Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis

Ludwig von Mises
Mises, Ludwig von
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J. Kahane, trans.
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Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, Inc.
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Foreword by Friedrich A. Hayek not available online
17 of 47


The Position of the Individual Under Socialism

1 Selection of Personnel and Choice of Occupation


The Socialist Community is a great authoritarian association in which orders are issued and obeyed. This is what is implied by the words "planned economy" and the "abolition of the anarchy of production." The inner structure of a socialist community is best understood if we compare it with the inner structure of an army. Many socialists indeed prefer to speak of the "army of labour." As in an army, so under Socialism, everything depends on the orders of the supreme authority. Everyone has a place to which he is appointed. Everyone has to remain in his place until he is moved to another. It follows that men become pawns of official action. They rise only when they are promoted. They sink only when they are degraded. It would be waste of time to describe such conditions. They are the common knowledge of every citizen of a bureaucratic state.


It is obvious that, in a state of this sort, all appointments should be based upon personal capacity. Each position should be held by the individual best fitted to hold it—always provided that he is not required for more important work elsewhere. Such is the fundamental principle of all systematically ordered authoritarian organizations—of the Chinese Mandarinate equally with modern bureaucracies.


In giving effect to this principle the first problem that arises is the appointment of the supreme authority. There are two ways to the solution of this problem, the oligarchical-monarchical and the democratic, but there can be only one solution—the charismatic solution. The supreme rulers (or ruler) are chosen in virtue of the grace with which they are endowed by divine dispensation. They have superhuman powers and capacities lifting them above the other mortals. To resist them is not only to resist the powers that be; it is to defy the commandments of the Deity. Such is the basis of theocracies—of clerical aristocracies of realms of "the Lord's anointed." But it is equally the basis of the Bolshevist dictatorship in Russia. Summoned by history to the performance of their sublime task, the Bolsheviks pose as the representatives of humanity, as the tools of necessity, as the consummators of the great scheme of things. Resistance to them is the greatest of all crimes. But against their adversaries they may resort to any expedients. It is the old aristocratic-theocratic idea in a new form.


Democracy is the other method of solving the problem. Democracy places everything in the hands of the majority. At its head is a ruler, or rulers, chosen by a majority decision. But the basis of this is as charismatic as any other. Only in this case grace is regarded as being granted in equal proportions to all and sundry. Everyone is endowed with it. The voice of the people is the voice of God. This is to be seen especially clearly in Tommaso Campanella's City of the Sun. The Regent chosen by the national assembly is also priest and his name is "Hoh," that means "metaphysics."*74 In authoritarian ideology, democracy is valued not for its social functions, but only as a means for the ascertainment of the absolute.*75


According to charismatic theory, in appointing officials the supreme authority transmits to them the grace it possesses itself. An official appointment raises ordinary mortals above the level of the masses. They count for more than others. When on duty their status is especially enhanced. No doubt of their capacity, or of their fitness for office, is permissible. Office makes the man.


Apart from their polemical value, all these theories are purely formal. They do not tell us anything about how such appointments actually work. They are indifferent to origins. They do not inquire whether the dynasties and the aristocracies concerned attained to power by the chance of war. They give no idea of the mechanism of the party system which brings the leaders of a democracy to the helm. They tell nothing of the actual machinery for selecting officials.


But since only an omniscient ruler could do without them, special arrangements for the appointment of the officials must be made. Since the supreme authority cannot do everything, appointment to lesser positions at least must be left to subordinate authorities. To prevent this power from degenerating into mere license, it must be hedged about by regulations. In this way selection comes to be based not on genuine capacity but on compliance with certain forms, the passing of certain examinations, attendance at certain schools, having spent a certain number of years in a subordinate position, and so on. Of the shortcomings of such methods there can be only one opinion. The successful conduct of business demands qualities quite other than those necessary for passing examinations—even if the examinations deal with subjects bearing on the work of the position in question. A man who has spent a certain time in a subordinate capacity is far from being, for that reason, fitted for a higher post. It is not true that one learns to command by first learning to obey. Age is no substitute for personal capacity. In short, the system is deficient. Its only justification is that nothing better is known to put in its place.


Attempts have recently been made to invoke the aid of experimental psychology and physiology, and many promise therefrom results of the highest importance to Socialism. There can be no doubt that under Socialism, something corresponding to medical examination for military service would have to be employed on a larger scale and with more refined methods. Those who feigned bodily deformities to escape difficult and uncongenial work would have to be examined, as would those who attempted work for which they were not properly developed. But the warmest advocates of such methods could scarcely pretend that they could do more than impose a very loose curb upon the grossest abuses of officialdom. For all those kinds of work demanding something more than mere muscular strength and a good development of particular senses they are not applicable at all.

2 Art and Literature, Science and Journalism


Socialist society is a society of officials. The way of living prevailing in it, and the mode of thinking of its members, are determined by this fact. People who are always expecting promotion, people who had always a "chief" on whom they depend, people who, because they receive a fixed salary, never understand the connection between production and their own consumption—the last ten years has witnessed the rise of this type everywhere in Europe. It is in Germany, however, where it is especially at home. The whole psychology of our time derives from it.


Socialism knows no freedom of choice in occupation. Everyone has to do what he is told to do and to go where he is sent. Anything else is unthinkable. We shall discuss later and in another connection how this will affect the productivity of labour. Here we have to discuss the position of art and science, literature and the press under such conditions.


Under Bolshevism in Russia and Hungary, the artists, scientists and writers, who were recognized as such by the selectors appointed for this purpose, were exempted from the general obligation to work and given a definite salary. All such as were not recognized remained subject to the general obligation to work and received no support for other activity. The press was nationalized.


This is the simplest solution of the problem, and one which harmonizes completely with the general structure of socialist society. Officialdom is extended to the sphere of the spirit. Those who do not please the holders of power are not allowed to paint or to sculpt or to conduct an orchestra. Their works are not printed or performed. And if the decision does not depend directly upon the free judgment of the economic administration but is referred to the advice of an expert council the case is not materially altered. On the contrary, expert councils, which are inevitably composed of the old and the established, must be admitted to be even less competent than laymen to assist the rise of young talent with different views and perhaps greater mastery than their own. Even if the choice were referred to the whole nation the rise of independent spirits setting themselves against traditional technique and accepted opinions would not be facilitated. Such methods can only foster a race of epigones.


In Cabet's Icaria, only such books which please the republic are to be printed (les ouvrages préférés [the preferred or favored works]). Writings of pre-socialistic times are to be examined by the Republic. Those which are partially useful are to be revised. Those which are regarded as dangerous or useless are to be burnt. The objection, that this would be to do what Omar did by burning the Alexandrian Library, Cabet held to be quite untenable. For, said he, "nous faisons en faveur de l'humanité ce que ces oppresseurs faisaient contre elle. Nous avons fait du feu pour brûler les méchants livres, tandis que des brigands ou des fanatiques allumaient les bûchers pour brûler d'innocents hérétiques." ("We do on behalf of society what oppressors do against it. We make fires to burn the evil books, while the brigands or fanatics light fires to burn innocent heretics at the stake.")*76 From a point of view such as this, solution of the problem of toleration is impossible. Mere opportunists excepted, everyone is convinced of the rightness of his opinions. But, if such a conviction by itself were a justification for intolerance, then everyone would have a right to coerce and persecute everyone else of another way of thinking.*77 In these circumstances, the demand for toleration can only be a prerogative of the weak. With power comes the exercise of intolerance. In such a case there must always be war and enmity between men. Peaceful co-operation is out of the question. It is because it desires peace that Liberalism demands toleration for all opinions.


