Socialism capitalism and population

We are now approaching a social revolution in which the economic foundations of monogamy as they have existed hitherto will disappear just as surely as those of its complement-prostitution. Monogamy arose from the concentration of considerable wealth in the hands of a single individuals man-and from the need to bequeath this wealth to the children of that man and of no other. For this purpose, the monogamy of the woman was required, not that of the man, so this monogamy of the woman did not in any way interfere with open or concealed polygamy on the part of the man. But by transforming by far the greater portion, at any rate, of permanent, heritable wealth – the means of production – into social property, the coming social revolution will reduce to a minimum all this anxiety about bequeathing and inheriting. Having arisen from economic causes, will monogamy then disappear when these causes disappear?
One might answer, not without reason: far from disappearing, it will, on the contrary, be realized completely. For with the transformation of the means of production into social property there will disappear also wage-labor, the proletariat, and therefore the necessity for a certain – statistically calculable- number of women to surrender themselves for money. Prostitution disappears; monogamy, instead of collapsing, at last becomes a reality – also for men. ( [Engels and Hunt, 2010])

Societies have characteristic family ideologies and family laws structured by their economies. This was a basic thesis of [Engels and Hunt, 2010], who used this premise to try to predict how the family would change in a post capitalist society. The nice point is that this theory of the history of the family then itself became part of the ideological foundation of socialist family relations.
The professed aim of the Communists was to reform the relations between the sexes along the lines advocated by Engels. The universal participation of women in public industry would have as a consequence the abolition of the monogamous family as the basic economic unit of society. Private household work would be transformed into a social industry and society as a whole would take responsibility for the care and education of all children whether born in or out of marriage.
With considerations of property removed, marriage would be based on mutual love alone. Arranged marriage would vanish. We tend to think of arranged marriages as something oriental, but the underlying principle, of the marriage being a matter of passing down and accumulating property was widespread. Even in the 19th century England, marriages among the upper class centered on the property motive:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. ([Austen, 1994] )

Only the poor, Engels maintained, could afford to marry for love. But in the socialist future, love would become the sole basis for marriage.

Under the influence of radical legal theorists[Pashukanis, 1989], the Soviets at first envisaged that marriage law, like other contractual law would be phased out in socialist society. The only interest the state would have in people’s cohabitation was to register it for statistical purposes along with births and deaths[Berman, 1946]; so the RSFSR 1926 Family Code treated sex, marriage and divorce as a private matter in which the state did not interfere. This liberal attitude extended to not prohibiting incest, bigamy, homosexuality or or marriage with post puberty minors. Bigamy or polygamy though not prohibited in marriage law, insofar as they involved economic exploitation of women could be criminally prosecuted under the heading of exploitation. Whilst contemporary Western commentators largely approve of the liberal attitude of the early Soviet state to homosexuality, they are more silent on its liberalism towards incest, bigamy etc.

In 1920 free abortion had been introduced, which produced a rapid decline in the birth rate in urban areas. Over the 1920s the Moscow birth rate fell from 30.6/1000 to 21.7/1000, while abortions rose from 5.7/1000 to 35.2/1000[Berman, 1946]. Given that the overall death rate in the mid 1920s for the RSFSR was 21/1000 this appeared to represent a potential fall to below replacement birth rates[Engelman, 1932]. The birth rate in Moscow was unrepresentative. In rural areas where state hospitals providing abortion did not exist, ie, for the majority of Russia, the birth rate was much higher 44/1000 for the Great Russian population. Clearly there was no general threat to reproduction in the 20s, but projecting forward for a rapidly urban population in the mid 30s or a population vastly depleted by war in the mid 40s the outlook may have seemed different. That failed to take into account the fall in the death rate that could be anticipated to follow rising living standards. On the other hand given the international environment, a sharp rise in deaths due to enemy action may have been anticipated. The subsequent 1936 Law severely restricted abortion to cases of danger maternal health or genetic disorder, and at the same time very introduced substantial subsidies to women with large families. For the 6th and each subsequent child a stipend of 2000 rubles a year, equivalent at the official exchange rate to $2300 was introduced. Given that the average annual wage at that time was 2,700 rubles[Petroff, Feb 1938] this was a large benefit. Paid maternity leave of 112 days was introduced along with birth benefits. One could either see these measures as natalist, or alternatively as measures to protect mothers and children. They introduced, albeit very partially, the principle Engels had advocated: that the cost of raising children should be born by society as a whole. Partial because even as late as 1960 the regular child benefit was paid only to unmarried mothers or mothers with large families[Lantsev, 1962]. The principle that children were to be supported by the joint earnings of the parents for smaller families was thus not questioned, and marriage continued, to have an economic role even before the division of domestic labour between husband and wife was taken into account.

