From the April 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard
The dramatic social and political upheavals in Eastern Europe led to almost daily images of public demonstrations and popular uprisings against long-established dictatorial state regimes. Coming as it did over the Christmas period, the fall of the tyrant Ceausescu in Rumania presented the western news media with a golden opportunity to make the most of a normally slack period for hard news. We were told repeatedly that "democracy" was breaking out all over Eastern Europe; that workers there were finally tasting "freedom", and that "communism" was literally falling apart. The same newshounds were far less vocal in explaining what these terms meant, and why the changes in countries such as Rumania. Hungary. Czechoslovakia and East Germany had occurred.
The Socialist Party has a very clear and practical conception of what is meant by socialism or communism; to us, both these terms mean the same thing and have nothing whatsoever in common with what are called socialist governments, countries or states. By socialism we mean a fundamental change in the economic basis of society, that is, the way in which the members of society are organised to produce and distribute the things they need to exist. It means a world-wide social system where the entire productive and distributive resources of the planet are commonly owned, consciously controlled and democratically operated by the world community as a whole. It means a society where social wealth is produced solely to meet the needs of the community, on the basis of free and equal access by all, without money or any other medium of exchange taking place.
This outline contrasts sharply with the present world social order of capitalism, which grew historically out of previous social systems and now dominates the world. Its underlying features are the class ownership of the means of wealth production and distribution by a small minority of people in all countries of the world, and the exclusion of the great majority of people from any significant ownership and control of these means. Having little or no resources at their disposal, the working class majority are forced by economic necessity to sell their working abilities to the capitalist minority in order to live. Wealth produced by the workers takes the form of commodities which are sold on a competitive market with a view to profit for the capitalists. In return for selling their labour power—which itself becomes a commodity—workers receive payment in the form of wages or salaries. However, in the process of production generally, these payments represent less than the value which the workers as a class create, and the difference between them is surplus value, which the capitalists repeatedly accumulate and which is the source of their monetary profit, realised through sales.
So capitalism is a class-divided, profit-generating system governed by impersonal market forces and not the needs of the human community. The useful, producing majority are in a subordinate position of wage slavery, whilst the useless, non-producing minority enjoy a privileged unearned income from their economic exploitation of the workers. The capitalists wield power through their control of governments, together with the legal and military might of the state machine. This apparatus ensures that, firstly, workers are legally robbed when they produce wealth and, secondly, it conditions them by force and ideological persuasion to accept these social arrangements as necessary, inevitable and. indeed, natural.
Since its formation the Socialist Party has consistently opposed the profit system, no matter how its supporters or apologists have tried to disguise it as something else. In this country and the United States of America, for example, the classic free market form of capitalism developed. with the ownership and control of resources in the hands of predominantly private shareholders holding legal property rights backed up by the state. In Russia, starting with the Bolshevik seizure of power in 1917, another form of capitalism came into being: the state-managed variety. This soon spread to most of Eastern Europe and as far afield as Cuba and China. The rulers of these countries, using the rhetoric of Marxism and the theories of Lenin, labelled these countries communist or socialist, but in reality they were state-capitalist systems of class monopoly and control, where the state itself was the collective employer of wage labour. A minority of top officials in these '‘communist’’ parties personified the capitalist class: they directed the production of goods and services which did not belong to the "people" but were sold within a buying and selling framework. The majority of people were excluded from access to this wealth, and like their counterparts in the ‘free" west could only buy back what their wage rations would allow. The Socialist Party is just as hostile to this arrangement of social affairs as we are to the supposedly liberal free market with which we are only too familiar.
Reforms No Solution
Because it is not primarily geared to satisfying people's needs but with producing saleable commodities, capitalism inevitably generates insoluble social problems, like starvation, homelessness and war. the latter being the outcome of competitive economic rivalry between capitalist states over trade routes, raw materials and sources of profitable investment. For the working class this means lives of relative poverty, fear, insecurity and frustration, arising out of our alienation from real social power and control over our lives.
Socialists argue that these problems cannot be reformed away, as the various conventional political parties continually advocate. Whether capitalism is run by those on the right, left or centre, the problems arise directly from production for sale and profit, and will only disappear when workers in a majority become conscious of their class interests and abolish capitalism.
It is workers who keep capitalism in being through their misguided support for its political representatives, including the many misnamed socialist and communist parties which have done so much to obscure and distort the concept of socialism. Part of the ideology of capitalism is that society cannot function without government and leaders, and that workers at election times can register their votes to put into power the political party of their choice. In the state capitalist countries, workers do not possess this much vaunted "democratic freedom" to swap their political leaders around, even though this right would still leave them in the position of being wage-slaves.
When a majority of the world's workers understand what socialism is and want it, they can organise themselves to take the necessary democratic political action to abolish the capital/wage-labour relationship and bring in common ownership of all resources, democratic control by the majority, and production solely for use in accordance with their self-defined needs.
Socialism is an exciting vision of a world freed from artificial, market-based restrictions which will allow human beings to live in peace with each other. With the problems of social living solved, we will be able to determine for ourselves the kind of relationships and lifestyles most suited to our changed conditions, relationships not imposed from above but freely chosen by ourselves.
So the real choice facing workers all over the world is not between private and state capitalism but between production for profit and production directly for need. The scale and growth of modern technological developments make socialism a practical possibility now. and not some distant utopian fantasy—the missing element is the political awareness of the majority. The real utopian fantasy is capitalism working without its inherent problems, and we therefore urge you to consider seriously the revolutionary socialist alternative which has never been tried anywhere. Join us and help to make it a reality.