Do you know about socialism?
According to capitalism’s political spokespersons, we have had the best that that system can give. They told you that you have been getting too much and will have to cut back.
Yet poverty abounds. Not for you, perhaps, the dire poverty of homelessness or slum ghettoes — that may only be the plight of the others. Yours may possibly be the mere poverty of insecurity, of never being able to do more with your wages than exist, in whatever modicum of working-class comfort the system allows you during the week you are working, in order to enable you to exist and continue working during the next week!
It is all part of the mean poverty of our working class lives; our working class education, our working class dwellings — even our working-class children, going without while we garnish the tables of our masters.
And throughout most of the world, it is even worse. The wise men who accept this system but prattle at its “shortcomings” tell us that two-thirds of the people of the world live in dire poverty and desperate hunger and yet authorities on the subject, tell us that the world can yield sufficient food to feed mankind. And press releases from child poverty organisations tell us youngsters are dying needlessly. And many of you can actually cite chapter and verse of the statistics that tell us where a million tons of this, or a million gallons of that foodstuff, was dumped or deliberately contaminated in order to maintain the profits of some capitalist property owners or even the subsistence level of income of some farmers.
This, with violence and wars, with restrictions on your freedom and your very lives you accept as the best available in the best of all possible worlds. Why? Have you made the effort to find out if there is even a dream beyond this nightmare existence?
The solution we propose, the only alternative to capitalism, is socialism.
Let us pause for a moment . . . the former-Soviet Union . . . China . . . Cuba . . . Labour governments . . . You are hardly to be blamed if you feel let down if you are disappointed when we say socialism is the answer to our common problems. On the other hand, we are in a questioning mood; we are lifting the stones to look underneath.
Capitalism is a system of society in which the majority, the working class, are alienated from ownership and control of the means of production and distribution; a system in which these means of production are used not for the provision of the needs of people but rather for the production of commodities for the market in order to ensure profit, in one form or another, to those owning and/or controlling the means of production. In carrying out its profit-making function capitalism operates through the medium of the money system, imposing on the working class the need to work for wages, which in turn produces their servile status and puts the seal on the permanence of their poverty.
So the working class, our class, produces all wealth but because the capitalist class, either directly or through the medium of the state, have title to the ownership of the tools of production and the resources of nature, such wealth as we produce has to be left with our employers and we receive in the form of wages more or less sufficient to maintain us in a working-class condition of life between pay-days. It is in the fact that the working class are obliged in order to live to sell their physical and mental skills that their exploitation arises and it is from the same condition that all profit, rent and interest, or, as we call it, surplus value, arises to maintain a parasitic class in power and privilege. But the problem doesn’t end there, for in order to maintain this condition we must accept the whole stultifying apparatus of the money system with its organised waste and inability to exploit the abundant potential of the world for the benefit of mankind.
Now that we have had another look at the mechanics of capitalism — even if a somewhat understated and oversimplified look — we can get back to socialism and what you thought it meant. Soviet Union. . . China . . . Cuba. . . That’s right — under all these regimes there exists the same overwhelming majority of propertyless people who have no other way of getting a living than by selling their mental or physical abilities to work. They are, in other words, just like you. There is a wages/ money system and wealth is produced in the form of commodities for sale and profit. The fact that capitalism is organised directly under the aegis of the state is important only insofar as it weakens the power of the subject class to resist the grosser excesses of its exploiters.
And again in the case of Labour governments, they too maintain all the exploiting apparatus of capitalism’s wages-money-profit system even if, like the so-called Communist Parties, they incline to the erroneous view that capitalism can be disciplined by direct State control.
So obviously when we speak of socialism we do not mean State capitalism. What, then, do we mean?
We mean by socialism a world-wide system of society in which there would be neither an owning class nor a working class. All the means for producing and distributing wealth would be owned in common by all members of society and would be used solely for the purpose of providing for the needs of everyone in society. As it is now, wealth would be produced by social labour, except that social labour would no longer be provided by a subject class of producers but by the whole of society and the division of labour peculiar to capitalism, with its market economy, its buying and selling, money and wages structure, would no longer obtain.
