European Minimum Programme

Good times, good times

Ever since the German Social Democrats’ rather embarrassed shelving of the Erfurt Programme, the venerable socialist tradition of a basic set of policies that would facilitate social transformation has gone out of fashion. Trotsky was at pains to distinguish his economistic  Transitional Programme from the orthodox Marxists’ conception and in this he succeeded, albeit at the cost of downgrading the programme’s function as an agent of enlightenment.

Many modern far left parties, follow Trotsky in advocating policies they consider to be impossible to realise under capitalism and so their supporters, upon realising this, will become radicalised. In practice, these demands amount to a series of radical Keynesist proposals that languish curiously between the reality of capitalism and the possibility of socialism.

It is, moreover,  the exact opposite of the mass party approach, which aims to enable a social transformation by winning a majority to a programme that explicitly points towards a socialist society itself. The reasoning behind this approach is that socialism depends on the conscious support of the majority and that requires that people understand the implications of the programme itself.

With this in mind, we offer for consideration a condensed programme for Europe – an EMP – that we think is the minimum necessary to effect a transition from capitalism to a democratic socialist world.

Part A
1. Unification of Europe into a single sovereign authority with paramount authority residing in a European parliament.
2. Parliament to be chosen by a party list system. Popular oversight of parliamentary representatives to be exercised through participation in a party.
3. Plebiscites on major issues, including budget priorities and military intervention abroad.
4. Replacement of standing army with militia; thorough reform of the security apparatus
5. Senior public service positions to be chosen from a pool of qualified personnel by a mixture of lot, internal elections, and parliamentary appointment for a set period.
6. Juries to decide cases regarding conflicts between employers and employees.
7. State support for only secular schools and hospitals.
8. Establishment of a single working language for all state affairs.
9. Fair trade on the basis of solidarity with all countries.

Part B
10. A normal working week of 25 hours.
11. Democratic control of investment via publicly owned banks issued with mandates from plebiscites and parliament.
12. Establishment of a tax on capital assets to fund investment.
13. Workers to have a legally enforceable right to the full value of their labour.
14. All goods, services, and wage slips to be stamped with their labour value.
15. Enterprises above X size to be organised on a co-operative basis if requested by majority of staff. Compensation to be paid out of future profits.
16. Guaranteed right to work with the State to be employer of last resort.
17. Other things being equal co-operatives to be favoured by the state in tendering for public contracts.
18. Transition to tax being collected in labour notes.
19. Abolition of indirect taxation.
20. Abolition of laws restricting the flow of scientific and technical information.
21. Promotion of the distribution of goods and services on the free software model. .

Frequently Asked Questions
1. Europe is composed of many different nations with massive cultural variation. A single state will not work.
Alabama is different from California, yet the US has been a stable formation for over 150 years. Multi-national empires were common until very recently. While it is true that many people in Europe retain a residual loyalty to their nation-state, this is neither inevitable nor desirable.

2. Why limit the state to Europe?
Pragmatism. The EU is an embryonic state so many of the institutions necessary for organising a continental sized polity already exist. A continental sized one is necessary if manners are to be put on the extremely powerful capitalists that currently hold sway over so much of the financial system. But there is no chauvinistic impulse behind it. If, say, including North African or even South American states should be feasible, we would welcome that.

3. Why a party list system for elections. Won’t that lead to party bureaucrats choosing the candidates?
We want elections to be as political as possible. In many western elections, the focus is on the personalities and good looks of the candidates. A party-list system by no means cures that affliction, but it does make it easier to conduct politics on a more political basis. As for party bureaucrats controlling the lists, it is up to people to join and participate in parties to ensure that does not occur.

4. Why not have direct democracy, with assemblies electing delegates to higher assemblies, as occurred with the soviets in 1917.
This topic merits lengthier treatment but a council democracy is too unwieldy to be stable over the medium term. Participative democracy can occur internally within a mass party and the party should be able to keep control of its representatives. This is a more streamlined process than attempting to keep control of representatives via recourse to assemblies open to the entire population (or class), since the representatives will have party allegiances anyway.

