Editorial from the Winter 1986-7 issue of the World Socialist
We inhabit a world of potential abundance for all, but it is also the case that we have trapped ourselves within a social system of mass deprivation. Throughout the world, millions and millions of our fellow men and women are denied the satisfaction of their basic needs. Millions die each year from hunger and millions more are made sick, wasting away because they lack food, clean water, and medical care. Even in the so-called rich countries, poverty is the lot of the majority: not just official ‘poverty’ which means that the government concedes that you are proof, but the poverty which characterises the life of every worker who is deprived of access to what society could provide for them, but they cannot afford to buy. The reader of this journal whose needs are fulfilled may be an eccentric millionaire, but more likely such a claim of fulfilment is a self-deception – an attempt to hide one’s own poverty from one’s own consciousness. Let us be honest as workers: our lives, our parents’ lives and the lives of our children, however hard the struggle has been to make them ‘decent’ or ‘prosperous’, have been less than satisfactory in relation to the level of need-satisfaction, comfort and happiness which society could allow us to enjoy. The working class are confined by the present social system to cut-price lives.
In a socialist society, the means of wealth production (the factories, land, offices, mines, transport, media and all the resources required to satisfy human needs) will belong to the entire human community, all of us owning and all of us controlling what will be our world. Production will no longer be for sale and profit; no longer will needs be ignored if there is no money to convert them into ‘purchasing power’. In a socialist system of worldwide production, the only reason for producing goods and services will be to satisfy needs. Production will be solely for use.
Having scrapped the present system of only producing goods and services if there is an expectation of profit for the parasitical minority who monopolise the earth’s resources, socialism will forget the old rules of the buying and selling game (the market) and will distribute what is needed on the basis of free and equal access. Money will be abolished: you cannot buy from yourself what you commonly own. The satisfaction of human needs will involve people giving according to their abilities and taking according to their needs.
Free access means that no human being will need to buy anything. Anything that society can produce will be there for the taking. Decent food; the best homes possible to build; electricity, water, entertainment, all medical and educational services – all completely free and available for all.
The World Socialist Movement does not have a narrow conception of need. We would not wish to give the impression that socialism will do no more than satisfy basic living requirements – although doing that alone will be a momentous step forward for the millions of workers now denied the satisfaction of their most elementary needs. More than that, socialism will allow humans to be creative and explore our wider needs. For too long our needs have been over-influenced by the selling process and the crude mind manipulation of the advertisers: in a socialist society we can begin to think about what we really require to be happy human beings and we shall set about supplying ourselves with the resources needed to live as fully as we can. In answer to the opponent of socialist ideas who asks, ‘But will you be able to provide a mobile phone for every man and woman in a socialist society?’ we answer ‘Yes, indeed: a world which can provide enough weapons to murder every person alive could be transformed into one which will provide mobile phones for every person alive. In short, socialism will not only be able to satisfy our existing needs, but it will enable us to question and challenge those needs – to escape from the poverty of capitalist-determined needs.
Needs are social. We are only free to have goods and services to use if it is technically possible to produce them and if there are people ready to do so. In a socialist society, there is not going to be a sudden, utopian-like abundance of everything: the skies will not rain with goodies. Socialism will release from the constraints of profit the abundant resources of the planet and these will be used to allow us to live decently and well. There can be no socialism without socialists, and conscious socialists will have to realise that living in a world of cooperation entails giving as well as taking. Under capitalism, most of us do plenty of giving (to the profits of our bosses) and an impoverished degree of taking. In a world of free access, it will be a pleasure to fulfil the necessity of working to produce goods and services, sure in the knowledge that one is not doing so to make a boss rich but to make all of our fellow inhabitants of the global village rich in life. In a worldwide human family, there will be no shortage of willing volunteers to ensure that those who cannot work are cared for; there will be no problem of people refusing to do what cooperation demands of their humanity. To be sure, no person will be made to do anything as a matter of compulsion in a socialist society: if they refuse to work and insist upon the glorious right to sleep all day they will be regarded as very odd, perverse sorts. The last thing an intelligent social animal of the human species will do once he or she is free to live in cooperative equality will be to sleep as a form of luxury – indeed, what a perverse system capitalism is when it regards the man or woman who enjoys the freedom to sleep all day as having made a success of life.
Socialism will be a state-free society. No government will be present to tell people what they may or may not have.
Free access means precisely what it says: people will be quite free to decide for themselves what they want and to take it. Production will be totally geared to that objective. If people want what cannot yet be produced – what is beyond social resources as developed at that stage – then they cannot have that particular need satisfied. But that will be a very different situation from the kind of mass denial of basic needs which characterises the profit system.
A world of production solely for use and free access for all is there for the making. All it requires is a majority of workers who understand and want to join together for the purpose of bringing it about. For years a minority of workers have argued the case for such an exciting social alternative. For how much longer we will remain a minority is up to our fellow workers. Will they accept a world of misery and insecurity and poverty in the midst of potential plenty, or will they unite for the creation of a system where never again will we hear hungry child cry because their parents lack the money to buy food?