devotes any time to calculating boredom or health damage. For the worker the price of all of this shit is his wage. One already knows that it is a mystification and that the wage is not determined by the effort expended or the discomfort experienced.
The superiority of communism lies in the fact that is not content with the satisfaction of the needs of “consumption”. It applies its efforts to the transformation of productive activities, that is, to the conditions of labour. As a matter of principle, investment decisions will not be made on the basis of the economy of labour time, even if the possibility exists that the task can be expedited. These decisions will have the objective of producing the conditions in which activities can be enriched, favouring the most pleasant ones. The determination of the conditions of activity does not mean that the activity itself and the behaviour of the producers themselves will be determined in advance. The producer will still be master of his activity, but he will act in certain conditions, within the framework of certain limitations that constitute the arena in which he can act.
The production by men of the instruments and the plan of production allow for this transformation of human activity. The development of technology can be oriented so as to be more or less favourable for the producers. This or that kind of machine or ensemble of machines could allow those who use them to experience less exhaustion and be less subject to a certain rhythm of production. Those characteristics that would allow men to be as free as possible can be systematically developed in the productive process.
Don’t tell us that personal preferences or subjectivity would objectively prevent any such choices. There are some things that do not change. We are not saying that the criteria must have a universal scope. They will vary according to the time and the situation. Men will make agreements to determine what suits them best. The diversity of personal preferences and the willingness to experiment can follow different roads in the context of a similar objective.
The estimation of costs cannot be reduced to the need to balance “income and expenditures”; equilibrium must be conceived as a dynamic equilibrium. Starting from the basis of the conditions inherited from capitalism, what is required is to give development a certain direction. Is the estimated cost of constructing a particular productive facility or way of life justified? Does the automation of this or that unit of production justify the efforts required for the fabrication of the automated machinery? The logic of the economy of labour time that serves as the organizing principle of the construction of situations in the capitalist world will yield to a different logic, a logic that is no longer external to the men that put it into practice. Humanity will organize and control the construction of situations in view of its needs. In this sense it will become situationist.
• Elevator or Stairs?
Behind the economic idea of cost we once again find the most ordinary and banal reality, which that idea has ended up concealing.
Each person reflects on the question of whether what he is doing is worth the effort. Does the inevitable result justify the expense or the risk? Are there less costly, that is, more pleasant, ways to obtain an equivalent result or one that is good enough?
If such questions arise concerning the economy, they are only asked by economists or managers. In fact, economic and financial problems comprise a special, and rather strange, case of a more general problem.
The spontaneous and ingenuous evaluation of costs took place long before the advent of capitalism. It subsists at the margin of the economic sphere even though our choices must always take financial necessities into account. What characterizes this kind of evaluation is that it is effected without monetary subterfuges and is not reduced to temporal criteria.
Strictly speaking, the ability to evaluate costs is not a natural endowment peculiar to the human species. The pigeon that hesitates before pecking at the seeds you offer it is, in its own way, also evaluating costs. That he might make a mistake in his calculations and end up in the pot does not constitute a contradiction of this claim. Evaluation does not necessarily exclude the possibility of error.
The bird’s choice depends more on instinct and habit than any other factor. With human beings we move to another level.
The individual who finds himself at the entrance to a building, and intends to go to an upper floor, and who has to choose between using the elevator and walking up the stairs, confronts a problem of evaluating costs. He might spend an hour reflecting on the problem or he might automatically make his decision without thinking about it.
The problem is simple if it is reduced to the three solutions that are obviously available: the elevator, the stairs, or cancelling his appointment in the building in question. It becomes more complicated if the elements that may or may not consciously intervene in the decision making process are taken into consideration. What floor does he have to go to? Does he know which one? Is he in good health? Is he elderly? Tired? Handicapped? How high are the steps? How steep is the stairway? How fast is the elevator and how often does it run? How urgent is his errand in this building?
The decision will not be an economic decision. It will be subjective, directly connected to a concrete situation. It is not a monetary decision. It does not involve an inquiry regarding which possible solution would be more expensive, since the elevator is free to use. The question of speed may play a role in his choice, it could prove to be decisive, but it is not necessarily connected with the situation. The economy of time would be given top priority if he were a fireman, if he did not prefer to use the ladder on his fire truck.
How can a procedure that is properly foreign to the economic sphere be applied to the economy? This is a false problem. The real problem is to go beyond the economy and to dissolve it as a separate sphere.
