The promise and peril of the ‘third wave' – socialism and democracy for the 21st century by Carl Davidson, Ivan Handler and Jerry Harris The collapse of Soviet socialism is being celebrated by the defenders of imperialism throughout the capitalist world as the definitive victory in a struggle that has been waged for some 150 years. It doesn't matter in these circles that the Soviet system was a deformed, or distorted, or corrupted, or phony version of any socialism that Marx or Lenin would have recognized as their own. Nor does it matter that there are still a few pockets of resistance holding out, whether on a small scale in Cuba or on a large scale in China. What does matter to them is that the only socialism that claimed to be an existing alternative for advanced industrial society is no longer a competing force. The left now generally acknowledges the crisis. Some stalwarts were in deep denial until the very end. But despite this major defeat, the left, for the most part, still hopes to keep the red flag flying. For better or worse, most of the left groups and trends still want to defend their own brand of socialism, or at least defend a given set of socialist goals or ideals, if not socialism itself. As for the collapse or stagnation of existing varieties of socialism that held state power, the left generally tries to explain these failures as stemming from an internal lack of democracy or a surplus of bureaucracy, or as a byproduct of external imperialist aggression or military competition, or some combination of all these factors. We want to argue for a different approach. In our view, the crisis is deeper than a fundamental flaw in the theory or practice of socialism. We believe the causes of the failure of socialism lay in its historical roots in an industrial society, itself in crisis. We see the current chaotic situation around the world as the advent of an all-sided and deep structural crisis that is sweeping not only through the socialist countries, but the capitalist countries as well. Rather than witnessing simply the end of socialism, we believe we are witnessing the start of a new radical upheaval in industrial society generally, in both the capitalist West and the socialist East. This perspective is not original with us. Much of the analysis that follows is taken from the work of Alvin and Heidi Toffler, co-authors of three widely read books: Future Shock, The Third Wave and Powershift. We believe the socialist movement has a great deal to learn from both the questions they pose and the answers they supply. In its limited analysis of the crisis so far, we believe the left has downplayed what the existing capitalist and socialist economies of the West have in common in real life. In industrialized society, labor and machinery are organized along similar lines in capitalist and socialist countries. The primary means of generating wealth is the mass production of the factory-based assembly line. While each economy has its own particularities, the main patterns of socialized mass production are reflected and reproduced in all arenas of human endeavor. Moreover, these systems of mass production are linked together in country after country, as a dynamic and expanding market develops national industrial societies into a global system. For industrial mass production, the main dominant patterns of social organization are the forms of presumed rationality: concentration, centralization, standardization, specialization, maximalization and synchronization. But despite its claim of rationality, industrial society is not a sustainable form of civilization, especially as it expands on a world scale. Its energy sources, whether capitalist or socialist, are primarily nonrenewable hydrocarbons – oil, natural gas or coal – or toxic radioactive materials. Not only are these energy sources irrationally, unevenly and unfairly distributed; their full and complete use is also irrational. The steady, ongoing overuse of carbon-based systems would transform all of the solid and liquid forms of the element now underground and pump them into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide. The end result is the "greenhouse effect" – a complex web of environmental disasters wreaking ecological havoc and rendering the biosphere unfit for human habitation. This feature of industrial society is not a problem of the distant future. It is the "dirty little secret" of today's world, standing behind the rising conflict between North and South. The truth is that we cannot have economic equality among nations based on today's levels and standards. If every country in the world was organized on the same level and the same types of production and consumption that are "enjoyed" in the U.S., or Europe, or Japan or even the former Soviet Union, the resulting polluted biosphere would render the globe uninhabitable for humans. But industrial mass production is expansionist. It strives for universality, transforming industrial society into a mass society. It features mass urban centers, mass markets, mass media, mass culture, mass education, mass consumption, and mass political parties. While advanced capitalism roots itself in the mass market and mass consumption, Marxism too has reduced complex and diverse populations to oversimplified conceptions of "the masses." ONGOING REVOLUTION n Today's technological revolution has pushed industrial mass production to new heights in the capitalist world. New and upgraded factories continue to produce an ever-wider variety of commodities of improved quality at lower prices, with less labor. Telecommunications has integrated capital markets into a 24-hour, on-line global system of exchange. The full consequences of these developments are only beginning to