Editorial: Socialism means production for use
In capitalism, natural resources such as land, as well as means of production are used for the production of commodities which are sold on for profit to the consumer through the markets. This means that the potential of resources to be used for enjoyment and the satisfaction of needs is subordinate to the profit interests of their owners. If the production of something is profitable, then it continues, and if it is unprofitable, it stops. The profitability of a product is linked to the cost of its being produced, and the extent to which it can be sold. In order to maximise profits, companies produce as cheaply as possible. This means that corners are cut and the methods and techniques used are those which bring in short-term gains rather than long-term sustainability. Labour and resources in developing countries are exploited to the hilt because they are cheaper. This is why children in Korea and Indonesia are stitching footballs and trainers like slaves, and why cheap forestland in South America and Africa is being decimated.
In order for production to be of minimum cost to the company, it often ends up as being of maximum cost to the environment, and humanity. This doesn’t mean that all cost-saving techniques are necessarily more harmful than the techniques they replace, but simply that their effect on people or the environment isn’t the main consideration in adopting them. If a company adopts a method of production which is environmentally safe, for example, but expensive in terms of labour or materials, it will become uncompetitive. A rival organisation producing a similar product cheaper will have the advantage, no matter what the ecological or human cost.
Eventually, capitalist organisations have to take notice of the state of the environment, but it is usually a case of too little, too late. They only take notice once the damage has been done– once a resource has become scarce, once a reserve of needed water has become polluted. And if the environmental cost doesn’t raise production costs, then it is often ignored.
After a socialist revolution, when common ownership of resources and production processes replaces private ownership, when the profit motive has become irrelevant, the factors to consider in production will change. When it comes to our use of natural resources, we could consider how much of the resource would be needed, whether it is scarce or abundant, whether that resource replaces itself over time or is in fixed supply, whether its extraction upsets the ecosystem, whether its production or use releases pollutants, whether the resulting product is durable or not, whether or not it is biodegradable. All these are considerations in capitalist production, but now they are subordinate to the need to minimise financial costs and maximise profits.
When land, resources and factories are owned communally and controlled democratically, there will be no them-and-us. There will no longer be a privileged elite who own the means of production, so there will be no-one to sell our time and energy to, no-one who would live off our labour and pay us peanuts in return. And if and when this change in ownership happens, the existence of money will become an anachronism. There will no longer be any need to buy goods from someone else or sell them to someone else, because you would have as much of a claim of ownership on them as they would. This would mean that we could just take what we need from the distribution centres.
Whilst the means of production are owned by a minority, the motivation for production is to make a profit for that minority. Satisfying the needs and wants of humanity and protecting the environment is incidental to this, so no wonder many people are left without enough food and other goods, and no wonder resources are scarce or polluted.