Why Do We Need Socialism?
The reaction of many workers to this question will be to dismiss it as being no concern of theirs. They are concerned, they say, with the company that employs them, with their chance of keeping their jobs and with getting more pay. They are mistaken. What happens to a particular company depends on its ability to sell its products at a profit, which in turn depends on what happens in the economy as a whole – that is in capitalism. Workers give partial recognition to this by organising with other workers in trade unions. Socialists urge them, in their own class interest, to take the further step of replacing capitalism with socialism.
Capitalism, the social system under which we live now, is briefly described in our Declaration of Principles:
“Society, as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living, (i.e. land, factories, railways etc) by the capitalist or Master class, and the consecutive enslavement of the working class, by whose labour alone wealth is produced.”
And our Object deals with socialism:
“The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.”
Unfortunately, and through no fault of our ours, the terms capitalism and socialism have both come to be widely used to mean something quite different from what they mean to socialists.
The Labour Party and the Tory Party have, for many years, restricted the term capitalism to cover only part of the whole capitalist system, excluding from the definition the nationalised, or state capitalist industries. In keeping with this unjustified limitation both parties have chosen to call the state capitalist industries “socialism”.
This was not always so, for some of the leaders of the Labour Party once took a different view. Sidney Webb, later to become a minister in Labour governments, signed the Manifesto of English Socialists which contained this declaration:
“On this point all socialists agree. Our aim, one and all, is to obtain for the whole community complete ownership and control of the means of transport, the means of manufacture, the mines and the land. Thus we look to put an end for ever to the wage-system, to sweep away all distinctions of class, and eventually to establish National and International Communism on a sound basis.”
In 1907 Keir Hardie the “father of the Labour Party” – and its first champion, justified nationalisation, not as an end in itself, but on the ground that “it will prepare the way for free communism . . . in which the rule of life will be . . . ‘from each according to his ability. To each according to his needs'”. In saying this he was, as he said, claiming the Labour Party to be Marxist.
The Tory Party has been equally inconsistent. Now they say that nationalisation is socialism. They did not say that in 1844, when they passed the first act giving the government power to nationalise the railways, or when Tory governments nationalised the postal, telegraph and telephone services of when they set up the Central Electricity Board and the BBC. Their version then was that these were measures undertaken in the interests of capitalism.
They have a special problem with their idolised leader, Winston Churchill, for during the greater part of his political life he was a supporter of nationalisation and, in their misuse of language, must therefore have been a “socialist”. Churchill was minister in several governments which nationalised various services and in 1943, when he was Prime Minister, he declared: “There is a broadening field for state ownership and enterprise, especially in relation to monopolies.”
Karl Marx spent a large part of his life studying the historical developments which produced capitalism. He identified what distinguishes it from earlier social systems, describing how capitalism came into being with the forcible removal of the peasants from the land, turning them into a propertyless class – wage earners producing profits for the owners of land and capital. In his analysis Marx set out the conditions necessary for the rise of the capitalist system of society – a peasantry forced off the land and compelled therefore to seek employment; an owning class possessing land and money; the prevailing arrangement being the production of “commodities” (the products of industry should be, not for the direct use of the owning class but for sale in the market) and the dispossessed class being wage workers as opposed to slaves.
He showed that the essential, distinctive characteristic of capitalism is not the exploitation of one class by another, or riches and poverty (both existed when there was slavery and where there was serfdom) but commodity production as the prevailing system, wealth being produced by a class of wage-earners. So the opening paragraph of Marx’s Capital (Vol. 1) begins with the words:
“The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails presents itself as “an immense accumulation of commodities”.”
In line with this, Marx’s aim of replacing capitalism with socialism involved, not only the dispossession of the owning class, but the ending of production for sale. It was put by Marx and Engels in The Communist Manifesto as “the abolition of buying and selling”. Engels said: “With the seizure of the means of production by society, production of commodities is done away with”. Marx also showed that historically, in all forms of society, the way in which the products of industry are divided among the different class is determined by the existing mode of production itself.
In socialist society therefore, with production directly and solely for use and the consequent disappearance of the money system, the wages system and incomes from the ownership of property, all will have free access to what has been produced. This brings us to another misuse of the word socialism, based on the fallacy that state capitalism (nationalisation) is socialism. We are told the world is divided into “capitalist countries” and “socialist countries”, the latter comprising Russia with her allies and associates, China, and such modern countries as happen to have governments which call themselves “socialist” (France and Spain at present and Britain when the Labour Party is in power).
This theory is totally without foundation. In all the 160 countries in the world there is a wage-earning class divorced from the means of production, getting a living by being the employees of the companies and governments which own and control society’s means of production and distribution. In all there are inequalities of wealth and income; the more money you have the more you can enjoy of the products of industry. In all, the prevalent form is commodity production’ production for sale at a profit. (In Russia for example a large part of the revenue of the central government is described as “a share in the profits of state industry’). The very existence of the 160 separate countries with their conflicting interests and armed forces is an indication of world-wide capitalism for, as Marx said, the formation of the separate nation states was a necessary part of the establishment of capitalist class supremacy.
In seeking to abolish capitalism and replace it with socialism the appeal of socialists is to the working class of the world, in whose common interest it is to bring about that revolutionary change.