1990s >> 1992 >> no-1053-may-1992

Questions—and the answer

In the last issue of the Socialist Standard, in an article directed at people who are too young to have a vote, we raised three questions that we thought our young readers might like to consider. We also suggested that they might like to pass the questions on to their teachers or clergymen, their Member of Parliament, leaders of the political parties, and others of that respectable fraternity who give credence to the idea that there’s not a lot wrong with our world that can not be put right with a dollop of sensible planning.

We also advised our young readers that we would contribute answers to our questions in this issue.

The questions were:

1. Governments of different political parties, Tory, Liberal or Labour, governments of the Right, the Left and the Centre, come and go in different countries. But all the basic problems remain despite the fact that political parties achieve power on the basis of their electoral claims to be able to solve these problems. Why is this?

2. In this country—indeed throughout all countries—homelessness and slum dwelling is a permanent feature of life. At the same time, there are vast numbers of workers, skilled in the various aspects of building construction unemployed. Why are building and construction workers idle when millions of people desperately need decent homes?

3. In every country, poverty, in one or more of its forms, exists. Some 15 million children (averaging about 42,000 every single day) die every year of hunger and hunger-related diseases. At the same time, massive amounts of foodstuffs are dumped or stored— much of it until it goes rotten—and governments deliberately restrict food production. Why do you think this is?

Why politicians fail

The answer to Question 1 is that all political parties, with the exception of those within the World Socialist Movement, contest election on the grounds that they are able to run the existing system better than all the others. Such a claim must be underpinned by the arrogant notion that they have got something that none of the others have, or ever had! They are elected on this basis, because the electorate believe that they have the skills, the honesty, sincerity or whatever other quality is required to put things right. As the question states, they always fail.

It is not the fault of the politicians and their parties that they fail; on the contrary, it is the fault of the capitalist system, the buying-and-selling system, which the parties, whatever they call themselves, choose to organise and administer. Capitalism is firmly rooted in the exploitation of the working majority by a parasitic minority. Its function is not to produce goods and services for the use of society as a whole but only to produce these things if, and when, they ensure a profit for the capitalists.

The basic problems that the politicians fail to solve arise inevitably out of the contradictions of capitalism. They are problems peculiar to capitalism and, as such, are ineradicable while that system lasts. That is why the World Socialist Movement does not campaign on its ability to solve problems like poverty, unemployment, crime etc but, uniquely, calls on the working class to organise for the democratic overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of socialism.

Why needs are not met

 The answers to Questions 2 and 3 are implied in the foregoing but to demonstrate our point we will take a brief look at the socialist alternative to capitalism, where not only would the problems set out in 2 and 3 not exist but where, along with the other myriad problems of capitalism, they could not exist. Socialism, as proposed by the World Socialist Movement, is defined in our Object as:

  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.

In the world envisaged in this definition. every human being on Earth would have the opportunity to co-operate in the production and distribution of wealth and, again, every human being would have free and equal access to the means to satisfy their needs whether or not they had co-operated in production. Obviously, if enough people declined to partake in the productive processes it would be impossible for everyone to avail themselves of the things they need. That is why socialism can only be built upon the conscious democratic decision of a majority of socialists and why the fullest democratic control would have to prevail in a socialist society.

All people engaged in the wasteful functions that now exist in the world of capitalism, functions like selling, banking, insurance, armed forces, advertising and marketing, together with the unemployed, on the dole and on the stock exchange, would be available to help in the task of producing and distributing. Obviously, in such circumstances, where things like “investment” and “cost” would no longer exist, problems such as slums and homelessness could be quickly corrected.

Whereas today the purpose of food production is the maximization of profits without regard to the damage caused to the land and the prospects for future generations, in socialism the primary consideration will be producing enough food for ail in a manner consistent with the preservation of the land. The concept of socialism is wholly inconsistent with the idea of poverty or hunger for any minority on Earth however small that minority might be.

Today, it is a relatively small number of human beings who perform the work of providing essential goods and services; the rest of the working class, as we have noted, are engaged in functions that are meaningless outside the wasteful world of capitalism. It follows that, in socialism, the task of producing all the goods and services required by humanity can be accomplished with comparatively little effort. That which we now call employment—workers working for wages—will have ended with the abolition of capitalism so, effectively, there can be no unemployment.

Obviously, in a wageless, moneyless world where people freely avail themselves of their needs and are not required to work long hours for protracted periods of their lives, there will be much time for leisure. Speculating on how human beings might use that leisure, in a frontierless world where transport and accommodation, like everything else is free, might well be a further question worth discussing.

Richard Montague