Socialism Means Free Access

The case for a classless society, in which production is geared to satisfying human needs, and in which production for sale and the market economy are abolished, is underlined by the fact that modern industry and technology have now been developed to the stage where they could provide an abundance of consumer goods and services for all the people of the world. The problem of production — of how to produce enough for everybody — has been solved. Man’s long battle to conquer scarcity has been won. Potential abundance is a reality. The task is to make abundance itself a reality.

This can never be done within a society based on the class ownership of the means of production, where wealth is produced for sale with a view to profit. The only framework within which abundance can be realized is a society where all resources, manmade as well as natural, have become the common heritage of all mankind, under their democratic control. On this basis production can be democratically planned to provide what human beings need. In such a society, the market, wages, profits, buying and selling, and money, would have no place. They would cease to exist.

A society of abundance is not an extension of today’s so-called “consumer society”, with its enormous waste of resources. It does not mean people will come to acquire more and more useless and wasteful gadgets. It simply means that people’s material needs, both as individuals and as a community, will be fully satisfied in a rational way.

Contrary to what is popularly believed (and carefully cultivated by the defenders of capitalism), man is not inherently greedy; human needs are not limitless. From a material point of view, human beings need a certain amount and variety of food, clothing and shelter; what this is in individual cases can soon be discovered by the individual himself — and would be if there were free access to consumer goods and services. But, it may be objected, with free access wouldn’t people take more than they needed? But why should they if they can be certain (as they would, be given the productive power of modern industry and the common ownership of the means of production) that there would always be enough to go round? After all, today when access to water (or at least to the amount of water consumed in any one period) is free, people only use what they need for washing, cooking etc. Similarly, when all consumer goods and services are freely available people could be expected to take only as much food, clothing etc. as they felt they needed. To take any more would be abnormal and pointless.

But could modern industry really supply enough for everybody to have free access to consumer goods and services? Certainly, the waste of capitalism wastes resources. First, there are the armed forces and armaments. Second, there are all the people, buildings and equipment involved with the market and money economy generally: banking, insurance, government pension and tax departments, salesmen, ticket collectors, accountants, cashiers etc. Indeed, it might be said that under capitalism well over half the population are engaged in such unproductive activities. Third, there is planned obsolescence, the deliberate manufacture of shoddy goods made to break down or wear out after a comparatively short period of time. In a rationally organized society, consumer goods could be made to last; this would mean an immense saving of resources. With the elimination of these three sources of waste that are inherent in capitalism, enough to adequately feed, clothe and house everybody could easily be produced.