New Socialism

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Discussion

Nick Dyer-Witheford:

"Despite the fall of actually-existing socialism, the idea of computerized economic planning continued to be developed by small groups of theorists, who have advanced its conceptual scope further than anything attempted by Soviet cyberneticians. Two schools have been of particular importance: the ‘New Socialism’ of Scottish computer scientists Paul Cockshott and Alan Cottrell (1993); and the German ‘Bremen School’, which includes Peter Arno (2002) and Heinz Dieterich (2006), the latter an advocate of Venezuelan-style ‘Twenty First Century Socialism’. These tendencies have recently converged (Cockshott, Cottrell & Dieterich, 2010). However, because little of the Bremen group’s work is translated, the focus here will be on the New Socialism of Cockshott and Cottrell.

The distinguishing mark of the New Socialist project is its classic Marxist rigor. Accordingly, its twenty-first century super-computer planning follows to the letter the logic of the late nineteenth century Critique of the Gotha Program (Marx, 1970), which famously suggests that at the first, ‘lower’ stage to communism, before conditions of abundance allow ‘to each according to his needs’, remuneration will be determined by the hours of socially necessary labour required to produce goods and services. In the capitalist workplace, workers are paid for the reproduction of the capacity to labour, rather than for the labour actually extracted from them; it is this that enables the capitalist to secure surplus value.

The elimination of this state of affairs, Cockshott and Cottrell contend, requires nothing less than the abolition of money—that is, the elimination of the fungible general medium of exchange that, through a series of metamorphoses of money in and out of the commodity form, creates the self-expanding value that is capital. In their new Socialism, work would be remunerated in labour certificates; an hour’s work could be exchanged for goods taking, on a socially average basis, an equivalent time to produce. The certificates would be extinguished in this exchange; they would not circulate, and could not be used for speculation. Because workers would be paid the full social value of their labour, there would be no owner profits, and no capitalists to direct resource allocation. Workers would, however, be taxed to establish a pool of labour-time resources available for social investments made by planning boards whose mandate would be set by democratic decisions on overall social goals.

Labour time thus provides the ‘objective unit of value’ for the New Socialism (Cockshott & Cottrell 2003: 3). It is at this point that its proponents invoke the capacities of information technology."


2.

"However, to speak of planning in such panoptic contexts is to inevitably invoke fears of omniscient state control. The New Socialists come from a vanguard Marxist-Leninist lineage, with a self-avowed ‘Jacobin’ centralist perspective (Cockshott, Cottrell, & Dieterich, 2011). To consider how cybernetic planning might be developed in more transparent and participatory modes, we need to look to different communist traditions." (http://www.culturemachine.net/index.php/cm/article/view/511/526)


More Information

Books

  • Cockshott, P. & Cottrell A. (1993) Towards a New Socialism.

London: Spokesman Books.

  • Cockshott, P., & Zachariah, D. (2012) Arguments For Socialism, June

2: www.lulu.com

  • Cockshott, P., Cottrell, A., Dieterich, H. (2010) ‘Transition to 21st

Century Socialism in the European Union’: http://reality.gn.apc.org/econ/Berlinpaper.pdf

  • Dieterich, H. (2006) Der Sozialismus des 21. Jahrhunderts –

Wirtschaft, Gesellschaft und Demokratie nach dem globalen Kapitalismus. Berlin: Homilius.

  • * Peters, A. (2001) Computer Sozialismus: Gespräche mit Konrad Zuse.

Berlin: Verlag.