5. A single working language? That’ll never work.
People in any given region won’t stop speaking their local language, but for State business it is just easier to have one language. It doesn’t matter which one it is, as long as there is one that facilitates communication. In any case, if there are to be multiple official languages we should favour a tactic of minimisation thereof. The EU’s current policy of even having languages like Irish as working languages should just be junked.

6. What does fair trade on the basis of solidarity with other countries mean?
First of all, it means we shouldn’t attempt to rapaciously extract wealth from weaker developing countries. But also it aims to foster development in such countries while not throwing overboard workers in the advanced countries. So, for example, tariffs, the amount of which is contingent on the degree of exploitation and environmental degradation, can be applied to goods produced in the developing countries but the proceeds from these tariffs are remitted to like-minded ideological organisations, i.e. socialist co-operatives, there. This would ensure that production in Europe is not undercut by nefarious capitalists based in the third world, who cut corners on labour and environmental conditions.

We favour massive technological advancement both here and abroad. Shunting production to the third world where copious amounts of cheap labour still abounds delays technological progress. Tariffs that penalise for this create disincentives for favouring cheap labour as a factor of production.

We also want the third world to develop industrially and harbour no illusions about the joy of societies living in pre-capitalist conditions or those in the early, brutal stages of capitalism. Since we wish to foster development there too, we remit the proceeds from the tariffs so that investment in the productive infrastructure will gain a capital boost. This is additional to any solidarity and direct technological transfers that will also occur.

7. What is democratic control of investment and why not just tax the rich and redistribute to lessen social inequality?
This is a crucial issue, and in the choice lies the difference between classical socialism and modern social democracy. A strategy of taxation and redistribution through welfare and social spending, while vastly superior than neo-liberalism, is not a strategy that enables an exit from capitalism itself. It is, therefore, in the longer term constrained by the logic of capitalism and this makes it vulnerable to being rolled back.

No social gains are ever completely immune to reaction, of course, but we can minimise the possibilities. Democratic control of investment requires collective ownership of the means of production. This is inherently anti-capitalist because one of the defining features of capitalism is that investment decisions are made by the owners of capital (the capitalists), which is why the system is called what it is. Democratic or social ownership of capital – factories, communications, patents etc – enables those decisions to be made by and in the interests of the great majority. The benefits that result from such investments will be under the command of the population itself, thus making it harder for reaction to set it.

8. What is with workers “having a full right to the full value of their labour”, “goods, services, and wage slips to be stamped with their labour value” and taxation being collected in labour notes?
Another defining feature of capitalism is the use of wage-labour. Capitalists pay workers to produce goods and sell those goods for more than what they pay the workers.

For workers who are not ready to move towards co-operative ownership of their businesses, the use of labour values on wages, taxes etc is an excellent educational method that heightens their awareness of living within a capitalist system. If their pay-slip tells them they are being paid 40 labour hours but the money they receive only amounts to 25 hours (due to the subtraction of the surplus value by the capitalist) then it makes it easier to both ask and answer the question as to what is going on.

We said above that capitalists pay workers to produce goods and sell those goods for more than what they pay the workers. This profit, which is theirs alone and to which workers have no legal claim, provides them with the funds to invest in the next round of production. A socialist programme enables workers to have title to the full value of the goods they produce. The legal system which currently is biased towards capitalists (by giving them legal title to the goods and profit realised on them) will in the future be biased towards the workers who will be able to claim title. But it does not automatically give it to them. It is up to workers themselves to organise to attain it.

It is preferable to enable them to do so rather than just hand them title because socialism depends on mass support and simply transferring ownership by fiat to them we may miss out on the vital aspect of workers wanting it and organising to keep it. The aim is to facilitate socialisation rather than compel it. If it does occur – as it should, as it is in workers’ interests –  it will be created on a very solid foundation compared to if it was dictated from on high.

The same reasoning applies to giving legal enforcement to the transformation of companies into co-ops if a majority of workers vote for it. The state can give it legal sanction, even encourage it. But to compel it would be to condemn the resulting enterprise to the dead hand of state compulsion.

