Socialism is a real alternative.
We can only “cure the planet” by establishing a society without private productive property or profit where humans will be freed from the uncontrollable economic laws of the pursuit of profit and the accumulation of capital. Only a world socialist society, based on the common ownership and democratic control of natural resources, is compatible with production that respects the natural environment.
Humans are capable of integrating themselves into a stable ecosystem and there is nothing whatsoever that prevents this being possible today on the basis of industrial technology and methods of production, all the more so, that renewable energies exist (wind, solar, tidal, geothermal or whatever) but, for the capitalists, these are a “cost” which penalises them in face of international competition. No agreement to limit the activities of the multinationals in their relentless quest for profits is possible. Measures in favour of the environment come up against the interests of enterprises and their shareholders because by increasing costs they decrease profits. No State is going to implement legislation which would penalise the competitiveness of its national enterprises in the face of foreign competition. States only take into account environmental questions if they can find an agreement at international level which will disadvantage none of them. But that’s the problem, isn’t it? Competition for the appropriation of world profits is one of the bases of the present system. So it is not “Humans” but the capitalist economic system itself which is responsible for ecological problems and the capitalist class and their representatives, they themselves are subject to the laws of profit and competition.
Socialism is not about running capitalism better!
Capitalist ideology treats land, capital and the products of labour, as things which have the power to produce, to create value, to work for their owners, to transform the world. This is what Marx called the fetishism which characterises people’s everyday conceptions, and which is raised to the level of dogma by economics. For the economist, living people are things – factors of production -, and things live money – works, capital – produces.
When men and women refuse to sell their labour, money cannot perform even the simplest tasks, because money does not “work”. The notion of the “productivity of capital,” are inventions of the “science” of economics.
The majority of the population is not engaged in productive work. The greater part of the non-producers is employed in the buying and selling plus all the related occupations. Any system by which the buying and selling system is retained means the employment of vast sections of the population in unproductive work. It leaves the productive work to be done by one portion of the people whilst the other portion is spending its energies in keeping shop, banking, and all the other various developments of commerce which employ probably more than two-thirds of the people today. It is the elimination of such activities and institutions, essential though they may be to a functioning market economy but unproductive in themselves from the standpoint of producing use values or meeting human needs, that constitutes perhaps the most important productive advantage that a socialist economy would have over a capitalist economy. The elimination of this structural waste intrinsic to capitalism will free up a vast amount of labour and materials for socially useful production in socialism.
In socialist society productive activity would take the form of freely chosen activity undertaken by human beings with a view to producing the things they needed to live and enjoy life. The necessary productive work of society would not be done by a class of hired wage workers but by all members of society, each according to their particular skills and abilities, cooperating to produce the things required to satisfy their needs both as individuals and as communities. 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.
“… in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.” – Marx.
And it was he who said in communism it will be society’s free (disposable) time and no longer labour time that becomes the true measure of society’s wealth.
Nor should we forget his son-in-law Paul Larfargue who wrote “The Right to be Lazy”. Lafargue’s approach to work in a socialist society – that it should be minimised, reducing the working day to 2 or 3 hours – is only one of two possible socialist approaches to the question.
William Morris was in contrast arguing that what workers should be demanding was what might be called the “Right to Attractive Work”. The two different approaches suggest two different policies that might be pursued in a socialist society: maximum automation so as to minimise working time or making as much work as possible attractive and personally rewarding. Morris regarded work as a basic, natural human need. His main criticism of capitalism was that it denied the vast majority of humans satisfying and enjoyable work. Under capitalism work, instead of being the enjoyable activity of creating or doing something useful, became a boring and often unhealthy and dangerous burden imposed on those who were forced to get a living by selling their mental and physical energies for a wage Morris’s concept of “art”. Which he defined, not as some specialised activity engaged in by some fringe group of “artists”, but as ”the expression of a person’s joy in their work”; people who enjoyed their work would produce beautiful things. And when he realised that the nature of capitalism meant that most producers were denied any enjoyment in their work – or, put another way, that it meant the “death of art.”
Workers are tied to one job for years on end, instead of being people able to do all kinds of things, which socialist society will allow. In a socialist society the distinction between work and leisure will diminish—perhaps even disappear. People will have an opportunity to use their hobbies and enthusiasms for the social good: to enjoy being useful. Most of us want to work. What we hate is employment. We want to work for ourselves, our families and friends, our community, not some thieving parasite !
Who will do the dirty work? Socialism will not be a Utopia where all the problems of existence have vanished. Unpleasant work will still have to be done.
Machinery will do it, said Oscar Wilde. “All unintellectual labour, all monotonous, dull labour, all labour that deals with dreadful things, and involves unpleasant conditions, must be done by machinery”.
This will release each individual to help the community in his or her own way by doing service or producing things which will satisfy each person’s need to be active, to contribute and to help. Wilde summed it up: “The community by means of organisation of machinery will supply the useful things, and . . . the beautiful things will be made by the individual”.
Unappealing dirty work can probably be taken care of by utilising labour-saving machines. But where it is impossible and where dirty work will have to be done in socialist society we can be quite sure of one thing: It will NOT be done by the same people ALL the time. All able members of society will take turns at such work. And also not to be forgotten is that it will be carried out by socially conscious men and women who appreciate that society belongs to them and therefore its less pleasant tasks must be performed by them. In the knowledge that we own and control the earth, and all that is in and on it, it is unlikely to think that human beings will refuse to attend to the dirty work within socialism.
