Below text, dated January 1921, was a lecture that had to wait four years to be delivered after the brake out of the first systemic level communist revolution in Russia -as one of the outcomes of the first of the, as then was called, inter-imperialist wars.
It was exactly 95 years ago, when Alexander Bogdanov had given this lecture at the First Scientific Organisation of Labour ‘Congress’, in Moscow. Alexander Bogdanov was one of the ultraleft protagonists of the Bolshevik fraction, although he did never believe in revolution that comes from the top, by any organizer classes and upon (and for) those who are being organized.
Below article was written in March 2011, in the absence of knowledge of Bogdanov and his work; in order to make a projection of a self-organizing model for workers, taking the recuperation of the knowledge of the entire production process as base for collective action. As such knowledge is normally held by ‘scinetific managers’, experts in organizational management and data extraction from the living labour, who design and redesign the workings of the whole system in accordance with the interest of the company management.
After several years of deep study of Alexander Bogdanov, I can today strongly assert that the vison he gives in below text does not reflect a top down economic planing strategy for the revolutionary Bolshevik leaderships.
As in the principle stand Bogdanov showed before Lenin, first and foremost, as well as others; in Proletkult movement, in RDSLP and VPERED, and also in his Red Star; the vision he put forward is a projection into a future society. A society where people are reached to a level of self-organization and empowerment, at the planet level. Economic activity is not taken separate from cultural and political ones; causing anarchic or dis/less organized whole producing entropy; but instead an advanced, structurally uniform, but built-up-from-grassroots-economic-network the allow full autonomy to its individual constituent parts.. a networked system in which all empowers one, while one empowers all.
That is why I would read the title as peer to peer scientific organization of labour at a societal level…
THE ORGANIZATIONAL PRINCIPLES OF A UNIFORM ECONOMIC PLAN
The problem of a planned social economy was formulated by Marx with great clarity and depth in his critique of capitalism. Marx has shown that all the contradictions of capitalism. all its inseparable calamities and the embezzlement of power, together with cruel aggravations in the form of crises, have a unique general ground – anarchy in production and the absence of the planned organization of production and the social economy as whole.
Since those times this anarchy has led mankind to the greatest downfall that has ever been known in history. It has been displayed in our country with the greatest intensity. Now the problem of economic planning appears to be the most crucial question in our life, one on which our historical fate depends.
Which economy may be considered as planned? An economy where all its parts are systematically coordinated on the basis of a uniform and systematically worked out economic plan.
How should one begin to solve a problem that is unprecedented in its scale as well as in its difficulties? The principles of a solution may be determined only by a scientific-organizational approach. The essence of such an approach may be briefly expressed in the following two clauses:
1) Every organized whole is a system of activities developing in a certain environment and in persistent interaction with it. So a society is a system of human activities in the natural environment and in a process of struggle against its resistances.
2) Each part of an organized system has certain functional relations with the whole. So each branch of social economics, each undertaking and each worker carries out its own particular function in a society.
These are the two main points of the scientific-organizational attitude that every investigation and every construction concerned with the problems of organizational equilibrium and development are necessarily based upon.
Equilibrium is here, of course, primary and development second.
The first question of the organization of the social economy concerns the regularity connecting production and distribution. Considering these as functionally necessary parts of the economic process, and knowing that production provides all the products for distribution, and distribution in its tum serves to support production one can easily set the following condition of equilibrium: the equilibrium of the social economy is possible when each of its elements get, by distribution, all means that are necessary to fulfil its social productive function. So consumption means that sufficient support of his normal manpower must be given to the worker; materials, fuel and implements, in a quantity that is proper for the further development of production, must be given to an enterprise etc.
Let us apply the organizational viewpoint to the problem of the correlation between the branches of production. They are functionally interconnected by chain connexions some of which give to others the necessary means of production including the means of making the means of consumption; thereby giving the means of the recovery of labour power to all others. Certainly it is not a simple linear chain: for instance, if metallurgical production gives iron, steel etc., to machine-building production and the other branches of industry manufacturing metals, then it takes itself machines and tools from those same branches. The coal industry supplies fuel to all other branches of industry and takes implements and materials from some of these. Thus a chain connexion is time and again interlaced with reflexive branches, this obviously makes the connexion still closer.
A certain proportionality of the branches is a necessary condition of the equilibrium of the economic system which directly results from the chain connexion: all branches must be mutually sufficient since in the opposite case equilibrium is violated and the de-organization of the whole takes place. There is a uniform chain mechanism in which the first section is the production of basic productive means and the last section is the production of the consumable resources supporting life and the labour energy of a society; in the presence of a certain technology the correlations of all the sections of such a mechanism must be quite definite.
For the same reasons the objective possibility of the extension of the different economic branches is also connected with proportionality, certainly, because the technology together with the structure of the system as such is not changed. For example, if the production of iron is expanded by 5% then all branches joined by the chain connexion can expand no more than by 5% together, otherwise they will lack consumable iron; but if they expand by less than 5% together a part of the produced iron remains superfluous and unused. Equally, the branches of the economy that produce the means of the production of iron must supply 5% more than the previous quantity, i.e. they must expand themselves by 5%.
Because of such dependence the extension of the economic process on the whole, whether it is spontaneously anarchic or it is organized systematically, is subject to the law o/the leasts and it is obvious that an extension of the economic whole depends on those of its parts that lag farthest behind. Suppose, for instance, that for a new cycle of production some of its necessary elements may be obtained in a quantity that exceeds its previous quantity only by 2% whereas other elements might increase by 4%, 6%, 9% etc. In that case the expansion of the other branches will only be really successful up to the limit of 2%; should it attempt to go further it turns out to be fruitless or it is replaced by a corresponding delay.
