Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Five Reflections about 21st Century Socialism

By Marta Harnecker
June 18, 2012

The journal Science and Society devoted a special number in April 2012 [Volume 76, No. 2] to explore central topics in the current discussion about socialism. Marta Harnecker and five other Marxist authors from different countries were invited to participate in this reflection by the editors Al Campbell and David Laibman, who prepared a set of five questions. This paper written in July 2011 presents her contribution with some foot notes that does not appear in the journal. The following topics are explored: 1. Why speak of socialism today?; 2. Central features of socialist organization of production; 3. Incentives and the level of consciousness in the construction of socialism; 4. Socialism and the transition to socialism; and 5. The centrality of participatory planning in socialism.


1. Why talk about socialism at all if that word has carried and continues to carry such a heavy burden of negative connotations, after the collapse of socialism in the USSR and other Eastern European countries?

2. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the demise of the Soviet Union, Latin American and world leftist intellectuals were shocked. We knew better what we did not want in socialism than what we wanted. We rejected the lack of democracy, totalitarianism, state capitalism, bureaucratic central planning, collectivism that sought to standardize without respect for differences, productivism that emphasized the expansion of productive forces without taking into account the need to preserve nature, dogmatism, the attempt to impose atheism and persecution of believers, the need for a single party to lead the transition process.

3. But at the same time Soviet socialism was collapsing, democratic and participatory processes in local governments began to emerge in Latin America there, and these foreshadowed the "kind of alternative to capitalism that people wanted to build." These processes not only foreshadowed the new society; they also demonstrated in practice that people could govern in a transparent, non-corrupt, democratic and participatory manner. Political conditions in several Latin American countries were thus prepared, making it possible for the left to come to power through democratic elections.

4. Those lights that radiated throughout our continent were enhanced by the resounding failure of neoliberalism and, most recently, by the global crisis of capitalism. An alternative to capitalism thus started to become more necessary than ever. What should it be called?

5. It was President Chávez who had the courage to call socialism this alternative society to capitalism He called it "21st-century socialism," reclaiming the values associated with the word socialism: "love, solidarity, equality between men and women and equity among all," but adding the adjective "21st century" to differentiate the new socialism from the errors and deviations present in the model of socialism that was implemented during the 20th century in the Soviet Union and the Eastern European countries.

6. However, it must be remembered that 35 years earlier, in the early 1970s in Chile, the victory of President Salvador Allende, supported by the leftist Popular Unity coalition, began the world's first peaceful transition to socialism. Although the Popular Unity government was defeated by a military coup three years later, it left important lessons. If our generation learned anything from that defeat, it was that peaceful progress towards that goal required us to rethink the socialist project applied until then in the world; that it was therefore necessary to develop a project that was more adequate to Chilean reality and more appropriate for a peaceful path. Allende's folkloric expression, "socialism with red wine and empanadas," seemed to capture this, pointing towards building a democratic socialist society rooted in national popular traditions. And so I believe that the Chilean experience should be considered the first practical experience that tried to get away from the Soviet model of socialism and move toward what we now call 21st-century socialism.

7. As Michael Lebowitz has written , full human development, a development achieved through revolutionary practice (by transforming their circumstances people transform themselves) is the essential goal of 21st-century socialism.

8. According to the Marxist classics, the future society was supposed to allow the full development of human potential. The fragmented human beings that capitalism produces would be replaced by fully developed human beings. As Engels said in his "Draft of a Communist Confession of Faith," an early draft of The Communist Manifesto, the goal is "to organize society in such a way that every member of it can develop and use all his capabilities and powers in complete freedom and without thereby infringing the basic conditions of this society." In the final version of the Manifesto, based on Marx's draft, this new society is presented as "an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all."

9. 21st-century socialism cannot, therefore, arise from a government decision, nor from an enlightened vanguard. It cannot be decreed from above. It is a process that has to be built by people, who, transforming circumstances, transform themselves. It is not a gift; it is a conquest.

10. It does not matters what term we use.--I agree in this with the view of Bolivian Vice President Álvaro García Linera--: we can speak of "communitarianism," "communitarian socialism," "the society of the good being," "the society of the full life," "21st-century socialism," and so forth; what matters is its content.

11. One may wonder why it is in Latin America that this alternative proposal first emerged in this century. I think our situation in the 1980s and 90s was in some way comparable to that experienced by pre-revolutionary Russia. What imperialist war and its horrors meant for Russia, neoliberalism and its horrors have signified for Latin America: the extent of hunger and misery, increasingly unequal distribution of wealth, destruction of nature, increasing loss of our sovereignty. Our peoples "have said 'enough!', and have begun to march," resisting at first, and then going on the offensive, making possible the victory of presidential candidates with anti- neoliberal programs.