The German Soviet war of 1941 to 1945 caused a huge demographic shortfall – initially of the order of 40 million, rising to around 70 million by the end of the Soviet period (Figure 0.2). But throughout the Soviet period the population continued to grow.
Figure 1: Evolution of Russian birth and death rates in Soviet and post-Glasnost periods. Bezier plot.Shaded area post-Glasnost. Source [Pockney, 1991] and UN Demographic Yearbooks.

The USSR underwent its primary demographic transition between the late 30s and late 50s. The main component of this was a shift from the high infant mortality rate of around 200 per 1000 live births at the end of the 30s to around 50 in the late 1950s and down to 25 in the mid 1960s[Shkolnikov and Meslé, 1996]. The decline was largely due to reductions in infectious diseases, particularly food and water born infections. As a result life expectancy at birth rose by 24 years in males and 27 years in females between the end of the 30s and the mid 1960s. Overall birthrates and deathrates declined sharply during the transition, reaching a minimum for death-rate in the mid 1960s, and for birth-rate around 1970 ( Figure 0.1). After that both rates increased. [Allen, 2003] argues that the fall in the birthrate was critical to ensuring that food production per head rose, and that the growth in population was actually significantly slower than would normally have been expected in an industrialising country.

The increase in death rate from the 1970s was most marked in men. It was largely due to a rise in heart disease, accidents, suicide and interpersonal violence. A factor producing the minimum in male death rate in the late 60s was that during the 50s and 60s the age structure of the population was skewed towards younger men. So many who reached maturity in the 30s and early 40s had been war casualties that the number reaching the age when heart diseases strike was unusually low.

The birth rate remained well in excess of deaths throughout the first demographic transition giving a steady increase in population.
Figure 2: Soviet population suffered a huge demographic setback due to the German Soviet war of 1941-45. Source [Pockney, 1991].

Figure 3: The whole socialist area of Europe experienced steady population growth until the transition to capitalism, after which population declined sharply. Calculated from the UN World Population Spreadsheet 2015 edition.

The transition from socialism to capitalism in the USSR in the late 80s early 90s induced a second far more drastic demographic transition. The birth rate fell sharply into the range typical for developed capitalist countries. But while in many capitalist countries the birth rate falls below the death rate, both are normally on a downward trend. In Russia the death rate rose sharply: Figure 0.1 . A rise of this scale in peace was at the time unprecedented in a developed country. Those without university education[Shkolnikov et al., 2006]: that is to say the manual workers and farmers, suffered increased mortality. The intelligentsia experienced no decline in mortality. Subsequently [Case and Deaton, 2015] have pointed out that a similar thing has been happening to white working class men in the USA, with similar causes: mass unemployment and de-industrialisation[Stuckler et al., 2009]. As Figure 0.3 this demographic crisis was a general phenomenon affecting the ex socialist countries. The onset of capitalism and the deterioration of social conditions that followed, meant that the region as a whole went into demographic decline.

