WSM Principles 1/3

A Principled Stand

The word Revolution, which we Socialists are so often forced to use, has a terrible sound in most people’s ears, even when we have explained to them that it does not necessarily mean a change accompanied by riot and all kinds of violence, and cannot mean a change made mechanically and in the teeth of opinion by a group of men who have somehow managed to seize on the executive power for the moment. Even when we explain that we use the word revolution in its etymological sense, and mean by it a change in the basis of society, people are scared at the idea of such a vast change, and beg that you will speak of reform and not revolution. As, however, we Socialists do not at all mean by our word revolution what these worthy people mean by their word reform, I can’t help thinking that it would be a mistake to use it, whatever projects we might conceal beneath its harmless envelope. So we will stick to our word, which means a change in the basis of society.” — William Morris in ’How We Live and How We Might Live.’

The world is calling out for change. Millions of children die needlessly each year from hunger while those who possess millions spare themselves no luxury. Capitalism is a buying and selling society in which the human ability to work is bought and sold and results in the capitalist firms that employ them appropriating a surplus from their work, a surplus which takes a monetary form and most of which is re-invested as more capital. A society that exploited the producers but where the surplus extracted from them did not take this form would still be an exploitative class society but not capitalism.

People say that we in the World Socialist Movement are Utopian because we hold to the view that a new society is the only lasting solution to the mess we’re in and because we dare to suggest that we could run our lives in a much more rational and harmonious way.

Some on the “Left” decline to define socialism because they think that describing a future society is a waste of time and that we should only concern ourselves with present-day struggles. But unless we do talk about where we are going, how will you know when we’ve arrived? 

More and more people recognise that the current system of production for profit makes our lives needlessly painful and is ruining the planet. Unless we do have a clear idea of socialism then anyone can claim it, defame it and say it doesn’t work. And unless we keep the idea of working directly for a worldwide cooperative community on the agenda people will always be sidetracked. It is essential that the ideal of the new society should always be kept at the fore.

It cannot be stressed enough, that without a widespread and clear idea among workers of what a socialist society entails, it will be unattainable. The reason is simple. The very nature of socialism—a money-free world without prices or wages, a society of unhampered access to the goods and services provided by voluntary cooperative effort —necessitates understanding. There is absolutely no way in which such a sweeping fundamental transformation of social relationships could be thrust upon an unwilling, unknowing majority by some minority, no matter how enlightened or well-meaning.

The World Socialist Movement is not prepared to associate with any organisation which promotes the reform of capitalism, recruits members on that basis and seeks out the votes of reformists. Our case is that work for socialism is the essential end and it cannot be combined with reformism. Socialism cannot be achieved without a social revolution, that is a change in the property basis of society, from private ownership to social ownership and democratic control. Alone, we have stood for a social revolution to overturn capitalist society and replace it with socialism.

We envisage socialism as being established globally and almost simultaneously.

Ideas are social and cross borders. How does music genres arise and then travel the globe, or how fashions are adopted across cultures?

We call for the abolition of private property and the implementation of one of the oldest customs and traditions humanity has developed for its collective survival, the principle “from each according to ability, to each according to need”, an end of the exchange economy and the introduction of free access this means the abolition of wage and money and those working in occupations related to commerce transferring to socially productive work. We stand for the cooperative commonwealth. 

Countless numbers of people follow their hobbies without payment because they enjoy them. People have their gardens and their allotments and happily tire themselves out working, yet place that person on a farm and demand he or she toils for a wage by denying any other way to support him or herself and their family and that the fruits of this work are taken from him and the rewards of placing it on the market to be sold and bought then ask if that person is not a slave.

Socialism will not work if no-body works, society would fall apart. Part of our case is that socialism cannot be imposed but that people have to democratically decide they want socialism and are prepared to help make it work. This pre-supposes that it cannot be led by a minority but come into existence only via a mass movement who have a profound change in outlook so it is our belief that it is inconceivable that with this desire for socialist change on such a large scale it would not influence the way people behave. Ask yourself this, would having struggled so determinedly to bring socialism about, would people be so ready to jeopardise the new society they helped to create by sabotaging it?

What we propose is that the whole system of money and exchange, buying and selling, profit-making and wage-earning be entirely abolished and that instead, that instead community as a whole should organise and administer the productions of goods for use only, and the free distribution of these goods to all members of the community according to each person’s needs.

The main features of the ‘World Commonwealth’ are really quite simple.

Firstly, the new social system must be global. It must be a World Commonwealth. Our planet must be regarded as one country and humanity as one people.

Secondly, all the people will co-operate to produce and distribute all the goods and services which are needed by mankind, each person willingly and freely, taking part in the way he or she feels they can do best.

Thirdly, all goods and services will be produced for use only, and having been produced, will be distributed, free, directly to the people so that each person’s needs are fully satisfied.

Fourthly, the land, factories, mines, communications, transport and all those things which mankind needs to carry on producing the means of life, will belong to all people.

Suppose that the new social system was to start tomorrow; the great mass of people have already learnt what it means and have taken the necessary action to bring it about.

Everybody would carry on with their usual duties for the time being, except all those whose duties being of an unnecessary nature to the new system, were rendered redundant, for example, bank and financial services, sales-persons, accountants, and advertising. These people would, in time, be slotted into productive occupations.

