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Planned capitalism

[This is a translation of the corresponding german post]

Now I have yet to write about the »New Socialism« of Cockshott/Cottrell, although the respective book (german: »Alternativen aus dem Rechner«, english: »Towards a New Socialism«) is still lying on the pile of unread books. Motive of this post is an interview with Allin Cottrell in »junge Welt« (leftwing german daily newspaper). There Cottrell argues, that the planned economy of the Soviet Union has failed due to its limited capacities of computing power. However, within the arms industry they had done well.

But they did not have computing resources, in order to extend detailed planning to the entire civil economy; they only could concentrate on a small subset of the products. [own translation of all quotes]

How do Cockshott/Cottrell view the new socialism, for which they see a chance of realization in Venezuela and Bolivia?

Basically, what we favor is a combination of three things: planning of the whole national economy, use of the working time as a calculation unit and principle of cost determination, and a democratic system, which represents direct democracy as well as statistical representation meaning choice by lot.

Total planning, economy of time sheets, and statistical democracy — at least this is fancy, but actually also hokey. Total planning — what a hell of bureaucracy will this be? Time sheet economy — a coercive principle without consideration of qualification? Statistical democracy — a kind of random rotation?

Well, being entirely biased this sounds to me like a state monopolist capitalism with total planning. I will proof that by reading the book mentioned above. What facinates me is, how free software has to serve as an example in so many and different cases. About the question of »incentives« in a planned economy:

… the question of incentives is often hyped. Take the modern open source software, the kernel of the Linux operating system for example. People from the whole world did a great job and the incentives are primarily not material. The participants enjoy the feeling of having done something, a good job, and the recognition of their group. We would like to see an extension this model to all forms of production.

Cottrell doesn’t seem to bear in his mind, that any principle of value is not valid for free software — whatever it may be (neither market nor time sheet value). The linux kernel is not a commodity. Nevertheless, it should not be missed, that most of the kernel developers are payed by companies. But the payment rather corresponds to a »guaranteed basic income«, because no sellable commodity is created. A re-introduced principle of value on what basis ever, would destroy the free software communities.

About competition:

In the field of the Linux operating system there is currently a competition between the GNOME and the KDE project concerning a user friendly desktop. This is mainly not a commercial competition, but largely a competition about technical features, useability, performance, and the loyalty of the users, which can freely download the products from the internet. Meanwhile both, GNOME and KDE, make use of common desktop standards — known as XDG –, which make it easier for users to switch between both systems and share informations between them. We bet on this kind of competition in a socialist economy.

This is well identified. But as for the »incentives« this competition does only work, because the principle of value is not applied. Btw: in july 2009 GNOME and KDE will hold their conferences together.

The value is not an arbitrary means to describe labour times as Cottrell assumes, but a societal relationship, which constitutes itself by the general exchange behind the back of the participants. Whoever arbitrarily infringes upon this relationship (like the faded state socialism) is loosing the rat-race with »free« capitalism in any case. There any computer power doesn’t help either. — No, something like »socialism« is only available beyond the principle of value and not within.

Kategorien: English, Freie Software, Theorie

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24. Juli 2008, 12:03 Uhr   6 Kommentare

1 cockshott (24.07.2008, 13:15 Uhr)

Well the linux kernel may have no exchange value but labour was required to produce it, so it has a labour value in the original Smithian sense of labour being the original currency with which we purchase our wants and necessities from nature.
Exchange value is a historically specific form of manifestation of value, not value itself!

Free software still requires that the social formation is able to allocate social labour to its production, thus in computing its cost to society as a whole this has to be taken into account.

2 StefanMz (24.07.2008, 13:55 Uhr)

In the Marxian sense labour value is not a substance, but a social relationship of goods being produced in an isolated (e.g. private) way, which therefore need exchange to gain societal validation and relevance to satisfy needs. Thus, the linux kernel does neither has exchange value nor it has value in the Marxian sense, because it is not exchanged, but freely distributed. The linux kernel is a societal product as such.

Exchange value is a historically specific form of manifestation of value, not value itself!

That’s true! But don’t equate »value« with Smithian »labour value«.

Free software still requires … to allocate social labour to its production, thus in computing its cost to society as a whole …

Free software requires social effort to its production, right, but this is not »labour« in the sense of »wage labour« producing commodities. Thus, there are no »costs« in a narrow monetary sense, but only in a sense of societal effort (which, of course, has taken into account). This is the reason, why free software points beyond capitalism, where money does no longer exist — IMHO.

