System of Production

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Wat is a system of production?

Jean Zin:

"The systemic crisis concretely expresses everything that materially connects us to the rest of the world, whether we like it or not. Political economy itself was born from the inflation caused by the influx of gold from the Americas at the end of XVIth century, as noted at the time by Jean Bodin, demonstrating the influence of remote events which are completely independent from us. Mercantilism initially tried to respond to this kind of “natural catastrophy” by accumulating as much precious metals as possible, but the intensification of world trade which ensued was already reinforcing interdependencies. It was necessary to wait until 1758 for Doctor Quesnay to show, with his “economic table”, the analogy between economic circuits and the circulatory system, connecting social classes and distant parts in a totality which makes elements interdependent. Later, others attempted to reduce economic flows to their thermodynamic equilibriuum (theories of balance and of market self-regulation). To the contrary, one can consider that Marx’s principal contribution will have been to show that production was indeed organized as a system combining production, reproduction and circulation, a system with its own dynamic (based on profit and innovation), its specific relations of production (wage labor) adapted to productive organization as well as to the stage of technical development. Capitalism differentiated itself from feudalism as well as from a predatory economy by being a mode of production determined by circulation, industrial investment and waged work.

That production and reproduction inevitably compose a system does not mean that there is only one system, albeit a dominant one! It is vital to understand the fact that we belong to a plurality of systems, effective totalities which determine us materially more than we determine them, but in the gaps between which we can function. Indeed, against the contemporary individualistic gospel, a system is defined by the relatively independent operations of the elements which constitute it. No isolated individuals can fail to be integrated into a system on which they depend and which constrains them, like the transport system. The concept applies beyond the realm of production, up to the ecosystems exhibiting interdependencies between species and flows of matter, of energy and of information which run through them. In his marvellous book “The Macroscope”, Joel de Rosnay (1979) applied systems theory to the economy as well as to the biosphere, leading to what he called an ecosocialism. Thinking in a global manner does indeed means thinking in terms of systems, circuits, flow, interdependencies, organisation, division of functions, coordination, etc, where autonomy and self-organization play in any case an irreplaceable role of adjustment.

The totalitarian tendency of markets, with their liberal theories which do not recognize any value to non-commercial phenomena, has driven the fact that we belong to different systems of production into the background. However, it is a fact that there is no such thing as an economy which is not a mixed economy, a plural economy, where at the very least domestic, public and commercial exchanges coexist. This is precisely what made it possible for capitalism to emerge from the free cities on the margins of the feudal system, just like today a new alternative system based on relocalistion should emerge.

What is important to understand is that it is useless to want to leave a system of production if one is unable to propose a viable alternative system. It is therefore crucial to be effective, and to not propose simple correctives, even less to lecture people about the error of their ways. We need new rules, new social relations, new modes of distribution and exchanges which must not only connect together but also have an internal dynamism and a synergy with the techniques employed. It is a question of viability, of durability and of reproduction, where ecology obviously becomes the central concern. These interdependences strongly constrain what is feasible but are not sufficiently taken into account, unfortunately, by those who want to change the system (it is not enough to take control of it to change its operations), nor by those who simply want to correct it with norms and laws." (

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