It is a question of doing away with the economy. This will not be achieved by suddenly discovering that we can replace today’s methods with more direct and simpler procedures. Paradoxically, the development of the economy, the socialization of production, the generalized interdependence of enterprises, and the implementation of economic forecasting and calculation, make this rupture possible.
In the future, the principles that inform our choices will be as simple and as transparent as the ones we presently apply on a daily basis. They will be concerned with the reduction of effort, fatigue, and expenditures in general. These considerations will not in themselves constitute the goals of social life, but will comprise one aspect of the projects of the future depending on the nature of the latter. Perhaps very difficult and dangerous problems will have to be solved but we will have to try to address them. A team of mountain climbers can attempt to reach the summit of a difficult mountain, but this does not mean they have to do so with their bare hands.
Simple principles do not always entail easy methods and solutions. The degree of difficulty of an undertaking derives from the nature and the complexity of the problems that have to be solved. It could also be the result of the unsuitability of the methods of calculation applied to the object in question or a difficulty in determining the criteria of choice. The risk of error and the need to be satisfied with approximations by no means invalidate the procedure. In any event this would not constitute a step backwards with respect to current conditions.
What applies today to the use of the elevator or the stairs, will also apply tomorrow to their production and installation. The objective foundations of the individual’s choices will no longer be economically determined.
Is it better to construct a stairway, an elevator, both, or nothing at all? These questions imply a whole series of subsidiary questions. Is it worth the effort to go to the upper floors? Is this requirement so important or so frequently necessitated that it justifies the necessary expense to build the stairway, the elevator, the rope or the kick in the ass that will get you to the desired floor? We can reverse the perspective. Given the cost of elevators should we construct such tall buildings? On the other hand, given the pleasures experienced by those who manufacture elevators, should we build more skyscrapers?
The list of questions that can be posed is practically endless. This may seem discouraging. In reality only a small number will be posed. Many will be ruled out by simple common sense. Our mountain climbers cannot demand an elevator for their expedition. Each decision will be made on the basis of a concrete situation in which a vast number of questions will already have been answered in advance by the facts themselves. Custom plays tricks on us, but it also spares us much trouble. It is quite likely that the man who is standing at the front door of the building will base his decision on habit. The evaluation of costs only acquires its full significance when one encounters a new situation, when a new productive process emerges. The problem of the fabrication and the installation of the elevator and the stairway could very well be a common problem that is solved according to known parameters. A special or unprecedented situation will be addressed as a modified form of a more classical situation.
There is a hierarchy of solutions. When the decision is made to build a house, the costs of the means to get to the upper floors will probably be of secondary importance. Once the more general decision is made, the builders will have to construct a stairway, an elevator, or both. The existing options will depend on the nature and the quality of the available materials. Choices can only be made in accordance with the products and the technologies that are currently in use and development within this sector. Every choice tends to miss the optimal solution, but every choice is made in accordance with a certain number of unavoidable objective conditions. The optimal solution may end up being a compromise between the interests of the different groups of people affected by the decision in question.
The end of the division of the economy into separate competing enterprises does not mean that all social production will assume the form of one big coordinated enterprise where every activity will be immediately subsumed to another, where there will be only one common interest and where the evaluation of costs will be undertaken directly on a worldwide scale. For human and technical reasons, the producers will be fragmented into separate groups whose interests will no longer be antagonistic, but whose opinions may very well be divergent. Since individuals may move from one job to another, from one workshop or construction site to another, and the membership of work crews may not be permanent, this fragmentation in time and space will persist.
The construction of a building implies the involvement of various skilled trades. We can imagine that in communism the architect will also be a labourer, a bricklayer or a painter. This will not obviate the fact that, especially if the construction project is very important, the workers will be divided into different teams and their tasks will be carried out at different stages of the project. The builders may be obliged to ask for outside help. They will have to get advice. They will have to obtain machinery and materials.
How will the cost of these products that come from outside the work unit be established and accounted for? The builders could attempt to facilitate the work where it is a question of the allocation and utilization of their own resources and capabilities. But when they have to avail themselves of warehoused goods that they did not themselves stock, such self-reliance is no longer possible. Certain materials that are easier to install, or that may have a reputation for providing more satisfaction to the users of the building, might nonetheless be rejected because of the cost of their manufacture. In every situation it is necessary for the advantages obtained to justify the expense incurred in order to avoid problems.
Products, and even production processes, must have an objectively determined cost. The users will make a rational choice on the basis of these costs.
Does this mean that each product will have a “price tag”? Will the housewife, when grocery shopping, find a bar code on her carrots and cabbages?