The fact is that most jobs under capitalism are either completely or partially unnecessary. Many of those that are necessary are performed by people working long hard hours while others suffer poverty of low wages and low status. Elimination of all jobs required only within a capitalist system would reduce necessary tasks to such a trivial level that they could easily be taken care of voluntarily and cooperatively, eliminating the need for the whole apparatus of economic incentives and state enforcement.
As for the lazy greedy shirkers and free-loaders if one who contributes less takes more, why should this require to be a problem in a society which is based on the satisfaction of needs? If people didn’t work then 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. The establishment of socialism presupposes the existence of a mass socialist movement and a profound change in social outlook. It is simply not reasonable to suppose that the desire for socialism on such a large scale, and the conscious understanding of what it entails on the part of all concerned, would not influence the way people behaved in socialism and towards each other. Would they want to jeopardise the new society they had helped create? We think not.
Work in socialist society would only be voluntary. “This is utopian madness.” some might say. Yet already we can produce evidence for:
Cooperation – currently in the majority world subsistence farmers and the like already cooperate in family groups to provide basic needs, not buying and selling but simply producing
Hospitality – many cultures in the world have a very strong family/community welfare ethos and base their daily lives on working together for the benefit of all. Most of these people live in the majority world and although they have little they share what they have (even with strangers)
Compassion – from the minority world where most people’s lives are generally less harsh a large number of people willingly donate (money) on a regular basis in the hope of easing other people’s difficulties, e.g. child sponsorship, AIDS programmes, clean water programmes
Empathy – in areas/times of major/natural disasters volunteers are never lacking, nor slow to offer assistance, whether practical or monetary
Giving/Sharing – huge armies of regular volunteers at home and abroad are at work to help and improve people’s lives, e.g. lifts to hospitals; shopping for the old or disabled; youth workers in clubs and sports associations; parents’ associations linked to schools, etc. for better education and facilities; organisers of charity events.
Work should not really be equated with employment. Employment is wage labour and the ability to work is a commodity the workers are forced to sell . As such it has alienating factors associated with it; e.g. Monday to Friday , 9 -5 , is “their” time, whilst the weekend is “our” time, where we can enjoy working in the garden or painting. Employment is based on the division of labour. most jobs under capitalism are either completely or partially unnecessary. Many of those that are necessary are performed by people working long hard hours while others suffer poverty of low wages and low status.
Elimination of all jobs required only within a capitalist system would reduce necessary tasks to such a trivial level that they could easily be taken care of voluntarily and cooperatively, eliminating the need for the whole apparatus of economic incentives and state enforcement. In socialist society, productive activity would take the form of freely chosen activity undertaken by human beings with a view to producing the things they needed to live and enjoy life. The necessary productive work of society would not be done by a class of hired wage workers but by all members of society, each according to their particular skills and abilities, cooperating to produce the things required to satisfy their needs both as individuals and as communities. Work in socialist society can only be voluntary since there would be no group or organ in a position to force people to work against their will. As to collective needs (schools, hospitals, theatres, libraries and the like), these could be decided by the groups of individuals concerned, using the various democratic representative bodies which they would create at different levels in socialist society. Thus production in socialism would be the production of free goods to meet self-defined needs, individual and collective. Society require a rational, long-term attitude towards conserving resources and yet present day society imposes intolerable conditions on the actual producers (speed-up, pain, stress, boredom, long hours, night work, shiftwork, accidents).
Socialism, because it will calculate directly it kind, will be able to take these other, more important, factors than production time into account. This will naturally lead to different, in many cases quite different, productive methods being adopted than now under capitalism. If the health, comfort and enjoyment of those who actually manipulate the materials, or who supervise the machines which do this, to transform them into useful objects is to be paramount, certain methods are going to be ruled out altogether. The fast moving production lines associated with the manufacture of cars would be stopped for ever ; night work would be reduced to the strict minimum; particularly dangerous or unhealthy jobs would be automated (or completely abandoned). Work can, in fact must, become enjoyable. But to the extent that work becomes enjoyable, measurement by minimum average working time would be completely meaningless, since people would not be seeking to minimise or rush such work.
Socialists will continue to struggle to create a structured society where people have accepted socially mutual obligations and the realisation of universal interdependency and we understand that decisions arising from this would profoundly affect people’s choices, perceptions, conceptualisations, attitudes, and greatly influence their behaviour, economically or otherwise. Humans behave differently depending upon the conditions that they live in. Human behaviour reflects society. Socialism should be viewed as being built around a moral economy and a system of generalised reciprocity.
Marx fully explored the idea of equal wages for equal work and dismissed the notion. The value of labour power is determined in the same way as other commodities, by the amount of socially necessary labour incorporated in it – the labour in the things the worker and his family consume to live and by the labour spent on his education and training. Since different people’s labour power can differ in quality due to training, unequal wages reflect unequal values of different kinds of labour power. Wages are the monetary expression of the value of labour power and since it costs more to produce and maintain the labour power of a skilled worker than an unskilled worker and is bound to be reflected in the different wages each receive.(see Marx and his Value ,Price and Profit pamphlet Value Price and Profit (marxists.org))
In the words of William Morris:
“One man with an idea in his head is in danger of being considered a madman: 2 men with the same idea in common may be foolish but can hardly be mad; 10 men sharing an idea begin to act, a 100 draw attention as fanatics, a 1,000 and society begins to tremble, a 100,000 and there is war abroad and the cause has victories tangible and real and why only a 100,000? Why not a 100,000,000 and peace upon the earth? You and I who agree together, it is we who have to answer that question”