The contrast between capitalist and socialist family policy is best illustrated by a comparison of East and West Germany. Both Germanies experienced declines in fertility following the availablity of modern contraceptive technology in the 1960s. By the early 70s it had fallen below replacement levels in both East and West (Figure 0.4). But the birthrate in East Germany recovered to around replacement level by the late 1970s following the 1976 introduction of policies to socialise a considerable part of the burden of child raising[Salles, 2006]. Single mothers had priority access to kindergarten places. If no place was available they could go on sick leave at half pay, with the return of their job guaranteed as soon as a place became available. One year of paid parental leave was available for single women on birth of their first child. For married women this was available only for subsequent children. Along with free nursery schools, birth bonuses, workplace childcare and workplace canteens all helped parents.

The overall effect of these policies was to increase the birthrate in the East above the contemporary rate in the West. The availability of maternal benefits to single mothers increased the proportion of babies born to them, and led to greater social acceptance of their situation. Rents were low, but waiting lists for flats gave priority to single mothers and married couples. A common family pattern emerged of women having their first child before marrying and a second one after marriage[Salles, 2006].
Figure 4: German total fertility in children per woman. Federal statistical office.

With the union with West Germany, this benefit system was withdrawn and the consequent demographic shock led to East German fertility rates falling as low as 0.7 before converging on the all German average of 1.4. This of course is still well below replacement level.
The combination of capitalist and domestic economies is antagonistic. Capitalist mass production replaces one economic function of the household after another: spinning, weaving, growing food, sewing clothes, baking, etc. The demand for skilled and educated adult workers converted children from being part of the domestic labour force to economic dependents, creating an incentive to limit family size. The development, by the chemical industry, of contraceptive technology then made this possible. The continuing demand for more labour then drew an increasing fraction of women into capitalist employment, which for a few decades allowed the workforce to go on growing. It then became necessary for both parents to work. The cost of private childcare then becomes more of a disincentive to have large families or even have families at all. Socialist states have had the aim of improving the status of women through their participation in the social economy. As such they could have been faced with the same tendency towards sub-replacement fertility. They avoided this because women’s participation in the socialist sector went alongside a deliberate policy of socialization on childcare.

[Allen 2003] Robert Allen. Farm to factory: A reinterpretation of the Soviet industrial revolution. Princeton University Press, 2003.
[Austen 1994]Jane Austen. Pride and prejudice. 1813. Project Gutenberg, 1994.
[Berman 1946]Harold J Berman. Soviet family law in the light of russian history and marxist theory. The Yale Law Journal, 56 (1): 26-57, 1946.
[Case and Deaton 2015]Anne Case and Angus Deaton. Rising morbidity and mortality in midlife among white non-hispanic americans in the 21st century. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112 (49): 15078-15083, 2015.
[Engelman 1932]Uriah Z Engelman. Vital statistics in the soviet union in 1926. American Journal of Sociology, pages 437-440, 1932.
[Engels and Hunt 2010]Friedrich Engels and Tristram Hunt. The origin of the family, private property and the state. ePenguin, 2010.
[Lantsev 1962]MS Lantsev. Social security in the ussr. Int’l Lab. Rev., 86: 453, 1962.
[Pashukanis 1989]E. B. Pashukanis. Law and Marxism: A General Theory Towards a Critique of the Fundamenta Juridical Concepts. Pluto Publishing, Worcester, 1989.
[Petroff Feb 1938]Peter Petroff. The soviet wages system. Labour, pages 141-2, Feb 1938.
[Pockney 1991]Bertram Patrick Pockney. Soviet statistics since 1950. Aldershot (UK) Dartmouth, 1991.
[Salles 2006]Anne Salles. Les effets de la politique familiale de l’ex-rda sur la nuptialité et les naissances hors mariage. Population, 61 (1): 141-152, 2006.
[Shkolnikov and Meslé 1996]Vladimir M Shkolnikov and France Meslé. The russian epidemiological crisis as mirrored by mortality trends. 1996.
[Shkolnikov et al. 2006]Vladimir M Shkolnikov, Evgueni M Andreev, Domantas Jasilionis, Mall Leinsalu, Olga I Antonova, and Martin McKee. The changing relation between education and life expectancy in central and eastern europe in the 1990s. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 60 (10): 875-881, 2006.
[Stuckler et al. 2009]David Stuckler, Lawrence King, and Martin McKee. Mass privatisation and the post-communist mortality crisis: a cross-national analysis. The Lancet, 373 (9661): 399-407, 2009.


