Alexander Bogdanov 1919

Socially Organised Society: Socialist Society

Source: Chapter X of A Short Course of Economic Science, 10th edition, 1919. English translation J. Fineberg, 1923.
Transcribed: by Adam Buick.
Proofread: by Jay Blackwood (April 2021).

The epoch of capitalism has not yet been completed, but the instability of its relations has become quite obvious. The fundamental contradictions of this system which are deeply undermining it, and the forces of development which are creating the basis of a new system, have also become quite clear. The main features of the direction in which social forces are moving have been marked out. It is, therefore, possible to draw conclusions as to what form the new system will take and in what way it will differ from the present system.

It may seem that science has no right to speak of what has not yet arrived and of what experience has not provided us with any exact example. But that is erroneous. Science exists precisely for the purpose of foretelling things. Of what has not yet been experienced it cannot, of course, make an exact forecast, but if we know generally what exists and in what direction it is changing then science must draw the conclusions as to what it will change into. Science must draw these conclusions in order that men may adapt their actions to circumstances, so that instead of wasting their efforts by working against the future and retarding the development of new forms, they may consciously work to hasten and assist such development.

The conclusions of social science with regard to future society cannot be exact because the great complexity of social phenomena does not permit, in our times, of their being completely observed in all details, but only in their main features, and for that reason the picture of the new system also can only be drawn in its main outlines; but these are the most important considerations for the people of the present day.

The history of the ancient world shows that human society may sometimes regress, decline, and even decay; the history of primitive man and also that of several isolated Eastern societies shows the possibility of a long period of stagnation. For this reason, from a strictly scientific point of view, the transition to new forms must be accepted conditionally. New and higher forms will appear only in the event of a society progressing further in its development as it has progressed up till now. There must be sufficient cause, however, for regression or stagnation, and these cannot be indicated in the life of modern society. With the mass of contradictions inherent in it, and the impetuous process of life which they create, there cannot be stagnation. These inherent contradictions could cause retrogression only in the event of the absence of sufficient forms and elements of development. But such elements exist, and these very contradictions develop and multiply them. The productive power of man is increasing and even such a social catastrophe as a world war only temporarily weakens it. Furthermore an enormous class in society growing and organising is striving to bring about these new forms. For this reason there are no serious grounds for expecting a movement backwards. There are immeasurably more grounds for believing that society will continue along its path and create a new system which will destroy and abolish the contradictions of capitalism.

1. Relation of Society to Nature

The development of machine technique in the period of capitalism acquired such a character of consecutiveness and activity that it is quite possible to determine its tendencies and consequently the further result of its development.

With regard to the first part of the machine – the source of motive power – we have already indicated the tendency, viz., the transition from steam to electricity, the most flexible, the most plastic, of all the powers of nature. It can easily be produced from all the others and be converted into all the others; it can be divided into exact parts and transmitted across enormous distances. The inevitable exhaustion of the main sources of steam power, coal and oil, leads to the necessity for the transition to electricity, and this will create the possibility of making use of all waterfalls, all flowing water (even the tides of the oceans), and the intermittent energy of the wind which can be collected with the aid of accumulators, &c. A new and immeasurably rich source of electrical energy, infinitely superior to all other sources of electrical energy, has also been indicated, viz., atomic energy, which is contained in all matter. Its existence has been scientifically proved, and its use even begun, although in a very small scale where it automatically releases itself (e.g. radium and other similar disintegrating elements). Methods for systematically releasing this energy have not yet been discovered; the new higher scientific technique will probably discover these methods and united humanity possess inexhaustible stocks of elemental power .

