by Cornelius Castoriadis (aka Paul Cardan)
The development of modern society and what has happened to the working-class movement over the last 100 years (and in particular since 1917) have compelled us to make a radical revision of the ideas on which that movement has been based.
Forty years have elapsed since the proletarian revolution seized power in Russia. From that revolution it is not socialism that ultimately emerged but a new and monstrous form of exploiting society and totalitarian oppression that differed from the worst forms of capitalism only in that the bureaucracy replaced the private owners of capital and “the plan” took the place of the “free market.” Ten years ago, only a few people like us defended these ideas. Since then, the Hungarian workers have brought them to the world’s attention.
Among the raw materials for such a revision are the vast experience of the Russian Revolution and of its degeneration, the Hungarian workers’ councils, their actions, and their program. But these are far from being the only elements useful for making such a revision. A look at modern capitalism and at the type of conflict it breeds shows that throughout the world working people are faced with the same fundamental problems, often posed in surprisingly similar terms. These problems call everywhere for the same response. This answer is socialism, a social system that is the very opposite of the bureaucratic capitalism now installed in Russia, China, and elsewhere.
The experience of bureaucratic capitalism allows us clearly to perceive what socialism is not and cannot be. A close look both at past proletarian uprisings and at the everyday life and struggles of the proletariat enables us to say what socialism could and should be. Basing ourselves on a century of experience we can and must now define the positive content of socialism in a much fuller and more accurate way than was possible for previous revolutionaries. In today’s vast ideological morass, people who call themselves socialists may be heard to say that they “are no longer quite sure what the word means.” We hope to show that the very opposite is the case. Today, for the first time, one can begin to spell out in concrete and specific terms what socialism really could be like.
The task we are about to undertake not only leads us to challenge many widely held ideas about socialism, many of which go back to Lenin and some to Marx. It also leads us to question widely held ideas about capitalism, about the way it works and about the real nature of its crises, many of which have reached us (with or without distortion) from Marx himself. The two analyses are complementary and in fact the one necessitates the other.
The revision we propose did not of course start today. Various strands of the revolutionary movement – and a number of individual revolutionaries – have contributed to it over time. From the very first issue of Socialisme ou Barbarie we endeavored to resume this effort in a systematic fashion. There we claimed that the fundamental division in contemporary societies was the division into directors and executants. We attempted to show how the working class’s own development would lead it to a socialist consciousness. We stated that socialism could only be the product of the autonomous action of the working class. We stressed that a socialist society implied the abolition of any separate stratum of directors and that it therefore implied the power of mass organs and workers’ management of production.
But in a sense, we ourselves have failed to develop the content of our own ideas to the full. It would hardly be worth mentioning this fact were it not that it expressed, at its own level, the influence of factors that have dominated the evolution of Marxism itself for a century, namely, the enormous dead weight of the ideology of exploiting society, the paralyzing legacy of traditional concepts, and the difficulty of freeing oneself from inherited modes of thought.
In one sense, our revision consists of making more explicit and precise what was the genuine, initial intention of Marxism and what has always been the deepest content of working-class struggles – whether at their dramatic and culminating moments or in the anonymity of working-class life in the factory. In another sense, our revision consists of a freeing of revolutionary thought from the accumulated dross of a century. We want to break the distorting prisms through which so many revolutionaries have become accustomed to looking at the life and action of the proletariat.
Socialism aims at giving a meaning to people’s life and work; at enabling then freedom, their creativity, and the most positive aspects of their personality to flourish; at creating organic links between the individual and those around him, and between the group and society; at reconciling people with themselves and with nature. It thereby rejoins the most basic goals of the working class in its daily struggles against capitalist alienation. These are not aspirations about some hazy and distant future, but rather the content of tendencies existing and manifesting themselves today, both in revolutionary struggles and in everyday life. To understand this is to understand that, for the worker, the ultimate problem of history is an everyday problem. To grasp this is also to perceive that socialism is not “nationalization” or “planning” or even an “increase in the standard of living.” It is to understand that the real crisis of capitalism is not due to “the anarchy of the market” or to “overproduction” or to “the falling rate of profit.” Indeed, it is to see the tasks of revolutionary theory and the function of the revolutionary organization in an entirely new way.
Pushed to their ultimate consequences, grasped in their full strength, these ideas transform our vision of society and the world. They modify our conception of theory as well as of revolutionary practice.
The first part of this text is devoted to the positive definition of socialism. The following part concerns the analysis of capitalism and the crisis it is undergoing. This order, which might not appear very logical, may be justified by the fact that the Polish and Hungarian revolutions have made the question of the positive definition of the socialist organization of society an immediate practical question.
This order of presentation also stems from another consideration. The very content of our ideas leads us to maintain that, ultimately, one cannot understand anything about the profound meaning of capitalism and the crisis it is undergoing unless one begins with the most total idea of socialism. For all that we have to say can be reduced, in the last analysis, to this: Socialism is autonomy, people’s conscious direction of their own lives. Capitalism – whether private or bureaucratic – is the ultimate negation of this autonomy, and its crisis stems from the fact that the system necessarily creates this drive toward autonomy, while simultaneously being compelled to suppress it.
The Root of the Crisis of Capitalism
The capitalist organization of social life (we are speaking about private capitalism in the West and bureaucratic capitalism in the East) creates a perpetually renewed crisis in every sphere of human activity. This crisis appears most intensely in the realm of production – “production” meaning here the shop floor, not “the economy” or “the market.” In its essence, however, the situation is the same in all other fields, whether one is dealing with the family, education, international relations, politics, or culture. Everywhere, the capitalist structure of society consists of organizing people’s lives from the outside, in the absence of those directly concerned and against their aspirations and interests. This is but another way of saying that capitalism divides society into a narrow stratum of directors (whose function is to decide and organize everything) and the vast majority of the population, who are reduced to carrying out (executing) the decisions made by these directors. As a result of this very fact, most people experience their own lives as something alien to them. This pattern of organization is profoundly irrational and full of contradictions. Under it, repeated crises of one kind or another are absolutely inevitable.
Its is nonsensical to seek to organize people, either in production or in politics, as if they were mere objects, systematically ignoring what they themselves wish or how they themselves think things should be done. In real life, capitalism is obliged to base itself on people’s capacity for self-organization, on the individual and collective creativity of the producers. Without making use of these abilities the system could not survive for a day. But the whole “official” organization of modern society both ignores and seeks to suppress these abilities to the utmost.
The result is not only an enormous waste due to untapped capacity. The system does more: It necessarily engenders opposition, a struggle against it by those upon whom it seeks to impose itself. Long before one can speak of revolution or political consciousness, people refuse in their everyday working lives to be treated like objects. The capitalist organization of society is thereby compelled lot only to structure itself in the absence of those most directly concerned but also to take shape against them. The net result is not only waste but perpetual Conflict.
If a thousand individuals have among them a given capacity for self-organization, capitalism consists in more or less arbitrarily choosing fifty of these individuals, vesting them with managerial authority and deciding that the others should just be cogs. Metaphorically speaking, this is already a 95 percent loss of social initiative and drive. But there is more to it. As the 950 ignored individuals are not cogs, and as capitalism is obliged up to a point to base itself on their human capacities and in fact to develop them, these individuals will react and struggle against what the system imposes upon them. The creative faculties they are not allowed to exercise on behalf of a social order that rejects them (and which they reject) are now utilized against that social order. A permanent struggle develops at the very heart of social life. It soon becomes the source of further waste. The narrow stratum of directors has henceforth to divide its time between organizing the work of those “below” and seeking to counteract, neutralize, deflect, or manipulate their resistance. The function of the managerial apparatus ceases to be merely organizational and soon assumes all sorts of coercive aspects. Those in authority in a large modern factory in fact spend less of their time organizing production than coping, directly or indirectly, with the resistance of the exploited – whether it be a question of supervision, of quality control, of determining piece rates, of “human relations,” of discussions with shop stewards or union representatives. On top of all this there is of course the permanent preoccupation of those in power with making sure that everything is measurable, quantifiable, verifiable, and supervisable so as to deal in advance with any inventive counter-reaction the workers might launch against new methods of exploitation. The same applies, with all due corrections, to the total overall organization of social life and to all the essential activities of any modern state.
The irrationality and contradictions of capitalism do not show up only in the way social life is organized. They appear even more clearly when one looks at the real content of the life this system proposes. More than any other social order, capitalism has put work at the center of human activity – and more than any other social order capitalism makes of work something that is absurd (absurd not from the viewpoint of the philosopher or of the moralist, but from the point of view of those who have to perform it). What is challenged today is not only the “human organization” of work but its nature, its content, its methods, the very instruments and purpose of capitalist production. The two aspects are of course inseparable, but it is the second that needs to be stressed.
As a result of the nature of work in a capitalist enterprise, and however it may be organized, the activity of the worker, instead of being the organic expression of his human faculties, turns into an alien and hostile process that dominates the subject of this process. In theory, the proletarian is tied to this activity only by a thin (but unbreakable) thread: the need to earn a living. But this ensures that one’s work, even the day that is about to begin, dawns as something hostile. Work under capitalism therefore implies a permanent mutilation, a perpetual waste of creative capacity, and a constant struggle between the worker and his own activity, between what he would like to do and what he has to do.
From this angle, too, capitalism can survive only to the extent that reality does not yield to its methods and conform to its spirit. The system functions only to the extent that the “official” organization of production and of society is constantly resisted, thwarted, corrected, and completed by the effective self-organization of people. Work processes can be effective under capitalism only to the extent that the real attitudes of workers toward their work differ from what is prescribed. Working people succeed in learning the general principles pertaining to their work – to which, according to the spirit of the system, they should have no access and concerning which the system seeks to keep them in the dark. They then apply these principles to the specific conditions in which they find themselves, whereas in theory this practical application can be spelled out only by the managerial apparatus.
Exploiting societies persist because those whom they exploit help them to survive. Slave-owning and feudal societies perpetuated themselves because ancient slaves and medieval serfs worked according to the norms set by the masters and lords of those societies. The proletariat enables capitalism to continue by acting against the system. Here we find the origin of the historical crisis of capitalism. And it is in this respect that capitalism is a society pregnant with revolutionary prospects. Slavery or serf society functioned as far as the exploited did not struggle against the system. But capitalism can function only insofar as those whom it exploits actively oppose everything the system seeks to impose upon them. The final outcome of this struggle is socialism, namely, the elimination of all externally imposed norms, methods, and patterns of organization and the total liberation of the creative and self-organizing capacities of the masses.
The Principles of Socialist Society
Socialist society implies people’s self-organization of every aspect of their social activities. The instauration of socialism therefore entails the immediate abolition of the fundamental division of society into a class of directors and a class of executants.
The content of the socialist reorganization of society is first of all workers’ management of production. The working class has repeatedly staked its claim to such management and struggled to achieve it at the high points of its historical actions: in Russia in 1917-18, in Spain in 1936, in Hungary in 1956.
Workers’ councils, based on one’s place of work, are the form of workers’ management and the institution capable of fostering its growth. Workers’ management means the power of the local workers’ councils and ultimately, at the level of society as a whole, the power of the central assembly of workers’ councils and the government of the councils. Factory councils (or councils based on any other place of work such as a plant, building site, mine, railway yard, office, etc.) will be composed of delegates who are elected by the workers, responsible for reporting to them at regular intervals, and revocable by them at any time, and will unite the functions of deliberation, decision, and execution. Such councils are historic creations of the working class. They have come to the forefront every time the question of power has been posed in modern society. The Russian factory committees of 1917, the German workers’ councils of 1919, the Hungarian councils of 1956 all sought to express (whatever their name) the same original, organic, and characteristic working-class pattern of self-organization.
To define the socialist organization of society in concrete terms is to draw all the possible conclusions from two basic ideas: workers’ management of production and the rule of the councils, which are themselves the organic creations of proletarian struggles. But such a definition can come to life and be given flesh and blood only if combined with an account of how the institutions of this society might function in practice.
There is no question for us here of trying to draw up “statutes,” “rules,” or an “ideal constitution” for socialist society. Statutes as such mean nothing. The best of statutes can only have meaning to the extent that people are permanently prepared to defend what is best in them, to make up what they lack, and to change whatever they may contain that has become inadequate or outdated. From this point of view, we obviously should condemn any fetishism for the “soviet” or “council” type of organization. The “constant eligibility and revocability of representatives” are of themselves quite insufficient to “guarantee” that a council will remain the expression of working-class interests. The council will remain such an expression for as long as people are prepared to do whatever may be necessary for it to remain so. The realization of socialism is not a question of better legislation. It depends on the autonomous action of the working class, on this class’s capacity to find within itself the necessary awareness of ends and means, the necessary solidarity and determination.
But this autonomous mass action cannot remain amorphous, fragmented, and dispersed. It will find expression in patterns of action and forms of organization: in methods of operation and in institutions that adequately embody and express its purpose. Just as we must avoid the fetishism of “statutes” we should also condemn any sort of “anarchist” or “spontaneist” fetishism that, in the Belief that working-class consciousness ultimately will determine everything, takes little or no interest in the forms such consciousness should take if it wants to be effective in changing society. The council is not a miraculous institution. It cannot be a means for the workers to express themselves if the workers have not decided that they will express themselves through this medium. But the council is an adequate form of organization: Its whole structure is set up to enable this will to self-expression to come to the fore, when it exists. Parliamentary institutions, on the other hand, whether called the “National Assembly,” the “U.S. Congress,” or the “Supreme Soviet of the USSR,” are by definition types of institutions that cannot be socialist. They are founded on a radical separation between the people, “consulted” from time to time, and those who are supposed to “represent” them, but who are in fact uncontrollable and irremovable. A workers’ council is designed so as to represent the masses, but may cease to fulfil this function. Parliament is designed so that it never fulfils this function.
The question of adequate and meaningful institutions is basic to socialist society. It is particularly important as socialism can only be instaurated through a revolution, that is to say, as the result of a social crisis in the course of which the consciousness and activity of the masses reach a state of extreme tension. Under these conditions, the masses become capable of breaking the power of the ruling class and of its armed forces, of bypassing the political and economic institutions of established society, and of overcoming within themselves the heavy legacy of centuries of servitude. This state of affairs should be thought of not as some kind of paroxysm but, on the contrary, as the prefiguration of the level of both activity and awareness demanded of people in a free society.
The “ebbing” of revolutionary activity has nothing inevitable about it. It will always remain a threat, however, given the sheer enormity of the tasks to be accomplished. Everything that adds to the innumerable problems facing popular mass action will enhance the tendency to such a reflux. It is therefore essential that revolutionary society, from its very beginning, furnish itself with a network of institutions and methods of operation that both allow and favor the unfolding of the activity of the masses and that it abolish along the way everything that inhibits or thwarts this activity. It is essential too that revolutionary society should create for itself, at each step, those stable forms of organization that can most readily become effective normal mechanisms for the expression of popular will, both in “important matters” and in everyday life (which is, in truth, the first and foremost of all “important matters”).
The definition of socialist society that we are attempting therefore requires of us some description of how we visualize its institutions and of the way they will function. This endeavor is not “utopian,” for it is but the elaboration and extrapolation of the historical creations of the working class, and in particular of the concept of workers’ management. (At the risk of reinforcing the “utopian” features of this text, we have always used the future tense when speaking of socialist society. The use of the conditional throughout the text would have been tedious and tiresome. It goes without saying that this manner of speaking does not affect in any way our examination of the problems raised here; the reader may easily replace “The socialist society will be …” with “The author thinks that the socialist society will be.
As for the substance of the text, we have deliberately reduced historical and literary references to a minimum. The ideas we propose to develop, however, are only the theoretical formulation of the experience of a century of working-class struggles. They embody real experiences (both positive and negative), conclusions (both direct and indirect) that have already been drawn, answers given to problems actually posed or answers that would have had to be given if such and such a revolution had developed a little further. Thus every sentence in this text is linked to questions that have already been met implicitly or explicitly in the course of working-class struggles. This should put a stop once and for all to allegations of “utopianism.”
In the first chapter of his book The Workers’ Councils (Melbourne, 1950), Anton Pannekoek develops a similar analysis of the problems confronting socialist society. On fundamental issues, our points of view are very close.)
The guiding principle of our effort to elaborate the content of socialism is as follows: Workers’ management will be possible only if people’s attitudes to social organization alter radically. This in turn will take place only if the institutions embodying this organization become a meaningful part of their real daily lives. Just as work will have a meaning only when people understand and dominate it, so will the institutions of socialist society have to become understandable and controllable. (Bakunin once described the problem of socialism as being one of “integrating individuals into structures that they can understand and control.”)
Modern society is a dark and hidden jungle, a confusion of apparatuses, structures, and institutions whose workings no one, or almost no one, understands, and no one really dominates or takes any interest in. Socialist society will be possible only if it brings about a radical change in this state of affairs and massively simplifies social organization. Socialism implies that the organization of a society will have become transparent to its members.
To say that the workings and institutions of socialist society must be easy to understand implies that people must have a maximum of information. This “maximum of information” is something quite different from an enormous mass of data. The problem is not to equip everybody with a portable version of the Bibliotheque nationale or the Library of Congress. On the contrary, the maximum of information depends first and foremost on a reduction of data to their essentials so that they can readily be handled by everyone. This will be possible because socialism will result in an immediate and enormous simplification of problems and the disappearance, pure and simple, of most current rules and regulations, which will have become quite meaningless. It will be facilitated by a systematic effort to gather and disseminate information [connaissance] about social reality, and to present facts both adequately and simply. Further on, when discussing the functioning of socialist economy, we will give examples of the enormous possibilities that already exist in this field.
Under socialism, people will dominate the workings and institutions of society, instead of being dominated by them. Socialism will therefore have to realize democracy for the first time in human history. Etymologically, the word “democracy” means domination by the masses. We are not concerned here with the formal aspects of the word “domination.” Real domination must not be confused with voting. A vote, even a free vote, may only be – and often only is – a parody of democracy. Democracy is not the right to vote on secondary issues. It is not the right to appoint rulers who will then decide, without control from below, on all the essential questions. Nor does democracy lie in calling upon people to voice their opinions upon incomprehensible questions or upon questions that have no meaning for them. Real domination lies in one’s being able to decide for oneself on all essential questions in full knowledge of the relevant facts.