Socialism and direct democracy

It is a commonplace enough observation that hithertoo existing socialisms suffered from a lack of democracy, but in the sense that the word democracy is commonly understood, the observation is misleading. For the assumption is that more democracy, as commonly understood, would have been a good thing.

From the standpoint of liberal opinion there is nothing problematic about it. Liberals, quite rightly, saw that the adoption of western style democratic institutions would be the quickest way to get rid of socialism. Historical experience shows that they were dead right. As soon as multi-party elections were instated, pro-capitalist governments came to power.

Faced with this there are various possible responses:

  1. From the Blairite left, the response was welcome an unalloyed triumph for democracy. Good riddance to all that nonsense about a planned economy. We had a historic breakthrough which allowed us in New Labour to become intensely relaxed about the filthy rich.
  2. A relic Communist left, insignificant in Europe, but obviously of much greater significance in East Asia, concluded that it was a big mistake to have ever allowed multi-candidate or multi-party elections in East Europe and the USSR. So socialism was to be preserved by the only way they knew: continued Communist Party monopoly.
  3. Trotskyist left and their sympathisers in the Labour party the responded that what the USSR had actually needed was a revival of Soviet Democracy not ‘bourgeois democracy’.
  4. A final response about which I shall leave you in suspense until I have addressed the others.

Table 1: Excess deaths consequent the introduction of ‘democracy’ in Russia.

Year Thousand deaths Excess relative to 1986
1986 1498 0
1987 1531 33
1988 1569 71
1989 1583 85
1990 1656 158
1991 1690 192
1992 1807 309
1993 2129 631
1994 2301 803
1995 2203 705
1996 2082 584
1997 2105 607
1998 1988 490
1999 2144 646
2000 2225 727
2001 2251 753
2002 2332 834
2003 2365 867
2004 2295 797
2005 2303 805
2006 2166 668
2007 2080 582
2008 2075 577
2009 2010 512
total 48388 12436

What was presented by liberals and Blairites as a great triumph of democracy was viewed by millions who lived through it as a great catastrophe. The collapse of the Soviet and later the Russian economy under Gorbachov and then Yeltsin was an economic disaster that was otherwise unprecedented in time of peace. The world’s second super-power was reduced to the status of a minor bankrupt economy with a huge decline in industrial production and in living standards. Nothing brings out the scale of the catastrophe than the demographic data which show a huge rise in the mortality rate brought about by poverty, hunger, homelessness and the alcoholism that these brought in their wake (Table 1). A discipline less sure of itself than economics, might question its starting hypothesis when an experiment went so drastically wrong.

Liberal theory held that once enterprises were free from the state, the `magic of the market’ would ensure that they would interact productively and efficiently for the public good. But this vision of the economy greatly overstated the role of markets. Even in so called market economies, markets of the sort described in economics textbooks are the exception restricted to specialist areas like the world oil and currency markets. The main industrial structure of an economy depends on a complex interlinked system of regular producer/consumer relationships in which the same suppliers make regular deliveries to the same customers week in week out.

In the USSR this interlinked system stretched across two continents, and drew into its network other economies: East Europe, Cuba, North Vietnam. Enterprises depended on regular state orders, the contents of which might be dispatched to other enterprises thousands of miles away. Whole towns and communities across the wilds of Siberia relied on these regular orders for their economic survival. Once the state was too bankrupt to continue making these orders, once it could no longer afford to pay wages, and once the planning network which had coordinated these orders was removed, what occurred was not the spontaneous self organisation of the economy promised by liberal theory, but a domino process of collapse.

Without any orders, factories engaged in primary industries closed down. Without deliveries of components and supplies secondary industries could no longer continue production, so they too closed. In a rapid and destructive cascade, industry after industry closed down. The process was made far worse by the way the unitary USSR split into a dozen different countries all with their own separate economies. The industrial system had been designed to work as an integrated whole, split up by national barriers it lay in ruins.

