Building a world of plenty

Capitalism has brought about a tremendous increase in the capacity of production, to the point where society is now technically capable of producing an abundance of goods and services. But this abundance is not produced under capitalism, because its highest priority, profit, acts as a fetter on the productive forces. The socialist revolution will usher in new relations of production —common ownership and production for use—which will enable this potential for abundance to be achieved and will no longer hold back the development of the forces of production. Common ownership will be linked with democratic control of the means of production to resolve another of the contradictions of capitalism, that between social production and class monopoly of the means of production.

From the point of view of what would be possible under common ownership the present powers of production are to a large extent wasted. The waste shows itself in the unemployed, the waste of competition and advertising, the waste of armaments, and the maintenance of armed forces. This aspect of capitalism has always been known to socialists who have shown that as regards the technical conditions of production, the amount of wealth produced could be approximately doubled or tripled if these various forms of waste were eliminated.

But how can they be eliminated? It is impossible to eliminate this waste until capitalism itself has been abolished. The waste arises naturally and inevitably out of capitalism; it is not accidental. Unemployment under capitalism is a necessity for the running of industry on a profit-making basis. The rivalry of interests of national groups of capitalists inevitably produces the danger of war and therefore necessitates the maintenance of armed forces. Likewise capitalism, by the stigma it attaches to work, will always encourage members of the propertied class to cultivate idleness and non-productive occupations.

Under capitalism, the capitalist class own and control the means of production and distribution and there is no way whatsoever of getting those means utilised for “production for use” instead of “production for profit,” except by first taking them out of the ownership and control of the capitalists and making them the common property of society as a whole. That can only be done by a socialist majority first obtaining control of the machinery of government, including the armed forces. When that has been achieved, the world’s powers of production will be utilised to the full, free from the wastes and hindrances of capitalism. Abundance already exists potentially today and it is clear that every new technological development makes the case for socialism even stronger. As long as capitalism remains its economic laws will continue to function.

Essentially, the World Socialist Movement talks about people being in charge of the production of the wealth they must have to survive and thrive. This is what socialism is about: subjecting production to conscious human control so that it can be directed to the single purpose of turning out goods and services to satisfy human needs. Why should this not be possible? After all, production for use — production to satisfy human needs — is the logical purpose of producing wealth.

Production to satisfy human needs is possible, but it requires a fundamental social change to make it a reality. Basically, all that is in and on the earth must become the common property of everyone. In other words, there must no longer be any territorial rights or any private property rights over any part of the globe. The farms, factories, mines and all other places where wealth is produced will not belong to anybody. This means that a section only of society would no longer stand between the rest of society and the means of production. Social classes would cease to exist and all men and women would stand in equal relationship to the means of production as equal members of a class-free community.

People will organise themselves and devise processes for allowing them to put decisions in motion. A certain degree of democratic control exists in some capitalist countries today, but it is very limited and only applies to the operation of certain political institutions at local and national levels. In a socialist society, democratic control will extend to all aspects of social life, including — and in fact in particular — decisions about the production of wealth. This is what production is about: bringing the production and distribution of wealth under conscious human control which, in a classless community of free and equal men and women, can only be democratic control. Otherwise, society would no longer be class-free: access to and control over, the means of production would then remain in the hands of the minority. This is why democracy and socialism are inseparable. There is no choice about the matter. Undemocratic socialism is a contradiction in terms. Socialism is democratic or it is not socialism.

A feature of socialism is production for use. The means of production are commonly owned and democratically controlled, there is only one end for which they can and will be used: to produce wealth to satisfy the needs, individual and collective, of the class-free community. Put another way, common ownership and democratic control is the only framework in which this natural, logical object of production satisfying human needs can be achieved.

When we say production for use we mean production solely for use. In socialism wealth no longer will be produced for sale; buying and selling and all that goes with it money, prices, wages, profits, banks, and so on — will have no place; they will, in fact, have no sense in socialism. Since the means of production will be commonly owned, it follows that what is produced will also be commonly owned — that is, by the class-free community of free men and women who will have produced it. In these circumstances, the question of selling what has been produced just would not — could not — arise. How can what is commonly owned be sold to those who commonly own it?

An issue will be how to distribute what has been produced among members of the community. Advocates of common ownership have argued about this from ancient times but until the end of the 19th century, this argument was always — and inevitably — conducted in terms of sharing out a limited amount. The suggestions for doing this were many and various. Some suggested equal sharing, others a points system based on a hierarchy of needs; others wanted to link what people received to what they had contributed to production in terms of hours of work. Any of these systems would have been immensely more equal than what happens under capitalism, but nowadays we need no longer think in terms of having to share out fairly a limited amount. Since the turn of the century, we have left the Age of Scarcity and entered the Age of Abundance — potential abundance. that is. To the extent that scarcity survives today, as of course it very much does, this is an artificial scarcity maintained by the economic laws of capitalism, and particularly its basic principle of “No Profit, No Production”.

How to distribute this abundance of basic necessities? The answer is simple. Let people come and take what they need. Wealth could be produced in such abundance today that there is no need to ration access to it. Free access to consumer goods and services which was always the long-term aim of nineteenth-century socialists and communists can now be instituted with the establishment of socialism. Free access is another basic feature of socialism after common ownership, democratic control and production solely for use — means exactly what it says. People will be able to come to the places where the basic necessities of life will be stored and freely take away what they consider they need. They themselves will judge what they need; individuals will determine their own needs. In conditions of permanent abundance, people will have no reason to take more than they need. To do so would be pointless. People won’t hoard basic necessities in a socialist society any more than they hoard the water which they draw freely from their taps today. They will simply take what they need from the stores as and when they need it. Ensuring that these stores are always stocked with what people need will be no problem given the technological possibility of producing in abundance. This will essentially be a question of stock control.

On the basis of common ownership and democratic control, the artificial barrier to the production of abundance (that is, the profit motive) will be removed and we shall be able to produce an abundance of the basic things — food, shelter, healthcare — which people need to enjoy life. Material wants and poverty can be banished forever. Technologically speaking, there is no reason why any man, woman or child in any part of the world should go without. Socialism will allow this possibility to be achieved.