Think of what the abolition of the money system would involve. All those members of our class who are presently engaged in occupations made necessary only by capitalism and its money system would be freed from such activities and would be available to apply their skills and energies to the task of producing an abundance of all the things we need to form the material basis of a full and happy life. It is worth considering just how many wasteful and useless functions capitalism and its market economy impose on us. Salespeople in shops and stores, sales representatives — their number can be judged by the fact that they are responsible for burning up almost half the petrol used by private transport — bank clerks, insurance operators, advertising and marketing men, ticket collectors — if you had the time and plenty of ink in your pen you could continue the list indefinitely.
You could add armies, navies, air and “security” forces, just as you could deduct from humanity’s bill of needs the tremendous wealth in the form of armaments that these grotesque organisations of class society need to maintain them even when they are not engaged in the destructive activities for which they exist.
Obviously, then, in socialism, there will be no shortage of hands with which to perform the work of producing an abundance for all. This is what socialists mean when they say that in socialism “Each will contribute in accordance with his or her mental or physical ability.”
We also say that, in socialism, “Each will take in accordance with their needs.” What we mean is exactly that.
Every member of society will have the right to freely avail oneself of such things as he or she may need. Just as each member of society has contributed to the task of producing the things we require so now, without money, checking, or any of capitalism’s measurements of poverty, each will take what one needs.
This, then, is what we mean by socialism; not the attempt to facilitate the further development and smooth functioning of capitalism by State controls, not the notion that some of the worst features of the system can be curbed by the State and certainly not the patently absurd idea that workers in one country can elect to power a political party — any political party — that can legislate in such a way as to protect workers in that country. Capitalism is a world system and workers in one country cannot create a national oasis of economic sanity in such a world. Indeed, in this latter idea, the nonsense of a “workers’ republic”, currently popular with various left-wing Trotskyist groups, there are dangerous pit-falls. Experience has shown that, where the attempt has been made, the State controls made necessary to impose disciplines on workers, frustrated by the limitations of capitalism’s wages system and the continuance within the so-called “workers’ republic” of all the old failed features of capitalism, has only resulted in the further mortgaging of that very freedom of political action that represents the one avenue to socialism and freedom.
Tragically for the working class, most of its alleged friends on the so-called “left” make the struggle for even their limited vision of socialism seem insurmountably difficult. They will point to the tremendous power of the capitalist State with its standing army and sophisticated devices for delivering death. “How can you beat that peacefully?” they cry, and they proceed to tell us that socialism can only be introduced by violence. These ignorant vaporous slogans may sound much more romantic than the hard-plugging and slogging needed to make workers socialists but they are dangerous beyond measure. The absurdity of the proposition stands clear: the State machine has at its disposal these tremendous means of destruction of those who oppose it, so the workers should collect some old weapons, stones, petrol bombs, rifles and machine guns and declare war on the State.
This is further exposed when its exponents develop their case in the light of our rebuttal. Then, it transpires, that we will win a majority in arms. The question we must ask is “Win a majority for what”. To introduce socialism or to prosecute a “glorious” struggle. Obviously, if it is to introduce socialism as we understand it, it follows, and logically follows, that that majority will have to be conscious socialists; that is to say, they will have to be people who understand what socialism is and what will be expected of them in the way of effort — and, no doubt in the early stages, self-discipline — in a socialist society.
What then becomes obvious is the fact that the power of the State, with all its means of violence and intimidation, emanates from the overwhelming support of the majority of the working class today. It is the working class who, by voting for political parties whose policies are based on the maintenance of capitalism and its necessarily-coercive State apparatus, that keeps the State in being.
If the working class, armed with socialist knowledge, wanted — as of course they would — to elect representatives to the State legislature for the purpose of making the productive resources the common property of all and dismantling all the restrictive and destructive machinery of capitalism’s wages and money system, what power is there to stop them? Certainly, violence waged directly by the tiny minority that would have an economic interest in prolonging capitalism is unlikely indeed. But if the question of violence is to be posed hypothetically then we would say that this is the only context in which we could accept it: when the majority of the working class has consciously opted for socialism and an undemocratic minority of capitalists and their hangers-on (and we would have to allow that they had suicidal tendencies) took to arms to frustrate the will of the majority.