When people first hear of how radically different society is being proposed, with all work being voluntary, and free access to whatever we need, most immediately view this as bizarre and impossible. Unsurprising, given that we have spent our entire lives being indoctrinated and conditioned by the education system, by the media, by politicians and employers, into swallowing capitalism’s propaganda that this is the natural way of things. For those who can get beyond the initial shock of first hearing about money-free socialism, by simply comparing what both the present and new system offer the majority of us, it should be obvious that outdated capitalism must be scrapped and replaced with the real socialist alternative.

Although money will disappear in socialism this does not mean that there will no longer be any need to make choices, evaluations and calculations. Our argument is that these evaluations and calculations, including those conceding the non-monetary “cost” of objects in terms of the effort and materials used to produce them, will be done directly in kind, without any general unit of account or measurement, neither money nor labour-time. Wealth will be produced and distributed in its natural form of useful things, of objects that can serve to satisfy some human need or other. Not being produced for sale on a market, items of wealth will not acquire an exchange-value in addition to their use-value. In socialism their value, in the normal non-economic sense of the word, will not be their selling price nor the time needed to produce them but their usefulness. It is for this that they will be appreciated, evaluated, wanted and produced. So estimates of what is likely to be needed over a given period will be expressed as physical quantities of definite types and sorts of objects. Decisions apart from purely personal ones of preference will be made after weighing the real advantages and disadvantages and real costs of alternatives in particular circumstances. The belief that without money nothing can work is flawed. The truth is that production is carried out by people, not money. Problems are solved by human beings, not money.

 “Yes, I agree with your arguments, but how are you going to get everyone else to?” This is a common reaction of people when the idea of establishing Socialism is put to them. Ninety-nine out of a hundred agree it would be pleasant to live in a moneyless world where they had free access to everything they required, where threats like war and pollution no longer existed, where work was not something they were forced to do and therefore disliked, but something they did out of choice and took pride and pleasure in. Yet when we have satisfied them that the world’s resources, if exploited with a view to using and not to profit, could satisfy all the needs of all human beings, and when they have accepted that it is not against “human nature” for people to live together in harmony, to associate rather than to compete: then they are inclined to say that this is all very well in theory, but how are you going to convince the majority of people that Socialism would be best for them?

Capitalism has given and is giving people the weapons to destroy it. At the moment people are thoroughly dissatisfied with all that capitalism involves (unpleasant work, rationing by wages, intolerable social and psychological pressures), but seeing no alternative still continue to support it. Hence, whilst being increasingly aware of the fact that they are deprived, they either limit themselves to demanding a slightly less minute share of the capitalist cake, or their frustrations explode into violence. But neither course of action leads far. Before we can get rid of a system we must understand the nature of it and have another system to put in its place. It is unconvincing to attack capitalism without being able to propose an alternative to it. That alternative, socialism, is what we propose.

The important principles that underlay Marx and Engels’ policies were:

1. The scheme of social evolution (primitive communism, chattel slavery, feudalism, capitalism. Communism) was meant as a description of what had happened in Western Europe and was not necessarily universally applicable.

2. The socialist revolution depended on a certain level of social and economic development and could not take place any time and anywhere merely because a determined minority wanted it.

3. Those who represented a ruling class politically did not have to be of that class but merely had to share their views and protect its material interests.

4. Under capitalism the working class were already the economically important class since the capitalists had become economically redundant “leaving the work of supervision to an increasingly numerous category of managers.” All that was needed to dislodge them from their privileged position was a political revolution.

5. To win political power the working class as a whole had to be “conscious of their common class position, class interests, and class enemies, and willing to act upon that consciousness” and to have organised themselves into a “gigantic political party.”

6. After winning political power the working class would for a “limited” or “short” period become the ruling class as a step towards the abolition of all classes. This political transition period would be the dictatorship of the proletariat as a whole, and not of a minority of revolutionary leaders.

7. In socialist society production of commodities, i.e. articles for sale, would come to an end. Instead “production would no longer be directed by the interests of a privileged minority but would be guided by an overall rational plan which had reference solely to human needs.”

8. In a socialist society the coercive State machine would be replaced by “a non-political type of authority” and there would be “effective communal decision without coercion.”

9. The socialist revolution would take place “just possibly at the polling booths, but much more likely at the barricades.” The World Socialist Movement would now put the emphasis emphatically the other way round.

10. In economically backward countries still dominated by feudal rule socialists should help the bourgeoisie to carry through their revolution. We say this is now no longer necessary since capitalism is firmly established as the dominant world system so that socialists everywhere should be working for the immediate establishment of socialism on a world scale.

11. Marx and Engels regarded Tsarist Russia “as the most serious obstacle to revolutionary progress” and advocated and supported a war against it. Our position is it is now wrong to support wars.

12. In the early stages of socialism there could not be fully free distribution according to needs and. although money would be abolished, the distribution would take place by means of non-circulating labour-time vouchers. The World Socialist Movement explains that, even if there was a temporary shortage, such vouchers would not be the fairest method of rationing but that in any event, the tremendous technological developments in the last hundred years have meant that free distribution can be implemented almost immediately.