Libertarian Socialism: A Practical Outline : Chapter 7: Maintaining Productivity

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(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,....)


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Chapter 7: Maintaining Productivity


It is particularly at the industrial workers that the following verities are directed. We are aware of the fact that they were not first enunciated by a revolutionary, and that we run the risk, by publishing these words, of being misunderstood and condemned. But every responsible man does his duty, regardless of the incomprehension with which he may be met. It is better to be stoned by the mob than to lie.

For the immense majority, if not all, of the revolutionary workers, the expropriation of the employers and the capitalists must entail an immediate and major improvement of their condition. Based on what they have been told about the critique of capitalism, they have deduced that the owners, the stockholders and other exploiters, direct or indirect, pocket half if not more of the value of production. Therefore—they think—it would be possible, without any harm, once the factories and workshops have been occupied, to reduce the working hours by a similar proportion. Economic life would still be assured of continuing.

Such a belief and the attitude that derives from it would rapidly lead the revolution to bankruptcy. A superficial or militant critique of capitalism falsifies the problems that we face and, as a result, also falsifies the necessary solutions.

In the first place, in economics, it is not the distribution of monetary symbols, or of financial resources, that is the most important aspect, but the importance, in terms of quantity and quality, of the products, goods and services placed at the disposal of society. Whether the economy is capitalist or socialist, if it consumes eighty-five million quintals of wheat per year, it will be necessary to continue to supply the population with eighty-five million quintals of wheat.[12] If nineteen million tons of steel are produced we will also have to continue to supply the same amount each year. If, let us assume, that each year, one hundred million pairs of shoes are manufactured, or an average of three hundred thousand homes are built, this rate will have to be maintained. To reduce it to half, or a quarter or a third of its former amount would be to condemn the population to unendurable privations.

It is patently obvious. Far from relaxing their efforts, most workers in industry will have to, as soon as possible, tend to increase them, since whereas the privileged, having become ordinary citizens, will consume less after a revolution, a much larger number of people will consume more. Among the masses of badly paid wage workers and the peasants who live in poverty in the regions that are not favored by nature, millions of people, men, women and children, will logically want to raise their standard of living. Therefore, generally, and for quite a long period of time, there will be no question of reducing labor time, or of placing limitations on each person’s working time, after the revolution.

We think it is necessary to support this claim with various proofs. The Annual Statistical Abstract of France, in its 1957 edition, provides a chart showing the distribution of the national income. In this chart the main categories which are of special interest to us, were the following (as measured in 1957 francs):

Wage workers 8,460,000,000.00

Profits of farmers and other individual enterprises 4,033,000,000.00

Profits from capital investments 674,000,000.00

Non-distributed corporate profits 958,000,000.00

Let us suppose, which is far from being true, that all the profits from investments can be classified in the net profits of capitalist corporations, and that the non-distributed profits are not employed to improve the technical side of the labor process (replacement of machinery, new buildings, etc.), we would have a total of one billion six hundred thirty-two billion francs of capitalist profits and eight billion four hundred sixty billion in direct and indirect wages. Thus, calculated in monetary terms, and reckoning on the basis of the total capitalist profit, the latter is less than one fifth of the total income of the wage workers.

It is true that two million of the latter are paid by the state. This does not prevent us from falling far short of the fifty percent pocketed by capital, which so many workers imagine to be the case.

In reality, a return of five, six or seven percent on capital invested is normal. Ten percent is very good business. Fifteen percent is exceptional. If we calculate, as has all too often been done, in accordance with the financial distribution, this means that where there is a profit rate of—let us suppose—seven percent, one hour less work per day, which out of a day of eight hours would represent a 12.5 percent reduction of labor time, this would already imply a serious economic deficit. If we were to add a reduction in labor intensity of ten or twenty percent, this would soon lead to catastrophe. Not to speak of fifty percent….

The sums obtained in the form of profit by capitalism are enormous, above all, because they are distributed among a minority of people. Were these profits to be distributed among the masses of the wage workers, they would be minuscule. The Renault management has distributed, for the year 1958, one billion francs in profits to its workers and employes. Had this sum been divided between a hundred major stockholders, it would have amounted to ten million francs for each stockholder. Distributed among sixty thousand workers, this number is reduced to sixteen thousand six hundred sixty six francs for each worker.[13] It is clear that, in such conditions, all that is needed is a slight drop in production for even a capitalist enterprise to prevail over a non-capitalist enterprise.

