From April 2004 World Socialist newsletter
When our ancestors left the safety and security of the trees for the vagaries of the plains, they were embarking on a long, subconscious, and often painful journey to attain mastery over the earth’s resources. The goal of countless millennia of sweat and endeavour, was to create a system of production so vast and efficient that it could satisfy the material needs of all mankind. The method used to achieve this goal was a series of modes of production, each succeeding the last as a natural improvement until it became obsolete and a barrier to further development and gave way to new forces and relations of production.
The primitive beings first arriving on the plains developed co-operation, speech and a culture to set those forces in motion. Their communistic way of life produced a stable, egalitarian society of harmony, but its daily search for the means of life left little time for progress. Tool refinement and the new use of materials were painfully slow and communication of ideas to outside groups was virtually non-existent. Mastery over grasses and animals heralded the age of agriculture and the division of labour so the few were able to produce all the food and the many were freed up to accelerate advances in tool technology and uses, in building, crafts and cultural institutions. This new way of life also produced wealth in the form of a surplus, creating classes of men for the first time – those who took hold of the wealth, the exploiting class, and the producers, the exploited class. Towns, cities and empires arose and with it the need for free labour to carry out the many tasks of society and to build the massive public works projects. As the great empires rose and fell, each greater and more wide-spread than the last, culminating in the Roman empire, the impediments, or fetters, as Marx says, of the slave system began to hold progress back. The break up of the final slave empire, brought the new system, the feudal system and a settled agrarian life. The exploiting aristocracy, the holders of land, had the exploited class, the peasants at their disposal, and a new mode of production was in place. As knowledge and skills developed further, and ever- increasing amounts of wealth found their expression in the growing mercantilism, the aristocrats came into conflict with these new owners of wealth. The ensuing struggle for the control of parliament in England, and the ability to maintain the laws that upheld the old system or create new laws to usher in a new era, was eventually won by the holders of capital, the bourgeoisie, and thus the capitalist mode of production came into being. The industrial revolution, establishing the factory system, and the simultaneous harnessing of science to its purpose, brought fantastic increases in productive capacity.
Each system has produced improvements in the production of the means of life, and all, except primitive communism, have brought relations of production that engendered a class system. Now that capitalism has spread almost entirely over the earth and brought an abundance of goods, we have, for the first time, arrived at a state where everyone’s needs can be satisfied. Incredibly, they are not. Today, among an abundance of goods and the capacity to complete the job started by our distant ancestors, we have millions dying of starvation, the effects of malnutrition, easily curable diseases and the majority of our planet living in poverty and insecurity. There can be only one reason for this apparent contradiction. The profit system itself has become a fetter to the ultimate goal of providing for all. The profit motive stands in the way of alleviating all human misery. The profit system prevents the natural, worldwide progress that would occur if workers were free to pursue their natural abilities and share their knowledge. In short, profit bars the way to the next, higher level of production.
Fellow workers, the time has come for the establishment of the social ownership of the means of production and the social distribution of the wealth produced, by, and in the interests of, all the people. The time has come to complete our journey
From the June 2004 issue of the World Socialist newsletter
The economic system we all live under is sometimes described as a system of production and distribution. It is certainly a system of production. In the earlier days of its long life, this system—capitalism—wasn’t fully developed, didn’t have either the materials or the technology to deliver anything like abundance to everyone. But since those days capitalism has developed an astonishing economic machinery a vast capacity for the production of foodstuffs and material goods, and for the worldwide distribution of these things—a stunning capacity for the worldwide movement of people and life needs. Thanks to this astonishing and probably limitless—machinery for fulfilling human needs and wants, we now have the potential to feed, clothe, and shelter the entire population of the world. And this situation embodies both paradox and promise.
The paradox lies in the conflict between capitalism’s productive capacity and its perversely limited capacity for the distribution of the wealth it can create. It would be more accurate to call capitalism a system of restriction rather than distribution—a system that allows distribution only on condition that some money changes hands or promises to change hands. In the face of near-global hunger, for example, vast stores of rice (a nutritional staple for huge segments of the world population) are kept off the market, hoarded because it cant be sold at an adequate profit. To put it another way, access to this and other foodstuffs is not just hindered but forbidden , and not on the grounds that there isn’t enough to go around. (In fact, things like farm price supports are established to make sure that there wont be enough to go around—i.e., farmers receive payments from the state in exchange for producing less in order to keep prices up to an acceptable level.) The greatest productive capacity in the history of mankind is thus boxed in, hobbled, hindered, by the illogical and unnecessary system of distribution at its heart. Where, then, is the promise? The promise lies in the fact that if the caged-up giant of global productive capacities were unleashed, we could feed, clothe, house, educate, and entertain everyone on earth.
In other words, true socialism free access has become a practical possibility.
A seemingly limitless capacity for the production and distribution of goods lies ready to hand. If this capacity were used rationally, we could transform human life, the nature of cities, the structure of education, the possibilities for personal development, even the very substance of human relationships. We could rid ourselves once and for all of the phantom of scarcity, at least the illusory scarcities created by the dictates of an outdated economic system. Socialism is no longer a mere pipe dream, but a genuine human possibility.
For most human beings today, globalization means being controlled by remote and seemingly abstract economic forces deployed by self-seeking money—handlers and politicians somewhere far away. But if we free the productive power of globalization from the stranglehold of the iron fist of profit, we could transform what is now an ominous specter into the friendly giant its own nature yearns to become. (And what capitalism is doing to the physical world these days makes this transformation not just a fond wish, but a dire necessity for human survival!)
True socialism emerges at long last as a tremendous human possibility.