Friday, April 20, 2007

Socialism - questions and answers

Cut and pasted from the blog, A Revolutionary Act

What is The Socialist Party?
It is a political party separate from all others. It stands for the sole aim of establishing a global system of society in which there will be common ownership and democratic control of the world's natural and industrial resources. We advocate a world social system in which each person has free access to the benefits of civilisation and an equal say in how their society is run; a world in which production is freed from the artificial constraints of profit and used for the benefit of all.

What is Socialism?
To elaborate slightly on the above - Socialism is yet to exist. When it is established it must be on a global basis, as a real alternative to the present system. In a socialist society there will be common ownership of the earth by its inhabitants and no minority will dictate to us that production must give priority to profit. There will be no owners. The people of the world will share the world. Production will be for use, not sale. The only questions we will need to ask about production are what do people need and can these needs be met. Science and technology will at last be used to their fullest potential and in the service of humanity. The basic socialist principle will be that people give according to their abilities and take according to their needs. There will be no buying or selling, as money will have been abolished and will not be necessary in a world of free access. Socialism will mean a world without borders or frontiers, social classes or leaders, states or governments, force or coercion.

How does this differ from Capitalism?
Capitalism is the social system that now exists in all the countries of the world. Under this system, the means of production and distribution are monopolised by a small, wealthy elite. All wealth is produced by us, the working class who sell our physical and mental abilities for a wage or salary. The object of wealth production is to create goods and services which can be sold profitably. Not only do capitalists live off the profits they obtain by exploiting us, they reinvest their profits with a view to accumulating more wealth. Because of the logic of their system, if goods cannot be sold at a profit, they are either destroyed or not produced at all. Because of capitalist competition, wars break our fairly regularly, being fought over trade routes, areas of influence, foreign markets and mineral resources - all sources of profit for capitalists.

So how will Socialism solve the problems of society?
Capitalism, with its endless drive to make profits, throws up an endless stream of problems. Many workers feel insecure about their future and work related stress is on the increase. Crime, homelessness, poverty - these are all ongoing problems. A society based on production for use will end these problems because the priority of socialist society will be the fullest possible satisfaction of needs. Abolishing the money system will mean food will not have to be destroyed it can't be sold. Wars will no longer be fought if there are no more borders or frontiers and the source of their cause has been removed. At present it is not 'economically viable' to solve many of the problems that plague us - it eats into profits. Socialism will mean nothing but the best for every human being.

Surely it is easier just to reform the present system?
No. As long as capitalism exists, profits will always take priority over our real needs. Some workers welcome reforms; some reforms have improved working class conditions, but no reform can abolish that basic contradiction between profits and need. No matter how well meaning the politicians, nor how colourful their promises, they are bound to fail because they do not control the system - it controls them. The governments of the world may well introduce 1000 reforms, but we would still continue to live in a world ravaged by starvation, war, homelessness, unemployment, poverty and every other social ill. We would still live in a two class society, with our real needs subordinated to the wishes of a minority. Why campaign for crumbs when the whole bakery is there to be taken?

Is Nationalisation an alternative to capitalism?
No. Although the old Labour Party used to think so, and many leftists still do, there is nothing progressive in nationalisation. It simply means the workers are exploited by the state in the interests of capitalists. There were once many nationalised industries in Britain. This did not stop the government closing them down and making hundreds of thousands of workers redundant when they ceased being profitable - and these nationalised industries supposedly 'belonged' to us.

What about kibbutzim?
Is this not akin to Socialism? Socialism can only exist, as capitalism does, on a global scale. It cannot be established in one country, let alone one farm. The kibbutzim do show that humans can live without money and work without wages, but their small scale means that what they can offer is very restricted so young people tend to leave them. In practice they have paved the way for the development of capitalism in Israel and some have themselves become capitalist institutions employing outside wage labour and producing for the market with a view to profit.