12. These Latin-American political leaders on the left have faced the same dilemma that confronted the Bolsheviks in Russia: either use capitalist measures to try to take our countries forward, which would mean more suffering for our people, or begin to build an alternative to capitalism, heading toward another model that makes our people the main builders of the new society. Tony Blair's third way, "capitalism with a human face," had quickly proved unfeasible.

13. The dilemma is how to move toward socialism through government when, as noted by Bolivia's Vice President Linera, the cultural and economic conditions that could serve as a basis for such progress do not exist. That was the dilemma faced by Lenin in 1917, and is now facing many of our current leaders, with the aggravating circumstance that in our case we have not yet conquered state power.

14. In our countries, not only the economic, cultural and material resources to build socialism are only weakly present, but in addition, we also lack the most important --and until now considered the essential condition-- : we do not have the entire power of the state at our disposal, but instead we only control a small part of it. It must be remembered that state power is not limited to the executive; it also involves the legislature and the judiciary, the armed forces, local government bodies (mayors, governors), and many other elements.

15. Therefore, taking hold of state power is not simply the same as having access to the government. This was one of the mistakes that some sections of the left made in Chile. It was said there that Allende had taken power, and that therefore all he had to do was to implement the Popular Unity program, without taking into account the existing balance of forces.

16. I agree that the conquest of state power is a complex process, one of whose most important aspects is to achieve control over the armed forces --what has been called "the monopoly of violence." Hence Hugo Chávez insists that there is a fundamental difference between the process led by Allende in Chile and the Bolivarian revolutionary process: the first was an unarmed peaceful transition, whereas Venezuela's is an armed peaceful transition, not because the people are armed, but because the great bulk of the armed forces support the process.

17. On the other hand, we should note that our governments inherit a state apparatus with characteristics that are functional for the capitalist system. These characteristics are therefore unsuitable for advancing towards a humanism and solidarity society, a society that puts human beings at the center, not only as the object of development but also as the fundamental agent of transformation towards a socialist society.

18. However, experience has shown, contrary to the theoretical dogmatism of some sectors of the radical left, that a revolutionary government can use the state as an instrument to assist in the construction of the new society, promoting a process that will lead step by step to conquest of the entire power of the state.

19. But we must be clear, this does not mean we can simply use the inherited state as we receive it for our own purposes; it is necessary that the foundations of the new political system are built up by the revolutionary government using the power it is able to employ, creating adequate spaces for popular participation, preparing the people to exercise power at all levels, from the most simple to the most complex, and by doing that promoting the creation of the new state from below or a non state that will replace the old state, the government of persons replaced by the administration of things, as Engels wrote.

20. Why then call these processes "socialist," when we are still far from able to achieve the socialist goal? We call them socialists because there governments have decided to undertake the long and arduous road to socialism and has begun to implement measures that steer society toward that goal.


21. Let me now turn to some characteristics of the organization of production in 21st-century socialism.

22. First, the development of the human beings is at the center; socialism, therefore, is governed by a logic of humanism and solidarity aimed at satisfying human needs, rather than the pursuit of profit. Second, socialism respects nature, and opposes consumerism -- our goal should not be to live "better" but to live "well"-- Third -as Michael Lebowitz says -- it establishes a new dialectic of production/distribution/consumption, based on: a) social ownership of the means of production, b) social production organized by workers in order to c) satisfy communal needs. Fourth, socialism is guided by a new concept of efficiency that both respects nature and seeks human development. Fifth, rational use of the available natural and human resources, thanks to a decentralized participatory planning process that has nothing to do with Soviet hypercentralized bureaucratic planning.

23. Consider, then, some of the elements outlined above.

24. As Marxists we know well how the social product is distributed depends on how the means of production are distributed in society. For social wealth to satisfy the needs of everyone in the country, it is essential that the fundamental means of production are not monopolized by a few and used for their own benefit, but are collective, social ownership.

25. But social ownership is not the same as state property, although 20th-century socialism tended to identify them, even though Lenin insisted on distinguishing state property from socialization. In this regard it is important to make the distinction between formal (juridical) and real ownership. The state formally represents the collective, but for the people to actually appropriate the means of production (factories, mines, land, services) requires much more than just a legal act of expropriation of the capitalists and the transfer of these means of production to state control.

