From the December 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard
The Socialist Party of Great Britain holds that it is not the task of the Party to draw up blue-prints of future society, Socialism. In expounding the case for Socialism we stick to what is warranted by the evidence of contemporary experience, what is in line with history, and that which flows logically, from Socialist assumptions.
Those who recognize that existing society — capitalism — cannot solve the major social problems of the world, but on the contrary is the cause of those problems, will agree that from the standpoint of human interests capitalism is obsolete. It has long since developed modern technology and industry to a level where a world of abundance and free access is possible. Capitalism is incapable of using these resources for the satisfaction of human needs, because of its private and state-property relationships.
It follows that the only fundamental way of changing society is by ending private/state property relationships and establishing common ownership of the means of production, so that human instead of property relationships can develop. Any policy or party programme which goes no further than tinkering with the effects of capitalism, while leaving the system essentially intact, is therefore useless.
In referring to Socialism as a “world of abundance” we are not trying to foster the illusion of a press-button world where everything endlessly gushes forth for the asking. We are well aware that at whatever stage Socialism is established, there will be a world-wide aftermath of slums and general ugliness in almost every aspect of society. The task of rationally redirecting productive resources, to create an entirely different world environment, will be a vast one. Abundance must therefore be understood as developing with Socialism, not as an automatic hey-presto. With the elimination of all the wasteful and destructive activities of capitalism, immense resources both in human and industrial terms will be available for useful production. When the sole commitment of all resources is the satisfaction of human needs, all the evidence shows that a continuous ample supply of food, clothing and shelter is possible.
It is obvious that when Socialism is established, a great many things familiar to us today will vanish from the face of the earth. Conversely, a great many things unfamiliar to us today will become commonplace parts of life throughout the world. We could in this sense represent an understanding of Socialist ideas as a series of negative and positive propositions.
The first negative can only be the end of class-society and private-property relationships. The positive pole is classless society and human relationships. When wealth is no longer “an immense accumulation of commodities” the people who produce wealth (all the goods and services of society) will themselves be free from the degrading need to sell their own working abilities as a commodity. Socialism necessarily means the abolition of the wages system.
Today nothing could be more familiar to our lives than the various usages of the word “market”. To imagine a world where there would be no market of any kind, no sense in which the term would be relevant, is a good way to grasp the fundamental nature of the change involved with the establishment of Socialism. Despite the fact that most workers still get bogged down with their bosses’ interests and believe “we” must export to live, and that the world market and the “Common” Market somehow concern them, the irony remains that the working class exports nothing and owns no country, and their only “market” is the labour market where they mortgage their lives for wages.
The world of common-ownership will have no trade, either in goods or people. The negation of commercial activity and the struggle for trade will mean, as a matter of course, that those institutions and social practices which coexist with buying and selling will disappear. These include banking and all monetary transactions, investments of all kinds, barter and exchange in any form, customs and excise, tariffs, industrial espionage, and the waste of human and natural resources that all these things involve. In Socialism, every job that is done will be a necessary part of the total social effort. Production will have no other purpose than the welfare of the entire community. Free access follows logically from common ownership, as the only rational way to distribute the things people need.
Given modern industry operated on the basis of class ownership, wealth will be produced for sale and profit. Poverty and social insecurity will blight the lives of the class of employees, and riches will accumulate in the hands of the few. Given the market economy and the profit motive, there will be legal property barriers between the producers and the products. There will be an antagonism of interests between those who produce but do not possess, and those who possess but do not produce. The State will constitute the coercive political machine of the dominant class, because class society needs a political force to maintain the privileges of private property, to fashion a legal code conducive to its continued dominance, and to resist the encroachments of rivals both from within and outside the national framework.
Nationality is itself a development of capitalism. Militarism and war are inseparable from capitalism and can only be understood against the background of commercial rivalry. Socialism will have no State apparatus, no frontiers and no military machine.
We are sometimes asked “who will carry on the work of administration?”. This question only arises because workers are conditioned to equate the existing political power structure with administration, and to believe therefore that whoever carries out organizational or administrative work in Socialism will become a new set of rulers. The fact is that those who wield political power are not at all engaged in administration. Today, the purely administrative tasks of carrying out what has been legislated are performed by ordinary members of the working class, employees, who have no political power.
When the various kinds of social needs, for example food, clothing, shelter, health, education, transport and communication, are stripped of the commercial imprint of capitalism and freed from the bureaucratic dead-hand of power-politics, there will only remain the purely practical aspects of catering for the needs of people. For instance, if we regard postal services as a major part of communication in society, then all the monetary aspects of its operation under capitalism, are only so many obstacles.
Postage stamps hinder delivery of letters and parcels. Coin-boxes obstruct access to the telephone. The keeping of accounts and sending out of bills is a waste of human effort, time and resources. The pathetic queues at the counters on Monday mornings, when the old and infirm are reminded of their poverty, are there because of capitalism. Visualize a postal service where, having dispensed with capitalism, only communication is left. The administrative work involved in planning an efficient communications service will be just one necessary part of the over-all job. In every other sphere the same will apply. Those who organize and administer will occupy a place no more or less important than any other. Neither does it follow that there will be a permanent group who only do one kind of work; this idea projects into Socialism the stinted existence of most workers under capitalism. Socialism will mean diversity, the widest development of the many-sided potential of human beings. To clinch the point it only remains to say that the conscious, democratic majority who will get rid of class society and social privilege will not be willing to allow a new elite to climb upon their backs. It is the apathy and acquiescence of the world’s working class that enables the misery of capitalism to continue.
The anti-human contradictions of capitalism can no longer be hidden or defended even by those who seek to preserve it. The systematic destruction of masses of food while millions starve (in the wealthiest as well as the less developed countries), the condemned lives of millions who rot in squalid slums all over the world, while a few waxed fat on that wretchedness: such anomalies cannot be soothed away by reforms, they can only be abolished by revolution.
The abandonment of reformism will be paralleled by the growth of understanding of the need for revolutionary change. Political power will be wrested from the hirelings of the capitalist class, through the enlightened use of the ballot box. This, too, is only logical. Capitalist politicians only get into power because workers vote for them. The rule of one class over another can only be ended by a democratic majority using the vote to gain control of the political machine. The act of making the means of production common property will end all class divisions. The understanding and unity of the world’s working class must come before a Socialist transformation of society is possible. If you think capitalism is slow at producing “its own gravediggers”, we could do with your help.