Communization of the Whole World in Five Years or Less: A practical guide
I have been paying more attention to the communization tendency of late. For those who are unaware of this tendency, the communization tendency is a radical offshoot of communism that proposes we set as our immediate goal the complete abolition of property, wage labor and the state in order to directly and immediately establish a fully communist society.
According to Wikipedia,
“In these accounts humanity as a whole, directly or indirectly, would take over the task of the production of goods for use (and not for exchange). People would then have free access to those goods rather than exchanging labor for money, and distribution would take place according to the maxim ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.'”
As can be inferred from this short description of communization, communizers dispense with the so-called ‘lower phase’ of communism (sometimes called socialism) and move directly to a fully functioning communist society where that will be no classes, money or state.
The idea is very close to my own view that capital has so developed the social forces of production that society is in the position to move directly to full communism. This is a decidedly different situation than the one that prevailed at the time Marx and Engels wrote the Communist Manifesto.
In 1848, the social forces of production had not reached such a state of maturity as to permit the immediate establishment of a communist society. The Manifesto advanced a sort of work around in which the working class would organize itself as a ruling class and do what capital had not yet finished doing: create the material foundation of a fully communist society. In the 170 years since the Manifesto was written, however, much of that preparatory work has been accomplished by capital itself.
What remains for us today is to take control of society and immediately realize full communism; to complete the socialization of labor by ending the buying and selling of labor power.
Unfortunately, as allsotiresome nicely put it, the idea of communization remains “practically and strategically undertheorised”. No one really knows what a movement committed to the immediate establishment of a fully functioning communist society looks like, what its goals are, or how it intends to realize those goals. Communization very much remains just another idea on paper.
This essay is my attempt to help remedy this defect.
So, let’s talk about communism in as practical a way as possible
To focus our minds on the subject in the most practical way possible, let’s set a hypothetical target for our fully communist society in the very near future — say, in five years. In other words, in five years we want to have a fully functioning world communism up and running. With time so short, we need to start getting ready for it right now.
Is this approach wrong-headed?
Well, in 1971 several countries in Europe got together and decided to set a goal for a single market with a single currency. I do not see why setting a target date for communism is any more unthinkable than creating a common currency among countries that only a few years before had been locked in mortal conflict.
I’ll admit that it took 30 years to make good on the goal of a single market in Europe, but the time it might take is not important for this exercise. What is important is that now that we have a target date, March 2023, what exactly is it we want to accomplish by that date? Not details, mind you. We can leave the details to a later point. I am talking about the broad strokes, like the creation of the euro. The six members of the EC set out a broad goal: a single currency.
They did not get into details. Similarly, in broad strokes, we can set a goal to reach communism by March 2023 and leave the details for the future?
Concretely, what do we mean by the term “communism”
We all know what a currency is, but what exactly is communism? What do we expect to have in place by March 2023?
By March 2023, we want to have a society founded on the principle of “from each according to ability, to each according to need.”. We want, in other words, to completely sever the connection between individual hours of labor and individual consumption. While the six members of the EC wanted to create a single currency for their six nations, we want to abolish all currency in the whole world. After March 2023, no one anywhere on the planet will need money to pay for anything. You just walk into a store and go home with your groceries or whatever.
Now, that is a tall order because it applies to everyone, everywhere, from Buffalo to Bogota to Burundi to Burma to Beijing and back again.
Don’t ask if this is a realistic five-year plan. We can address the scheduling problem later. For now, let’s just focus on what it is we want to do.
At present, it is not possible to know if we can get to communism in five years or five hundred years because we don’t yet know how much labor it would take to to realize communism as defined above. Does it take an average of 40 hours of labor per person per week to satisfy the basic need of everybody on the planet? 20 hours of labor per person per week? Or five hours of labor per person per week?
Frankly, we don’t know because no one has ever tried to calculate this.
The biggest problem, however, is not trying to calculate how much labor time communism requires per person per week, but that communists are almost completely incapable of thinking about communism concretely. It may be possible that we could satisfy all basic human needs right now with no more labor than individuals are willing to give voluntarily, but we would never know this because communists have no real idea what they mean by communism.
