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Theme: The Economic Solution for the Period of Transition from Capitalism to Communism

Social organisation / Anton Pannekoek

Source: Workers’ Councils ; 1. The Task / Anton Pannekoek. – London : Echanges et Mouvement, [1984]. – p. 23-29.

Labour is a social process. Each enterprise is part of the productive body of society. The total social production is formed by their connection and collaboration. Like the cells that constitute a living organism, they cannot exist isolated and cut off from the body. So the organisation of the work inside the shop is only one-half of the task of the workers. Over it, a still more important task, stands the joining of the separate enterprises, their combination into a social organisation.

Whereas organisation within the shop al ready existed under capitalism, and had only to be replaced by another, based on a new foundation, social organisation of all the shops into one whole is, or was until recent years, something entirely new, without precedent. So utterly new, that during the entire nineteenth century the establishing of this organisation, under the name of “socialism” was considered the main task of the working class. Capitalism consisted of an unorganised mass of independent enterprises – “a jostling crowd of separate private employers,” as the program of the Labour Party expresses it – connected only by the chance relations of market and competition, resulting in bankruptcies, overproduction and crisis, unemployment and an enormous waste of materials and labour power. To abolish it, the working class should conquer the political power and use it to organise industry and production. This State-socialism was considered, then, as the first step into a new development.

In the last years the situation has changed in so far that capitalism itself has made a beginning with State-run organisation. It is driven, not only by the simple wish to increase productivity and profits through a rational planning of production. In Russia there was the necessity of making up for the backwardness of economic development by means of a deliberate rapid organisation of industry by the bolshevist government. In Germany it was the fight for world power that drove to State control of production and State-organisation of industry. This fight was so heavy a task that only by concentrating into the hands of the State the power over all productive farces could the German capitalist class have a chance of success. In national-socialist organisation property and profit- though strongly cut for State needs-remain with the private capitalist, but the disposal over the means of production, their direction and management has been taken over by the State officials. By an efficient organisation the unimpaired production of profits is secured for capital and for the State. This organisation of the production at large is founded on the same principles as the organisation within the factory, on the personal command of the general director of society, the Leader, the head of the State. Wherever Government takes control over industry, authority and constraint take the place of the former freedom of the capitalist producers. The political power of the State officials is greatly strengthened by their economic power, by their command over the means of production, the foundation of society.

The principle of the working class is in every respect the exact opposite. The organisation of production by the workers is founded on free collaboration: no masters, no servants. The combination of all the enterprises into one social organisation takes place after the same principle. The mechanism for this purpose must be built up by the workers.

Given the impossibility to collect the workers of all the factories into one meeting, they can only express their will by means of delegates. For such bodies of delegates in later times the name of workers’ councils has come into use. Every collaborating group or personnel designates the members who in the council assemblies have to express its opinion and its wishes. These took an active part themselves in the deliberations of this group, they came to the front as able defenders of the views that carried the majority. Now they are sent as the spokesmen of the group to confront these views with those of other groups in order to come to a collective decision. Though their personal abilities play a role in persuading the colleagues and in clearing problems, their weight does not lay in their individual strength, but in the strength of the community that delegated them. What carries weight are not simple opinions, but still more the will and the readiness of the group to act accordingly. Different persons will act as delegates according to the different questions raised and the forthcoming problems.

The chief problem, the basis of all the rest, is the production itself. Its organisation has two sides, the establishment of general rules and norms and the practical work itself. Norms and rules must be established for the mutual relations in the work, for the rights and duties. Under capitalism the norm consisted in the command of the master, the director. Under State-capitalism it consisted in the mightier command of the Leader, the central government. Now, however, all producers are free and equal. Now in the economic field of labour the same change takes place as occurred in former centuries in the political field, with the rise of the middle class. When the rule of the citizens came in place of the rule of the absolute monarch, this could not mean that for his arbitrary will the arbitrary will of everybody was substituted. It meant that, henceforward, laws established by the common will should regulate the public rights and duties. So now, in the realm of labour, the command of the master gives way to rules fixed in common, to regulate the social rights and duties, in production and consumption. To formulate them will be the first task of the workers’ councils. This is not a difficult task, not a matter of profound study or serious discordance. For every worker these rules will immediately spring up in his consciousness as the natural basis of the new society: everyone’s duty to take part in the production in accordance with his forces and capacities, everyone’s right to enjoy his adequate part of the collective product.