The figures in Table 2 show how far the economy had regressed. These figures show how little recovery there had been, even after 13 years of operation of the free market.

Table 2: Output of Selected Branches of Industry in Russia in 2003 Compared to 1990 (1990 = 100)Source: Goskomstat, 2004, Table 14.3.

Total Industry 66
Electric power 77
Gas 97
Oil extraction 94
Oil refining 70
Ferrous metallurgy 79
Non-ferrous metallurgy 80
Chemicals and petrochemicals 67
Machine building 54
Wood and paper 48
Building materials 42
Light industry 15
Food 67

If the economy had continued to grow even at the modest rate of the later Brezhnev years ( say 2.5%) then industrial production would, on this scale have stood at 140% of 1990 levels. The net effect of 13 years of capitalism was to leave Russia with half the industrial capacity that could have been expected even from the poorest performing years of the socialist economy.

It is no wonder that Communist Parties in Asia took this as an awful experiment not to be repeated. The lesson that they took from it was that the political dominance of the Communist Party was essential, and that any concession to political liberalism would be disastrous. Economically and socially they were willing to concede all sorts of things: foreign investment, private business within the country, freedom to leave the country and study abroad. Officially Marxism remains the ideology in China, all students have to study some variant of it, but the actual ideological spectrum in debate, on the internet, and in academic journals runs the gamut from neo-Maoism, via orthodox Marxism, to social democracy, liberalism and neo- Confucianism [1]. If you establish a mixed economy with contesting classes then you will get mixed and contending ideologies. Within of this structure the ideologies which represent the interests of those who do best out of the social order will become more and more influential, by the same mechanisms that have always operated in socially stratified societies – the differential access to education of different social classes, and the tendency of the educated to express both their own particular interests and those of the groups with whom they seek favour.

Given this gradual ideological shift it becomes a moot point to decide what the CP monopoly achieves in the long run, apart, that is, from the obvious : rapidly rising living standards, high speed trains, peace, longer life expectancy and social stability

Reg: All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?

PFJ Member: Brought peace?

Reg: Oh, peace? SHUT UP!

([2] )


Western Leftist groups look at China, see the widespread corruption, exploitation of workers by private capital, the strike militancy of the workers and conclude that what you need to defend the gains of the workers there is old style Soviet Democracy.

From the liberal left we have a remedy that leads directly to the abolition of socialism and economic catastrophe. From the Chinese we have the advocacy of a political form that is at least known to be practical for three quarters of a century, but which has led to growing social inequality. From the Trotskyist left we have the advocacy of a form which leads dialectically to the very condition whose remedy it is supposed to be.

What the Western far left fails to recognize is that:

  1. The constitutions of both the USSR and the PRC were based on exactly the structure of hierarchical indirect elections that the Western Left hold up as the ideal of Soviet Democracy.
  2. That such a system of indirect election is tailor made for one party rule.
  3. That elections are anyway more an aristocratic than a democratic institution.

Indirect election has, since the days of slave society, been a system prefered by aristocrats. It should be obvious after the 2016 election in the US, that the institution of the Electoral College was tailor made to allow the popular vote to be over-ridden. The US college system only has one level of indirection, and elects only a President and vice President. The Soviet system, and the Chinese system which copied it, have multiple levels of indirection.

In China the president is elected by the National People’s Congress Chinese constitution article 79..

The National People s Congress is composed of deputies elected from the provinces, autonomous regions, municipalities directly under the Central Government, and special administrative regions, and of deputies elected from the armed forces Chinese constitution article 59..

The National deputies are elected by the Local People’s Congresses. Deputies to the people s congresses of provinces, municipalities directly under the Central Government and cities divided into districts are elected by the people s congresses at the next lower level; deputies to the people s congresses of counties, cities not divided into districts, municipal districts, townships, nationality townships, and towns are elected directly by their constituencies Chinese constitution article 97..

At each level of the council/congress system there is a standing committee/presidium which exercises day to day power.

