social planning (was 'revolution and proletariat')

Chris Burford cburford at
Sun Aug 1 23:27:37 PDT 1999

At 20:34 01/08/99

>. . .
>Lenin emphasised out how small a proportion of the working force of Russia,
>was proletarian. I think the points made here by Jim O'Connor are broadly
>correct. They suggest the thesis that one reason for the fall of
>centralised socialism was that it was premature in terms of the development
>of the relations of production. And was in fact an inappropriate leap from
>certain primitive communists methods of peasant organisation to would-be
>The alternative strategy would be a mixed market economy of cooperatives,
>as Lenin suggested in On Cooperation 1923. He spoke in terms of a
>generation perhaps being needed. To apply it now, we have to consider a
>century until there is a unified world political system. It would still be
>possible to make major inroads by global reforms even while a market in
>goods and services develops, hopefully partly on cooperative lines.


>The disadvantages of industrial backwardness for socialism have
>become obvious enough. But on the other end, the planning problem
>becomes more difficult, not less, as an economy develops. More
>products, more production techniques, more innovation, shorter
>product cycles, etc. I was all for planning until I studied it
>for a while.

This is the wrong question we always ask, because of the way "actually existing socialism" presented itself after the revolutionary upsurge, as obviously a matter of centralised planning.

Centralised planning is not necessary to bring a self-organising system under social control.

Startling but true, and confirmed by studies into chaos theory and complexity theory over the last couple of decades.

A market economy is a self-organising system, right? (By agreeing to this we are not obliged to go the next step of the neo-liberals and argue that its unseen hand miraculously always works in the best interests of working people.)

A self-organising system is already social in nature. Marx did not deny this. On the contrary he argued that the social nature of production under capitalism was hidden.

It is not necessary to change a self-organizing system into a machine in order to make it serve a different function. Viruses know that. Only some of the dynamics need to be changed.

Also at least one study in chaos theory demonstrates that it is possible to manage a chaotic system without knowing exactly the key determining variables, by using feedback mechanisms in response to the epiphenomena.

Remember our goal can be, as expressed by Marx in his address to the First International, merely "social production controlled by social foresight". The control does not have to be rigid to be effective. Indeed it is more likely to be effective if it is not rigid.

So I am arguing that greater conscious social control can be brought into the system by a number of technical reforms.

Does this require detailed technical discussion? Unfortunately for lazy, dogmatic marxists, yes.

Does it imply revolution through reformism? No. The class direction of the reforms will not take place without class struggle of a complicated and protracted nature. But there is no reason why the new wave of global campaigning against capitalism should abate, until the global economic system is responsive to the needs of the people of the world. The cost of policing the present system will go higher and higher unless the demonstrators can be bought off quickly. And even if they could, the inherent contradictions of capitalism would break out again in glaring form.

Centralised planning - unnecessary and perhaps even counter-productive.

Social control - possible. And inevitable.

Chris Burford


More information about the lbo-talk mailing list