Labour, Tory, same old story

A wise old commentator used to say: ‘Governments are not elected, they are dismissed.’ And, after Labour’s recent by-election wins and the increasing mess the Tories are in, that seems a perfect fit for the likely outcome of next year’s General Election. But if Labour do win next year, what difference will it make? A ‘man in the street’ interviewed by the BBC following those by-elections said ‘it will just be different people doing the same things’. The socialist view is that he wasn’t far wrong. Of course a Labour government may go a little bit easier than the Tories on, say, refugees and the unions, but in the overall picture of people’s lives the difference will be minimal. Experience has shown that, whatever a government’s promises or intentions, they are not in control of the system they administer. The market is in control, and the rule of the market is maximisation of profit for the class that owns the resources and the productive capacity of society – the capitalist class. No government, no matter how well-meaning, can get around this.

Democratic decision-making
So we may vote Labour or Tory and think this is part of a democratic process. But it is so only in an extremely superficial sense. That’s because, owing to the way ‘democracy’ operates in the society we live in, none of us are allowed to take the really important decisions, the ones about the distribution of wealth, the environment, education, health, peace, and so on. The one decision we are allowed to take is who shall take all those decisions for us. And this happens only once every few years. In between voting times we have virtually no involvement in the decisions that affect our lives. They are made from on high by governments or leaders of one kind or another, or, at work, by employers. And such decisions, whether political or economic, reflect at bottom the needs of the market – the world market in which both governments and businesses operate – and in that context good or bad intentions count little.

What would a properly democratic system look like? It would be one in which people take all the decisions about the things that concern them – a society without governors and governed, without leaders and led, without employers and employed. Instead of people having to accept the decisions of those in charge, it means cooperating voluntarily to run society and all its resources and technology in our own mutual interest – no rich and poor, no haves and have-nots. And all this without money or markets. Some would say this is too idealistic, utopian even. But we don’t think so and we’ll try to explain why.

Ownership and wealth
Firstly, the society of equality we’re suggesting definitely isn’t possible if a small minority continue to have control of most of the wealth by being employers, landowners or shareholders and the rest of us have to scramble to find employment and then depend on the wage or salary that gives us to get by. All this is unnecessary because the resources, technology and skills that exist in the world today could, if used rationally, provide enough – far more than enough in fact – in the way of goods and services to satisfy the needs of the whole of the Earth’s population (8.1 billion). This doesn’t happen at present because the economic system that exists the world over – capitalism – dictates that only what can be sold will be produced. It doesn’t matter if people need food, even to the extent of starving from lack of it. They won’t get that food unless it’s ‘economically viable’ for it to go to them – that is, unless they’ve got the money to pay for it. The same applies to everything else too – houses, clothing, transport, and so on – meaning that even in an economically advanced country like the UK, for example, millions of people live in poverty and go short of good food, warmth and decent housing because they haven’t got the means to pay for it.

Cooperation and competition
Given this state of affairs, what is the objection to our all deciding, via democratic political action, to organise our resources so that production takes place to satisfy human needs and not to make a profit on the market? All it needs is for us to establish a new system of ownership where we own all the means of production together and take freely from what is produced according to our needs. In such a system, democratic decisions will be taken by everyone about organisation, production and distribution, replacing money as the organising principle of society.

But will it break down in chaos because human beings are naturally competitive and acquisitive and will grab everything they can if it’s freely available? We don’t think so, since, though humans can certainly be grabbing and competitive, they can also be (and most of us are in our normal day-to-day relations) cooperative and generous. We are in fact what our situation makes us – and if there is enough to satisfy all our needs, we are much more likely to be generous than irrationally acquisitive, to be socially cooperative than selfishly competitive. We’re not basing our arguments on an appeal to people to be ‘good’ or idealistic’. We’re simply asking them to see that a fundamental change in the way society is organised is in their interests and in all our interests. The reward will be lifelong security for all as we meet our own and the Earth’s basic needs.

Fairness and equality?
There may be much talk of fairness and equality from a coming Labour government, but one thing we can be sure of is that, for the reasons outlined here, they will not be able to deliver that. And we can also be sure that there will be no talk from them of the only possible condition under which fairness and equality can meaningfully exist – the classless, stateless, moneyless society that we call socialism.


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