That would be an unfortunate recrudescence of today’s society. As a general rule, each person will take what he needs when it is available and pay no attention to any other more urgent claim than his own. The calculation of costs is first of all in the nature of a forecast and its direct outcome is manifested in the nature and the quantity of the available goods. There is no need to put price labels on goods in order to put pressure on the intentions of the user, not to speak of his wallet.
There are various kinds of cement that presently have, and will continue to have, different costs of production. It would be stupid to use a kind of cement that is twice as expensive as another that would serve the same purpose. As a general rule, the nature of the product or its mode of employment is sufficient to determine its desired use; where there is a risk of confusing the different grades of products it will be enough to specify along with the mode of employment of the product the cost differences among the various products.
Today, dead labour weighs upon living labour, and the past weighs upon the present. In communism, the cost of a product is not the expression of a value that has to be realized, or of equipment that has to be amortized. This means that the cost of an object will not necessarily represent the expense required to produce it. It will not even be the average necessary expense required to produce all products of the same kind.
A product will have the cost that will reflect the cost of replacing it under the prevailing conditions. There will be no reason for a rise or fall in productivity to be translated into a difference between the cost of production and the cost of sale. This will apply immediately even to the objects that were manufactured previously. This variation could result in an expansion of the production in question if it becomes more worthwhile. Decisions to increase investment in a productive process will not be based on a surplus of profits.
There may be differences in cost in the production of the same product or of two similar products. This difference may result from the preservation of relatively antiquated production processes. Or they may be determined by natural conditions. Agricultural output is quite variable, and not every mine is as easily exploited as another. Does this mean that similar products will have different costs, or that there will be an average cost that will be the same for all of them, just like today’s average market price?
It will be very important for the differences in costs to be known. But this will not affect the users of the products in question. There will be no advantages for some and disadvantages for others; it will simply be a matter of developing the most advantageous production processes.
If the increase of the cost of production of a product implies a decrease in its cost-effectiveness, this does not mean that it must be rejected. First of all, its decrease in cost-effectiveness may be a temporary or periodic phenomenon; also, because one must evaluate the importance of the needs that have to be satisfied. Thus, with regard to food production, a rise in the cost of production often signifies a decreasing crop yield. Let us assume that less fertile soils are cultivated. This would be no reason to refuse to feed part of the population and instead shift the resources in question to more cost-effective activities.
Decreasing yields could on the other hand be a short-term phenomenon. Sowing crops in a desert is not very promising; but major investments, such as irrigation projects and new methods of farming, could make a big difference. A sun-baked desert, once it is watered, or a fish farm, could be more productive than traditionally fertile soils.
What seems to be impossible today will be possible tomorrow. Modern technologies, instead of furthering the arms race, will be used to make the deserts bloom.
From the moment when there is a rising demand for a good, there is a risk that this could lead to a fall or a rise in the production cost incurred by the new production units. A fall in the production cost will have a tendency to increase the demand for the product. If on the other hand there is a rise in the production cost of a product, then we will have to know when the cost becomes prohibitive. In this case it must be determined if it is the recent increase in demand that must be curtailed or whether, to the contrary, this demand must be satisfied by abandoning or reducing the demand for other products.
When complex projects are implemented, and when certain decisions imply many other decisions, we must be capable of predicting and calculating in order to choose the least costly procedures. In many cases the cost must be estimated on a long-term basis. A windfall at the beginning or a lack of foresight could have costly consequences for the future.
The consequences of choosing a particular gauge for a railroad can only be reversed with difficulty. In this case as in many others, a lack of foresight at the beginning could lead to much less rational conditions for the use of the product or project in question.
It is also necessary to determine the technical coefficients concerning the interrelations of the production of diverse products. The production of a certain material or a certain object necessarily implies the production and the productive consumption of other goods in accordance with an objectively determined relation.
It is necessary to anticipate the possible expenditures and to simulate the results of a project’s completion. These predictions can lead to considerable projects, by way of the subsidiary means they set in motion, due to the time it takes to complete their construction, and as a result of the variables they entail.
We acknowledge the fact that there are men who have the ambition of reaching, exploring and eventually colonizing a virgin planet. Such an operation cannot be launched merely by persistence and obstinacy. The possibilities must be evaluated and the costs must be estimated.
The first stage of the assessment of such a project’s viability would be provided by ascertaining the number of individuals interested in participating in it or supporting it. This number will also be evaluated according to the seriousness demonstrated by the project and its supporters.
