History of Socialist Economic Planning

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* Book: The Classless Society in Motion. A New Theory of Communist Economy. By Donal Costello and Tom O’Brien.

URL = https://theclasslesssocietyinmotion.com/part-1-value-amp-the-history-of-socialist-economic-planning/


PART 1: Value & the History of Socialist Economic Planning

Chapter 1: Introduction

(~10 pages)

A general introduction to the book’s main themes: Socialism, Communism and Anarchism in the public imagination today; the ‘Fundamental Principles of Communist Production and Distribution’ and the lost alternative of 20th century socialism.

Chapter 2: Marx’s Analysis of Capitalism

(~10 pages)

Introduction to Marx’s understanding of capitalism’s distinctive features and its place in history as a class society. The nature of specifically capitalist production and accumulation as opposed to other class societies and the possibility of associated production and directly social labour. Explaining the key aspects of Marx’s analysis that are required to critique the existing dominant proposals for a socialist society.

Chapter 3: The Theoretical Historical Development of Socialism

(~30 pages)

Beginning with the critique of the Gotha Program, the Communist Manifesto and Capital, tracking the changes in the popular conception of what socialism meant in the early 20th century. Examination of influential theorists – Lasalle, Hilferding, Neurath, Lenin, Bukharin, Preobrazhensky, Kautsky, Bordiga. The central plan and the role of the party. Brief examination of value, in-natura planning and the socialist calculation debates. An overview of the character of ‘actually existing socialism’, and its processes of reform and collapse.

Chapter 4: The Fundamental Principles and the Achievements of the GIC

(~20 pages)

The general motivations of the Group of International Communists (GIC) and their significant theoretical advances beyond the terms of the socialist calculation debate. Their focus on the removal of exploitative social relations and a decentralised approach to planning. An examination of the different elements in their schema. The rationality of labour time planning. The importance of the economic “right of disposal” of the direct producers.

PART 2: Critique of Existing Proposals

Chapter 5: Parecon

(~15 pages)

Critique of Parecon’s form of ‘decentralised’ central planning, using Marx’s analysis of Capital and the Fundamental Principles as a lens. We will also apply the developed critiques to the related work of Daniel E. Saros’s ‘Information Technology and Socialist Construction’

Chapter 6: Towards a New Socialism and Central Planning

(~20 pages)

Critique of central planning and its slow feedback function – how out of sync feedback functions can cause oscillations that destabilise a system. How this proposal re-institutes a class system of planners and technicians over the workers. Commentary on dispersed self-organised economic activity and the effects of its loss due to the centralisation of production. Discussion of the fragility of centrally planned economies. A discussion of Lange-Lerner simulated markets. We also briefly address socialist theoretical work which places an inordinate emphasis on technical change, such as the Republic of Walmart and Fully Automated Luxury Communism (FALC). These are critiqued for neglecting deeper questions of social relations.

Chapter 7: Cybernetics, Cybersyn and Stafford Beer

(~30 pages)

Develop the previous critiques of feedback here. An introduction to Stafford Beers work on the Viable System Model (VSM), and the concept of variety and algedonics. Show how algedonics can replace the need for the price mechanism and the capitalist market. We discuss how complex systems incorporate both decentralised and hierarchical structures to maintain viability, and what this means for the organisational forms necessary for a socialist society. We detail the success and failures of Beer and his work on the Cybersyn project in Chile in the 1970’s. A discussion of how planning works in the real world vs the idealised notion of ‘central planning’. We highlight how central planning in reality was an ideological smokescreen for widespread improvisation within the Soviet system. Why localised self-organisation is the basis for any advanced functioning economy and is especially crucial to a socialist economy.

Chapter 8: In Natura Planning

(~10 pages)

A critique of the classic works of Neurath and Hilferding on in-natura planning and its influence on the revolutionary social democratic tradition, in particular on the Bolsheviks during the early years of the Russian revolution. Our critique of the modern communizer tendency and their association with in-natura planning as well as our response to communizer critiques of the Fundamental Principles of Communist Production and Distribution. The continuing influence of in-natura planning on modern socialist texts such as ‘Half Earth Socialism’.

Chapter 9: Market Socialism

(~10 pages)

We critique the main proposals for Socialism that seek to regulate production and distribution through profits and market exchange, with special attention given to the historical experience of Yugoslavia.

Chapter 10: Syndicalism / Anarchism / Mutualism

(~10 Pages)

We reiterate the essential positions of Marx and the Group of International Communists in their critiques of mutualism and syndicalism – primarily that the association of free and equal producers does not imply freedom from association, and negates private production of commodities for the purpose of exchange. An examination of how such schemas recreate the conditions for class society and ultimately capitalist production.

PART 3: The Socialist Society

Chapter 11: What have we learned?

(~10 Pages)

A summary of the insights we have gleaned from our critique of existing proposals, seen through the lens of the analysis of the Fundamental Principles, with a view to how we are going to build upon the necessary consequences of their work.

Chapter 12: Anthropology & the material basis of socialism

(~20 pages)

A look at what we can learn about the nature of communism from the field of anthropology. A particular focus on the research concerning egalitarian communities, including immediate return hunter gatherers. The conditions necessary for non-exploitative social relations. We will discuss what anthropology has to tell us about the enforcement of labour productivity and intensity, and the role for authority and solidarity in a socialist society

Chapter 13: Reclaiming the concept of Freedom for Socialism

(~20 pages)

Which freedoms are essential to the socialist economy? We will examine the freedoms of consumption, and in the sphere of production, the free selection of labour and hours of participation in labour. With a view to cybernetics, we will discuss the requirements of both freedom and responsibility for a viable economy. In rejecting the formulations of work quotas and wages, we consider how socialism must be more free than capitalism in every aspect, except in the ability to exploit and acquire unearned income.