9. Why favour direct as opposed to indirect taxation?
Some taxation is necessary to fund social services such as health care, park maintenance, street cleaning, a civic police force etc. It is better that the taxation process is transparent so that workers know how much they are paying and what they can, therefore, expect by way of services in return. Indirect taxes are more opaque and make it harder to retain support for necessary expenditure, which leads to calls for taxation to be reduced to unsustainable levels.

10. Why bother with a capital tax then?
A capital tax to fund reinvestment is put to a different use than the direct taxes that are used to fund day-to-day services. Co-operatives are not to be the private possessions of an arbitrary group of workers. Rather they are held in trust by them for the whole of society. Workers should pay a capital tax on the co-ops means of production to the state, as the incarnation of the collective interest, which funds future investment. That investment process, as we have seen, is conducted under the democratic auspices of parliament.

10. Isn’t a co-operative based system perilously close to market socialism?
Yes. Profits from the co-ops fall to the workers therein. This may prove to be a situation congenial to all and therefore stable into the foreseeable future. Since there is no exploitation in such a system, there is nothing to get too upset about per se. But it does not close off the possibility of evolution into a more tightly planned economy. Social ownership and democratic control of investment, together with the fostering of a co-operative mentality which has been engendered by the voluntary nature of the socialisation process, provides the basis for increased planning and, depending on the levels of abundance, for a transition to a communist mode of distribution.

11. Why is it a minimum programme?
Broadly speaking this constitutes a second phase of a socialist transformation project. It depends on a first stage, comprising the creation of a significant co-operative sector and the emergence of a mass European wide socialist party, having been completed. The second stage becomes operative when state power falls to the Socialist Party. It is a minimum programme because the programme itself does not promise to deliver socialism; it promises to enable it. The rest is up to people to take advantage of the gaps opened up by the minimum programme itself.

12. I’m interested! Tell me more!

I will! For now, check out Gar Alperovtiz, David Schweickart, Paul Cockshott, and the excellently named venture communism from whom many of the above ideas have been blatantly plagiarised.

About James O'Brien

History: Tried for Bakuninist deviationism, confessed his errors and was rehabilitated. Subsequently degenerated into Kautskyist Orthodoxy. Worse, is an Irish peasant.
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8 Responses to European Minimum Programme

  1. Rosie Murphy says:

    What kind of parliament? One based on the British system which allows a virtual dictatorship for the duration of the government? I think reform needs a system with checks and balances so that no one party or coaltion of parties has a completely free hand.

  2. modulus says:

    A couple of points:

    1) No guaranteed minimum income?
    2) Mostly approve about the centralisation points, though I find the idea of a single language a little too utopian, but definitely desirable.
    3) You seem content with market socialism. I’d point out there can be exploitation even without surplus value through the relations of exchange between the co-operative enterprises. I don’t think I’d find this end point satisfactory at all.
    4) Full fruits of labour was criticised by Marx on the basis that there is machine depreciation, needs to expand industrial plant, etc. Thoughts?

  3. yeksmesh says:

    – You seem to include a bunch of positions in you program that I think dont really provide enough bang for the buck, positions like uniting the entirety of Europe in one state and cutting all support to schools with religious affiliation might cause massive opposition while only providing little advantage for a socialist program.

    To clarify, so for example uniting the enterity of Europe in one state might end the nationalism of some countries in Europe (or it might strengthen them) but it is possible that it will just be replace by a new European nationalism which could just as well be much more damaging to for example immigration issues. And this while you have very significant parts of the population who would oppose this measure.

    – If you enable workers to be payed according to the value of their labour, you also need to include provisions for regarding studying as labour that gets you payed (someone else told me that studying should be regarded as labour, so if this is wrong could you quickly tell me why that is?), because if you do not do that you have the danger that you will heavily alienate workers who have followed higher education (which are quite numerous in Europe) because you would disadvantage them.

