Socialism — real socialism that is, not the state capitalism that collapsed in chaos in eastern Europe and Russia a few years ago — is just as relevant today as it always was. The case for socialism rested on the failure of capitalism to meet human needs properly. And capitalism fails to do this today as much as it ever did in the past.
The evidence is all around, especially on a world scale where hunger, death from preventable disease, and lack of education exist in massive proportions. But no one can claim that even in an industrialized part of the world like Britain all people’s basic material needs are met, let alone the needs that would allow’ them to lead a reasonable and comfortable life.
This can be seen just by looking at the government’s own official statistics. The population of Britain is 57 million. Recent government figures show that there are nearly 10 million individuals dependent on Income Support, ie on means tested handouts from the State, to bring them up to the minimum poverty line (Guardian, 27 August). Nearly 700,000 other families are eligible to get (but not all claim) another means tested handout. Family Credit, because their wages are so low (Independent, 8 September). So we are talking about one in six people in Britain being on the poverty line. All of them certainly need more, and better, things to consume. Better food, better clothes and better housing.
Another set of figures produced recently are those for the number of “unfit dwellings” in England. These show that nearly 1.5 million houses or flats have one or more basic defects such as damp and mold, inadequate heating, lighting and washing and cooking facilities (Independent, 10 September). Clearly the five million or so people affected by this need better housing. Which could easily be provided since other figures show that despite the so-called upturn in the housing market there is still a brick mountain of 1.4 billion (Daily Telegraph, 3 May), enough to build 175,000 new houses. At the same time the Building Employers Confederation says that there are about half a million unemployed building workers in the country (Independent, 5 October).
So why are needs not properly met today? The answer is simple and straightforward. It is because meeting needs is not the purpose of production today. The purpose of production today is to make profits. That is admitted even by supporters of the present economic system, only they see it as an incentive to produce things. Socialists see it as a brake on production.
What production for profit means in practice is that before anything is produced those in charge of its production must be convinced that it can be sold profitably. Before a firm opens a business somewhere, a survey is carried out. But this is not a survey of people’s needs. It’s a survey of the prospective market and that’s what it is called — a market survey. In other words, a survey of what people can afford and are willing to pay for. Which is not at all the same as their needs.
If the company was going to open, say, a furniture store somewhere, it would not carry out a survey of what were the needs of the people in the area for good quality, safe furniture. No, it would carry out a survey of the income levels of the people in the area — and would only stock up with good quality, safe furniture if it found it was an area where people had high average incomes. Otherwise it would stock up with the cheap utility furniture that the average consumer can afford. If it found it was in an area where most people were on income support and therefore most in need of new, safe furniture — it would probably decide not to open a store there at all. What would be the point? The people would need the furniture, but as they wouldn’t be able to afford to buy it their needs don’t count.
This is a basic economic law of the capitalist economic system. “Can’t Pay, Won’t Produce”. “No Profit, No Production”.
So, under capitalism, how much and, in extreme cases, whether your needs are satisfied depends on the amount of money you have as your “purchasing power”. There are various ways of getting money. You can beg for it. Today, in the centre of big cities, beggars are everywhere. This is something new and, except for winos, didn’t use to exist 20 yearn ago.
Then you can steal it. This too has been on the increase. It’s what they call the crime wave, since 94 percent of recorded crimes are “crimes of property” — that is, people trying to get money illegally or property that they can sell for money.
But if you rule out these options — which you have to be pretty desperate to take — then, for most people, all that remains is to work or try to work for a living. In other words, to go out to the labour market and sell yourself. Well, not exactly yourself but sell a part of you — your mental and physical energies — for a wage or a salary. The wages system is the basis of capitalism. What it reflects is the fact that most people don’t own productive resources and therefore have to work for those who do. It reflects the class division of present-day society: between the majority working class and the minority capitalist employing class. Anybody who has to go out and work for a living is a member of the working class. It doesn’t matter what job you do. Whether you are a doctor or a docker, a teacher or a turner, a lecturer or a labourer — if you have to sell you ability to work for a wage or salary, then you are a member of the working class. So most people — up to 95 percent of the population in fact — are members of the working class. This is wider than most definitions but is in our view the only scientific definition.
