Libertarian Socialism: A Practical Outline : Chapter 4: Distribution
(1895 - 1978) ~ CNT Radical, Anarcho-Syndicalist, and Spanish Civil War Historian : He was a French anarchist during the Spanish Civil War and was the son of a French Communard. Leval, himself was a French anarcho-syndicalist militant and a participant in the foundation congress of the Red International of Labor Unions from June-August 1921. (From : Anarchy Archives.)
• "...the Spanish Libertarian workers co-ordinate and rationalize production in a much more satisfactory way than Capitalism had done. And I lay special stress on the disappearance of small unhealthy and costly workshops and factories, besides the correct use of machinery for the work most suited to it." (From : "Collectives in Spain," by Gaston Leval, 1945.)
• "...the means of production remained unused in the barns of the rich, whilst the poor peasants worked the land with roman plows drawn by worn out donkeys and mules!" (From : "Collectives in Spain," by Gaston Leval, 1945.)
• "The methodical police terror, the [Bolshevik] Party's tightening grip upon the whole of social life, the systematic annihilation of all non-Bolshevik currents, the no less systematic extermination of all revolutionaries who thought along lines different from those of the new masters, and indeed the eradication of every hint of dissent within the Party all proved that we were on the road to a new despotism that was not merely political but also intellectual, mental and moral, reminiscent of the darkest days of the Middle Ages." (From : "Anarchists Behind Bars," by Gaston Leval, Summer,....)
Chapter 4: Distribution
As we pointed out above, we do not conceive the regional industrial organization as being based on the departmental borders or old provinces of France. The expression, “economic region”, is explicit, and supersedes any political-administrative carving up of the nation into pieces of arbitrarily defined territories. As for the role that will be played by the National Committee of an industry, it will not be that of an absolute authority; we nonetheless believe it is acceptable to depict its most general features.
The need for products obtained from or manufactured in certain territorial zones, for the entire territory of France, cannot be calculated and grasped exclusively from the local standpoint. With respect to fuels, energy, industrial food products, fabrics, paper, certain kinds of wood, plastic materials, chemical products, etc., only precise statistics on a national scale give us a valid idea of the necessary quantities and qualities of each product. How, for example, can a metal factory in Amiens, Orleáns or Grenoble be certain that it continues to manufacture what is needed, depending on the demand and the needs?
This leads us to posit, for a certain number of industries, for which we cannot provide a complete enumeration in advance, a system of production-distribution that, in our opinion, should simplify some of the problems that we need to resolve.
Let us consider the case of agricultural machinery. The peasants of Loiret, or their cooperative organizations and labor groups, could request them from one or another workshop. But what if the workshop, or factory, which we shall situate, for instance, in Orleans, cannot satisfy the demand of the peasants of Loiret? We will be told that the customers need only go to Montargis, or Vierzon. The factories in these two cities, however, may still be unable to deliver the tractors. This example could be extended to all the products of France as a whole: the result would be general disorder, shortages here, surpluses there, which would reproduce the worst aspects of capitalist chaos.
In order to prevent this, the socialized economy must, as soon as possible, organize warehouses for distribution or shipment, and it is to these warehouses that the peasants or the peasants’ organizations will go for their tractors. It is not the producers and the consumers, but the distributors and the consumers, who will be in contact with each other. It is via the channel of these distributors, to whom the tractors will be sent, that the Metal Workers Federation, and the corresponding manufacturing sections of this Federation, will be apprized of the needs that must be satisfied for different types of machinery (tractors, cultivators, mowers, spreaders, plows, rakes, sowers, etc.), because it is to them that the requests will be sent. With all the requests centralized by this multifaceted channel, the National Committee will be able to distribute the production orders to all the manufacturing centers in accordance with their respective capacities. One manufacturing center will receive an order for three thousand machines of various types; another, farther away, will be directed to produce a thousand of them, and yet another, one thousand one hundred and fifty, and all by the established deadlines. All requests, including those for duly foreseen reserve requirements, can only be satisfied in an orderly way thanks to this absolutely indispensable production-distribution organization.