take shape, although change takes place at an increasingly rapid pace. The main reason for today's ongoing revolution in the productive forces was the invention of the microchip. This revolution began in the 1950s with the merging of transistors, themselves the first major practical application of quantum mechanics, with the mass replication of miniaturized integrated circuits. The result was a device that vastly expanded the ability of the machinery of mass production to process information rapidly. In fact, the speed of the microprocessor has enabled information to be used within a time-frame and on a scale of complexity hitherto unimaginable. Information itself has become an increasingly valuable commodity of a new type The microchip's impact is changing everything about our world and the way we live. Civilization is undergoing a quantum leap on the order of the agricultural revolution launched 6,000 years ago and the industrial revolution launched 200 years ago. We have now entered a third period of human history. We prefer to call it the information era. Others refer to the same phenomena as "post-industrial" or "postmodern" civilization, to differentiate the present from the agricultural or industrial past. Neither of these two earlier revolutions or waves of change – the agricultural and the industrial – is fully completed. Both are having an impact today. As for the first wave, in some remote corners of the globe, hunter-gatherer societies continue to be drawn into settled agricultural modes of production. The persistence of the second wave is much more apparent. It continues to surge in the new industrial revolution now spreading in the formerly agricultural regions of Asia, Africa and Latin America. But the third wave of change, rooted in the impact of the microchip, is spreading even more rapidly. It has been underway for less than 40 years, mainly in the industrial societies of Europe, North America and Japan. It is the main feature of the shift from industrial to post- industrial society; and its promise and peril will soon be projected into every corner of the globe. A society becomes "third wave" when a majority of its labor force becomes mainly and irreversibly engaged in processing information and providing services, rather than directly producing "hard" commodities or farm products. In the U.S., this point was reached by 1960. This does not mean that a third wave society stops producing the traditional goods of basic industry. It is an even greater industrial powerhouse than before; but now it manages to produce these goods with a relatively smaller and smaller proportion of the labor force. A good analogy is U.S. agriculture. Less than 100 years ago, a majority of the American labor force worked on farms for a living. Today U.S. farms are the most productive in the world, supplying not only the domestic market but the world market as well. But now less than 3 percent of the labor force works on farms. Mechanization and relatively large amounts of fertile land are only part of the reason for this. U.S. farmers are also many times more productive than earlier farmers because of information – whether in the design of equipment, fertilizers or hybrid seeds, or in advance knowledge of weather patterns transmitted by modern communications. SURPLUS VALUE AS KNOWLEDGE n Information is not a new component of production, even though its relative importance has grown with the progress of society. In fact, the creation of value, whether use-value or exchange-value, is best understood as the result of expanding the information content of the productive process. An average laborer in industrial society can produce much more value than he or she needs to survive comfortably. A similar worker on a pre-industrial farm will produce far less wealth, using a far greater expenditure of labor-time. The difference here is not the worker but the tools and organization of work. The machines of the industrial era were created by the combined efforts of inventive workers, scientists and engineers of past and current generations.They designed machinery to amplify a worker's abilities. For example, a stamping machine amplifies a worker's strength; a conveyor belt amplifies a worker's ability to move and access materials. In addition to machinery, new methods of organizing production also amplified each worker's effectiveness. Industrial production thus has a much higher knowledge component than pre-industrial agriculture or even the craftsmanship of early manufacturing. There the individual worker had much knowledge, but the productive process had comparatively primitive tools. In the information age, the knowledge-content of production has become even higher. In third wave production, only a few workers are needed to produce goods of greater quality and sophistication. This is due to the embedding of microcomputer technology into the tools of production. By organizing work so that most of the manual tasks can be done by technology, the number of workers needed to carry out the task gets reduced dramatically, while the productivity of the individual worker soars in inverse proportion. This change is also causing another important reversal. On one hand, the workforce responsible for production is becoming more educated (in certain sectors) as its productivity increases. On the other hand, the workforce in many service areas (such as marketing) is increasingly comprised of large numbers of very low skilled workers. This is especially true for specific data-gathering tasks – data entry, feeding paper into optical character recognition readers, scanning bar codes, etc. This may be a temporary phenomena until new techniques are discovered to reduce the amount of labor needed to carry out many