The inequality which exists under world capitalism is simply breathtaking, and it is increasing. The world has never been so unequal as it is today. Giant global corporations own and control the world production of goods and services together with the natural resources of the planet. The sole object is to amass greater concentrations of capital and to increase their economic and political powers. Governments exist essentially to defend the interests of the rich and powerful. This is the way the world is. But it should not and need not be this way. Instead, the world could be run along socialist lines, without rich or poor.
Socialism is almost globally misunderstood and misrepresented. Socialism will be a basic structural change to society, and many of the things that most people take for granted, as “just the way things have to be”, can and must be changed to establish socialism. People tend to accept as true the things they hear over and over again. But repetition doesn’t make things true. Because the truth and the facts often contradict “common knowledge”, socialists have to show that “common knowledge” is wrong. The task of capitalist ideology is to maintain the veil which keeps people from seeing that their own activities reproduce the form of their daily life , the task of socialism is to unveil the activities of daily life, to render them transparent.
In socialism, labour power will no longer be a commodity to be bought and sold on a market. Socialists seek a society of universal equality based upon the free association of producers working collaboratively to produce for each according to their needs. Socialism (and lets be clear, that does not mean government ownership or control of the economy) is the only system that can bring about what well-meaning folk seek – a self-sustainable where human needs are in balance with the resources needed to satisfy them. Such a society would already have decided on the most appropriate way to allocate resources to meet the needs of its members. This having been done, it would only need to go on repeating this continuously from production period to production period. Production would not be ever-increasing but would be stabilised at the level required to satisfy needs. All that would be produced would be products for consumption and the products needed to replace and repair the raw materials and instruments of production used up in producing these consumer goods. There won’t be the blind pressure to do so that is exerted under capitalism through the market.
Socialism will work even if everyone suddenly decides that they dislike everyone else. Socialism will be a society in which satisfying an individual’s self interest is the result of satisfying everyone’s needs. It is enlightened self-interest that will work for the majority. Socialism does not mean equal shares for everyone. People are different and have different needs. Some needs will be more expensive (in terms of resources and labour needed to satisfy them) than others. We understand doubts, since there is scarcely a single socialist who has not heard repeatedly the statement that human nature is against socialism. Socialism does not require us all to become altruists, putting the interests of others above our own. In fact socialism doesn’t require people to be any more altruistic than they are today. We will still be concerned primarily with ourselves, with satisfying our needs, our need to be well considered by others as well as our material and sexual needs. No doubt too, we will want to “possess” personal belongings such as our clothes and other things of personal use, and to feel secure in our physical occupation of the house or flat we live in, but this will be just that – our home and not a financial asset. Such “selfish” behaviour will still exist in socialism but the acquisitiveness encouraged by capitalism will no longer exist. The coming of socialism will not require great changes in the way we behave, essentially only the accentuation of some of the behaviours which people exhibit today (friendliness, helpfulness, co-operation) at the expense of others which capitalism encourages, competition, acquisitiveness.
To establish socialism the vast majority must consciously decide that they want socialism and that they are prepared to work in socialist society. Work is part of human life. Today rich people work when they don’t have to, because they, like many of the rest of us, enjoy working. Many people work harder at their hobbies than they do at work. It is the nature of employment that makes it “work” instead of pleasure. Work needn’t be a part of the day that we wish would end. People enjoy creating useful things. Instead of producing junk that people only buy because they can’t afford quality, every worker will be able to produce quality products for themselves and others, and know that other workers will be doing the same. The workday will be shortened. Many jobs (such as those dealing with money, or war, or poverty) will not be required at all. The people doing those jobs now, will perform work that actually produces goods and services that people want. People will gain respect for doing jobs that others might find unpleasant, or the unpleasant jobs might be shared around. Many of the unpleasant jobs could be made more pleasant and some could be done away with.