How will the quantities of labour spent and the quantities of product to which he is entitled be measured? In a society where the goods are produced directly for consumption there is no market to exchange them; and no value, as expression of the labour contained in them establishes itself automatically out of the processes of buying and selling. Here the labour spent must be expressed in a direct way by the number of hours. The administration keeps book [records] of the hours of labour contained in every piece or unit quantity of product, as well as of the hours spent by each of the workers. In the averages over all the workers of a factory, and finally, over all the factories of the same category, the personal differences are smoothed out and the personal results are intercompared.

In the first times of transition when there is much devastation to be repaired, the first problem is to build up the production apparatus and to keep people alive. It is quite possible that the habit, imposed by war and famine, of having the indispensable foodstuffs distributed without distinction is simply continued. It is most probable that. in those times of reconstruction, when all the forces must be exerted to the utmost, when, moreover, the new moral principles of common labour are only gradually forming, the right of consumption will be coupled to the performance of work. The old popular saying that whoever does not work shall not eat, expresses an instinctive feeling of justice. Here it is not only the recognition that labour is the basis of all human life, but also the proclaiming that now there is an end to capitalist exploitation and to appropriating the fruits of foreign labour by property titles of an idle class.

This does not mean, of course, that now the total produce is distributed among the producers, according to the time given by each. Or, expressed in another way, that every worker receives, in the form of products, just the quantity of hours of labour spent in working. A considerable part of the work must be spent on the common property, on the perfection and enlargement of the productive apparatus. Under capitalism part of the surplus-value served this purpose; the capitalist had to use part of his profit. accumulated into new capital, to innovate, expand and modernize his technical equipment, in his case driven by the necessity not to be outflanked by his competitors. So the progress in technics took place in forms of exploitation. Now, in the new form of production, this progress is the common concern of the workers. Keeping themselves alive is the most immediate, but building the basis of future production is the most glorious part of their task. They will have to settle what part of their total labour shall be spent on the making of better machines and more efficient tools, on research and experiment, for facilitating the work and improving the production.

Moreover, part of the total time and labour of society must he spent on non-productive, though necessary activities, on general administration, on education, on medical service. Children and old people will receive their share of the produce without corresponding achievements. People incapable of work must be sustained; and especially in the first time there will be a large number of human wrecks left by the former capitalist world. Probably the rule will prevail that the productive work is the task of the younger part of the adults; or, in other words, is the task of everybody during that period of his life when both the tendency and the capacity for vigorous activity are greatest. By the rapid increase of the productivity of labour this part, the time needed to produce all the life necessities, will continually decrease, and an increasing part of life will be available for other purposes and activities.

The basis of the social organisation of production consists in a careful administration, in the form of statistics and bookkeeping. Statistics of the consumption of all the different goods, statistics of the capacity of the industrial plants, of the machines, of the soil, of the mines, of the means of transport, statistics of the population and the resources of towns, districts and countries, all these present the foundation of the entire economic process in well-ordered rows of numerical data. Statistics of economic processes were already known under capitalism; but they remained imperfect because of the independence and the limited view of the private business men, and they found only a limited application. Now they are the starting point in the organisation of production; to produce the right quantity of goods, the quantity used or wanted must be known. At the same time statistics as the compressed result of the numerical registration of the process of production, the comprehensive summary of the bookkeeping, expresses the course of development.