Once we have gauged interest in the project, alternatives will have to be considered and their compatibility will have to be assessed. Should the planetary exploration be carried out by automated machines or by inhabited settlements? What kind of atmosphere should these settlements be provided with?
Today these problems are technical questions that are dominated by financial and political considerations. In communism, there are only technical questions that are simultaneously human questions. The debate over automated machinery, and temporary or permanent settlements, is carried out at the scientific level, regarding the comforts that will be provided to the astronauts, the efforts devoted to construction, and the future of each project….
The choices made affect each other. It is therefore not necessary to decide and predict everything in advance. The first decisions provide a framework for what will follow without, however, making it necessary to define every little detail. What matters is that at each step the choice made will be the best one possible and will not lead to a dead end. The number of decisions that has to be made is enormous, but not all of them have to be made at the same time and they can be corrected later if necessary.
Why complicate life with all these scenarios? In capitalism everything is automatically regulated.
Nothing could be more false. Just because costs are converted into monetary prices and the market sanctions the behaviour of enterprises, not everything is automatic. At an international level there is planning and prediction, and this is also true for individual enterprises, however inconsequential it may be.
Not all operations are immediately sanctioned by the market. This sanction represents the final stage of a whole series of expenditures and decisions.
It is necessary to anticipate the decision of the market. Big corporations no longer allow market fluctuations to determine their prices but tend to calculate and then impose an optimal price. This price is not necessarily the price that will allow the circulation of the greatest number of commodities, or one that will permit the maximization of income in the short term. This price could be fixed in accordance with a global strategy. The countries of the Eastern Bloc are beginning to establish prices by mathematical methods.
In the West as well as the East the enterprise has a tendency to disregard the market in order to impose its strategy by means of its pricing policy. This is not a basically new tendency. It is accentuated today by the power of organized groups, by the technological possibility of attracting notice to a product, and by the development of methods of economic calculation. Competition and the market are not abolished. Their effects are merely impeded and the struggle between monopolies is not directly and solely fought out at the level of prices.
The really important point here is that methods of calculation and forecasting are being developed within both society as a whole and individual capitalist enterprises which will be capable of systematic utilization in communism. The development of computers is accompanied by very important research in mathematics dedicated to the representation and formalization of reality in order to address problems of choice, simulation and economic strategy. Even when we no longer need to consider or satisfy the claims of financial criteria, this research will be fostered and utilized.
At the present time, enterprises do not rely on the market to help them organize the production of goods in the most rational way. The market is the sanction of behaviour rather than a precise technical guide for that behaviour.
“So, let us imagine an industrialist who wants to manufacture, using bars of iron, the maximum number of cylindrical containers. If he were to seek the advice of an engineer, he could immediately calculate the ratio of height/diameter that would assure the best possible use of the metal: this ratio is equal to 1.103. Failing that, our industrialist will pick ratios at random. But if he has competitors, the enterprises that are least accurate in regard to the selection of the pertinent ratio will go out of business and, as a result, purely by trial and error, the manufacturers will be led to retain—without knowing why—production coefficients that approximate to 1.103.”
– Albert Ducrocq, 'Le roman de la vie, Cybernétique et Univers II', Julliard, 1966
“Scientific” rationalization extends to the organization of production and distribution. Cybernetics gives the finishing touch to custom and common sense.
Already in 1776, the mathematician Monge undertook a systematic study of the simplest and easiest way to organize cleaning work. This project also led to purely mathematical discoveries.
Applied to military operations during World War Two, progress in cybernetics continued thanks to the power of electronic calculators. It was used to address problems of markets and responses to product innovation among competing firms, forecasting, inventory management, planning the amortization and replacement of machines, simulation….
It can be used not only for simple accounting but also for making deductions based on the analysis of past and present trends, what can be produced, and what should be produced.
In communism, just as in capitalism, in order to estimate costs and to select the optimal solutions, comparisons must be made. How are we to compare?
As long as there is money, that is, a universal equivalent, everything is simple since any good can be evaluated in accordance with this single standard. There is a quantitative relation between all products. When, however, we decide to do without money and even without measurement by the quantity of labour, on what basis can we make comparisons? What else do all goods have in common that makes them comparable?
There is no other single and universally valid standard. We shall therefore have to do without one. But this will not prevent comparisons from being made. These comparisons will be qualitative and will be based on different and variable standards. They will no longer be carried out in accordance with an abstract and universal reference, but will be connected to concrete situations and goals.
What is bizarre is the fact that different goods can be equal to each other regardless of their specific natures. It is understandable for foods to be compared in accordance with their protein content or their freshness. But these distinct criteria do not allow for the definition of a general standard of equivalence.