Under Capitalism the artist and the scientist have many alternatives open to them. If they are rich they can follow their own inclinations. They can seek out rich patrons. They can work as public officials. They can attempt to live on the sale of their creative work. Each of these alternatives has its dangers, in particular the two latter. It may well be that he who gives new values to mankind, or who is capable of so giving, suffers want and poverty. But there is no way to prevent this effectively. The creative spirit innovates necessarily. It must press forward. It must destroy the old and set the new in its place. It could not conceivably be relieved of this burden. If it were it would cease to be a pioneer. Progress cannot be organized.*78 It is not difficult to ensure that the genius who has completed his work shall be crowned with laurel; that his mortal remains shall be laid in a grave of honour and monuments erected to his memory. But it is impossible to smooth the way that he must tread if he is to fulfil his destiny. Society can do nothing to aid progress. If it does not load the individual with quite unbreakable chains, if it does not surround the prison in which it encloses him with quite unsurmountable walls, it has done all that can be expected of it. Genius will soon find a way to win its own freedom.


The nationalization of intellectual life, which must be attempted under Socialism, must make all intellectual progress impossible. It is possible to deceive oneself about this because, in Russia, new kinds of art have become the fashion. But the authors of these innovations were already working, when the Soviet came into power. They sided with it because, not having been recognized hitherto, they entertained hopes of recognition from the new regime. The great question, however, is whether later innovators will be able to oust them from the position they have now gained.


In Bebel's Utopia only physical labour is recognized by society. Art and science are relegated to leisure hours. In this way, thinks Bebel, the society of the future "will possess scientists and artists of all kinds in countless numbers." These, according to their several inclinations, will pursue their studies and their arts in their spare time.*79 Thus Bebel allows himself to be swayed by the manual labourer's philistine resentment against all those who are not hewers of wood and drawers of water. All mental work he regards as mere dilettantism, as can be seen from the fact that he groups it with "social intercourse."*80 But nevertheless we must inquire whether under these conditions the mind would be able to create that freedom without which it cannot exist.


Obviously all artistic and scientific work which demands time, travel, technical education and great material expenditure, would be quite out of the question. But we will assume that it is possible to devote oneself to writing or to music, after the day's work is done. We will assume further that such activities will not be hindered by malicious intervention on the part of the economic administration—by transferring unpopular authors to remote localities, for instance—so that with the aid perhaps of devoted friends, an author or a composer is able to save enough to pay the fee demanded by the state printing works for the publication of a small edition. In this way he may even succeed in bringing out a little independent periodical—perhaps even in procuring a theatrical production.*81 But all this would have to overcome the overwhelming competition of the officially supported arts, and the economic administration could at any time suppress it. For we must not forget that as one could not ascertain the cost of printing, the economic administration would be free to decide the business conditions under which publication could take place. No censor, no emperor, no pope, has ever possessed the power to suppress intellectual freedom which would be possessed by a socialist community.

3 Personal Liberty


It is customary to describe the position of the individual under Socialism by saying that he would be unfree, that the socialist community would be a "prison state." This expression contains a judgment of value which, as such, lies outside the sphere of scientific thought. Science cannot decide whether freedom is a good or an evil or a mere matter of indifference. It can only inquire wherein freedom consists and where freedom resides.


Freedom is a sociological concept. It is meaningless to apply it to conditions outside society: as can be well seen from the confusions prevailing everywhere in the celebrated free-will controversy. The life of man depends upon natural conditions that he has no power to alter. He lives and dies under these conditions and, because they are not subject to his will, he must subordinate himself to them. Everything he does is subject to them. If he throws a stone it follows a course conditioned by nature. If he eats and drinks the processes within his body are similarly determined. We attempt to exhibit this dependence of the process of events upon definite and permanent functional relationship, by the idea of the conformity of all natural occurrences to unerring and unchangeable laws. These laws dominate man's life; he is completely circumscribed by them. His will and his actions are only conceivable as taking place within their limits. Against nature and within nature there is no freedom.


Social life, too, is a part of nature and, within it, unalterable laws of nature hold their sway. Action, and the results of action, are conditioned by these laws. If, with the origin of action in will, and its working out in societies, we associate an idea of freedom, this is not because we conceive that such action takes place independently of natural laws: the meaning of this concept of freedom is quite different.


It is not here a question of the problem of internal freedom. It is the problem of external freedom with which we are concerned. The former is a problem of the origin of willing, the latter of the working out of action. Every man is dependent upon the attitude of his fellow men. He is affected by their actions in a multitude of ways. If he has to suffer them to treat him as if he had no will of his own, if he cannot prevent them from riding roughshod over his wishes, he must feel a one-sided dependence upon them and will say that he is unfree. If he is weaker, he must accommodate himself to coercion by them.


Under the social relations that arise from co-operation in common work this one-sided dependence becomes reciprocal. In so far as each individual acts as a member of society he is obliged to adapt himself to the will of his fellows. In this way no one depends more upon others than others depend upon him. This is what we understand by external freedom. It is a disposition of individuals within the framework of social necessity involving, on the one side, limitation of the freedom of the individual in relation to others, and, on the other, limitation of the freedom of others in relation to him.


An example should make this clear. Under Capitalism the employer appears to have great power over the employee. Whether he engages a man, how he employs him, what wages he gives him, whether he dismisses him—all depend upon his decision. But this freedom on his part and the corresponding unfreedom of the other are only apparent. The conduct of the employer to the employee is part of a social process. If he does not deal with the employee in a manner appropriate to the social valuation of the employee's service, then there arise consequences which he himself has to bear. He can, indeed, deal badly with the employee, but he himself must pay the costs of his arbitrary behaviour. To this extent therefore the employee is dependent upon him. But this dependence is not greater than the dependence of each one of us upon our neighbour. For even in a state where the laws are enforced everybody of course who is willing to bear the consequences of his action, is free to break our windows or do us bodily harm.


Strictly speaking, of course, on this view there can be no social action which is entirely arbitrary. Even the oriental despot, who to all appearances is free to do what he likes with the life of the enemy he captures, must consider the results of his action. But there are differences of degree in the way in which the costs of arbitrary action are related to the satisfactions arising therefrom. No laws can afford us protection against the assaults of men whose enmity is such that they are willing to bear all the consequences of their action. But if the laws are sufficiently severe to ensure that, as a general rule, our peace is not disturbed, then we feel ourselves independent of the evil intentions of our fellows, at any rate to a certain extent. The historical relaxation of the penal laws is to be attributed, not to an amelioration of morals, or to decadence on the part of legislators, but simply to the fact that so far as men have learnt to check resentment by considering the consequences of action it has been possible to abate the severity of punishments without weakening their deterrent power. To-day the menace of a short term of imprisonment is more effective protection against crimes against the person than the gallows were at one time.


There is no place for the arbitrary, where exact money reckoning enables us completely to calculate action. If we allow ourselves to be carried away by the current laments over the stony-heartedness of an age which reckons everything in terms of shillings and pence, we overlook that it is precisely this linking up of action with considerations of money profit which is society's most effective means of limiting arbitrary action. It is precisely arrangements of this kind which make the consumer, on the one hand, the employer, the capitalist, the landowner and the worker on the other—in short, all concerned in producing for demands other than their own—dependent upon social cooperation. Only complete failure to understand this reciprocity of relationship can lead anyone to ask whether the debtor is dependent on the creditor, or the creditor on the debtor. In fact, each is dependent on the other, and the relationship between buyer and seller, employer and employee, is of the same nature. It is customary to complain that, nowadays, personal considerations are banished from business life and that money. rules everything. But what really is here complained of is simply that, in that department of activity which we call purely economic, whims and favours are banished and only those considerations are valid which social co-operation demands.