For most communists, communism is an abstraction, a philosophical concept dancing around in our heads, not an actual society with certain definite material requirements.
Let’s fix this
Communism concretely defined
Does our goal mean everyone can have everything in their most incredible fantasy?
Does it mean everyone will have a mansion and a yacht, like Elmer J. Fudd?
What then is included in this communism that I am talking about?
Have you ever seen the basket of goods that composes the consumer price index of a country? Basically, I mean that.
The components of the American Consumer Price Index (CPI) is a list of the prices of all of the commodities that go into working class consumption. This index is composed of a basket of goods ordinarily purchased by workers. We can say that the commodities listed in the CPI are the equivalent of labor power stated in the form of the commodities that go into its value. The basket of use value is tracked by most governments and used as a measure of the price of labor power.
The links below will take you to the basket of basic goods that compose the CPI in three countries today:
Not surprising, the chief fascist states know the prices of the components of labor power almost down to the last bean. And they track the change in those prices religiously. Which is fortunate for us because we can use the same basket of goods to define what we mean by providing for basic human needs anywhere on the planet. On this basis, we should be able to calculate, almost down to the second, how much labor time goes into the production of the goods required to satisfy basic need of the whole world.
The goal is that in five years every person living on the planet will have all of their basic needs met irrespective of their labor contribution. We then can use this as our first approximation for what we mean by the term communism. We can call this first approximation the “material economic foundation of communism” and set this as the goal we hope to achieve within five years.
A working definition of communism: Concretely stated, when we speak of a society founded on the principle of “from each according to ability, to each according to need“, we are explicitly referring to a society where all the basic needs of human beings are met employing only the labor individuals voluntarily provide to society based on their own desire to be productive, creative, persons. No one has to be compelled to labor or offer anything in return for their access to this basket of commodities. Thus, they are free to engage in any pursuit that brings them satisfaction. They exercise their human capacities only in those directions they desire.
But, what about …?
The first objection to this approach may be that even if we define communism in terms of a basket of commodities like the American CPI provided to each individual on the planet without regards to their labor contribution, the whole world cannot afford an American level of consumption based on that basket of goods.
This might be true because we don’t have sufficient means of production at hand to be able to produce this standard of living. However, the lack of means to produce on this scale, may change our timetable, but it doesn’t make the goal impossible. The goal may require a certain preliminary investment, but it is still doable. It may just take us ten or twenty years, instead of five. This objection is not really about the goal, but about the timetable.
Second, it may also be objected that the proposed standard of living is not environmentally sustainable. This objection might appear to kill the idea altogether. Given the impact we are already having on the environment, the prospect of 7 billion people enjoying an American standard of living seems completely unsustainable — at least to the people now enjoying that standard of living.
The problem with this second objection is that no one has ever actually calculated the environmental impact of a typical American CPI basket of goods. Since no one has ever actually taken the time to calculate the environmental impact of a typical American basket of goods, how can we take this objection seriously? It is likely complete bullshit. Perhaps it is not bullshit, but how would we know?
Bizarrely, we know the price of a typical basket of commodities consumed by the American working class, but we don’t know how much labor it requires nor its environmental impact. And, there is a reason we don’t know the cost of the basket in terms of human labor time and the environment: capital doesn’t give a fuck about such things. It’s only concern is how much profit is to be had, not the cost of this profit in human beings and the environment.
Interestingly, no objection is made that providing for the basic needs of the entire population of the planet without labor may not be profitable. Instead opponents of communism point to the lack of means and environmental impact of providing the basket.
How do you propose to realize this communism?
Now I have set a target date for communism, March 2023. And I have defined communism as the provision to everyone on the planet of a basket of goods represented in the consumer price index of the United States.
I think it is possible on this basis to establish how much labor time is required for an entry level full communism of this sort. To meet our definition of communism, the duration of social labor (per month, week or day) required for production of this basket of goods must be less than what individuals might voluntarily contribute. In other words, if individuals, motivated solely by their desire to be productive, voluntarily contributed more labor time than is required to provide everyone this basket of goods, we would have full communism. In other words we can sever the connection between labor and consumption for everyone on the planet.