With regard to the transmitting mechanism we also observe a tendency towards the automatic type of machine. Following this we observe an even higher type – not only an automatically acting, but an automatically regulating machine. Its beginnings lie on the one hand in the increasing application of mechanical regulators to present-day machines, and on the other in the few mechanisms of this type already created by military technique (e.g., self-propelling submarines and air torpedoes). Under capitalism these will hardly find application for peaceful production: they are disadvantageous from the point of view of profits as they are very complicated and unavoidably dear; the amount of labour which they save in comparison with machines of the former type is not great, because automatic machinery also dispenses with a considerable amount of human labour. Furthermore the workers required to work them must possess the highest intelligence; hence their pay also would have to be high, and their resistance to capital would be considerably greater. In war there is no question of profits, and for that reason these obstacles to their application do not arise. Under socialism the question of profits will disappear in production also; first consideration will be given to the technical advantages of self-regulating mechanism – which will render possible the achievement of a rapidity and exactness of work incomparably greater than that achieved by human organs, which work more slowly and with less precision, and moreover are subject to fatigue and error.

Furthermore, the number of machines, and the sum total of mechanical energy, will increase to such a colossal degree that the physical energy of men will become infinitesimally small in comparison. The powers of nature will carry out the executive work of man – they will be his obedient dumb slaves, whose strength will increase to infinity.

The technique of communication between men is of special significance. The rapid progress in this connection observed at the end of the capitalist epoch has been obviously directed to the abolition of all obstacles which nature and space place in the way of the organisation and compactness of humanity. The perfection of wireless telegraphy and telephony will create the possibility for people to communicate with each other under any condition, over any distance, and across all natural barriers. The increase in the speed of all forms of transportation brings men and the products of their labour more closely together than was ever dreamed of in the past century. And the creation of dirigible aircraft will make human communication completely independent of geographical conditions – the structure and configuration of the earth’s surface.

The first characteristic feature of the collective system is the actual power of society over nature, developing without limit on the basis of scientifically-organised technique.

2. The Social Relations of Production

As we saw, machine technique in the period of capitalism changes the form of co-operation in two ways. In the first place, the technical division of labour loses its “specialised” character, which narrows and limits the psychology of the workers, and reduces itself to “simple co-operation,” in which the workers carry out similar work, and in which the “specialisation” is transferred from the worker to the machine. Secondly, the framework of this co-operation is extended to enormous proportions; there arise enterprises which embrace tens of thousands of workers in a single organisation.

We must suppose that both these tendencies will proceed considerably further under the new system than under machine capitalism. The differences in the specialisation in various industries will be reduced to such insignificant proportions that the psychological disunity created by the diversity of employments will finally disappear; the bonds of mutual understanding and the community of interest will unrestrainedly expand on the basis of the community of vital interests.

At the same time organised labour unity will grow accordingly, grouping hundreds of thousands and even millions of people around a common task.

The continuation of the development of the two previous tendencies will give rise to two new features of the post-capitalist system. On the one hand, the last and most stubborn form of specialisation, viz., the division between the organisational and executive functions, will be transformed and lose its significance. On the other hand, all labour groupings will become more and more mobile and fluid.

Although in the epoch of machine capitalism executive labour at the machines approaches in character to that of organisational labour, nevertheless a difference between them remains, and for that reason the individualisation of the functions of the executor and the organiser remains stable. The most experienced worker in machine production is very different from his manager, and cannot replace him. But the further increase in the complexity and precision of machinery and at the same time the increase in the general intelligence of the workers must eventually remove this difference. With the transition to the automatic regulators, the work of a simple worker approaches nearer and nearer to that of the engineer, and acquires the character of watching the proper working of the various parts of the machine. If automatic regulators are attached to machines there is no need for the mechanic continually to watch his gauges and indicators to see whether the required amount of steam pressure or electrical current is maintained. All he then has to do is from time to time to see whether the regulators are in working order, to alter them as occasion requires, and to see to their speedy repair when necessary, &c. At the same time the knowledge, understanding, ingenuity, and general mental development required of the worker increase. It is not only practical common sense that is required, but exact scientific knowledge of the mechanism, such as only the organising intellectual possesses to-day. Consequently the difference between the “executor” and the manager will be reduced to a purely quantitative difference in scientific training; the worker will then carry out the instructions of a better informed and more experienced comrade rather than blindly subordinate himself to a power based upon knowledge inaccessible to him. The possibility will thus be created of replacing an organiser by any worker and vice versa. The labour inequality of these two types will disappear and they will merge into one.