The same system will apply to fabrics, canvas, dresses, and everything that concerns clothing.
Each locality will have at least one distribution center. Every retail store will be in contact with the distribution center to which it is linked.
Let us take a look at Paris and its eighty districts, each of which will have its own distribution center.
And each district, according to its size, will have fifteen, twenty, or thirty retail stores, strategically located. Each retail store will send requests once or twice a week to its supply center, specifying its sales figures and its immediate expected requirements. Specialists know, more or less, how long different fabrics will last (wool, cotton, silk, rayon, various other synthetic fabrics), depending on how much they are used. Standard variations are for the most part firmly established. Supplementary variations can be ascertained as they occur. And all the textile distribution centers in every city and town in France (there might be, depending on each case, one for every ten or fifteen towns, and one store in each town. Practice will suggest the best solutions), all the distribution centers—we maintain—will communicate all their requests to the National Federation of Textile Production to which they belong, or to its different local or regional manufacturing sections, which will transmit them to the National Committee.
The National Committee, for its part, will allocate the work assignments, always in accordance with the known production capacities of all the factories and workshops.
The same method can be applied to linens, shoes, clothing, mass-produced furniture, home appliances, etc.
Once again, however, it will be observed to what extent it will be necessary to calculate, starting now, precisely how much means of production, labor power, technical material and energy resources are available or needed.
(Chart 2: the consumption-production mechanism and its linkages)
1. Production Centers
2. Wholesale Distribution Centers
3. Retail Stores
The Production Centers (1) distribute the products that they manufacture to the Wholesale Distribution Centers (2). The latter distribute them to the Retail Stores.
The Retail Stores, in turn, send their requests to the Wholesale Distribution Centers, which transmit the statistics concerning the requested products to the Production Centers.
The Production Centers send all the requests to the National or Regional Coordination Center. The Coordination Center, depending on the industry in question and its method of organization, will allocate work orders to the various Production Centers. Manufacturing and distribution will continue, and production will increase or diminish, in accordance with current needs or existing reserves, information concerning which is also sent to the Coordination Center.
Once this schema has been generalized, it will be possible to engage in further decentralization, by way of the creation of more or less autonomous zones, when and where this is possible.(Chart omitted)
Yet again, we see just how important it is to take action immediately to elect responsible local, regional and national committees. If this is accomplished with the necessary precision and speed, we may be sure that the degree of revolutionary change will be such that a profound transformation of the social structure will take place and it will be impossible to return to the old order.
Considering the abundance and the variety of products offered for consumption, on the one hand, and the multiplication of needs, on the other, it is not possible, without ignoring economic and psychological realities, to defend the theory of free consumption, or what has commonly been called, “taking from the pile”. A way must be found to adapt consumption to the possibilities of production, one that is not an attack on individual freedom, as generalized rationing would be, regardless of its form. In our opinion the most valid way would be to use a monetary symbol. The only objection that could be raised against this symbol would be the danger of hoarding. But we have already pointed out that it is only in a society where one can make enough money to build a workshop, or an apartment building, or open up a store, that hoarding constitutes a means by which others may be exploited.
This scale of accumulation surpasses what one can earn on a basic wage. Furthermore, a certain amount of trafficking, commercial or otherwise, is necessary to achieve this result, which is inconceivable in a socialized economy. Private commerce no longer exists in the latter; to the contrary, collective distribution prevails; as for housing, it will be administered by the municipality.
Then there is production—how can you assume, if you devote the slightest thought to the matter, that in an egalitarian society there will be people who are so stupid that they would allow themselves to be exploited, voluntarily, by new bosses? And where will the latter obtain their raw materials, which society will have the right to refuse to give them?
Finally, and we could very well have begun with this point, this egalitarian society will also have the right—even if, hypothetically, some persons allow themselves to be exploited—to intervene and confiscate the means of production of those who would volunteer to serve the new exploiter.
