-- (Minor editing has been done for web publication)

November 13, 1996

Dear Graeme,

I finally had a chance to take a look at your web site on The Content of Socialism/Communism.
I stayed up till 2 am last night reading most of it. I have not yet read all of it, much less studied it, so these notes consist of somewhat preliminary impressions.

First: I am very excited that these decisive questions are being examined by others. The bankruptcy, cowardice and opportunism of so much of the left that ignores these essential questions is amazing. You sum it up well when you talk of Thatcher and her phrase "There is no alternative" in 1981. A communist movement worthy of the name can NEVER regenerate itself until it takes an honest and courageous look at HOW it will organize the political, cultural and economic life of society during the period of the transition to communism. Failure to publically examine this question means that, by default, all trends, no matter how "r-r-r-revolutionary" they sound, are left in the framework of what can be accomplished under capitalism. All talk of "socialism" or "communism" is sterile nonsense and bunk to fool the naive if it is not accompanied by open discussion of what communism (and the transition period) will look like in the modern world.

Second: you are very right to call for discussion of this and to recognize, upfront and at the beginning, that you don't necessarily have well-worked out answers to every question. Well-worked out answers will come from an interactive process that will involve a great many people. This process is somewhat analogous to a fire. Once it gets going, it will generate a lot of heat and eventually will prove impossible to extinguish. The question, for now, is how to arrange the kindling and so forth to get this fire started. I believe that you are starting in the right place.

I believe you are completely correct to call for the decrease of the compulsory work day to the point where it vanishes so that workers have time freed up for voluntary projects that will create other forms of wealth. I believe that this is the fundamental way out.

Calling for the elimination of the categories of wage labor, commodities, money and, eventually, all forms of exchange and external carrot-and-stick measurement for labor, is correct also.

Also, I believe that you are correct when you say that the new economy will not be unified or centralized through a state. There are, of course, a few qualifications here. There will be some (and maybe considerable) centralization and unification through the state, at least for a while.

Also--it is very powerful when you ask: "how costs will manifest themselves in a society without money, a market and so on ?"

At the same time, it appears to me that there are a few weaknesses in your analysis. I can only touch on them here. The point is that over time, exploration of these questions can take place at greater depth by ourselves and many others.

In general, I believe your paper has a tendency to underestimate the complexity of the organization of the capitalist economy. You say (I can't find the quote at the moment) that we will not need to keep too many of the capitalists around in their positions of authority. I believe that to a great extent, and for a while, a workers state will be forced to rely on the capitalist mode of production (with modifications). The expropriation of the capitalist class can only take place in a step by step manner, as the workers and the workers' state accumulates successful experience in running the economy without breakdown and paralysis.

If the "productivity of labor" is not kept high, if it does not increase, under a workers' state--the revolution will fail by one route or another. Cutting the cumpulsory work day by at least 50% immediately does not strike me as in any way realistic. I am unfamiliar with economic conditions in your neck of the woods but it would appear to me that you are assumming that workers will find it relatively easy to know how to make themselves productive in their volunteer projects. But there would likely be a learning curve (and probably a long one at that) in learning how to do so.

We should not underestimate what is likely to be a lenghty time frame for such a learning curve--nor put too much pressure on ourselves (much less gamble with the success of the revolution) to speed up this learning curve faster than is possible--or we would fall on our face in a very dramatic way--the economy would be paralysed--the population would conclude that we are well-meaning dreamers with no business being in power--and unceremoniously boot out a "workers' state" and replace the capitalists to their positions of authority ("at least they understand how to avoid shortages of everything").

Capitalism did not spring into the world all developed at once and I do not believe a higher form of economic organization could take root except through a lengthy process of experimentation, trial and error, and a series of failures and learning from mistakes. One issue to be a "conservative" enough to insure that the inevitable failures are not catastrophic.

Your assertion that there are no "objective" laws of economics under communism--is, unfortunately, nonsense. There certainly will be objective laws. The issue for us will be to determine what these laws are, mainly through scientific experiment, trial and error, practice. The ice will definitely be thin in a few spots and those who believe that they can breezily walk anywhere they please would quickly learn in a very hard way what you mean when you say: "Communist society, just like any other society in history, cannot abolish necessity--that is that minimum level of productive activity necessary to reproduce society".

During this period of transition, the capitalists will, to a very considerable extent, function as a class and be a very capable opponent manuevering for the restoration of bourgeois power. There is absolutely no way around this. Hence--the proletarian state will need to understand how to defend itself in a most effective manner.

You say that the phrase "dictatorship of the proletariat" has led to "much confusion". This is certainly true. In fact this is really something of an understatement. But, I assure you, we will end up with much worse confusion if we abandon the phrase. The capitalists are not babies. Keeping them from restoring their former power will not be like taking candy from a baby. The issue, rather, is to clarify what the "dictatorship of the proletariat" will look like in the modern world.

Check out my recent essay The Digital Fire linked to from the "forum" section of my cyberLeninism site.

There I discuss the attitude of the proletarian state toward the internet and the kinds of questions that come up in relation to censorship.

By the way, you had a problem checking out my work: The Self-Organizing Moneyless Economy when you last visited my site because one of the servers was down. My ISP was adding some equipment. Try it again. I believe that you will find it of interest. It mainly does not deal with the transition period at all. It deals with communist society. I believe Stephen Covey (the "Seven Habits" guy) is completely correct when he says "Begin with the end in mind". If we do not have a clear idea of where we are going, it will be much harder to get there.

I have also written something dealing in particular with the transition period. But I have not put this on the web yet. Before I do so I wanted to develop a program to implement what I call "public interactive margins" that would allow readers to post their remarks in the margins of the particular paragraphs on which they wanted to comment. I believe this is essential in order for our theoretical work to have a "high productiveity of labor".

My basic view is that a workers' state would organize a "communist sector" of the economy side-by-side with a regulated capitalist sector. The capitalist sector would itself consist of both private capitalism and state capitalism.

The communist sector would be a "gift economy" that would operate without money, wages, commodities or exchange. It would be highly experimental and would grow as it learns what it is doing, eventually competing with the capitalist economy and absorbing it as a developing chick does the white of an egg.

Next time I update my web site, I will put the link to your site in a more prominent place. All discussion of this topic that is on the web should be linked to other similar discussion. Most likely, as you say, there are others who have figured out that the left will be forever bankrupt until it has something intelligent to say on these topics. In the period ahead, everybody and their brother will have a web site and it may be straightforward to begin to link up various sites. In the meantime, you may want to consider steps to make your site more interactive, so that people who browse can add their comments--and see their comments posted on your site.

Ben (Seattle)