With the abolition of the last survivals of mental “specialisation” the necessity and the sense of binding certain persons to certain particular work will also disappear. On the other hand the new form of labour will require mental flexibility and diversity of experience, for the maintenance of which it will be necessary that the worker from time to time change his work, going from one kind of machine to another, from the function of “organiser” to that of “executor” and vice versa. And the progress of technique, more rapid than in our day, with its continual improvements of machines and contrivances, must make the rapidly-changing grouping of human forces and individual labour systems, or “enterprises” as we call them to-day, to a high degree more mobile.

All this will become possible and realisable owing to the fact that production is consciously and systematically organised by society as a whole. On the basis of scientific experience and labour solidarity there will be created a general all-embracing organisation of labour. The anarchy which in the epoch of capitalism disunites individual enterprises by ruthless competition and whole classes by stern struggle will be abolished. Science indicates the path to such organisation and devises means for carrying it out, and the combined force of the class-conscious workers will realise it.

The scale of the organisation must from the very beginning be world-wide or nearly so, in order that it may not be dependent in its production and consumption upon exchange with other countries which do not enter it. The experience of the world war and the revolutions that followed it shows that such dependence will immediately be converted into a means of destroying the new system.

The type of organisation cannot be other than centralised; not, however, in the sense of the old authoritarian centralism, but in the sense of a scientific centralism. Its centre should be a gigantic statistical bureau based on exact calculation for the purpose of distributing labour power and instruments of labour.

The motive force of the organisation at first, i.e., as long as the whole of society has not yet been trained in the spirit of collective labour, will be comradely discipline, including an element of compulsion, from which society will step by step emancipate itself.

In this system of production each worker will be actually on an equality with the rest as conscious elements of one sensible whole; each one will be given all the possibilities for completely and universally developing his labour power, and the possibilities of applying it to the advantage of all.

Thus the characteristic features of the socialist society are the homogeneous organisation of the whole productive system, with the greatest mobility of its elements and groupings, and a highly developed mental equality of the workers as universally developed conscious producers.

3. Distribution

Distribution generally represents an essential part of production, and in its organisation is wholly dependent upon it. The systematic organisation of production presupposes a systematic organisation of distribution. The supreme organiser in both these spheres will be society as a whole. Society will distribute labour and also the product of that labour. This is the very opposite of the anarchic unorganised distribution which is expressed in exchange and private property conducted on the basis of competition and the crude conflict of interests. The social organisation of production and distribution presupposes also the social ownership of the means of production and the articles of consumption created by social labour, until society hands them over to the individual for his personal use. “Individual property” commences in the sphere of consumption which essentially is individualistic. This, of course, has nothing in common with capitalist private property, which is primarily the private ownership of means of production; but does not represent the right of the worker to the necessary means of existence.

The principle of distribution arises directly out of the basis of co-operation. As the system of production is organised on the basis that it secures to every member of society the possibility of the complete and universal development of his labour power and the possibility of applying it for the use of all, so the system of distribution should give him the articles of consumption necessary for the development and application of labour power. With regard to the method by which this is to be achieved, two phases may also be foreseen. At first, when the scale of production is not particularly great, and collectivism has not yet penetrated the spirit of every member of society, so that the elements of compulsion must yet be preserved, distribution will serve as a means of discipline: each one will receive a quantity of products in proportion to the amount of labour he has given to society. Later on, when the increase of production and the development of labour co-operation renders such careful economy and compulsion unnecessary, complete freedom of consumption will be established for the worker. Giving society all that he is able in strength and ability, society will give him all that he needs.

The complexity of the new method of organising distribution must obviously be enormous and demand such developed statistical and informative apparatus as our epoch is far from having achieved. But even in our time the elements exist in various spheres of economic life which should serve as the material for such apparatus. In the sphere of banking and credit, for instance, there are the agencies and committees of experts for studying the state of the market, stock exchange organisation, &c.; in the labour movement, there are mutual aid societies, co-operative societies; and organised by the State are schemes of insurance, &c. All these will have to be radically reformed before they can serve for the future system of distribution, because at present they are wholly adapted to the anarchical system of capitalism and therefore subordinated to its forms. They may be described as the scattered rudimentary prototypes of the future harmonious system of distribution.