26. What happened in the Soviet Union and the countries that followed its example was not real ownership of the production process by the workers, but simply a nationalization of the means of production. They ceased to be owned by a few, to become property of the state supposedly representing the workers. However, the production process itself underwent very few changes: a big socialist factory differed little from its capitalist counterpart; workers continued to be a mere screw of the machine; they had little or no participation in decision-making at the work- place. This mislabeled "state capitalism" retained the hierarchical organization of production; the manager had "dictatorial" power, and orders were transmitted from top to bottom. I share Pat Devine's view that we should not use the term "state capitalism" for this situation, in which most of the surplus produced went not into private hands (leaders, managers), but rather to the state, and was used largely to boost economic development and to to satisfy pressing social needs (see Devine, 1988). Later, we will develop the concept of social ownership more fully.

27. It is not enough, then, that the state become the legal owner of the means of production. In order to speak of social property, workers need to take in their hands (appropriate) the production process and be involved in organizing it. Instead of feeling like one of many screws in a machine; they can contribute with their ideas and knowledge acquired through practice, combining thinking and doing, so that through work they reach their full development as social human beings.

28. It is interesting to note that already in Allende's Chile it was stated that one objective of workers' participation in the management of state enterprises was "the integral development of the human personality," and that, since workers have the same rights as any citizen, "it would be paradoxical if they did not have equal rights within the workplace" (Partido Socialista de Chile, 1971).

29. 21st-century socialism cannot afford to leave work processes that alienate workers unaltered. It cannot maintain the division between manual and intellectual work. Workers must be informed concerning the production process as a whole; they must be able to control it, to review and decide on production plans and on the annual budget, and to manage the distribution of surplus, including its contribution to the national budget.

30. But can we say that workers are prepared to participate actively in the management of enterprises? Except in rare circumstances this is not the case, precisely because capitalism has never been interested in sharing with workers technical knowledge about the management of the enterprise -- and here I refer not only to production, but also to related matters of marketing and finance. Concentration of knowledge in the hands of management has been one of the mechanisms that al- lowed capital to exploit workers.

31. So one of the first steps to be taken to move forward in the process of self- management or co-management of enterprises is to let workers appropriate that knowledge. To do this, they must begin actually to engage in practical management, while at the same time acquiring training in business and management techniques.

32. Finally, if the means of production are to be socially owned -- and this means owned by all -- the products should satisfy the needs of the people, and the surpluses thus obtained cannot be monopolized only by one specific group of workers, but must be shared with the local or national community. And, indeed, why not the international community as well?

33. But who determines these needs? It must be the people themselves who define and prioritize, through a participatory planning process, as we shall see later.

34. .Let us pass now to a new concept: efficiency. 21st-century socialism requires a "new concept of efficiency." This concept cannot follow the capitalist one, in which people are productive only if they produce surplus value, and productivity is measured by the quantity of goods produced in a given period regardless of whether or not these goods satisfy the needs of people or are or not harmful to nature. The efficiency of Japanese multinationals in southern Chile was measured by the amount of timber obtained from the felling of trees in a given time. That measure did not consider the depletion of Chilean forests and the negative effects this would have on climate change.

35. As Michael Lebowitz writes , the efficiency in socialism must take into account two things: first, an enterprise will be efficient only if its process of production does not destroy the future of humanity, if it does not destroy nature. The second, usually not taken into account, stems from the dual nature of what an enterprise produces. It appears that when you transform of raw materials into products you only produce commodities. There is, how- ever, another element that is transformed in the process of production, and that element is the workers themselves: when men and women work, i.e., transforming materials into products, they are also developing or deforming (crippling) themselves. In this sense, an enterprise will be efficient under socialism only if, in addition to being materially productive allows workers to develop themselves as rich human beings as a result of combining their thinking and their doing, participating in management. But for being real and not merely formal this participation must be real; it is necessary workers understand their process of production.

36. Investment in the development of workers should be considered in socialism as a productive investment. Training and formation should not be thought of as something separate from the working day. To the contrary, every workday should involve a determined amount of time, considered as an integral part of work, dedicated to worker training and formation.

37. Efficiency in a steel enterprise oriented to socialism, then, cannot be measured in the same way as efficiency in a capitalist steel enterprise. The first must dedicate time to to workers' preparation: both technical and management training; the second will dedicate the entire working day to producing products. If efficiency is measured only by the number of products, the capitalist enterprise may come out ahead in terms of this measure, although even this is not certain because it ignores the benefit of workers being aware of the meaning of their work activity, which results in improved motivation to work with a positive impact on productivity. If, however, efficiency is measured not only by labor productivity but also by respect for nature and for human development of workers, without a doubt a self-managed or co-managed socialist enterprise will outperform a capitalist one.


