his book Poverty of Philosophy, Marx states that
“The hand-mill gives you society with the feudal lord; (and) the steam-mill society with the industrial capitalist.”
know what socialism must look like, we have to identify the defining
features of capitalism and how it produces its inherent and
unavoidable contradictions, since socialism is their implied and only
possible logical resolution, and contrast the differences.
In capitalism the vital need for profit maximization requires capitalists to constantly pursue greater efficiency in production. Mechanization and automation have increased industrial output, while increasing the share of constant capital (c) and reducing the need of human labor within their businesses, reducing the socially necessary labor time and thus the value of the products. A breakthrough in technology that reduces the human element initially provides a competitive advantage, but as other surviving producers adopt new or equivalent methods, the profit levels fall. The fraction of variable capital (v) diminishes throughout the production process, and thus the amount of labor available for exploitation falls, while simultaneously lowering purchasing power in society as a whole. With the tendency toward full automation, at which point no surplus value and thus no profits can be generated, capitalism gradually undermines itself. The prospect of further automation, e.g. through robots and new software that controls them, poses a challenge to the capitalist system, causes the average rate of profit to fall (r= m/(c+v)), and provides a seed for and an increasingly stronger material case for socialism.
Furthermore, the nature of information, as patterns in spacetime, is such that it can be easily copied and distributed with insignificant marginal cost, unlike matter itself. Innovation toward optimization of production to temporarily gain competitive advantages has grown increasingly important for the realization of profits and is reflected in the advent of patents and intellectual property that limit the spread of knowledge. Monopolization, or private appropriation, of information is the only measure that can keep its value from approaching zero. It is a clear example of how capitalist legislation through artificial means has come at odds with the progress of technology itself by attempting to limit it.
Marx famously wrote ”At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution.”
Technology can and must be designed and applied to further the interests of the working class, and not be monopolized to benefit the interests of a minority of capitalists. Given the increased productivity and stagnating real wages in large parts of the capitalist world, reducing daily work hours, lowering retirement ages while maintaining a high or higher standard of living is a real possibility of automation, if done at the expense of the evermore concentrating and accumulating profits of the current economic system. It can all become, and will become, a reality, in a socialist system, but remains an impossibility under capitalism. Waging wars for new markets is another defining activity of imperialism, that will be made redundant by socialism for the same reasons.
The difference between the liberating potential of the new technologies and its actual subjugating appliance under capitalism widens. Despite all advances in productivity, automation forces capitalist governments all over the world to constantly attempt to increase the rate of exploitation by e.g. increasing retirement ages and loosening legislation concerning working hours in an attempt to gain new or additional labor to exploit, that is momentarily cheaper than applying new labor saving technologies. So, while new technologies and automation have brought higher standards of living, class struggle remains the engine of prosperity, without which it would make less sense to employ new labor saving technologies such as machinery and automation in the first place.
Socialism, on the other hand, allows the economy and technology to be geared to channel resources to cover any priority of the working class. Furthermore, economic planning is the only viable and only organized resolution to the ”tragedy of the commons”-problem, i.e. the social and environmental crises of capitalism that have grown to threaten the conditions of life itself.
the viability of socialism in an imperialist world ultimately relies
on it being able to advance technology and increase living standards
in a more efficient way than the crisis ridden capitalist world does.
And not only to withstand economic warfare and pressure by threats of
military interventions, but also to simultaneously provide a rate of
improving standards of living for its people that surpass that of the
imperialist world. The specific planned economy of the USSR
demonstrated that this was possible in practice, but ultimately was
not enough. The current state of planned economies is likely not good
enough for long term isolated survival of any kind of socialism in
existing socialist style countries like Cuba. While the tendency to
encourage private economic incentives may be an attractive short term
solution to patch economic underdevelopment or shortages, relying on
such solutions pose a great risk of reintroducing and strengthening
petit bourgeois forces and plants the seed for the gradual material
undoing of socialism. Market reforms that at some point reintroduce
the profit maximization dynamics into the economy, simultaneously
reintroduce the forces and the survival dynamics that presuppose
participation in the imperialist system. They contribute to bringing
back the inherent class struggle of capitalism, but this time with
new private property relations protected by a supposed workers’
state diluted into a so called people’s state.
lingering market mechanics in early socialism, or reintroduction of
short term market reforms, for whatever reason, should be compensated
with advances in optimizing the planned economy itself, that make
said market reforms redundant in the long term.
Experiments with planned control systems like Cybersyn, in Chile, were already carried out in the 70ies, but were cut short by forces of reaction. On a recent trip to China, while visiting the Alibaba company, foreign delegations were introduced to a map where all economic flows, down to the level of an individual, were displayed and could be monitored in real time. Modern technology, especially in terms of computing power and communications technology allows for dynamic planning that could widely surpass that of the USSR, and gather live feedback and adapt to changes in production and consumption alike.
crucial task of our time is producing a socialism that is
irreversible through consolidating the fundamental technological and
economic incentives of its agents, at the base, that make it immune
to capitalist rollbacks and counter-revolutionary tendencies, much
like capitalism today no longer can be reversed to feudalism. Such an
economy consolidates the genuine support of the working class, by
letting the working class have a direct stake in the survival of
socialism. For this to become a reality there has to be an existing
framework for a planned economy that in all aspects, and on all time
scales, is clearly superior to our current dangerous economic system.
All in all, socialism will imply that all currently available technology will be used to liberate and realize the full potential of man rather than to limit or ensnare it to serve a few. All super structures of socialism will reflect the newly attained and endless possibilities that science and technology brings.
In Grundrisse ”The Fragment on Machines” (p 692) Marx states:
“Once adopted into the production process of capital, the means of labour passes through different metamorphoses, whose culmination is the… automatic system of machinery… set in motion by an automaton, a moving power that moves itself; this automaton consisting of numerous mechanical and intellectual organs, so that the workers themselves are cast merely as its conscious linkages.”
And in Capital vol 1. Ch 15: Machinery and Modern Industry Marx delves further into robotics
”An organised system of machines, to which motion is communicated by the transmitting mechanism from a central automaton, is the most developed form of production by machinery. Here we have, in the place of the isolated machine, a mechanical monster whose body fills whole factories, and whose demon power, at first veiled under the slow and measured motions of his giant limbs, at length breaks out into the fast and furious whirl of his countless working organs. ”
Just like the hand mill gave society with the feudal lord, and just like the steam mill unlocked capitalism, it looks like Marx’ automaton will be the key that fits the lock of developed socialism.