Monday, October 20, 2014

Imagining a Socialist Society (2) (2013)

From the January 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard
We continue the series, this time looking at work.
All around the world, in the environment of capitalism, most people consider themselves ‘lucky’ to be ‘in work’; ‘lucky’ to have the means to support themselves and their families; ‘lucky’ not to be one of those discarded as surplus to requirements. More thought is given to the remuneration for work done and the security of job tenure than to any concept of stimulation, satisfaction, fulfilment or contribution to the community – let alone to the collective aims of society.

In considering the difference likely within a socialist environment of voluntary work and free access we can begin to overturn these long-held values and explore the vastly wider possibilities of work being done for its intrinsic value and for its worth to society, unburdening all from the yoke of wage slavery and enabling each and everyone to extend their horizons in setting out to achieve their full, self-determined human potential.
Developing useful work
There is much work done today both formally and informally which will need to continue. That which is socially useful now, whether recognised as legal or informal or black market, will continue to be useful. There will be no antagonisms or fissures in society caused by protectionism or disagreements about who's taking whose work. The change will be that of ownership – everything will be owned in common and the best people to organise the running and functioning of workplaces will be those who understand and have experience of their particular discipline. In other words, the people who do the work now, but who will have become free from former constraints and are now able to determine different goals and outcomes.
Decision-making will be focused on benefits to society in general. Economy will relate to use of materials and reduction of waste. Doing and thinking, hands and head, will both be vital components in our socialist system – and as socialist consciousness will have grown to the point of enabling the change, so too the understanding and acceptance that all contributors to our new society are valuable. What are currently perceived as inequalities by some but as earned rights by others (reflected today in differences in pay scale, bonuses, holiday entitlement, pension) will be viewed quite differently. As we would wish to have our contributions recognised as worthy so too will we value the wide-ranging contributions of others.
All work that is paid now that is considered useful and beneficial to society will continue. Those now unemployed or underemployed will be welcomed into the world of free association as extra hands and heads. Likewise, work that is now undertaken voluntarily will continue to be useful and advantageous. The voluntary sector will bring forward many who already have well-developed social consciousness – previously having recognised the inequalities in society and the lack of access or opportunity afforded to others. Voluntary work after all is just another mode of occupation which currently fills many gaps deliberately left unfilled because they are a burden on the economy; where people are left needy according to the whims of the market and are rescued to some degree from their difficulty by people working for the common good.
What will become redundant because unnecessary in our society of free association will be the damaging, parasitical elements of current employment 'opportunities'. In a world of voluntary work and free access a sizeable portion of worldwide population will be freed up from spurious 'pseudo work', work that contributes nothing necessary, positive, useful or aesthetic to society. Work which simply moves money around or protects money and the moving of money around or incarcerates those who choose to defy the rules of the system by helping themselves to what, in the capitalist system, is perceived to be against societal norms. Instead they will have the opportunity to contribute positively to the aspirations of society as a whole. However, we can't simply denigrate those who work in these areas for doing so now. They, too, need employment in today's system and are merely doing what they have been groomed to do to fit into a niche deemed desirable and necessary. But what a huge number of individuals will be released from what will be looked back on as an era of useless, worthless bondage to money. Released to be themselves; to become useful, valued members of their communities to which they can now add real value.
Eliminating Waste
Waste of labour power, waste of resources, waste of time, waste of potential, there is so much unnecessary waste! One of our aims will surely be to eliminate waste of all kinds. Current waste levels, acceptable, even necessary to an extent in capitalism can be turned on their head in a socialist society which would redirect labour to useful, productive and creative occupations. All use and reuse of materials will be carefully assessed as to their most advantageous and least harmful outcomes. Work in general will be carried out in comfortable, healthy environments using the most appropriate technology where it's a positive requirement and always with the opportunity and options for creative work left open. Not accepting the requirement of growth per se, the aim will be conservation and the achievement of a steady state with the philosophy of 'do no harm' – to animal, vegetable or mineral.