There are at least 4 macro levels of indirection here, 7 if you allow for the effects of the presidia, quite enough to ensure that once one political party takes hold of such a state machine it becomes almost impossible to shift it from dominance. Since the highest level congress, soviet or council has the power to amend the constitution, the party dominating it is free to adjust the constitution in such a way as to cement its rule. It can write itself into the constitution, as the 1977 Soviet constitution did with the CPSU, or it can simply rely on the indirect election system to ensure control.

I was going to write that clearly it is a non-starter to advocate a system of Soviet democracy as a remedy to the ills of China or the old USSR, since the advocated system is no different from what it is supposed to replace. But for some reason this remains obscure rather than clear. Perhaps it is because few on the left bother to look at constitutions.

The great strength of the Soviet and Chinese systems was that they allowed a revolutionary aristocracy to assume absolute power, and use that power to radically transform social relations. The weakness is that of all aristocracies, their tendency to degenerate into self serving oligarchies.

So what is left if we exclude parliamentary democracy and soviet democracy?

Well there is what people now call participatory or direct democracy, but these are misnomers. In the original meaning of democracy, there was no other kind. The democratic form of rule involved direct votes by the entire citizen body. Day to day decisions were relegated to councils chosen by a lottery process. In its original sense, the word democracy did not just mean rule by the poor, the term demos meant something closer to plebs, it meant rule by the plebs, rule by the working classes. It dispensed with professional politicians and handed all decisions over to the common people.

It is clear that neither parliamentary constitutions developed in the West, or the various Soviet/Council/Congress constitutions used in socialist countries were democracies in this sense. They all involved the election of a political elite who took the decisions on behalf of the people. In contrast to this ideas of direct democracy are slowly gaining credibility, most notably in the more frequent calling of referenda. It is in the interests of a modern socialist movement to fight for the extension of such institutions: the right of citizens to call referendum votes once sufficient signatures are collected is one aspect. Other aspects are the replacement of elected parliaments by citizen assemblies, or at the very least ensuring that a majority the parliament is made up of of citizens selected by lot.

Only selection by lot can overcome the huge built in bias that the electoral system has against people of low social status. Whatever the cause, whether the low status is because of class, sex or race, you can see that very few low status people ever get into a parliament. In consequence all parliaments are grossly unrepresentative in class and sex terms. In racially mixed societies they tend to be unrepresentative on race grounds as well.

An assembly selected by lot will be a representative sample of the different classes in society. The elites are invariably suspiscious of direct democracy. They complain that the general public are too ignorant and prejudiced to make decisions on their own behalf – far better to leave decisions to educated and cultured people. But the obvious point is that the educated and cultured will look out for themselves and can certainly not be trusted to have the interests of the poor and less educated at heart. The old 19th century socialist movements knew this and advocated direct popular legislation – an idea that was disliked by the Socialist Party leaderships even then.

Modern technology makes it much easier to hold popular votes. Almost everyone has a mobile phone, and secure, anonymous and verifiable voting can be done this way As an example the Handivote system[4,3] allows voting by SMS with people being able to check that their votes are correctly tallied..

Such digital systems can be easily extended to allow the citizens at large to make the sorts of major strategic choices needed for socialist planning. Planning is only democratic if at least the big ticket headings: health, education, investment are settled by popular decision. It is possible for voters to make numerical choices about levels of public resources. Suppose there are 3 telephone numbers that you can text for a vote on health expenditure:

xxx xxx0 means reduce it by 5%,

xxx xxx1 means leave it unchanged and

xxx xxx2 means increase it by 5%

It is clear that by averaging the votes casy you can get percentage change in health expenditure. The result is the average of what the voters want. This will, in our case, be bounded by -5% to +5%, but these bounds could be varied by those setting the vote, and, at the cost of some slight increase in complexity, a broader range of numbers to dial could be provided without changing the basic procedure.