PART 4: Implications/Extension of the GIC

Chapter 14: Planning and Dynamic Allocation in the Socialist Economy

(~30 pages)

We describe what we believe to be the logical extensions of the GIC’s schema. These will include the role of capacity management in planning, slack and buffer stocks, and how the General Ledger (society’s unified accounting) is used to facilitate planning. Inspired by Stafford Beer’s Viable Systems Model(VSM), we show how planning needs to be located at the scales and level of recursion at which it is required. We examine how the organic whole of production and consumption drives a dynamic and self-organised form of economic planning. We will interrogate the issue of the matching of production and consumption in the socialist economy.

Chapter 15: Organisational Structure of a Socialist society

(~15 pages)

Based on our previous discussions of cybernetics, we arrive at the VSM representation of the economic and political structure of the economy. We address the material basis of political institutions and the nature of politics in socialism, and how these differ from those institutions facilitated by class societies. We consider labour time planning and ecology, the determination of opportunity costs and how the unity of economic and political democracy allows for the dynamic meeting of social demands, at all scales. We answer proponents of schemes which seek to include all information about a good in its price and discuss the measure of labour time as the means to inform society of the difficulty and capacity constraints of productive activities.

Chapter 16: The Regulation of Production in a Socialist society

(~60 pages)

In this important section, we deal with key additions to the Fundamental Principles of Communist Production and Distribution. We provide greater detail on price as the means of reproducing the economy, and how production agreements and production functions regulate productivity. We demonstrate how a socialist society resolves the antagonism between workers, with their interest in maintaining their income, and the introduction of labour saving technologies. We discuss the cybernetic structure of regulation and the self-regulation of production units with their associations of producers. We look at the meaning of “competition” and “quality” in the “market” for use-values under socialism, and contrast it with the function of these categories in a class society. We also examine such themes as social copyright, standardisation, and “self-employment” in socialism, and how the interests of the individual producer, firm, and society at large are aligned.

Chapter 17: Accumulation and Savings in Socialism

(~15 pages)

We describe how society can direct accumulation and the role savings play in the rate of accumulation. We show how accumulation is a necessary component of a socialist society. We discuss how this has implications for the nature of labour-tokens and how they operate. We counterpose the ability of a socialist society to continuously reduce the length of the working day, to the Tendential Fall in the Rate of Profit within capitalism.

Chapter 18: A Socialist Theory of Rent

(~15 pages)

We introduce the concept of rent in a socialist society, and show why they are necessary to deal with scarce and finite resources like raw materials, land, housing etc. A detailed theory of how they are dynamically and automatically calculated is proposed.

Chapter 19: The Job Complex and Classless Society

(~10 pages)

We discuss the important insight from Parecon of the need for a job complex. The job complex is necessary to ensure a classless society and prevents the emergence of a coordinator class. The experience of the USSR shows us how such a coordinator class can work to reinstate capitalism. We expand this argument to show the important societal and economic dynamics that develop from this key insight.

Chapter 20: Social regulation and the prevention of Fraud

(~20 pages)

Fraud was a major systemic problem in the Soviet economies. We give a detailed examination of labour time accounting and show how it is highly resilient to fraud, in comparison to other existing proposals. How the stability of prices and the lack of capitalist price dynamics dampen opportunities for fraud. The role that the general ledger and the transparency of all economic transactions play in preventing unearned incomes and fraud from arising.

Chapter 21: Imperialism & the Macro Socialist Economy

(~20 pages)

A discussion of macroeconomic policies within a socialist society, and what would be a socialist approach to international trade and the interaction with external capitalist currencies. The relevance of imperialism to the socialist economy.

Chapter 22: Law of association

(~10 pages)

Whereas Marx’s law of value refers to the exchange value of commodities in the market being regulated by their values, we introduce the law of association as the means of direct price determination in socialism. This law is in fact the result of the suspension of production for exchange and hence of exchange value. We show how GIC’s great achievement was to demonstrate how dispersed production could be undertaken resulting in goods which are simply ‘use values with a price’. These prices are determined by associated production and result directly and consciously from the new communist social relations.

Chapter 23: Day in the life of production unit

(~15 pages)

A simple, clear account of what a working day in a labour time planned socialist society would look and feel like, from the perspective of different kinds of goods and service producers. This will make concrete for the reader what has previously been discussed in the abstract.

PART 5: The Socialist Future

Chapter 24: The Development of a Socialist Society

(~30 pages)

We discuss how a socialist society can develop from a lower to a higher stage and the inherent dynamics of expansion implied by the economic foundations of a labour time accounting approach. We also discuss the importance productivity plays in maintaining the stability and viability of the system. A game theoretical approach is brought to the likely geo-politics of a successful socialist society/revolution, and any implications this may have for the defence of the society from outside attack. We discuss the necessary economic guidelines within which new layers of incentive and regulation can continually develop as needed to maintain the essential classless basis of the society.

Chapter 25: Workers of the World Unite!

(~15 pages)

A re-iteration of essential insights of the book. We also look to the current state of capitalist society across the world, the contradictions contained therein. Using a cybernetic lens, we critique the existing approaches to revolutionary politics and how they act as a barrier to effective political action. We discuss how we believe this work and other related areas of research are a prerequisite for the emergence of a new revolutionary workers movement dedicated to the achievement of an egalitarian classless society. We finish with a call to arms.”