Socialism will be a society based upon production for use. But what does this mean? How could this work and what part could be played by information technology in socialism?

When describing the new society they are working for, socialists frequently encounter the question: 'How will it work?' Questioners often assume that only with a system of money and prices can things 'work'; that things just happen, without any need for them to participate.

The market system of buying and selling may well 'work' in the sense that it continues to function with or without people trying to control where it takes us. After all, politicians nowadays seem to increasingly admit how little control they have over the system they merely administer. Yet, this unavoidable absence of conscious, social, control is precisely the problem. The new form of social organisation where production is organised solely for use may require more active involvement by people but this is the only way of running society in the interests of the whole population. So when replying to the question 'How will it work?' socialists recognise that there is firstly a necessity for the vast majority of people to understand and want socialism.

Capitalism has been widely celebrated for its capacity for rapid technological advance. Thus Marx in the Communist Manifesto of 1848: 'The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production.' A century later Joseph Schumpeter declared that 'creative destruction' is 'the essential fact about capitalism' (Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, 1942). And surely this fact has never been truer than it is today, in the age of micro-electronics and bio-engineering?

The technological dynamism of capitalism is undeniable, especially in comparison with earlier historical formations. This, however, is only half the story. The functioning of capitalism also entails the shelving or suppression of many useful inventions. One common cause of neglect is the limited purchasing power of those who stand to benefit from some discovery, as in the case of drugs to treat tropical diseases. Another key factor behind the non-use of inventions is the patents system.

A patent is a legally protected exclusive right to use a new product or process, valid for a fixed period of time (typically 20-25 years). Patent rights supposedly belong to 'inventors' and promote technological advance by giving inventors a substantial material interest in the results of their work. It's a dubious rationale because most inventors are members of the working class and the patents on their inventions, like the windfall profits from them, belong not to them but to their employers. If they're lucky they might get a small bonus. They go on inventing things because it gives them satisfaction. That's human nature.

A little over a year ago I started to use something in my daily life 'that'll never work' because 'it's human nature, mate'; 'There's no such thing as a free lunch'; 'People don't work for pleasure, you know, they only work because they have to'. Yet here I am, totally chuffed with this thing that is so opposed to much of the preconceived notion of 'human nature' and the ways of this wicked world that it can't possibly exist let alone bring some pretty unbridled pleasure to this 65 year-old anorak.