3 Michel Bauwens (25.07.2008, 14:06 Uhr)

Incentives and motivation are not an issue in non-reciprocal voluntary peer production undertaken to produce a commons available to all, but wants you start to measure and reward input through labour time, you re-introduce ‚exchange‘ and therefore incentives become important again, and as Stefan says, this would crowd out peer production. Thus, it would be ironic that the new socialism would be used to destroy the only really existing ‚communist‘ dynamic that is there!!

What free software and peer production shows, is that planning can be replace by the global coordination of a multitude of small teams, but with the caveat that it only works for immaterial production, but that is of course a very huge chunk of our contemporary economies.

The problem therefore arises at the level of physical production, where cost-recovery becomes the issue. Do we really have to be opposed to a market, as long as that market is no longer part of an infinite growth mechanism of capital accumulation?

Can we not opt for a pluralist economy, combining peer production for immaterial goods, markets for non-crucial goods, and perhaps some kind of material commons for crucial goods? In the latter, thinking about planning may be a useful exercise.

Concerning markets, we now have the model that peer production creates a commons, and that businesses are making money through derivates of that primary commodity which is free. But these companies need not be classic for-profit companies, and could be very well cooperatives.

I don’t want to have a kneejerk reaction against planning, but it seems to me that planning cannot be taken as necessary for the whole of social life, as seems the case in this proposal above.

Michel

4 Michel Bauwens (25.07.2008, 14:07 Uhr)

for above, wants = once

Michel

5 cockshott (25.07.2008, 15:31 Uhr)

Stefan :
„In the Marxian sense labour value is not a substance, but a social relationship of goods being produced in an isolated (e.g. private) way, which therefore need exchange to gain societal validation and relevance to satisfy needs.“

Paul:
This is controversial, with longstanding debates in OPE-L on this. I think it is arguable that what Marx said was exactly the opposite of what you say, namely that the substance of value is labour and that exchange value is the form of representation of labour in capitalist society.

Stephan:
Free software requires social effort to its production, right, but this is not »labour« in the sense of »wage labour« producing commodities. Thus, there are no »costs« in a narrow monetary sense, but only in a sense of societal effort (which, of course, has taken into account). This is the reason, why free software points beyond capitalism, where money does no longer exist — IMHO.

Paul
I agree with the general tenor of this, but one must distinguish between labour and wage labour, which again is historically contingent. The production of free software does depend on there being an overall surplus time available to society that can be devoted to this end. If one assumes a society of freely associated producers, who do their collective accounts in time, this time will appear in the social accounts.

Michel: Incentives and motivation are not an issue in non-reciprocal voluntary peer production undertaken to produce a commons available to all, but wants you start to measure and reward input through labour time, you re-introduce ‘exchange’ and therefore incentives become important again, and as Stefan says, this would crowd out peer production. Thus, it would be ironic that the new socialism would be used to destroy the only really existing ‘communist’ dynamic that is there!!

Paul:
Allin was not proposing that. He cites Linux as an example of nascent communist production arising within the capitalist social formation.

I agree with you that voluntary labour and free consumption are ideally suited to software production, and in the field of information goods in general we see the appropriate domain of the communist motto ‚from each according to their ability to each according to their need‘. But in the production of material products this is not the case. You say:
„The problem therefore arises at the level of physical production, where cost-recovery becomes the issue. Do we really have to be opposed to a market, as long as that market is no longer part of an infinite growth mechanism of capital accumulation?“
The question here is whether you can every divorce the market from capital accumulation?
In addition there is the objection of injustice. The capitalist market impoverishes the vast bulk of the worlds population to the benefit of a small minority.

6 Kaufmann (03.08.2008, 20:36 Uhr)

Dear Mr. Cockshott

Please read Peer-Economy. I read your book and I think it has a good solution to the main problem of Socialist Economy!! But in Peer-Economy there are additional solutions which you might easily implement in a future version of your Book. I can´t see a big contradiction.

You can download it here: http://peerconomy.org/text/peer-economy.pdf

@all
Other Concepts: Parecon (highly recomended), The Relevance of anarcho-syndicalism from Noam Chomsky, Inclusive Democracy, Technocracy,…

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