From the July 2020 issue of the Socialist Standard
The basic case of the Socialist Party can be set out in three parts: a description and criticism of present-day society; a proposal for a new social system to replace it; and a way of moving from the present to the future society.
The system that dominates the world today is capitalism, which has a number of central features. There is a class division: the vast majority of the population have to work for a wage or salary in order to survive, or are dependent on someone else who has to do so; in contrast, a small number of people, probably well under one in a hundred, live off income from rent, interest and profit, and are immensely wealthy. The former are the working class, the latter the capitalist class. The wages system is a basic feature, as workers have to sell their ability to work, their labour power, to an employer in return for a wage, and are exploited by their employer, as they produce more in value than what they earn in wages.
Under capitalism, goods and services are produced for sale at a profit and will generally not be produced unless there is a prospect of a reasonable amount of profit resulting. Workers who cannot be profitably exploited will be unemployed and have to live on various kinds of handout. The state or government exists to defend the interests of the employers, the capitalist class. It does this by protecting their property, by making it difficult for workers to fight for better wages and working conditions, and by defending the interests of the capitalist class abroad, such as attempting to guarantee access to raw materials and trade routes. The police, courts, prisons and armed services are the central aspects of the state machine. There may be some limited show of democracy, such as elections and the ability to organise political parties and publish dissenting views, but in reality workers have little control over their lives and are dominated by the anarchy of the market and the power of the capitalists.
Capitalism has not always existed. We could argue about when it began, but it is best seen as being less than three hundred years old. Capitalism has changed in some ways since its early days, when there was nothing like the massive international companies that exist today. The state interferes much more in the economy than it once did, and there is a variety known as state capitalism, where the state is the main employer and those who control the state form the capitalist class. But all versions of capitalism have the basic properties of wage labour, class division, production for profit, repressive state and lack of true democracy.
So what are the consequences of capitalism being structured the way it is? One is a barely-credible degree of inequality. There are many statistics that could be cited to illustrate this, but here we will content ourselves with just two. Last year, the richest two thousand people in the world had more wealth than the poorest 4.6 billion combined. Bosses in the UK’s top hundred companies took just 33 hours to be paid more than the typical worker’s annual wage.
Equally, there is poverty and even destitution for many workers. It may be said that, in a world of smartphones and overseas holidays, there is little real poverty left, but the facts show the falsity of such an argument. More than one person in five in the UK is classed as living in poverty, including four million children. Over half of those in poverty are in a household where at least one person is working, so having a job is no guarantee against poverty, especially in a society reliant on zero-hours contracts, precarious work and the gig economy. When there are food banks and people sleeping on the street, clearly extreme poverty still exists.
Capitalism does not just force masses of people into poverty, it actively reduces the amount of useful goods and services produced. This is partly on account of the profit motive, as, for instance, there is no profit to be made in building houses for those who cannot afford to buy or rent them. But also the whole paraphernalia of the money system means that so much work is just wasted: everything to do with money, banks, credit cards, accounts, insurance and so on makes no contribution whatever to meeting human need. Nor do the armed forces and most of the functions of the government.
Politicians of all stripes have over the decades attempted to reform capitalism, but this inevitably cannot do away with its basic features. In its place, socialists advocate an entirely new form of society. We call it ‘socialism’, but it could also be called ‘communism’, or ‘post-capitalism’. We can describe socialism briefly as a classless moneyless stateless world community based on common ownership, production for use and democratic control. Let’s look at each of these points.
A classless society would not have a division into the capitalist class and the working class; the resources of the planet would belong to all the people, so they would be owned in common. There would be no rich and poor, indeed no concept of poverty. There would be no money, no credit cards, no chequebooks, no prices, no wages; goods and services would, as far as possible, be freely available to all. There would be no government, no organised means of coercion, as there would be no ruling class whose interests would be defended. It would be a true world community, with no countries or borders, no passports or visas. Production would take place to meet human need, so there would be no motivation to produce substandard or dangerous goods. Production, and society as a whole, would be under the democratic control of the people, giving them proper control over their lives.
This is all completely feasible. For one thing, there is nothing in human nature that stops people from co-operating and volunteering to do things together. Further, with the artificial limits of capitalism removed, it would be possible to produce far more, so that nobody need go hungry or be homeless. Building houses, for instance, would be undertaken to provide homes for people, decent homes with efficient heating and insulation; architects and building workers already know how to do this, without having to cut corners, skimp on costs and make a profit. Food, too, would be produced to feed people, not to make a profit for agricultural mega-corporations. Health care would be the best that could be provided.
We must emphasise that socialism will not be a perfect society where absolutely everything runs smoothly, just that it represents the best, indeed the only, way of solving the problems that beset humanity. Some, such as poverty and hunger, will be solved more or less immediately on the establishment of socialism; in the case of others, especially environmental problems, socialism will offer a framework in which they can be addressed, based on considerations of meeting human need rather than producing for profit.
But how would we get from here to there, how could a socialist society be established? The essentials of an answer to this spring from the nature of future society. It would be democratic and based on co-operation, and it is simply not possible to force people to behave democratically or to co-operate. Socialism, then, can only be established when an overwhelming majority of people want it, when, in other words, a class-conscious working class are determined to set up a society of common ownership and to make it work. There are various aspects to how this will be done, and part of it involves capturing control of the state, probably via elections, to ensure that the machinery of government cannot be used to prevent the establishment of socialism. It would also involve being organised to maintain production and ensure that nobody was forgotten about or left behind in the changeover to a new society. Socialism would not be established in parliament but by socialists taking the responsibility to remake how the world is organised.
That, in brief, is the case of the Socialist Party. If you agree with it or want to learn more or wish to ask about any aspects you don’t agree with, get in touch with us, whether online, by post or by contacting your local branch.