World Socialism — A planet of unity and abundance

From the Winter 1987-88 issue of the World Socialist

The modern age is noted for its declared desire for a world of accord. Over the past century since communications have brought the human population into closer contact, national leaders have never ceased to proclaim their desire for a world of peace. This has been rhetoric without substance. If mere words were enough, the speeches of statesmen would have long since realised the unity of all people. But alongside these “peaceful” tirades, and in spite of international institutions such as the League of Nations, The International Court of Justice, and the United Nations Organisation, humanity has remained divided. We are threatened by mutual annihilation.

During this time, killing techniques have been rapidly developed and have never been so sophisticated or horrific. The century numbers the war dead in many millions. The development of world communications has been accompanied by the greatest mass slaughter in history. Never have so many people been under arms, and never in the past have the productive resources of humanity been so greatly allocated to the means of waging war.

Yet the technology which has given us the long-range nuclear missile has also given us photographs of the Earth from space. These are the images of one world, inhabited by one human species. Those astronauts who have witnessed this view of humanity’s home in space describe it as a beautiful place. It contains the natural resources which could provide the needs of everyone if only we could live and work together in cooperation. The question is, why doesn’t it happen?

Why is it that in spite of a universal need for peace and material security, in spite of a world system of production and highly developed communications of every kind, humanity still remains divided? Why are we armed to the teeth, living in tension, and in some places, still fighting wars? What happened after the “wars to end all wars’?

Are there reasons, inherent in the differences of history, language and culture, which prevent people from cooperating together? No; to imagine this is to deny the fact that cooperation does take place between people from different countries. It is common that people respond to the desperate plights of others in countries where there is famine, or such disasters as floods or earthquakes. It is not true to say that ordinary people are pre-occupied by a compulsion to bomb and kill others in distant lands. On the contrary, experience shows the reverse to be true. People have to be conscripted for war under penalty of imprisonment or death if they refuse, then trained and mentally conditioned by propaganda to fight. War imposes stress and anxiety on all those who find themselves involved; and when war ends there is relief and celebration. So what are the facts about this divided humanity?

The human population is divided amongst 160 rival capitalist states… Within nations populations are divided again by economic class. Privileged minorities own or monopolise natural resources and the means of producing wealth. The vast majority are non-owners, compelled to live by selling their only means of life, their mental or physical energies, for a wage or salary. This is the modern system of wage slavery which divides all communities and all nations, where the rich and the powerful maintain their dominant position through governments who control different portions of the Earth’s surface. The world’s working class produce the commodities which their national masters then own and sell for a profit on the markets.

Governments stand not the slightest chance of bringing about a world of unity. They are driven under the relentless pressure of economic competition to pursue strategies based on rival capitalist interests. This is the cause of constant international tension, the reason why nations remain armed to the teeth, and why, from time to time, struggles over trade routes, sources of raw materials, spheres of political and military influence, break out into war. Governments and the entire system of exploitation which they represent are an anachronism which must be swept away.

Against the inevitable conflicts between rival capitalist groupings, the world’s working class can have no interest in a divided world. Whereas capitalists are bound by the terms of their existence to compete and, through their governments, to organise for war, the interests of workers are in common the world over. In the conflict between wage labour and capital it is capital which is inherently competitive and exploitative, and therefore must maintain a divided humanity. Only labour, the world over, has the common interest which can establish world unity.

Pursuing this interest and organised as the World Socialist Movement, workers must strip the world’s capitalist class of their monopoly of the means of life and establish a world system where all resources and all means of production are held in common by all humanity.

This will be a world of common ownership, democratic control, cooperation and production directly for needs. This will be a world without frontiers where machinery of governments will have been converted into a system of democratic administration at local, regional and world levels; where the obscene waste of resources in the military will have been re-allocated for useful production. In socialism, communications such as transport, information technology, radio, telephone and television links would be immediately adapted for the benefit of all people. Thus the useful structures of existing world organisation, both technical and administrative, would serve the common interests and needs of one people in one world.

The positive action to establish this can only come from one source, which must be separate from the actions of governments; this must be the world’s working class organised politically as a single socialist movement. In 1848 Karl Marx declared that workers have no country; that they have a world to win. Against the toll of human misery since that time, and against the appalling prospect of continued world capitalism, we repeat it now with greater urgency.

