The State and its Abolition (Part 2)
2. A classless, stateless world
Running global human society without the machinery of states is regarded by some as being as unachievable as radio and hi-fi systems were to some people before their invention. Socialists observe that the coercive governmental machinery of the state has not always been a feature of human society but was created necessarily in a phase in our history and will, with equal necessity, be abolished with the establishment of socialism.
For the greater part of the history of human society social affairs have not been regulated by governments. The state arose from the need to keep class antagonisms in check. The economically most powerful social class becomes the politically dominant class through the state and uses its machinery as a means of holding down and exploiting the oppressed class. "The ancient state was, above all, the state of the slave owners for holding down the slaves, just as the feudal state was the organ of the nobility for holding down the peasant serfs and bondsmen, and the modern representative state is an instrument for exploiting wage labour by capital." (Engels, Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State)
When the majority of men and women —the wealth producers — democratically act to put the means of life into the hands of the whole community there will no longer be a social need for the coercive machinery of the state. The majority of people will no longer have to suffer government by a minority. The government of people will be replaced by the administration of things. This will mean that the institutions now used by the state to keep the working class in check — the judiciary, laws, police forces and prisons — will become socially redundant. Similarly, the organised force used by the state to protect the interests of territories and markets of its wealth owners—armies, navies and air forces — will also become socially unnecessary. "The society that organises production anew on the basis of the free and equal association of the producers will put the whole state machine where it will then belong: in the museum of antiquities side by side with the spinning wheel and the bronze axe." (Engels, Anti-Duhring)
Organising the world on the basis of a society in which people will contribute according to their skills and inclinations and take according to their self-determined needs is an attractive idea. A world society undivided by national boundaries and free from war and famine. A world society unfettered by the rationing system of money. Is it possible? Socialists contend that not only is the establishment of socialism immediately possible, but that it is an urgent necessity if we are to avoid the potentially horrific sorts of destruction which the continuation of capitalism would render probable.
There are several ways in which the practicability of socialism can be doubted but basically these doubts arise in three areas of inquiry. First, will "human nature" permit a classless world without government? Second, will the resources of the planet be sufficient to support a society based on producing goods and services simply to meet all human needs and third, do we have sufficiently advanced systems of communication, organisation and distribution to cater for running the world for all humanity?
MINORITY RULE NOT NATURAL
Does "human nature" stand as a barrier to a world without governments? In answering this question, socialists would draw a distinction between human nature and human behaviour. There are a few characteristics of humans which could be described as "natural" in the sense that they are anatomical or physiological features of all people irrespective of the social system that they live in. Reflex actions, like blinking to water the eyes, stereoscopical colour vision, bi-pedal locomotion, prehensile manipulation and so forth are examples of this sort of feature and they are relatively fixed characteristics. Also, of course, the needs for food, drink, clothes and shelter. Contrasted with this are a great variety of behaviour patterns which are socially learnt. Behaviour traits instilled in young people by families, the indoctrination of education systems and the aggression and murderous techniques taught by military forces are all examples of this sort of socially conditioned behaviour. In commercial society we are steeped in a competitive mentality from a tender age but this learnt behaviour conflicts with an essential characteristic of human society: that of cooperation. As a society we are a highly integrated body of entities and we all rely upon one another. Our very advanced division of labour means that we are all, to some degree, mutually dependent and require each other's co-operation even in capitalism. Because socialism will abolish classes — the relationship of employer and employee — and create a social equality of human beings, it will harmonise our social relationships with the way that we need to work in order to survive. It is worth observing that even in today's competitive world we are all co-existing in an intricate network of co-operation. Picture the seething mass of work going on in one of today's big cities — it would grind to a halt in one second without the continued and very complex co-operation amongst millions of people.
Primitive humankind co-operated for tens of thousands of years without government, but apart from this evidence that we are not organically predisposed to be ruled by a minority, there are many examples to corroborate the versatility of our nature. Anthropological examinations of Red Indian, Aboriginal and Eskimo societies all testify to the fact that we can and have organised society on a democratic basis. Many modern societies which organised themselves on a communistic, democratic principle (like the Kalahari Bushmen, or Kung people, of southern Africa) are now being sucked into the commercial, competitive world. They are being driven from the lands that they inhabit as it is "purchased" by developers, and are forced to seek a living by wage-slavery. Another example of this, occurring now, concerns the Panare Indians who live in the Orinoco basin in Venezuela. They have enjoyed life, until recently, in 38 communities living on the basis of "from each according to ability, to each according to need". They have no divisions of class and no status discrimination on the grounds of age or gender. Ideas of competition and violence are entirely antithetical to them. Their stress-free lifestyle is now being shaken by an American airborne evangelical group, the New Tribes Mission. Their lives are being smitten with religious indoctrination and all sorts of sinister devices are being used to make them docile, ashamed of their lifestyles, and to go in search of employment in the local mines.
In a rat-race we do acquire rat-like propensities but even now they do not dominate us and more importantly, they are subject to change if and when we decide to abolish the sort of social environment which causes them.
SUFFICIENT MATERIAL AND HUMAN RESOURCES.
The latest United Nations estimate of the world population is 4.7 billion. Are the resources of the world enough to support everyone? Today there is a massive unmet social need as a result of a social system which only produces goods if there is the prospect of selling them on the market for a profit. These unmet needs range from the horrors of mass starvation (according to Oxfam 500 million men, women and children go hungry every day) and homelessness to the relative impoverishment of all the wealth-producers. Alongside these needs capitalism presents in all countries the conspicuous over-consumption of a small elite, lakes of wine and milk and mountains of food (the European Common Market has a current butter stockpile of approaching 600,000 tonnes) and gigantic resources being pumped into socially useless or destructive ends.