of these tasks. For example, the phone companies are continually adding new automated voice services which are increasing efficiency and reducing the number of telephone operators. In any case, the less educated sectors of the labor force are forced to compete for a dwindling number of better-paying jobs or forced out of employment altogether. The result is a deep structural crisis. The advent of the third wave is by no means a glittering, painless shift into a utopian wonderland. It is more like a hurricane, leaving disorder and destruction in its wake. The third wave guts entire workforces and industries to the point of collapse. It sabotages old markets and renders national borders meaningless. It makes possible a glut of high quality and relatively inexpensive goods, while also producing a radical and uneven restructuring of the working class itself. Generally speaking, three main groupings of workers emerge in third wave society. l The first group is a dynamic and growing force of skilled analysts, designers and technicians filling the new jobs created by the new technology in both the private and public sectors. l The second group is a stagnant or shrinking force of both skilled and unskilled "blue collar" occupations. Their ranks are being depleted by automation or by the export of their jobs to the huge pools of far cheaper but now "globalized" labor in the newly industrializing regions of the third world. l The third group is a growing, deskilled pool of unemployed and even unemployable workers. From the capitalist perspective, these workers have a negative net value – even if they were employed, their skill level would result in the production of less value than the cost of sustaining them. This is the so-called "permanent underclass" – people with inadequate incomes for the necessities of survival, let alone for the higher quality goods of third wave production. The third wave thus contains both promise and peril. On one hand, it fuels the unemployment and social chaos that breeds the danger of war and genocide. On the other, it creates entire new industries in biotechnology, aquaculture and alternative energies. In this sense, the third wave contains the potential for sustainable advanced "green" technologies that can serve societies of abundance, decency and human rights for all. But what is worse than the dangers posed by the third wave is the attempt to ignore or stifle the information technologies fueling it. This was a deep flaw in the structure of the "command economies" of the Soviet bloc, which based their politics on the centralized control and restriction of information. The growth of the new technology requires open, accessible and decentralized sources and outlets for the flow of information. But this was hardly possible in societies that stationed soldiers to guard photocopiers and fax machines. Far from guaranteeing political security, these measures were only effective in insuring the economic backwardness of the societies practicing them. Relative to information-rich production methods and products in the West, the socialist factories were thus inefficient, wasteful and, with few exceptions, produced outmoded or shabby goods. To be fair, the feudal and capitalist worlds initiated these practices of attempting to control politics by controlling information. It was Hitler's propaganda machine that gave birth to the term "totalitarian." The use of the state to control and restrict the market in information, moreover, was simply an extension of state intervention in the traditional economy. Capitalist industries in the West have always tried to use the state to "protect" favored industries from competition with more productive, better organized factories in other countries. Trade unions have also tried to "protect" obsolete jobs with featherbedding work rules. In the U.S. auto industry, for example, both management and labor believed that planned obsolescence was acceptable as a way to guarantee future demand, growth and job security. Instead they guaranteed stagnation and backwardness. The result was a huge opening for Japan to capture a larger market share with a better product. A left that fails to base itself fundamentally on an accurate assessment of the nature and direction of these developments in the productive forces does not deserve to be called Marxist. At best, its critique of capitalism and industrial society generally will be limited to moralisms and will become irrelevant to practical politics. At worst, it will propose bankrupt solutions to the crises which will evoke a reactionary nostalgia for the fetters of the old order. It does no good, for instance, to call for a reindustrialization of the economy along the lines of the blue-collar industries of the past. While some industries can be retained and some jobs can be restored – mainly those that were lost due to the business cycle, mismanagement or unrestricted runaways – most of those jobs or industries eliminated by advances in technology and industrial organization cannot be restored. Marxists especially should not be calling for a retreat to less-advanced, more inefficient, more wasteful, and less skilled forms of production that turn out poorer goods at higher prices. In fact, it has always been part of our strategic critique of the bourgeoisie that its interests and methods placed fetters on the productive forces of society and produced a moribund, wasteful and decadent system. A NEW LOOK AT HISTORY'S LESSONS n Seen from this perspective, the failure of industrial "second wave" socialism is part and parcel of the worldwide collapse and transformation of second wave industrialism. In particular, the socialist crisis was hastened by its earlier uncritical and dogmatic embrace of