    – It will be impossible to enact this program in one go, therefore you will need to start making priorities within the program itself, or risk an incomplete enactment of your program which could have some negative consequences.

  4. yeksmesh says:

    Also the David Schweickhart link doesnt work.

  5. Dara says:

    I don’t understand why studying should be regarded as labour. Although sometimes students do do work as part of their courses, the major part of studying does not generally produce an immediate external good. It does, of course, improve the person’s capacity for productive labour and intelligence (although often tending largely towards one or the other!) . Viewed purely economistically it is inculcation of knowledge and skills to enable the individual to provide socially useful labour in the future.

    In a socialist economy (or one headed in that direction) I think we would view pre-work education as preparation for participation in society, including but not limited to labour (we would want broader skills such as communication, critical thinking, social knowledge, etc.). Even then, it is work in the sense of being expenditure of muscular and nervous energy, but not in the sense of producing a socially useful good. It does produce socially useful humans, but the whole point of socialism is that we are not commodities 😉

    I think a Guaranteed Basic Income, or a Student’s Wage that supplements this would be a good solution.

  6. modulus says:

    Well, I think study is labour because it has to be added up to the cost of reproduction of the labour power. Marx makes this distinction when talking about simple and complex labour. If a person takes 30 hours of training in order to be able to produce 1 widget in 1 hour, the 30 hours of training have to be incorporated into the labour cost of production of the widgets, including the time used by the students and by the trainers themselves, of course.

    This is, if memory doesn’t fail, how Cockshott and Cotrell deal with complex labour in Towards a New Socialism, so at least it’s the useful way of thinking of it when determining the labour content of goods.

  7. James O'Brien says:

    What kind of parliament? One based on teh British system which allows a virtual dictatorship for the duration of the government? I think reform needs a system with checks and blaances sos that no one party or coalition of parties has a completely free hand.

    This is an interesting question and one which I will delve into more deeply in the future. Briefly, we do require a parliament that commands a lot of power if it is to be a useful tool of social transformation. Parliament should have the paramount power, subject only to referendums regarding the alteration of the consitution itself. If the parliament is crippled by undue checks and balances all progressive policy is liable to get kicked into touch for years.

    Here I will mention a point that I accidently left out of this version of the EMP: in Ireland and the US the paramount power resides in the Supreme Court and this checks the freedom of the parliament to make any significant changes (assuming the system wasn’t in the first place so distorted by wealth inequality of course). Any restriction of private property rights are likely to be swiftly struck down by our bewigged betters. I would do away with court sumpremacy in favour of popular sovereignty.

    A democratically chosen parliament should have considerable power to effect the significant changes in social policy necessary to transition to socialism. If there are too many checks on its power, e.g., where the Socialist Party has to govern in a coalition with a liberal party even if it has attained a large majority this will limit its freedom to implement its programme.

    Obviously the political system has to respect basic civil rights such as the right of an opposition to articulate its position, to organise, etc etc. So there will always be such limits on the power of parliament. And, to mention another point I left out of this version, the frequency with which parliament can be chosen can be increased to annual or bi-annual elections. I don’t regard this as a crucial issue though.

    The other angle from which to look at this issue is that the power of the parliamentary representatives should be controlled by the population acting through the party of their choice. So, rather than having general assemblies tasked with keeping and an eye on and, if appropriate, recalling the representatives or the current situation where parliamenterians have little enough pressure put on them from below, popular control over parliament should be exercised via internal party democracy. The party might also be the best place in which to experiment with more novel methods of choosing representatives such as sortition.

    Of course, this requires that the population, or a significant fraction thereof, participate in a party or to create their own one if they are not satisfied with the range of choices on offer. But that poses no greater a problem for a party system than it does for a council system, and probably a good deal less.

  8. modulus says:

    So, from your previous comment I gather you’re not in favour of the notion of recalling parliamentary members? I understand this would be more difficult on a single-district party-list system, after all, which MPs should get recalled? But it seems a basic necessity that if the Parliament goes outside its mandate the people should have the power to recall it somehow.

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