Military spending now totals close to the equivalent of £1,000,000,000 across the world every 24 hours. This greatly exceeds the resources needed to meet the United Nations targets (idealistic as they are under the profit system) of providing everyone with adequate food, sanitary water, health care and education. UNICEF, working in 112 countries, had a total income of £171 million in 1981. This is the equivalent of the expenditure the world makes on the military forces every 4 hours and ten minutes (World Military and Social Expenditures 1982). It is an unchangeable priority of states in capitalism to put the needs of the Death Industry before basic human requirements. In a socialist society all of the ingenuity, human effort and resources which are now pumped into militarism will be donated instead to producing goods and services which are useful and enjoyable. On a similar point, consider all of the materials and human resources which are spent today on the necessary workings of the commercial system which would be liberated in socialism to be devoted to more rewarding sorts of work. The millions of men and women who are today engaged in running the system that exploits them in banking, insurance, commerce, tax revenue, everything connected with the production and running of prisons and the police forces, would be freed to help take part in the task of providing the sort of things that people really want.
Julian Simon and Herman Kahn in their book The Resourceful Earth produce carefully researched evidence to demonstrate that the planet enjoys much greater resources than are currently being tapped. Their writing is, ironically, aimed at advocating a free market economy with minimal economic controls — the very principles which produce such great hardship now — but their evidence is nevertheless useful. As they observe, the scaremongery about dwindling resources is not new. People have always been predicting that one or other natural resource will be exhausted. It was once a respected view that oil reserves would dry up in the 1880s. In practice these predictions encourage discoveries of new reserves or the development of new substitutes for the threatened material.
Capitalism only ever aims to produce on a scale matching what people can afford to buy, not what they actually need. For this reason many agricultural techniques are underdeveloped compared with our technological abilities.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) still sees great scope for expanded production. It reported this year that, using current Western farming methods, the world could produce enough food for up to 33,000,000,000 people, seven times the world population. Using somewhat less sophisticated farming methods, 15,000,000 people could be fed and, even if the whole world relied on primitive farming methods, using no fertilizers or pesticides, traditional seeds and no soil conservation methods, the present world population could still be comfortably fed. ("In Defence of Population Growth", New Scientist 4 August 1984)
ORGANISING A GLOBAL CLASSLESS SOCIETY
Do we have adequate systems of communication, organisation and distribution to operate a global classless society? As with the questions of "human nature" and the earth's resources, the answer to this question is partly apparent now. Because it is necessary for capitalism's international trade, the world is already a highly integrated network of communications, travel and distribution. In this sense, capitalism is pregnant with socialistic organisation. With its booms and slumps, shortages and gluts, disruptive wars and embittered industrial disputes, capitalism is a chaotic, anarchic social system. In socialism production and distribution will be democratically planned. Society will not be told by a minority that food cannot be produced because there is no market for it. We shall harness all of the technology that capitalism has produced, discover exactly what our needs are, and where, and then plan production to meet them. Computer systems, current electronic stocktaking devices used in supermarkets and the astonishing technology of communications and travel used today by military forces and banks will all play their part. And think how much easier it will be to simply find out how many people in what places need what goods, than the task of market researchers of discovering who might buy what in the uncertainties of the market.
Without nations and governments, how will this production be planned? The world administration for production for use will need to satisfy the requirements of historical continuity, practical necessity and democracy. That is, it will need to adapt existing social organisations, develop them in a way to deal with the practical problems which need to be solved and to permit democracy in all decision-making. Socialists are currently in a minority and it will be for a majority to make the final decisions about how socialism will work. We can however still make some practical suggestions today. Decision-making could operate on three sorts of geographical level: the local level (corresponding to current local government areas), the regional level and the global level. Decisions about social policy and planning, whatever the scale of their intended effect, would need to originate in a locality. They could be raised by individuals, groups or local representatives of a specialist global group, connected with, for instance, health or the ecology. A policy proposal intended to affect society generally would need to pass successfully through all three levels of decision-making and then be implemented at local levels across the world.
The decision-making process in socialism will be such that everyone will have access to any information they need to make the decision and the opportunity to express views on the issue to everyone else. In the age of advanced telecommunications and the teletext this will not present any significant problems. Decisions only affecting a locality will probably be participated in by people living or working in that locality and similarly with regional decisions. We could make great use of the various information-gathering systems and expert organisations which have been developed by capitalism. Take one example, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. It is organised in 147 countries and has 4,000 planners and technicians all over the globe. It produces scientific papers which collate research material from all over the world and maintains a library of knowledge on food, agriculture, forestry, fisheries, nutrition and conservation. It keeps a census of world agricultural resources. In 1978 it completed a soil map of the entire world using a variety of techniques from aerial photography to satellite surveillance. This combines details of climates and soils and builds up a picture of potential world food production.
Socialists propose the immediate establishment of a classless, global society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of living by the whole community. This sort of society can only be created by a majority of people consciously and democratically acting together to take on the responsibility of running the world for ourselves. Today's reality is, very often, yesterday's vision:
It is a dream, you may say, of what has never been and will never be; true it has never been, and therefore, since the world is alive and moving yet, my hope is the greater that it one day will be: true it is a dream; but dreams have before now come about of things so good and necessary to us that we scarcely think of them more than of the daylight, though once people had to live without them, without even the hope of them. (William Morris, The Lesser Arts, 1877)
Imagine there's no countries, it isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for and no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace
You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will be one.
(John Lennon, Imagine, 1972)