Let’s produce for use, not profit

Socialism will aim to meet human needs, not market-induced wants, producing quality goods, not opulent extravagances.

Capitalism produces commodities for sale and profit, denies human needs to the poor, wastes people and resources. Today most goods and services are produced and distributed as a result of capital buying labour in pursuit of profit. The ‘needs’ to be met are primarily those of the market, not of people. The owners or controllers of capital are said to ‘create’ jobs or ‘give’ employment to workers. There is a link between the production of goods and services and consuming them, but that link is conditional not direct.

Apologists for capitalist enterprises like to say they make cars, foodstuffs, health products, or whatever. But if they are honest they will admit that their aim is to make money. The proof of this is that they stop or curtail the ‘business’ if they can’t sell enough of what is produced. It doesn’t matter to them if workers lose their jobs and hence their livelihood. What matters to capital is that it loses its only reason for being invested – to make a profit.

Another way in which capitalism gives priority to market-induced wants over human needs is seen in the dual nature of the market. With some overlap, there is one market for the rich and another for the rest of us. Not many workers can afford £100,000 cars or £1000-a-night hotels. A big profit can be made by supplying such wants. So another market has been created to sell things, often cheap and nasty things, to workers. The profit per item in sometimes razor-thin, but there are many millions of consumers and it all adds up.

In capitalism workers are expected to produce and distribute goods and services as cheaply and efficiently as possible. In practice the system is extremely inefficient and wasteful. Unsold items are rarely given away to people who need but can’t afford to buy them – instead they are left to rot or remain unused. There are many occupations and organisations needed only by the profit system and many products useful only for handling or recording money transactions – from accountants to valuers and from armaments to wills.

One of the most tragic consequences of capitalism is unemployment. In the industrialised or ‘First World’ many people need homes or better homes, yet millions of building workers remain unemployed. In the ‘Third World’ there is a great need for schools, hospitals, sanitation services, and so on. Again, there is little or no money for the relevant work to be done, but no shortage of men and women able and willing to do it.

Unemployment has dire consequences for those condemned to it, and the longer it goes on the worse it gets. Research shows that the young unemployed are significantly less happy with their health, friendships and family life than those in employment. They are also more likely to feel ashamed, rejected and unloved. Older workers face retirement with the prospect not only of material poverty but also with the loss of a feeling of making a useful contribution to society.

One of the key features of the change from capitalism to socialism will be the removal of money and markets, which stand in the way of directly producing for consuming. In the words of the Socialist Party’s object, society will be ‘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’.

The first step on the road to achieving this object is when people abandon the whole set of ideas promoted by capitalist media and marketed as ‘living in the real world’. These anti-socialist ideas take a variety of forms such as ‘there is no such thing as a free lunch’, ‘you only get what you pay for’, ‘there must be people who provide jobs for others’, and similar expressions.

The aim is to convince us that there is no alternative, so that the prophecy that tomorrow will be more or less like today becomes self-fulfilling. The capitalist system is supported politically by electors who vote for minor variations of the status quo offered by all parties except the Socialist Party.

Neither the Socialist Party, nor the World Socialist Movement of which it is part, offers to redistribute money and wealth. Although we certainly aim to eliminate poverty, we don’t imagine that all of today’s world poor could live anything like the lives of today’s privileged rich tiny minority – that would be materially and environmentally unsustainable.

In the early period of socialism production will no doubt need to be focused on clearing up the mess left by a dying capitalism. After this – who knows? In terms of technology and consumption, some of us may prefer the simple life, others the more complex life.

We have nothing to lose in the short term by working now for revolutionary change. In the medium to long term we have everything to gain.

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