“In full knowledge of the relevant facts”: In these few words lies the whole problem of democracy. It is meaningless to ask people to voice their opinions if they are not aware of the relevant facts. This has long been stressed by the reactionary or fascist critics of bourgeois “democracy,” and even by the most cynical Stalinist. It is obvious that bourgeois democracy is a farce, if only because literally nobody in capitalist society can express an opinion in knowledge of the relevant facts, least of all the mass of the people from whom political and economic realities and the real meaning of the questions asked are systematically hidden. But the answer is not to vest power in the hands of a few incompetent and uncontrollable bureaucrats. The answer is to transform social reality in such a way that essential data and fundamental problems are understood by everyone, enabling everyone to express opinions in full knowledge of the relevant facts.
To decide means to decide for oneself. To decide who is to decide already is not quite deciding for oneself. The only total form of democracy is therefore direct democracy. And the factory council exercises authority and replaces the factory’s general assembly only when the latter is not in session.
To achieve the widest, the most meaningful direct democracy will require that all the economic, political, and other structures of society be based on local groups that are concrete collectivities, organic social units. Direct democracy certainly requires the physical presence of citizens in a given place, when decisions have to be made. But this is not enough. It also requires that these citizens form an organic community, that they live if possible in the same milieu, that they be familiar through their daily experience with the subject to be discussed and with the problems to be tackled. It is only in such units that the political participation of individuals can become total, that people can know and feel that their involvement will have an effect, and that the real life of the community is, in large part, determined by its own members and not by unknown or external authorities who decide for them. There must therefore be the maximum amount of autonomy and self-administration for the local units.
Modern social life has already created these collectivities and continues to create them. They are based on medium-sized or large enterprises and are to be found in industry, transportation, commerce, banking, insurance, public administration, where people by the hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands spend the main part of their life harnessed to a common task, where they encounter society in its most concrete form. A place of work is not only a unit of production: It has Income the primary unit of social life for the vast majority of people. Instead of basing itself on geographical units, which economic developments have rendered completely artificial, the political structure of socialism will be largely based on collectivities involved in common work. Such collectivities will be the fertile soil on which direct democracy can flourish, as the ancient city or the democratic communities of free farmers in the United States of the nineteenth century were in their times, and for similar reasons.
Direct democracy gives an idea of the amount of decentralization that socialist society will be able to achieve. But this democratic society will have to find a means of democratically integrating these basic units into the social fabric as a whole as well as of achieving the necessary degree of centralization, without which the life of a modern nation would collapse.
It is not centralization as such that has brought about political alienation in modern societies or that has led to the expropriation of the power of the many for the benefit of the few. It comes rather from the constitution of separate, uncontrollable bodies, exclusively and specifically concerned with the function of centralization. As long as centralization is conceived of as the independent function of an independent apparatus, bureaucracy and bureaucratic rule will indeed be inseparable from centralization. But in a socialist society there will be no conflict between centralization and the autonomy of grass-roots organs, insofar as both functions will be exercised by the same institutions. There will be no separate apparatus whose function it will be to reunite what it has itself fragmented; this absurd task (need we recall it) is precisely the “function” of a modern bureaucracy.
Bureaucratic centralization is a feature of all modern exploiting societies. The intimate links between centralization and totalitarian bureaucratic rule in such class societies provoke a healthy and understandable aversion to centralization among many people. But this response is often confused, and at times it reinforces the very things it seeks to correct. “Centralization, there’s the root of all evil” proclaim many honest militants as they break with Stalinism or Leninism in France as well as in Poland or Hungary. But this formulation, at best ambiguous, becomes positively harmful when it leads – as it often does – either to formal demands for the “fragmentation of power” or to demands for a limitless extension of the power of grass-roots or factory organs, neglecting what is happening at the center.
When Polish militants, for instance, imagine they have found the way to abolish bureaucracy when they advocate a social life organized and directed by “several centers” (the State administration, a parliamentary assembly, the trade unions, workers’ councils, and political parties), they are arguing beside the point. They fail to see that this “polycentrism” is equivalent to the absence of any real and identifiable center, controlled from below. And as modern society has to make certain central decisions, the “constitution” they propose will exist only on paper. It will only serve to hide the re-emergence of a real, but this time masked (and therefore uncontrollable), “center” from amid the ranks of the State and political bureaucracy.
The reason is obvious: If one fragments any institution accomplishing a significant or vital function, one only creates ten times over an enhanced need for some other institution to reassemble the fragments. Similarly, if, in principle or in fact, one merely advocates extending the power of local councils to the level of the individual enterprise, one is thereby handing them over to domination by a central bureaucracy that alone would “know” or “understand” how to make the economy function as a whole (and modern economies, whether one likes it or not, do function as a whole). To refuse to face up to the question of central power is tantamount to leaving the solution of these problems to some bureaucracy or other.
Socialist society therefore will have to provide a socialist solution to the problem of centralization. This answer can only be the assumption of power by a federation of workers’ councils and the institution of a central assembly of councils and of a council government. We will see further on that such an assembly and such a government do not signify a delegation of popular power but are, on the contrary, an expression of that power. At this stage we only want to discuss the principles that will govern the relationship of such bodies to the local councils and other grass-roots groups. These principles are important, for they will affect the functioning of all institutions in a socialist society.
In a society where the people have been robbed of political power and where this power is in the hands of a centralizing authority, the essential relationship between this authority and its subordinate organs (and ultimately, the people) can be summed up as follows: Channels of communication from the base to the summit only transmit information, whereas channels from the summit to the base transmit decisions (plus, perhaps, that minimum of information deemed necessary for the understanding and execution of the decisions made at the summit). The whole setup expresses not only a monopoly of power by the summit – a monopoly of decision-making authority – but also a monopoly of the conditions necessary for the exercise of power. The summit alone has the “sum total” of information needed to evaluate and decide. In modern society it can only be by accident that any individual or body gains access to information other than that relating to his immediate milieu. The system seeks to avoid, or at any rate it does not encourage, such “accidents.”
When we say that in a socialist society the central bodies will not constitute a delegation of power but will be the expression of the power of the people, we are implying a radical change in this way of doing things. Two-way communications will be instaurated between the “base” and the “summit.” One of the essential tasks of central bodies, including the council government, will be to collect, transmit, and disseminate information conveyed to them by local groups. In all essential fields decisions will be made at the grass-roots and will be sent back up to the “summit,” whose responsibility it will be to ensure their execution or to carry them out itself. A two-way flow of information and decisions thus will be instaurated and this will not only apply to relations between the government and the councils but will be a model for relations between all institutions and those who participate in them.
We must stress once again that we are not trying to draw up perfect blueprints. It is obvious, for instance, that to collect and disseminate information is not a socially neutral function. Not all information can be disseminated – that would be the surest way of smothering what is relevant and rendering it incomprehensible and therefore uncontrollable. The role of the government is therefore political, even in this respect. This is why we call it “government” and not the “central press service.” But more important is its explicit function of informing people, which shall be its responsibility. The explicit function of government today is to hide what’s going on from the people.
Socialism Is the Transformation of Work
Socialism can be instaurated only by the autonomous action of the working class; it is nothing other than this autonomous action. Socialist society is nothing other than the self-organization of this autonomy. Socialism both presupposes this autonomy and helps to develop it.
But if this autonomy is people’s conscious domination over what they do and what they produce, clearly it cannot merely be apolitical autonomy. Political autonomy is but a derivative aspect of the inherent content and the basic problem of socialism: the instauration of people’s domination over their primary activity, the work process. We deliberately say “instauration” and not “restoration,” for never in history has this kind of domination existed. All comparisons with historical antecedents (for instance, with the situation of the artisan or of the free peasant), however fruitful they may be in some respects, have only a limited scope and risk leading one into a backward-looking type of Utopian thinking.
A purely political autonomy would be meaningless. One cannot imagine a society where people would be slaves in production every day of the week and then enjoy Sundays of political freedom. (Yet this is what Lenin’s definition of socialism as “soviets plus electrification” boiled down to.) The idea that socialist production or a socialist economy could be run, at any political level, by “technicians” supervised by councils, or by Soviets or by any other body “incarnating the political power of the working class” is pure nonsense. Real power in any such society would rapidly fall into the hands of those who managed production. The councils or Soviets sooner or later would wither away amid the general indifference of the population. People would stop devoting time, interest, or activity to institutions that no longer really determined the pattern of their lives. Autonomy is therefore meaningless unless it implies workers’ management, that is, unless it involves organized workers determining the production process themselves at the level of the shop, the plant, entire industries, and the economy as a whole. But workers’ management is not just a new administrative technique. It cannot remain external to the structure of work itself. It does not mean keeping work as it is and just replacing the bureaucratic apparatus that currently manages production with a workers’ council – however democratic or revocable such a council might be. It means that for the mass of workers new relations will have to be instaurated with their work and about their work. The very content of work will immediately have to be altered.
Today the purpose, means, methods, and rhythms of work are determined from the outside by a bureaucratic managerial apparatus. This apparatus can only manage through resort to abstract, universal rules determined “once and for all.” Inevitably, though, they are revised periodically with each new “crisis” in the organization of the production process. These rules cover such matters as production norms, technical specifications, rates of pay, bonuses, and the organization of production areas. Once the bureaucratic managerial apparatus has been eliminated, this way of regulating production will be unable to continue, either in its form or its substance.
In accordance with the deepest aspirations of the working class, production “norms” (in their present meaning) will be abolished, and complete equality in wages will be instituted. Taken together, these measures mean the abolition of economic coercion and constraint in production – except in the most general form of “those who do not work do not eat” – as a form of discipline externally imposed by a specific coercive apparatus. Labor discipline will be the discipline imposed by each group of workers upon its own members, by each shop on the groups that make it up, by each factory assembly upon its shops and departments. The integration of particular individual activities into a whole will be accomplished basically by the cooperation of various groups of workers or shops. It will be the object of the workers’ permanent and ongoing coordinating activity. The essential universality of modern production will be freed from the concrete experience of particular jobs and will be formulated by meetings of workers.
Workers’ management is therefore not the “supervision” of a bureaucratic managerial apparatus by representatives of the workers. Nor is it the replacement of this apparatus by another, similar one made up of individuals of working-class origin. It is the abolition of any separate managerial apparatus and the restitution of the functions of such an apparatus to the community of workers. The factory council is not a new managerial apparatus. It is but one of the places in which coordination takes place, a “local meeting area [permanence]” from which contacts between the factory and the outside world are regulated.
If this is achieved it will imply that the nature and content of work are already beginning to be transformed. Today work consists essentially in obeying instructions initiated elsewhere, the direction of this activity having been removed form the executant’s control. Workers’ management will mean the reunification of the functions of direction and execution.
But even this is insufficient – or rather it does and will immediately lead beyond mere reunification. By restituting to the workers the functions of direction, they necessarily will be led to tackle what is today at the core of alienation, namely, the technological structure of work, its objects, its tools and methods, which ensure that work dominates the workers instead of being dominated by them. This problem will not be solved by the workers overnight, but its solution will be the task of that historical period we call socialism. Socialism is first and foremost the solution to this problem.
Between capitalism and communism there are not thirty-six different types of “transitional society,” as some have sought to make us believe. There is but one: socialist society. And the main characteristic of this society is not “the development of the productive forces” or “the increasing satisfaction of consumer needs” or “an increase in political freedom.” The hallmark of socialism is the transformation it will bring about in the nature and content of work, through the conscious and deliberate transformation of an inherited technology. For the first time in history, technology will be subordinated to human needs (not only to the people’s needs as consumers but also to their needs as producers).
The socialist revolution will allow this process to begin. Its realization will mark the entry of humanity into the communist era. All other things – politics, consumption, etc. – are consequences, conditions, implications, and presuppositions that certainly must be looked at in their organic unity, but which can only acquire such a unity or meaning through their relation to this central problem: the transformation of work itself. Human freedom will remain an illusion and a mystification if it doesn’t mean freedom in people’s fundamental activity: their productive activity. And this freedom will not be a gift bestowed by nature. It will not arise automatically, by increments or out of other developments. People will have to create it consciously. In the last analysis, this is the content of socialism.
Important practical consequences pertaining to the immediate tasks of a socialist revolution follow from these considerations. Changing the nature of work will be tackled from both ends. On the one hand, the development of people’s human capacities and faculties will have to become the revolution’s highest priority. This will imply the systematic dismantling, stone by stone, of the entire edifice of the division of labor. On the other hand, people will have to give a whole new orientation to technical developments and to how such developments should be applied in the production process. These are but two aspects of the same thing: man’s relationship to technique.
Let us start by looking at the second, more tangible point: technical development as such. As a first approximation, one could say that capitalist technology (the current application of technique to production) is rotten to the core, not only because it does not help people dominate their work, but also because its aim is exactly the opposite. Socialists often say that what is basically wrong with capitalist technology is that it seeks to develop production for purposes of profit, or that it develops production for production’s sake, independently of human needs (people being conceived of, in these arguments, only as potential consumers of products). The same socialists then tell us that the purpose of socialism is to adapt production to the real consumer needs of society, in relation both to the volume and to the nature of the goods produced.
Of course, all this is true. But the fundamental problem lies elsewhere. Capitalism does not utilize a socially neutral technology for capitalist ends. Capitalism has created capitalist technology, which is by no means neutral. The real intention of capitalist technology is not to develop production for production’s sake: It is to subordinate and dominate the producers. Capitalist technology is characterized essentially by its drive to eliminate the human element in productive labor and, in the long run, to eliminate man altogether from the productive process. That here, as everywhere else, capitalism fails to fulfill its deepest tendency – and that it would fall to pieces if it achieved its purpose – does not affect the argument. On the contrary, it only highlights another aspect of the crisis of this contradictory system.
Capitalism cannot count on the voluntary cooperation of the producers. On the contrary, it constantly runs up against their hostility (or at best indifference) to the production process. This is why it is essential for the machine to impose its rhythm on the work process. Where this is not possible capitalism seeks at least to measure the work performed. In every productive process, work must therefore be definable, quantifiable, supervisable from the outside – otherwise this process has no meaning for capitalism. As long as capitalism cannot dispense with the producers altogether, it has to make them as interchangeable as possible and reduce their work to its simplest expression, that of unskilled labor. There is no conspiracy or conscious plot behind all this. There is only a process of “natural selection,” affecting technical inventions as they are applied to industry. Some are preferred to others and are, on the whole, more widely utilized. These are the ones that fit in with capitalism’s basic need to deal with labor power as a measurable, supervisable, and interchangeable commodity.
There is no capitalist chemistry or capitalist physics as such. There is not even a specifically capitalist “technique,” in the general sense of the word. There certainly is, however, a capitalist technology, if by this one means that of the “spectrum” of techniques available at a given point in time (as determined by the development of science) a given group (or “band”) of processes actually will be selected. From the moment the development of science permits a choice of several possible procedures, a society will regularly choose those methods that have a meaning for it, that are “rational” within the framework of its own class rationality. But the “rationality” of an exploiting society is not the rationality of socialism. The conscious transformation of technology will therefore be a central task of a society of free workers. Correspondingly, the analysis of alienation and crisis in capitalist society ought to begin with this central core of all social relationships, which are found in the concrete relationships of production, people’s relationships in work, as seen in its three indissociable aspects: the relationship of the workers with the means and objects of production, the relationships of the workers among themselves, and the relationship of the workers with the managerial apparatus of the production process.
(Academic economists have analyzed the fact that of several technically feasible possibilities certain ones are chosen, and that these choices lead to a particular pattern of technology applied in real life, giving concrete expression to the technique [understood in the general sense of “know-how”] of a given period. See, for instance, Joan Robinson’s The Accumulation of Capital, 3rd ed. [New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1969], pp. 101-78. But in these analyses the choice is always presented as flowing from considerations of “profitability” and in particular from the “relative costs of capital and labor.” This abstract viewpoint has little grasp of the reality of industrial evolution. Marx, on the other hand, underlines the social content of machine-dominated industry, its enslaving function.)
Marx, as is well known, was the first to go beyond the surface of the economic phenomena of capitalism (such as the market, competition, distribution, etc.) and to tackle the analysis of the central area of capitalist social relations: the concrete relations of production in the capitalist factory. But volume 1 of Capital is still awaiting its sequel. The most striking feature of the degeneration of the Marxist movement is that this particular concern of Marx’s, the most fundamental of all, was soon abandoned, even by the best of Marxists, in favor of an analysis of “important” phenomena. Through this very fact, these analyses were either totally distorted, or ended up dealing with very partial aspects of reality, thereby leading to judgments that proved catastrophically wrong.
Thus it is striking to see Rosa Luxemburg entitle two large volumes The Accumulation of Capital, in which she totally ignores what this process of accumulation really signifies in the concrete relations of production. Her concern in these volumes was solely with the possibility of an overall equilibrium between production and consumption, and she finally came to believe that she had discovered in capitalism a process of automatic collapse (an idea, needless to say, that is concretely false and a priori absurd).
It is just as striking to see Lenin, in his Imperialism, start from the correct and fundamental observation that the concentration of capital has reached the stage of domination by monopolies – and yet neglect the transformation in the capitalist factory’s relations of production that results precisely from such concentration. At the same time, he ignored the crucial phenomenon of the constitution of an enormous apparatus managing production, which was henceforth to incarnate exploitation. He preferred to see the main consequences of the concentration of capital in the transformation of capitalists into “coupon-clipping” rentiers. The working-class movement is still paying the consequences of this way of looking at things. Insofar as ideas play a role in history, Khrushchev is in power in Russia as a by-product of the conception that exploitation can only take the form of coupon clipping.
But we must go back even further. We must go back to Marx himself. Marx shed a great deal of light on the alienation the producer experiences in the course of the capitalist production process and on the enslavement of man by the mechanical universe he has created. But Marx’s analysis is at times incomplete in that he sees only alienation in all this. In Capital – as opposed to Marx’s early writings – it is hardly brought out at all that the worker is (and can only be) the positive vehicle of capitalist production, which is obliged to base itself on him as such, and to develop him as such, while simultaneously seeking to reduce him to an automaton and, at the limit, to drive him out of production altogether. Because of this, the analysis fails to perceive that the primary crisis of capitalism is the crisis at the point of production, due to the simultaneous existence of two contradictory tendencies, neither of which could disappear without the whole system collapsing. Marx shows in capitalism “despotism in the workshop and anarchy in society” – instead of seeing it as both despotism and anarchy in both workshop and society. This leads him to look for the crisis of capitalism not in production itself (except insofar as capitalist production develops “oppression, misery, degradation, but also revolt,” and the numerical strength and discipline of the proletariat), but in such factors as overproduction and the falling rate of profit. Marx therefore fails to see that as long as this type of work persists, this crisis will persist with all it entails, and this not only whatever the system of property but also whatever the nature of the State, and finally whatever even the system of management of production.
