Socialism As We See It
Source: World Socialist Movement
Republished under a Creative Commons License.
The comic cartoon idea of the cave man with his club displaying aggression towards everyone is a typical fiction of modem capitalism. It has no foundation in fact. Such an individual would not have lasted a week in the world of prehistory. Human beings have survived and prospered on this planet because they are adaptable and because they have co-operated with one another. Long before there were private property societies with their class divisions and exploitation, small hunter-gatherer communities relied for their existence upon all members of the clan playing their part. This co-operation lasted for many tens of thousands of years, and the remnants of it can still be seen in surviving primitive communities such as the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert, the pygmies of the Congo rain forests, Australian aborigines, and South American Indians. The patterns of behaviour and thought associated with such social living are therefore deeply embedded in our languages and culture.
In comparison with this enormous length of time, the last six or seven thousand years of private property are only a small fraction of human existence. Based upon conflict and the exploitation of the majority by ruling elites, they have worked in opposition to long-standing human values and behaviour, causing a growth and spread of mental distress and deep antagonisms within society. Nevertheless, even class-divided societies such as our present system of capitalism rely upon the human tendency to co-operate. Although all sorts of persuasion, pressure, and even coercion are used to direct the activities of the working class into profit-making forms of work and unprotesting forms of leisure, coercion alone is quite inadequate. A working class which unanimously decided not to co-operate would bring the running of society to a halt. No force would be effective. It is just because of the certainty of daily co-operation by human beings, however badly they may be treated, that exploitative, repressive social regimes like our own have managed – and are managing – to survive.
In modern society workers operate the production and distribution of wealth and the administration of the capitalist system largely against their own interests. The ideology of capitalism insists that individualism and ruthless competition are the only worthwhile guides to behaviour, and money the only worthwhile prize. Indeed, its ideology is as cheap and shoddy as so many of its products. Many workers believe in it, but it is so alien and artificial, especially in personal relationships, that many suffer great stress and insecurity.
A Truly Human Society
The next stage of society, socialism, will come as a welcome relief. It will bring comparative harmony to human relationships. Far from needing a special sort of behaviour from people, socialism will run on the patterns of action, thought and feeling that have been the norms throughout most of human existence. Human beings will not become any more "good" or "kind" or "helpful" or "gentle"; but the pressures which now prevent them being all of these things at different times will have gone – shortage of money, fear of unemployment, fear of lawbreakers, fear of the law itself, fear of war, fear of the boss, even fear of the trade union, and so on. All of these pressures arise directly out of the capitalist organisation of society. When we finish with capitalism, we shall have removed these influences upon the thoughts and actions of every member of the working class.
The pressures which remain – those of social living, of coping with the environment, of wrestling with all the problems of production and distribution, these pressures will still be considerable. The difference is that these are practical problems, not economic ones forced upon us by a useless ruling class and their repressive state machine, and an uncontrollable society that pits people against one another as a matter of course. Real pressures and problems can be seen for what they are. They do not provoke neurotic responses and frustrated violence. Practical problems are what calls human co-operation into action. The land will be ours, the factories and offices and roads and railways and offices and ships and aircraft will be everybody's, and so we shall have a personal interest in keeping them working, keeping them up to standard and improving them. The whole of society will benefit from every constructive act or useful piece of work we do – not just some company's profit and loss account, some multi-millionaire's annual dividend.
Technology in Capitalism and Socialism
Socialist society will function quite differently from capitalist society, although initially at least it will have to use mainly the same equipment. The difference that will be most noticeable will be the simplicity once the cumbersome paraphernalia of capitalism has been removed. Many people today, especially the so-called expert economists and political theorists, are completely engrossed in the ramifications of present capitalist society. They are so conditioned by the impossible job of trying to make capitalism work effectively that they find it difficult to imagine how a real alternative to it could function.
