Monday, August 29, 2016

Why socialism? (1980)

From the September 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party of Great Britain argues that present-day society is not organised in the interests of the majority of people. We do not say this because we are a bunch of ever- complaining discontents or because we expect perfection in human affairs. We say it because of the plain, undeniable fact that the vast majority of the world’s wealth is owned by a tiny minority of the world’s population.

If we take the example of this country, we find (according to Royal Commission statistics) that 7 per cent of the population owns over 80 per cent of the wealth. And all productive activity that takes place does so to perpetuate this inequality. The single-figure owning minority we refer to as the “capitalist class”. We do not call them this for emotive reasons, but quite simply to describe their function, that of accumulating and investing capital with a view to producing goods and services the sale of which will realise a profit.

The large majority who own virtually nothing except their ability to work and the few (usually shoddy) personal possessions (car, furniture, TV, washing machine) which that ability has enabled them to buy we call the “working class”. And here we are not just referring to people who work with their hands, but to all those whose living depends on a wage or salary. In other words teachers, civil servants, doctors, journalists as well as miners, steelworkers dockers, postmen.

The working class too has a function, that of being exploited by the capitalist class. Once again “exploitation” is not a term we use loosely. By it we mean quite specifically that workers are always worth more to their employers than what they receive as wages or salary. What follows from this furthermore is that no matter how much workers receive for the job they do, they are only kept in that job so long as their work continues to be a source of profit to their employer. The iron law of the capitalist system is no profit, no production and the practical application of this equation is the unemployment caused at times of economic loss or recession, such as at present.

So members of the working class are in a permanently insecure situation. They never know, and neither do employers or governments or economists, when recession will come and quite what the effects will be. At the present time therefore, as the world recession grows deeper, many manual workers (steel, car making) are finding they are superfluous to their employers’ profit-making capacity and many workers in non-manual jobs (civil servants, college lecturers) which were formerly thought “secure” are also finding that shrinking markets at the end of the production line mean fewer jobs in their field—the servicing and administration of that production line.

Some would say that economic recession isn’t much fun for the capitalists either. And this is quite true. Their profits usually come down and hence their stock of capital is reduced. But unless they are so small as to be squeezed out of business (which does happen on a large scale and causes capital to be concentrated into fewer and fewer hands), recession makes little difference to their life style, for the material benefits they enjoy are derived from only a tiny fraction of their profits. The rest is ploughed back into maintenance of what they own and reinvestment and they simply have less to play with for these purposes.

Economic inequality, mass job insecurity and unemployment are fairly powerful indictments of the capitalist system but they are not our only arguments against it. The working class faces hosts of other problems, all caused by its unquestioning acceptance of capitalism. War arises from the rivalry for markets, raw materials, trade routes and strategic positions between the capitalist class of different countries. Wars are declared by governments, democratically elected or otherwise, in the interest of their national capitalist class and are fought by workers who unthinkingly suffer pain and death on a vast scale for “gains” which always prove illusory. That other scourge, racism, is a consequence of workers’ insecure, precarious existence under capitalism. The housing problem does not stem from the fact that there are insufficient houses or not enough bricks to build them but from the fact that people who need houses have not got the money to buy them. Under capitalism the equation is not demand = need, but demand = need + ready cash. The list of working-class problems is endless and all of them, when examined closely, can be seen to be bound up with the workings of a system that produces not to satisfy human needs but to make profits.

The alternative to all this we call socialism. And by socialism we do not mean the way of administering capitalism practised by the Labour Party and its equivalents in other countries, nor do we mean the brutal state capitalist dictatorships that exist in countries like Russia, China and Cuba, that like to call themselves socialist. We mean one thing and only one thing: a world society in which all production will take place exclusively to satisfy human needs. This may at first sight seem a far-fetched proposition, but when one considers that, with modern technology, the world’s resources are sufficient to assure a comfortable life for the whole of humanity, it is no more than a logical conclusion of seeing things as they are.

You may well ask how we are going to bring all this about. But the answer is that we are not. It can only be brought about when members of that vast majority of the population in the economically advanced countries of the world, the working class, decide they want to bring it about and then take conscious political action to do so. And by “conscious political action” we mean going to the ballot box and voting for candidates with a revolutionary mandate to dissolve capitalism and establish socialism. This democratically established society will itself be fully democratic and in it the means of life will be produced in abundance and used freely by everyone.

In the meantime we in the Socialist Party of Great Britain will continue to do everything in our power to persuade the world’s working class that their interest is not served, and can never be served by support for a system that treats them as inferior, dispensable beings and puts a permanent barrier between themselves and the fruits of their labour.
Howard Moss

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