In certain passages of Capital, Marx is thus led to see in modern production only the fact that the producer is mutilated and reduced to a “fragment of a man” – which is true, as much as the contrary – and, what is more serious, to link this aspect to modern production and finally to production as such, instead of linking it to capitalist technology. Marx implies that the basis of this state of affairs is modern production as such, a stage in the development of technique about which nothing can be done, the famous “realm of necessity.” Thus the takeover of society by the producers – socialism – at times comes to mean for Marx only an external change in political and economic management, a change that would leave intact the structure of work and simply reform its more “inhuman” aspects. This idea is clearly expressed in the famous passage of volume 3 of Capital, where Marx, speaking of socialist society, says, “In fact, the realm of freedom actually begins only where labor which is determined by necessity and mundane considerations ceases; thus in the very nature of things it lies beyond the sphere of actual material production. … Freedom in this field can only consist in socialized man, the associated producers, rationally regulating their interchange with Nature, bringing it under their common control, instead of being ruled by it … and achieving this with the least expenditure of energy and under conditions most favorable to, and worthy of their human nature. But it nonetheless still remains a realm of necessity. Beyond it begins … the true realm of freedom, which, however, can blossom forth only with this realm of necessity as its basis. The shortening of the working day is its basic prerequisite.”
If it is true that “the realm of freedom actually begins only where labor which is determined by necessity and mundane considerations ceases,” it is strange to read from the pen of the man who wrote that “industry is the open book of human faculties” that freedom “thus” could only be found outside of labor. The proper conclusion, which Marx himself draws in certain other places, is that the Realm of freedom begins when labor becomes free activity, both in what motivates it and in its content. In the current way of looking at things, however, freedom is what is not work, it is what surrounds work, it is either “free time” (reduction of the working day) or “rational regulation” and “common control” of exchanges with Nature, which minimize human effort and preserve human dignity. In this perspective the shortening of the working day certainly becomes a “basic prerequisite,” as mankind would only be free in its leisure.
The reduction of the working day is in fact important, not for this reason however, but because it will allow people to achieve a balance between their various types of activity. And, at the limit, the “ideal” (communism) is not the reduction of the working day to zero, but the free determination by each of the nature and extent of his work. Socialist society will be able to reduce the length of the working day, and will have to do so, but this will not be its fundamental preoccupation. Its first task will be to tackle “the realm of necessity” as such, to transform the very nature of work. The problem is not to leave more and more “free” time to individuals – which might well only be empty time – so that they may fill it at will with “poetry” or the carving of wood. The problem is to make all time a time of liberty and to allow concrete freedom to embody itself in creative activity. The problem is to put poetry into work. (Strictly speaking, poetry means creation.) Production is not something negative that has to be limited as much as possible for mankind to fulfil itself in its leisure. The instauration of autonomy is also – and in the first place – the instauration of autonomy in work.
Underlying the idea that freedom is to be found “outside the sphere of actual material production” there lies a double error: first, that the very nature of technique and of modern production renders inevitable the domination of the productive process over the producer, in the course of his work; second, that technique and in particular modern technique follows an autonomous development, before which one can only bow down. Modern technique would moreover possess the double attribute of, on the one hand, constantly reducing the human role in production and, on the other hand, of constantly increasing the productivity of labor. From these two inexplicably combined attributes would result a miraculous dialectic of technical progress: More and more a slave in the course of work, man would be in a position to reduce enormously the length of work, if only he could succeed in organizing society rationally.
We have already shown, however, that there is not an autonomous development of technique in its application to the production process, i.e., of technology. Of the sum total of technologies that scientific and technical development makes possible at any given point in time, capitalist society brings to fulfilment those ones that correspond most closely to its class structure and that best permit capital to struggle against labor. It is generally believed that the application of this or that invention to production depends on its economic profitability. But there is no such thing as a neutral “profitability”: The class struggle in the factory is the main factor determining “profitability.” A given invention will be preferred to another by a factory management if, other things being equal, it enhances the “independent” progress of production, freeing it from interference by the producers. The increasing enslavement of people in production flows essentially from this process, and not from some mysterious curse, inherent in a given phase of technological development. There is, moreover, no magic dialectic of slavery and productivity: Productivity increases as a function of the enormous scientific and technical advancements that are at the basis of modern production – and it increases despite the slavery, and not because of it. Slavery implies an enormous amount of waste, due to the fact that people only contribute to production an infinitesimal fraction of their potential abilities. (We are passing no a priori judgment on what these faculties might be. However low they may estimate these faculties, Mr. Dreyfus” and Mr. Khrushchev would have to admit that their own particular ways of organizing production only tap an infinitesimal fraction of their potential.)
Socialist society, therefore, will not be afflicted with any kind of technical curse. Having abolished bureaucratic-capitalist relationships, it will tackle at the same time the technological structure of production, which is both the basis of these relationships and their ever-renewed product.
Workers’ Management: The Factory
It is well known that workers can organize their own work at the level of a workshop or of part of a factory. Bourgeois industrial sociologists not only recognize this fact but point out that “primary groups” of workers often get on with their job better if management leaves them alone and doesn’t constantly try to “direct” them.
How can the work of these various “primary groups” – or of various shops and sections – be coordinated? Bourgeois theoreticians stress that the present managerial apparatus, whose formal job it is to ensure such coordination, is not really up to the task: It has no real grip on the workers and is itself torn by internal conflicts.
But, having “demolished” the present setup by their criticisms, these modern industrial sociologists have nothing to put in its place. And as beyond the “primary” organization of production there has to be a “secondary” organization, they finally fall back on the existing bureaucratic apparatus, exhorting it “to understand,” “to improve itself,” “to trust people more,” etc. The same can be said, at another level, of “democratically reformed” or “de-Stalinized” Russian leaders.
What no one seems prepared to recognize (or even to admit) is the capacity of working people to manage their own affairs outside a very narrow radius. The bureaucratic mind cannot see in the mass of workers employed in a factory or an office an active subject, capable of managing and organizing. In the eyes of those in authority, both East and West, as soon as one gets beyond a group often, fifteen, or twenty individuals the crowd begins – the mob, the thousand-headed Hydra that cannot act collectively, or that could only act collectively in the display of collective delirium or hysteria. They believe that only a managerial apparatus specifically designed for this purpose, and endowed of course with coercive functions, can master and “organize” this mass. The inconsistencies and shortcomings of the present managerial apparatus are such that even today individual workers or “primary groups” are obliged to take on quite a number of coordinating tasks. Moreover, historical experience shows that the working class is quite capable of managing whole enterprises. In Spain, in 1936 and 1937, workers ran the factories. In Budapest, in 1956, according to the accounts of Hungarian refugees, big bakeries employing hundreds of workers carried on during and immediately after the insurrection. They worked better than ever before, under workers’ self-management. Many such examples could be cited.
The most useful way of discussing this problem is not to weigh up, in the abstract, the “self-managerial capacities” of the working class. It is to examine the specific functions of the present managerial apparatus and to see which of them; retain meaning in a socialist enterprise and how they can be carried out there.
Present managerial functions are of four main types and we will discuss them in turn.
1. These functions, and the jobs that go along with them (supervisors, foremen, part of the “personnel” department) will be done away with, purely and simply. Each group of workers is quite capable of disciplining itself. It also is capable of granting authority to people drawn from its own ranks should it feel this to be needed for the carrying out of a particular job.
2. These relate to jobs that, in themselves, are in no way managerial in character, but involve rather the execution of tasks necessary to the functioning of the company without being directly connected with the manufacturing process. Most of these jobs are now carried out in “offices [bureaux].”
Among them are accountancy and the “commercial” and “general” services of the company. The development of modern production has divided up, compartmentalized, and socialized this work, just as it has done to production itself. Nine-tenths of people working in offices attached to factories carry out compartmentalized tasks of execution. Throughout their life they will do little else – important changes will have to be brought about here.
The capitalist structure of the factory generally results in considerable over-staffing of these areas, and a socialist reorganization probably will result in a substantial savings of labor in these fields. Some of these departments will not only diminish in size, but will witness a radical transformation of their functions. In the last few years, “commercial services” have everywhere grown enormously. In a planned socialist economy, they will be concerned mainly with the bookkeeping aspects of obtaining supplies and making deliveries. They will be in contact with similar departments in supply factories and with stores that sell to consumers. Once the necessary transformations have been brought about, offices will be considered “workshops” like all others, organizing their own work and keeping in contact with other shops for purposes of coordination. They will enjoy no particular rights by virtue of the nature of their work. They have, in fact, no such rights today, and it is as a result of other factors (the division between manual and “intellectual” labor, the more pronounced hierarchy found in offices) that individuals heading up these departments sometimes can rise to the summit of the genuine “management” of the company.
3.These are at present carried out by people ranging from consultant engineers to draftsmen. Here too, modern industry has created a “collective” apparatus in which work is divided up and socialized, and which is made up nine-tenths of executants working in compartmentalized jobs. Bin while pointing this out in relation to what goes on within these particular departments, we must recognize too that these departments carry out managerial functions in relation to the rest of the factory – areas directly related to production. I Once production targets have been set, it is this collective technical apparatus that selects – or is charged with selecting – the appropriate ways and means, looks into the necessary changes in tooling, determines the sequence and the details of various operations, etc. In theory, the production areas merely carry out the instructions issued from the technical departments. Supposedly, a complete separation exists between those who draw up the plans and those who are charged with carrying them out under the concrete conditions of mass production.
Up to a point, all this is based on something real. Today, both specialization and technical and scientific competence are the privilege of a minority. But it does not follow at all that the best way to use this expertise is to leave it to the “experts” to decide everything about the production process. Competence is, by definition, restricted in its scope. Outside his particular sector, or outside the particular processes he is familiar with, the technician is no better equipped to make a responsible decision than anyone else. Even within his own field, his viewpoint is inevitably limited. He will often know little about other sectors and may tend to minimize their importance although these sectors have a definite bearing on his own. Moreover – and this is more important – the technician is separated from the real process of production.
This separation is a source of waste and conflict in capitalist factories. It will be abolished only when “technical” and “productive” staff begin to cooperate thoroughly. This cooperation will be based on joint decisions made by technicians and by those who will be working on a given task. Together they will decide on the methods and means to be used.
Will such cooperation work smoothly? There is no intrinsic reason why insurmountable obstacles should arise. The workers will have no interest in challenging an answer that the technician, in his capacity as a technician, may give to purely technical problems. And if there are disagreements, these will rapidly be resolved in practice. The field of production allows for almost immediate verification of what this or that person proposes. That for this or that part or tool, a certain type of metallic compound would be preferable (given a certain state of knowledge and certain conditions of production) cannot and will not be a matter of controversy.
But the answers provided by technique establish only a general framework. They suggest only some of the elements that will, in practice, influence the concrete production process. Within this given framework there will be a multitude of ways to organize this process. The choice will have to take into account, on the one hand, certain general considerations of “economy” (economy of labor, of energy, of raw materials, of plant) and, on the other hand – and this is much more important – considerations relating to the fate of man in production. And on these questions, by definition, the only people who can decide are those directly involved. In this area the specific competence of the technician, as a technician, is nil.
In other words, what we are challenging deep down is the whole concept of a technique capable of organizing people from the outside. Such an idea is as absurd as the idea of a psychoanalytic session in which the patient would not appear, thus making psychoanalysis into just a “technique” in the hands of the analyst. Such techniques are all just techniques of oppression and coercion offering “personal incentives,” which, ultimately, always remain ineffective.
Accordingly, the actual organization of the production process can be vested only in those who perform it. The producers obviously will take into account various technical points suggested by competent technicians. In fact, there obviously will be a permanent process of give-and-take, if only because the producers themselves will see new ways of organizing the manufacturing process, hereby posing new technical problems concerning which the technicians will in turn have to put forward their comments and evaluations before a joint decision can be made “in full knowledge of the relevant facts.” But the decision, in this case as in others, will be in the hands of the producers (including the technicians) of a given shop (if it only affects a shop) – or of the factory as a whole (if it affects the whole factory).
The roots of possible conflict between workers and technicians therefore are not at all of a technical nature. If such a conflict emerged it would be a social and political conflict, arising from a possible tendency of the technicians to assume a dominating role, thereby constituting anew a bureaucratic managerial apparatus.
What would be the strength and probable evolution of such a tendency? We cannot discuss this problem in any depth. We can only reemphasize that technicians do not constitute a majority – or even an essential part – of the upper strata of modern economic or political management. Incidentally, to become aware of this obvious fact helps one see through the mystificatory character of all those arguments that seek to prove that ordinary people cannot manage production because they lack the “necessary technical capacity.” The vast majority of technicians only occupy subordinate positions. They only carry out compartmentalized work, on instructions from above. Those technicians who have “reached the top” are not there as technicians, but as “managers” or “organizers.”
Modern capitalism is bureaucratic capitalism. It is not – and never will be – a technocratic capitalism. The concept of a technocracy is an empty generalization of superficial sociologists, or a daydream of technicians confronted with their own impotence and with the absurdity of the present system. Technicians do not constitute a separate class. From the formal point of view they are just a category of salaried workers. The evolution of modern capitalism, by increasing their numbers and by transforming them into people who carry out compartmentalized and interchangeable labor, tends to drive them closer to the working class. Counteracting these tendencies, it is true, is their position in the wage and status hierarchies – and also the scanty chances for “moving up” still open to them. But these channels are gradually being closed as the numbers of technicians increases and as bureaucratization spreads within its own ranks. In parallel with all this, a kind of revolt is developing among these compartmentalized and bureaucratized [fonctionnarise] technicians as they confront the irrationalities of the system of bureaucratic capitalism and increasingly experience difficulties in giving free rein to their capacities for creative or meaningful work.
Some technicians already at the top, or on their way there, will side squarely with exploiting society. They will be opposed, however, by a growing minority of disaffected colleagues, ready to work with others in overthrowing the system. In the middle, of course, there will be the great majority of technicians, today apathetically accepting their status as slightly privileged employees. Their present conservativism suggests that they would not risk a conflict with real power, whatever its nature. The evolution of events can only radicalize them.
It is therefore extremely likely that workers’ power in the factory, after having swept aside a small number of technical bureaucrats, will find support among a substantial number of other technicians. It should succeed, without major conflict, in integrating the remainder into the cooperative network of the factory.
4. The people “consulted” by a company chairman or managing director before he makes an important decision usually number less than a dozen, even in the largest of firms. This very narrow stratum of management has two main tasks. On the one hand, it has to make decisions concerning investment, stocks, output, etc., in relation to market fluctuations and long-term prospects. On the other hand, it has to “coordinate” the various differences between various segments of the bureaucratic apparatus.
Some of these functions will disappear altogether in a planned economy, in particular those related to the fluctuations of the market (scale of production, levels of investment, etc.). Others would be considerably reduced: Coordinating the different shops of a factory would be much easier if the producers organized their own work and if different groups, shops, or departments could contact each other directly. Still other functions might be enhanced, such as genuine discussions of what might be possible in the future, or of how to do things, or about the present or future role of the enterprise in the overall development of the economy.
Under socialism, “managerial” tasks at factory level could be carried out by two bodies: a) The factory council, composed of delegates from the various shops and offices, all of them elected and instantly revocable. In an enterprise of, say, 5,000 to 10,000 workers, such a council might number 30-50 people. The delegates will remain at their jobs. They will meet in full session as often as experience proves it necessary (probably on one or two half-days a week). They will report back each time to their workmates in shop or office – and anyway they already will have discussed with them the agenda. Rotating groups of delegates will ensure continuity. One of the main tasks of a factory council will be to ensure liaison and to act as a continuous regulating locus between the factory and the outside world.” b) The general assembly of all those who work in the plant, whether manual workers, office workers, or technicians. This will be the highest decision-making body for all problems concerning the factory as a whole. Differences or conflicts between various sectors of the factory will be thrashed out at this level.
This general assembly will embody the restoration of direct democracy into what should, in modern society, be its basic unit: the place of work. The assembly will have to ratify all but routine decisions of the factory council. It will be empowered to question, challenge, amend, reject, or endorse any decision made by the council. The general assembly itself will decide on all sorts of questions to be submitted to the council. The assembly will meet regularly, say, one or two days each month. There will, in addition, exist procedures for calling such general assemblies, if this is wanted by a given number of workers, shops, or delegates.
What will be the actual content of workers’ management at the factory level, the permanent tasks it will have to accomplish? It will help us to discuss this problem if we differentiate schematically between the static and the dynamic aspects of workers’ management.
Looked at in a static way, the overall plan might allocate to a given enterprise a target to be achieved within a given period of time (we will examine further on how such targets are to be determined). The general means to be allocated to the enterprise (to achieve its target) also will be broadly outlined by the plan. For example, the plan will decide that the annual production of a given automobile factory should be so many cars and that for this purpose such and such a quantity of raw materials, power, machinery, etc., should be made available. At the same time, it will set how many work hours (in other words, the number of workers, since the length of the workday is fixed) will be allocated to achieve this goal.
Seen from this angle, workers’ management implies that the workers’ collective itself will bear the final responsibility for deciding how a proposed target could best be achieved, given the general means available. The task corresponds to the “positive” functions of the present narrowly based managerial apparatus, which itself will have been superseded. The workers themselves will determine the organization of their work in each shop or department. They will ensure coordination between shops. This will take place through direct contacts whenever it is a question of routine problems or of shops engaged in closely related aspects of the production process. If more important matters arose, they would be discussed and solved by meetings of delegates (or by joint gatherings of workers) of two or more shops or sections. The overall coordination of the work would be undertaken by the factory council and by the general assembly of the factory. Relations with the rest of the economy, as already stated, would be in the hands of the factory council.
Under such conditions, autonomy in the production process means the ability to decide how to achieve designated targets with the aid of means that have been defined in general terms. A certain “give-and-take” undoubtedly will occur between the “targets set” and “means to be used.” The plan must in general prescribe these “targets” and “means,” for they are the product of other factories. But only the workers of the particular factory can carry out this process of concrete elaboration. By themselves, “targets set” and “means of production available for achieving them” do not automatically or exhaustively define all the possible methods that could be used, all the more so since the plan’s definition of the means remains highly general and it cannot specify even all the important “details.” Spelling these methods out in detail and deciding exactly how an objective will be achieved with the means provided will be the first area in which workers will exercise their autonomy. It is an important field but a limited one, and it is essential to be fully aware of its limitations. These limitations stem from (and define) the inevitable framework within which this new type of production will have to begin. It will be the task of socialist production to constantly expand this framework and to constantly push back these limitations on autonomy.
