From the March 2004 issue of the Socialist Standard
Socialism is often described in negative terms: a society with no money, no classes, no government, no exploitation. But it is also possible to speak of Socialism from a positive viewpoint, emphasising the features it will have, as opposed to those it will not.
One precept Socialism will be based on is production for use, with objects being made or services being provided because they are useful to people, rather than with a view to making a profit. In some ways, this is similar to what happens in many households at the moment. People cook, clean, wash their car, because these are useful activities, not because they hope to make money from them. Equally, people grow vegetables in their garden or allotment for their own consumption or that of their friends and neighbours. In Socialism such principles will simply be extended to the whole of production. And “usefulness” will really mean useful to people, rather than useful to capitalism (like tanks and missiles). There will be no problem in producing short runs of particular items or variants for which demand is low, as questions of cost or profit will not enter into the equation, and the technical difficulties of customising production have long since been overcome.
The corollary of production for use is free access to what has been produced. People will simply take what they need from the “shops” or storehouses, as and when they want it. There will be no point in hoarding things for a rainy day, or in taking masses of stuff. For one thing, there is only a certain amount of most things – e.g potatoes or toilet paper or pens – that people can consume. But would some people want lots and lots of (say) clothes? Well, one point to bear in mind is that in socialism nobody will be judged or assessed in terms of how well-off they are, since all will be equal in this respect. So the idea of dressing to impress will not exist. Nor will owning a powerful car say anything about you. Maybe some will want lots of CDs, but the extra resource used in producing lots of copies is very small, so this will not be a problem. Above all, though, socialism cannot be established without the support of the overwhelming majority of the population, and they will be well aware that a society of abundance will effectively provide plenty for all.
At the same time, work will be a fulfilling and satisfying experience. It will take place in a society of harmony and equality, with no bosses and no petty workplace dictators. Producing for use will be rewarding in itself, and steps will be taken to make work as interesting as possible. While we cannot be precise now, it is likely that people will not do the same sort of work for years on end – they will change the kind of work they do every few years perhaps, or will divide their week among different activities. Under capitalism, many of the most demeaning and boring jobs are directly connected to the money system, and these will disappear immediately. Any monotonous work that remains can be automated, at least in part, or can be done by one individual for only short periods. Dangerous and unpleasant work will be eliminated unless absolutely essential. It may be reasonable in some ways to compare work in socialism with people’s hobbies now: things done for their inherent enjoyment, not because of the wage packet. And just as the appeal of some hobbies and pastimes is incomprehensible to outsiders, so different people will find different kinds of work attractive.
Not just work but the broader society will be built on cooperation, people combining their efforts and producing (in various senses) more than the sum of the individual parts. Rather than countries and companies competing with each other, and workers trying to “get on” by climbing over others, there will be a real sense of working together for a common goal – a true community. What do most people like about their jobs? It’s the interaction with their work colleagues, not the daily grind of paperwork or targets to be met. Likewise, if you read people’s reminiscences of the Second World War or the Depression of the Thirties, you will find time and again the refrain, “Times were hard, but everybody pulled together.” It matters not how accurate these memories are; what is crucial is the way that cooperation and solidarity are seen as positive values, to be cherished and kept in the memory. Socialism won’t stop sporting competitions (and what do team games emphasise, anyway?), but it will involve people working together in a common interest, since there will be no groups with special interests to defend.
As a consequence of this last point, socialism will be a truly democratic society. Put simply, this means that people will decide for themselves how to run their lives, rather than being subject to leaders, bosses or the impersonal forces of the market. Decisions will be taken at a suitable level, local, regional, global, as appropriate. There will be open discussion, with no media bias and no vested interests. The exact mechanisms cannot be known now, but there may, especially in very local matters, be much use of consensus rather than the majority always getting their way. It is sometimes objected that in socialism there will be “too many meetings”, as most people want to get on with their lives rather than attend endless discussions. There are a number of possible responses to this point. One is that, perhaps after an initial period of adjustment, there will simply be fewer decisions to make and society will to a large extent run itself. Another is that meetings and discussions will not be separate from people’s social life but an integral part of it. In any case, individuals will be free to choose the nature and extent of their participation in Socialism’s democratic decision-making.
What about the environment? Production will be able to take a longer view, untrammelled by considerations of profit. Resources will be nursed, with renewable resources used wherever possible. We cannot say categorically that there will be no pollution in socialism, but unavoidable interference with nature will be handled in a sensitive way, with an eye on both human needs and the health of the planet on which we live. Sometimes choices will have to be made, such as whether to build in a particular area or extract some specific source of raw material, but decisions will be taken in a democratic way, as we saw in the last paragraph, and with no incentive to go for the ‘cheap’ option. As for total supplies of energy sources, socialism will not be able to magic new supplies out of the ground or air, but it will provide the best framework within which any actual or projected shortages can be tackled in a way that provides the best solution for everyone.
Our pamphlet Socialism as a Practical Alternative presents a fuller description of how the future society could be organised.