Now suppose that there are three items to be decided on: income tax, school expenditure and health expenditure. A simple extension would be to set up 9 phone numbers for voting as follows

xxx xx00 Income tax down 5%

xxx xx01 Income tax leave as is

xxx xx02 Income tax up 5%

xxx xx10 Health down 5%

xxx xx11 Health leave as is

xxx xx12 Health up 5%

xxx xx20 Schools down 5%

xxx xx21 Schools leave as is

xxx xx22 Schools up 5%

People could then text in to express their personal decisions. The result would be to obtain an average percentage change for each particular heading. As long as sufficient people vote on each individual issue, the law of large numbers means that will get a reasonably accurate estimate of public opinion on that topic. [5] shows that an opinion aggregated from many non-experts is usually superior to that of a few experts.


#1 Simultaneously voting on expenditure and taxation.

The obvious danger is that everyone votes for more expenditure and less taxation, but there are easy ways round this. Suppose that the average vote was [4, 2] indicating a 4% increase in school expenditure and only a 2% increase in taxes to cover it (let us make the simplifying assumption for now that schools are the sole form of expenditure). Figure 0.1 shows the average vote at position [4,2] and also a diagonal line representing the feasible combinations of expenditure and tax. The best choice given the constraints is labeled compromise Geometrically, the compromise is the closest point on the feasible combination line to the average vote. It is the choice which minimises voter dissatisfaction..

From a socialist standpoint it is very important that any form of participatory budgeting vote simultaneously on both expenditure and taxation. The right is willing to introduce participatory budgeting provided that it votes only on taxation since they hope, by this, to create a constant downward pressure on taxes and thus on expenditure for public services. By allowing people to simulataneously vote for increases in services and computing the compromise position you stand a good chance of preventing this.


The combination of labour value accounting, payment in labour credits, computerised planning, markets only in consumption goods, direct democracy and planned economy constitute a feasible new socialist model that builds on the experience of the past without repeating past mistakes.

The practical question is how society could move towards that. It is here that one must take seriously, but in an updated form, the old Lenin criticism of economism. The central point of that critique was that focussing on economic issues was not enough, to build a revolutionary movement it was necessary to bring to the fore the political struggle for democracy. In the context of Czarist Russia that was seen as the struggle for a republican constitution – but one still seen as parliamentary representation with universal adult suffrage. Today the struggle for democracy still has to be in the first place, but the aim has to be to overthrow existing constitutions and replace them with direct democracy.

By consistently advocating this, it should be possible for socialists to mobilise behind us people who may not share our socialist goals, but who are still still hostile to elite domination.

Once a genuinely democratic republic is established, without professional politicians, we would have the best possible environment to win support for a radical transformation of property relations.


William Paul Cockshott. Comments on the “China model”. International Critical Thought, 1(2):148-157, 2011.

Terry Jones, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, and Michael Palin. Monty Python’s life of Brian. Hand Made Films, 1979.

Karen Renaud and Paul Cockshott. Handivote: simple, anonymous, and auditable electronic voting. Journal of Information Technology & Politics, 6(1):60-80, 2009.

Karen Renaud and WP Cockshott. Electronic plebiscites. 2007.

J. Surowiecki, M.P. Silverman, et al. The wisdom of crowds. American Journal of Physics, 75:190, 2007.

File translated from TEX by TTH, version 4.08.

No True Scotsman theory of socialism

After posting my last article I got the following comment from Marco Procaccini:

The term “socialism,” as defined by Marxist and pre-Marxist, as well as anarchist activists going back to the French Revolution, has always been applied to any economic practice or development generally based on:

democratic control of the means of production and governance by working people and their communities, free association, production for practical use, mutual satisfaction of self-interest via cooperation, etc.–essentially a stateless classless free cooperative society based on “the free development of each as the free development of all.”. This is why socialist economists, including Marx and Engels, often used terms like “socialism” and “communism” interchangeably.

At NO TIME in history has the term defined corporate central planning or state capitalism of any kind.

This is a pretty classic example of the Alibi or No True Scotsman(NTS)1 theory of socialism popular with the American and European far left. Perhaps it is my being a true Scotsman that means I have little truck with it. The problem is that it involves a whole series of falsehoods. Marco’s version of the NTS theory has the advantage of being a reductio ad absurdam of the whole approach.

