From the April 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard
What is capitalism?
Capitalism is a system based on the ownership and control of the means for producing and distributing goods and services (the land, mines, industries, and communications) by a section, only, of society which thus forms a privileged class who have economic interests in common. The rest of us, in exchange for wages or salaries, produce and distribute wealth in the form of commodities for sale with a view to profit on the markets of the world. We are properly termed the "working class”. Our function and reason for existence under capitalism is to work to produce surplus value (the difference between the value of the wealth we produce and the value of our wages or salaries). We, also, have economic interests in common, which are inevitably in conflict with those of the capitalist class.
How does capitalism work?
In modern capitalist countries, such as Britain, less than 5 per cent of the population make up the owning, capitalist class. These people have no need to work for a wage or salary in order to live.
Most people, the rest of us who work — or seek work — in offices as well as in industry, are in the working class, whether we admit it or not. Our work produces all the wealth of capitalist society, some of which we receive in the form of our pay-packets and social services, to maintain us as a work-force and to reproduce and replace us in the future. The rest of the wealth we produce goes to the owners of the means of living as profits for the maintenance and expansion of capital and the payment of rent and interest — and for their consumption as a privileged class.
From the struggle to maximise profits, nationally and internationally, arises the horror of mass starvation amidst potential abundance, war and the threat of war, as well as ecological disasters never before envisaged.
What is socialism?
Socialism is a proposed world commonwealth based on the possession in common of the means for producing the things necessary for the existence of us all. This will abolish exploitation and oppression of all kind. Goods and services will be produced and made available solely for the satisfaction of human needs; not for exchange nor for sale for profit. This means the end of buying, selling, money, prices, wages, and banks.
What about state ownership?
There will be no state or government-controlled businesses in socialism, because there will be no state or government — or businesses. State ownership (nationalisation) is simply another form of capitalism. When the state takes over (as with the railways and other industries in Britain and elsewhere) it does so in the interests of some or all of the minority capitalist class; certainly not to benefit us, the working class.
Russia, Cuba, China and Albania are all examples of state capitalism, where the political elite determines the allocation of the wealth produced for profit by the wage working majority, most of which, as in all the capitalist world, goes to capital accumulation.
State ownership leaves the class-ownership basis of capitalism unchanged, benefiting some capitalists (and political bureaucrats) at the expense of some others. Class-ownership, the profit motive and the wage-slavery system will all go into the Museum of History when we in our majority decide, democratically and politically, to replace capitalism with socialism.
So you want a world without money, borders, governments and armies?
Yes, why not?
We have to pay for the things we need to live and enjoy life because they do not belong to us. These can be freely available for people to take according to their own self-defined needs when the means of life are owned by all.
The world is divided by frontiers into well over a hundred different states, all competing against each other, and all armed with the most destructive weapons of war they can afford while the basic needs of millions go unmet. We could have a world community without frontiers in which all that is in and on the Earth has become the common heritage of all humanity, irrespective of language, culture or place of origin.
Governments always represent the interests of the rich and powerful and have armies to enforce law and order at home and to pursue commercial and business interests abroad. We could have a real democracy in which everyone has an equal say in the ways things are run and co-operates to carry out what has been decided.
How can this socialist society be brought about?
Socialism can only be established by the conscious democratic political action of the majority; which means by the working class since we are the overwhelming majority. We gain the least from capitalism and would gain the most from socialism.
As a society in which all goods and services are produced and made available freely by voluntary, co-operative work, socialism has to be established by the actions of a motivated majority, fully aware of what is involved and their responsibilities in the matter. It cannot be imposed by dictatorship nor legislated into being by some enlightened minority.
But can't capitalism be reformed?
Yes, but not so as to work in the interests of the majority, the working class. It is a system which can operate only for the benefit of the owning, capitalist class. Every party, no matter if Left, Right or Centre, which tries to run capitalism is inevitably brought into conflict with the working class. In the conflict of interests inseparable from capitalism governments cannot represent working class interests.
What about improvements which benefit the working class?
We are not opposed to improvements within capitalism. We support working class trade union action to get what can be got out of the system, while making clear that no concessions can change the working class position as the under-class. We also stress the importance of the institutions of political democracy, since it is by gaining control of these that socialism, which alone can solve working class problems, may be achieved.
Not all reforms are of benefit to the working class. Those that are adopted by governments are aimed at maintaining the economic existence, political stability, and domination of the capitalist class. As a party whose only aim is socialism, we cannot advocate reforms. We are not concerned with patching up capitalism, but with its abolition.
Why aren't you in the Labour Party?
Given the ideas we hold about the nature of society, its problems and their solution, how could we? The Labour Party has never stood for socialism and today openly proclaims its aim to be to try to manage capitalism better than the Tories.
People who belong to the Labour Party do so because they accept and wish to further that aim.
To support or belong to the Labour Party would mean the abandonment of our principles, and ultimately the abandonment of the struggle for socialism in favour of futile attempts to patch up capitalism and make it work in the interest of die exploited majority.
If you have any other questions about socialism you are welcome to write to us at:
The Socialist Party
52 Clapham High Street
London SW4 7UN
We will be delighted to hear from you and can assure you of a prompt reply.