The author of these lines has worked at a press where the monthly profits were, on average—in the year 1955—seventy thousand francs per wage worker. The owner of the press has two luxury cars and chalets. The general feeling among the workers was that, if his profits were to be distributed among the workers, their situation would be much improved. I made the following calculation: let us assume that the owner makes one million francs per month in profit, that is, twelve million per year, and that these twelve millions were to be shared out among the three hundred twenty wage workers of the press. This would mean that each worker would receive an extra thirty-seven thousand francs per year. Even if this amount is doubled—and we were to assume that the owner makes two million francs per month—this would not make very much difference with regard to the situation. The capitalist “profit”, which has become the monstrous target of our attacks, is therefore not the main reason for our struggle against the capitalist system, which involves a complete conception of social organization and its methods, and this goes far beyond merely re-distributing the capitalist profit.

We shall add one more demonstration. Currently, in every capitalist country, when the government, fearing a crisis of overproduction, wants to retard or prevent this phenomenon, it raises the interest rate on money. If the banks loan money to other businesses at a three or four percent interest rate, all the government has to do is impose a five or six percent interest rate—or often, even lower rates—in order to cause numerous businesses to stop borrowing, investing and expanding their production.

This means that a reduction of profits on the order of one, two, or three percent is normally sufficient in France, England, the Scandinavian countries, the United States, Germany, and Italy, to halt industrial expansion.

All of these facts thus confirm that a marginal deficit of ten percent, or more precisely, a fall of ten percent in profits, would engender a shortage of products, or of services, together with the harmful consequences that can be expected. It is therefore false, the worst falsehood, to maintain that labor time, or labor intensity can be reduced without harm. What is more, the number of producers should be increased, by introducing into the production process men who had previously not been producers. But anyone who is really acquainted with work knows that we cannot entrust, all at once and without any training, machinery to people who are not accustomed to using it. Furthermore, it is by no means certain—and this is why we examine intermediate solutions—that we can, once and for all, and at one stroke, eliminate all parasites and parasitism.

Let us engage in one last reflection that will allow us, we believe, to obtain a better understanding of the importance of this question. Those who have followed the progress of the partial attempts at emancipation carried out by enterprising elements of the proletariat are not unaware of the fact that numerous communities and numerous production cooperatives have failed. All kinds of explanations have been offered to account for this fact, and it is undoubtedly the case that all of them were at least partially valid. But the point we just discussed has always, or almost always, been forgotten: the impact of the belief that it was possible to reduce the expenditure of labor in production, without any risk of incurring a deficit. So it may have been possible, once the project was operational, to reduce the labor time by ten percent. But not twenty, not even fifteen; for in that case, you would not be able to compete with the capitalist enterprises.

Quite often the attitude of the participants was: if it was necessary to work as much in a cooperative as in the boss’s workshop, they had the impression that they worked more in the cooperative, precisely due to the contrast between their expectations and reality.

Any serious preparation for running the economy must take these facts, whose importance is essential, into account. The revolution is not justified solely by the suppression of the capitalist profit, as we said above. It is not even justified solely by the abolition of the exploitation of man by man. The origins of economic waste and inefficiency, which weigh so heavily on our lives and chain us to a futile servitude, are innumerable. Just the standing armies and bureaucracies of the states are worth more than capitalism itself. A large number of luxury industries, invented by the privileged, and by the snobbery of the leisured classes, who do not know what to do with their money, a multitude of new “needs” wholly created by artificial means, all these factors deprive production of what it needs: capital, work and workers, energy, and raw materials, which could be used to raise the standard of living of so many workers and peasants.

To take only the costs of advertising, incurred to convince people to buy something that they quite often do not need: these costs have risen, in France, in the year 1958, to one hundred fifteen billion francs; in 1959, in England, advertising costs amounted to three hundred eighty-four billion francs, and four trillion three hundred seventy-five billion francs in the United States. If all this wasted money, or what it represents in economic value, had been employed to assist the underdeveloped countries, how many lives would have been saved! But it is the fatal law of the capitalist system to produce and to squander without pause.

Why do we need to construct luxury cars or luxury furniture? A few car models should suffice, and comfortable furniture will be much more abundant if the satisfaction of the needs of all is made the first priority.

Labor power, raw materials, and energy are squandered for artificial needs that also distort customs, even those of the proletarians as their standard of living is rising. And consider also all the extras that are inherent in this society: the theft practiced in trade and by middlemen (who are much too numerous, as we pointed out above), and parasitic professions of every type: all of these things taken as a whole, are what has to disappear, it is all of this that we must attack. But before we establish a real social order, and while these necessary transformations are taking place, the rate of productivity must be maintained, under penalty of failure and a return to the exploitation of man by man, and to the ruinous disorder of capitalism and the state.

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November 30, 1958 :
Chapter 7: Maintaining Productivity -- Publication.

July 13, 2019 17:59:32 :
Chapter 7: Maintaining Productivity -- Added to


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