Firstly he says that at no time in history has socialism refered to central planning or state capitalism. The problem with this is that this is exactly what it has meant for almost the entire history of the socialist movement – provided that is that we assume that his derogatory term ‘state capitalism’ is intended by him to refer to nationalised industry.

He is exhibiting an extraordinary historical amnesia if he has forgotten that throughout the period from the Russian revolution down to the present, the Communist Parties world wide have used the term Socialism to refer to nationalisation of the means of production along with greater or lesser degrees of central planning. But apparently the Communist movement did not exist in historical time, or perhaps for him, history does not include the history of China, India, Vietnam, Korea etc?

Even if we take his implicit Euro-centrism seriously his claims are unfounded. It is impossible to support Marco’s view if we make reference to the programmes of real socialist parties. Let’s ignore the 20th century Communist Parties there and just look at 19th century Communism and 19th and 20th century Socialist Parties, we see that nationalisation and central planning actually represent a relatively extreme position within these parties. Many, like the Scandinavian ones, saw socialism almost exclusively in terms of providing comprehensive welfare systems, and a solidaristic wages policy[4] – ie, setting national wage rates that applied irrespective of company situation.

If we look at Socialism in Britain and France, the Labour Party and French Socialists had as explicit policies the nationalisation of industry. Each Labour Party member had the following written on their card as the party’s aim:

To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.2

There is some ambiguity of the card as to what the best obtainable system of public administration would be, the practical policy of the party was to set up national boards to run industries, and these boards were answerable to what was taken to be a democratically elected Labour government. The French Socialists also advocated extensive nationalisation[5, Part II, Chap II].

Dans le secteur bancaire et financier, la nationalisation concernera l’ensemble du secteur

Dans l’industrie, un seuil minimum d’extension du sectur public et nationalise sera atteint par les mesures suivantes :

—La nationalisation des secturs suivants:

a) Dans leur ensemble: resources du sous-sol, armament, industrie spatiale et aéronautique, industrie nucléarie, industrie pharmaceutique;

b) Danls leur plus grande partie : industrie électronique (ordinateurs), industrie chimique.

And if we go right back into the 19th century we find that the very first communist programme[2] had the nationalisation of industry as one of its immediate objectives:

The proletariat will use its political supremacy to wrest, by degree, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organised as the ruling class; and to increase the total productive forces as rapidly as possible.

5. Centralisation of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.

6. Centralisation of the means of communication and transport in the hands of the State.

7. Extension of factories and instruments of production owned by the State; the bringing into cultivation of waste-lands, and the improvement of the soil generally in accordance with a common plan.

The policies of both socialist and communist parties in the 20th century with respect to nationalisation were probably strongly influenced by this early document.

So we have established that both 19th and 20th century communism and 20th century socialism advocated state ownership in their party programmes. What about taxation?

Marco writes :

Finally, it needs to be pointed out specifically that tradition state ownership and taxation have NOTHING to do with Marxism–as Marx, Engels and legions of their contemporaries wrote.

The problem is that when Marx wrote party programmes, or commented on them, he said exactly the opposite. He consistently advocated an income tax [213]. When one reads how people like Marco so misrepresent him, one understands why he remarked he himself was ’pas marxiste’.


[1]   K. Marx. Marginal Notes to the Programme of the German Workers’ Party [Critique of the Gotha Programme]. Marx and Engels Selected Works, 3, 1970.

[2]   Karl Marx and Friederick Engels. Manifesto of the Communist Party, trans. S. Moore. Moscow: Progress.(First published 1848.), 1977.

[3]   Karl Marx and Jules Guesde. The programme of the parti ouvrier, 1880.

[4]   Rudolf Meidner. Why did the swedish model fail? Socialist Register, 29(29), 1993.

[5]   Parti Socialiste and François Mitterrand. Changer la vie: programme de gouvernement du Parti Socialiste. Flammarion, 1972.