This, then, is freedom in the external life of man—that he is independent of the arbitrary power of his fellows. Such freedom is no natural right. It did not exist under primitive conditions. It arose in the process of social development and its final completion is the work of mature Capitalism. The man of pre-capitalistic days was subject to a "gracious lord" whose favour he had to acquire. Capitalism recognizes no such relation. It no longer divides society into despotic rulers and rightless serfs. All relations are material and impersonal, calculable and capable of substitution. With capitalistic money calculations freedom descends from the sphere of dreams to reality.


When men have gained freedom in purely economic relationships they begin to desire it elsewhere. Hand in hand with the development of Capitalism, therefore, go attempts to expel from the State all arbitrariness and all personal dependence. To obtain legal recognition of the subjective rights of citizens, to limit the arbitrary action of officials to the narrowest possible field—this is the aim and object of the liberal movement. It demands not grace but rights. And it recognizes from the outset that there is no other way of realizing this demand than by the most rigid suppressing of the powers of the State over the individual. Freedom, in its view, is freedom from the State.


For the State—the coercive apparatus worked by the persons forming the government—is scathless to freedom only when its actions have to conform to certain clear, unequivocal, universal norms, or when they obey the principles governing all work for profit. The former is the case when it functions judicially; for the judge is bound by laws allowing small play for personal opinion. The latter is the case when under Capitalism the State functions as an entrepreneur working under the same conditions and subject to the same principles as other entrepreneurs working for a profit. What it does beyond this can neither be determined by law or in any other way limited sufficiently to guard against arbitrary action. The individual then has no defence against the decision of officials. He cannot calculate what consequences his actions will have because he cannot tell how they will be regarded by those on whom he depends. This is the negation of freedom.


It is customary to regard the problem of external freedom as a problem of the greater or less dependence of the individual upon society.*82 But political freedom is not the whole of freedom. In order that a man may be free it is not sufficient that he may do anything unharmful to others without hindrance from the government or from the repressive power of custom. He must also be in the position to act without fearing unforeseen social consequences. Only Capitalism guarantees this freedom by explicitly referring all reciprocal relations to the cold impersonal principle of exchange du ut des (I give as you give, or colloquially, give and take).


Socialists usually attempt to refute the argument for freedom by contending that under Capitalism only the possessor is free. The proletarian is unfree because he must work for his livelihood. It is impossible to imagine a cruder conception of freedom. That man must work, because his desire to consume is greater than that of the beasts of the field, is part of the nature of things. That the possessor is able to live without conforming to this rule is a gain derived from the existence of society which injures no one—not even the possessionless. And the possessionless themselves benefit from the existence of society, in that co-operation makes labour more productive. Socialism could only lessen the dependence of the individual upon natural conditions by increasing this productivity. If it cannot do that, if on the contrary it diminishes productivity, then it will diminish freedom.

Notes for this chapter

Georg Adler, Geschichte des Sozialismus und Kommunismus (Leipzig, 1899), pp. 185 ff.
On the social-dynamic functions of democracy see p. 60 of Socialism.
Cabet, Voyage en Icarie (Paris, 1848), p. 127.
Luther urged the Princes of his party not to tolerate the monastic system and the Mass. According to him it would be irrelevant to answer that, as the Emperor Charles was convinced that the Papist doctrine was true, he would act justly, from his point of view, in destroying the Lutheran teachings as heresy. For we know "that he is not certain of this, nor can he be certain, because we know that he errs and fights against the Gospels. For it is not our duty to believe that he is certain, because he goes without God's Word and we go with God's Word; rather it is his duty to recognize God's Word and to advance it, like us, with all his power." Dr. Martin Luther's Briefe, Sendschreiben und Bedenken, ed. de Wette, Part IV (Berlin, 1827), pp. 93 ff.; Paulus, Protestantismus und Toleranz im 16. Jahrhundert (Freiburg, 1911), p. 23.
"It is misleading to say: Progress should be organized. What is really productive cannot be put into forms made in advance; it flourishes only in unrestricted freedom. The followers may then organize themselves, which is also called 'forming a school'." Spranger, Begabung und Studium (Leipzig, 1917), p. 8. See also Mill, On Liberty, 3rd ed. (London, 1864), pp. 114 ff.
Bebel, Die Frau und der Sozialismus, p. 284. Publisher's Note: p. 395 in the English edition. See Index to Works Cited for complete citation.
How Bebel pictured to himself life in a socialist community is shown by the following: "Here she (Woman) is active under the same conditions as the man. At one moment a practical worker in some industry she is in the next hour educator, teacher, nurse; in the third part of the day she exercises some art or cultivates a science; and in the fourth part she fulfils some administrative function. She enjoys studies, pleasures and amusement with her like or with men, just as she wishes and as the opportunity offers. In love choice she is free and unfettered like the man. She woos or lets herself be wooed, etc." (Bebel, op. cit., p. 342). Publisher's Note: pp. 466-467 in English edition.
This corresponds to Bellamy's ideas. (Ein Rückblick, translated by Hoops in Meyers Volksbücher, pp. 230 ff.) Publisher's Note: In English, Looking Backward: If Socialism Comes, 2000-1887 (Boston, 1889); chapter 15; and (W. Foulsham, London), pp. 92-99.
Similarly formulated by J. S. Mill, On Liberty, p. 7.

End of Notes

18 of 47


Socialism Under Dynamic Conditions

1 The Nature of the Dynamic Forces


The idea of a stationary state is an aid to theoretical speculation. In the world of reality there is no stationary state, for the conditions under which economic activity takes place are subject to perpetual alterations which it is beyond human capacity to limit.


The influences which maintain this perpetual change in the economic system can be grouped into six great classes. First and foremost come changes in external Nature. Under this heading must be classified not only all those changes in climate and other specifically natural conditions which take place independent of human actions, but also changes arising from operations carried out within these conditions, such as exhaustion of the soil, or consumption of standing timber or mineral deposits. Secondly come changes in the quantity and quality of the population, then changes in the quantity and quality of capital goods, then changes in the technique of production, then changes in the organization of labour, and finally changes in demand.*83


Of all these causes of change the first is the most fundamentally important. For the sake of argument let us assume that a socialist community might be able so to regulate the growth of population and demand for commodities as to avert danger to the economic equilibrium from these factors. Were that so, there are other causes of change that could be avoided. But the socialist community would never be able to influence the natural conditions of economic activity. Nature does not adapt itself to man. Man must adapt himself to Nature. Even the socialist community will have to reckon with changes in external nature; it will have to take account of the consequences of elemental disturbances. It will have to take account of the fact that the natural powers and resources at its disposal are not inexhaustible. Disturbances from without will intrude on its peaceful running. No more than Capitalism will it be able to remain stationary.

2 Changes in Population


For the naive socialist there is quite enough in the world to make everybody happy and contented. The dearth of goods is only the result of a perverse social order which, on the one hand limits the extension of productive powers, and on the other, by unequal distribution, lets too much go to the rich and thus too little to the poor.*84


The Malthusian Law of Population and the Law of Diminishing Returns put an end to these illusions. Ceteris Paribus the increase of population beyond a certain point is not accompanied by a proportional increase of wealth: if this point is passed, production per head diminishes. The question whether at any given time production has reached this point is a question of fact which must not be confused with the question of general principle.


In the light of this knowledge, socialists have adopted various attitudes. Some have simply rejected it. During the whole of the nineteenth century scarcely any author was so vigorously attacked as Malthus. The writings of Marx, Engels, Dühring, and many others, bristle with abuse of "parson" Malthus.*85 But they do not refute him. Today, discussion of the Law of Population may be regarded as closed. The Law of Diminishing Returns is not contested nowadays; it is therefore not necessary to deal with those authors who either deny the doctrine or ignore it.


