Socialism Clarified

Socialism is almost globally misunderstood and misrepresented. Socialism will be a transformation of society and many of the things that most people take for granted, as “just the way things have to be”, can and will be changed to establish socialism.

The case for socialism rests upon the fact that the capitalist social system cannot provide a decent life for its people and that, in the interests of those people, it should make way for the next stage in social evolution.

It is true to say that mankind has developed the sufficient technical and productive capacity to sustain a social system in which wealth is freely available to all human beings. Capitalism itself has removed the barrier of low productivity.

The one remaining obstacle to socialism is the fact that the working class, who make up the majority of the population of the modern world, are not socialists. Many of them have never heard our case and of those who have heard it most have rejected it. One of the irritations of being a socialist is that the reasons for this rejection are too often rooted in ignorance—are, in fact, little more than transparent illusions. Many workers, with the chaos of capitalism raging about their heads, prefer to take comfort in these illusions rather than face the facts.

It is, then, part of a socialist’s job to do one’s best to destroy illusions. This is not necessarily work in which we take great pleasure; there are sickenly too many illusions for that. It is simply work which must be done.

The idea that the working class today are prosperous, and that capitalism holds out a comfortable future for them, must be examined and shown up for what it is worth. The facts on work, housing, health, material possessions, and so on, must be publicised and—especially important—put into their proper perspective. It must be pointed out that capitalism is a social system in which the owning minority will always live off the best while the working majority exist off the mediocre.

The prospects for the future that capitalism offers must be examined. They are neither attractive nor appealing.

The history of the working class has, inevitably, been one of superficial change. Nobody can deny—nobody would want to deny—that working-class conditions have changed since the war. What can be questioned is whether those changes have always been for the better and whether those which might have been for the better are not outbalanced by others which have been for the worse.

This is the question that the preceding articles have put. If they do not make pleasant reading it is only because capitalism is still as full of urgent problems and discords as ever. Crime is still a running sore—worse than ever in recent years. Some illnesses—those that are typical of the rush and strain of post-war capitalism—are increasing and have replaced the old killers which were characteristic of the days of unemployment. Popular cultural levels can never have been lower. And so on.

What this means is that, no matter how much capitalism changes, it remains the same. Workers are continually being deluded by plausible politicians who promise them that, if they will work harder, restrain their wage claims, and so on. they will soon enter the Promised Land of peace and plenty, a world of milk and honey. Behind the delusion is the implied promise that capitalism is a system in which every prospect pleases.

In fact, it is always the prospects alone which can be made to sound attractive. The reality of the present is never so good; that is why politicians must always suggest the present is a temporary stop before the golden future.

It is all an illusion. Capitalism has no future to offer the mass of its people. The one solution to society’s problems is the establishment of i new social order—socialism—in which the means of producing and distributing the world’s wealth will be owned by the world’s people.

The work of the World Socialist Movement (WSM) is to spread the understanding and knowledge that socialism requires.

Revolutionary Change Today

It is vital that when abolishing present-day exploitation we do not substitute a new form of exploitation. The only sure guarantee against this is a revolution made and controlled by the self-conscious majority of the working class.

As Marx put it “The emancipation of the working class must be the act of the workers themselves.”

Working-class emancipation necessarily excludes the role of political leadership. Even if it could be conceived of a leader-ridden working class displacing the capitalist class from power such an immature class would be helpless to undertake the responsibilities of a democratic socialist society. The WSM is a leader-free political movement.

It is NOT the WSM’s task to lead the workers in struggle or to instruct its members on what to do in trade unions, community associations or whatever because we believe that class-conscious workers and socialists are quite capable of making decisions for themselves. For the left wing, all activity should be mediated by The All-Knowing Party (union activity, neighbourhood struggles, etc.), whereas for us, a socialist party is just one mode of activity available to the working class to use in their struggles albeit a vital aspect.

The World Socialist Movement is like no other political organization. It is made up of people who have joined together because we want to get rid of the profit system and establish real socialism. Our aim is to persuade others to become socialists and act for themselves, organizing democratically and without leaders, to bring about the kind of society that we advocate. We reject the idea that people can be led into socialism. Socialism will not be established by good leaders but by thinking men, women and children. There can be no socialism without socialists.

Democracy and majority decision-making must be the basic principle of both the movement to establish socialism and of socialist society itself.