The accumulation of money, therefore, will no longer have to be feared, and it will not even be necessary to introduce the fungible money (with an expiration date) that is advocated by the theorists of “abundance”. There will be a need to preserve the use of money—regardless of its form—for a number of years, for certain purchases. A simple bank account could also be used to solve this problem.
Thus, we are supporters of the use of money.
Only an autarchic and very primitive economy would render money unnecessary.
And even all the primitive tribes and peoples who practice exchange have some kind of money, which assumes a multitude of forms.
The money we advocate will not have the purpose of facilitating these exchanges, but to facilitate and regulate distribution. We conceive it in the following manner: let us assume that the volume of commodities for sale and reimbursed services represents, in France, according to the most precise calculations possible, ten billion francs per year.
This implies the issue of an equivalent sum of purchase coupons, distributed pro rata among individuals and families, a “wage fund” like the one that is determined annually in Russia, but which, naturally, we shall distribute in a more equitable way.
Each individual and each family will have, according to the established scales, that portion of the purchasing power that corresponds to them.
What mechanism will be used to distribute this purchasing power?
It seems to me that the municipality would be the most suitable intermediary. It would be possible, after ascertaining the number of inhabitants of each town, to send from the Issuing Institute the necessary sum of money, which would be distributed to each home and, where applicable, to each individual. We shall refrain from going into details concerning the scale that might be established based on the ages of the children. I believe it is of interest to point out that this kind of distribution, carried out by a system that would occupy a position outside of and above the different trades, professional bodies and industries, would possess the advantage of being able to forestall any attempts on the part of the workers of one professional grouping to make more money than the other workers and would be able to abolish in one stroke all the outrageous inequalities of pay that exist in capitalist society.
This distribution of purchasing power will assume a human character, rather than a professional or trade-based one. It will be truly egalitarian, and this is the real socialism.
By making their purchases in the distribution centers, the consumers will hand over the money that will be returned by these centers to the local sections of the Issuing Institute, and once this money has once again been concentrated in the Institute, the latter will once again introduce it, at the proper moment, into the limited monetary circuit that we have just described.
It will therefore be unnecessary to accumulate and invest enormous amounts of financial capital in order to carry out public works projects. It will be sufficient, thanks to the federations of industry, to bring together the necessary labor power with the technical resources, the machines, the raw materials and the energy supplied by the various industries and specialized professional bodies, whose workers will have received their annual wages, just as in all the other industries.
A general principle of economics is that every commodity or every service costs the time spent by men in its manufacture, or the totality of efforts utilized to obtain it and distribute it.
In capitalist society, we must add the profit of the entrepreneur, and that of the shareholders and the various intermediaries, that is, the “profit” of, or the interest on capital. Once this has disappeared, all that remains is labor time.
Now that labor time is reimbursed, by way of the distribution of the annual purchasing power, it will be understood—and we insist on this—that we shall need to provide the labor power, the machines, the raw materials, and the energy, but not enormous sums of money. The appeal to loans, to savings, to private capital, will no longer have any reason to exist.
It seems to us that one more clarification is in order. This involves the problem of what can be done during the transitional period with regard to the monetary question, since the outline we just sketched is only applicable to a completely socialized society.
Naturally, it will be necessary to retain the money of capitalist society for a while. Its replacement will require a quite prolonged period of adaptation. In the meantime, it will be inevitable that the usual mode of circulation will be used, while immediately limiting injustice and inequality, until the new society makes them disappear.
Those who have made their living, by way of their wages or their labor, unless they are notorious exploiters, will keep their savings. Those who have hoarded gold, as is the case with numerous peasants, some of the more fortunate wage workers, and members of the middle class, will have the opportunity to exchange this gold for the new currency when the latter is introduced. You cannot, often without committing a real injustice, just take it away from them. Nor would this be any good, because in this case the gold will still remain buried.