Other socialists imagine that it is possible to undermine such considerations by pointing to the unprecedented increase in productivity which will take place once the means of production are socialized. It is not necessary at this point to discuss whether in fact such an increase would take place; for even granted that it would, this would not alter the fact that at any given time there is a definite optimal size of population beyond which any increase in numbers must diminish production per head. If it is desired to deny the effectiveness of the Laws of Population and Diminishing Returns under Socialism, then it must be proved that every child born into the world beyond the existing optimum will at the same time bring with it so great an increase of productivity that production per head will not be diminished by its coming.


A third group of writers content themselves with the reflection that with the spread of civilization and rational living, with the increase of wealth and the desire for a higher standard of life, the growth of population is slackening. But this is to overlook the fact that the birth-rate does not fall because the standard of life is higher but only because of "moral restraint," and that the incentive to the individual to refrain from procreation disappears the moment it is possible to have a family without economic sacrifice because the children are maintained by society. This is fundamentally the same error that entrapped Godwin when he thought that there was "a principle in human society" which kept the population permanently within the limits set by the means of subsistence. Malthus exhibited the nature of this mysterious "principle."*86


Without coercive regulation of the growth of population, a socialist community is inconceivable. A socialist community must be in a position to prevent the size of the population from mounting above or falling below certain definite limits. It must attempt to maintain the population always at that optimal number which allows the maximum production per head. Equally with any other order of society it must regard both under- and over-population as an evil. And since in it those motives, which in a society based on private ownership of the means of production harmonize the number of births with the limitations of the means of subsistence, would not exist, it will be obliged to regulate the matter itself. How it will accomplish this need not be here discussed. Nor is it relevant to our purpose to inquire whether its measures will serve eugenic or ethnological ideas. But it is certain that even if a socialist community may bring "free love," it can in no way bring free birth. The right to existence of every person born can be said to exist only when undesirable births can be prevented. In the socialist community as in any other, there will be those for whom "at the great banquet of Nature no place has been laid" and to whom the order must be given to withdraw themselves as soon as may be. No indignation that these words of Malthus may arouse can alter this fact.

3 Changes in Demand


It follows from the principles which the socialist community must necessarily observe in the distribution of consumption goods, that alterations of demand cannot be allowed free play. If economic calculation and therewith even an approximate ascertainment of the costs of production were possible, then within the limits of the total consumption-units assigned to him, each individual citizen could be allowed to demand what he liked; each would choose what was agreeable to him. It would indeed be possible that as a result of malicious intent on the part of the directors of production certain commodities might be priced higher than they need be. Either they might be made to bear too high a proportion of overhead costs, or they might be made dearer by uneconomic methods of production; and the citizens who suffered would have no defence, except political agitation, against the government. So long as they remained in the minority they themselves would not be able either to rectify the accounts or to improve the methods of production. But at any rate the fact that at least the greater number of the factors concerned could be measured and that, as a result of this, the whole question could be relatively clearly put, would be some support for their point of view.


Since, under Socialism, no such calculations are possible, all such questions of demand must necessarily be left to the government. The citizens as a whole will have the same influence on them as on other acts of government. The individual will exercise this influence only in so far as he contributes to the general will. The minority will have to bow to the will of the majority. The system of proportional representation, which by its very nature is suitable only for elections and can never be used for decisions with regard to particular acts, will not protect them.


The general will, i.e. the will of those who happen to be in power, will take over those functions which in a free economic system are discharged by demand. Not individuals but the government would decide which needs are the most urgent and must therefore be satisfied first.


For this reason demand will be much more uniform, much less changeable than under Capitalism. The forces which under Capitalism are continually bringing about alterations in demand will be lacking under Socialism. How will innovations, ideas deviating from those traditionally accepted, obtain recognition? How will innovators succeed in getting inert masses out of the rut? Will the majority be willing to forsake the well beloved customs of their forefathers for something better, which is yet unknown to them? Under Capitalism where each individual within the limits of his means can decide what he is to consume, it is sufficient for one individual, or a few, to be brought to recognize that the new methods satisfy their needs better than the old. Others will gradually follow their example. This progressive adoption of new modes of satisfaction is especially facilitated by the fact that incomes are not equal. The rich adopt novelties and become accustomed to their use. This sets a fashion which others imitate. Once the richer classes have adopted a certain way of living, producers have an incentive to improve the methods of manufacture so that soon it is possible for the poorer classes to follow suit. Thus luxury furthers progress. Innovation "is the whim of an élite before it becomes a need of the public. The luxury of today is the necessity of tomorrow."*87 Luxury is the roadmaker of progress: it develops latent needs and makes people discontented. In so far as they think consistently, moralists who condemn luxury must recommend the comparatively desireless existence of the wild life roaming in the woods as the ultimate ideal of civilized life.

4 Changes in the Amount of Capital


The capital goods employed in production are sooner or later used up. This is true, not only of those goods which constitute circulating capital, but also of those which constitute fixed capital. Those, too, sooner or later are consumed in production. In order that capital may be maintained in the same proportions, or that it may be increased, constant effort is necessary on the part of those who supervise production. Care must be taken that the capital goods used up in the process of production are replaced; and, beyond that, that new capital is created. Capital does not reproduce itself.


In a completely stationary economic system, this operation demands no particular foresight. Where everything remains unchanged, it is not very difficult to ascertain what becomes used up, and what must therefore be put aside to replace it. Under changing conditions, it is quite otherwise. Here the direction of production and the different processes involved are continually changing. Here it is not enough to replace the used-up plant and the semi-manufactured products consumed in similar qualities and quantities: others—better or at least better corresponding to the new conditions of demand—have to take their place; or the replacement of capital goods used in one branch of production has to be restricted in order that another branch of production may be extended or commenced. In order to carry out such complicated operations, it is necessary to calculate. Without economic calculations capital calculations are impossible. Thus in the face of one of the most fundamental problems of economic activity, the socialist community—which has no means of economic calculation—must be quite helpless. With the best will in the world it will be quite unable to carry out the operations necessary to bring production and consumption into such a balance, that value of capital is at least maintained and only what is obtained over and above this is consumed.


But apart from this, in itself quite unsurmountable difficulty, the carrying out of a rational economic policy in a socialist community would encounter other difficulties.


To maintain and accumulate capital involves costs. It involves sacrificing present satisfactions in order that greater satisfactions may be obtained in the future. Under Capitalism the sacrifice that has to be made by the possessors of the means of production, and those who, by limiting consumption, are on the way to being possessors of the means of production. The advantage which they thereby procure for the future does indeed not entirely accrue to them. They are obliged to share it with those whose incomes are derived from work, since other things being equal, the accumulation of capital increases the marginal productivity of labour and therewith wages. But the fact that, in the main, the gain of not living beyond their means (i.e. not consuming capital) and saving (i.e. increasing capital) does pay them is a sufficient stimulus to incite them to maintain and extend it. And this stimulus is the stronger the more completely their immediate needs are satisfied. For the less urgent are those present needs, which are not satisfied when provision is made for the future, the easier it is to make the sacrifice. Under Capitalism the maintenance and accumulation of capital is one of the functions of the unequal distribution of property and income.


