Sunday, August 21, 2016

What socialism means (1980)

Editorial from the May 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialism is a system of society where the means of production will be commonly owned, democratically controlled and used to produce wealth solely to satisfy human needs. When we describe the essential features of such a society you will see why we say that socialism has not been established anywhere (nor, in fact, could it be established in just one place; it must be worldwide).

What, then, are the essential features of socialism? First, the land, industry, transport and communications will have become the common property of the whole community. This means that classes will have been abolished, everyone having an equal say in how the means of production are used. There will no longer be a propertied employing class, nor a propertyless working class. Wages will not be paid nor received as nobody will be in a position either to buy or to sell a human being’s ability to work. There will simply be people, free men and women, co-operating to produce what they need.

Second, socialism will be a completely democratic society. The limited political democracy of today will be expanded into a full social democracy. All aspects of society, including the production and distribution of wealth will be subject to democratic social control. The coercive state machine and government over people of class society — with the armed forces and police, the judges and gaolers — will be replaced by the simple democratic administration of social affairs. Those chosen by society to carry out administrative functions on its behalf will not be in any special privileged position. They will not have at their command any means of coercing people. Nor will they be materially better off than anyone else since, as we shall see next, in socialism everybody will have free access to the wealth they need to live and enjoy life.

Third, wealth will be produced solely and directly for human use. It will not be produced for sale, but for people to take according to their needs. Goods will not be priced, nor will people’s consumption be limited by the amount of money they have. There will in fact be no need for money in a socialist society, as the principle “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” will apply.

Free distribution of wealth is now possible because modern industry and agriculture can turn out an abundance of the things people need. A world of plenty is now possible. There is no need for any man, woman or child in any part of the world to go hungry, be badly clothed or live in slums. The technical problem of producing plenty for all has been solved for a long time. The problem now is that the present social system, capitalism, which exists all over the world (including Russia, China, Cuba, Yugoslavia . . . ) places a fetter on production because it operates, and must operate, according to the rule of “no profit, no production.” What the world suffers from today is not overpopulation, but the chronic underproduction that is built into capitalism. Not only does world capitalism hold back production, but it also misuses and wastes the resources of the world. Think of the waste involved in training and equipping armed forces and of the destruction of wars. Think of the waste of commerce and finance — of banks, insurance companies, salesmen, ticket collectors, accountants, economists, cashiers. Indeed, it is probably true to say that only a minority of the world’s population is actually engaged in producing useful things. Then of course there is the deliberate destruction of wealth that is carried out every year in order to maintain prices and profits: the bonfires of coffee and cocoa, the pouring of milk down coal mines, the dumping of vegetables in rivers, the feeding of butter to pigs.

Once you take account of this artificial scarcity and organised waste of capitalism, you realise that socialism (where people will cooperate freely to produce an abundance of wealth from which they can take freely according to their needs) is not only possible but is also the only solution to humanity’s current problems.

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