38. How to get workers to produce with quality and efficiency is one of the challenges that face 21st-century socialism. The Soviet system failed in this regard. And Fidel Castro was aware of this when, in a speech to the National Assembly of People's Power in Cuba made before the collapse, he argued that socialism had not yet managed to discover how to replace the capitalist whip to encourage production.

39. The solution that some have found to achieve this goal has been to use the dull tools of capitalism go back to the individual stimulus and private property. But is personal stimulus or private property the only lever that can stimulate the worker?

40. A sense of ownership over the means of production seems to be an important element in determining the attitude that workers may have toward their work. Why, then, did the classic Soviet slogans:"Factories to the workers!"; "Land to the peasants!" fail to work in the Soviet model? Because it is very different when the state takes ownership of factories and land in the name of workers, and when these factories and lands are subject to self-organization and self-management on the part of their workers.

41. Yugoslavia, on the contrary, rejected the Stalinist bureaucratic state model and tried to promote an economic model of wide participation of workers, passing the means of production into their hands for purposes of self-management.

42. Being able to participate in management, having their views taken into account and knowing that the results of their work will be translated into their own benefit -- Yugoslav workers in the self-managed industries achieved positive economic results. Labor productivity greatly increased.

43. That sense of belonging and commitment occurred also in Venezuela, among workers in the electricity sector. Knowing that the Electricity company Cadafe was being targeted by the opposition, the electrical workers organized to prevent any attempt to sabotage it. As a product of a long struggle against privatization of the company, promoted by previous administrations, these workers had begun to consider the issue of co-management (cogestión) in their struggle to regain control over the company, which had been virtually dismantled by the previous management. This experience produced ideas that corrected some of the deviations that had occurred in Yugoslavia.

44. Since this company had strategic importance for the country as a whole, it was necessary to avoid having worker management there fall into a defense of the narrow interests of particular individuals and groups. To avoid this, it was seen as vital that among the participants in co-management, in addition to the workers and the managers of that enterprise, there should also be spokespersons from the organized communities. The electricity company, after all, does not belong to the electrical workers alone; it belongs to all Venezuelans, and their voice must be transmitted to the company through the communities that it serves. They should have a voice in pointing out shortcomings, suggesting solutions, and collaborating in their implementation.

45. In the Electricity company in Merida [a Venezuelan state], a system of co-management of this type has been introduced, with excellent results. Service has improved significantly. Electrical workers, who had previously been denounced by the com- munity for the poor service that the company was providing, today are greeted with affection. Collection of revenues has increased dramatically and illegal access to electric power by households has decreased. These results are explained by a combination of factors: a district manager proposed by the workers; a general manager who was able to support this decision; a union leader who both had good relations with the workers and the manager; meetings between workers and communities to discuss how to do a better job. Of crucial importance is that there is joint responsibility of all parties. But for this to be viable, workers must have confidence in those running the company; that is why it is so important that the voice of workers be heard when it comes to designating managerial cadres.

46. "When workers feel that their views are being taken into account, they are willing to work three to four times more, because they now work with joy," one un- ion leader said to us. "Before they worked for a wage; now it comes from the heart."

47. Being able to participate in decision-making is the main stimulus that the worker needs, in order to give the best effort in work. Thus, the work ceases to be alienating and spiritually transforms the worker who comes to feel useful and to be part of a much larger family than just his or her own enterprise. In this way, greater self-development can be achieved.

48. But this goal cannot be realized overnight. Recall that until recently the spirit of individualism and consumerism had been inculcated into workers, and that their motivation to work has been linked to economic stimulus. A process of cultural transformation is clearly required. To the extent that people are building the new society and participating in the management of their workplaces, they feel that their work is an expression of their potential instead of being a burden; to the extent that they are engaging in solidarity actions which creates satisfaction. They change; they increasingly under- stand that it is more important to be than to have; and increasingly moral incentives will be the force that moves people into action. But this is a gradual process.

