of Wealth in a
Communism or Collectivism?
The Distinct Forms of Organizing a Workers' Economy
For a Socialist revolutionary, opposition to Capitalism, its privileges, and its profits is natural and clear. But what is going to replace this system is not so obvious. There are some Socialists who are even more opposed to each other's systems than to Capitalism. The Situationists organized a General Strike in France of 1968 and briefly toppled Capitalism; and yet they considered themselves more antagonistic toward Soviet Communism than western Capitalism. [*1] There are a million styles of political and social organization within Socialism or a worker-managed society. But there are two particular trends that most Socialist forms of economics can be classified under.
Communism - "to each according to their need." This is the most well-known of the economic theories representing Socialism. Every person is allowed to consume as much as they need, and to work as much as they can. This is often implemented by giving equal pay for all types of work, allowing each person to satisfy their own needs. However, there are more genuine forms, that allow each person to take from the common and work for the collective at their own self-discipline.
Collectivism - "to each according to their contribution." Each person shall receive the fruit of their labors, and will be their own judge in determining how to use or spend their wealth. Since much of our social production is cooperative, people would be paid according to how much effort and time they gave. It is up to the collective to decide which jobs should reward more, where to organize industries, and overall how to provide opportunity for everyone. So, though people could technically choose a different form of distribution, they generally have a contribution-based system of reward.
In both systems of Communism and Collectivism, there is no more Capitalism. All of the machinery and the fields, the mines and the warehouses, shall become the common property of everyone. It will be up to the people themselves to manage and operate these productive forces as they see fit. The distinction between Communist and Collectivist is about the distribution of society's productions -- it is a question of how people should be awarded the products of our shared labors.
The Weaknesses in a Communist Economy
Where each laborer receives the same no matter how much they labor, there is going to be a common objection. Why should people work harder, if they're going to be given less? And if people aren't committed to their labor, then what kind of conditions can we expect in society? If physicians aren't given more for studying hard, then what will be the quality of healthcare? If construction workers aren't fairly rewarded for their labors, then what will happen to the safety of bridges and roads? If there is no self-interested concern in people doing their best, then how can we have a society with vibrant artists, provocative scientists, and thoughtful scholars?
This is the first and most common argument brought against Communism. And, it is not a dishonest argument. Karl Korsch, the German Marxist, describes the communal economy in Barcelona, Spain, in 1936...
Many of the people who had worked hard were not provided with luxuries and artforms to met every individual taste. Tom Wetzel describes some of the behavior of those living an Anarcho-Communist society in Revolutionary Spain: "...there is only the set of things offered to everyone by the collective. Absence of money led to inefficiencies like people throwing away bread because it was free." [*3]
Since everyone was paid the same, there was no self-interest in contributing more. The resulting victim was society itself, and all of its participants. By their communal policy, they withdrew the encouragement of their greatest talents, and then they suffer for it.
There is a natural tendency to reward greater labor with greater pay. Nobody enjoys laboring, and we only do it because it produces what we need or want to live. And for as much suffering and hours and toil as we put in, we expect to get a similar amount of joys and happiness afterwards. It is an underappreciation of someone who can take more suffering, in producing more for society, to be paid less than others. And, before long... It is the individual who feels themselves controlled and dominated by society, just as the wage-worker was controlled by a capitalist, or the serf was the property of the feudal baron.
Consider the individual ambition of the artist, or the inventor, or the composer. Only very few people are born with unique talents, but many have to work to develop their skills and abilities. It takes endless nights of devotion and dedication. It takes looking at something complicated and almost unnatural, and then learning to love it. For all of this passion and brilliance given, to help improve society, the individual receives the exact same wage and living conditions as everyone else. Far from seeing the individual enthusiastic and interested in their role in society, we see them disheartened. With such an organization, the artist and the inventor would probably think that this society hated individual genius, no matter what it could to improve the lives of others.
Collective Management as Opposed to Communal Distribution
Collectivism most often adopts the principle of "each according to their contribution," but not always. The full picture of Collectivism is that the economy should be collectively managed. This doesn't just mean the method of determining how much each earned. It also includes what industries should receive capital investments, where dams and factories should be built, the hours that we work and how the workplace is organized. Collectivism means that every person who belongs to a collective has an equal voice in determining how they function; whether the collective is a worker-managed business, a household of family, or an entire society.
Everyone has an incentive to labor, and to do well, when their job rewards them according to their contribution. Since Collectivism pays according to time and energy spent, according to how much work is done, it resolves many of the dilemmas in Communism. Ambition will still lead people to do great things, in terms of art, science, academics, and community. By actually receiving something for giving more, they'll feel appreciated and understand by society. They'll have an interest in helping others, because they'll know that others are helping them. Mutual aid is the natural basis for a cooperative, working relationship. It is completely lacking in the Communist model, but it is perfectly accounted for in the Collectivist design.
