From the February 1992 issue of the Socialist Standard
Socialists advocate state ownership and state control, don't they?
No. The word "socialist" has been badly distorted in the last 75 years. The main culprit was Lenin — followed by the Bolsheviks and their admirers all over the world. The Socialist Party pointed out from 1917 onwards that Russia wasn't socialist and could not be at that stage of its development. The other main advocates of state control in this country are, of course, the Labour Party.
When it suits them, they call themselves socialist; when they think it will lose them votes, they don't. One of their politicians in the past defined socialism as "whatever the Labour Party happens to be doing at the moment". In fact, there is nothing socialist about what they do.
What do socialists like yourself stand for, then?
Socialism for us is the next stage in social evolution — a far more free and ecologically responsible society which will succeed this one — if we are quick enough. Our present political/economic system threatens to ruin the planet in lire way it is going at present.
The majority of the world's population need to bring about radical democratic change without delay if we are to meet human needs, preserve the Earth's ecological balance and avoid the large-scale use of nuclear and biological weapons.
What is it that you think needs changing?
We contend that it is urgently necessary to move on to a more advanced way of organising production and distribution in society: one in keeping with the tremendous strides made by science and technology. At the moment we tend to regard "the economy" rather in the way we regard the weather; as beyond control, with its booms and slumps like summers and winters. And. as long as we leave things as they are, that’s how it operates — out of control. But it is a human-made system, a social construct. And it is now far too crude and erratic to serve a modern society's needs.
What makes you say that the economic system is crude?
Its price structure is a poor, one-dimensional tally system which ought long ago to have been superseded by much more complex and sensitive social control. Modern information systems and computing power make it feasible for anyone, anywhere in the world, to know far more about any aspect of the world's production and distribution than was even imaginable fifty years ago — and to find it out within a few minutes. This makes possible a highly sensitive and complex global network of all the production and distribution processes. And it would mean that, in place of the enormous financial structure of present society, we should have a much more qualitatively rich and socially widespread system of information and control. Everyone in a socialist society would be involved in the control, as they would in the supplying and receiving of information.
But why should you want to change an economic system that has proved itself, and been refined over two hundred years or more?
The system we live under is not simply a way of organising society's production and distribution. It is a system of accumulating wealth — in the form of land, roads, bridges, tunnels, mines, oil refineries, factories, farms, office blocks, ships — all the paraphernalia of modern high-tech society.
The significant social fact about this wealth is that it is not owned by the great majority of the population. The result is that they have little or no say in how all this wealth is used, either from a human or an ecological point of view.
One of the most worrying things is that there is little deliberate human control at all. because the accumulation of wealth — its expansion through profit and reinvestment — is the overriding force driving society. Those who try to divert it or go against it get swept aside. Most people, about 90 per cent of the population, have no means of living of their own. They have no choice but to offer themselves for work to those who do own the factories, farms, offices and so on. for wages or salaries. For about fifty of the best years of their lives this work, under someone else's control, takes the bulk of their waking hours, with perhaps another hour or two commuting to and from work. This is not freedom, but economic bondage, and cannot be anything else under the ruthless drive for profit.
Freedom to stop doing a boss's bidding and become destitute and a social outcast is not freedom at all. It is compulsion. Moreover, the fact they we offer ourselves for jobs does not mean that we shall always get them or keep them. We live the whole of our adult lives under this pressure, this insecurity.
But surely the present system provides steadily rising living standards for most people?
This ignores that the insecurity is made far worse by the fact that, periodically and inevitably, the spiral process of reinvesting profits to make yet more profits overreaches itself — the productivity of factories and farms cannot be increased fast enough to keep ahead of the increased demand for profit.
Throughout the economy, profit ceases to be sufficient to expand production and then, as has happened throughout the last two centuries and is happening now, we have what is called a recession /slump /depression/ crisis. Then wage and salary earners are thrown out of work, production is cut back; companies and individuals go bankrupt in their thousands; many of those with mortgage or hire purchase debts are unable to maintain their payments and have their homes and belongings repossessed.
Millions are prevented from working at all, while those still in work are often driven to the point of exhaustion every day. If production were cut back because people did not want or need the goods and services, that would make some sense, but that is far from being the ease. Production is cut (and must be cut in this economic system, regardless of whether people need the food or medicines or whatever) because production has ceased to be profitable.
But if state control of the economy is not the answer, what is?
We agree that attempts at state control or interference in this process usually makes it worse, as has happened in Russia and the Eastern Bloc. But, left to itself, the economic system has become hopelessly inadequate for what should be a modern, highly developed, global society.
It's like an old steam tram carried over into the age of supersonic flight. People still resist the increasing pressure to make a radical change in society, but socialists believe that until that change is made, symptoms of the incongruity will get worse; the increase in crime, the decay of inner cities, the degradation of the environment, the impoverishment of Third World countries, the recurrence of famines and disease outbreaks, the outbreaks of armed conflicts around the world, the increase in the power of states and the harshness of their regimes.
Although there is nearly always state involvement, underlying all these are economic causes. They can only be improved when we decide to dispense with economics altogether and take full social control of our production and distribution. And that will be socialism.