If a majority of workers really were as incapable of understanding socialism as many on the Left maintain, then socialism would be impossible since, by its very nature as a society based on voluntary cooperation, it can only come into being and work with the conscious consent and participation of the majority. Socialism just could not be imposed from above by an elite as envisaged by the Left. Democracy is not the mere counting of noses; it is the only principle of organization compatible with a class-free society.

Real democracy is fundamentally incompatible with the idea of leadership. It is about all of us having a direct say in the decisions that affect us. Leadership means handing over the right to make those decisions to someone else. In today’s democracy, people don’t vote for leaders to implement this or carry out that decision. Instead, they vote to give politicians a “free hand” to make decisions.

The point is that the very mechanism of decision-making we have today is a product of the social system we live under. The market economy, with its built-in contradictions and conflicting interests, has massively complicated the process of decision-making itself. It has moved it further and further from the scope of “ordinary people” as the system itself has become more and more globalized. It is this that has made the sound-bite pledges of our elected leaders seem increasingly irrelevant and ineffectual.

Democracy under capitalism is reduced to people voting for competing groups of career politicians, to giving the thumbs-up or the thumbs-down to the governing or opposition party. Political analysts call this the “elite theory of democracy” since, under it, all that the people get to choose is which elite should exercise government power. This contrasts with the original theory of democracy which envisages popular participation in the running of affairs and which political analysts call “participatory democracy”.

This is the sort of democracy socialists favour but we know it’s never going to be possible under capitalism. The most we can expect to get under capitalism is the right to vote, under more-or-less fair conditions, for who shall control political power. It is a minimalist form of democracy but not to be dismissed or discarded since it at least provides a mechanism whereby a socialist majority could vote in socialist delegates instead of capitalist politicians.

Capitalist democracy is not a participatory democracy, which a genuine democracy has to be. In practice, the people generally elect to central legislative assemblies and local councils professional politicians who they merely vote for and then let them get on with the job. In other words, the electors abdicate their responsibility to keep any eye on their representatives, giving them a free hand to do what the operation of capitalism demands. But that’s as much the fault of the electors as of their representatives, or rather it is a reflection of their low level of democratic consciousness. It cannot be blamed on the principle of representation as such.

There is no reason in principle why, with a heightened democratic consciousness (such as would accompany the spread of socialist ideas), even representatives sent to state bodies could not be subject – while the State lasts – to democratic control by those who sent them there.

In case it has not been understood, the economic re-organization being called for is certainly not state-ownership or nationalization or even mixed economy, which unfortunately has been represented as the socialists’ objective when nothing further is from the truth

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 the WSM is to unveil the activities of daily life, to render them transparent.

Capitalist ideology treats land, capital, and the products of labor, 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 characterizes 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, for example, money, works and capital produces. Yet 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,” and particularly the detailed measurement of that “productivity,” are inventions of the “science” of economics.

Matters little if capitalism is small or large – either way, it is based on robbery. The choice of “good” or “bad” capitalism is little different than choosing between typhoid or cholera

Capitalism is in fact 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 themselves the practical question about what the critical factor determining a production initiative in a market system is. 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.

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 needed.

Socialism is a decentralised or polycentric society that is self-regulating, self-adjusting and self-correcting, from below and not from the top. It is not a command economy but a responsive one. By the replacement of the 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 that human beings could use to satisfy some want or other. The disappearance of economic value would mean the end of economic calculation in the sense of calculation in units of value whether measured by money or directly in some unit of labour-time. It would mean that there was no longer any common unit of calculation for making decisions regarding the production of goods. Socialism is a money-free society in which use-values would be produced from other use-values, there would need not have a universal unit of account but could calculate exclusively in kind. The only calculations that would be necessary for socialism would be calculations in kind. (Calculation-in-kind entails the counting or measurement of physical quantities of different kinds of factors of production. There is no general unit of accounting involved in this process such as money or labour hours or energy units. On the one side would be recorded the resources eg materials, energy, equipment, labour, used up in production and on the other side the amount of the good produced, together with any by-products. This, of course, is done under capitalism but it is doubled by an exchange-value calculation: the exchange value of the resources used up is recorded as the cost of production while the exchange-value of the output after it has been realised on the market is recorded as sales receipts. If the latter is greater than the former, then a profit has been made; if it is less, then a loss is recorded. Such profit-and-loss accounting has no place in socialism and would, once again, be quite meaningless.