There are many, though, who claim that the Collectivist form isn't sufficient. It doesn't fully satisfy the peoples' wants, and it is not capable of giving full justice to our human economy. For instance, if our design awards to each according to their ability, then what about the youth? What about the sick, the elderly, and the disabled? If everyone is paid according to their contribution, then how will those who cannot labor survive?
If people feel enough of a sense of community to overthrow capitalism and create Socialism, then they certainly won't leave out or exclude anyone from the new world. A Collectivist society will naturally include its own social service programs, which will provide for those who cannot provide for themselves. And since people are rewarded according to contribution, we will see more ambitious tasks and greater productions. Society will have much more leftover to distribute, because of the productivity of its workers. And the idea of keeping so much, when there are people who have so little, will is repugnant in general.
And, certainly, the condition of those without means for themselves will greatly improved by this Collectivist organization. It is by our ideas of social justice and community that have brought us to overthrow Capitalism -- there is no way that we could possibly allow hunger, homelessness, and want to exist in our new society.
There is another argument against Collectivism, often brought up in Marxist literature. In his "Dialectic Materialist" view of history, Karl Marx imagined that the future society will be far too overproductive and efficient. The laborers, then in charge of their means of production, will make so much, that there will be no point in counting how much each gives, or how much each takes. Everyone can take "according to their need," since there would be more than all could consume.
This prediction, about the development of industry, may very well be true. In fact, we know that machinery and technology are constantly improving every year, and how much each laborer can make increases as well. However, to match technology's progress, there are equal leaps in a human's desires. The new technology has not simply meant more efficient ways of solving past problems. It has also meant creating and satisfying wants that previously did not exist.
The invention of the printing press, for instance, didn't just solve the problem of hand-writing books; people were then capable of developing a desire for and ability to read books. Yes, because of technology, we can produce far more, but also because of technology, we have the sight of luxuries and wants that were previously denied to us. While there is going to be abundance, the scope of human experience of future generations will be expanding. Their lives will consist in more passion, experience, thinking, and self-reflection... if we are capable of leaving them a culture that they can genuinely connect with.
This outlook about new desires seems to be confirmed by our present technological situation. Computers and electronics have become the new desire, the new form of gratification for the individual -- at least, in countries wealthy enough to have that sort of economy. Even in the United States, where technological advancement is reached such unexpected heights, there is no abundance of food and shelter. And, the idea of a society where its overproductions bring about Communism seems especially impossible here.
Cooperation Between the Idealists of Both Schools
Ultimately, when the organize and have prepared themselves for the overthrow of government and Capitalism, it will be up to them to decide what form the new society will take. When the Social Revolution has come alive, it wouldn't surprise me that there are some collectives of people practicing Communism, and others practicing Collectivism. There would be no great distress if one society were to switch from communal distribution to collective operation, and another did the exact opposite. The most important part about our revolution is that the decision is in the hands of those effected by them -- that it is the people, themselves, who are organizing society to fit themselves. This is the essential characteristic of a real, Socialist Revolution.
There are many who are devoutly committed to the communalist idea, just as there are many devoted to the collectivist idea. But we are all motivated by the same passions and the same, general understandings. Our conscience is offended by Capitalism's hoarding up of the necessary resources, the artificial poverty generated by deeds and property. We see in the worker the potential for building a completely new world, based around satisfying the interests and the needs of the people. If we can agree that it is up to the people themselves to choose how they'll be organized, then we should agree to work together.
The day when the Social Revolution comes may possibly be tomorrow, or it may not fully blossom until a century has passed. We could be very far away from when people really need to make these decisions. It would be irrational of factions and organizations were to split over these theoretical questions that won't really concern us until maybe a hundred years. And, for those interested in abolishing Capitalism and replacing it with something else, the ideas of this discussion should be considered worthwhile, even if they're indecisive -- the people coming up with some good ideas on a new system is enough for many to fight for the new world.
We can theorize all that we want, but it will ultimately be up to those who will live under communism or collectivism who will decide for themselves. Our dedication, as revolutionaries, is to bring the masses to this point, where they can prepare and organize for themselves. When the people are ready to overthrow economic and political authority, capitalism and the state, then they will be ready to design and build their new world. The revolutionary's task is to educate and teach the people how they can accomplish their own emancipation.
*1. De Gaulle, Televised speech of June 7th, 1968. Quoted in René Viénet (1968) Enragés et situationnistes dans le mouvement des occupations (Paris: Gallimard).