Also, complication and mystification form a smokescreen behind which the real workings of capitalism can remain obscure or hidden. And so the ordinary worker feels that he or she cannot possibly understand, let alone influence, the running of society. Another difficulty is that modern science and technology have developed with capitalism. This makes it seem at times that there are good scientific and technical reasons for the complexity of life and work in the modern capitalist state. Capitalist propaganda takes advantage of this and often tries to turn the frustration and anger that workers feel on to scientific and technical workers, as though they were the ones who decided to make the obscene weapons of modern war, thalidomide, battery farms or polluted rivers. Of course, it is capitalist business and the capitalist state that decide what workers shall produce or what experiments and research they will fund.
The demands of profitability, competition and international rivalry determines the lines along which scientific and technological development shall generally take place. Computers are a good example of this. Their main uses at present are in handling and storing the vast quantities of financial transactions and data that are essential to the money system (wages and deductions, income tax returns, bank statements, mail order accounts, files of bad debtors, etc), and in recording the increasing amount of information on individuals that has become necessary for the state to keep control of. They are also, however, used to perform complex scientific calculations such as the prodigious mathematics of space flights and the ballistics of intercontinental missiles. Therefore they could be used to help organise large production processes, to forecast trends and developments of many kinds, to designing engineering components and systems, to search out and assemble information, and to carry out many other tasks which are almost impossible for human beings because of the immense length of time they would take. Such socially useful applications of computers have been much slower in development and employment because of their marginal profitability. When people complain, as they often do, that computers are "taking over", what they are complaining about is the fact that instead of simplifying life and work as they should do, computers in capitalism have been used to complicate it.
In socialism, linked by communication satellites across the world, they could monitor people's wants, assist in the organisation of production to keep pace with them, and help dispatch the goods to go where they were needed.
How Socialism Will Solve Problems
When we are young, we often see problems that need solving, and we think, "why don’t they do so and so?" As we get older, we gradually learn the reasons: because it would not be profitable; because no-one will invest the capital; because there is too much competition from other sources; because some firm has a virtual monopoly in that field and will buy up or force out new ideas; because there are patents protecting the device; because it would cause political problems; and so on. At our place of work, in the area where we live, even with world-wide problems, we can often see better ways of doing things, and yet they rarely get done. If we take the trouble to find out how capitalism works we realise that many of these commonsense things, like using "surplus" food to prevent people starving in the world, simply cannot be done within the current system on any regular basis.
In a socialist world, the claims of any one proposal will have to be balanced against the claims of many others. And it will not be "they" who make the decisions and carry out the work; it will be "we". There will be a great deal of discussion, small-scale and large-scale, and the process of decision-making will be democratic. Television, which is at present taken up for the greater part of its time with what currently passes for "entertainment", could become a forum for much of the large-scale discussion and decision-making, providing us with vivid, well researched information and covering many points of view. Telephone conferencing, the internet and other growing means of telecommunication could unite groups scattered round the world so that they could discuss projects, share information and reach decisions on a democratic basis. Such means could also be used for ascertaining the level of demand for many goods and services.
The primary task of socialism will be to produce enough of all the things that people need and to get them to the right places at the right times. This will require a large part of the administrative organisation already built up within capitalism; but it will require more. Firstly, in the world as a whole, not enough of the most useful things is ever produced. It is a system of artificial scarcity. In socialism we shall need to produce much more, so that everyone can have enough. And it will be quite possible to do this.
One example of how this can happen compared to what happens now relates to the way in which periodically, world-wide capitalism enters into severe slumps because too much has been produced for available markets. Goods pile up, unable to be sold, and enterprises shut down. When this occurs the production of goods and services falls hugely below its potential. The number of unemployed workers runs into tens of millions. Factories, machines and offices, ships and lorries, buildings and land stand idle because they cannot be used profitably. The productive potential of all these is enormous; but it is by no means the whole story. Many of the factories and farms, mines and ships that remain working are typically on short time and a large proportion of the production that is still being carried on will be in weapons, equipment or services for making war, rather than production of things that are genuinely useful.