Autonomy, envisaged in this static way, is limited first of all in relation to the fixing of targets. True, the workers of a given enterprise will participate in determining the targets of their factory insofar as they participate in the elaboration of the overall plan. But they are not in total or sole control of these targets or objectives. In a modern economy, where the production of each enterprise both conditions and is conditioned by that of all the others, the determination of coherent targets cannot be vested in individual enterprises, acting in isolation. It must be undertaken by and for all enterprises together, with general viewpoints prevailing over particular ones.
Autonomy also is limited in relation to available material means. The workers of a given enterprise cannot in full autonomy determine the means of production they would prefer to use, for these are but the products of other enterprises or factories. Total autonomy for every factory, in relation to means, would imply that each factory could determine the output of all the others. These various autonomies would immediately cancel each other out. This limitation is, however, less rigid than the first (the limitation in relation to targets). Alterations of its own equipment, as proposed by the user factory, could easily be accommodated by the producer factory without the latter saddling itself with a heavy extra load.
On a small scale, this happens even today in integrated engineering factories (car factories, for instance), where a substantial part of the tooling utilized in one shop may be made in another shop of the same factory. Close cooperation between plants making machine tools and plants using them could quickly lead to considerable changes in the means of production currently used.
Let us now take a look at workers’ management at the factory level in its dynamic aspect, i.e., the function of workers’ management in developing and transforming socialist production. More precisely, let us look at how the development and transformation of socialist production will become the primary objective of workers’ management. Everything we have suggested so far will now have to be re-examined. In this way we shall see how the limits to autonomy will gradually be pushed back.
The change will be most obvious in relation to the means of production. As we have said, socialist society will attack the problem of how to consciously transform the technology it has inherited from capitalism. Under capitalism, production equipment – and more generally, the means of production – are planned and manufactured independently of the user and of his preferences (manufacturers, of course, pretend to take the user’s viewpoint into account, but this has little to do with the real user: the worker on the shop floor). But equipment is made to be used productively. The viewpoint of the “productive consumers” (i.e., those who will use the equipment to produce the goods) is of primary importance. As the views of those who make the equipment are also important, the problem of the structure of the means of production will only be solved by the vital cooperation of these two categories of workers. In an integrated factory, this involves permanent contacts between the corresponding shops. At the level of the economy as a whole, it will have to take place through the instauration of normal, permanent contacts between factories and between sectors of production. (This problem is distinct from that of overall planning. General planning is concerned with determining a quantitative framework – so much steel and so many hours of labor at one end, so many consumer goods at the other. It does not have to intervene in the form or the type of intermediate products.)
Cooperation necessarily will take two forms. The choice and popularization of the best methods, and the standardization and rationalization of their use, will be achieved through the horizontal cooperation of councils, organized according to branch or sector of industry (for instance, textiles, the chemical industry, engineering, electrical supply, etc.). On the other hand, the integration of the viewpoints of those who make and of those who utilize equipment (or, more generally, of those who make and those who utilize intermediate products) will require the vertical cooperation of councils representing the successive stages of a productive process (the steel industry, and the machine-tool and engineering industries, for instance). In both cases, cooperation will have to be organized on a permanent basis through committees of factory council representatives (or wider conferences of producers) organized both horizontally and vertically.
Considering the problem from this dynamic angle – which ultimately is the only important one – we see at once that the terrain for exercising autonomy has expanded considerably. Already at the level of individual factories (but more significantly at the level of cooperation between factories), the producers are beginning to influence the structure of the means of production. They are, thereby, reaching a position where they are beginning to dominate the work process: They are not only determining its methods but are now also modifying its technological structure.
This fact now begins to alter what we have just said about targets. Three-quarters of gross modern production consists of intermediate products, or “means of production” in the broadest sense. When producers and users of intermediate products decide together about the means of production, they are participating in a very direct and immediate way in decisions about the objectives of production. The remaining limitation, and it is an important one, flows from the fact that these means of production (whatever their exact nature) are destined, in the last analysis, to produce consumer goods. And the overall volume of these can only be determined, in general terms, by the plan.
But here, too, looking at things dynamically radically alters one’s vision. Modern consumption is characterized by the constant appearance of new products. Factories producing consumer goods will conceive of, receive suggestions about, study, and finally produce such products.
This raises the broader problem of contact between producers and consumers. Capitalist society rests on a complete separation of these two aspects o human activity and on the exploitation of the consumer qua consumer. There isn’t just monetary exploitation (through overcharging) and limitations on one’s income. Capitalism claims that it can satisfy people’s needs better than any other system in history. But in fact capitalism, if it does not determine these needs themselves, decides upon the method of satisfying them. Consumer preference is only one of numerous variables that can be manipulated by modern sales techniques.
The division between producers and consumers appears most glaringly in relation to the quality of goods. This problem is insoluble in any exploiting society as Daniel Mothe’s dialogue between the human-worker and the robot-worker shows: “Do you think this part’s important? – What’s it to you? You can always jam it in somehow.” Those who look only at the surface of things see only a commodity as a commodity. They don’t see in it a crystallized moment of the class struggle. They see faults or defects, instead of seeing in them the resultant of the worker’s constant struggle with himself. Faults or defects embody the worker’s struggles against exploitation. They also embody squabbles between different sections of the bureaucracy managing the plant.
The elimination of exploitation will of itself bring about a change in all this. At work, people will begin to assert their claims as future consumers of what they have to instaurate – regular forms of contact (other than “the market”) between producers and consumers.
We have assumed, as a starting point for all this, the division of labor inherited from present-day capitalism. But we have also pointed out that, from the very beginning, socialist society cannot survive unless it demolishes this division. This is an enormous subject with which we cannot even begin to deal in this text. Nevertheless, the first benchmarks of a solution can be seen even today. Modern production has destroyed many traditional professional qualifications. It has created universal automatic or semiautomatic machines. It has thereby itself demolished on its own the traditional framework for the industrial division of labor. It has given birth to a universal worker who is capable, after a relatively short apprenticeship, of using most existing machines. Once one gets beyond its class aspects, the “posting” of workers to particular jobs in a big modern factory corresponds less and less to a genuine division of labor and more and more to a simple division of tasks. Workers are not allocated to given areas of the productive process and then riveted to them because their “occupational skills” invariably correspond to the “skills required” by management. They are placed here rather than there because putting a particular worker in a particular place at a particular time happens to suit the personnel officer – or the foreman – or, more prosaically, just because a particular vacancy happened to exist.
Under socialism, factories would have no reason to accept the artificially rigid division of labor now prevailing. There will be every reason to encourage a rotation of workers between shops and departments – and between production and office areas. Such a rotation will greatly help workers to manage production in full knowledge of the relevant facts as more and more workers develop firsthand familiarity with what goes on where they work. The same applies to rotation of workers (between various enterprises, and in particular between “producing” and “utilizing” units).
The residues of capitalism’s division of labor gradually will have to be eliminated. This overlaps with the general problem of education not only of generations to come but of those adults who were brought up under the previous sys tem. We cannot go into this problem here.
Simplification and Rationalization of General Economic Problems
The functioning of the socialist economy implies that the producers themselves will consciously manage all economic activity. This management will be exercised at all levels, and in particular at the overall or central level. It is completely illusory to believe that either a central bureaucracy left to itself or even a bureaucracy “controlled” by the workers could guide the economy toward socialism, Such a bureaucracy could only lead society toward new forms of exploitation, not direct the economy in the desired direction. It is just as impossible for an “enlightened” bureaucracy, the mechanisms of a “true market” (supposedly restored to its pristine and original, precapitalist, purity), or the regulatory control afforded by some electronic supercomputer to achieve such an ideal end. Any plan presupposes a fundamental decision on the rate of growth of the economy, and this in turn depends essentially on decisions concerning the distribution of the social product between investment and consumption.
(One might add that the rate of economic growth also depends: (1) on technical progress [but such technical progress is itself critically dependent on the amounts of investment put, directly or indirectly, into research]; and (2) on the evolution of the labor productivity [but this hinges on the amount of capital invested per worker and on the level of technique – and these two factors again bring us back to the larger question of investment. More significantly, the productivity of labor depends on the producers’ attitude toward the economy. This, in turn, would center on people’s attitude toward the plan, on how its targets were established, on their own involvement and sense of identification with the decisions reached, and in general on factors discussed in this text].)
Now, there is no “objective” rational basis for determining how to distribute the social product. A decision to invest zero percent of the social product is neither more nor less objectively rational than a decision to invest 90 percent of it. The only rationality in the matter is the choice people make about their own fate, in full knowledge of the relevant facts. The fixing of plan targets by those who will have to fulfil them is, in the last analysis, the only guarantee of their willing and spontaneous participation and hence of an effective mobilization of individuals around both the management and the expansion of the economy.
But this does not mean that the plan and the management of the economy are “just political matters.” Socialist planning will base itself on certain rational technical factors. It is in fact the only type of planning that could integrate such factors into a conscious management of the economy. These factors consist of a number of extremely useful and effective “labor-saving” and “thought-saving” devices that can be used to simplify the representation of the economy and its laws, thereby allowing the problems of central economic management to be made accessible to all. Workers’ management of production (this time at the level of the economy as a whole and not just at the level of a particular factory) will be possible only if management tasks have been enormously simplified, so that the producers and their collective organs are in a position to judge the key issues in an informed way. What is needed, in other words, is for the vast chaos of today’s economic facts and relations to be boiled down to certain propositions that adequately sum up the real problems and choices. These propositions should be few in number. They should be easy to grasp. They should summarize reality without distortion or mystification. If they can do this, they will form an adequate basis for meaningful judgments.
A condensation of this type is possible, first, because there is at least a rational outline to the economy; second, because there already exist today certain techniques allowing one to grasp the complexities of economic reality; and finally, because it is now possible to mechanize and to automate all that does not pertain In human decisions in the strict sense.
A discussion of the relevant devices, techniques, and possibilities is therefore indispensable, starting right now. They enable us to carry out a vast clearing of ground. Without them, workers’ management would collapse under the weight of the very subject matter it ought to be getting a handle on. The content of such it discussion is in no sense a “purely technical” one, and at each stage we will be bided by the general principles already outlined here.
A production plan, whether it deals with one factory or the economy as a whole, is a type of reasoning (made up of a great number of secondary arguments). It can be boiled down to two premises and one conclusion. The two premises are the material means initially at one’s disposal (equipment, stocks, labor, etc.) and the target one is aiming at (production of so many specified objects and services, within a given period of time). We will refer to these premises as the “initial conditions” and the “ultimate target.” The “conclusion” is the path to be followed from initial conditions to ultimate target. In practice this means a certain number of intermediate products to be made within a given period. We will call these conclusions the “intermediate targets.”
When passing from simple initial conditions to a simple ultimate target, the intermediate targets can be determined right away. As the initial conditions or the ultimate targets (or both) become more complex, or are more spread out in time, the establishment of intermediate targets becomes more difficult. In the case of the economy as a whole (where there are thousands of different products, many of which can be made by several different processes, and where the manufacture of any given category of products directly or indirectly involves most of the others), one might imagine that the level of complexity makes rational planning (in the sense of an a priori determination of the intermediate targets, given the initial conditions and ultimate target) impossible. The apologists for “free enterprise” have been proclaiming this doctrine for ages. But it is false. The problem can be solved and available mathematical techniques in fact allow it to be solved remarkably simply. Once the initial conditions (the economic situation at the start of the planning process) are known and the ultimate target or targets have been consciously set, all planning work (the determination of the intermediate targets) can be reduced to a purely technical task of execution, capable of being mechanized and automated to a very high degree.
The basis of the new methods is the concept of the total interdependence of all sectors of the economy (the fact that everything that one sector utilizes in production is itself the product of one or more other sectors; and the converse fact that every product of a given sector will ultimately be utilized or consumed by one or more other sectors). The idea, which goes back to Quesnay and which formed the basis of Marx’s theory of accumulation, has been vastly developed in the past twenty years by a group of American economists around W Leontief that has succeeded in giving it a statistical formulation that can be applied to a real economy in a state of constant expansion. This interdependence is such that at any given moment (for a given level of technique and a given structure of available equipment) the production of each sector is related, in a relatively stable manner, to the products of other sectors that the first sector utilizes (or: “consumes productively”).
It is easy to grasp that a given quantity of coal is needed to produce a ton of steel of a given type. Moreover, one will need so much scrap metal or iron ore, so many hours of labor, such and such an expenditure on upkeep and repairs. The ratio “coal used/steel produced,” expressed in terms of value, is known as the “current technical coefficient” determining the productive consumption of coal per unit of steel turned out. If one wants to increase steel production beyond a certain point, it will not help just to go on delivering more coal or more scrap metal to the existing steel mills. New mills will have to be built. Or one will have to increase the productive capacity of existing mills. To increase steel output by a given amount one will have to produce a given amount of specified equipment. The ratio “given amount of specified equipment/steel-producing capacity per given period,” again expressed in terms of value, is known as the “technical coefficient of capital.” It determines the quantity of capital utilized per unit of steel produced in a given period.
One could stop at this point if one were only dealing with a single enterprise. Every firm bases itself on calculations of this sort (in fact, on much more detailed ones) whenever, in making decisions about how much to produce or how much to increase production, it buys raw materials, orders machinery or recruits labor. But when one looks at the economy as a whole, things change. The interdependence of the various sectors has definite consequences. The increase of production in a given sector has repercussions (of varying intensity) on all other sectors and finally on the initial sector itself. For example, an increase in the production of steel immediately requires an increase in the production of coal. But this requires both an increase in certain types of mining equipment and the recruitment of more labor into mining. The increased demand for mining equipment in turn requires more steel, and more labor in the steel mills. This in turn leads to a demand for still more coal, etc., etc. For their part, newly hired workers get increased wages, and therefore they buy more consumer goods of various kinds. The production of these new goods will require such and such an amount of raw materials, new equipment, etc. (and, again, more coal and steel). The question of how much the demand for nylon stockings will rise in West Virginia or the Basses-Pyrenees if a new blast furnace were to be built in Pennsylvania or the Lorraine is not a joke but one of the central problems to which planners should – and can – respond.
The use of Leontief s matrices, combined with other modern methods such as Koopman’s “activity analysis” (of which “operational research” is a specific instance) would, in the case of a socialist economy, allow theoretically exact answers to be given to questions of this type. A matrix is a table on which the technical coefficients (both “current technical coefficients” and “technical coefficients of capital”) expressing the dependence of each sector upon each of the others are laid out systematically. Every ultimate target that might be chosen is presented as a list of material means to be utilized (and therefore manufactured) in specific amounts, within the period in question. As soon as the ultimate target is chosen, the solution of a system of simultaneous equations enables one to define immediately all the intermediate targets and therefore the tasks to be fulfiled by each sector of the economy.
Solving these problems will be the task of a highly mechanized and automated specific enterprise, whose main work will consist of a veritable “mass production” of various plans (targets) and of their various components (implications).
This enterprise is the plan factory. Its central workshop will, to start with, probably consist of a computer whose “memory” will store the technical coefficients and the initial productive capacity of each sector. If “fed” a number of hypothetical targets, the computer will “produce” the productive implication of each target for each sector (including the amount of work to be provided, in each instance, by the “manpower” sector).
(The division of the economy into some 100 sectors, which roughly corresponds to present  computer capacity, is about “halfway” between its division [by Marx] into two sectors [consumer goods and means of production] and the few thousand sectors that would be required to ensure a perfectly exact representation. Present computer capabilities would probably be sufficient in practice, and could be made more precise, even now, by tackling the problem in several stages.)
Around this central workshop there would be others whose tasks would be to study the distribution and variations of regional production and investment and possible technical optima (given the general interdependence of the various sectors). They would also determine the unit values (equivalences) of different categories of products.
Two departments of the plan factory warrant special mention: the one dealing with stock taking and the one dealing with the technical coefficients.
The quality of the planning work, when conceived in this way, depends on how much people know about the real state of the economy, since such knowledge forms the basis of all planning work. An accurate solution, in other words, depends on adequate information both about the “initial conditions” and the “technical coefficients.” Industrial and agricultural censuses are carried out at regular intervals, even today, by a number of advanced capitalist countries, but they offer only a very crude basis because they are extremely inaccurate, fragmented, and based on insufficient data. The taking of an up-to-date and complete inventory will be the first task, once the workers take power, and it will require a great deal of serious preparation. It cannot be achieved “by decree,” from one day to the next. Nor, once taken, could such an inventory be considered final. Perfecting it and keeping it up-to-date will be an ongoing task of the plan factory, working in close cooperation with the departments responsible for industrial stock taking in their own enterprises. The results of this cooperation will constantly modify and “enrich” the “memory” of the central computer (which indeed will itself take on a large part of the job).
Establishing the “technical coefficients” will pose similar problems. To start with, it could be done very roughly, using certain generally available statistical information (“on average, the textile industry uses so much cotton to produce so much cloth”). But such knowledge soon will have to be made far more precise through information provided by the responsible technical workers in each industry. The data “stores” in the computer will have to be periodically revised as more accurate knowledge about the technical coefficients – and in particular about the real changes in these coefficients brought about by new technological developments – is brought to light.
Such in-depth knowledge of the real state of affairs of the economy, combined with the constant revision of basic physical and technical data and with the possibility of drawing instantaneous conclusions from them, will result in very considerable, probably enormous gains, though it is difficult at this time to form a precise idea of the extent of these changes. The potentialities of these new computer-assisted techniques have been exploited in particular instances to make considerable improvements upon past practices, thus leading to greater rationality and economic savings. But these potentialities remain untapped in the very area where they could be most usefully applied: that of the economy taken as a whole. Any technical modification, in any sector, could in principle affect the conditions for profitability and the rational choice of production methods in all other sectors. A socialist economy will be able totally and instantaneously to take advantage of such facts. Capitalist economies take them into account only belatedly and in a very partial way.
It will be immediately possible to actually set up such a plan factory in any moderately industrialized country. The necessary equipment already exists. So do the people capable of operating it. Banks and insurance companies (which will be unnecessary under socialism) already use some of these methods in work of this general type. Linking up with mathematicians, statisticians, and econometricians, those who work in such offices could provide the initial personnel of the plan factory. Workers’ management of production and the requirements of a rational economy will provide a tremendous impetus to the simultaneously “spontaneous/automatic” and “conscious” development of the logical and mechanical aspects of rational planning techniques.
Let us not be misunderstood; the role of the “plan factory” will not be to decide on the plan. The targets of the plan will be determined by society as a whole, in a manner soon to be described. Before any proposals are voted upon, however, the plan factory will work out and present to society as a whole the implications and consequences of the plan (or plans) suggested. After a plan has been adopted, the task of the plan factory will be to constantly bring up to date the facts on which the current plan is based, and to draw conclusions from these modifications, informing both the central assembly of councils and the relevant sectors of any alterations in the intermediate targets (and therefore in production tasks) that might be worth considering.