49. In reflecting on incentives and the motivation to work under socialism, it seems important to consider the experiences of the Chinese and Vietnamese agricultural communes. Clearly one can see there the need for a step by step process. Mistakes were made when, in the distribution of surplus, excessive emphasis was placed in the beginning on forms of compensation intended for collective use (to meet the needs of the community, especially the children, the elderly, etc.) rather than on remuneration according to the contribution of each peasant. As a consequence of this the peasants who had contributed more preferred to leave the cooperative, thereby harming it; the poorest farmers who remained then found it necessary to reduce the share of collective compensation in order to lure them back.

50. Equally important in this regard is the experience of the Landless Movement (MST) in Brazil. Its initial policy was one of equal distribution to all households, regardless of what each contributed in work. This discouraged people who were making more effort and led to vagrancy, just when what was needed most was increased production. So the Movement then shifted to distribution according to days worked; finally, according to hours worked. This formula proved to be better than the previous ones in stimulating a greatest effort. It is, however, considered to be unfair, because the productivity of each cooperative member is not the same: a young man, with more strength, can harvest more corn in one hour than can an older cooperative partner. The leadership of the MST has the challenge in finding the most effective way to measure the contribution of each working member.

51. Before closing, I think it is important to take into consideration what Engels said in 1990 to Schmidt, referring to the discussion about how distribution should be organized in the future society: whether it should conform to the amount of work performed or otherwise. Engels expressed surprise that this discussion had not addressed the relationship that must exist between modes of distribution, on the one hand, and the quantity of products available for distribution, on the other: "The method of distribution essentially depends on how much there is to distribute, and that this must surely change with the progress of production and social organization, so that the method of distribution may also change".

52. The great challenge before us, then, is how, considering the legacy of the past, we can build the future. Of course, in the beginning it is essential to find ways to encourage work and reward the greatest effort, because it is not fair if those who make a smaller effort earn the same as those who work with determination and enthusiasm. We must also encourage creativity and innovation. But I think there must be a gradual development of measures combining material and moral stimulus that begin to change the culture and values of people, until they feel that the best pay, the best stimulus for them, is to see that their work is helping to satisfy the needs of others, making them happy: to realize their work is helping to build a better society for all.

53. We cannot build socialism with the dull tools of capitalism, but we also cannot eliminate these dull tools overnight. Instead, their role should be gradually decreased, to the extent that we are capable of creating conditions for cultural transformation that strengthen the role of motivations other than mere individual self-interest. From a society where people receive according to what they give, we will move gradually to a society in which people contribute according to their capabilities, and receive according to their needs.


54. To resolve its inherent contradictions, capitalist society must be replaced by another society. This new society, alternative to capitalism and post-capitalism, was called by Marx "communist society." Marx speaks of two phases in his description of the communist society. "The first phase … is when it has just emerged after prolonged birth-pangs from capitalist society." "The higher phase of the communist society" is one which already "has developed on its own foundations," a "society based on common ownership of means of production," which eliminates the "enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor," in which labor becomes the individual's prime want, where it involves the "all-around development of the individual." At this point society has totally exceeded bourgeois right; each person gives to society all he/she can according to abilities, and receives according to need.

55. What motivates Marx to make this distinction between two phases which has been subject to many misrepresentations and much controversy? He does this to criticize the program of German Social Democracy, known as the Gotha Program, which suffers from many inconsistencies, mixing proposals whose appropriateness depends on the type of society being referred to: fully developed socialist society, for example, or one that emerges from capitalist Germany. To identify the target is one thing, while it is another to propose concrete measures to achieve that goal.

56. But where do Marx ideas about the nature of the future society comes from? They do not fall from the sky, nor are they the result of speculative thought; rather, they arise from the analysis of the internal contradictions of capitalism itself. Marx argues that capitalism creates the material conditions of the new society. One of these is the technical need for the existence of the collective worker; another is the increase in the productive capacity required to respond to the most pressing human needs. But Marx not only indicates the conditions that favor the emergence of an alternative society; at the same time, he studies the contradictions and negative effects of capitalism on workers, to indicate what must be negated, either reversed or transformed into their opposite as Michael Lebowitz points out in his most recent book , if socialist construction is to go forward. Among them: it is necessary to reverse (end) capitalist private property of the means of production, which has come into conflict with the increasingly social nature of production. This socialization of production in fact reveals the need for property to become collective or common property overcoming economic anarchy of capital production; on another hand, the economy should not be orientated toward self interest but towards the interests of the society as a whole. There is, moreover, a need to end the growing division between manual and intellectual labor -- the result of capitalist dispossession of the workers' knowledge and skill -- thus making work a comprehensive manual and intellectual activity at once. It is necessary to end the alienated and mandatory character of labor, under which the maximum productive potential is squeezed out of the worker, who is treated as one more screw in a machine. Instead, a working system must be established that enriches the worker, that allows him to develop his humanity, and therefore, a system in which work feels not like an external obligation, but like an inner necessity. These inversions establish the centrality of workers as protagonists in the production process.