The general bookkeeping, comprehending and encompassing the administrations of the separate enterprises, combines them all into a representation of the economic process of society. In different degrees of range it registers the entire process of transformation of matter, following it from the raw materials at their origin. through all the factories, through all the hands, down to the goods ready for consumption. In uniting the results of co-operating enterprises of a sort into one whole it compares their efficiency, it averages the hours of labour needed and directs the attention to the ways open for progress. Once the organisation of production has been carried out the administration is the comparatively simple task of a network of interconnected computing offices. Every enterprise, every contingent group of enterprises, every branch of production, every township or district, for production and for consumption, has its office, to take care of the administration, to collect, to treat and to discuss the figures and to put them into a perspicuous form easy to survey. Their combined work makes the material basis of life a mentally dominated process. As a plain and intelligible numerical image the process of production is laid open to everybody’s views. Here mankind views and controls its own life. What the workers and their councils devise and plan in organised collaboration is shown in character and results in the figures of bookkeeping. Only because they are perpetually before the eyes of every worker the direction of social production by the producers themselves is rendered possible.

This organisation of economic life is entirely different from the forms of organisation developed under capitalism; it is more perfect and more simple. The intricacies and difficulties in capitalist organisation, for which the much glorified genius of big business men was needed, always dealt with their mutual struggle, with the arts and tricks of capitalist warfare to subdue or annihilate the competitors. All this has disappeared now. The plain aim, the providing for the life necessities of mankind, makes the entire structure plain and direct. Administration of large quantities, fundamentally, is hardly more difficult or more complicated than that of small quantities; only a couple of cyphers has to be put behind the figures. The rich and multiform diversity of wants and wishes that in small groups of people is hardly less than in large masses, now, by their massal character, can be secured more easily and more completely.

The function and the place numerical administration occupies in society depends on the character of this society. Financial administration of States was always necessary as part of the central government, and the computing official were subordinate servants of the kings or other rulers. Where in modern capitalism production is subjected to an encompassing central organisation, those who have the central administration in their hands will he the leading directors of economy and develop into a ruling bureaucracy. When in Russia the revolution of 1917 led to a rapid expansion of industry and hosts of workers still permeated by the barbarous ignorance of the villages crowded into the new factories they lacked the power to check the rising dominance of the bureaucracy then organising into a new ruling class, When in Germany, 1933, a sternly organised party conquered the State power, as organ of its central administration it took in hand the organisation of all the forces of capitalism.

Conditions are entirely different when the workers as masters of their labour and as free producers organise production. The administration by means of bookkeeping and computing is a special task of certain persons, just as hammering steel or baking bread is a special task of other persons, all equally useful and necessary. The workers in the computing offices are neither servants nor rulers. They are not officials in the service of the workers’ councils, obediently having to perform their orders. They are groups of workers, like other groups collectively regulating their work themselves, disposing of their implements, performing their duties, as does every group, in continual connection with the needs of the whole. They are the experts who have to provide the basical data of the discussions and decisions in the assemblies of workers and of councils. They have to collect the data, to present them in an easily intelligible form of tables, of graphs. of pictures, so that every worker at every moment has a clear image of the state of things. Their knowledge is not a private property giving them power; they are not a body with exclusive administrative knowledge that thereby somehow could exert a deciding influence. The product of their labour, the numerical insight needed for the work’s progress, is available to all. This general knowledge is the foundation of all the discussions and decisions of the workers and their councils by which the organisation of labour is performed.

For the first time in history the economic life, in general and in detail, lies as an open book before the eyes of mankind. The foundations of society, under capitalism a huge mass hidden in the dark depths, dimly lighted here and there by statistics on commerce and production, now has entered in to the full daylight and shows its detailed structure. Here we dispose of a science of society consisting of a well-ordered knowledge of facts, out of which leading causal relations are readily grasped. It forms the basis of the social organisation of labour just as the knowledge of the facts of nature, condensed they too into causal relations, forms the basis of the technical organisation of labour. As a knowledge of the common simple facts of daily life it is available to everyone and enables him to survey and grasp the necessities of the whole as well as his own part in it. It forms the spiritual equipment through which the producers are able to direct the production and to control their world.

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Compiled by Vico, 21 May 2016