In none of these instances would those actually working in the plan factory decide anything – except, like in every other factory, the organization of their own work.
The Market for Consumer Goods
With a fixed set of techniques, the determination of intermediate targets is, as we have just seen, a purely mechanical matter. With constantly and permanently evolving techniques, other problems arise that we will treat later. But what about consumption? In a socialist society, how could people determine what and how much is to be produced?
It is obvious that this cannot be based on direct democracy. The plan cannot propose, as an ultimate target, a complete list of consumer goods or suggest in what proportions they should be produced. Such a proposal would not be democratic, for two reasons. First, it could never be based on “full knowledge of the relevant facts,” namely, on a full knowledge of everybody’s preferences. Second, it would be tantamount to a pointless tyranny of the majority over the minority. If 40 percent of the population wish to consume a certain article, there is no reason why they should be deprived of it under the pretext that the other 60 percent prefer something else. No preference or taste is more logical than any other. Moreover, there is no reason at all to cut short the problem in this way, since consumer wishes are seldom incompatible with one another. Majority votes in this matter would amount to rationing, an irrational and absurd way of settling this kind of problem anywhere but on the raft of Medusa or in a besieged fortress.
Planning decisions therefore will relate not to particular items but to the general standard of living (the overall volume of consumption), expressed in terms of the disposable income of each person in a socialist society. They will not delve into the detailed composition of this consumption.
Once the overall volume of consumption is defined, one might be tempted to treat its constituent articles of consumption as “intermediate targets.” One might say, “When consumers dispose of x amount of income, they will buy y amount of some particular article.” But this would be an artificial and ultimately erroneous response.
In relation to human consumption, deciding on living standards does not involve the same kind of considerations that go into determining how many tons of coal are needed to produce so many tons of steel. There are no “technical coefficients of the consumer.” In actual, material production, such coefficients have an intrinsic meaning, but in the realm of consumption they would represent merely a bookkeeping contrivance. Under capitalism, there is of course some statistical correlation between income and the structure of demand (without such a correlation private capitalism could not function). But this is only a very relative affair. It would be turned upside down under socialism. A massive redistribution of incomes will have taken place; many profound changes will have occurred in every realm of life; the permanent rape of consumers through advertising and capitalist sales techniques will have been abolished; and new tastes will have emerged as the result of an increase in free time.
Finally, the statistical regularity of consumer demand cannot solve the problem of gaps that might appear within a given period between real demand and that envisaged in the plan. Genuine planning does not mean saying, “Living standards will go up by 5 percent next year, and experience tells us that this will result in a 20 percent increase in the demand for cars, so let’s make 20 percent more cars,” and stopping at that. One will have to start this way, where other criteria are missing, but there will have to be powerful correcting mechanisms capable of responding to disparities between anticipated and real demand.
Socialist society will have to regulate the pattern of its consumption according to the principle of consumer sovereignty, which implies the existence of a real market for consumer goods. The “general decision” embodied in the plan will define: (1) what proportion of its overall product society wishes to devote to the satisfaction of individual consumer needs, (2) what proportion it would like to allocate to collective needs (“public consumption”), and (3) what proportion it wants to apply to the development of the productive forces (i.e., investment). But the structure of consumption will have to be determined by the demand of consumers themselves.
How would this market operate? How could a mutual adaptation of supply and demand come about?
First, there would have to be an overall equilibrium. The sum total of income distributed in any given period (“wages,” retirement funds, and other benefits) will have to be equal to the value of consumer goods (quantities x prices) made available in that period. An “empirical” initial decision will then have to be made in order to provide at least a skeleton for the structure of consumption. This initial decision will be based on traditionally “known” statistical data, but in full knowledge of the fact that these will have to be extensively modified by taking into account a whole series of new factors (such as the equalization of wages, for instance). Stocks of various commodities in excess of what might be expected to be consumed in a given period will, initially, have to be scheduled for.
Three “corrective” processes will then come into play, the net result of which will be to show immediately any gap between anticipated and real demand, and then to bridge it:
1. Available stocks will either rise or fall.
2. According to whether the reserve stocks decreased or increased (i.e., according to whether demand had been initially underestimated or overestimated), there will be an initial rise or fall in the price of the various commodities. The reason for these temporary price fluctuations will have to be fully explained to the public.
3. Meanwhile, there will be an immediate readjustment in the structure for producing consumer goods to the level where (the stocks having been replenished) the production of goods equals the demand. At that moment, the sale demand and the amount of production scheduled will have to be corrected by a modification in the structure of production and not by resorting to the instauration of permanent differences between selling prices and normal prices. If such differences were to appear, they would imply ipso facto that the original planning decision was wrong, in this particular field.
Money, Prices, Wages, and Value
Many absurdities have been spoken about money and its immediate abolition in a socialist society. It should be clear, however, that the role of money is radically transformed from the moment it no longer can be used as a means of accumulation (the means of production being owned in common) or as a means of exerting social pressure (wages being equal).
People will receive a token [revenu] in return for what they put into society. These “tokens” will take the form of units [signes], allowing people to organize what they take out of society, spreading it out (1) in time, and (2) between different objects and services, exactly as they wish. As we are seeking here to come to grips with realities and are not fighting against words, we see no objection to calling these tokens “wages” and these units “money,” just as a little earlier we used the words “normal prices” to describe the monetary expression of labor value.
(Labor value includes, of course, the actual social cost of the equipment utilized in the period considered. [For the working out of labor values by the matrix method, see the article DC in S. ou B., 12 (August 1953), pp. 7-22.] The adoption of labor value as a yardstick is equivalent to what academic economists call “normal long-term costs.” The viewpoint expressed in this text corresponds to Marx’s, which is, in general, attacked by academic economists, even “socialist” ones. For them, “marginal costs” should determine prices; see, for instance, Joan Robinson’s An Essay on Marxian Economics, 2nd ed. [New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1966], pp. 23-28. We cannot go into this discussion here. All we can say is that the application of the principle of marginal costs would mean that the price of a plane ticket between Paris and New York would at times be zero and at other times equivalent to that of the whole aircraft.)
Under socialism, labor value will be the only rational basis for any kind of social accountancy and the only yardstick having any real meaning for people. As such, it necessarily will serve as the foundation for calculating profitability in the sphere of socialist production. The main objective of making such calculations will be to reduce both the direct and indirect costs of human labor power. Setting the prices of consumer goods on the basis of their labor value would mean that for each person the cost of consumer objects will clearly appear as the equivalent of the labor he himself would have had to expend to produce them (assuming he had both access to the average prevailing equipment and an average social capacity also would be helpful if the hourly wage, equal for all, were a given fraction of this unit, expressing the ratio private consumption total net production If these steps were taken and thoroughly explained, they would enable the fundamental planning decision (namely, the distribution of the social product between consumption and investment) to be immediately obvious to everyone, and repeatedly drawn to people’s attention, every time anyone bought anything. Equally obvious would be the social cost of every object acquired.
Absolute Wage Equality
Whenever they succeed in expressing themselves independently of the trade-union bureaucracy, working-class aspirations and demands increasingly are directed against hierarchy and wage differentials. Basing itself on this fact, socialist society will introduce absolute equality in the area of wages.
There is no justification, other than naked exploitation, for wage differentials, whether these reflect differing professional qualifications or differences in productivity. If an individual himself advanced the costs of his professional training and if society considered him “an enterprise,” the recuperation of those costs, spread out over a working lifetime would at most “justify,” at the extremes of the wage spectrum, a differential of 2:1 (between sweeper and neurosurgeon). Under socialism, training costs will be advanced by society (they often are, even today), and the question of their “recovery” will not arise. As for productivity, it depends (already today) much less on bonuses and incentives and much more on the coercions exercised, on the one hand, by machines and supervisors and, on the other hand, by the discipline of production, imposed by primary working groups in the workshop. Socialist society could not increase productivity by economic constraints without resorting again to all the capitalist paraphernalia of norms, supervision, etc. Labor discipline will How (as it already does, in part, today) from the self-organization of primary groups in each workshop, from the mutual cooperation and supervision among the factories’ different shops, from gatherings of producers in different factories or different sectors of the economy. As a general rule, the primary group in a workshop ensures the discipline of any particular individual. Anyone who proves incorrigible can be made to leave that particular shop. It would then be up to this recalcitrant individual to seek entry into another primary group of workers and to get accepted by them or else to remain jobless.
Wage equality will give a real meaning to the market in consumer goods, every individual being assured for the first time of an equal vote. It will abolish countless conflicts, both in everyday life and in production, and will enable there to develop an extraordinary cohesion among working people. It will destroy at its very roots the whole mercantile monstrosity of capitalism (both private and bureaucratic), the commercialization of individuals, that whole universe where one does not earn what one is worth, but where one is worth what one earns. A few years of wage equality and little will be left of the present-day mentality of individuals.
The Fundamental Decision
The fundamental decision, in a socialist economy, is the one whereby society as a whole determines what it wants (i.e., the ultimate targets of its plan). This decision concerns two basic propositions. Given the “initial conditions” of the economy, how much time does society want to devote to production? And how much of the total product does it want to see devoted respectively to private consumption, public consumption, and investment?
In both private and bureaucratic capitalist societies, the amount of time one has to work is determined by the ruling class by means of direct physical constraints (as was the case until quite recently in Russian factories) or economic ones. No one is consulted about the matter. Socialist society, taken as a whole, will not escape the impact of certain economic constraints (in the sense that any decision to modify labor time will – other things being equal – have a bearing on production). But it will differ from all previous societies in that for the first time in history people will be able to decide about work in full knowledge of the relevant facts, with the basic elements of the problem clearly presented to them.
Socialist society will also be the first society capable of rationally deciding how society’s product should be divided between consumption and investment. (We leave aside for now the problem of public consumption.) Under private capitalism, this distribution takes place in an absolutely blind fashion and one would seek in vain any “rationality” underlying what determines investment. (In his major work, which is devoted to this theme – and after a moderate use of differential equations – Keynes comes up with the conclusion that the main determinants of investment are the “animal spirits” of entrepreneurs. The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money , pp. 161-62.) The idea that the volume of investment is primarily determined by the rate of interest (and that the latter results from the interplay of the “real forces of productivity and thrift”) was long ago demolished by academic economists themselves. (See, for example, Joan Robinson’s The Rate of Interest and Other Essays [1952; reprinted, London: Hyperion, 1981].) In bureaucratic capitalist societies, the volume of investment is also decided quite arbitrarily, and the central bureaucracy in these societies has never been able to justify its choices except through monotonous recitations of litanies about the “priority of heavy industry.” (One would seek in vain through the voluminous writings of Mr. Charles Bettelheim for any attempt to justify the rate of accumulation “chosen” by the Russian bureaucracy. The “socialism” of such “theoreticians” not only implies that Stalin [or Khrushchev] alone can know. It also implies that such knowledge, by its very nature, cannot be communicated to the rest of humanity. In another country, and in other times, this was known as the Führerprinzip.) Even if there were a rational, “objective” basis for making a central decision on this matter, the decision arrived at would be ipso facto irrational if it was reached in the absence of those primarily concerned, namely, the members of society. Any decision made in this way would reproduce the basic contradiction of all exploiting regimes. It would treat people in the plan as just one variable of predictable behaviour among others and as theoretical “objects.” It would soon lead to treating them as objects in real life, too. Such a policy would contain the seeds of its own failure: Instead of encouraging the participation of the producers in the carrying out of the plan, it would irrevocably alienate them from a plan that was not of their choosing. There is no “objective” rationality allowing one to decide, by means of mathematical formulas, about the future of society, work, consumption, and accumulation. The only rationality in these realms is the living reason of mankind, the decisions of ordinary people concerning their own fate.
But these decisions will not come from a toss of the dice. They will be based upon a complete clarification of the problem and they will be made in full knowledge of the relevant facts. This will be possible because there exists, for any given level of technique, a definite relation between a given amount of investment and the resulting increase in production. This relation is nothing other than the application to the economy as a whole of the “technical coefficients of capital” we spoke of earlier. A given investment in steelworks will result in such and such increase in what steelworks turn out – and a given overall investment in production will result in such and such a net increase in the overall social product. Therefore, a certain rate of accumulation will allow a certain rate of increase of the social product (and therefore of the standard of living or of the amount of leisure). Finally, a particular fraction of the product devoted to accumulation will also result in a particular rate of increase of living standards.
The overall problem can therefore be posed in the following terms. A large immediate increase in consumption is possible – but it would imply a significant cutback on further increases in the years to come. On the other hand, people might prefer to choose a more limited immediate increase in living standards, which would allow the social product (and hence living standards) to increase at the rate of x percent per annum in the years to come. And so on. “The antinomy between the present and the future,” to which the apologists of private capitalism and of the bureaucracy are constantly referring, would still be with us. But it would be laid out clearly. And society itself would settle the matter, fully aware of the setting and of the implications of its decision.
(This net increase in the social product of which we have spoken obviously is not just the sum of the increases in each sector. Several elements must be added up or be subtracted before one can pass from one to the other. For instance, there would be the “intermediate utilizations” of the products of each sector and the “external economies” [investment in a given sector, by abolishing a bottleneck, could allow the better use of the productive capacities of other sectors that, although already established, were being wasted hitherto]. Working out these net increases presents no particular difficulties. They are calculated automatically, at the same time as one works out the “intermediate objectives” [mathematically, the solution to one problem immediately provides the solution to the other].
We have discussed the problem of how to determine the overall volume of investments. We can only touch on the problem of the choice of particular investments. Allocation of investment by sectors is automatic once the final investment is determined [a given level of final consumption directly or indirectly implies such and such an amount of productive capacity in each sector]. The choice of a given type of investment from among several producing the same result could only depend on such considerations as the effect that a given type of equipment would have on those who would have to use it – and here, from all we have said, their own viewpoint would be decisive.
From this point of view, when two comparable types of machinery are examined [thermal and hydroelectric power stations, for example], the criterion of profitability still applies. Here, where an “accounting-book” interest rate is used to make one’s calculations, socialist society will still be superior to a capitalist economy: For this “rate of interest,” the former will use the rate of expansion of its own economy; it can be shown – Von Neumann did it in 1937 – that these two rates ought necessarily to be identical in a rational economy.)
In conclusion, and to sum up, one could say that any overall plan submitted to the people for discussion would have to specify:
1. The productive implications for each sector of industry, and as far as possible the tasks to be completed by each enterprise;
2. The amount of work involved for everybody;
3. The level of consumption during the initial period;
4. The amount of resources to be devoted to public consumption and to investment; and
5. The rate of increase of future consumption.
To simplify things, we have at times presented the decisions about ultimate and intermediate targets (i.e., the implications of the plan concerning specific areas of production) as two separate and consecutive acts. In practice there would be a continuous give-and-take between these two phases, and a plurality of proposals. The producers will be in no position to decide on ultimate targets unless they know what the implications of particular targets are for themselves, not only as consumers but as producers, working in a specific factory. Moreover, there is no such thing as a decision made in full knowledge of the relevant facts if that decision is not founded on a spectrum of choices, each with its particular implications.
The fundamental process of decision therefore will take the following form. Starting from below, there would be discussions in the general assemblies. Initial proposals would emanate from the workers’ councils of various enterprises and would deal with their own productive possibilities in the period to come. The plan factory would then regroup these various proposals, pointing out which ones were mutually incompatible or entailed undesirable effects on other sectors. It would elaborate a series of achievable targets, grouping them as far as possible in terms of their concrete implications. (Proposal A implies that factory X will increase production by r percent next year with the help of additional equipment Y. Proposal B, on the other hand, implies …) There would then be a full discussion of the various overall proposals, throughout the general assemblies and by all the workers’ councils, possibly with counterproposals and a repetition of the procedure described. A final discussion would then lead to a simple majority vote in the general assemblies of each enterprise.
The Management of the Economy
We have spelled out the implications of workers’ management at the level of a particular factory. These consist in the abolition of any separate managerial apparatus and of the performance of managerial jobs by the workers themselves, organized in workers’ councils and in general assemblies of one or more shops or offices, or of a whole enterprise.
Workers’ management of the economy as a whole also implied that the management of the economy is not vested in the hands of a specific managerial stratum, but belongs instead to organized collectivities of producers.
What we have outlined in the previous sections shows that democratic management is perfectly feasible. Its basic assumption is the clarification of data and people’s utilization of what modern techniques have now made possible. It implies the conscious use of a series of devices and mechanisms (such as a genuine consumer “market,” wage equality, the connections established between price and value – and, of course, the plan factory) combined with real knowledge concerning economic reality. Together, these will help clear the ground. The major part of planning is just made up of tasks of execution and could safely be left to highly mechanized or automated offices, which would have no political or decisional role whatsoever and would confine themselves to placing before society a variety of feasible plans and their full respective implications for everyone, both from the standpoint of production and from that of consumption.
This general clearing of the ground having been achieved, and coherent possibilities having been presented to the people, the final choice will lie in their hands. Everyone will participate in deciding the ultimate targets “in full knowledge of the relevant facts,” i.e., knowing the implications of his choice for himself (both as producer and as consumer). The elements of the plan will begin as proposals emanating from various enterprises. They will be elaborated by the plan factory as a series of possible compatible plans. Finally, this spectrum of plans will be brought back before the general assemblies of each enterprise where they will be discussed and voted on.
Once adopted, a given plan provides the framework of economic activities for a given period of time. It establishes a starting point for economic life. But in a socialist society, the plan will not dominate economic life. It is only a starting point, to be constantly re-examined and modified as necessary. Neither the economic life of society – nor its life overall – can be based on a dead technical rationality, given once and for all. Society cannot alienate itself from its own decisions. It is not only that real life will almost of necessity diverge, in many aspects, from the “most perfect” plan in the world. It is also that the workers’ self-managerial activity will constantly tend to alter, both directly and indirectly, the basic data and targets of the plan. New products, new means of production, new methods, new problems, new difficulties, and new solutions will constantly be emerging. Working times will be reduced. Prices will fall, entailing consumer reactions and displacements of demand. Some of these modifications will affect only a single factory, others several factories, and yet others, no doubt, the economy as a whole. (From this angle – and if they weren’t false in the first place – Russian figures that show that year after year the targets of the plan have been fulfilled to 101 percent would provide the severest possible indictment of the Russian economy and of Russian society. They would signify, in effect, that during a given five-year period nothing happened in the country, that not a single new idea arose in anyone’s mind – or else that Stalin, in his wisdom, had foreseen all such ideas and incorporated them in advance in the plan, allowing – in his kindness – inventors to savor the pleasures of illusory discovery.) The “plan factory” therefore will not just operate once every five years; it will daily have to tackle some problem or another.