57. Thanks to these inversions, Marx can envision the higher phase of what he calls communist society, which we call 21st-century socialism. I would like to note here that I do not conceive of this concept as related to a finished stage but rather as an fertile utopian goal, one that points the way forward, and one which we should try to approach over time.

58. Before continuing, a clarification is needed. As I have learned from Althusser , it seems useful to use some concepts that allow us to distinguish among different levels of abstraction when we are referring to society. We can imagine an abstract society, characterized by a unique system of productive relations, which, as is known, for Marx are the core around which the whole society is structured. For this level I use the term "mode of production." This level of abstraction allows us to more easily ascertain the essential characteristics of that society, without getting lost in the details. But what exists, however, are concrete societies within which various relations of production normally coexist, one of them dominating the others, impregnating that society with its most salient characteristics and giving it its name. To designate this level I use the terms "social formation" or "particular society." When we refer, for example, to the capitalist mode of production we are thinking of an abstract capitalist society, that is, a society based purely on capitalist relations of production or a purely capitalist society, like the one that concerns Marx in the first two volumes of Capital.

59. Having clarified that, we find useful the three conceptual distinctions Marx used to study the capitalist mode of production: the genealogy of its elements, the capitalist fully developed mode of production and the transition to it. The first -- the genealogy -- is the way the basic elements without which capitalist mode of production cannot exist are originated. These are, on one hand, the workers freed of all means of production so they are forced to sell their labor power to survive; and on the other , a certain accumulation of money that can be invested in the purchase of the workforce. These two elements, which may arise historically in many different ways (dissolution of, e.g., feudal, slave, or Asian production relations), are united by a single logic: maximization of profit.

60. The capitalist mode of production begins to exist when these elements come together historically: capital owners willing to buy labor power for profit, and the owners of labor power, who cannot do anything but sell it if they are to survive. But this relationship does not emerge in perfect form from the beginning; it is transformed over time, with a constantly increasing emphasis on the domination of capital over labor. In the beginning, for example, seamstresses gathered in a shed by a capitalist entrepreneur, had their expertise, their craftsmanship, put to work. The capitalist owns the means of production, but has not the total control of the productive process which yet depends on workers' expertise. The capitalist will make an effort to take possession of such expertise, but this requires a long process that gradually robs the workers of their ability to control the means of production. This is achieved by introducing constantly more sophisticated machinery that minimizes creativity and increases worker productivity. Capitalists and their deputies thus increasingly control the production process in one branch of the economy after another, while at the same time increasing the production of surplus value.

61. At that time, says Marx, the capitalist mode of production is consolidated on its own base, and it is the economic logic in search of increased profits that drives its expanded reproduction without needing extra-economic measures to force the worker to submit to the rule of capital, as was true of its preliminary stages.

62. Speaking about the capitalist mode of production, we must distinguish, in addition to the basic elements that make up the capitalist relations of production, two other concepts: what Marx calls the "fully developed capitalist mode of production," in which the separation of workers from their means of production is completed -- the instruments dominate the workers instead of being dominated by them--, and a preliminary stage, a "transition phase" within capitalism, as we call it, in which the elements of the initial capitalist relations of production begin to be transformed until workers have completely lost control of the production process.

63. If we apply the same conceptual development to socialism as we did in the case of capitalism, we must start by defining the key elements that characterize what we might call the "socialist mode of production" (Marx's "communist society," in the Critique of the Gotha Program). These elements would be: the social ownership of the means of production and workers' real appropriation of the production process through the organization and control of the work process in which they are embedded. And the logic that connects these two elements is the logic of full human development.

64. And as the elements of capitalist relations of production may come from different sources, the same is true of the elements of socialist relations of production. Governments in the hands of the left, in countries where strategic assets were already in the hands of the national state, have developed the juridical conditions of social property. In other countries, there may be important development of associative initiatives. The different associations of producers that arise within capitalist society, although these are expressions of group property rather than social property, may have developed significant elements of collective management. In some regions there may remain practices of indigenous communities that are expressions of social property and social destination of the product.

65. On the other hand, the technical need for collective work created by capitalist development, the disciplining of the labor force, the level of training of the workforce -- all these are factors that can promote collective management of production.