Under Socialism the maintenance and accumulation of capital are tasks for the organized community—the State. The utility of a rational policy is the same here as under Capitalism. The advantages will be the same for all members of the community: the costs will be the same also. Decisions upon matters of capital policy will be made by the community—immediately by the economic administration, ultimately by all the citizens. They will have to decide whether more production goods or more consumption goods shall be produced—whether methods of production which are shorter but which yield a smaller product or whether methods of production which are longer but which yield a greater product shall be employed. It is impossible to say how these majority decisions will work out. It would be senseless to conjecture. The conditions under which decisions will have to be made are different from what they are under Capitalism. Under Capitalism the decision whether saving shall take place is the concern of the thrifty and the well-to-do. Under Socialism it is the concern of everybody, without distinction-therefore also of the idler and the spendthrift. Moreover, it must be remembered that here the incentive which provides a higher standard of life in return for saving will not be present. The door would therefore be open to demagogues. The opposition will always be ready to prove that more could be assigned to immediate satisfactions, and the government will not be disinclined to maintain itself longer in power by lavish spending. Après nous le déluge (After us, the deluge) is an old maxim of government.


Experience of the capital policy of public bodies does not inspire much hope of the thriftiness of future socialist governments. In general, new capital is created only when the necessary sums have been raised by loans—that is from the savings of private citizens. It is very seldom that capital is accumulated out of taxes or special public income. On the other hand, numerous examples can be adduced of cases in which the means of production owned by public bodies have depreciated in value, because in order that present costs may be relieved as much as possible, insufficient care has been taken for the maintenance of capital.


It is true that the governments of the socialist or half-socialist communities existing today are anxious to restrict consumption for the sake of an expenditure which is generally considered as investment and formation of new capital. Both the Soviet Government in Russia and the Nazi Government in Germany are spending great sums for the construction of works of a military character and for the construction of industrial plants whose purpose it is to make the country independent of foreign imports. A part of the capital wanted for this purpose has been provided by foreign loans; but the greater part has been provided by a restriction both of home consumption and of investment of such a type which could serve for the production of consumption goods wanted by the people. Whether we may consider this policy as a policy of saving and forming new capital, or not, depends on the way in which we judge a policy whose aim it is to increase a country's military equipment and to make its economic system independent of foreign imports. The fact alone that consumption is restricted for the sake of constructing big plants of different kinds is not evidence that new capital is created. These plants will have to prove in the future whether they will contribute to the better supply of commodities wanted for the improvement of the economic situation of the country.

5 The Element of Change in the Socialist Economy


It should be already sufficiently clear from what has been said, that under Socialism, as under any other system, there could be no perfectly stationary state. Not only incessant changes in the natural conditions of production would make this impossible; quite apart from these, incessant dynamic forces would be at work, in changes in the size of the population, in the demand for commodities, and in the quantity of capital goods. One cannot conceive these factors eliminated from the economic system. It is thus unnecessary to inquire whether these changes would also involve changes in the organization of labour and the technical processes of production. For, once the economic system ceases to be in perfect equilibrium it is a matter of indifference whether actual innovations are thought of and put into practice. Once everything is in a state of flux, everything which happens is an innovation. Even when the old is repeated, it is an innovation because, under new conditions, it will have different effects. It is an innovation in its consequences.


But this is not in the least to say that the socialist system will be a progressive system. Economic change and economic progress are by no means one and the same thing. That an economic system is not stationary is no proof that it is progressing. Economic change is necessitated by the fact of changes in the conditions under which economic activity takes place. When conditions change the economic system must change also. Economic progress, however, consists only in change which takes place in a quite definite direction, towards the goal of all economic activity, e.g. the greatest possible wealth. (This conception of progress is quite free from implications of subjective judgment.) When more, or the same number of people are better provided for, then the economic system is progressive. That the difficulties of measuring value make it impossible to measure progress exactly, and that it is by no means certain that it makes men "happier," are matters which do not concern us here.


Progress can take place in many ways. Organization can be improved. The technique of production can be made more efficient, the quantity of capital can be increased. In short, many paths lead to this goal.*88 Would socialist society be able to follow them?


We may assume that it would entrust the most suitable people to direct production. But, however, talented they were, how would they be able to act rationally if they were unable to reckon, to make calculations? On this difficulty alone Socialism must surely founder.

6 Speculation


In any economic system which is in process of change all economic activity is based upon an uncertain future. It is therefore bound up with risk. It is essentially speculation.


The great majority of people, not knowing how to speculate successfully, and socialist writers of all shades of opinion, speak very ill of speculation. The literateur and the bureaucrat, both alien to an atmosphere of business activity, are filled with envy and rage when they think of fortunate speculators and successful entrepreneurs. To their resentment we owe the efforts of many writers on economics to discover subtle distinctions between speculation on the one hand and "legitimate trade," "value creating production," etc., on the other.*89 In reality all economic activity outside the stationary state is speculation. Between the work of the humble artisan who promises to deliver a pair of shoes within a week at a fixed price, and the sinking of a coal mine based upon conjectures with regard to the disposal of its products years hence, there is only a difference of degree. Even those who invest in gilt-edged fixed-interest-beating securities speculate—quite apart from the risk of the debtor's inability to pay. They buy money for future delivery—just as speculators in cotton buy cotton for future delivery. Economic activity is necessarily speculative because it is based upon an uncertain future. Speculation is the link that binds isolated economic action to the economic activity of society as a whole.


It is customary to attribute the notoriously low productivity of government undertakings to the fact that the persons employed are not sufficiently interested in the success of their labours. If once it were possible to lift each citizen to such a plane that he could realize the connection between his own efforts and the social income, part of which belongs to him, if once his character could be so strengthened that he would remain steadfast in the face of all temptations to idle, then government undertakings would not be less productive than those of the private entrepreneur. The problem of socialization appears thus to be a problem of ethics. To make Socialism possible it is only necessary to raise men sufficiently above the state of ignorance and immorality to which they have been degraded during the terrible epoch of Capitalism. Until this plane has been reached bonuses and so on must be employed to make men more diligent.


It has already been shown that, under Socialism, the lack of an adequate stimulus to the individual to overcome the disutility of labour must have the effect of lowering productivity. This difficulty would arise even in a stationary state. Under dynamic conditions there arises another, the difficulty of speculation.


In an economic system based upon private ownership of the means of production, the speculator is interested in the result of his speculation in the highest possible degree. If it succeeds, then, in the first instance, it is his gain. If it fails, then, he is the first to feel the loss. The speculator works for the community, but he himself feels the success or failure of his action proportionately more than the community. As profit or loss, they appear much greater in proportion to his means than to the total resources of society. The more successfully he speculates the more means of production are at his disposal, the greater becomes his influence on the business of society. The less successfully he speculates the smaller becomes his property, the less becomes his influence in business. If he loses everything by speculation he disappears from the ranks of those who are called to the direction of economic affairs.


Under Socialism it is quite different. Here the leader of industry is interested in profit and loss only in so far as he participates in them as a citizen—one among millions. On his actions depends the fate of all. He can lead the nation to riches. He can just as well lead it to poverty and want. His genius can bring prosperity to the race. His incapacity, or his indifference, can bring it to destruction and decay. In his hands lie happiness and misery as in the hands of a god. And he must indeed be god-like to accomplish what he has to do. His vision must include everything which is of significance to the community. His judgment must be unfailing; he must be able rightly to weigh the conditions of distant parts and future centuries.


That Socialism would be immediately practicable if an omnipotent and omniscient Deity were personally to descend to take in hand the government of human affairs, is incontestable. But so long as this event cannot definitely be counted upon, it is not to be expected that men will be ready freely to grant such a position to any one out of their midst. One of the fundamental facts of all social life, which all reformers must take into account, is that men have their own thoughts and their own wills. It is not to be supposed that they would suddenly, of their own free will, make themselves for all time the passive tools of anyone out of their midst—even though he were the wisest and best of them all.