Have there ever been Socialist countries?
What about the former Soviet Union? No. Those countries which claimed they were socialist were in reality state capitalist. Power was monopolised by a privileged elite who became the new ruling and controlling class. Countries like Russia and China and Yugoslavia still had money and buying and selling. They still had wage slavery, exploitation and commodity production. They still traded with capitalist states and according to the dictates of international capital and were ever ready to go to war to defend their economic interests.

For more information on the Socialist Party and the Socialist Standard, click on the picture below:

Howard Zinn's 'Je Ne Suis Pas Marxiste'

To the best of my of knowledge, the first time that Howard Zinn's wonderful essay 'Je Ne Suis Pas Marxiste' has appeared online.

(Originally posted on the blog on the 14th September 2006.)

Wish It Were The Seventies?

Latest post from the SPGB blog, Socialism Or Your Money Back

We've just been sent a review copy of Capitalism Unleashed by Andrew Glyn (OUP). We are not sure why as it came out in March 2006. Still, as they say, you shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth.

Those (like us) with long memories will recall that Glyn was the co-author of a Penguin Special that came out in 1972 called British Capitalism, Workers and the Profits Squeeze. In it he and his fellow author (Bob Sutcliffe) argued that capitalism, at least in Britain, had been brought to a life-or-death crisis because working class militancy, on the one hand, and international competition, on the other, had squeezed profits, the life-blood of the system without which it couldn't survive. One more push from the workers, they suggested, and capitalism could be overthrown.

The only danger they saw was that the workers would be betrayed by the reformist leaders of the TUC who would hold them back (it's this word "betrayal" which is the clue that they were some kind of Trotskyist; Glyn later became involved in Militant). We ourselves were sceptical about the whole analysis, suggesting that they were greatly exaggerating trade union "power" and that the crisis was not a life-or-death one but just a phase of the ordinary business cycle which capitalism goes through and from which it would recover sooner or later (see our review in February 1973 Socialist Standard). Actually, it turned out to be a bigger turning-point than we thought, as capitalism has never since returned to the "never-had-it-so-good" days of the 50s and 60s.

In any event, capitalism did survive. So what does Glyn think now? Modern-day, "unleashed" capitalism, he says, has its problems (financial turbulence, corporate corruption, etc) but cannot be said to be in a state of crisis in the sense of the Oxford University dictionary definition of "the point in the progress of a disease when an important development or change takes place which is decisive of recovery or death" that he believed it to have been in in the 70s. In fact, his view is that there is now no alternative to capitalism on the horizon, so all we've got is a choice of different kinds of capitalism.

"The longer-term objective of socialism was always to facilitate the development of people's lives in a more fulfilling direction", he writes and asks: "Is it possible to make serious moves in this direction even within what is still a predominantly capitalist economy?".

His answer is, perhaps surprisingly, "yes", in the form of the scheme proposed by the Belgian social thinker, Philippe Van Parijs, for paying everyone a Basic Income as of right and irrespective of whether or not they work, referring to an article by him in a book with the revealing title of Redesigning Distribution: Basic Income and Stakeholder Grants as Designs for a More Egalitarian Capitalism. Or, as Van Parijs himself has put it:
"In classical Marxism, socialism is just an instrument for achieving the society in which people can work freely according to their abilities but still get enough according to their needs. If socialism doesn't work, because of threats to freedom and problems of dynamic efficiency, then why not harness capitalism to achieve the same objectives?" (The Bulletin, Brussels, 19 July 2001).

It's a pipedream of course and a bit currency cranky (though to give Van Parijs his due, he did come up with a brilliant title for one of his books in What's Wrong with a Free Lunch?). A Basic Income paid as of right would have to be funded (even squeezed) out of profits and would either undermine the wages system (why work for a capitalist employer if the State is paying you whether you work or not?) or make no difference (since wages would fall by the amount of the State wage subsidy that a Basic Income would represent). Or it would be fixed at so low a level as to be just another name for "Income Support".

As for us, we're still socialists as we were in the 1970s. Capitalism can't be reformed, humanised or made more egalitarian. It must be ended not mended, and replaced by a system of common ownership and democratic control of productive resources, so that production can be geared to satisfying people's needs on the principle of "from each their ability, to each their needs".
Adam Buick