The need for a general standard of equivalence cannot be dissociated from the need to engage in exchange. All things must be capable of being subjected to comparison from a universal point of view because they have become exchangeable goods and economic values. This is precisely what must disappear and this is what the dream—or the nightmare—of measurement by means of labour time seeks to preserve by giving it a new disguise.
Even under the rule of capital, not all comparisons can be reduced to comparisons of value. Goods still have use values. The buyer’s evaluation is made not only with reference to price, but also with reference to the usefulness and the quality of the product.
When a housewife goes shopping and chooses between a lettuce and a bunch of radishes she does so according to the taste of her son, the meal of the day, the appearance of the product, how much room she has in her basket…. Price is not really determinate except when two identical products have different values.
The multiplicity of criteria that come into play does not prevent this person from making his comparisons and his choice. His criterion is subjective. It is not universally valid. This does not mean that it is irrational with respect to the situation in question.
When the situation involves choosing between various manufacturing procedures it will be necessary to find a more general basis for comparison. The choice will be less subjective in the sense that it must not depend on a passing whim, because it will have long-term repercussions.
Under current conditions it is sometimes the case that purely monetary evaluations are not decisive or are modified by other considerations. The risk posed by major swings in certain prices over the course of time or political requirements prevent automatic compliance with the strictly financial viewpoint.
Let us consider the question of nuclear power. In opposition to economic arguments in its favour, questions have been raised that focus on the environmental, social and political costs of nuclear power. The debate is often carried on with a degree of bad faith, about energy yields, problems of transport and storage of wastes, of national sovereignty, and the creation or elimination of jobs.
In communist society it is no longer necessary to make all comparisons on a universal scale. It suffices to be able to determine the possibilities that really exist and to favour those that offer the most rapid results, those that will be the safest, the least dangerous….
What is essential is to determine a set of pertinent criteria and in accordance with these criteria to directly address the diverse solutions that can be discerned. It is not so much a matter of quantifying as it is of ordering the various criteria and solutions. What predominates is the relative, qualitative meaning.
We are not saying we will rely on computers to arrange everything but they will be necessary and useful.
“Conceived at first for accounting operations and later used for management, as well as being used for scientific calculations, they were long considered (for perhaps ten years…) as instruments for generating quantitative results. This has changed. Thanks to the methods of cybernetics, and especially to those of simulation, the accumulation of numbers led to a qualitative result: what is of interest is no longer the exact numbers but their meaning relative to which a choice is made. In this way, calculating machines have become means for management forecasting.”
– Robert Faure, Jean-Paul Boss and Andre Le Garff, 'La recherché operationnelle', Presses universitaires de France, Paris (Vendôme, Impr. des P.U.F.), 1961
What must be simplified and universalized is not so much the factors of decision that come into play as the procedures of decision making, the programs that allow one to address a mass of data. In a certain sense, the more important the criteria, the more accurate the representation of reality.
We could imagine the general contours of a future debate on the importance of various energy sources. A vast amount of data will come into play. A single criterion can only be used at the cost of distorting reality. Comprehensive decisions will have to be made in accordance with the different resources and needs of each region.
Communism does not rule out purely quantitative comparisons and decisions. They will still be valid when a single criterion of selection is sufficient, according to the nature of the products under consideration. This would be the case when it is a matter of increasing or decreasing the output of a particular production process. It would also prevail when the savings of expenditure corresponds to a qualitative savings in the utilization of a raw material devoted to the same use, as in the case of canned food. But even in this case, the savings must not be considered as a savings in labour time, but simply in the quantity of raw materials. That this decision could result in a reduction in the time spent in productive activity is simply one possible outcome.
Shouldn’t we fear this communist frenzy of rationalization? Does it not run the risk of becoming similar to the capitalist frenzy of exploitation?
Today, rationalization and exploitation are conflated. Man tends to be considered as an object from which you try to get as much as possible. Inhuman methods have been developed that do not derive from technical requirements: hellish work rhythms, working two or three shifts. Capitalist rationalization, whether brutal or subtle, is always carried out to a greater or lesser degree to the detriment of men. It is always irrational.
Communist rationalization does not have the goal of imposing a rhythm of work. Its essential tendency will be to increase the freedom and pleasure of humans. Decision-making and the implementation of decisions will not be carried out without regard for the preferences and the customs of those affected. There will still be technical requirements and production necessities that will influence the course and duration of human activity. But this will have nothing to do with making human capital profitable.