But so long as the possibility of a single individual permanently planning the direction of affairs is excluded, it is necessary to fall back upon the majority decisions of committees, general assemblies and, in the last resort, the whole enfranchised population. But therewith arises the danger on which all collectivist undertakings inevitably come to grief—the crippling of initiative and the sense of responsibility. Innovations are not introduced because the majority of the members of the governing body cannot be induced to consent to them.


Things would not be made any better by the fact that the impossibility of leaving all decisions to a single man, or a single committee, would lead to the creation of innumerable sub-committees by which decisions would be taken. All such sub-committees would only be delegates of the one supreme authority which, as an economic system working according to a unitary plan, is implied by the very nature of Socialism. They would necessarily be bound by the instructions of the supreme authority and this, in itself, would breed irresponsibility.


We all know the appearance of the apparatus of socialist administration: a countless multitude of office holders, each zealously bent on preserving his position and preventing anybody from intruding on his sphere of activity—yet at the same time anxiously endeavouring to throw all responsibility of action on to somebody else.


For all its officiousness, such a bureaucracy offers a classic example of human indolence. Nothing stirs when no external stimulus is present. In the nationalized concerns, existing within a society based for the most part on private ownership of the means of production, all stimulus to improvements in process comes from those entrepreneurs who as contractors for semi-manufactured articles and machines hope to make a profit by them. The heads of the concern itself seldom, if ever, make innovations. They content themselves with imitating what goes on in similar privately-owned undertakings. But where all concerns are socialized there will be hardly any talk of reforms and improvements.

7 Joint Stock Companies and the Socialist Economy


One of the current fallacies of socialism is that joint stock companies are a preliminary stage of the socialist undertaking. The heads of joint stock companies—it is argued—are not owners of the means of production, and yet the undertakings flourish under their direction. If, in place of the shareholders, society should assume the function of ownership, things would not be altered. The directors would not work worse for society than they would for the shareholders.


This notion, that in the joint stock company the entrepreneur-function is solely the shareholder's and that all the organs of the company are active only as the shareholders' employees, pervades also legal theory, and it has been attempted to make it the basis of Company Law. It is responsible for the fact that the business idea, which underlies the creation of the joint stock company, has been falsified, and that up to today people have been unable to find for the joint stock company a legal form which would enable it to work without friction, and that the company system everywhere suffers from grave abuses.


In fact there have never and nowhere been prosperous joint stock companies corresponding to the ideal etatistic jurists have created. Success has always been attained only by those companies whose directors have predominant personal interest in the prosperity of the company. The vital force and the effectiveness of the joint stock company lie in a partnership between the company's real managers—who generally have power to dispose over part, if not the majority, of the share-capital—and the other shareholders. Only where these directors have the same interest in the prosperity of the undertaking as every owner, only where their interests coincide with the shareholder's interests, is the business carried on in the interests of the joint stock company. Where the directors have interests other than those of a part, or of the majority, or of all of the shareholders, business is carried on against the company's interests. For in all joint stock companies that do not wither in bureaucracy, those who really are in power always manage business in their own interests, whether this coincides with the shareholders' interests or not. It is an unavoidable presupposition of the prosperity of the companies, that those in power shall receive a large part of the profits of the enterprise and that they shall be primarily affected by the misfortunes of the enterprise. In all flourishing joint stock companies, such men, immaterial of what their legal status is, wield the decisive influence. The type of man to whom joint stock companies owe their success is not the type of general manager who resembles the public official in his ways of thought, himself often an ex-public servant whose most important qualification is good connection with those in political power. It is the manager who is interested himself through his shares, it is the promoter and the founder—these are responsible for prosperity.


Socialist-etatistic theory of course will not admit this. It endeavours to force the joint stock company into a legal form in which it must languish. It refuses to see in those who guide the company anything except officials, for the etatist wants to think of the whole world as inhabited only by officials. It is allied with the organized employees and workers in their resentment-ridden fight against high sums paid to the management, believing that the profits of the business arise of themselves and are reduced by whatever is paid to the men in charge. Finally, it turns also against the shareholder. The latest German doctrine does not want, "in view of the evolution of the concept of fair play," to let the shareholder's self-interest decide, but rather "the interest and well-being of the enterprise, itself, namely its own economic, legal and sociological value, independent of transient majorities of transient shareholders." It wants to create for the administration of the companies a position of power, which should make them independent of the will of those who have put up the majority of the share-capital.*90


That "altruistic motives" or the like are ever decisive in the administration of successful joint stock companies is a fable. Such attempts to model Company Law after the illusory ideal of etatistic politicians, have not succeeded in making the joint stock company a piece of the illusory "functional economy"; they have however damaged the joint stock company form of enterprise.

Notes for this chapter

Clark, Essentials of Economic Theory (New York, 1907), pp. 131 ff.
Bebel, Die Frau und der Sozialismus, p. 340. Bebel quotes therewith the well-known verse of Heine. Publisher's Note: p. 463 in the English edition.
Heinrich Soetbeer, Die Stellung der Sozialisten zur Malthusschen Bevölkerungslehre (Berlin, 1886), pp. 33 ff.; 52 ff.; 85 ff.
Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population, 5th ed. (London, 1817), Vol. II, pp. 245 ff.
Tarde, Die Sozialen Gesetze, German translation by Hammer (Leipzig, 1908), p. 99. Also the numerous examples in Roscher, Ansichten der Volkswirtschaft vom geschichtlichen Standpunkt, 3rd ed. (Leipzig, 1878), Vol. I, pp. 112 ff. Publisher's Note: The Tarde book in English is Social Laws. Translated by Howard C. Warren, with preface by James Mark Baldwin (New York: Macmillan, 1899).
On the difficulties a socialist economy must put in the way of the invention and, even more, of the realization of technical improvements, see Dietzel, Technischer Fortschritt und Freiheit der Wirtschaft (Bonn and Leipzig, 1922), pp. 47 ff.
See the pertinent criticism of these efforts which are evidence of good intentions rather than of scientific sharpness of thought, in Michaelis, Volkswirtschaftliche Schriften (Berlin, 1873), Vol. II, pp. 3 ff., and by Petritsch, Zur Lehre von der Überwälzung der Steuern mir besonderer Beziehung auf den Börsenverkehr (Graz, 1903), pp. 28 ff. Of Adolf Wagner, Petritsch says that "although he likes to call economic life an 'organism' and wants to have it considered as such, and although he always stresses the interest of the community against that of individuals, yet in concrete economic problems he does not get beyond the individuals and their more or less moral aims, and wilfully overlooks the organic connection between these and other economic phenomena. Thus he ends where, strictly speaking, should be the starting point, not the end, of every economic investigation" p. 59). The same is true of all writers who have thundered against speculation.
See the criticism of these theories and movements in Passow, Der Strukturwandel der Aktiengesellschaft im Lichte der Wirtschaftsenquete (Jena, 1930), pp. 1 ff.

End of Notes

19 of 47


The Impracticability of Socialism

1 The Fundamental Problems of a Socialist Economy Under Conditions of Change


The preceding investigations have shown the difficulties confronting the establishment of a socialist order of society. In a socialist community the possibility of economic calculations is lacking: it is therefore impossible to ascertain the cost and result of an economic operation or to make the result of the calculation the test of the operation. This in itself would be sufficient to make Socialism impracticable. But, quite apart from that, another insurmountable obstacle stands in its way. It is impossible to find a form of organization which makes the economic action of the individual independent of the co-operation of other citizens without leaving it open to all the risks of mere gambling. These are the two problems, and without their solution the realization of Socialism appears impracticable unless in a completely stationary state.