Quality goods will replace the obsolescence culture and whole new looks at transport, energy and infrastructure will bring about a truly sustainable approach. Fulfilment of individual goals other than consumption; development of the wider human faculties and societies working together for common social and environmental benefits will be the modus operandi. This is part of Marx's ‘association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all’. Also, as Marx pointed out, in socialism production is a question solely of planning and organisation in which producers do not exchange their products. All of us will be in effect involved in voluntary social work following a plan or plans endorsed by (most) of us. We will acknowledge the free association of producers, facilitators, transporters, administrators, caterers, carers, trainers, artists, educators, cleaners, entertainers, engineers etc, etc, all as necessary, indispensable cogs in a wheel – we each will play our part in keeping it turning and oiled for the benefit of all.             
Although we will all participate in the work to be done we shall presumably see many changes in the structure and demographics of work. One very simple example – just look at rush-hour traffic around any large town, anywhere in the world. Thousands of cars rushing or more likely crawling to get to their destinations. Most with a sole occupant. Travelling many miles in opposite directions in the morning and still travelling many miles in opposite directions in the evening upon return.
Does a plumber or an installer of alarms really have to travel several hours to do useful work? Isn't it possible that someone on the doorstep can perform such a function? Actually, will we need any alarm systems installed anyway? (Well, maybe fire alarms or other life-saving or life-enhancing systems.) It's the crazy job market that dictates where and how far people will travel. Imagine how much more efficient the whole caboodle will be in socialism – massive human energy savings, by vastly reducing travel miles (and fuel and emissions savings while we work on reducing these speedily to as close to nil as possible).
How much more pleasant and rewarding the whole work experience will become with easy access to the workplace meaning a less stressful day for a start – and a finish. With a fully integrated public transport system in place, cities could be restored, converted, transformed, even to be places in which it would be pleasant to live, clean and with expanses of green areas, woods, communal gardens, even agricultural areas. Gone will be the inglorious mix of slums and gated communities. Cities will become places worthy of living in when we've stopped seeking efficiency in money terms for every single thing and given back people the ownership of their communities and substituted the attitude of the best outcomes for people and planet in every situation.
The policies over the last few decades which have resulted in the demographics of rural and urban communities being totally changed, making it impossible for many to make a living in the rural areas and coercing them into cities and continuing poverty can be overturned with the will of the people. And when much of urban work will have become redundant, society as a whole will be free to choose the kinds of environments they wish to live in. In many parts of the world there will surely be a huge, voluntary shift back to the land, creating thriving, coherent communities with localised services.
Short-termism and consumerism as we have come to know them will be replaced by an understanding of the consequences of ignoring externalities. Capitalist corporations now largely ignore externalities; they don't factor the negatives into their equations. Cleaning up their mess whether in air, ground or water robs them of their profits; these costs in human health and environmental problems are not their concern. Individuals, being captives of the current system, are almost powerless to be in any way effective against the mighty machine. Whether adding hourly to the ever-growing mountains of plastic waste or depriving other communities of their potable water for us to be persuaded that bottled water is best, or propping up child labour through purchases of shoes and clothing, or simply putting petrol in the car – the system pretty well dictates what our choices must be. Whether as worker, consumer, tourist or activist we are obliged to choose only from what's on offer – and a choice that doesn't embody our principles is no choice at all.
Concludes next month with a discussion of other aspects of a socialist society such as food, healthcare and education.
Janet Surman

