2000s >> 2003 >> no-1186-june-2003

How We Live and How We Could Live

One war – which everyone knew was about oil – has just ended. Exactly when the next war will break out cannot be predicted, but nobody doubts that there will be another, and that it too will be over access to some key resource vital to Western corporate capitalism.

More and more powers are arming themselves with nuclear weapons. The trade in “conventional” arms is booming too, as rulers everywhere seek to arm themselves with the most up-to-date and destructive weapons they can afford. They have to, since, in the perpetual jockeying for a place in the sun that’s part and parcel of world capitalism, it’s Might is Right with the biggest share of profits going to the strongest states while the weakest become basket cases.

But it’s not just the destruction of wars and the waste of armaments. There’s also the artificial scarcity that is imposed by the profit system. The world could produce enough to properly feed, clothe and shelter every single person on the planet, and more, but this does not happen. This is because production is geared to making profits not meeting needs. So, production stops, not when people’s needs have been met, but well before, when what they can afford to pay for—what can be sold to them at a profit—has been supplied.

That’s the economic law of the profit system: “No profit, no production”, “Can’t Pay, Can’t Have”. In the Third World this has drastic consequences. Millions die each year of starvation and starvation-related diseases. Millions go without access to clean drinking water. Millions live in slums and hovels. Everywhere in the Third World people have to be held down by brute force lest, as happened recently in Iraq, they help themselves to what they desperately need.

It’s not so good here either

In this part of the world the effects of the economic laws of the profit system are not so dramatic but still blight our lives. Because profits come before people’s needs a whole raft of problems arise. The health service is crumbling. The transport system is in chaos. Schools have become places where kids are under non-stop pressure to “perform”. The quality of life is declining. Towns and cities are dirty and noisy places where all is rush, rush, rush. There is no real sense of community. Apathy is rife. People don’t think that anything can be done to change things or even that it’s worth trying to. We are all of us on our own, competing individually to try to do the best for ourselves and our families. Everybody feels that this is not a satisfactory way to live but can’t put their finger on what precisely is wrong.

What is wrong is that we are living in a society where to survive you must have money and where most people can only get money if they can find an employer. But employers are not philanthropists. They only employ us if there’s something in it for them – profit, a profit that we produce when we make the goods or provide the services that they sell. That’s why, at work, we are under constant pressure to work harder and to compete with each other for promotion and better pay. And there’s always the worry that we might lose our job and so be deprived of the money it brings. Which we do if our employer doesn’t make enough profits. Profits always come first. So, public services, which have to be paid for out of profits, are neglected.

We need money because we can only access the things we need if we can afford to pay for them. But those with things to sell us are not philanthropists either. They, too, are motivated by the need to make a profit. For them we’re just a market and so they bombard us all the time with appeals to “buy, buy, buy”. You can’t escape this pressure. Advertising is everywhere: on the television, on the radio, in the papers, on billboards and hoardings, as junk mail. All this turns life into one big supermarket. But, since most people can’t afford the best, most of what we do buy is cheap and nasty, gleaming on the surface but shoddy underneath, often produced to break down or fall to pieces after a carefully calculated number of years anyway.

The way out

Fortunately, there’s a way out. But it’s not that easy. Nobody can do it for us – no leader, no politician, no guru. We’ve got to do it ourselves. That means understanding what causes the problem – the profit system – and then getting together to do something about it. Not just complaining about how the system treats us and asking for a few improvements here and there. Not founding the Labour Party again. Not some amorphous “anti-capitalist” movement which is against everything but for nothing. But organising to get rid of the whole profit system and replacing it by a new and different system.

A new and different system geared to meeting people’s needs. One based on the common ownership and democratic control of the places where we work and produce what is needed – obviously, if we’re going to produce to meet our needs, the means of production can’t remain in private hands or under minority control. Here the rule would not be “can’t pay, can’t have” but “from each according to ability, to each according to need”. We’d be co-operating to produce what we needed and then we’d have free access – without money – to what we produced. This is the original meaning of the word “socialism”, before it got corrupted by the Labour administrators of capitalism and the supporters of the failed state-capitalist regimes in Russia and Eastern Europe.

We in the Socialist Party still stand by it and still say it’s the only way out, not just here but throughout the world. In fact socialism could only exist on a world scale as world problems require world solutions. World socialism is the only way to prevent further wars and end world poverty, disease and ignorance. And the only way to restore the balances with the rest of nature that the profit system has upset.

Tinkering with the present system has always failed, and always will. It simply cannot be made to serve human interests. It can’t be mended. It must be ended. What is needed is not reform but a revolution in the basis of society to make all the natural and industrial resources of the Earth the common heritage of all humanity.

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