4. Social Ideology

The first feature of the social psychology of the new society is its socialness, its spirit of collectivism, and this is determined by the fundamental structure of that society. The labour compactness of the great human family, and the inherent similarity in the development of men and women, should create a degree of mutual understanding and sympathy of which the present-day solidarity of the class-conscious elements of the proletariat, the real representatives of future society, is only a weak indication. A man trained in the epoch of savage competition, of ruthless economic enmity between groups and classes, cannot imagine the high development between men of comradely ties that will be organically created out of the new labour relations.

Out of the real power of society over external nature and social forces there follows another feature of ideology of the new world, viz., the complete absence of all fetishism, the purity and clearness of knowledge and the emancipation of the mind from all the fruits of mysticism and metaphysics. The last traces of natural fetishism will disappear, and this will reflect the final overthrow of both the domination of external nature over man and the social fetishism reflecting the domination of the elemental forces of society; the power of the market and competition will be uprooted and destroyed. Consciously and systematically organising his struggle against the elements of nature, social man will have no need for idols which are the personification of a sense of helplessness in the face of the insuperable forces of the surrounding world. The unknown will cease to be unknown because the process of acquiring knowledge – systematic organisation on the basis of organised labour – will be accompanied by a consciousness of strength, a sense of victory, arising from the knowledge that in the living experience of man there are no longer any spheres surrounded by impenetrable walls of mystery. The reign of science will begin and put an end to religion and metaphysics for ever.

As a result of the combination of these two features we get a third feature, viz., the gradual abolition of all standards of compulsion and of all elements of compulsion in social life.

The essential significance of all the compulsory standards – custom, law, and morals – consists in the regulation of the vital contradictions between men, groups, and classes. These contradictions lead to struggles, competitions, enmity, and violence, and arise out of the unorganised state and anarchy of the social whole. The standards of compulsion which society, sometimes spontaneously and sometimes consciously, has established in the struggle with the anarchy and the contradictions have become a fetish, i.e., an external power to which man has subjected himself as something higher, standing above him, and demanding worship or veneration. Without this fetishism compulsory standards would not have the power over man to restrain the vital contradictions. The natural fetishist ascribes a divine origin to authority, law, and morals; the representative of social fetishism ascribes the origin to the “nature of things”; both mean to ascribe to them an absolute significance and a higher origin. Believing in the high and absolute character of these standards, the fetishist subjects himself to them and maintains them with the devotion of a slave.

When society ceases to be anarchical and develops into the harmonious form of a symmetrical organisation, the vital contradictions in its environment will cease to be a fundamental and permanent phenomenon and will become partial and casual. Compulsory standards are a kind of “law” in the sense that must regulate the repeated phenomena arising out of the very structure of society; obviously under the new system they will lose this significance. Casual and partial contradictions amidst a highly-developed social sense and with a highly-developed knowledge can be easily overcome without the aid of special “laws” compulsorily carried out by “authority.” For instance, if a mentally-diseased person threatens danger and harm to others, it is not necessary to have special “laws” and organs of “authority” to remove such a contradiction; the teachings of science are sufficient to indicate the measures by which to cure that person, and the social sense of the people surrounding him will be sufficient to prevent any outbreak of violence on his part, while applying the minimum of violence to him. All meaning for compulsory standards in a higher form of society is lost for the further reason that with the disappearance of the social fetishism connected with them they also lose their “higher” form.

Those who think that the “State form,” i.e., a legal organisation, must be preserved in the new society because certain compulsory laws are necessary, like that requiring each one to work a certain number of hours per day for society, are mistaken. Every State form is an organisation of class domination and this cannot exist where there are no classes. The distribution of labour in society will be guaranteed on the one hand by the teachings of science and those who express them – the technical organisers of labour acting solely in the name of science, but having no power – and on the other by the power of the social sense which will bind men and women into one labour family by the sincere desire to do everything for the welfare of all.