Of course, this is not fully automated luxury communism. It is just an entry level sort of communism. But it satisfies our definition of communism as a society founded on the principle of “from each according to ability, to each according to need.” We still can get to the luxury version of full communism in due time.
Cool! So we just pass a law abolishing wage slavery and — BOOM — full communism?
Not so fast. There is a real problem with a strategy that assumes we can vote communism into existence.
In the first place capital requires surplus labor time to produce profits. This means, over and above whatever labor time is required to provide everyone on the planet with an American-style basket of goods, we would have to tack on additional labor time to cover the profits of capital. The capitalists are not going to want to give up this surplus labor time. They will fight us tooth and nail to prevent abolishing wage labor.
The real problem, however, is that the existing state, no less than capital, requires surplus labor time for its revenues. This means, over and above whatever labor time is required to provide everyone on the planet with an American-style basket of goods, and over and above whatever additional labor time is required to cover the profits of capital, we need a still greater additional increment of surplus labor time to cover the revenues of the bourgeois state.
This is a big obstacle for any strategy based on a political movement. As can be seen in the chart below, at present the state sector consumes about 40 percent, and in many cases in excess of 50 percent, of the total output of OECD countries. That is a huge quantity of surplus labor time that the existing state will not concede lightly.
The existing state is, by far, the very largest consumer of the surplus labor time expended in any OECD country and likely has been the largest single consumer of surplus value since World War I. As Roland Boer observes in a recent blog post, “the very nature of the bourgeois state is to exploit the working class”. Moreover, in return for this consumption the state provides nothing that can be used by us to create a society where all basic needs of human beings are met without requiring labor from anyone.
To this I should add that the relentless expansion of the state in the 20th century is made necessary by the explosive increase in the productivity of social labor. The state itself has assumed the function of what some Marxists at the turn of the 20th century called “third persons”, a sector of the so-called economy whose non-capitalist (and entirely unproductive) consumption is now required to absorb the excess product of social labor. Without this consumption, which operates like a countervailing influence preventing a fall in the rate of profit, capital would have collapsed a long time ago.
While capital exploits the working class and consumes their surplus labor time, at least it consumes this labor time productively, i.e., with an eye toward increasing the scale of production. By contrast, the state produces nothing — neither values nor use-values. It leaves society worse off than it was before.
The state sector as the low hanging fruit for communization
The massive state sector is bad news for the strategy of voting communism into existence, but, paradoxically, it is also good news in a certain sense. The monstrous growth of the state sector, especially in all of the most developed economies over the past 100 years or so, means that this unproductive consumption — unproductive not just in the capitalist sense, but absolutely unproductive even of use values — is the low hanging fruit for communization.
Far from expecting to employ the state as an instrument to abolish wage labor, the abolition of the existing state is today the necessary precondition for the abolition of wage labor and a society founded on the principle of “to each according to need.”
Today, any realistic strategy of communization requires the direct and immediate abolition of the state and the conversion of the surplus labor time locked up in this sector directly into free time for everyone. There is no substitute for this strategy; no other way to get to full communism without first abolishing the state.
Communism cannot be voted into existence because the state itself is the immediate target of communization.
So, if we can’t vote communism into existence, how do we get there?
The problem is the means available to reach this goal. Here, I am not talking about the technical issue of whether we have enough means of production to produce the basket for everyone. And I am not talking about whether the planet can sustain such a level of consumption for everyone, not just proletarians of Europe and North America.
Rather, I am talking about the social movement required to make communism into a reality. Note, I did not say the political means required to make communism a reality. I said social. The problem I have with the phrase, “political means” is that this usually implies some form of a political movement — a political party whose effort is focused on attaining state power.
In fact, we know from the bitter experience of 20th century betrayals that politics cannot break through existing bourgeois social relations. To get to communism we have to go beyond the politics of the bourgeois epoch; we need a movement that directly communizes society.
Here let me propose that our five-year plan for communization of all existing relations take the practical form of a movement to reduce hours of labor to zero in five years.