The world is a “global village”. Each region may have its own particular and distinct customs, but they are part of a greater system of society that is worldwide. This system of society is capitalism and every region and nation operates within this system of society in one way or another. Socialism is not a cooperative island in the middle of capitalism, but a global system of society that will replace capitalism. One country cannot establish socialism. No country is completely self-sufficient in the resources people need to satisfy their needs. No country can really isolate itself from the rest of the world in a peaceful manner, so a peaceful “socialist nation” would be easy prey for the outside capitalist world. Just as capitalism is a world system, socialism will have to be a world system. Socialism will be a world without countries. Borders are just artificial barriers that belong to a past and present that is best left behind.
Socialism is a money-free society in which use values would be produced from other use values. Socialism is a decentralised society that is self-regulating, self-adjusting and self-correcting, from below, not from the top. It is not a command economy but a responsive one.
Planning in socialism is essentially a question of industrial organisation, of organising productive units into a productive system functioning smoothly to supply the useful things which people had indicated they needed, both for their individual and for their collective consumption. What socialism would establish would be a rationalised network of planned links between users and suppliers; between final users and their immediate suppliers, between these latter and their suppliers, and so on down the line to those who extract the raw materials from nature. The responsibility of these industries would be to ensure the supply of a particular kind of product either, in the case of consumer goods, to distribution centres or, in the case of goods used to produce other goods, to productive units or other industries. Planning is indeed central to the idea of socialism, but socialism is the planned (we mean consciously coordinated and do not want this to be confused with the central planning concept) production of useful things to satisfy human needs precisely instead of the production, planned or otherwise, of wealth as exchange value, commodities and capital. In socialism wealth would have simply a specific use value.
Production and distribution in socialism would be a question of organising a coordinated and more or less self-regulating system of linkages between users and suppliers, enabling resources and materials to flow smoothly from one productive unit to another, and ultimately to the final user, in response to information flowing in the opposite direction originating from final users. The productive system would thus be set in motion from the consumer end, as individuals and communities took steps to satisfy their self-defined needs. Socialist production is self-regulating production for use. Simply put, in socialism there would be no barter economy or monetary system. It would be a economy based on need. Therefore, a consumer would have a need, and there would be a communication system set in place that relays that need to the producer. The producer create the product, and then send the product back to the consumer, and the need would be satisfied.
Humans behave differently depending upon the conditions that they live in. Human behaviour reflects society. In a society such as capitalism, people’s needs are not met and reasonable people feel insecure. People tend to acquire and hoard goods because possession provides some security. People have a tendency to distrust others because the world is organised in such a dog-eat-dog manner. If people didn’t work society would obviously fall apart. To establish socialism the vast majority must consciously decide that they want socialism and that they are prepared to work in socialist society. If people want too much? In a socialist society “too much” can only mean “more than is sustainably produced.” For socialism to be established the productive potential of society must have been developed to the point where, generally speaking, we can produce enough for all. This is not now a problem as we have long since reached this point. However, this does require that we appreciate what is meant by “enough” and that we do not project on to socialism the insatiable consumerism of capitalism.
If people decide that they (individually and as a society) need to over-consume then socialism cannot possibly work. Under capitalism, there is a very large industry devoted to creating needs. Capitalism requires consumption, whether it improves our lives or not, and drives us to consume up to, and past, our ability to pay for that consumption. In a system of capitalist competition, there is a built-in tendency to stimulate demand to a maximum extent. Firms, for example, need to persuade customers to buy their products or they go out of business. They would not otherwise spend the vast amounts they do spend on advertising. There is also in capitalist society a tendency for individuals to seek to validate their sense of worth through the accumulation of possessions. The prevailing ideas of society are those of its ruling class so then we can understand why, when the wealth of that class so preoccupies the minds of its members, such a notion of status should be so deep-rooted. It is this which helps to underpin the myth of infinite demand. It does not matter how modest one’s real needs may be or how easily they may be met; capitalism’s “consumer culture” leads one to want more than one may materially need since what the individual desires is to enhance his or her status within this hierarchical culture of consumerism and this is dependent upon acquiring more than others have got. But since others desire the same thing, the economic inequality inherent in a system of competitive capitalism must inevitably generate a pervasive sense of relative deprivation. What this amounts to is a kind of institutionalised envy and that will be unsustainable as more peoples are drawn into alienated capitalism.