Too little attention has hitherto been given to these fundamental questions. The first has generally been almost ignored. The reason for this is that people have not been able to get rid of the idea that labour time can afford an efficient measure of value. But even many of those who recognize that the labour theory of value is untenable continue to believe that value can be measured. The frequent attempts which have been made to discover a standard of value prove this. To understand the problem of economic calculation it was necessary to recognize the true character of the exchange relations expressed in the prices of the market.


The existence of this important problem could be revealed only by the methods of the modern subjective theory of value. In actual practice although the tendency has been all in the direction of Socialism, the problem has not become so urgent as to attract general attention.


It is quite otherwise with the second problem. The more communal enterprise extends, the more attention is drawn to the bad business results of nationalized and municipalized undertakings. It is impossible to miss the cause of the difficulty: a child could see where something was lacking. So that it cannot be said that this problem has not been tackled. But the way in which it has been tackled has been deplorably inadequate. Its organic connection with the essential nature of socialist enterprise has been regarded as merely a question of better selection of persons. It has not been realized that even exceptionally gifted men of high character cannot solve the problems created by socialist control of industry.

2 Attempted Solutions


As far as most socialists are concerned, recognition of these problems is obstructed, not only by their rigid adherence to the labour theory of value but also by their whole conception of economic activity. They fail to realize that industry must be constantly changing: their conception of the socialist community is always static. As long as they are criticizing the capitalist order they deal throughout with the phenomena of a progressive economy and they paint in glaring colours the friction caused by economic change. But they seem to regard all change and not only the friction caused by it, as a peculiar attribute of the capitalist order. In the happy kingdom of the future everything will develop without movement or friction.


We can see this best if we think of the picture of the entrepreneur which is generally drawn by socialists. In such a picture the entrepreneur is characterized only by the special way he derives his income. Clearly any analysis of the capitalist order must take as its central point not capital nor the capitalists but the entrepreneur. But Socialism, including Marxian Socialism, sees in the entrepreneur someone alien to the process of production, someone whose whole work consists in the appropriation of surplus value. It will be sufficient to expropriate these parasites to bring about a socialist society. The recollection of the liberation of the peasants and the abolition of slavery hovers vaguely in Marx's mind and even more so in the minds of many other socialists. But they fail to see that the position of the feudal lord was quite different from that of the entrepreneur. The feudal lord had no influence on production. He stood outside the process of production: only when it was finished did he step in with a claim to a share in the yield. But in so far as the lord of the manor and the slave owner were also leaders of production they retained their position even after the abolition of serfdom and slavery. The fact that henceforward they had to give the workers the value of their labour did not change their economic function. But the entrepreneur fulfils a task which must be performed even in a socialist community. This the Socialist does not see; or at least refuses to see.


Socialism's misunderstanding of the entrepreneur degenerates into idiosyncrasy whenever the word speculator is mentioned. Even Marx, unmindful of the good resolutions which animated him, proceeds entirely along "petty bourgeois" lines in this connection and his school has even surpassed him. All socialists overlook the fact that even in a socialist community every economic operation must be based on an uncertain future, and that its economic consequence remains uncertain even if it is technically successful. They see in the uncertainty which leads to speculation a consequence of the anarchy of production, whilst in fact it is a necessary result of changing economic conditions.


The great mass of people are incapable of realizing that in economic life nothing is permanent except change. They regard the existing state of affairs as eternal; as it has been so shall it always be. But even if they were in a position to envision the Greek panta rei (everything simple or all so easy) they would be baffled by the problems to be solved. To see and to act in advance, to follow new ways, is always the concern only of the few, the leaders. Socialism is the economic policy of the crowd, of the masses, remote from insight into the nature of economic activity. Socialist theory is the precipitate of their views on economic matters—it is created and supported by those who find economic life alien, and do not comprehend it.


Among socialists only Saint-Simon realized to some extent the position of the entrepreneurs in the capitalistic economy. As a result he is often denied the name of Socialist. The others completely fail to realize that the functions of entrepreneurs in the capitalist order must be performed in a socialist community also. This is reflected most clearly in the writings of Lenin. According to him the work performed in a capitalist order by those whom he refused to designate as "working" can be boiled down to "Auditing of Production and Distribution" and "keeping the records of labour and products." This could easily be attended to by the armed workers, "by the whole of the armed people."*91 Lenin quite rightly separates these functions of the "capitalists and clerks" from the work of the technically trained higher personnel, not however missing the opportunity to take a side thrust at scientifically trained people by giving expression to that contempt for all highly skilled work which is characteristic of Marxian proletarian snobbishness. "This recording, this exercise of audit," he says, "Capitalism has simplified to the utmost and has reduced to extremely simple operations of superintendence and book-entry within the grasp of anyone able to read and write. To control these operations a knowledge of elementary arithmetic and the drawing of correct receipts is sufficient."*92 It is therefore possible straight-way to enable all members of society to do these things for themselves.*93 This is all, absolutely all that Lenin had to say on this problem; and no socialist has a word more to say. They have no greater perception of the essentials of economic life than the errand boy, whose only idea of the work of the entrepreneur is that he covers pieces of paper with letters and figures.


It was for this reason that it was quite impossible for Lenin to realize the causes of the failure of his policy. In his life and his reading he remained so far removed from the facts of economic life that he was as great a stranger to the work of the bourgeoisie as a Hottentot to the work of an explorer taking geographical measurements. When he saw that his work could proceed no further on the original lines he decided to rely no longer on references to "armed workers" in order to compel the "bourgeois" experts to co-operate: instead they were to receive "high remuneration" for "a short transition period" so that they could set the socialist order going and thus render themselves superfluous. He even thought it possible that this would take place within a year.*94


Those socialists who do not think of the socialist community as the strongly centralized organization conceived by their more clearheaded brethren and which alone is logically conceivable, believe that the difficulties confronting the management of industry can be solved by democratic institutions inside undertakings. They believe that individual industries could be allowed to conduct their operations with a certain degree of independence without endangering the uniformity and the correct co-ordination of industry. If every enterprise were placed under the control of a workers' committee, no further difficulties could exist. In all this there is a whole crop of fallacies and errors. The problem of economic management with which we are here concerned lies much less in the work of individual industries than in harmonizing the work of individual concerns in the whole economic system. It deals with such questions as dissolving, extending, transforming and limiting existing undertakings and establishing new undertakings—matters which can never be decided by the workers of one industry. The problems of conducting an industry stretch far beyond the individual concern.


State and municipal Socialism have supplied enough unfavourable experience to compel the closest attention to the problem of economic control. But etatists in general have treated this problem no less inadequately than those who have dealt with it in Bolshevik Russia. General opinion seems to regard the main evil of communal undertakings to be due to the fact that they are not run on "business" lines. Now rightly understood this catchword could lead to a correct view on the problem. Communal enterprise does indeed lack the spirit of the business man, and the very problem for Socialism here is to create something to put in its place. But the catchword is not understood in this way at all. It is an offspring of the bureaucratic mind: that is to say it comes from people for whom all human activity represents the fulfillment of formal official and professional duties. Officialdom classifies activity according to the capacity for undertaking it formally acquired by means of examinations and a certain period of service. "Training" and "length of service" are the only things which the official brings to the "job." If the work of a body of officials appears unsatisfactory, there can be only one explanation: the officials have not had the right training, and future appointments must be made differently. It is therefore proposed that a different training should be required of future candidates. If only the officials of the communal undertaking came with a business training, the undertaking would be more business-like. But for the official who cannot enter into the spirit of capitalist industry this means nothing more than certain external manifestations of business technique: prompter replies to inquiries, the adoption of certain technical office appliances, which have not yet been sufficiently introduced into the departments, such as typewriters, copying machines, etc., the reduction of unnecessary duplication, and other things. In this way "the business spirit" penetrates into the offices of communal enterprise. And people are greatly surprised when these men trained on these lines, also fail, fail even worse than the much-maligned civil servants, who in fact, show themselves superior at least in formal schooling.


