collective decision-making and supervision in a communist society

by Moshé Machover: only the introduction is presented below, see the full document here.

The importance of this issue cannot be over-stated: it concerns the very essence of communism. If communism means anything at all, it means a radical eruption of democracy. Bursting its present narrow political confines, where it is allowed to hold truncated and partly illusory sway, democracy is to engulf all spheres of social life. This applies in particular to what is, under capitalism, the alienated sphere of economics: major choices that are now made behind the backs of society – imposed by private owners who monopolize wealth, or left to the chaotic play of blind market forces – will be decided consciously and collectively by the community concerned. The enormous extension of the sphere of collective decision-making will necessarily imply a corresponding expansion and deepening of the scope of public supervision, ensuring proper implementation of decisions.

Capitalism depends for its stability and ideological legitimation on a separation between the political and economic spheres: the former ruled by formally democratic public decision-making and supervision, the latter by a combination of the micro-tyranny of private ownership and the macroanarchy of the market. In both spheres the citizen is reduced to a passive voter or consumer, offered a limited choice between brands of political parties or soap powder whose minor differences are inflated by smooth spin machines and privately owned brain-washing media.

The borderline between the two spheres is however far from fixed: privatization pushes it in one direction, allowing public politically-controlled domains to be hived off, sold on the market and annexed by private owners.

Communism demands a far-reaching shift of the borderline in the opposite direction – turning production into a social service – as well as blurring of the borderline itself, until eventually the very division between the two spheres is effaced.
Yet, socialists have devoted far too scant attention to the question as to how communist democracy is to function. There is very little detailed discussion of the institutional framework that a communist commonwealth might use for making collective decisions and supervising their implementation.

The relatively few discourses that do exist in the socialist literature are, for the most part, very sketchy; perhaps worse, they depend on extremely utopian assumptions – more often than not unstated – about communist society.

Among Marxists, in particular, there is a reluctance to engage in what is felt to be speculative drawing of blueprints. This is justified up to a point, but must not be taken too far. We cannot win people over to communism if we remain too vague about what a communist commonwealth might be like.

Moreover, given the twentieth-century experience of tyrannies that claimed to be ‘socialist’, and the moral and political bankruptcy of their ‘communist’ apologists, most people are suspicious of the true intentions of communists, and doubtful of the very compatibility of communism with democracy.

Many Marxists – particularly those of the left-wing, councillist variety – tend to be too insouciant about the whole issue. Surely, with the disappearance of classes and the withering away of the state, social conflicts will cease to exist and collective decision-making – reduced to matters of mere administration – will no longer be problematic.

This is a grave error. First, the disappearance of classes and the withering away of the state cannot happen overnight but – following a revolutionary crisis – must extend over decades of changing consciousness. In the meantime, acute social conflicts are inevitable. Second, even in a classless society, many matters coming up for collective decision are bound to be hotly contested.

In all probability, conflicting local, sectorial and personal interests, not to mention sharp differences of taste and opinion, will still exist. It is quite naive to assume that all such conflicts and differences have a class basis.

Third, a decision – whether or not hotly contested – needs to be implemented, which usually requires a social mechanism of supervision, to ensure its proper implementation.

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