Sunday, February 21, 2016

6. What will Socialism be like? (1952)

The Common Questions Answered series from the December 1952 issue of the Socialist Standard

Q: Granted that Capitalism is an undesirable system, what guarantee is there that Socialism would work out the way you suggest, or even that it would work at all.
A: Socialism does not consist of a set of ideas that have been worked out by a few people independently the rest of society. Its establishment is predicted as the solution to the problems of Capitalism and this is the basis upon which all our attempts to describe the future must rest. Before we go into the question of how Socialism will work we have first to show that, given certain conditions, it is possible to achieve. Our guarantee, as you put it, that it will work is that people having the requisite knowledge and desire will make it work. There is no question of Socialism being given a trial, perhaps found wanting, and then going back to Capitalism. The change we advocate is not to be compared with the changes of government of the present —it is a step in the evolution of society as irreversible as that from Feudalism to Capitalism.

Q: Your aim is to abolish Capitalism, but won't this mean removing a lot of what is good dong with the bad ? Where do you propose to draw the line in your revolutionary changes?
A: It is not a case of having to sacrifice some of the “good” points of Capitalism in order to get rid of the “bad." A system of society is an integrated whole, every part of which influences, and is influenced by, the other parts. You may, for example, hold that competition is good and monopoly bad, but since both are features of Capitalism and the latter in fact results from the former, then any judgment on the system must take into account every such “good" cause and “bad” effect. As we see it, there is no line to be drawn beyond which no change will take place. The changing of the economic basis will have its effect upon every aspect of society, but this does not mean that the means and results of capitalist production will necessarily be replaced—what is useful to the new society will be preserved or modified to suit the new conditions.

Q: According to you, Socialism means that people will be able to have what they need just for the asking. Don't you think they will all ask for the best?
A: Human needs are closely connected with what is capable of being produced; thus the need of a radio set is not felt unless society is able to produce radio sets. The desire, under conditions of production for profit, to have certain things will not necessarily be present under Socialism. For example, when people to-day say they need money it is not for its own sake, but for the access it would afford to goods or services which Socialism will provide freely. Similarly, the present demand for anything less than the best (though this often depends on individual preference) is due to the need to buy cheaply. With Socialism, the sole criterion for producing goods and services will be whether they will be used—inferior ones, being unwanted, will therefore not be produced.

Q : There is bound to be a minority who will resist the coming of Socialism. Won't there have to be some sort of organisation to prevent anti-social behaviour of capitalists and their lackeys?
A: It always seems to be taken for granted that the coming of Socialism will be met with fierce resistance by a minority. There is no basis for this supposition which, like most objections to our case, arises from a projection of present circumstances into the future. We cannot deal here with all the implications of this question, except to point out that Socialism has nothing to do with punishing capitalists or anyone else. If you say that there must be an organisation to repress minorities then you are saying there must be policemen, gaolers, judges lawyers—in short, you think Socialism will be like Capitalism is now, which of course it won't be. Anti-social behaviour is not prevented by the existence of the machinery for the detection and punishment of crime, since this machinery does not touch the cause of the problem. When that cause—the property basis of society—is removed the effects will disappear also.

Q: It seems to me that Socialism would only work if society were split up into small self-sufficing units. Do you really think that people in, say, China would be willing to grow rice and freely transport it to the people in Britain?
A: Again, you are imagining what Socialism would be like if it could somehow be grafted on to the present system instead of replacing it. The tendency within Capitalism is towards universality or oneness of the world and not back to smaller communities. Production is for a world market with consequent transport of goods over huge distances. It is not likely that people living in the geographical area (no longer nation) of Britain will be willing to go without everything that is not obtainable within its shores and there will be no need for them to do so. The distribution of food will be according to a world plan, which exists now in embryo but is held back by capitalist considerations of international trade. Since Socialism will operate throughout the world people in one part will no more discriminate against distant populations than they will against their neighbours.

Q: How can you possibly tell what people will think and do in the future? Surely all attempts to do so must be pure speculation?
A: We must make it clear that our forecast of the future is not made with the object of laying down what it should be. But we recognise that it is not enough just to agree to abolish Capitalism without having some idea of the system that is to replace it. There would, in fact, be no point to our criticisms of the present if we were not able to show how they can be followed up by suitable action. There is nothing speculative, for example, about the universal desire to live in a world without war, so why suppose that man will become reconciled to its ever-increasing horrors rather than abolish it? The case for Socialism is that man can solve his own social problems by taking action as planned and scientific as he has taken in controlling the forces of nature. If you agree that the idea is sound then your only concern is to get others to accept it, so that the future may be what you and we collectively want it to be.
Stan Parker

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