More noticeable than any of this in capitalism, however – whether in slump or boom – is the number of workers and the plant and equipment devoted to running and protecting the system of capitalism itself. Apart from all the forces of law and order, much of whose work we rarely see, the financial system itself is a coercive apparatus that we tend to take for granted. It is totally useless to a free society, but in capitalism a large number of the working population spend their lives in its service. Although the following lists are far from complete they give some idea of the social costs of running the capitalist system:
PRODUCTS CONCERNED WITH MONEY
account books and computer files
books on finance
deposit and withdrawal slips
excise and duty stamps
export & import
selling alcohol firearms
money orders and postal orders
rents and rent books
tax returns: income tax corporation
tickets for: cinemas, theatres, buses, trains, etc
TV give-away shows
MONEY OCCUPATIONS AND ORGANISATIONS
credit card agencies
credit worthiness investigators
grant awarding trusts
health finance schemes
hire purchase firms
income tax officers
inspectors of weights and measures
luncheon voucher schemes
national health insurance
patents offices and copyright
public relations officers
rate-fixers for piecework
rates offices receivers
salesmen and saleswomen
social security offices
stock brokers and jobbers
ticket sellers, collectors and inspectors
trade unions treasurers
unemployment benefit offices
work study engineers
In the moneyless world of socialism, where private property will not exist, the people currently involved in such occupations will be able to choose more rewarding and useful kinds of work. But this is only the beginning: restrictive practices and regulations that exist in capitalism, whether initiated by employers, governments, or trading-blocs such as the European Union, or even the defensive practices of trade unions, deliberately curtail a great deal of production. And the possibilities of automation, which the capitalist system can only introduce in bits and pieces, are, as yet, largely unrealised. Tedious, dirty or dangerous jobs that at present constitute a miserable working life for so many millions of workers across the world could be automated in socialist society. We have developed a technology so sophisticated that it can send machines to the surface of the planet Mars, scrape up soil samples and analyse them. This suggests that there is no existing social problem that we cannot solve. The science and technology are already established to create a world of abundance for everyone; but only socialism can turn it into a reality.
To support the whole process of production and distribution, socialist society will need a highly sophisticated system of information: about what people want, in what quantities; and about what is being produced all over the world. Capitalism has already developed technology and techniques which could make such a world-wide system extremely fast, comprehensive and accurate. But because of competition and the secrecy that goes with it; because of the market and its fluctuations; above all because the main aim of capitalism is to produce profit, not goods, capitalism cannot develop a really sensible and workable information system. For a socialist world it will be vital.
A socialist world will, of course, be what we all make it. Everyone's ideas and efforts will contribute. Everyone will, if they choose to, have an equal voice in the democratic decisions that are taken. Perhaps this is one thing about socialist society that most of us today would find strikingly different – the amount of discussion that will take place about what things are to be made and built. There will be no market forces offering a quick profit in plastic handbags or causing a shutdown in shipping. There will be no governments imposing taxes, preparing for germ warfare, tapping telephones or closing hospitals. Road-building, shipping, agriculture, manufacturing, distribution, services, entertainment – these things will be everybody's concern. And these things – not crimes or wars – will be news. The whole pattern of production and distribution will become a conscious social process.
It is this that will be in such marked contrast with capitalism, where the process as a whole is outside the control, not only of individuals, but of governments and even international agencies. This is because everything is dominated by the movements of money capital, the operation of the price system and the unpredictable fluctuations of the market. This capitalist system can be tampered with but it can never be brought under social control. The step forward into socialism will dispense with the anarchy of this market mechanism completely.
From then onwards society will have to decide whether or not to irrigate a desert, or how great the demand is for galvanised roofing nails. The only way in which such decisions can be made is by increased information and discussion-by making open and conscious all those fluctuations and individual decisions which in capitalism are hidden and unconscious. But, of course, socialism will be much less complicated than capitalism; and the information needed will be simpler, consisting of straightforward material factors without the complexities of market economics. There will be no capitalist class, competing amongst themselves with secrecy and skulduggery, and exploiting the majority of the population, the working class, for the maximum possible growth in capital. Needs will be the spur to production in the socialist world, not profit.
