Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Next Step for Humanity (2024)

Pamphlet Review from the April 2024 issue of the 
Socialist Standard

Socialism for Young Folks (and everyone else). By Jamshid R. Davis. Omnia Sunt Communia Press. 2023. 57pp.

The Socialist Standard recently reviewed a booklet about anarchism aimed specifically at young people. The review was largely favourable and ended by suggesting that the Socialist Party might itself consider producing a similar publication about socialism ‘presenting in simple terms what is actually a very simple idea – organising the earth’s resources collectively and democratically on the basis of needs not profit’. We now discover that Jamshid Davishas actually got there first with a publication (Socialism for Young Folks) that comes extremely close to our own critique of current society and our proposals for changing it.

At the very start, he defines socialism as ‘an economic system where the means of production (how goods are made) and distribution (how goods get into the hands of those who need them) are socially owned in common’, and where ‘distribution is not through markets but by free access’. Having established what socialism is, he then proceeds to explain (and denounce) what it is not. It is not nationalisation or state ownership or control, since that is simply state capitalism, where ‘government managers take the place of the regular capitalist bosses’ and ‘wage labour, markets, and money still exist and there is no free access to needed goods or services’. An adamant ‘no’, therefore, to, the dictatorships in places like China, Cuba, Vietnam and North Korea. Nor do so-called ‘national liberation struggles’ have anything to do with socialism, since they ‘never were anti-capitalist in the first place’ and ‘socialism is by its very nature a world system’.

The class nature of the capitalist society we live in and that dominates the world is then analysed succinctly and effectively (‘a class is a group of people united by their common interests within the economic order’; ‘those who own property or manage it have all the power within a society, while those who do not own property suffer, powerlessness, economic exploitation, and poverty’; ‘the working class is composed of folks who must sell their labour power to capitalists or to the state to be able to support themselves and their families’). The solution to such inequality, we are told, is the abolition of class society and ‘the construction of a classless society’. The historical perspective that then follows about the rise of capitalism as a social and economic order and in particular how it overcame feudalism is also interesting for the added dimension it gives to the situation the world’s workers find themselves in today and what they need to do to do to bring about change and create a new system of society. It points to how past systems of society have changed, even though, while they existed, they may have seemed permanent and everlasting. Attention is also paid to the variety of noxious effects of the capitalist system on all who live under it. This includes a short but penetrating analysis of the various kinds of alienation it visits on its subjects and the way it stymies creative potential, the inevitability of crises of overproduction known as recessions or slumps, and the system’s tendency to cause military conflict through the struggle for markets’ (‘the First and Second World Wars can best be seen as a struggle between the various capitalist blocs over the division of the world market’).

What we have here, therefore, is an analysis and prescriptions found relatively rarely among who label themselves socialist but who are in fact using the word to mean variations, proposed or otherwise, on how to run capitalism. Having said that, there are, nevertheless, certain aspects of this booklet’s thesis that we would find it difficult to agree with. These occur largely in the section entitled ‘The Road Yet Travelled’, where a fairly detailed recipe for bringing about socialism and then organising it is put forward. It would be established, it argues, by acts of workplace protest, local democratic self-organisation and, above all, by direct action, which is likely to involve violence, since, the author insists, the capitalist class will never willingly give up their wealth and their protectors, the state, will never allow the system to be overturned and a new one established democratically via elections. So the strategy advocated here rejects the kind of democratic political action via the ballot box that the Socialist Party sees as the most fertile route to the establishment of a democratic, moneyless, marketless society once the necessary spreading of consciousness of the need for this has been achieved. Without this particular form of direct action (ie, the ballot box), it is difficult to see how a socially conscious working class can take the power necessary to abolish capitalism and set about organising a genuine socialist society. Nor is it a given, as suggested here, that, once the overwhelming majority of class-conscious workers have indicated their desire to establish socialism, there will be armed resistance from the capitalist class and their governments. So there is a clear difference in ‘strategy’ here between the author’s view and that of the Socialist Party on the establishment of socialism, even if the desired result seems very much the same.

In addition to this, the author goes in for a fairly detailed blueprint for how the new non-market, free access society will be organised, stating firmly, in the tradition of ‘Council Communism’, that it will be based on ‘workers’ councils’. Again we would see this as no more than one hypothesis out of many other possible ones and would argue that, once a majority of workers opt for a society without money, buying and selling, and wage and salary work, they will formulate their own way of organising it. All we can say is that they will do this democratically, via voluntary cooperation and using the knowledge, resources and technologies available at the time.

Despite these differences of view, however, there can be no doubt about the value of this publication both for the ideas it puts forward and for the clarity with which they are stated. It is helpful, above all, in putting centre-stage the idea the Socialist Party itself has been propagating for 120 years – that of dispensing with capitalism and establishing a new society based on collective production for direct use. As the author himself puts it – and we could not agree more –, ‘a world community is now possible and is necessary for the further development of humanity’.
Howard Moss

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