1980s >> 1986 >> no-979-march-1986

Editorial: What We Mean By Socialism

In socialism there will be no social organ of coercion — in short, no state, not even a so- called “workers’ state” — and so no police, no armed forces, no courts, no prisons, no machinery to coerce people to do what they might not want to do.

Socialism will be a stateless society in which people will co-operate, on the basis of common ownership and democratic control. to produce what they need as individuals and as communities. This co-operation will be entirely voluntary and so will have to be undertaken because people want to, because they realise that it is necessary and in their best self-interest. In other words, because they have socialist understanding.

Clearly, since such a society can only function with the voluntary co-operation and conscious participation of its members, it can only be established by people who want it and who understand all its implications. By definition socialism cannot be established by a minority. It is just absurd — a contradiction in terms — to suggest that some minority could force the majority to co-operate voluntarily.

Socialism will be a stateless society because it will be a classless society — classless because it will be based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production. Or, put another way, the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth — the land, the farms, the mines, the factories, the offices, the warehouses, means of transport and communications will belong to nobody. There will be no private or state property rights over them. They will simply be there, to be used by the members of society to produce what they require to satisfy their needs. The concept of “property” will be replaced by that of “use”; legal property rights enforceable by the state will give way to democratically-agreed rules for using the means of production, a situation summed up by the term “democratic control”.

Since capitalism — the social system which will be replaced by socialism — is already a world-wide system, so will socialism be. It will be a world community in which all that is in and on the earth will have become the common heritage of all humanity. Territorial rights over parts of the globe will disappear along with property rights.

On the basis of common ownership and democratic control, production can be reoriented towards what is, after all, its natural goal: to providing the useful things that human beings need to live and enjoy life. In other words, production for profit, production for sale, and production for the market will give way to production solely and directly for use. In fact profits, sales, markets — and money, wages, banks and all the other paraphernalia of buying and selling — will completely disappear in socialism. It will be a moneyless society in which goods will be produced and distributed simply to satisfy some human need or other.

In socialism, just as money and monetary calculation will disappear from the sphere of production, so they will disappear from the sphere of distribution too. Here the rule will be free access according to self-defined needs. People will be able to go into stores and take what they need without having to hand over either money or some “labour card” or any other kind of ration ticket. This will be possible, firstly, because the elimination of capitalism will enable society to produce enough to satisfy the material needs of everyone; and secondly because, contrary to the myths maintained by the defenders of capitalism and class society generally, people’s material needs are not infinite.

So the main features of socialism are: world community, common ownership, democratic control, production for use, free access. It only remains to add that socialism is an immediate possibility. All the conditions for its establishment are present except one — precisely the majority socialist understanding we have been discussing. In other words, as soon as this last condition is met. as soon as a majority of wage and salary earners want and understand socialism, it can be established immediately, without any so-called “transition period”.