From the latest issue of the Socialist Standard:
The Socialist Party speaker’s contribution to a recent debate at University College Dublin on the motion “That Capitalism is Superior to Socialism in the Modern World”.
I should state at the outset, to avoid confusion, that my party has no connection to the party associated with Joe Higgins the former deputy for Dublin West. The Socialist Party of which I am a member has been existence for over 100 years offering a critique of capitalism.
I think most people can broadly agree on what capitalism or the market system is. As against that, there are many definitions or opinions on what Socialism is. So while other speakers in tonight’s debate will line up on my side of the motion, I think that the socialism I will talk about has no relationship to what other people will put forward. I can illustrate the confusion by noting throughout the years various people from Oscar Wilde, James Connolly, Joseph Stalin, George Bernard Shaw, Muammer Gadaffi, Gerry Adams to more recently even Bertie Aherne have described themselves in one form or another as socialists!
So what is socialism? Socialism is a worldwide system of society based on common ownership and democratic control over the means of producing and distributing wealth. The means of producing and distributing wealth include all the manufacturing and service industries, agriculture, transport infrastructure, communications, the internet etc.
Common ownership does not mean state ownership or what is sometimes referred to as ‘public’ ownership. State ownership as was tried in Russia and now in places like Cuba is just another method of running capitalism. Common ownership means we all own the productive assets which is the same as ownership by no one in particular.
Democratic control will ensure that these means of production and distribution are operated in the interests of everyone. So what that means is that we decide on how the economy is run rather than, as is the case now, the prevailing economic circumstances, being outside our control.
By system of society we mean that human society as a whole must be changed on a world wide basis and we are not interested in establishing and do not support co-operative living schemes as were associated with Quaker colonies or the early days of the kibbutz movement.
A whole spread of consequences follows from these basic changes. When everybody owns and controls the production of goods and services, there will be no point in charging themselves for taking or using them. There will be no buying or selling and hence no money system. So if we consider shopping in a supermarket, you will as now move your trolley through the aisles, go to the checkout to get your goods scanned but you won’t pay for them. The scanning is just for stock control.
Some people may object that this is unrealistic but we should remember that it is possible to produce enough for everybody but capitalism can only operate by creating artificial scarcity. A good example of this is housing. Although house prices are falling now, the cost of a home is still prohibitive for many people because demand exceeds supply. But the limit in supply is artificial; builders only build the houses when they expect a certain rate of return. In Ireland, there’s plenty of land, building materials and labour to actually construct enough houses for everybody.
Furthermore socialism will be a co-operative world wide system. Nations and frontiers and governments and armed forces will disappear. Groups of people may well preserve their languages and customs but this will have nothing to do with claiming territorial rights or military dominances over pieces of the world surface. So there will still be an Ireland though we won’t have ‘our’ Government and any other person, from anywhere, will be quite free to come and work here.
Socialism can only come about when the majority, and a significant majority, of the world’s population understand what it means, are ready to accept and take part in it. That’s the reason I’m here.
In socialism, there will be no government or leaders. Decisions that concern society and the allocation of resources will be taken on a local, regional, super-regional (‘national’) or global basis as appropriate. Socialism will be a democratic and participatory society; in fact it will be democracy in its truest form.
People when they first hear about the socialist type of society usually comment that it sounds like a good idea in principle but that it’s just not realistic or practical. They list objections along the lines of the operation of human nature and the scarcity of resources etc. However, humans are inherently adaptable and co-operative; that is our hallmark compared to other species.
When we consider fundamental political change, people can be conservative and afraid to throw away what they have for what may appear to be uncertain benefits. They don’t realise how much we can change. Consider that up to 300 years ago, the vast majority of humanity were governed by unelected rulers. If someone in 1700 said that in 300 years time we would be electing our leaders, rather than being given them, and that each person would have one vote, no matter what their position in life is, you can imagine that the listeners would have been extremely sceptical. But that’s what we have now thanks to the combined efforts of all those people who struggled for basic democratic changes.
A long time ago parties that now call themselves Labour Party or Social Democratic Party used to subscribe to different versions of what I describe as Socialism but they have abandoned this over the last 100 years. They have accepted capitalism and now concern themselves with putting forward various ideas for modifying the system, to promote fairness - most of them completely impracticable.
Nationalisation is not socialism; in many countries parties of the right have nationalised certain industries and services. These are not owned by ‘the people’ but by the nation’s whole capitalist class together.
At the moment we should realise that society is divided into two classes; those who own or control the means of production (capital) and those who have to work for a living.
Well over 90 percent of people are in the working class, whether they’re relatively high-paid workers or on the dole. So the vast majority of middle class people are essentially working people; they must work to obtain a living. If you have to work for a living, irrespective of your occupation or salary level, you are a worker.
Currently under capitalism although we can vote for parties in elections, huge chunks of our lives are beyond our influence. The politicians have no control over the economy and so neither have we. We can’t decide on our standard of living or our level of prosperity. Democratic control means all the resources of the world will be used to meet the needs of everyone rather than being controlled by the few.
More specifically, what are the drawbacks of capitalism? If I had been asked to speak here, 20 years ago the manifest problems in Ireland would have been an unemployment rate of near 20 percent, heavy forced emigration of our young people and widespread poverty, at least by developed world standards. Nowadays people’s concerns are the long days of commuting and working, stresses associated with work and the need to maintain a family life, the unavailability of affordable housing and good services, the widespread fear of crime, etc. On a world scale there are still huge amounts of malnutrition in many parts of the globe, terrible poverty, wars and ethnic struggles, forced migrations, dangerous levels of environmental damage, etc.
Consider the waste of capitalism. There is an enormous amount of people involved in doing jobs that are essential to capitalism but that don’t add anything useful to humanity as a whole. All the armed forces of the world (maybe 100 million people). Then add to that all the workers in the defence and associated industries. That is pure waste as no wealth is being created by this. And add to this the massive financial sector; banking, insurance, tax affairs, accountants. You can throw in marketing and advertising. Also the vast majority of the legal system; guards, security people, prison officers, criminals, solicitors etc. These are all existing occupations, necessary because we have a system of exchange, i.e. money, but fundamentally not adding anything to society.
A simple illustration of what’s wrong with capitalism: if someone is hungry and needs food but has no money and if someone else has a field, will the owner of the field grow crops to feed the hungry person? No, they won’t or can’t, because it would not be profitable for them to do so. It’s not that they are a good or bad person; it’s just that the system doesn’t work that way.
I should finish by saying that our appeal to people to become socialist is not based on ethical considerations or compassionate feelings for people who are less well off than them. You should become a socialist for your own self interest, for a better life for yourself.
Check our website at www.worldsocialism.org