June 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard
Calling yourself “anti-capitalist” is a bit like proclaiming yourself to be “anti-cancer”. We would all like to see an end to cancer, but the only way to bring that about is to understand how cancer works. In the long run, there isn't any point in just trying to treat the symptoms of the disease. Unless you cure the disease itself, the symptoms will keep on coming back.
The same logic applies to capitalism. People have been trying to reform capitalism for as long as it has existed. What have they achieved? A polluted planet, scarred by war and hunger, which is owned and controlled by the McMicrosoft Corporation. Why have things turned out this way? To understand this it is necessary to understand what capitalism is.
Under capitalism, the raw materials and tools which society needs in order to produce things are owned by a tiny minority. The actual work of producing things, however, is done by the vast majority - all those of us who have no choice but to work for our upkeep (hence the term working class). The owning class gets its profits by, very simply, paying the producers less than the value of the things they produce.
Once this basic fact is understood, it becomes quite easy to see why capitalism fails. It is based on profit - no wonder human needs never come first. Feeding the world, for example, wouldn't make a profit, so it doesn't happen. Such things are not accidental shortcomings of capitalism - they are an inevitable part of a social system based on profit for the few, rather than the needs of the many.
All the useful work of society is done by “ordinary” people who have to work for a living - the working class. Not only do we produce goods and services, we also carry out all the work of organisation and administration that capitalism requires. We run society from top to bottom, but we do not run it in our own interests. Instead, we run it in the interests of profit and of the tiny minority of owners who live off our labour. And we will have no alternative but to carry on doing so as long as the resources of society are owned and controlled not by us, but by the tiny few.
The alternative to this is a society in which the tools and materials of production, what we call the “means of production”, are owned by everyone in society. This does not mean state ownership, since that is merely another type of private ownership in which one group controls access to the means of production. In a system of common ownership everyone would have access to the means of production, and no one would be able to deny access to any other group or individual.
Production in such a society would be carried out voluntarily, in order to meet the needs of individuals and society as a whole, and would be the realisation of Marx's phrase “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs”. This is what we mean by socialism.
In such a society, co-operation would be the only sensible way to proceed. Under capitalism, we are all obliged to pit ourselves against each other in a fierce competition for jobs, security and material possessions. This competition will be unnecessary in a world of free access, where everybody will benefit from everybody else's contribution towards society.
A society such as the one we advocate, based on co-operation and democracy, can only come about when the majority of people in society want it. It cannot be brought about by a conspiracy of intellectuals and imposed from above against the wishes of the majority. The idea that socialism could be brought about in this way - vanguardism - is not only nonsense in theory, it has also failed in practice, in Russia, China, Cuba and elsewhere. All that it has ever achieved is to transform one type of private ownership to another, giving state capitalism rather than ordinary capitalism. There is no half-way house between private ownership and common ownership and we in no way support schemes of nationalisation or state control of industry.
So, we do not agree with Leninists and trotskyites who base their theories on the claim that ordinary people cannot understand the arguments for socialism, and who want to manipulate the working class for their own ends. A vital aspect of the fight for socialism is arguing the case for socialism. We must do this whenever and wherever possible. We must counter the lies and distortions of the capitalist-run media, and expose the shortcomings of reformist and vanguardist organisations.
We say, fight the system root and branch. It's class against class. Understand the fact that capitalism can never work in the interests of the majority, and that socialism is the only system that can. Leave behind pleading for reforms and fight for revolution. Give up trying to mend the system and get rid of it.