1990s >> 1997 >> no-1119-november-1997

What Socialism Is

Socialist society will be a classless, wageless, democratically-run society where goods are produced to satisfy human needs instead of being sold for profit. The administration of such a society will be decided by its citizens, basing their decisions on the needs of the community, available resources, and technology.

Capitalism fails to fulfil the already existing potential to satisfy human needs in two ways. First, it only provides goods and services if there is a market for them. Thus, houses stand empty while people are homeless, and food is destroyed and land taken out of food production while people starve. Second, trade and the circulation of money create many jobs which, although vital to the running of capitalism, would be unnecessary in a society where goods are produced solely to satisfy needs.

Banking, retailing, security services, prisons, courts, advertising and police forces are all sectors of employment which only have a role when goods are bought and sold. In addition, the need to secure markets, trade routes, and raw materials fosters industrial secrecy instead of sharing knowledge, hinders research in the scramble to make quick profits, and leads to pollution and dangerous working conditions.

Competition leads to squabbles over artificially created national boundaries. Nation states waste resources on maintaining armed forces and developing weapons of mass destruction which threaten the existence of the world. Competition between workers, especially in a dwindling job market during capitalism’s periodic slumps, leads to poverty, insecurity and xenophobia.

Even scientific advances which make work easier and less labour-intensive threaten workers’ livelihoods under capitalism as manufacturers cut their workforces to increase profits.

Worldwide co-operation

A socialist society will release the potential to satisfy human needs which the machine-age has made possible. And because it will not be limited by market forces or the need for secrecy it will be possible to co-operate on a worldwide scale for the first time. The overproduction which occurs when individual capitalists make as many goods as possible to take advantage of the market during a boom, leading to crises and slumps, will be avoided.

The systematic manufacture of shoddy goods, because that is all the poor can afford, will be a thing of the past. There will no longer be a need to artificially stimulate the market with badly made items that have to be replaced because they wear out quickly.

Housing can be planned to cater for the needs of the community instead of the present sprawl of suburban districts into green belts whilst dwellings remain empty and the rich reside in enormous houses whose main function is the flaunting of wealth and status.

Even a century ago the potential for abundance which machines had made possible enabled Peter Kropotkin to claim that if all the diversion of labour into bureaucratic and military activities were replaced by socially useful tasks then it would only be necessary to work five hours a day from the age of twenty or twenty-two to forty-five or fifty (The Conquest of Bread, 1892). Our lives could be so much more fulfilling if we had more time to enjoy our leisure instead of returning home exhausted after a hard day’s work making money for idle capitalists, only to become unemployed during a slump or expected to survive on a pittance in old age after a lifetime of wage-slavery.

Under capitalism, when new technology makes some types of work redundant, workers lose their livelihoods. But a socialist society will welcome the release of people from drudgery and, because they will no longer be wage-slaves, there will be a chance to retrain for other work which is satisfying and useful to the community. The days of spending forty years in one dreary job will be unnecessary. The citizens of a socialist community will be able to change occupations if they wish to. Of course, some people may not want to change occupations if they find the work interesting.

A society of co-operation will allow a free choice instead of the economically-driven decisions which are made now. Naturally, that doesn’t mean that we will be able to choose to be an airline pilot or a surgeon just because it seems an interesting thing to do. Skilled work will still need proper training. There will still be dirty jobs: emptying bedpans or working in the sewers will still be unpleasant, but it will not be necessary to spend all day let alone a lifetime working in those occupations. And because people will be working for the benefit of themselves and the community instead of merely to enrich a capitalist master there will be a greater willingness to co-operate and share work.

Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions will still occur: socialism will not be able to tame the forces of nature, but many people live in dangerous areas of the world today because they are refugees, either that or boundary disputes between rival nation states prevents people from moving to another area. Socialists do not adhere to the divisive views of nationalists; frontiers will disappear and there will be concern for everyone’s welfare, recognising our common humanity.

When the market is abolished

Poverty, pollution and unsafe working conditions are among the primary causes of ill-health and premature deaths for workers under capitalism. All of these causes can be eliminated when the market is abolished and we will be able to enjoy the life expectancy which is experienced by the wealthy today. But there will, inevitably, still be illness and premature death in a socialist society; there will still be congenital diseases, unrequited love, and misunderstanding between the generations. But the sick will be cared for without the price tag which condemns the old and the mentally ill to have to put up with substandard conditions under capitalism because they are not economically productive. And if there is misunderstanding in families at least it will be free of the corrosive effects of money worries which damage so many relationships today.

Socialism does not offer a panacea; there will still be problems to solve, but a democratically organised society where decisions are made by all the community, instead of being made by bosses and politicians only interested in running capitalism in the interests of the ruling class, can make decisions which benefit everyone.

The failure of capitalism to satisfy human needs is self-evident: poverty, starvation, pollution, wars, homelessness, economic crises and slumps are constant reminders of the disastrous effects of the market. Reforms, “free market” economics, Keynesian economics, and state capitalism have all been tried and have failed to solve the problems which the system creates.

A society of free access to goods and services will prevent the deprivation and social contradictions which prevail at the moment. Insecurity causes people to hoard their wealth and capitalism deliberately fosters a culture of conspicuous consumption–the guru Bhagwen Rajneesh owns 93 Rolls Royces. This obscene display of wealth occurs alongside the most desperate poverty. It is possible to grow enough food to feed the world’s population several times over if food production were organised properly and a worldwide community of socialists would be able to provide food to an area hit by a crop failure caused by adverse weather conditions.

Socialism is not a moral crusade, despite an awareness of the obvious immorality of capitalist economics, but a realisation that things need changing. When workers make the democratic decision to act in their own interests and put an end to exploitation then they can establish socialism and start to lead rewarding, fulfilling lives.

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