The same bidden supposition forms the basis of Marx’s theory of crises. It was Marx who discovered that under the market system of capitalism one section of the social economy – consumption by the labouring masses – can not extend with the same speed as other sections of production: a worker is able to buy using only bis wage, but the quantity of employed, and therefore buying, workers increases less rapidly than production increases because of technical progress.
The result is a contradiction between this section and others; because of the lengthy chain connexion between the branches and the lack of general systematic calculation the contradiction remains bidden for a long time and it accumulates until it bursts into crisis.
Now the following question arises. What should the formulation of the task be in the phase of transition to the scientific planning of the social economy?
To distribute productive powers one needs in the nrst place a scientific statistical calculation of the proportions of the different sections of the economic hole that would correspond to its equilibrium. If the transition were done in calm circumstances without a catastrophe in the economy then the calculation is based on the factual relations that had been observed in the industrial system before a revolution. But in the presence of a catastrophe that deeply changes the structure of society, its internal tendencies, and, therefore, the character and sum of its needs as well, the calculation must necessarily be done anew.
Since the purpose of the social economy is the satisfaction of human needs in the first place (and then, of course, their development), the initial point of the calculation lies just in these needs – the last link of chain mechanism to which all others sections must be adapted.
Schematically the way of calculation is the following. There is some quantity of population, namely, some quantity of manpower of a certain degree of qualification plus some disabled elements. Their normal living budgets are clarified on the basis of previous experience, physiology and statistics, and it is established that the recovery of all this manpower, including the training of new workers and the support of disabled elements during a fixed period of production, needs such and such quantities of certain consumable things in total. The production of these things presupposes certain expenditures of certain materials, calculated by the technicians, fuel, implements and other production means; but for its production, in its turn, there are needs for certain other means etc. Summing up gives as a result a chain scheme of the typeA- B- C- D-E… where A denotes, for example, a production of 100 million tons of coal, B – production of 10 million tons of cast iron, E – production of 200 million hectolitres of grain and etc. Elements that may be mutually replaced, for example, different kinds of fuel, must be considered as one and the same item. So a norm of equilibrium will be defined that is the initial point for all further scientific and practical constructions.
Then the actual state of available elements must be compared with this norm. If they are more than sufficient to fulfil the scheme it remains only to include in it the calculation of possible and desirable extensions and developments of production.
But when the transition to planned organization is performed after a deep economic catastrophe the actual presence of the conditions of production may turn out to be lower at many parts of the scheme, suppose that its real form is the following: O.2A – O.3B – O.5e – O.7D – …etc.
Then, apparently, one deals with the reconstruction of production in the first place. According to the law of the leasts the most constraining role in the process of reconstruction will be played by the branches of production lagging most behind, for example, branch A in our scheme. These will be the “prioritized” branches in modern terminology and these are to be intensified in the first place by directing into them labour power and appropriate labour means from the branches that are lagging least behind. So the quantities below the norm must be increased one after another according to their minimality until the norm is achieved along the whole line. It is an order of expedience since, for instance, it would be erroneous try to raise transport to its normal scale at once when its capacity need not be used for a long time because of the weaknesses of other branches of the economy.
Certainly, those cases when a society is forced to put the task of its immediate rescue before the task of the reconstruction of the means of production are exclusions from such a sequence. For instance, the insufficient production of bread, although it is not at the lowest minimum. threatens to entail the near destruction of a part of the labour power of society; or suppose that strategic necessity forces the extension of transport and those branches connected with a war at any price etc. But it will be a forced violation of economic systematicity .
The systematic organization of production may force a resort to barter with other societies, even though these are societies of capitalistic type, until it becomes a world organization. During the period of the reconstruction of an economy undermined by catastrophe, the task may be made easier by barter. But its theoretical i.e. that connected with planning, aspect becomes more complicated. Relative surplus in some branches is needed for barter to have the means of settling accounts, for example, factor C must be increased say one and a half times, factor E – twice. Then it is obvious that the other factors will be forced to change by the chain connexion. Under extreme devastation it may be impossible to get a relative surplus in some branches; then it is possible to replace it with the temporary sale of some part of the system’s unexploited natural resources – its lease, giving up for concession etc., to foreign capital.
A special difficulty in the construction of the economic plan of Soviet Russia consists in the connexion of its uniform government, and almost completely industrial economy with 20 million smaIl peasant farms. This connexion partially has the form of requisition but mainly it has the form of exchange. Apparently it is impossible to include the whole of this mass into the economic plan i.e. to take into account and regulate it completely. But it is impossible as well to consider the mass as something external like a “foreign” state which is a partner in barter; the economy regulated by the state gets from it the most important of vital juices – foodstuffs, fuel to a marked degree and even labour power partially; whereas the peasant’s farm is undermined too and needs reconstruction as well, the means necessary must be given to it to support its productivity. Its pressing needs must be taken into account and included in the system of the general plan within these limits, otherwise all calculations may in fact be destroyed.
We have no need to go further here than the most general considerations of the principles concerned with the methods of the scientific-systematic organization of the economy. But it is evident that the task on the whole, its complexity and difficulty, is completely solvable tektologically. Apparently it is solvable only tektologically.
1 A lecture at the First congress on the ScIentific Organization of Labour (January 1921). The lecture Is published with some abridgement.