From the October 2011 issue of the Socialist Standard
Socialism is a model of organisation of society as a whole, incorporating the entire world without borders, the like of which has never before been experienced. Although maybe seemingly a utopian idea to be scoffed at by some, if we are of the opinion that capitalism has proved to be a harmful and divisive system for the vast majority of world population and that numerous signs are pointing to its ever accelerating accumulation at the expense of the world’s working class then we must offer an alternative reality in clear and unambiguous terms. This is an attempt to clarify some of the questions thrown up in discussion as to the form and aspirations of such a model, a broad canvas with space for individuals to insert their own ideas and interpretations.
First and foremost socialist society is based upon the common ownership of all of the means of living by all of the world’s people. For it to work, those people need to make it work, by cooperating together to produce the myriad goods required by individuals and society as a whole, to produce our food and to provide all the various services that constitute a comfortable satisfying life. They need to supply, equip, manufacture, mine, furnish, grow, teach, create, administer, distribute, service, facilitate. Whether manual or cerebral, ground-breaking or routine, all production is the result of physical work and/or mental effort plus the time taken to achieve the desired ends.
At present all that work is undertaken by workers mostly for the benefit of the rich. Capitalism has demonstrated over the years that the working class is merely a tool to be used in the interests of capital. Governments have demonstrated that they are the enforcers of capitalism’s rules not the facilitators of policies which are directed at putting the interests of people first. Socialism on the other hand constitutes a society of self-liberated former wage slaves firmly in control of their own lives in the here and now and into the future. Here we have the producers who collectively possess all that is produced and whose democratic control determines what is produced, when, where and how it is produced and also organises when, where and how it is distributed. This is a system built on transparent, open debate aiming to be totally inclusive and working for the best interests of the vast majority of world population.
Socialist society embraces the maxim ‘from each according to ability to each according to need’ and recognises all the different capabilities and contributions of each member of our human society. Those who, for whatever reason, (eg sickness, physical or mental disability or incapacity) are incapable of contributing still qualify to satisfy their self-declared needs as full members of this society. This is a society of cooperation and empathy based on social capital and tangible benefits for all, one which supersedes the former outdated system which functions on the overriding principle of pursuing and satisfying the profit motive for the benefit of the few.
As socialist consciousness develops, enabling the working class to free itself of all former constraints and restrictions to bring about the emancipation of the whole of humankind, society evolves to be inclusive of all without distinction of race, gender, intelligence or cultural norms. This emancipation is solely the task of the working class itself and is reliant on the great majority understanding and accepting the case that capitalism has never been and can never be organised to work in their own interest. As a consequence they have chosen to struggle together to get rid of the capitalist system which favours the few, the capitalists, and replace it with socialism, a cooperative system in which all can play a positive, active role without the negatives of competition.
Being inclusive and cooperative a socialist system has no use for legal structures relating to or enforcing oppressive social relations. Most of what is crime today is likely to become extinct since the main motivation for these crimes, property, the profit motive and money, will have been removed. You can’t have the crime of bank robbery if banks don’t exist, nor fraud, embezzlement or forgery when there’s no money. Common ownership means that stores, restaurants, amenities, supplies and services are freely available to all without differential entitlement, so ‘robbing’ a store of goods that are free anyway would make no sense.
A world without borders brings freedom of movement to a world society. With no rich elites fighting each other over land or resources, the armed workers of the world who presently kill each other in the interests of the rich will also happily find themselves unemployed and able to follow some other more constructive and less dangerous occupation.
Fears over housing, food, health and education – fears which affect a large majority of the world’s people – will be relegated to the past. Socialist society’s top priorities will be the provision for all of accommodation, services, access to food, unconditional lifelong health care and education for life. No one need go hungry in order to stay warm; no one need die of the cold; no family or single person need sleep on the street or in unsuitable, insanitary conditions; no child need die before their fifth birthday for want of nutritious food, clean water or preventive medicine; no one need suffer from waiting in a tiered health system or because they cannot pay; no one need go without the education they wish to have. This is the meaning of free access for all, but it will take collective work to make it so.
And who does this work? Whoever can. Think of socialism as a global voluntary sector. ‘Work’ is not dictated to the volunteer but decided by the volunteer: it is a vocational occupation, fulfilling both a sense of responsibility to one’s community ‘according to one’s ability’ and a desire for a meaningful activity which fulfils personal aspirations. Whatever the chosen work, conditions are determined democratically by those who are involved in that work. Health and safety are prime considerations as is, wherever possible, a pleasant work environment. Some may choose a single occupation because it satisfies a personal need or because the time investment in training is heavy, eg clinical surgery. Others might involve themselves in a variety throughout their lives or even throughout each month, week or day. Travel for some is the motivation to apply their skills in different locations whilst others are content to remain in one place.
The planet’s physical condition is also extremely important to a socialist society. Whatever our collective resource requirements, whatever manufacturing facilities are required, in every area care for the ongoing health and sustainability of our environment is always a prime consideration. Best practice can be applied in all areas because there are no demands to cut corners for profit. Of equal importance is our human physical and mental welfare and with the removal of former negative constraints from daily life humankind moves on to a level of awareness and self-confidence resulting in an unprecedented level of inclusion and involvement in social affairs.
The culmination of the struggle results in the awakening of billions, people from all corners of the globe recognising their similarities and celebrating their differences, realising their long-suppressed potential, their goal of living in harmony and cooperation, of doing no harm, living in a stateless, classless world with no leaders and no followers, organising their own communities and participating fully in policy and decision-making.
You can call it what you like, but we call it socialism.