It could be objected that such measures will preserve, for a certain period, the inequality inherited from capitalist society. We do not deny this. There is not, however, any ideal and perfect solution, one that is applicable within twenty-four hours. It will only be possible to limit the harm inflicted by the prolonged existence of a continually reduced sphere of privileges, by means of a serious control exercised over the progress of the monetary transformations, when they are implemented.
We have mentioned distribution centers for the sale of consumer goods. Indeed, it is advisable to socialize this sector as soon as possible, in order to free it from the obstacle represented by private commerce. In France, there are at least three times as many stores and shops than are necessary and these traders, wholesalers and retailers, intermediaries of every description, have the entire nation at their mercy, and impose whatever prices they please and fleece the consumers. During periods of social upheaval and revolution, they enjoy a continuous enhancement of their fortunes, they are the masters of the situation, and they become, as in Paris during the French Revolution and the Commune, the most effective agents of the counterrevolution.
The provisioning of a city is an immense task. That is why we shall engage in an extensive discussion, in our chapter on agriculture, concerning the essential importance of the peasants’ producers’ cooperatives, and the urban consumers’ cooperatives or distribution centers of a communal or socialized nature.
If there are one hundred grocery stores in a city district, you may be sure that twenty stores, organized by the commerce employes’ trade union, together with those owners willing to join the collective effort, could advantageously replace them.
Perhaps here as well it will be necessary to posit, while the reorganization of the trade unions is taking place, a general institution that could lead us towards a definitive structure. The employes will get together and calculate the number of stores that are necessary for each district, depending on the size of the district and its population density. Technical advisers, with knowledge of demographic issues and each city’s particularities, will be able to help them complete this project.
What we are saying about the grocery stores also applies to butchers shops, dairy products, haberdashery, hardware, etc.
In small cities, many of these products can be sold in stores with many branch outlets. These various solutions could even be applied in big cities, such as the employment of stores with many outlets. These solutions will be perfected in accordance with circumstances, and the preferences of the buyers. We cannot provide in advance a detailed plan for all sectors, without indulging in fiction.
One could also foresee (others have done so before us) communal stores for distribution, especially in rural areas, for the sale of the numerous articles (groceries, household goods, stationery, etc.) that derive from multiple sources, and whose sales of small quantities are not of such an importance as to require detailed accounting to assure the mechanism of input and output, consumption-production-consumption, even one as simple as the one we outlined above. The “industrial concentration” which is just as necessary in numerous areas as decentralization is in others, will certainly facilitate this process of adjustment. In all such cases, however, distribution will be an autonomous and local function.
The same distribution cooperatives, linked with this social function and acting jointly in all aspects of economic life, will no longer possess their current character. They will become collective stores for distribution in the service of the entire population. In any event, whether you call them cooperatives, communal stores, distribution centers, the name does not matter. What is important is the institution itself, which must be studied in advance and in detail, in order to be capable of organizing it when the time comes.
There will undoubtedly be, for a certain time, individual traders, but these must be compelled, under the penalty of severe sanctions, to sell at prices fixed by the price commission, which will be composed of producers, distributors and consumers. In this way even the provisionally tolerated private merchants will be, for all practical purposes, socialized.
Will rationing be necessary?
There can be no question that the difficulties of the first days of the change will make rationing necessary for some products. Perhaps one or another agricultural region will refuse to send its food products; perhaps certain colonial commodities would be unavailable for a certain period. In such cases, rationing cards will be issued. It is of great importance that the technical personnel who support the revolution should plan in advance with regard to the means to maintain international trade at as high a level as possible. It is also of great importance to plan in advance with regard to the difficulties that could be posed by the various regions that are the sources of provisions for the cities. This is why, we must repeat, the cooperative bond between the cities and the countryside is of such major importance. This is why the urban workers must prepare the intellectual, psychological and material foundations for fraternal contacts with the workers of the rural areas.
From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org
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