Saturday, December 8, 2018

What is Socialism? (1963)

From the December 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party is often criticized for not being “practical ” or for not putting forward any proposals for today. But this is not the point.

The Socialist Party does not exist to campaign for petty reforms within the capitalist system. It is the instrument which the working class can use to gain control of the machinery of government. Once in control the workers can use this machine to dispossess the capitalist class by declaring all the means of life the common property of all society. This will allow the workers to take over the industries and to keep production going in the ways they will have worked out beforehand.

As soon as the last capitalist has been dispossessed then classes will have ceased to exist. It will no longer make sense to speak of a working class and a capitalist class. Everybody, including the ex-capitalists, will have the same status as free producers. Not that things will immediately be startlingly different from what they were before. Production will have to be kept going. Although such jobs as bank clerks and ticket inspectors would disappear, engineers would remain engineers and, perhaps, railwaymen, railwaymen.

The main point is that we today don’t know and can't really imagine what conditions will be like immediately prior to the capture of political power so that we can't say exactly what the problems that will have to be faced afterwards will be. But we earn say this. The conversion of the means of life from the private property of an exploiting class to the common property of society will establish the framework within which can be solved once and for all the problems which the working class face today precisely because they are the working class. Even today we can see that the world is quite capable of producing enough for everybody if only production were arranged with this object in mind. Socialism will allow this to happen.

The economic problem which Socialist Society will have to solve is that of organizing those able and willing to work to produce the food, clothing, houses and all the other articles men need to live. This problem is by no means small and it is important to realise what the problem involves. It has three aspects:

First, what articles are to be produced? Clearly there will be room for a wide choice here. Socialist society will have to decide what it needs most.

Second, how shall these articles be produced and by whom? There is also a wide range of possibilities here: mass production, handicraft and the many combinations of both.

Third, how shall those articles produced be divided among the world’s population?

Though capitalism faces the same problem these questions are not consciously asked and the answer has always been provided by the impersonal workings of capitalism's laws. Socialism will allow society to ask and answer these questions consciously. This is what planning means. Men will have control over the means of production to use them as they think fit. Under capitalism there can be no genuine planning as the market is the real king. Firms turn out goods and hope the market will absorb them. Socialist society will estimate what will be needed in advance and then produce it. Allowances for changes in taste and natural disasters can be made by producing more than is needed as a kind of insurance.

One of the most important problems to be faced is how much of production should be articles to be consumed directly by the people and how much should be devoted to renewing and expanding the factories and places where the other articles are produced. The point is this: the same problems which the laws of supply and demand and capital accumulation arc supposed to solve under capitalism will still have to be faced by society under Socialism. However, the abolition of private property and the conversion of the means of life into the common property of mankind will allow society to set about tackling questions of economic organisation in a scientific way. This emphasis on planning means that the information available will have to be the most accurate possible. Social planning will also raise the question of how much social control should be exercised from the centre and how much from the locality. This is a further problem Socialist society will have to meet. Socialism will not, of course, be a static society. Changes in ways of producing things, ways of living and behaving will continue. Just as living patterns have changed under capitalism in the last fifty years or so with the invention of television, wireless and the like so will there be similar changes under Socialism.

As soon as the capitalist system has been abolished distribution will be direct. This means that money will not intervene. It will have become redundant as soon as common ownership has been established.

How articles are distributed will to a large extent depend on how many articles and of what sorts there are to distribute. It may well be the case that for a short time it will not be possible for people to take as much of every article as they think they might need. The reason for this is simple, it takes time to produce articles and even longer to build factories and cultivate fields so as to be able to produce more. In this situation it would be for people to adjust their requirements to what was available, recognising that such shortages were temporary anyway and that eventually production would match up with distribution as the new society progressively removed the obstacles left over from capitalism.

Another change will be in the field of “government." Government of people will disappear. This means that those parts of the government machine which actually make it a government machine, namely, armed forces, law courts, etc., will disappear as soon as possible after the capture of political power. This does not meant that all administration will disappear; on the contrary; the idea of social control is essential to Socialism. It just means that the coercive government machine will have been transformed merely into a clearing house for settling social affairs. This clearing house will be a part of the administrative machinery through which the economy will be managed.

With the disappearance of politics and the political state will disappear also political parties. This does not mean there will be no disagreements; of course there will. Men and women will directly participate in discussing and organizing production for what they consider to be their own benefit. This is why the Socialist Party insists that you cannot have Socialism without the great majority of people desiring it and understanding its implications. The working class will establish Socialism themselves; they cannot rely on leaders and “experts." So, in addition to common ownership. Socialism means that there will be democratic control of the means of life. Democracy is just as much a fundamental part of Socialism as is common ownership.

This, then, is the Socialist alternative to capitalism. Socialists are not Utopians. We know that such a system is possible. Everything necessary is present save one thing: a desire on your part to have such a system.
Adam Buick

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