66. We can then consider that different societies are more or less prepared for the construction of socialism, according to the development of all those elements.

67. From an abstract conceptual standpoint, socialist society begins when the means of production are no longer owned by capitalists and have passed into the hands of the revolutionary worker state and simultaneously workers begin to assume the control of the means of production on its own behalf, guided by the logic of full human development. But it is only through a process of transition that juridical social ownership of the means of production by the workers (state property) becomes real ownership. At first, the state appears as the owner of the means of production on behalf of all working people, that is, the whole society, because this will be a society of workers. These workers, until recently alienated and treated simply as cogs in a huge machine, should, little by little, take over the production process, until ownership of that process becomes truly collective. We will see that, besides the participation of workers in their workplaces, this requires the participation of society, which must determine, through a participatory planning process, the destination of part of the surplus produced.

68. We are talking about the transition within socialism imagining an abstract society where socialist relations of production throughout it are already established. But this never occurs like that in reality. We must distinguish then this theoretical transition (the first stage of socialist society) from the historical transition of a social formation or concrete society that, once a popular revolutionary social bloc has taken the state power -- fully or partially, ie., only de government)--, decides to embark on the long road toward socialism, creating the conditions of an every day more protagonistic participation of the people in there work places and communities. Let us remember: socialism cannot be decreed from above, it is a process that has to be built by the people.

69. The nature and pace of this historic transition will depend on the characteristics of each country: the status of each of the elements of the new socialist relations of production, the weight that precapitalist production relations may have, the degree of development of capitalist production relations, but also very importantly on the inherited culture -- the strength of the popular subject, and the correlation of forces in favor of or against the process towards socialism.

70. We have spoken until now about two transitions: the transition as the first phase of the socialist mode of production and the historical transition to a concrete socialist society But what can be said concerning the fully developed socialist mode of production?

71. I think we can and should clarify the essential features of the society we want to build as we have done before --if we do not have a clear goal, how can we move towards it?. But one thing is to have an approximate idea of the main traits of socialism and another to think that we can build in our minds, in a finished form, a complete theory of the socialist mode of production without a basis in previously given historical reality.

72. Summarizing, I see "socialism" as a horizon towards which we must advance call "socialists" those who fight for this goal, and I call the social process aimed at achieving this goal the "socialist transition process.". I therefore agree fully with what Engels wrote to Otto von Boenigk on August 21, 1890: "To my mind, the so-called 'socialist society' is not anything immutable. Like all other social formations, it should be conceived in a state of constant flux and change. Its crucial difference from the present order consists naturally in production organized on the basis of common ownership by the nation of all means of production. To begin this reorganization tomorrow, but performing it gradually, seems to me quite feasible".


73. Without participatory planning there can be no socialism. If I emphasize this it is not only because we must put an end to capitalist anarchy of production, but also because it is only through a process such as this that society can truly appropriate the fruits of its labor. I will now try to demonstrate this assertion.

74. I argued previously that one of the essential element of socialism is social ownership of the means of production, and warned that this issue deserved to be developed. further. It is time to do so.

75. To understand this concept it is necessary to consider what gives rise to wealth. As is known, Marx argued that there were two sources of wealth: nature, and human labor, which produces use-values using raw materials derived from nature. We must remember, however, that along with living human labor, there is also what the author of Capital called "dead labor," i.e., labor embodied in means of production. These past work is an important factor of wealth production.

76. These tools, machines, improvements made to land and, of course, the intellectual and scientific discoveries substantially increasing social productivity, are a legacy passed down from generation to generation; they are a social heritage - a wealth of the people.

77. But who owns this wealth, this social assets? Capitalism, through a process of mystification, has convinced us that the rightful owners of this wealth are the capitalists. These is the base for their accepting expropriation only if they are compensated for their loss. This explains also why bourgeois legislation does not hesitate to consider such compensation to be fair and natural. Socialism, by contrast, begins by recognizing that wealth is a social heritage, which must be used in the interests of society as a whole rather than serving private interests. These assets, incorporating the work of generations, do not belong to specific people or specific countries, but to humanity.

78. The question is: how to ensure that this happens? The only way is to de-privatize these resources, transforming them into social property. But since the humanity of the early 21st century is still not a humanity without borders, this action must begin in each country, and the first step is therefore the passing of ownership of the strategic means of production to a national state, which expresses the interests of society.