What can you sell
How much money you get paid depends on the quality of what you have to sell. Because under capitalism your ability to work is a commodity — something that is bought and sold — its price (which is what your wages or salary is) is fixed like that of all other commodities by what it costs to produce. A doctor gets paid more than a docker because it costs more money to train a doctor. An engineer gets paid more than a labourer for the same reason.
For those workers who can’t or don’t find an employer, existence is pretty bleak. They get made up to the poverty line — now £40 to £50 a week plus housing costs for a single person. Some 20 percent of the population of Britain, an advanced industrial country, are in this position. And this in a world which could provide plenty for all. Plenty of food, good housing, and good health care.
Beg or steal
The second alternative source of income to begging, stealing, or working for an employer is to get an unearned income from owning property. Non-work incomes such as dividends, interest and rents accrue to people purely because they have ownership rights over productive resources. They have property deeds and titles, stocks and shares, which entitle them to draw an income from the use of these resources by the working class, who actually operate them and produce all the wealth of society.
The unpaid labour of the working class — that is the source of all rent, interest and profit. Profit is a tribute levied by Property on Labour. And it is all perfectly legal, created, upheld and. if necessary, enforced by the law of the land.
Of course many workers have some unearned income, as interest on their savings in the bank or building society, for example, but this is never enough to enable them to stop working for an employer for any length of time. But in any event the ownership of assets that provide an unearned property income in the form of Rent. Interest or Profit is very unequal. To start with, two-thirds of the population have virtually no net assets of this sort. At the other end of the social scale the top six percent of the population — those who own capital worth £100,000 or more — own 60 percent of such assets. They own 85 percent of all privately owned shares and 80 percent of all privately owned land.
This inequality of property ownership is the basis of capitalism and these people, they are the capitalist class. Capitalism is the system and it works in their interest. Capitalism is the Profit System and they are the profit takers. The role of the government is to run this system in their interests, and it doesn’t matter whether it is made up of Tory or Labour politicians. Capitalism can only work by putting Profits before People. So what is to be done? This is where the original Socialist accusation against capitalism comes in — that if fails to meet people’s needs properly. But we can say more than this: capitalism can never be made to serve human needs. It can only work as a profit making system in the interest of those who live off profits. Which isn’t us.
What must be done is clear. There’s no point in trying to reform capitalism or patch it up. It must be abolished altogether and replaced by socialism.
One good way to understand socialism is to see it as the opposite of capitalism. Capitalism is based on concentration of the ownership of the means of production into the hands of a tiny minority of the population, a small class of rich people who individually own enough wealth to be able to live without having to work for an employer. Socialism will be based on the opposite the common ownership and democratic control of the productive resources by the whole community. This means what it says: that no individual or group of individuals will be able to have property rights, entitling them to draw an unearned income such as rent, interest or profit, from owning land, farms, machinery, mines, warehouses, offices or any other means for producing and distributing wealth.
They will simply be there, to be used under the democratic control of those who work in them.
Naturally, this means they will be used to serve the common good by turning out the things people need. So. while capitalism means production of profit, socialism means production for use. Whereas the basic economic laws of capitalism is “No Profit, No Production”, the basic rule of socialism will be “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs”. In other words, on the basis of common ownership and democratic control, people will cooperate to produce the goods and services that are needed and everybody can then have free access to these goods and services to satisfy their needs.
We are talking about a society in which everyone can satisfy, not just their basic needs but all their reasonable needs, as a matter of right — just because they are human beings. Why not? Why should we have to pay for food, clothing, services and the other things we need? These should be available for us to take and use, free of charge, as and when we need them. This is what Socialism involves. It would mean no poverty, no bad housing, no collapsing health-service. How could social problems like these exist in a society that was geared to serving human interests? Enough food to feed everybody would be produced. Enough decent houses to house everybody would be built and kept in good repair. Enough hospitals, schools, libraries, museums, parks and other services would be provided.
This is possible but first the artificial scarcity and the organized waste of capitalism must be ended. And this is where you come in — because socialism cannot be established by the handful of socialists who exist today. It can only be established when the majority of workers understand and want it. That’s our purpose as an organized body of socialists holding meetings, contesting elections, bringing out this paper: to spread Socialist ideas and to get more and more workers to join in building up a Socialist movement to end capitalism and usher in Socialism.