industrial patterns as "scientific" or "progressive" regardless of limitations or conditions. Second wave industrialism concentrated huge productive forces of machinery, labor and capital. Working-class communities surrounded giant factories, where communist "concentrations" were to be built as part of the newly massified neighborhoods. Socialist political structure was to reflect the skeleton of industrial organization and life. The whole working class, for instance, was to be concentrated in one mass party with a single strategy. Advocacy of diversified, multi-party systems or strategies was frequently denounced as "liberal" or "bourgeois." This industrial principle of concentration was carried forward into Soviet economic and social planning. Whole new cities were built around giant factories. As Lenin put it, maximization was the "highest level of development." Bureaucracy was the inevitable and natural organizational form when all production and planning was to be concentrated under the state. A diversified market was not only politically incorrect, but supposedly went against the industrial principle of efficiency through concentration. The Communist Party was to be built along the same centralized lines as factory management – rank-and-file "Jimmy Higgins" workers, mid-management full-time cadre, and the elite board of trustees or Central Committee. Just as industrial management reflected hierarchical relations of power, socialist political relations contained the same design. The "democratic centralism" that developed within this pattern was one where democracy was secondary to a centralized and hierarchical leadership responsible to make decisions and control information. This pattern of centralized power was as true for capitalist monopolies, as it was for socialist bureaucracies responsible for production. Within the ruling party, Stalinism took this principle to a zenith in its centralization of international political authority. Specialization was also part of the second wave industrial code. The efficiency of a labor task was seen in its specialization, which gave rise to the professionalization of work. For Lenin this meant the professionalization of the party cadres into full-time revolutionaries, and later for Stalin as the "red experts." Eventually this resulted in the separation and domination of political and technical work from democratic input and oversight. Lastly, mass production also produced standardization – everything, from time, weights and products to culture and ideas. For socialism, the impact was a dogmatic standardization of Marxism, the political line set by the sole accepted center, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Differences were not only suppressed inside the USSR, but even worldwide. Bolshevik organizational structure became the standard for acceptance into the Third International. And perhaps even more destructive was the idea that there existed only one economic model on which socialism could be built. A one-sided emphasis on all the above elements was the product of Soviet industrial society, and forms a fresh basis of criticism for a lack of socialist democracy. Socialism, understandably, could only function within the world into which it was born. When socialism embraced the proletariat as the primary agency of progressive change, it also tended to romanticize industrial society. Socialism thus consciously or unconsciously integrated second wave industrialism's internal designs and limitations into its own theory and practice. Was there any alternative? Can socialism build a democratic, open and participatory society based on industrial principles? Although both the Soviets and Chinese experimented at different times with worker-controlled factory committees, worker congresses and collective management, the authoritarian patterns of managerial hierarchy always reasserted themselves; they were imbedded in the organization of work on the factory floor. Thus, these relations could not be permanently transformed while trapped inside the second-wave industrial economic base. The very design of large scale production enforced its own organizational logic. Second-wave industrialism not only engendered mass society but also had encoded in its structure, forms of mass domination. The centralization of information necessary to run huge firms was best done with a concentration of authority in the hands of a specialized hierarchy. In both East and West, this was touted as the most efficient and scientific form of production, although not necessarily the most democratic. Within this context, it became extremely difficult to permanently build a democratic socialism, although the tension between democracy and centralization existed for a long time. Under Lenin, the Bolsheviks certainly had relatively open and free wheeling political debates, rather than a standardization of thought. And Lenin became more acutely aware of the dangers of bureaucracy as they emerged towards the end of his life. After Lenin's death, the theoretical and programmatic effort to launch an alternative to the abuses of industrial socialism was best defined by Bukharin, who, along with Lenin, was the main theoretician of the Third International on a world scale, and of the New Economic Program (NEP) in the Soviet Union itself. In fact, the most vital debate from the late 1920s through the 1930s was not between Stalin and Trotsky, but between Bukharin and Stalin. For Bukharin the NEP was more than a temporary adjustment or retreat. Instead it was a strategic plan to build socialism through a balance between rural and urban economies. Bukharin defined this as "dynamic economic equilibrium" in which the growth of industry was geared to the growth of