Only in the transitional period, when survivals of class contradictions still exist, is the State form at all possible in the “future State.” But this State is also an organisation of class domination; only it is the domination of the proletariat, which will abolish the division of society into classes and together with it the State form of society.

5. Forces of development

The new society will be based not on exchange but on natural self-sufficing economy. Between production and consumption of products there will not be the market, buying and selling, but consciously and systematically organised distribution.

The new self-sufficing economy will be different from the old primitive communism, for instance, in that it will embrace not a large or a small community, but the whole of society, composed of hundreds of millions of people, and later of the whole of humanity.

In exchange societies the forces of development are “relative over-population,” competition, class struggle, i.e., in reality the inherent contradictions of social life. In the self-sufficing societies referred to above, tribal and feudal societies, &c., the forces of development are based upon “relative over-population,” i.e., the outward contradictions between nature and society, between the demands for the means of life arising out of the growth of the population and the sum of these means which nature in a given society can supply.

In the new self-sufficing society the forces of development will also lie in the outward contradictions between society and nature, in the very process of struggle between society and nature. Here the slow process of over-population will not be required to induce man still further to perfect his labour and knowledge: the needs of humanity will increase in the very process of labour and experience. Each new victory over nature and its mysteries will raise new problems in the highly-organised mentality of the new man, sensitive to the slightest disturbance and contradiction. Power over nature means the continual accumulation of the energy of society acquired by it from external nature. This accumulated energy will seek an outlet and will find it in the creation of new forces of labour and knowledge.

It is true that accumulated energy does not always lead to creativeness; it may lead to degeneration. The parasitic classes of modern, as of former, societies accumulate energy at the expense of the labour of others and seek an outlet for it not in creativeness but in debauchery, luxury, perversity, and refinement. This leads to the weakening of the mentality and to the decline of these classes. But these are only parasites; they do not live in the sphere of socially useful labour, but almost entirely in the sphere of consumption. Naturally they seek new forms of indulgence in this sphere and find them in perversity and subtle refinements. But socialist society does not know of such parasites. In it all are workers, and they will satisfy their desire for creativeness arising out of the excess of energy in the sphere of labour. They will perfect technique and consequently perfect themselves.

The new forces of development arising out of the struggle with nature and of the labour experience of man operate the more strongly and rapidly the wider and more complex and diverse this experience is. For this reason, in the new society with its colossally wide and complex system of labour, with its numerous ties uniting the experience of the most diverse (although equally developed) human individualities, the forces of development must create such rapid progress as we in our day can hardly imagine. The harmonious progress of future society will be much more intensive than the semi-spontaneous progress, fluctuating between contradictions, of our epoch.

All economic obstacles to development will be abolished under the new system. Thus, the application of machinery, which under capitalism is determined by considerations of profit, under the new system will depend entirely upon productivity. As we have seen, machinery which may be very useful for saving labour is very frequently useless from the standpoint of capitalist profits. In socialist society such a point of view will not prevail and there will therefore be no obstacles to the application of labour-saving machinery.

The forces of development which will dominate at this stage will not be new forces; they will have operated previously. In the natural self-sufficing system, however, these forces were suppressed by the general conservatism prevailing in it; under capitalism they are suppressed by virtue of the fact that the classes which take for themselves the product of surplus labour, i.e., the main source of the forces of development of society, do not participate in the direct struggle with nature, do not conduct industry personally, but through others, and consequently remain outside the influence of the forces created in the struggle.

Under socialism, however, the sum total of surplus labour will be employed by the whole of society and every member will directly participate in the struggle against nature. Consequently the main and greatest driving force of progress will act unhindered and at top speed, not through a select minority, but through the whole of humanity, and the sphere of development must increase unceasingly.

Thus the general characteristics of the socialist system, the highest stage of society we can conceive, are: power over nature, organisation, socialness, freedom, and progress.


Last updated on 19 April 2021