From the Winter 1986-7 issue of the World Socialist

We inhabit a world of potential abundance for all, but it is also the case that we have trapped ourselves within a social system of mass deprivation. Throughout the world millions and millions of our fellow men and women are denied the satisfaction of their basic needs. Millions die each year from starvation … and millions more are blinded, crippled or made lethargic and socially wasted because they lack food, clean water, any medical care. Even in the so-called rich countries poverty is the lot of the majority: not just official ‘poverty’ which means that the government concedes that you are proof, but the poverty which characterises the life of every worker who is deprived of access to what society could provide for them, but they cannot afford to buy. The reader of this journal whose needs are fulfilled may be an eccentric millionaire, but more likely such a claim of fulfilment is a self-deception – an attempt to hide one’s own poverty from one’s own consciousness. Let us be honest as workers: our lives, our parents’ lives and the lives of our children, however hard the struggle has been to make them ‘decent’ or ‘prosperous’, have been less than satisfactory in relation to the level of need-satisfaction, comfort and happiness which society could allow us to enjoy. The working class are confined by the present social system to cut-price lives.

In a socialist society the means of wealth production (the factories, land, offices, mines, transport, media and all the resources required to satisfy human needs) will belong to the entire human community, all of us owning and all of us controlling what will be our world. Production will no longer be for sale and profit; no longer will needs be ignored if there is no money to convert them into ‘purchasing power’. In a socialist system of worldwide production the only reason for producing goods and services will be to satisfy needs. Production will be solely for use.

Having scrapped the present system of only producing goods and services if there is an expectation of profit for the parasitical minority who monopolise the earth’s resources, socialism will forget the old rules of the buying and selling game (the market) and will distribute what is needed on the basis of free and equal access. Money will be abolished: you cannot buy from yourself what you commonly own. The satisfaction of human needs will involve people giving according to their abilities and taking according to their needs.

Free access means that no human being will need to buy anything. Anything that society can produce will be there for the taking. Decent food; the best houses possible to build; gas, electricity, water; internet access, entertainment; all medical and educational services – all completely free and available for all.

Socialists do not have a narrow conception of need. We would not wish to give the impression that socialism will do no more than satisfy basic living requirements – although doing that alone will be a momentous step forward for the millions of workers now denied the satisfaction of their most elementary needs. More than that, socialism will allow humans to be creative and to explore our wider needs. For too long our needs have been over-influenced by the selling process and the crude mind manipulation of the advertisers: in a socialist society we can begin to think about what we really require to be happy human beings and we shall set about supplying ourselves with the resources needed to live as fully as we can. In answer to the opponent of socialist ideas who asks, ‘But will you be able to provide a laptop for every man and woman in a socialist society?’ we answer ‘Yes, indeed: a world which can provide enough weapons to murder every person alive could be transformed into one which will provide a home computer for every person alive, but we feel somehow that once such a new system is established the desire to see ultimate luxury in an escape into online cyber fantasy will not be the ultimate goal which men and women will express.’ In short, socialism will not only be able to satisfy our existing needs, but it will enable us to question and challenge those needs – to escape from the poverty of capitalist-determined needs.

Needs are social. We are only free to have goods and services to use if it is technically possible to produce them and if there are people ready to do so. In a socialist society there is not going to be a sudden, utopian-like abundance of everything: the skies will not rain with goodies. Socialism will release from the constraints of profit the abundant resources of the planet and these will be used to allow us to live decently and well. There can be no socialism without socialists, and conscious socialists will have to realise that living in a world of cooperation entails giving as well as taking. Under capitalism most of us do plenty of giving (to the profits of our bosses) and an impoverished degree of taking. In a world of free access it will be a pleasure to fulfill the necessity of working to produce goods and services, sure in the knowledge that one is not doing so to make a boss rich, but to make all of our fellow inhabitants of the global village rich in life. In a worldwide human family there will be no shortage of willing volunteers to ensure that those who cannot work are cared for; there will be no problem of people refusing to do what cooperation demands of their humanity. To be sure, no person will be made to do anything as a matter of compulsion in a socialist society: if they refuse to work and insist upon the glorious right to sleep all day they will be regarded as very odd, perverse sorts. The last thing an intelligent social animal of the human species will do once he or she is free to live in cooperative equality will be to sleep as a form of luxury – indeed, what a perverse system capitalism is when it regards the man or woman who enjoys the freedom to sleep all day as having made a success of life.

Socialism will be a state-free society. No government will be present to tell people what they may or may not have. Free access means precisely what it says: people will be quite free to decide for themselves what they want and to take it. Production will be totally geared to that objective. If people want what cannot yet be produced – what is beyond social resources as developed at that stage – then they cannot have that particular need satisfied. But that will be a very different situation from the kind of mass denial of basic needs which characterises the profit system.

A world of production solely for use and free access for all is there for the making. All it requires is a majority of workers who understand and want it to join together for the purpose of bringing it about. For years a minority of workers have argued the case for such an exciting social alternative. For how much longer we will remain a minority is up to our fellow workers. Will they accept a world of misery and insecurity and poverty in the midst of potential plenty, or will they unite for the creation of a system where never again will the pained cry of a hungry child whose parents lack the money to feed it be heard on our planet?