In January – February 2017 the journals of the American leftist organization Solidarity (Solidarity and Against the Current) published a stimulating article by Sam Friedman entitled ‘Creating a Socialism that Meets Needs’. The author considers how production decisions might be made in a socialist society. Here I summarize and comment on his argument.

Does complexity rule out meaningful democracy?

When socialists speak of democracy we mean something very different from the concept the mainstream media provides. Instead of giving you permission to vote for some toff or careerist to serve and define your political interests (improbably) for five years we insist that any meaning democracy must entail the involvement of the community at every level in political/economic decision making.

When confronted by this definition of democracy our rulers and their media are incredulous and produce a torrent of reasons why this is impractical at best and political madness at worst. Most of the objections are ideological and do not deserve any serious consideration but there is one that has to be discussed: Does our technological culture depend almost entirely on the expertise of a minority of specialists whose knowledge cannot be easily understood by the ‘layman’ and is therefore inaccessible to democratic debate and decision? Are these ‘technocrats’ the only ones with the talent and ability to make decisions concerning, for instance, scientific research and technological application?

If socialism had to be summed up in a single phrase we could say that it was conscious social control of all aspects of life, including the production and distribution of wealth. This is why Marx once spoke of real history only beginning with socialism, by which he meant that humans had until then been the victims of natural scarcity (low productivity imposing hard labour and material shortage on the bulk of the population) and. under capitalism, of blind economic forces beyond their control; pre-history would end with the end of capitalism as the establishment of socialism would precisely put social life under conscious human control; in socialism the human race would be carrying out their own desires and decisions.

What will give humans this freedom in socialism is the fact that all the Earth's resources, including the means for producing wealth, will have become the common heritage of the whole of humanity. Actually, this is just another way of saying that the world will belong to nobody: there will be neither property nor territorial rights over any part of the globe. Humanity will therefore be free to organise its social life in accordance with its wishes. To do this—to decide on and carry out its wishes—humanity will have to organize itself, inevitably democratically, since if decision-making were left to a permanent minority they would constitute a new owning class.

In the World Socialist Movement, we are accustomed to saying that socialism will be a society of free access.However, one obvious but rarely clarified question is: free access to what? Even if everything produced is made freely available to people, how will the range of goods and services to be supplied be determined?

One answer might be: if producing a thing is technically possible and if someone somewhere wants it, then it will be supplied. But most people might feel that a single individual should not have so much leverage over others work. A rule might be established that a new product will be supplied once a certain number of people have registered a request for it. The number of requests required could vary, depending (say) on the difficulties involved in providing the new product, but also on how essential it was to those asking for it. Thus, specialised medications and prosthetics would surely be prepared even for very small numbers of people suffering from rare conditions  something that capitalist firms are reluctant to do because it is unlikely to yield a profit.