It is not difficult to expose the fallacies inherent in such notions. The attributes of the business man cannot be divorced from the position of the entrepreneur in the capitalist order. "Business" is not in itself a quality innate in a person; only the qualities of mind and character essential to a business man can be inborn. Still less is it an accomplishment which can be acquired by study, though the knowledge and the accomplishments needed by a business man can be taught and learned. A man does not become a business man by passing some years in commercial training or in a commercial institute, nor by a knowledge of book-keeping and the jargon of commerce, nor by a skill in languages and typing and shorthand. These are things which the clerk requires. But the clerk is not a business man, even though in ordinary speech he may be called a "trained business man."


When these obvious truths became clear in the end the experiment was tried of making entrepreneurs, who had worked successfully for many years, the managers of public enterprises. The result was lamentable. They did no better than the others; furthermore they lacked the sense for formal routine which distinguishes the life-long official. The reason was obvious. An entrepreneur deprived of his characteristic role in economic life ceases to be a business man. However much experience and routine he may bring to his new task he will still only be an official in it.


It is just as useless to attempt to solve the problem by new methods of remuneration. It is thought that if the managers of public enterprises were better paid, competition for these posts would arise and make it possible to select the best men. Many go even further and believe that the difficulties will be overcome by granting the managers a share in the profits. It is significant that these proposals have hardly ever been put in practice, although they appear quite practicable as long as public undertakings exist alongside private enterprises, and as long as the possibility of economic calculation permits the ascertainment of the result achieved by the public enterprise which is not the case under pure Socialism. But the problem is not nearly so much the question of the manager's share in the profit, as of his share in the losses which arise through his conduct of business. Except in a purely moral sense the property-less manager of a public undertaking can be made answerable only for a comparatively small part of the losses. To make a man materially interested in profits and hardly concerned in losses simply encourages a lack of seriousness. This is the experience, not only of public undertakings but also of all private enterprises, which have granted to comparatively poor employees in managerial posts rights to a percentage of the profits.


It is an evasion of the problem to put one's faith in the hope that the moral purification of mankind, which the socialists expect to occur when their aims are realized, will of itself make everything perfectly right. Whether Socialism will or will not have the moral effect expected from it may here be conveniently left undecided. But the problems with which we are concerned do not arise from the moral shortcomings of humanity. They are problems of the logic of will and action which must arise at all times and in all places.

3 Capitalism the Only Solution


But let us disregard the fact that up to now all socialist efforts have been baffled by these problems, and let us attempt to trace out the lines on which the solution ought to be sought. Only by making such an attempt can we throw any light on the question whether such a solution is possible in the framework of a socialist order of society.


The first step which would be necessary would be to form sections inside the socialist community to which the management of definite branches of business would be entrusted. As long as the industry of a socialist community is directed by one single authority which makes all arrangements and bears all the responsibility, a solution of the problems is inconceivable, because all the other workers are only acting instruments without independent delimited spheres of operation and consequently without any special responsibility. What we must aim at is precisely the possibility not only of supervising and controlling the whole process, but of considering and judging separately the subsidiary processes which take place within a narrower sphere.


In this respect at least, our procedure runs parallel to all past attempts to solve our problem. It is clear to everyone that the desired aim can be achieved only if responsibility is built up from below. We must therefore start from a single industry or from a single branch of industry. It makes no difference whether the unit with which we start is large or small since the same principle which we have once used for our division can be again used when it is necessary to divide too large a unit. Much more important than the question where and how often the division shall be made is the question how in spite of the division of industry into parts we can preserve that unity of cooperation without which a social economy is impossible.


We imagine then the economic order of the socialist community to be divided into any number of parts each of which is put in the charge of a particular manager. Every manager of a section is charged with the full responsibility for his operations. This means that the profit or a very considerable part of the profit accrues to him; on the other hand the burden of losses falls upon him, insomuch as the means of production which he squanders through bad measures will not be replaced by society. If he squanders all the means of production under his care he ceases to be manager of a section and is reduced to the ranks of the masses.


If this personal responsibility of the section manager is not to be a mere sham, then his operations must be clearly marked off from that of other managers. Everything he receives from other section managers in the form of raw materials or partly manufactured goods for further working or for use as instruments in his section and all the work which he gets performed in his section will be debited to him; everything he delivers to other sections or for consumption will be credited to him. It is necessary, however, that he should be left free choice to decide what machines, raw materials, partly manufactured goods, and labour forces he will employ in his section and what he will produce in it. If he is not given this freedom he cannot be burdened with any responsibility. For it would not be his fault if at the command of the supreme controlling authority he had produced something for which, under existing conditions, there was no corresponding demand, or if his section was handicapped because it received its material from other sections in an unsuitable condition, or, what comes to the same thing, at too high a charge. In the first event, the failure of his section would be attributable to the dispositions of the supreme control, in the latter to the failures of the sections which produced the material. But on the other hand the community must also be free to claim the same rights which it allows to the section manager. This means that it takes the products which he has produced only according to its requirements, and only if it can obtain them at the lowest rate of charge, and it charges him with the labour, which it supplies to him at the highest rate it is in a position to obtain: that is to say it supplies the labour to the highest bidder.


Society as a production community now falls into three groups. The supreme direction forms one. Its function is merely to supervise the orderly course of the process of production as a whole, the execution of which is completely detailed to the section managers. The third group is the citizens who are not in the service of the supreme administration and are not section managers. Between the two groups stand the section managers as a special group: they have received from the community once and for all at the beginning of the regime an allotment of the means of production for which they have had to pay nothing, and they continue to receive from it the labour force of the members of the third group, who are assigned to the highest bidders amongst them. The central administration which has to credit each member of the third group with everything it has received from the section managers for his labour power, or, in case it employs him directly in its own sphere of operation, with everything which it might have received from the section managers for his labour power, will then distribute the consumption goods to the highest bidders amongst the citizens of all three groups. The proceeds will be credited to the section managers who have delivered the products.


By such an arrangement of the community, the section manager can be made fully responsible for his doings. The sphere for which he bears responsibility is sharply delimited from that for which others bear the responsibility. Here we are no longer faced with the total result of the economic activity of the whole industrial community in which the contribution of one individual cannot be distinguished from that of another. The "productive contribution" of each individual section manager is open to separate judgment, as is also that of each individual citizen in the three groups.


It is clear that the section managers must be permitted to change, extend or contract their section according to the prevailing course of demand on the part of the citizens as indicated in the market for consumption goods. They must therefore be in a position to sell those means of production in their section which are more urgently required in other sections, to these other sections: and they ought to demand as much for them as they can obtain under the existing conditions....


But we need not carry the analysis further. For what are we confronted with but the capitalist order of society—the only form of economy in which strict application of the principle of the personal responsibility of every individual citizen is possible. Capitalism is that form of social economy in which all the deficiencies of the socialist system described above are made good. Capitalism is the only conceivable form of social economy which is appropriate to the fulfilment of the demands which society makes of any economic organization.

Notes for this chapter

Lenin, Staat und Revolution, p. 94. Publisher's Note: p. 304 in the English edition.
Ibid., p. 95. Publisher's Note: pp. 304-305 in the English edition.
Ibid., p. 96. Publisher's Note: p. 305 in the English edition.
Lenin, Die nächsten Aufgaben der Sowjetmacht (Berlin, 1918), pp. 16 ff.

End of Notes

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