79. Before proceeding, we need to understand the concept of ownership of the means of production. This concept can be related to several situations as: to be able to use, to enjoy and to dispose of the means of production and therefore, the products obtained in the production process. But also is important to distinguish between juridical property and the actual power or possibility to use, enjoy and dispose of them.

80. We will call "effective possession" the ability of holders of the means of production to put them into action ie., to have the control or management of the work process. We will call "real ownership" , when the effective possession of the means of production is in the same hands than the power to dispose of them and their products.

81. Marx tells us that in the manufacturing stage even if the capitalist is the juridical owner of the means of production he has not yet the complete control of them,: the means of production should still be adapted to human organism, expertise of the workers still count. But with expanded industrial capitalism the contrary occurs. The machinery makes the organization of production independent of the characteristics of the labor force. The workers lose all control of the work process, they are completely separate from the means of production and the capitalist becomes not only the juridical owner but the real owner arriving to control all the process of production.

82. On the other hand, it may happen that real ownership and juridical property are not in the same hands. Agricultural land, for example, can be nationalized, that is, transformed into state property (juridical property) , and the right to operate the process of production and to dispose of that land and its fruits can be delegated to communes or regional centers The state would then have the juridical property, while real ownership would belongs to the commune.

83. However, there may be other combinations. The right to dispose of the means of production and the products are in the hands of people other than the producers. This is the case of servile production, in which the landlord has legal ownership of land, and thus gets a share of the product, while the serf working with his own means of production creates the product and is therefore left with another part of that product. Here the direct producer to whom the Lord has granted a piece of land, has the effective possession.

84. Under socialism in its beginnings, the passage to the state of the principal means of production does not mean anything other than a juridical change of property. The subordination of workers to an external force continues: there are new socialist managers, but the alienated status of the workers in the production process remains unchanged. This is formally collective property, because the state represents society, but real appropriation (ownership) is still not collective. That is why Engels argues:

State-ownership of the productive forces is not the solution of the conflict, but concealed within it are the technical conditions that form the elements of that solution. This solution can only consist in the practical recognition of the social nature of the modern forces of production, and therefore in the harmonizing of the mode of production, appropriation and exchange with the socialized character of the means of production. And this can only come about by society openly and directly taking possession of the productive forces, which have outgrown all controls, except that of society as a whole. […]

85. But what does it mean for society to take possession of the means of production? Society is a highly abstract concept: it may be all of humanity. In my understanding what we need to determine is who should have effective possession of those means of production--i.e., who should be entitled to use, enjoy and dispose of those assets. It is here that Pat Devine's contribution of distinguishing among different levels of social ownership seems important to me. Each level is associated with who is "affected by decisions over the use of the assets involved, in proportion to the extent to which they are affected."

86. According to this logic, a bakery that produces bread and sweets for a given geographic area, a commune for example, whose workers live in that area and whose raw material also comes from farmers there, should be owned by that commune. It makes no sense for that bakery to be an ownership of the hole nation.

87. In contrast, in the case of a strategic enterprise such as oil, it would be absurd for the oil workforce to claim ownership of these resources, which belong to all inhabitants of the country (or even to humanity as a whole). This doesn`t means however that those workers should not play a decisive role in the management of the enterprise, specially in the process of production. Its surplus should be devoted to new investment in the enterprise, to improving the living conditions of its workers, and of the surrounding community, and also should provide a substantial contribution to the national budget. The legal ownership of this enterprise should be in the hands of the state; the effective possession or control of the production process should be in the hands of the enterprise's employees; but the destination of the product --once investments and labor remuneration have been deducted --should be defined by society as a whole.

88. How, then, does the commune (in the first case), and society (in the second) define what is to be done with the fruits of productive activity? Here is where an essential role must be played by the participatory planning process. This will be very different from bureaucratic planning.

89. I share with Pat Devine , the idea that the actors in participatory planning will vary according to different levels of social ownership. In the case of the community bakery, decisions on how much to produce with what raw materials, what quality, what variety, when the product should be ready, how to distribute it, how much to invest in maintaining or expanding the enterprise, etc., should be made not only by those who work in the bakery but also by the people who produce the raw material used and by the consumers of bread and sweets. In the case of the oil enterprise, while it workers must participate in management, decisions concerning reinvestment, new investment, marketing, the destination of the rest of the surplus must involve the entire society. In both cases: the local society or the national society should be present through its various representatives or spokespersons.

90. Social ownership is one of the central features of socialism. To make social ownership not merely formal juridical property, society must "openly and bluntly take possession" of these means of production through the exercise of participatory planning. The way how to do it will depend on the level of social property in question

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