In socialism, status based upon the material wealth at one’s command, would be a meaningless concept. The notion of status based upon the conspicuous consumption of wealth would be devoid of meaning because individuals would stand in equal relation to the means of production and have free access to the resultant goods and services. Why take more than you need when you can freely take what you need? In socialism the only way in which individuals can command the esteem of others is through their contribution to society, and the stronger the movement for socialism grows the more will it subvert the prevailing capitalist ethos, in general, and its anachronistic notion of status, in particular.
All wealth would be produced on a strictly voluntary basis. Work in socialist society could only be voluntary since there would be no group or organ in a position to force people to work against their will. Free access to goods and services denies to any group or individuals the political leverage with which to dominate others (a feature intrinsic to all private-property or class based systems through control and rationing of the means of life.) This will work to ensure that a socialist society is run on the basis of democratic consensus. Goods and services would be provided directly for self determined needs and not for sale on a market; they would be made freely available for individuals to take without requiring these individuals to offer something in direct exchange. The sense of mutual obligations and the realisation of universal interdependency arising from this would profoundly colour people’s perceptions and influence their behaviour in such a society. We may thus characterise such a society as being built around a system of generalised reciprocity.
Does it mean there are no markets?
Capitalism is not just an exchange economy but an exchange economy where the aim of production is to make a profit. Profit is the monetary expression of the difference between the exchange value of a product and the exchange value of the materials, energy and labour-power used to produce it, or what Marx called “surplus value”.
Defenders of capitalism never seem to ask the practical question about what the critical factor determining a production initiative in a market system.
The answer is obvious from everyday experience. The factor that critically decides the production of commodities is the judgement that enterprises make about whether they can be sold in the market. Obviously, consumers buy in the market that they perceive as being for their needs . But whether or not the transaction takes place is not decided by needs but by ability to pay. So the realisation of profit in the market determines both the production of goods and also the distribution of goods by various enterprises. In the market system the motive of production, the organisation of production, and the distribution of goods are inseparable parts of the same economic process: the realisation of profit and the accumulation of capital. The economic pressure on capital is that of accumulation, the alternative is bankruptcy. The production and distribution of goods is entirely subordinate to the pressure on capital to accumulate. The economic signals of the market are not signals to produce useful things . They signal the prospects of profit and capital accumulation, If there is a profit to be made then production will take place; if there is no prospect of profit, then production will not take place. Profit not need is the deciding factor. Under capitalism what appear to be production decisions are in fact decisions to go for profit in the market.
The function of cost/pricing is to enable a business enterprise to calculate its costs, to fix its profit expectations within a structure of prices, to regulate income against expenditure and, ultimately, to regulate the exploitation of its workers. Unfortunately, prices can only reflect the wants of those who can afford to actually buy what economists call “effective demand”. – and not real demand for something from those without the wherewithal – the purchasing power – to buy the product (or even to express a preference for one product over another. I may want a sirloin steak but i can only afford a hamburger).
Socialist determination of needs begins with consumer needs and then flows throughout distribution and on to each required part of the structure of production. Socialism will make economically-unencumbered production decisions as a direct response to needs. With production for use, the starting point will be needs.
By the replacement of exchange economy by common ownership basically what would happen is that wealth would cease to take the form of exchange value, so that all the expressions of this social relationship peculiar to an exchange economy, such as money and prices, would automatically disappear. In other words, goods would cease to have an economic value and would become simply physical objects which human beings could use to satisfy some want or other. (One reason why socialism holds a decisive productive advantage over capitalism is by eliminating the need to tie up vast quantities of resources and labour implicated in a system of monetary/pricing accounting.)