As I have argued on several occasions, such a progressive reduction of hours of labor must result in the fall of profits before it even begins to affect wages, because this reduction insofar as it does not exceed certain limits only involves the reduction of the surplus labor time on which the profits of capital are premised. According to Marx, this fall has the effect of accelerating the development of the social forces of production; encouraging their maturation and thus maturation of the material conditions for full communism.
To the above effect of a progressive reduction of hours of labor, we can add that the reduction of hours of labor must reduce the existing state and its revenues before it begins to affect the profits of capital. Insofar as the profits of capital are being productively reinvested for the expansion of material production, they are not superfluous to the production of material wealth of the sort we need to realize communism. On the other hand, the revenues of the state are entirely excess of the production of material wealth and, in most case, actually destructive of material wealth.
We want to target the existing state, because its abolition is the precondition for communization of society.
Draining the swamp
Our goal then is to deny both capital and the state a progressively larger share of our surplus labor time over a five year period — to drain the swamp of the surplus labor time on which the capitalists and their state relies. In first place, this denial should force the out-right reduction of the state sector. In second place, it should force concentration and centralization of capital in order to accelerate the development of the social productive forces as capital desperately tries to restore the rate of profit.
The exact mechanism of the above process is described in great detail by Marx in chapter 15 of volume three.
Essentially, we need to begin now to use direct action to impose a progressive reduction of hours of labor according to a schedule I have previously discussed:
How to abolish wage labor within 5 years in five simple steps:
- STEP ONE: In the first year, add one three day weekend. Each week activists would target one working day to disrupt all wage labor. The work week will now be reduced to four days and all wage labor beyond this point will be targeted.
- STEP TWO: In the second year, add one four day weekend. Each week activists would target two working days to disrupt all wage labor. The work week will now be reduced to three days and all wage labor beyond this point will be targeted.
- STEP THREE: In the third year, add one 5 day weekend. Each week activists would target three working days to disrupt all wage labor. The work week will now be reduced to two days and all wage labor beyond this point will be targeted.
- STEP FOUR: In the 4th year, add one six day weekend. Each week activists would target four working days to disrupt all wage labor. The work week will now be reduced to two days and all wage labor beyond this point will be targeted.
- STEP FIVE: In the 5th year, add one full week off. Each week activists would target all five working days to disrupt all wage labor. The work week will now be reduced to zero days and all wage labor will be targeted.
This reduction would not be imposed by state laws. In fact, we don’t want anything from the state. We don’t care what politicians promise, nor what laws they propose to enact. They cannot satisfy our demands. We only want them to go away and take their fascist state with them.
We rely only on the direct action of committed communist activists. These working class activists, initially numbering in their thousands or even just hundreds, but eventually in their millions, must begin to disrupt, insofar as this is possible, all wage labor in our society.
By this I mean that, on the specified day of the work week that we intend to abolish, all wage labor is to be discouraged. Activists will take to the streets to physically prevent other workers from working by closing roads, blocking entrances to factories, office parks and public buildings, disrupting the operations of shopping malls, occupying restaurants and bars to prevent the seating of customers, etc.
We must do whatever it takes to peacefully disrupt business (wage slavery) as usual.
At first only serving as isolated propaganda actions, in much the same way as the initial civil rights sit-ins in the South of the United States only served to highlight the abuse to which African American citizens were subject, in time we must see to it that these actions actually begin to disrupt the wage labor system and have a real measurable impact on both capitalist profits and state revenues.
Wage slavery is normalized in our society; seen as a natural and normal condition of society. We must begin to directly challenge the idea that we have to live under the constant threat of starvation. There is no getting past the fact that we must begin, sooner or later, to directly challenge the premises of wage labor.
We cannot evade this issue.
So, where do we begin?
No one can tell you where to begin disrupting the system of wage labor.
There is no central committee.
There is no vanguard party.
There isn’t even a movement.
We begin with nothing. Just like a few activists operating on their own set in motion a process that ultimately brought down segregation in the 1960s. You must directly confront the working class itself and force it to recognize that its slavery is not a natural state of society. The disruption of the system of wage slavery means the direct disruption of the wage slaves who engage in what they think is a natural and ordinary activity. You have to convince them that wage slavery is not natural; that it is horrific; above all, that it is unnecessary.