All this deals mainly with the form of workers’ management of the economy and with the mechanisms and institutions that will ensure that it functions in a democratic manner. These forms will allow society to give to the management of the economy the content it chooses. In a narrower sense, they will enable society to orient economic development freely.
The Content of the Management of the Economy
Everything we have said indicates that the direction chosen will be radically different from that proposed by the best intentioned ideologists or philanthropists of modern society. All such ideologists (whether “Marxist” or bourgeois) accept as self-evident that the ideal economy is one that allows the most rapid possible expansion of the productive forces and, as a corollary, the greatest possible reduction of the working day. This idea, considered in absolute terms, is absolutely absurd. It epitomizes the whole mentality, psychology, logic, and metaphysics of capitalism, its reality as well as its schizophrenia. “Work is hell. It must be reduced.” Mr. Harold Wilson and Mr. Nikita Krushchev have nothing to offer people besides cars and butter. The population must therefore be made to feel that it can only be happy if the roads are choked with cars or if it can “catch up with American butter production within the next three years.” And when people acquire the said cars and the said butter, all that will be left for them to do will be to commit suicide, which is just what they do in the “ideal” country called Sweden. This “acquisitive” mentality that capitalism engenders, which engenders capitalism, without which capitalism could not operate, and which capitalism pushes to the point of paroxysm might just conceivably have been a useful aberration during a certain phase of human development. But this way of thinking will die along with capitalism. Socialist society will not be this absurd race after percentage increments in production. This will not be its basic concern.
In its initial phase, to be sure, socialist society will concern itself with satisfying consumer needs and with a more balanced allocation of people’s time between production and other activities. But the development of people and of social communities will be socialism’s central preoccupation. A very significant part of social investment will therefore be geared toward transforming machinery, toward a universal education, and toward abolishing divisions between town and country. The growth of freedom within work, the development of the creative faculties of the producers, the creation of integrated and complete human communities will be the paths along which socialist humanity will seek the meaning of its existence. These will, in addition, enable socialism to secure the material basis it requires.
The Management of Society
We have already discussed the type of change that will be brought about by the “vertical” and “horizontal” cooperation of workers’ councils, a cooperation secured through industrial councils composed of delegates from various places of work. A similar regional cooperation will have to be instaurated through councils representing all the units of a region. Cooperation, finally, will be necessary on a national level for all the activities of society, whether they are economic or not.
A central organ that will be the expression of the workers themselves will be needed in order to ensure the general tasks of economic coordination, inasmuch as they were not dealt with by the plan itself – or more precisely, inasmuch as the plan will have to be frequently or constantly amended (the very decision to suggest that it should be amended would have to be initiated by someone). Such a body will also coordinate activities in other areas of social life that have little or nothing to do with general economic planning. This central body will be the direct emanation of the workers’ councils and the local general assemblies themselves. It will consist of a central assembly of delegates. The assembly itself will elect, from within its own ranks, a central council, called “the government.”
This network of general assemblies and councils is all that is left of the State or of power in a socialist society. It is the whole state and the only embodiment of power. There are no other institutions that could manage, direct, or make binding decisions about people’s lives.
To convince people that there would be no other “State” lurking in the background we must show:
1. That such a pattern of organization can embrace the entire population of the nation, not just in industry; and
2. That institutions of the type described can organize, direct, and coordinate all those social activities that the population felt needed to be organized, directed, and coordinated (in particular non-economic activities), in other words, that they could fulfil all the functions needed of a socialist “State” (which should not be confused with those of a modern State).
We will then have to discuss what the significations of the “State,” “parties,” and “politics” would be in such a society.
The Councils: Exclusive and Exhaustive Form of Organization for the Whole Population
The setting-up of workers’ councils will create no particular problems in relation to industry (taking the term in its widest sense to include manufacture, transport, communications, building, mining, energy production, public services and public works, etc.). The revolutionary transformation of society will in fact be based on the establishment of such councils and would be impossible without it.
In the post revolutionary period, however, when the new social relations become the norm, a problem will arise from the need to regroup people working in smaller enterprises. This regrouping will be necessary if only to ensure them their full democratic and representational rights. Initially, it will be based on some compromise between considerations of geographical proximity and considerations of industrial integration. This particular problem is not very important, or even if there are many such small enterprises, the number of those working in them represents only a small proportion of the total industrial work force.
Paradoxical as it may seem, the self-organization of the population into councils could proceed as naturally in agriculture as in industry. It is traditional on the Left to see the peasantry as a source of constant problems for a working-class power because of its dispersion, its attachment to private property, and its political and ideological backwardness. These factors certainly exist, but it is doubtful that the peasantry would actively oppose a working-class power that has formulated an intelligent (i.e., socialist) farming policy. The “peasant nightmare” currently obsessing so many revolutionaries results from the telescoping of two quite different problems: on the one hand, the relations of the peasantry with a socialist economy, in the context of a modern society; and on the other hand, the relations between the peasantry and State in the Russia of 1921 (or of 1932) or in the satellite countries between 1945 and today.
The situation that led Russia to the New Economic Policy of 1921 is of no exemplary value to an even moderately industrialized country. There is no chance of its repeating itself in a modern setting. In 1921, it was a question of an agricultural system that did not depend on the rest of the national economy for its essential means of production; seven years of war and civil war had compelled it to fall back upon itself entirely. The Party was asking of this system of agriculture to supply its produce to the towns without offering it anything in exchange. In 1932 in Russia (and after 1945 in the satellite countries), what happened was an absolutely healthy resistance of the peasantry to the monstrous exploitation imposed on it by a bureaucratic State through forced collectivization.
In a country such as France – classically considered “backward” as far as the numerical importance of its peasantry is concerned – the workers’ power will not have to fear a “wheat strike.” It will not have to organize punitive expeditions into the countryside. Precisely because the peasant is concerned with his own interests, he will have no cause to quarrel with a State that supplies him with gas, electricity, fertilizers, insecticides, and spare parts. Peasants would actively oppose such an administration only if pushed to the limit, either by exploitation or by an absurd policy of forced collectivization. The socialist organization of the economy would mean an immediate improvement in the economic status of most peasants, if only through the abolition of that specific kind of exploitation they are subjected to through middlemen. As for forced collectivization, it is the very antithesis of socialist policy in the realm of agriculture. The collectivization of agriculture could only come about as the result of an organic development within the peasantry itself, helped along by technical developments. Under no circumstances could it be imposed through direct or indirect (economic) coercion.
A socialist society will start by recognizing the rights of the peasants to the widest autonomy in the management of their own affairs. It will invite them to organize themselves into rural communes, based on geographical or cultural units and comprising approximately equal populations. Each such commune will have, both in relation to the rest of society and in relation to its own organizational structure, the status of an enterprise. Its sovereign organ therefore will be the general assembly of peasants and its representational unit, the peasant council. Rural communes and their councils will be in charge of local self-administration. They alone will decide when and how they want to form producers’ cooperatives and under what conditions. In relation to the overall plan, it will be the rural communes and their councils that will be responsible to the government, and not individual peasants. Communes will undertake to deliver a certain percentage of their produce (or a given amount of a specific product) in exchange for given amounts of money or means of production. The rural communes themselves will decide how these obligations and payments ought to be allocated among their own members.
(Complex but by no means insoluble economic problems will probably arise in this respect. They boil down to the question of how agricultural prices will be determined in a socialist economy. The application of uniform prices would maintain significant income inequalities [“differential rents”] between different rural communes or even between different farmers in a given commune. The ultimate solution to the problem would require, of course, the complete socialization of agriculture. In the meantime, compromises will be necessary. There might perhaps be some form of taxation on the wealthier communes combined with subsidies for the poorer ones until the gap between them had been substantially narrowed [to suppress inequalities completely by this means would amount, however, to forcible socialization]. One should note in passing that differential yields today stem in part from the artificial maintenance of farming on poor-yield soils through subsidies paid by the capitalist State for basically political purposes. Socialist society could rapidly lessen these gaps by refusing to subsidize non-profitable farming activities – while at the same time massively helping to equip poor but potentially viable communes.)
What about groups of workers involved in services of various kinds (from. commercial, banking, and insurance company staff to workers in entertainment to all the ex-State administrators)? There is no reason why the pattern of their self-organization should not resemble that pertaining to industry as a whole. And what about the thousand-and-one petty trades existing in towns (shopkeepers, “personal services,” artisans, some of the “liberal professions,” etc.)? Here the pattern of organization could resemble what we have outlined for an “atomized” occupation such as agriculture. A working-class power will never seek to socialize these occupations by force. It will only require that these categories group themselves into associations or cooperatives, which will at one and the same time constitute their representative political organs and their responsible units in relation to the management of the economy as a whole. There will be no question, for instance, of socialized industry individually supplying each particular shop or artisan. Instead, it will supply the cooperatives that these shopkeepers or artisans will be members of, and will entrust to these collectives the job of organizing within their own ranks. At the political level, people in these occupations will seek representation through councils or they won’t be represented at all, for there won’t be any elections of either the Western or Russian types.
These solutions present serious shortcomings when compared with industrially based workers’ councils – or even when compared with rural communes. Workers’ councils or rural communes are not primarily based on an occupation (when they are still so based, this would reflect their weakness rather than their strength). They are based on a working unity and on a shared life. In other words, workers’ councils and rural communes represent organic social units. A cooperative of artisans or of petty traders, geographically scattered and living and working separately from one another, will only be based on a rather narrow community of interests. This fragmentation is a legacy of capitalism that socialist society ought to eliminate as soon as possible. These occupations are overcrowded today. Under socialism, some of the members of these strata will be absorbed into other occupations. Society will grant funds to the remainder to enable them to organize into larger, self-managed units.
When discussing people in these various occupations we must repeat what we said about farmers, namely, that we have no experience of what their attitudes might be toward a socialist power. To start with, and up to a point, they will doubtless remain “attached to property.” But up to what point? All that we know is how they reacted when Stalinism sought forcibly to drive them into a concentration camp instead of into a socialist society. A society that will grant them a great deal of autonomy in their own affairs, that will peacefully and rationally seek to integrate them into the overall pattern of social life, that will furnish them a living example of democratic self-management, and that will give them positive help if they wanted to proceed toward socialization will certainly enjoy a different prestige in their eyes (and will have a different kind of influence on their development) than did an exploiting and totalitarian bureaucracy that, by every one of its acts, reinforced their “attachment to property” and drove them centuries backward.
The Councils: Universal Form of Organization for Social Activities
The basic units of social organization, as we have envisaged them so far, will not merely manage production. They will, at the same time and primarily, be organs for popular self-management in all its aspects. On the one hand, they will be organs of local self-administration, and on the other hand, they will be the only bases of the central power, which will exist only as a federation or regrouping of all the councils.
To say that a workers’ council will be an organ of popular self-administration (and not just an organ of workers’ management of production) is to recognize that a factory or office is not just a productive unit, but is also a social cell, and that it will become the primary locus of individual “socialization.” Although this varies from country to country and from workplace to workplace, myriad activities other than just earning a living take place around it (canteens, cooperatives, vacation retreats, sports clubs, libraries, rest homes, collective outings, dances) – activities that allow the most important human ties (both private and “public”) to become established. To the extent that the average person is today active in “public” affairs, it is more likely to be through some trade-union or political activity related to work than in a capacity as an abstract “citizen,” putting a ballot into a box once every few years. Under socialism, the transformation of the relations of production and of the very nature of work will enormously reinforce, for each worker, the positive significance of the working collective to which he belongs.
Workers’ councils and rural communes will absorb all of today’s “municipal” functions. They also will take over many others, which the monstrous centralization of the modern capitalist state has removed from the hands of local groups with the sole aim of consolidating the control of the ruling class and of its central bureaucracy over the whole population. Local councils, for instance, will take over such city and county services and departments as the direct application of “policing” powers (by detachments of armed workers assigned in rotation), the administration of local justice, and the local control of primary education.
The two forms of regroupment – productive and geographical – seldom coincide today. Peoples’ homes are at variable distances from where they work. Where the scatter is small, as in a number of industrial towns or industrial suburbs (or in many rural communes), the management of production and local self-administration will be undertaken by the same general assemblies and by the same councils. Where home and workplace do not overlap, geographically based local councils (soviets) will have to be instituted, directly representing both the inhabitants of a given area and the enterprises in the area. Initially, such geographically based local councils will be necessary in many places. One might envisage them as “collateral” institutions in charge of local affairs. They will collaborate at the local and national levels with the councils of producers, which alone represent the seat of power.
(Although the Russian word “soviet” means “council,” one should not confuse the workers’ councils we have been describing in this text with even the earliest Russian Soviets. The workers’ councils are based on one’s place of work. They can play both a political role and a role in the industrial management of production. In its essence, a workers’ council is a universal organ. The 1905 Petrograd Soviet (Council) of Workers’ Deputies, although the product of a general strike and, although exclusively proletarian in composition, remained a purely political organ. The Soviets of 1917 were as a rule geographically based. They too were purely political institutions, in which all social layers opposed to the old regime formed a united front [see Trotsky’s 1905 and his History of the Russian Revolution]. Their role corresponded to the “backwardness” of the Russian economy and of Russian society at the time as well as to the “bourgeois-democratic” aspects of the 1917 revolution. In this sense, they belonged to the past. The normal form of working-class representation in the present age undoubtedly is the workers’ council.)
The problems created by the gaps between these two types of councils could soon be overcome if one were to organize changes in workers’ living places. This is but a small aspect of an important problem that will hang over the general orientation of socialist society for decades to come. Underlying these questions are all the economic, social, and human problems of urban planning in the deepest sense of the term and, ultimately, the very problem of the division between town and country. It is not for us here to venture into these fields. All we can say is that, from the very start, a socialist society will have to tackle these problems as total problems, for they have an effect on every aspect of peoples’ lives and on society’s own economic, political, and cultural purpose.
What we have said about local self-administration also applies to regional self-administration. Regional federations of workers’ councils or rural communes will be in charge of coordinating these bodies at a regional level and of organizing activities best tackled at such a level.
The Industrial Organization of the “State”
We have seen that a large number of functions of the modern State (and not merely “territorial” functions) will be taken over by local or regional organs of popular self-administration. But what about the truly “central” functions, those whose content affects indivisibly the totality of the population?
In class societies, and in particular under classical nineteenth-century “liberal” capitalism, the ultimate function of the State was to guarantee the maintenance of existing social relations through the exercise of a legal monopoly on violence. In this sense, Lenin was right, against the reformists of his day, to adopt Engels’s description of the State as nothing more than “special bodies of armed men, and prisons.” In the course of a socialist revolution, there was no doubt as to the fate of this State: Its apparatus was to be smashed, the “special detachments of armed men” dissolved and replaced by the arming of the people, and the permanent bureaucracy abolished and replaced by elected and revocable officials.
Under today’s crisis-ridden capitalism, increasing economic concentration and the increasing concentration of all aspects of social life (with the corresponding need for the ruling class to submit everything to its control and supervision) have led since Lenin’s time to an enormous growth of the State apparatus, its functions, and its bureaucracy. The State is no longer just a coercive apparatus that has elevated itself “above” society. It is the hub of a whole series of mechanisms whereby society functions from day to day. At the limit, the present-day State underlies all social activity, as in the fully developed bureaucratic-capitalist regimes of Russia and the satellite countries. Even in the West, the State goes beyond the mere exercise of “power” in the narrow sense and takes on an ever-increasing role in the management and control not only of the economy but of a host of social activities. Parallel with all this, the State takes on a large number of functions that in themselves could perfectly well be carried out by other bodies, but which either have become useful instruments of control or imply the mobilization of considerable resources that the State alone possesses.
In many people’s minds the myth of the “State” as the “incarnation of the Absolute Idea” (which Engels mocked a century ago) has been replaced by another myth, the myth of the State as the inevitable incarnation of centralization and of the “technical rationalization” required by modern social life. This has had two main effects. It has led some people to consider outmoded, Utopian, or inapplicable the conclusions Marx, Engels, and Lenin have drawn from their theoretical analysis of the State and from the experience of the revolutionary events of 1848, 1871, or 1905. It has led others to swallow the reality of the modern Russian State, which simultaneously epitomizes (not in what it hides – police terror and the concentration camps – but in what it officially proclaims, in its Constitution) the complete and total negation of previous Marxist conceptions of what the socialist “State” might be like and exhibits a monstrous increase in those very features of capitalist society that were criticized by Marx or Lenin (the total separation of rulers and ruled, permanent officialdom, greater privileges for the few than ever were allowed to the elite in any bourgeois State, etc.).
But this very evolution of the modern State contains the seed of a solution. The modern State has become a gigantic enterprise – by far the most important enterprise in modern society. It can exercise its managerial functions only to the extent that it has created a whole network of organs of execution, within which work has become collective, subject to a division of labor, and specialized. What has happened here is the same as what has happened to the management of production in particular enterprises. But it has happened on a much vaster scale. In their overwhelming majority, today’s governmental departments only carry out specific and limited tasks. They are “enterprises,” specializing in certain types of work. Some are socially necessary. Others are purely parasitic or are only necessary in order to maintain the class structure of society. The “powers that be” have no more intrinsic connection with the work of “their” departments than they have, say, with the production of automobiles. The notion of “power” or “administrative rights” that remains appended to what are in fact a series of “public services” is a juridical legacy, without real content. Its only purpose is to shield from criticism the arbitrary and irresponsible behavior of those at the top of various bureaucratic pyramids.
Given these conditions, the solution does not lie in the “election and revocability of all civil servants.” This is neither necessary (these officials exercise no real power) nor possible (they are specialized workers, whom one could no more elect” than one would elect electricians or doctors).
The solution will lie in the industrial organization, pure and simple, of most of today’s governmental departments. In many cases this would only be giving formal recognition to an existing state of affairs. Concretely, such industrial organization would mean:
1. The explicit transformation of these “administrative” departments into enterprises having the same status as any other enterprise. In many of these new enterprises the mechanization and automation of work could be systematically developed to a considerable degree.
2. The management of these enterprises will be through workers’ councils, representing those who work there. These office workers, like all others, will determine autonomously the organization of their own work. (The formation of workers’ councils of State employees was one of the demands of the Hungarian workers’ councils.)
3. The function of these enterprises will be confined to the execution of the tasks assigned to them by the representative institutions of society.