Mixed Media: Marx in Soho (2014)

The Mixed Media Column from the October 2014 issue of the Socialist Standard
Marx in Soho
Marx in Soho, the 1995 one-man play by Howard Zinn was recently produced at the Marx Library in London directed by Sergio Amigo and starring Daniel Kelly as Marx. Zinn portrays 'Marx as few people knew him, as a family man, struggling to support his wife and children' in a 'fantasy' where Marx returns but due to a bureaucratic error not to Soho, London where he lived, but to Soho in New York City. Marx has returned 'to clear my name!'

Zinn drew on insights into Marx's private life in Yvonne Kapp's biography of Eleanor Marx. Marx speaks of life in Soho: 'we were living in London. Jenny and I and the little ones. Plus two dogs, three cats, and two birds. Barely living. A flat on Dean Street, near where they dumped the city's sewage.' Marx speaks about his favourite daughter Eleanor, 'a precociously brilliant child' nicknamed 'Tussy' who is 'a revolutionary at the age of eight', plays chess with 'the Moor' (the family nickname for Marx 'because of my dark complexion'), drinks, smokes, and is enamoured of the Irish struggle which she learned from Lizzie Burns.
Marx is very witty: 'Marx is dead! Well I am … and I am not. That's dialectics for you', 'Understand one thing – I'm not a Marxist. I said that once to Pieper and he almost croaked' and 'My Ricardo! You pawned my Ricardo!' Zinn invents a visit to his home by the anarchist Mikhail Bakunin, no record of such a visit exists although they had met in Paris in 1844. Bakunin was an irrepressible revolutionary who arrived in London in 1861 at Alexander Herzen's home, bursting into the drawing-room where the family was having supper. 'What! Are you sitting down eating oysters! Well! Tell me the news. What is happening, and where?!'
Zinn portrays 'Marx angry that his theories had been so distorted as to stand for Stalinist cruelties and to rescue Marx from those who now gloated over the triumph of capitalism.' Zinn concludes the play with Marx proclaiming we should be 'using the incredible wealth of the earth for human beings. Give people what they need: food, medicine, clean air, pure water, trees and grass, pleasant homes to live in, some hours of work, more hours of leisure. Don't ask who deserves it. Every human being deserves it.'
Marx in Soho is highly recommended for socialist theatre-goers: 'Look at it this way. It is the second coming. Christ couldn't make it, so Marx came . . .'
Steve Clayton

Imagining a Socialist Society (1) (2012)