agriculture, instead of its one-sided exploitation. This view reserved an important role for the market, and saw class struggle mainly as managed, peaceful competition between larger state enterprises and the smaller private sector. For the Stalinists, rapid concentration, centralization, and forced growth at gunpoint were the means by which the class struggle would be won for their variety of socialism. Class differences were to be forcibly eliminated, rather than peacefully managed. This path was certainly not inevitable, but the global and historic context of the industrial era was an important factor in developing, supporting, and rationalizing the Stalinist economic plan. We believe that revolutionaries, who are genuinely progressive and democratic, must reconstruct society with the people, tools and materials bequeathed to them by history. We oppose the forced march of armed utopias and their attendant gulags. But we also believe the old state and industrial patterns and methods of command cannot simply be taken over and effectively used by new elites. The capitalists launched the industrial revolution and became the new global masters because they dominated and developed the new industrial economic base of manufacturing. They did not base their revolutions primarily on a seizure of the feudal manors and landed estates of the old agricultural societies. The socialists of the second wave, however, have been ambivalent. On one hand, they based themselves on the advanced, rising class, the proletariat. The working class was the most advanced not because of what it thought at any given time, but because it was part of the most advanced productive forces and thus had the ability to remake society. On the other hand, they attempted to build a new world mainly by expanding the old unsustainable, second wave industrial base, rather than by nurturing a new historic economic order out of the most advanced achievements of the second wave. In this way, Marxism spawned two visions of the future classless society: l In one, all classes were to be abolished except the proletariat; all society was to be industrialized and proletarianized under the hegemony of the working class. The proletarian ideological line is dominant over all forms of science, art and politics. l In the other, all classes, including the working class, were to wither away through the gradual but steady abolition of toil brought about by the revolutionary advance of the productive forces. All ideology and politics is subordinate to freedom of scientific inquiry, tolerance of diversity and the expansion of universal human rights. We affirm the latter view. We also believe it is more in keeping with Marx's early conception of the proletariat as the class, bound with radical chains, so that by freeing and abolishing itself, it also liberated all humanity from all forms of oppression. What is needed to accomplish this is political power in the hands of the masses plus the technology of the third wave. Third wave production is automated and cybernated, making it possible to revolutionize hierarchy and democratize access to information. It rests on a sustainable technology which diversifies production and accelerates the generation of knowledge. In effect, it is a new economic base which develops its own principles of society and culture making a sustainable and democratic socialism workable. In fact, post-industrial, third wave socialism may be the only socialism truly possible. A VISION CENTERED ON DEMOCRACY n Our vision for making this transition is first of all centered on a vision of the renewal of democracy. We see democracy not only as a political and ethical value. It is deeply connected to the development of a progressive and scientific economics as well. Any economic program worthy of being called popular and democratic, let alone socialist, must meet the standards of ecological sustainability. Any economic program that attempts to serve the present through the unrestricted looting of the resources of future generations can only be called reactionary and dooms us to strategic failure. It also opposes the basic principles espoused by Marx and Engels in The Manifesto of the Communist Party, where they insisted that communists distinguish themselves by taking care of the future within the movement of the present and by affirming the unity of the workers and democratic forces of all countries above any particular national or sectoral interest. In this sense, the founders of scientific socialism were the forerunners of the "Think globally, act locally" slogan embraced by today's Greens. But sustainable economics in today's world requires ongoing advances in science and technology. Science in turn both embodies and requires free and open inquiry, a democratic civil society affirming tolerance and respect for diversity. Under theocratic domination – whether of the medieval, fascist or secular Stalinist-Maoist varieties – scientific progress is stifled. This article is the first half of a monograph by the Chicago Third Wave Study Group, initiated by Carl Davidson, Ivan Handler and Jerry Harris. It was formed expressly to produce this document for the discussion on goals and principles taking place in the Committees of Correspondence, leading up to the founding convention of a new organization of the American left in the summer of 1994. The complete document is posted on PeaceNet at the nfd.gen conference.org. E-Mail can be sent to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments and criticisms are invited. People in agreement with the perspective in the paper may join the study group. Communicators can also write to Carl Davidson, Networking for Democracy, 3411 W Diversey, Suite 1, Chicago IL 60647. Fax: 312-384- 3904.