Socialism is only possible because capitalism has preceded it. Capitalism has developed techniques of production potentially capable of producing an abundance; it has developed a world-wide working class which runs every aspect of modern society; and it is rapidly developing information technology making world-wide communication simpler and more direct. But at the same time capitalism frustrates all of the developments because of the workings of capital itself and the interests of the capitalist class. The same sort of pattern can be seen in details. Supermarkets, for example, are a highly efficient method of putting a wide range of consumer goods within the reach of a large number of people. The trouble with supermarkets is the bottleneck at the cash desk. Because money will be useless in a socialist world, so will the cash desks. "Supermarkets" will then be able to function at full efficiency. Their shelves will be kept full by the removal of all the financial and trading restrictions that now cause butter mountains, wine lakes, and often ruin for farmers.
Work in Socialism
Work will also undergo a complete change as socialist society develops. We have noted the fact that capitalist society is extremely wasteful of human labour in many ways and only introduces labour-saving automation when profitable. At present levels of production, therefore, the actual amount of work needed of one person could be much less than it is now. Even with the increased output needed for a developed socialist world it will probably not be necessary for most people to work as long or as hard as they do today. But this is not the most important of the changes that will take place. The really noticeable change, right from the beginning, will be in the status and the conditions of work.
In capitalism, because the places where we work are owned by another class, we have no say in what we produce, how it is produced, or where it goes to; and we have very little control over where we work, the conditions we work in, the tools and machines we work with, or the raw materials we handle. Moreover, the existing system of education and training, with its ladder of examinations and certificates, means that we get channelled into certain types of jobs, and it becomes harder and harder to change as we grow older, so become "a teacher", "a machine operator", "a nurse" for the rest of our working lives. With the establishment of socialism, we shall cease to be a working class. The labour market will have gone.
Living in a society of equality we shall have a direct influence upon whatever work we do. The workplace, the tools, the organisation, the quality and quantity of the goods or services we provide will be our concern and under our democratic control; and we shall no doubt be interested in who uses our products and for what. Those working in factories, warehouses, transport, and so on will be able to review the machines, the tools, the buildings, and decide that certain improvements are necessary. Although they will co-ordinate their proposals with other related groups in the network of production and distribution, the final control over their conditions of work will be theirs. Society will be unable to compel anyone to work in conditions they find unacceptable. This means that only those jobs which people are prepared to do will be done. If no-one will go down coal mines, even for the sake of the admiration and gratitude of the community, we shall either have to manage without coal or develop other forms of technology.
This freedom from compulsion will eventually give rise to a completely different pattern of work for the individual, and a completely different attitude towards it. Only a few dedicated enthusiasts will want to do the same job every day throughout their lives. Most of us will want variety. We shall want to develop whatever skills we have and use all of them at one time or another. So some people may settle down to doing two or three different jobs on different days of the week or times of the year. Others may devote themselves exclusively to one interest for four or five years until they have satisfied themselves, and then move on to something else. It may even become necessary to "book" a job, as we now book a holiday or an hour on a tennis court. And we may well see traditions develop where certain types of work are done by young people because they require a lot of energy and physical fitness. Patterns will probably vary in different parts of the world.
The essentials of a socialist world are that society's means of producing and distributing what it needs will be owned by everyone and democratically controlled by everyone. It is from this change that all the other changes will follow. What society and the individuals within it will do with the freedom and co-operation that it makes possible we can guess at, but we cannot lay down in advance.
Nevertheless there is no reason why we should not discuss the possibilities now, if only to keep clear in our minds the important fact that socialism will not be capitalism with minor reforms, but a totally different social system. We may begin with the equipment taken over from capitalism, but we shall adapt it for quite a new way of life that will develop further and further away from the pattern imposed upon us by capitalism.
Freedom – Equality – Solidarity
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