From the December 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard
First of a three-part series, beginning with reorganising society after capitalism.
Regarding the possibility of whether and under what circumstances socialism could replace capitalism, Marx wrote of two prerequisites:
(1)  a clear understanding of socialist principles with an unambiguous desire to put them into practice; and
(2)  an advanced industrial economy so that free access is technically possible.
As far as the latter is concerned, there's a broad consensus that there's no problem that couldn't be dealt with now, once we've collectively reached the former. The political ignorance of many of the working class has to be the major challenge.
Preparing for change
More and more people are recognising that the capitalist monetary solution is not viable for a sustainable world and it is here that we can see the schisms in society becoming deeper. If we look at these schisms through a different lens from the one we are regularly directed towards, we can see that the basic problems aren't actually between 'rich and poor' countries, or even between different levels of earners within countries, that is, not between the producers, the workers, the citizens.  Those situations, those schisms, have been manufactured to keep divisions between us. When we come together, we become dangerous –a threat to the established system.
The bigger schism, the real antagonism, is the one between power and the people. What stands out more and more is that:
(1) the capitalist class, through the global corporations (manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, agribusinesses and financial institutions) have dominance over governments, the very institutions that constituents might believe are there to serve the constituents' interests; and
(2) how weak governments are in responding - in fact how complicit they are. (Even a cursory glance at the revolving-door principle reveals the extent of the complicity worldwide.)
The people may fight back, strike or demonstrate, as they did in Seattle's WTO meeting in 1999, at the climate meeting in Copenhagen last December, and more recently in Greece, Ireland, Romania, Spain and other countries, following the ramifications of cut-backs in public spending.  People take so much and then, as they reach the final straw, they are compelled one way or another to seek to get their voices heard. By whom? By those who are supposed to be working in the best interests of their societies: their governments.  Why don't more people get the irony?
Placebos are offered and sometimes accepted, sometimes imposed, but these placebos are always finance-based, always describing how much a project will cost in monetary terms or how much can be saved if we cut this or delay that. Never are they based on the needs of people. 
Reorganising society
Science and technology –scientists and technologists or technicians –have in their hands the knowledge and the wherewithal to take humanity in any direction they choose to take, but like the rest of us they are constrained by the system we live in. They are not directed by the wishes, needs and aims of society as a whole but have to follow the logic of their master, the market.
Everything becomes possible when the tools are in the right hands, the hands of the producers. It becomes a matter of organisation to bring in the new society. There is plenty of work to be done to achieve the satisfaction of everyone's basic needs, but is deliberately left undone as the profit motive dictates. It takes a fundamental shift of emphasis away from the dictates of a small minority to the wishes and needs of the overwhelming majority.
This requires that majority populations worldwide capture the state apparatus politically in order to restructure social decision-making and administration according to their plan. A plan of a totally democratic system, from whose broadest possible base decisions will pass through the structure, representing the widest possible views. Once the motivation for cronyism and corruption is removed by majority will, the best groups of people (best in terms of most fitted to whatever the particular task) could be occupied for the common good in all areas. This bottom-up, proactive, participatory democracy would be used at all levels: local, regional and world. It's difficult to find other expressions away from the hierarchical ones we're so bound up in; the idea here is simply a logistical one, but this particular pyramid definitely has its power at the base with delegates elected to carry forward the message and speak for the whole community.
To attain the stage where the full development of creative human potential is widely recognised as being the goal of life for human beings: this is the change we need. Not achieving parity or possessions, or even getting out of poverty or beating hunger. We have to have a vision far beyond this stage, to see beyond the intellectual paucity that drives current day society to crave the material above the cerebral or philosophical, favouring or craving things above thoughts and ideas. Ending poverty, hunger, treatable diseases and enabling all to have adequate living conditions – all this goes without saying; these goals are all part of what is to be achieved in the period of social reorganisation and will be planned for in full consultation with local communities.
Once decided democratically that we are heading for a socialist world it becomes a much simpler matter. Quite how this will happen is open to conjecture. As expressed on numerous occasions, we have no blueprint. Depriving the capitalist class of the state and its functionaries is the first objective. Once the decision is made, then it becomes a matter of organisation.
Suffice it to say there will have been a period of planning and co-ordination by mass organisations in work places, in neighbourhoods, in educational establishments, in organisations with international links and in civic organisations, which will culminate in the collective and proactive decision of the people to take control over the direction of their lives immediately and for the future. The decision to turn their backs on the system that has failed them over and over in favour of one for which they are ready to work to make happen, ready to work to continue its progress and which will work for them, not against them. With ever-increasing numbers, discussion and debate will have begun to determine the direction of the path to be taken.
No money barrier
It just seems such obvious common sense to consider the cost of everything in human terms instead of putting a price ticket on it. To place the role of social, political, environmental and whatever other decisions firmly with the people, with no need for a pointless monetary budget (the inputs need only be manpower and resources). This will be the biggest shift of emphasis in the change from capitalism to socialism –with far-reaching effects and benefits for both people and planet.
What a much simpler life we could have with this bizarre third element removed from all equations! Why complicate what could be a perfectly simple arrangement? Why tolerate a third element that only confuses and complicates every issue.
Take, for instance, a project to plant trees on a massive scale worldwide – to prevent soil erosion, to sequester carbon, for water retention, to meet the need for fuel-wood etc. –what is taken into account is the cost of billions of seedlings, the cost of mobilising hundreds of thousands of people to do the work, and the cost of paying people not to farm where the land is erodible, where many of the trees would be planted –the total calculated in billions of dollars.
Now you could say the outcomes would be beneficial for many people, ensuring the continuance of farming, better air quality, reduction of CO2 in the atmosphere, preservation of water tables, etc. But surely the simplest, easiest solution –if we recognise it's advisable to plant such numbers of trees –is to mobilise people to collect seeds and grow them, to take cuttings to strike and then plant them on. We would need to know when and how many people to mobilise in which areas, and how many tools would need to be supplied. These are the numbers we need to count. People working in their local communities for the benefit of all, recognising that everyone can't have direct access to the best soil but that all can share the produce from it and also share the indirect benefits of the tree planting initiative.
It's this middle element, money, and the problems arising from it, that prove to be such a difficult concept for many people. In any transaction, and at each and every exchange, it is what's given to and taken from it (i.e. money) that is essential in the capitalist system but absolutely superfluous to what's needed in a system built on communities' needs. What we must get folk to see is that if I work and you work and everyone else works without the complication of money, what will change is there will be no extraction of profit via the surplus labour because all of the labour will be voluntarily contributed. All products and services from our shared labour will benefit the new society as a whole through our system of common ownership and free access. As far as buying and selling is concerned, this exchange will be redundant when we willingly share our common assets, our heads and our hands. What a relief it will be!
Next month: how work will change in a socialist society
Janet Surman