We have seen that the “plan factory” will be organized in this way. The same will apply to whatever remains or could be used of any current structures relating to the economy (foreign trade, agriculture, finance, industry, etc.). Current State functions that already are industrialized (public works, public transport, communications, public health, and social security) will be similarly organized. And the same goes for education.
The Central Power: The Assembly and the Governmental Council
What remains of the functions of a modern state will be discussed under three headings:
1. The material basis of authority and coercion, “the specialized bands of armed men and prisons” (in other words, the army and the law);
2. Foreign and domestic “politics,” in the narrow sense (in other words, the problems that might arise for a working-class power if it was confronted with internal opposition or with the persistence of hostile exploiting regimes in other countries);
3. Real politics: the overall vision, coordination, and general purpose and direction of social life.
Concerning the army, it is obvious that “the specialized bands of armed men” will be dissolved and then replaced by the armed populace. Workers in factories, offices, and rural communes will constitute the units of a non-permanent, territorially based militia, each council being in charge of policing its own area. Regional regroupings will enable local units to become integrated and will allow the rational use of heavier armaments.
The extent to which “strategic” types of weapons (which can be used only on a centralized basis) will remain necessary cannot be decided a priori. If it proved necessary, each council would probably contribute a contingent to the formation of certain central units, which would be under the control of the central assembly of councils.
Neither the means nor the overall conception of war can be copied from those of an imperialist country. What we have said about capitalist technology is valid for military technique: There is no neutral military technique, there is no “A-bomb for socialism.” Philippe Guillaume has clearly shown (in “La Guerre et notre époque,” Socialisme ou Barbarie, 3 and 5-6 [July 1949 and March 1950]) that a proletarian revolution of necessity will have to draw up its own strategy and methods suitable to its social and human objectives. The need for so-called strategic weapons does not go without saying for a revolutionary power.
As for the administration of justice, it will be in the hands of rank-and-file bodies. Each council will act as a “lower court” in relation to “offenses” committed in its jurisdiction. Individual rights will be guaranteed by procedural rules established by the central assembly, and could also include the right of appeal to the regional councils or to the central assembly itself. There would be no question of a “penal code” or of prisons, the very notion of “punishment” being absurd from a socialist point of view. Judgments could only aim at re-educating the social delinquent and at reintegrating him into his social surroundings. Deprivation of freedom has a meaning only if it is judged that a particular individual constitutes a permanent threat to others (and in that case what is needed is not a penitentiary but “pedagogical” and “medical” – “psychiatric” – institutions).
Political problems – in the narrow as well as in the broader sense – concern the whole population, and therefore only the population as a whole is in a position to solve them. But people can solve them only if they are organized to this end. (At the present time, everything is devised so as to prevent people from dealing with such problems. People are conned into believing that the sole possessors of solutions to political problems are the politicians, those specialists of the universal, whose most universal attribute is precisely their ignorance of any particular reality.)
This organization will be made up first of all of the workers’ councils and the general assemblies of each particular enterprise, the vital collective setting within which there can be a confrontation of views and an elaboration of informed political opinions. They will be the ultimate sovereign authorities for all political decisions. But there will also be a central institution, directly emanating from these grass-roots organizations, namely, the central assembly of councils. The existence of such a body is necessary, not only because some problems require an immediate decision (even if such a decision may subsequently be reversed by the population), but more particularly because preliminary checking, clarification, and elaboration of the facts are almost always necessary before any meaningful decision can be made. To ask the people as a whole to voice their opinions without such preparation would often be a mystification and a negation of democracy (because it would eliminate the possibility of people deciding in full knowledge of the relevant facts). There must be a framework for discussing problems and for submitting them to popular decision – or even for suggesting that they should be discussed. These are not just “technical” functions. They are deeply political, and the body that would initiate them would be a central power – although very different in its structure and role from any contemporary central body – that socialist society could not do without.
The real problem is not whether such a body should exist. It is how to organize It in such a manner that it no longer incarnates the alienation of political power in society and the vesting of authority in the hands of specialized institutions, separate from the population as a whole. The problem is to make any central body into the expression and instrument of the central power. We think this is perfectly possible under modern conditions.
The central assembly of councils will be composed of delegates elected directly by the general assemblies of the grass-roots organs (or by larger geographical or federated groups of these organs, enterprises, rural communes, etc.). These people will be revocable at all times by the bodies that elected them. They will remain at work, as will delegates to the local workers’ councils. Delegates to the central assembly will meet in plenary session as often as necessary. In meeting twice a week, or during one week each month, they will almost certainly get through more work than any present legislature (which hardly gets through any). At frequent intervals (perhaps once a month) they will have to give an account of their mandate to those who had elected them. (In a country like France, such an assembly could consist of 1,000 or 2,000 delegates [one delegate per 20,000 or 10,000 workers]. A compromise would have to be reached between two requirements: As a working body, the central assembly of councils should not be too large, but on the other hand, it must afford the most direct and most broadly based representation of the people, areas, and organs of which it is the outcome.)
Those elected to the central assembly will elect from within their own ranks – or will appoint to act in rotation – a central governmental council, composed perhaps of a few dozen members. The tasks of this body will be restricted to preparing the work of the central assembly of councils, acting in its stead when it is not in session, and convening the assembly for emergency sessions if necessary.
If this governmental council exceeded its jurisdiction and made a decision that could or should have been submitted to the central assembly, or if it made any unacceptable decisions, these could immediately be rescinded by the next meeting of the central assembly, which could also take any other necessary measures, up to and including the “dissolution” of its own council. Likewise, if the central assembly made any decision that exceeded its jurisdiction, or that went against the will of the local workers’ councils or the local general assemblies, it will be up to these bodies to take any steps necessary, beginning with the revocation of their delegates to the central assembly. Neither the central council nor the central assembly could persevere in unacceptable practices (they have no power of their own, they are revocable, and in the last analysis, the population is armed). But if the central assembly allowed its council to exceed its rights – or if members of local assemblies allowed their delegates to the central assembly to exceed their authority – nothing could be done. The population can exercise political power only if it wants to. The organization proposed merely ensures that the population could exercise such power, if it wanted to.
But this very will to take affairs into one’s own hands is not some occult force, appearing and disappearing in some mysterious way. Political alienation in capitalist society does not just stem from the fact that existing institutions, by their very structure, make it “technically” impossible for the political will of the people to express or exercise itself. Contemporary political alienation stems from the destruction of this will at its roots, the thwarting of its very growth, and, finally, the suppression of all interest in public affairs. There is nothing more sinister than the utterances of sundry liberals, bemoaning the “political apathy of the people,” an apathy that the political and social system they subscribe to would recreate daily, if it did not already exist. This suppression of political will in modern societies stems as much from the content of modern “politics” as from the means available for political expression. It is based on the unbridgeable gulf that today separates “politics” from people’s real lives. The content of modern politics is the “better” organization of exploiting society. The better to exploit society itself. Its methods of expression are necessarily mystifying: They resort either to direct lies or to meaningless abstractions. The world in which all this takes place is a world of “specialists,” underhanded deals, and a spurious “technicism.”
All this will be radically changed in a socialist society. Exploitation having been eliminated, the content of politics will be the better organization of our common life. An immediate result will be a different attitude on the part of ordinary people toward public affairs. Political problems will be everyone’s problems, whether they relate to where one works or deal with national issues. People will begin to feel that their concerns have a real impact, and perceptible results should soon be obvious to everyone. The method of expression of the new politics will be geared toward making real problems accessible to everyone. The gulf separating “political affairs” from people’s everyday lives will be completely eliminated.
All this warrants some comment. Modern sociologists often claim that the content of modern politics and its modes of expression are inevitable. They believe that the separation of politics from life is due to irreversible technical changes that make any real democracy impossible. It is alleged that the content of politics – namely, the direction and management of society – has become highly complex, embracing an extraordinary mass of data and problems, each of which can be mastered only through advanced specialization. All this allegedly being so, it is proclaimed as self-evident that these problems could never be put to the public in any intelligible way – or only by simplifying them to a degree that would distort them altogether. Why be surprised then that ordinary people take no more interest in politics than they do in differential calculus?
If these “arguments” – presented as the very latest in political sociology but in fact as old as the world (Plato discusses them at length, and his Protagoras is in part devoted to them) – prove anything, it is not that democracy is a Utopian illusion but that the very management of society, by whatever means, has become impossible. The politician, according to these premises, would have to be the Incarnation of Absolute and Total Knowledge. No technical specialization, however advanced, entitles its possessor to master areas other than his own. An assembly of technicians, each the highest authority in his particular field, would have no competence (as an assembly of technicians) to solve anything. Only one individual could comment on any specific point, and no one would be in a position to comment on any general problem.
Indeed, modern society is not managed by technicians as such (and never could be). Those who manage it do not incarnate Absolute Knowledge – but rather generalized incompetence. In fact, modern society is hardly managed at all – it merely drifts. Just like the top management of the bureaucratic apparatus heading up some big factory, a modern political “leadership” only renders verdicts – and thoroughly arbitrary ones at that. It decides between the opinions of the various technical departments that are designed to “assist” it, but over which it has very little control. In this, our rulers feel the repercussions in their own social system and experience the same political alienation they impose on the rest of society. The chaos of their own social organization and the narrow development of each branch for its own exclusive ends render impossible a rational exercise of their own power – even in their own terms.
We discuss this sophism because it puts us on the road to an important truth. In the case of politics as in the case of production, people tend to blame modern technique and modern “technicization” in general instead of seeing that the problems stem from a specifically capitalist technology. In politics as in production, capitalism does not only mean the use of technically “neutral” means for capitalist ends. It also means the creation and development of specific techniques, aimed at ensuring the exploitation of the producers – or the oppression, mystification, and political alienation and manipulation of citizens in general. At the level of production, socialism will mean the conscious transformation of technology. Technique will be put in the service of the people. On the political level, socialism will imply a similar transformation: Technique will be put in the service of democracy.
Political technique is based essentially on the techniques of information and of communication. We are here using the term “technique” in the widest sense (the material means of information and communication comprise only a part of the corresponding techniques). To place the technique of information at the service of democracy does not only mean to put material means of expression in the hands of the people (essential as this may be). Nor does it mean the dissemination of all information, or of any information whatsoever. It means first and foremost to put at the disposal of mankind the elements necessary to enable people to decide in full knowledge of the relevant facts. This means that each person will receive a faithful translation of essential data relating to the problems that will have to be decided upon. This information will be expressed in the form of a finite number of succinctly stated and meaningful details. With respect to the plan factory, we have given a specific example of how information could be used so as vastly to increase people’s areas of freedom. In this case, genuine information would not end up burying everyone under whole libraries of textbooks on economics, technology, and statistics: The information that would result from this would be strictly nil. The information provided by the plan factory would be compact, significant, sufficient, and true. Everyone will know what he will have to contribute and the level of consumption he will enjoy if this or that variant of the plan is adopted. This is how technique (in this instance, economic analysis, statistics, and computers) can be put in the service of democracy in a key area. There is no “cybernetic politics” that could tell us how to make a decision; only people can determine the elements required to make decisions.
The same applies to the technique of communication. It is claimed that the very size of modern societies precludes the exercise of any genuine democracy. Distances and numbers allegedly render direct democracy impossible. The only feasible democracy, it is claimed, is representative democracy, which “inevitably” contains a kernel of political alienation, namely, the separation of representatives from those they represent.
In fact, there are several ways of envisaging and achieving representative democracy. A legislature is one form. Councils are another, and it is difficult to see how political alienation could arise in a council system operating according to its own rules. If modern techniques of communication were put in the service of democracy, the areas where representative democracy would remain necessary would narrow considerably. Material distances are smaller in the modern world than they were in Attica, in the fifth century B.C. At that time, the voice range of the orator – and hence the number of people he could reach – was limited by the functional capacity of his vocal cords. Today it is unlimited. In the realm of communicating ideas, distances have not only narrowed – they have disappeared. If society felt it were necessary, tomorrow it could establish a general assembly of the whole population in any modern country. Closed-circuit radio and television hookups easily could link a vast number of general assemblies, in various factories, offices, or rural communes. Similar, but more limited, hookups could be established in a vast number of cases. In any case, the sessions of the central assembly or of its council easily could be televised. This, combined with the revocability of all delegates, would readily ensure that any central institution remained under the permanent control of the population. It would profoundly alter the very notion of “representation.” (It certainly would be amusing to televise today’s parliamentary sessions; this would be an excellent way of lowering TV set sales.)
It might be claimed that the problem of numbers remains and that people never would be able to express themselves in a reasonable amount of time. This is not a valid argument. There would rarely be an assembly of over twenty people where everyone would want to speak, for the very good reason that when there is something to be decided upon there are not an infinite number of options or an infinite number of arguments. In unhampered rank-and-file workers’ gatherings (convened, for instance, to decide on a strike) there have never been “too many” speeches. The two or three fundamental opinions having been voiced, and various arguments having been exchanged, a decision is soon reached. The length of speeches, moreover, often varies inversely with the weight of their content. Russian leaders sometimes talk on for four hours at Party Congresses without saying anything. The speech of the Ephor that persuaded the Spartans to launch the Peloponnesian War occupies twenty-one lines of Thucydides (I, 86). For an account of the laconicism of revolutionary assemblies, see Trotsky’s accounts of the Petrograd soviet of 1905 – or accounts of the meetings of factory representatives in Budapest in 1956 (S. ou B.,2 [March 1957], pp. 91-92.)
People bemoan the fact that the size of the modern “city” compared with l hose of yesterday (tens of millions rather than tens of thousands) renders direct democracy impossible. They are doubly blind. They do not see, first, that modern society has recreated the very milieu (the workplace) where such democracy could be reinstaurated. Nor do they see that modern society has created and will continue to create for an indefinite period of time the technical means for a genuine democracy on a massive scale. They envisage the only solution to the problems of the supersonic age in the horse-and-buggy terms of parliamentary political machinery. And they then conclude that democracy has become “impossible.” They claim to have made a “new” analysis – and they have ignored what is really new in our epoch: the material possibilities of at last freely transforming the world through technique, and through the proletariat, which is its living vehicle.
The “State,” “Parties,” and “Politics”
What will the “State,” “politics,” and “parties” consist of in such a society? We have seen that the remnants of a “State” will still exist in those instances where there will not immediately be a pure and simple “administration of things,” where there still will be the possibility of coercion and constraints against individuals or groups, where the majority will still prevail over the minority, and where, therefore, limitations on individual freedom persist. There no longer will be a “State” to the extent that the bodies exercising power will be none other than the productive units or local organizations of the whole population, that the institutions organizing social life will be but one aspect of that life itself, and that what remained of central bodies will be under the direct and permanent control of the grassroots organizations. This will be the starting point. Social development cannot but bring about a rapid reduction (“withering away”) of the “statist” features of social organization: The reasons for exercising constraints gradually will disappear, and the field of individual freedom will enlarge. (Needless to say, we are not talking here about formal “democratic freedoms,” which a socialist society will immediately and vastly expand, but about substantive freedoms: not only the right to live, but the right to do what one wants with one’s life.)
Freed from all the rubbish and mystifications currently surrounding it, politics in such a society will be nothing but the collective search for, debate about, and adoption of solutions to the general problems concerning the future of society – whether these be economic or educational, whether they dealt with the rest of the world or with domestic relations between various social strata or classes. All these decisions concern the whole of the population and they will III theirs to make.
It is probable, even certain, that there will be different views about, such problems. Each approach will seek to be as coherent and systematic as possible. People will subscribe to particular viewpoints, though they will be dispersed geographically or occupationally, These people will come together to defend their views – in other words, they will form political groups. On the national level, the councils will have to decide whether they consider the general orientation of this or that party compatible with the make-up of the new society, and therefore whether such arties will be allowed to function on a legal basis.
There would be no point in pretending that a contradiction would not exist between the existence of such groups and the role of the councils. The two could not develop simultaneously. If the councils fulfil their function, they will provide the principal and vital setting not only for political confrontations but also for the formation of political opinions. Political groups, on the other hand, are exclusive environments for the schooling of their members, as well as being exclusive poles for their loyalty. The parallel existence of both councils and political groups will imply that a part of real political life will be taking place outside, the councils. People will then tend to act in the councils according to decision already made elsewhere. Should this tendency predominate, it would bring about the rapid atrophy and finally the disappearance of the councils. Conversely, real socialist development would be characterized by the progressive atrophy of established political groups.
This contradiction could not be abolished by a stroke of the pen or by a “statutory” decree. The persistence of political groups would reflect the continuation of characteristics inherited from capitalist society, in particular, the persistence of divergent interests (and their corresponding ideologies) even after these capitalistic traits have disappeared. People will not form parties for or against quantum theory, or over simple differences of opinion about some particular point. The flowering or final atrophy of political groups will depend of the ability of workers’ power to unite society.
The basis of parties is not a difference of opinion as such, but rather differences on fundamentals and the more or less systematic unity of each “set of views.” In other words, parties express a set orientation corresponding to a more or less clear ideology, in its turn flowing from the existence of social positions leading to conflicting aspirations. As long as such positions exist and lead to a political “projection” of expectations, one cannot abolish political groups – but as they begin to disappear it is unlikely that groups will be formed about “divergences” of opinion in general.
If political organizations expressing the survival of different interests and ideologies persist, a working-class socialist party, a partisan defender of proletarian socialist organization also will exist. It will be open to all those who favor total power for the councils and will differ from all others, both in its program and in its practice, precisely on this point: Its fundamental activity will be directed toward the concentration of power in the councils and to their becoming the only centres of political life. This implies that it will struggle against power being held by any particular party, whichever one it may be.
It is obvious that the democratic power structure of a socialist society excludes the possibility of a Party “holding power” The very words would be meaningless within the framework we have described. Insofar as major trends of opinion might arise or diverge on important issues, the holders of majority viewpoints might be elected as delegates to the councils, assemblies, communes, etc more often than others. (This does not necessarily follow, however, for delegates will be elected mainly on the basis of overall confidence, and not always according to their opinion on this or that issue.) Parties will not be organizations seeking power, and the central assembly of councils will not be a “workers’ parliament”; people will not be elected to it as members of a party. The same goes for any government chosen by this assembly.
The role of a working-class socialist party initially will be quite important. It will have to defend these conceptions systematically and coherently. It will have to conduct an extensive struggle to unmask and denounce bureaucratic tendencies, not in general, but where they concretely show themselves; also, and perhaps above all, initially it will be the only group capable of showing the ways and means whereby technique and technicians could be organized and directed so as to allow working-class democracy to both stabilize itself and blossom forth. The work of the party could, for instance, hasten considerably the setting-up of the democratic planning mechanisms we analyzed earlier. The party is in fact the only form in which a coalescence of workers and intellectuals can now take place in our society of exploitation. And this fusion could also allow the working-class power to make rapid use of techniques that would advance its goals, But if, some years after the revolution, the party continued to grow, it would be the surest sign that it was dead – as a working-class socialist party.
