adam at pmel.com
Wed Jun 12 06:17:17 MDT 1996
> I would describe Cuba, the former Soviet Union, etc not as
> plaaned economies but as bureaucratically directed. Any large corporation
> has strategic planning, but the external competition means that these plans
> can never be forfilled. Same goes for the USSR, etc.
> If the fulfillment of plans is the criteria for whether an economy
> is is planned, then one is always in difficulty.
I seem to have fallen into the usual problem of speaking in an abbreviated
manner, using small phrases to describe pamphlet length arguments, and then
being taken literally.
Capitalists plan. Workers in a socialist society also plan. What is the
I will start with my own experience when I worked for Fujitsu ( which owns
the British Company ICL ). As part of its "inward investment" into the UK,
it planned the building of FIVE chip fabrication plants in the NE of England.
The requirement for building these plants was based on forecasts of the market
for DRAM's, the memory which goes in your PC's. In order to start this phased,
"planned" programme of investment, huge resources from Fujitsu, the British,
and the developing European state were brought to bear. These resources could
not be brought to bear in an ad hoc manner : each component ( clean water,
building the first factort, recruiting native and importing key
Japanese skilled labour, etc etc ) was carefully coordinated.
These were carefully laid plans.
As it turned out, they were blown out of the water. How ?
Well, the market for DRAM's did explode, but so did the supply. Because
of the essentially anarchic environment caused by many capitalists competing,
the DRAM price collapsed at more or less the same time as the recession hit
world wide. Fujitsu was hit by the debt crisis in Japan. The five factory
plan was scaled down to one.
What happened then ? All the DRAM manufacturers did the same, cancelling or
postponing their investment decisions. Bill gates brought an operating system
to the market which required twice the previous amount of memory. The price
spirals, and all the chip companies dust off their investment plans.
These plans weren't slightly off target. They were massively, structurally,
unable to cope with the booms and slumps created by capitalist competition.
We're not talking 5 or 10%. We are talking about the difference between building
one and five factories.
People in any industry will recognise the pattern, as did Marx 150 years ago.
Socialist planning differs from capitalist planning in three key respects :
i) WHAT is being planned is turned upside down - the satisfaction of people's needs
not the making of profit
ii) WHO does the planning - networks of workers councils do the planning
iii) The overall environment has changed - the external anarchy of capitalist
competition has been removed.
I won't labour at length on any of these points.
But to make the difference concrete, we could take the case of DRAM's above.
Suppose we planned the introduction of a new type of PC.
We could decide, more or less, how many we were going to make in each year.
Then, we could decide, partly based on past experience, how many DRAM's of what
size were required.
Under the conditions of capitalist competition, where there is a requirement for 10
new factories, five companies each plan to build 5, and in fact end up building 1
each. Under socialism, we may in fact get it slightly wrong - and build 9 or 11 when
we should have built 10. But everything would be properly coordinated, and we'd be
able to rationally modify the plan as it went on.
> Adams invocation of 'real' socialist planning under workers control
> does not get us very far in dealing with these real information
> processing obstacles.
> Paul Cockshott
Paul is I think defending Stalinist planning by saying that planning before the
age of information technology was difficult if not impossible. Therefore he implies
that Stalinist planning exhibited the same pathological symtoms as capitalist
planning for technical, and not political and social reasons.
I would argue against this that planning is not hard for technical reasons. Planning
is hard because of the nature of the system the planning is done within, and when
this system is changed, planning becomes essentially easy.
The complexity of the problems my manager tackles every day is not that great. They
are very definitely, in purely technical sense, easier than the ones I face every
day at work and at home. I , or anyone I work with, could quite easily solve
these problems, and present a range of potential solutions to our workers council
for approval. His real problem is that the external environment may change rapidly
and unpredictably - the group board may decide to shut us down and sell our assets,
because the groups' interest requires panic investment in some other branch of its
operations. Also, there is systematic lying on the part of his subordinates - each
group leader deliberately overestimates the resources they require in order to leave
some slack, so that they can cover any emergency demands on their group.
In other words, the problem my manager solves are social and political ones - how
to deal with his bosses, his peers' bosses, his subordinates, etc. It is this "human
resources management" that he is paid for - and this is why he is paid three or four
times what I am paid, why his superiors give him a significant share of the surplus
But what is interesting, is that the problems faced my manager are EXACTLY THE SAME
as the problems faced by your average Stalinist Bureaucrat, pre or post privitisation.
State Capitalist planning occurs in an anarchic, competitive, international environment,
and therefore State Capitalist bureaucracies have the same difficulties as are
experienced by the bureaucracies of multinational corporations.
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