Old Capitalist Fallacies

The World Socialist Movement argues that human behaviour arises from the way society is organised. People’s attitudes and actions reflect the social relationships they form to produce wealth.

Advocates for capitalism assert it is not such a bad system as it has been subject to reforms to provide a tolerable existence for workers: Workers used to have to make provision for unemployment, sickness and old age out of their wages. Now, these are provided for them by the state, largely out of taxes levied on the rich. Every time that profit-seeking by private capitalist firms has threatened to get out of hand and damage the environment or the workforce’s health the state has intervened. Over the years more and more restrictions — the prohibition of child labour, the provision of free education, and numerous laws laying down standards for housing, sanitation and town planning — have been placed on the freedom of action of capitalist firms. The bureaucracy to enforce this has again been paid for out of taxes that have reduced the wealth of the rich. All this has meant that workers are reasonably satisfied and don’t want to get rid of capitalism. In short, reformism has worked in the past, so why not continue with it? 

The World Socialist Movement continues to exist and to struggle for a society of communal ownership, partly through the failure of the reformist movement. If, as the reformists claim, it were possible to run capitalism leaving its basis undisturbed but with a few superficial changes and in that way to eliminate the problems which now afflict the world’s people, then there would be no reason to abolish capitalism. The social relationships would be in harmony with the mode of wealth production. The world would be at peace; poverty would not exist, and neither would economic crises, famine, or avoidable disease. Everyone would thrive in abundance and freedom. Why should we do anything to upset so benign a social arrangement?

 Contrary to such claims, capitalism does not and cannot operate in that way. For one thing, there is scarcely a single scheme for the alleviation of some social ailment which can operate unhampered by the system’s basic principle of the production of wealth for sale and profit There is. for example, popular demand for better housing, more efficient hospitals, and greater care for the sick and the aged. These are all highly desirable objects, which take a lot of the reformers’ time and energies, but they are all frustrated on the grounds of cost, with the implicit reminder that capitalism’s wealth is not produced to satisfy human needs but for the profit of the owning minority. On this rock of reality, the case of the reformists persistently comes to grief. In spite of all their efforts, capitalism still operates as it must, as a repressive, impoverishing, killing society.

Socialists observe the reformists’ failure but there is more to us than that. In one sense we cannot be separate from their struggles, for as individual workers we must endure the problems they profess to be able to deal with. So ours is not an exclusive, sectarian attitude but collectively and politically we are not just separate from, but actively hostile to the reformists. Socialists argue that reformism misleads the workers into the belief that capitalism can be allowed to remain while its essential problems are removed — in other words, that there is no need to replace capitalism with socialism. This deception is reactionary, anti-working class, and anti-socialist. While we are hostile to the reformist movements, we engage with them in debate, encourage them to question their failure and ask why their theories do not fit in with reality.

Socialists say capitalism cannot be reformed in the interests of the working class. It can never be made to benefit the working class. Capitalism has rolled back much of its reforms and all that critics can recommend is to start all over again. Just looking at the history of capitalism and capitalism today proves this point over and over again. We don’t regard endlessly rolling a stone up a hill only to see it roll down again time after time as a useful or satisfying activity. Given that capitalism cannot be reformed to suit the interests of the workers, who are the overwhelming majority of the population, and, remembering all the misery, poverty, destruction, wastage and violence which are an inevitable consequence of capitalism, there remains the urgent task for the workers to say that they have had enough and to abolish capitalism.

Capitalism must be ended by conscious, democratic action not merely of workers in Britain, but of workers throughout the world. When this happens, it can be guaranteed that the full potential of mankind will be released for the first time in history. The forces of nature have endowed each individual human being with a brain capable of immense creativity in innumerable different forms. For the very first time, socialism will enable members of humanity to use these faculties and energies to the full.

Above nationalism, above any prejudice of race or sex, the working class throughout the world must assert their essential unity in the work to overthrow capitalism and establish socialism in its place. That will be a society based on the communal possession of the means of production and distribution, characterised by the principle of everyone contributing to their ability and having free access to society’s wealth according to their self-determined needs. At present, as they turn from one reformist futility to another, the working class seem to be a long way from the political awareness needed for the democratic establishment of world socialism. It will be a significant step on the way when they cease to think in terms of national or regional solutions to world problems and begin to think globally.

Socialism will mean that all the instruments of production and distribution will be taken into the common ownership of society as a whole and will be used solely to produce the goods and services needed by the human family. The axiom: “From each according to their ability; to each according to their need” will become the general principle underpinning the production and distribution of wealth. The wages and money system, so wantonly wasteful of most human activity today, will become redundant; people will no longer be stratified by class divisions; the nexus between property and crime will be broken and the vested interests that promote armaments and wars and a frightening threat to the entire biosphere will cease to exist.

The nature of the socialist case determines the means by which it will be achieved. Socialism from its inception will need the voluntary cooperation of its citizens. The mass of people will no longer be anonymous wage slaves. Those who opt for socialism must know the life-changing benefits to be derived from the new system; equally, they must be clearly aware of their individual obligations to that system.

That is what socialism is about; it is not a quick fix; it involves clarifying the meaning of socialism and shattering the belief that there is no alternative to capitalism and that cannot be done by claims that we can patch up the system with piecemeal reforms. That is something we would ask out fellow-workers to consider.