Freedom and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat
The problem of political freedom arises in two forms: freedom for political organizations and the rights of various social strata of the population. Nationally, the councils alone will be in a position to judge to what extent the activities of any given political organization could be tolerated. The basic criterion that ought to guide their judgment will be whether the organization in question was seeking to re-establish an exploiting regime, In other words, was it trying to abolish the power of the councils? If they judged this to be the case, the councils will have the right and the duty to defend themselves, at the ultimate limit of curtailing such activities. But this yardstick will not provide an automatic answer in every specific instance for the very good reason that such an automatic answer never could exist. In each case, the councils will have to bear the political responsibility for their answer, steering a course between two equal and very serious dangers: either to allow freedom of action to enemies of socialism who seek to destroy it – or to kill self-management by themselves through extreme restrictions on political freedom. There is no absolute or abstract answer to this dilemma. Nor is it any use trying to minimize the extent of the problem by saying that any important political tendency would be represented inside the councils: It is perfectly possible and even quite probable that there will exist within the councils tendencies opposed to their total power.
The “legality of soviet parties” – a formula through which Trotsky believed, in 1936, that he could answer this problem – in fact answers nothing. If the only dangers confronting socialist society were those due to bourgeois “restorationist” parties, there would be little to fear, for such parties would not find much support in the workers’ assemblies. They would automatically exclude themselves from meaningful political life. But the main danger threatening the socialist revolution after the liquidation of private capitalism does not arise from restorationist tendencies. It stems rather from bureaucratic tendencies. Such tendencies may find support in some sections of the working class, the more so as their programs do not and would not aim at restoring traditional and known forms of exploitation, but would be presented as “variants” of socialism. In the beginning, when it is most dangerous, bureaucratism is neither a social system nor a definite program: It is only an attitude in practice. The councils will be able to fight bureaucracy only as a result of their own concrete experience. But the revolutionary tendency inside the councils will always denounce “one-man management” – as practiced in Russia – or the centralized management of the whole economy by a separate apparatus – as practiced in Russia, Poland, or Yugoslavia. It will denounce them as variants not of socialism but of exploitation, and it will struggle to outlaw organizations propagating such aims.
It is hardly necessary to add that although it might prove necessary to limit the political activity of this or that organization, no limitation is conceivable in the domains of ideology or of culture. A genuine socialist society can only entail a much greater variety of tendencies, “schools,” and so on, than exists today.
Another problem, independent of the question of political organizations, arises: Should all sections of the population have the same rights from the start? Are they equally able to participate in the political management of society? What does the dictatorship of the proletariat mean in such circumstances?
The dictatorship of the proletariat means the incontrovertible fact that the initiative for and the direction of the socialist revolution and subsequent transformation of society can only belong to the proletariat in the factories. Therefore it means that the point of departure and the center of socialist power will quite literally be the workers’ councils. But the proletariat does not aim at instituting a dictatorship over society and over the other strata of the population. Its aim is the instauration of socialism, a society in which differences between strata or classes must diminish rapidly and soon disappear. The proletariat will be able to take society in the direction of socialism only to the extent that it associates other sections of the population with its aims. Or to the extent that it grants them the fullest autonomy compatible with the general orientation of society. Or that it raises them to the rank of active subjects of political management an does not see them as objects of its own control – which would be in conflict with its whole outlook. All this is expressed in the general organization of the population into councils, in the extensive autonomy of the councils in their own domain, and in the participation of all these councils in the central power, as we have described it
What happens if the working class does not vastly outnumber the rest of the population? Or if the revolution is from the start in a particularly difficult position, other strata being actively hostile to the power of the workers’ councils? The dictatorship of the proletariat will then find concrete expression in an unequal participation of the various strata of society in the central power. In the beginning, for example, the proletariat might have to grant a smaller voice to the peasants’ councils than to other councils, even if it allows this voice to grow as class tensions diminish.
But the real implications of these questions are limited. The working class could keep power only if it gained the support of the majority of those who work for a living, even if they are not industrial workers. In modern societies, wage and salary earners constitute the overwhelming majority of the population, and each day their numerical importance increases. If the majority of industrial workers and other wage earners and salaried personnel supported a revolutionary power, the regime could not be endangered by the political opposition of the peasants, who are not, indeed, one homogeneous bloc. If the aforementioned sections did not support revolutionary power, it is difficult to see how the revolution could triumph [s’instaurer], and even more how it could last for any length of time.
Problems of the “Transition”
The society we are talking about is not communism, which supposes total freedom, people’s complete control over all their own activities, the absence of any constraint, total abundance – and human beings of a totally different kind.
The society we are talking about is socialism, and socialism is the only transitional society between a regime of exploitation and communism. What is not socialism (as here defined) is not a transitional society but an exploiting society. We might say that any exploiting society is a “society in transition,” but it is “in transition to another form of exploitation.” The transition to communism is only possible ii exploitation is immediately abolished, for otherwise exploitation continues and feeds on itself. The abolition of exploitation is only possible when every separate stratum of directors ceases to exist, for in modern societies it is the division between directors and executants that is at the root of exploitation. The abolition of a separate managerial apparatus means workers’ management in all sectors of social activity. Workers’ management is only possible within the framework of new organizational forms embodying the direct democracy of the producers (as represented by the councils). Workers’ management can be consolidated and enlarged only insofar as it attacks the deepest roots of alienation in all fields and primarily in the realm of work.
In their essence these views closely coincide with Marx’s and Lenin’s ideas on the subject. Marx envisaged only one kind of transitional society between capitalism and communism, which he called indifferently “dictatorship of the proletariat” or “lower stage of communism.” For him there was no doubt this society would signify from day one an end to exploitation and to a separate stair apparatus. Lenin’s positions on this question, as elaborated in State and Revolution, merely explain and defend Marx’s theses against the reformists of his day.
These elementary truths have been systematically hidden and distorted since the Russian Revolution degenerated. Let us leave aside the Stalinists, whose historic job it has been to present concentration camps, the absolute power of factory managers, piece rates, and Stakhanovism as the finished products of socialism. In a more subtle, but just as dangerous, form, the same mystification has been propagated by the Trotskyists and by Trotsky himself. They have managed to invent an increasing number of transitional societies, fitting more or less comfortably next to each other. Between communism and capitalism there was socialism. But between socialism and capitalism there was the workers’ State. And between the workers’ State and capitalism there was the “degenerated workers’ State” (degeneration being a process, there were gradations: degenerated, very degenerated, monstrously degenerated, etc.). After the war, according to the Trotskyists, we witnessed the birth of a whole series of “degenerated workers’ States” (the satellite countries of Eastern Europe), which were degenerated without ever having been workers’ States. All these gymnastics were performed so as to avoid having to admit that Russia had become again an exploiting society without a shred of socialism about it, and so as to avoid drawing the conclusion that the fate of the Russian Revolution made it imperative to re-examine all the problems relating to the program and content of socialism, to the role of the proletariat, to the role of the party, etc.
The idea of a “transitional society” other than the socialist society we have spoken about is a mystification. This is not to say – far from it – that problems of transition do not exist. In a sense, the whole of socialist society is determined by the existence of these problems and by people’s attempt to solve them. But problems of transition will also exist in a narrower sense. They will flow from the concrete conditions that will confront any socialist revolution at the start. These initial conditions will make it more or less easy to bring about socialism; they will guide socialist society toward particular ways of giving concrete form to what are the basic principles of socialism.
For instance, the revolution can only begin in one country, or in one group of countries. As a result, it will have to endure pressures of extremely varying kinds and durations. On the other hand, however swiftly the revolution spreads internationally, a country’s level of internal development will play an important role in how the principles of socialism will be concretely applied. For example, agriculture might create important problems in France – but not in the United States – or Great Britain (where, inversely, the main problem would be that of the country’s extreme dependence on food imports). In the course of our analysis, we have considered several problems of this kind and hope to have shown that solutions tending in a socialist direction existed in each case.
We have not been able to consider the special problems that would arise if the revolution remained isolated in one country for a long time – and we can hardly do it here. But we hope to have shown that it is wrong to think that the problems arising from such isolation are insoluble, that an isolated workers’ power must lie heroically or degenerate, or that at the most it can “hold on” while waiting. The only way to “hold on” is to start building socialism; otherwise, degeneration us already set in, and there is nothing to hold on for. For workers’ power, the building of socialism from the very first day is not only possible, it is imperative. If it does not take place the power held has already ceased to be workers’ power.
All the discussion about “socialism in one country” between the Stalinists Hid the Left Opposition (1924-27) shows to a frightening degree how men make history thinking they know what they are doing, yet understand nothing about it. Stalin insisted it was possible to build socialism in Russia alone, meaning by socialism industrialization plus the power of the bureaucracy. Trotsky vowed that this was impossible, meaning by socialism a classless society. Both were right in what they said, and wrong in denying the truth of the other’s allegation. But neither was in fact talking about socialism. And no one, during the whole discussion, mentioned the system of rule inside Russian factories, the relation of the proletariat to the management of production, or the relation of the Bolshevik party, where the discussion was taking place, to the proletariat, who were in the long run the main interested party in the whole business.
The program we have outlined is a program for the present, capable of being realized in any reasonably industrial country. It describes the steps – or the spirit guiding the steps – that the councils will have to take and the general orientation They will have to adopt, starting from the very first weeks of their power, whether this power has spread to several countries or is confined to one. Perhaps, if we were talking about Albania, there would be little we could do. But if Tomorrow in France, or even in Poland (as yesterday in Hungary), workers’ councils emerged without having to face a foreign military invasion, they could only:
– Federate into a central and declare themselves the only power in the land;
– Proceed to arm the proletariat and order the dissolution of the police and of the standing army;
– Proclaim the expropriation of the capitalists, the dismissal of all managers, and the takeover of the management of all factories by the workers, themselves organized into workers’ councils;
– Proclaim the abolition of work norms and instaurate full equality of wages and salaries;
– Encourage other categories of wage earners to form councils and to take into their own hands the management of their respective enterprises;
– Ask workers in governmental departments, in particular, to form councils and proclaim the transformation of these administrative bodies into enterprises managed by those who work in them;
– Encourage the peasants and other self-employed sections of the population to group themselves into councils and to send their representatives to a central assembly;
– Proceed to organize a “plan factory” and promptly submit a provisional economic plan for discussion by the local councils;
– Call on the workers of other countries and explain to them the content and meaning of these measures.
All this would be immediately necessary. And it would contain all that is essential to the process of building socialism.
 This following part will be published in the next issue of S. ou B.
 The present “Supreme Soviet,” of course.
 The expression is to be found in part 3 of Engels’s Anti-Dühring. [T/E: The French phrase is “en connaissance de cause.” Castoriadis refers to a passage in section 2 of this third part, pp. 309-10, of the edition we are using (trans. Emile Burns, ed. C. P. Dutt [New York: International Publishers, 1939]). This edition translates the phrase in question merely as “with complete understanding.”]
 A few years ago a certain “philosopher” could seriously ask how one could even discuss Stalin’s decisions, since one did not know the real facts upon which he alone could base them. (J.-P. Sartre, “Les Communistes et la Paix,” in Les Temps Modernes, 81, 84-85, and 101 [July and October-November 1952, April 1954]; trans. Martha H. Fletcher, The Communists and the Peace [New York: George Braziller, 1968].)
 Lenin took the opportunity, in State and Revolution, to defend the idea of direct democracy against the reformists of his day who contemptuously called it “primitive democracy.”
 On this feature of working life, see Paul Romano, “L’Ouvrier amerieain,” in S. ou B., 5-6 (March 1950), pp. 129-32 [T/E: “Life in the Factory,” in The American Worker (1947; reprinted, Detroit: Bewick Editions, 1972), pp. 37-39], and R. Berthier, “Une Experience d’organisation ouvriere,” in 5. ou B., 20 (December 1956), pp. 29-31.
 The great contribution of the American group that publishes Correspondence has been to resume the analysis of the crisis of society from the standpoint of production and to apply it to the conditions of our age. See their texts, translated and published in S. ou B.: Paul Romano’s “L’Ouvrier americain” (nos. 1 to 5-6 [March 1949 to March 1950]) and “La Reconstruction de la société” (nos. 7-8 [August 1951 and January 1952]) [T/E: see “Life in the Factory” and “The Reconstruction of Society,” in The American Worker). In France, it is Philippe Guillaume who has revived this way of looking at things (see his article, “Machinisme et proletariat,” in no. 7 [August 1951 ] of this review). I am indebted to him, directly or indirectly, for several ideas used in the present text.
 K. Marx, Capital (New York: International Publishers, 1967), vol. 3, p. 820.
 Daniel Mothe’s text, “L’Usine et la gestion ouvrière,” also in this issue [S. ou B., 22 (July 1957), pp. 75 ff.] already is one de facto response – coming from the factory itself – to the concrete problem of shop-floor workers’ management and that of how to organize work. In referring to this text, we are considering here only the problems of the factory as a whole.
 In J. A. C. Brown’s The Social Psychology of Industry (London: Penguin, 1954), there is a striking contrast between the devastating analysis the author makes of present capitalist production and the only “conclusions” he can draw, which are pious exhortations to management that it should “do better,” “democratize itself,” etc. Let it not be said, however, that an “industrial sociologist” takes no position, that he merely describes facts and does not suggest norms. Advising the managerial apparatus to “do better” is itself a taking of a position, one that has been shown here to be completely Utopian.
 See the Twentieth Congress texts analyzed by Claude Lefort in “Le Totalitarisme sans Staline,” S. ou B., 19 (July 1956), in particular, pp. 59-62 [now in Elements, pp. 166 ff.; T/E: 1979 ed., pp. 203 ff.].
 See Mothe, “L’Usine et la gestion ouvrière.”
 On the extreme overstaffing of “nonproductive” departments in today’s factories, see G. Vivier, “La Vie en usine,” 6″. ou B., 12 (August 1953), pp. 39-41. Vivier estimates that in the business he describes, “without a rational reorganization of these departments, 30% of the employees already arc redundant” (emphasis in the original).
 See Mothe, “L’Usine et la gestion ouvrière.”
 Bureaucratic “planning” as carried out in Russia and the Eastern European countries proves nothing, one way or the other. It is just as irrational and just as anarchic and wasteful as the capitalist “market” – though in different ways. The waste is both “external” (the wrong decisions being Blade) and “internal” (brought about by the resistance of the workers) to the production process. Lor further details, see PRAB.
 The field is in constant expansion. The starting points remain, however, Leontief’s The Structure of American Economy, 1919-1939: An Empirical Application of Equilibrium Analysis (1951; reprinted, Armonk, N.Y.: Sharpe, 1976), and the essays by Leontief et al., Studies in the Structure of the American Economy: Theoretical and Empirical Explorations in Input-Output Analysis (1953; reprinted, Armonk, N.Y.: Sharpe, 1976).
 Tjalling Koopmans, Activity Analysis of Production and Allocation (1951; reprinted, New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1972).
 The 1955 Nantes strikes took place around an anti-hierarchical demand for a uniform increase for everyone. The Hungarian workers’ councils demanded the abolition of norms and severe limitations on hierarchy. What inadvertently is said in official Russian proclamations indicates that a permanent struggle against hierarchy is taking place in the factories of that country. See PRAB.
 For a detailed discussion of the problem of hierarchy, see RPR, section 5, and DC, in S. ou B., 13 (January 1954), pp. 67-69.
 On the structure of a large insurance company undergoing rapid “industrialization,” both technically as well as socially and politically, see the articles by Henri Collet (“La Greve aux A.G.-Vie,” in S. ou B., 7 [August 1951], pp. 103-10) and R. Berthier (“Une Experience d’organisation ouvriere: Le Conseil du personnel des A.G.-Vie,” in S. ou B., 20 [December 1957], pp. 1-64). On the same process taking place within the United States, where “tertiary” sectors are being merged, see C. Wright Mills, White Collar (New York: Oxford University Press, 1951, esp. pp. 192-98). In order to take stock of the significance of the changes that are expected to occur in these areas, we must remember that the industrialization of office and “service” work (and, ultimately, the industrialization of “intellectual” work) is still in its infancy. Cf. N. Wiener, Cybernetics (New York: Wiley, 1948), pp. 37-38. In an entirely different sector, that of theater and film, it is interesting to compare the ideas expounded in this article with the multiple (economic, political, work-management) role the Revolutionary Workers’ Committee of this sector played during the Hungarian Revolution. See “Les Artistes du theatre et du cinema pendant la revolution hongroise,” in S. ou B., 20 (December 1957), pp. 96-104.
 See section 2 of Chapter 1 of State and Revolution.
 See Chapter 4 (“Technique and the State”) of Jacques Ellul’s The Technological Society, trans. J. Wilkinson, intro. Robert K. Merton (New York: Knopf, 1964). In spite of his fundamentally incorrect outlook, Ellul has the merit of analyzing some of these key aspects of the reality of the modern State, aspects that are blithely ignored by most sociologists and political writers – whether “Marxist” or not.
 This is Ellul’s point of view, as expressed in The Technological Society. Ellul concludes that “it is futile to try to put a halt to this process or to grasp a hold of it and guide it.” For him, technique is only the self-developing process of enslavement taking place independently of any social context. [T/E: I have translated Castoriadis’s quotation of Ellul.]
 See C. Wright Mills White Collar, pp. 347-48, and The Power Elite [New York: Oxford University Press, 1956], pp. 134 ff., 145 ff., etc.) for an illustration of the total lack of any relationship between “technical” capacities of any kind, on the one hand, and current industrial management or political leadership groups, on the other.
 “Plato defined the limits of the size of the city as the number of people who could hear the voice of a single orator: today those limits do not define a city but a civilization. Wherever neo-technic instruments exist and a common language is used there are now the elements of almost as close a political unity as that which once was possible in the tiniest cities of Attica. The possibilitie for good and evil here are immense” (Lewis Mumford, Technics and Civilization [New York-Hil court, Brace, 1934], p. 241).
 7905, trans. Anya Bostock (New York: Vintage, 1971), p. 109.
 The events in Poland have furnished yet another confirmation of the idea that the Party can not be a governmental organ (see “La Révolution prolétarienne contre la bureaucratic” in S. on B
 See “Critique of the Gotha Programme”.