The most common rebuttal of socialist society is that it is impossible to achieve because “you can’t change human nature.” Some people think that socialism sounds great but will never work in practice. They say it would only work in a world of perfect people.
What socialists set out to prove is that not only has “human nature” changed many times in the past but that there is no such thing as a static human nature. We are products of our environment, particularly of the economic system in which we live. People living under feudalism are motivated by feudal motives and think them natural and fixed, just as people living under capitalism are motivated by capitalist motives and mistakenly think those natural and fixed. Many people fall back on this human nature argument. Trouble is, the argument supports our position. Human beings lived for 200,000 years communally, and as recently as the 19th century in North America, Native Americans lived that way. They shared pretty much everything. It’s natural for us to do so. It’s natural for us to work together for the betterment of the family, the neighbourhood, the tribe, cooperatively. We evolved in that way, knowing we needed each other to survive and then building from there. The vast majority of us do not want to rule over others. We want to get along and live in harmony and cooperate with our fellows.
The money system doesn’t work. Money has outlived its role. Every human transaction is tainted by the influence of money. We are shackled to it, deprived of our liberty. It is not money we need. We cannot eat money, or build houses with them. The money, private property and the exchange economy is just a hindrance. The socialists envisage a worldwide social system where the resources are considered the heritage of all the inhabitants of this planet. It’s not a utopian dream, it’s just a possible direction for society to take. It is the next step in the evolution and development of society, if we want it to be. Money and barter were required in times of scarcity. Today we live in abundance. There is enough on this globe (despite what the nay-sayers claim) for all to thrive – and what’s more – totally sustainably. We now have the knowledge and technology to provide easily for all human need. There is no shortage of land, food, building materials or the capacity to produce the things we need. There is plenty for all, for the benefit of all.
Socialism works. We all know this first hand. A family operates as a form of socialism. From each of us come goods and services according to our abilities. To each of us, those goods and services are provided according to need. One or both parents go to work and provide the wherewithal to keep house. The children do not do outside work yet eat well every day. Everybody shares the domestic chores the best they can, everyone pitches in, does their bit. Parents bring home food and share it out equally. They strive to ensure each child is given his or her equal share of clothing or gifts for their birthdays and Christmases. Family members look after one another, taking care of each other when sick, and caring for our frail elderly grandparents. The system mostly works. Families also help out other families by simply being good neighbours. When we invite friends over, we share the meal, offering the guest first pick, the most generous portions, the choicest cuts and we don’t charge prices for it. Nor do we ration our advice and wisdom according to who can afford it. At work, throughout the day, we work cooperatively with our colleagues. We give of ourselves, our knowledge, sharing our skills, without asking for money in return, expecting nothing more than a “thank you”. So why don’t we apply these rules to society at large? In fact, in various forms we have. Free access to health care for all via the NHS. Free primary and secondary school education. Free access to public parks and gardens. This is natural for the vast majority of us. This is our frequently decried “human nature”.
If you still need to be convinced and want to see an example of socialism in action, simply visit your local public library. Anyone can use the public library for free. Anyone can go to the library, browse its books, use their computers, check out its CDs and DVDs, all for free. It is a community resource. The library is somewhere to go when there’s nowhere else to go. Marx had nothing against public libraries, having spent much of his life sat in the reading room of the British Library doing his research. Even an avowed capitalist such as Andrew Carnegie couldn’t deny the social benefit of libraries and used his philanthropy to build them. Use of the public library is not means-tested. No one is making a profit. It provides a social good that cannot be measured in pounds and pence. The same model can be applied to every aspect of society. The library shows people on a daily basis that there is another way to do things besides relying on the private-owned for-profit capitalist market. Libraries are a model that must scare those powerful men and women who cannot abide the idea of a common public good not built on the profit model. Libraries are highly subversive. Perhaps that is why they are endeavouring to shut as many as possible down and a reason why we should all resist these closures.
In the world socialist ‘family’ we will still have planning, a list of ‘household chores’ requiring to be done to achieve social justice and prevent ecological catastrophe. But it doesn’t have to be centrally planned by Big Brother. We do this locally, primarily. Local control, with integration into larger areas; neighbourhoods, towns, districts, regions and the world as a whole. As we get further away from the local, the planning becomes more and more generalised, with specifics left up to local economies. Within the plan, or more accurately, the plethora of linked plans basic questions are asked and answered. How can we grow the widest range of crops in a sustainable manner? How can we have the widest range of foods in a sustainable fashion? How can we do all of this and treat animals in a humane, compassionate way? How to make sure our water supply is always safe, clean? Does the product serve the social good? Is the product environmentally safe? Is it safe for individuals, for the young, the elderly? Is it repairable, recyclable? Does it work and fit well with other products, used in other locales, different regions, and the planet as a whole? Do we actually need it? Broad guidelines create the general goals. Localities are then free to implement the specifics according to what works for them, as long as these also fit in holistically with the rest of the communities. One family pulling together. And that one family owns the means of production. As in, all of us, together.