Thursday, 22 November 2012
Could socialism really work in the 21st century?
I was having a good debate the other day with a member at a local debating society I go to we were discussing the economic crisis and the mess we are in and I put forward my ideas of another world is possible a world run by the many for the many we got on to all topics such as what does taxing the rich really mean, who indeed are the rich are they those on 100 grand a year or is there far fewer of them. We all agreed that the working class’s pay far too much tax that was music to my socialist ears. But we got on to human nature an my friends idea that socialism could never work as people are naturally greedy and human nature would mean we all want more. I countered this by saying under a democratic socialist system there would be no need for crime, povety or greed as there would be enough to go around for us all to live comfortably. My friend said this will never happen as we always want more than our neighbour. This is the entrenched ideology of capitalism bourgeois ideas to want us to want more and more this is unnatural in my eyes. No one, of course, can give a blueprint of how socialism is going to work. But we can as Marxists work out which direction we are travelling in and the likely outcomes of such movements. "It's a nice idea but it will never happen" is one of the most common responses to the suggestion that it is in our interests to work towards building a socialist society. The assumption is that socialism will rely upon everybody being altruistic, sacrificing their own interests for those of others. But socialism would actually involve the majority of people recognising their common interests. People are too greedy This is a common objection to socialism, and suggests that, in socialism, some people would take more than their share of goods. Images are conjured up of people walking out of supermarkets carrying stockpiles of food—after all, isn't that what everyone would do if all goods were freely available? It may be what people would do in today's capitalist society, where what we need appears to be scarce because it is rationed by the payment of the wage. But if food were given away free in socialism, there would be no need to take more than you need. Because food will have been produced to satisfy society's needs, not for profit, it will be available on that basis. The current world food supply (let alone the potential supply) is enough to feed the global population Indeed, there is the potential to meet the broader range of human needs, in an environmentally sustainable way, if socialism were established. Once the insecurity of our current society is left behind, it would simply become pointless to take more than you needed. Who would do the dirty work? This is a common objection to the proposal that all work be contributed on a voluntary basis. Some people point to certain kinds of work that people might seek to avoid—such as cleaning out sewers, or mining. A more extreme form of the argument suggests that everyone would spend the whole day in bed if they were not forced to work. Humans throughout history have sought fulfillment through their work. If they have not enjoyed their work, it has not been through dislike of work in general but due to the particular purpose and conditions of the work that they have been forced to undertake. Work under socialism has the potential to be entirely different to capitalist employment. The most important reason for this is that unpleasant work could be organised far more efficiently than under capitalism and that all work would be organised so as to be as pleasant as possible. The purpose of work would be entirely different. Under capitalism, much of the work done is the work required by capitalism in order to perpetuate its own existence. In socialism, the only work that would need to be done would be that for directly meeting human needs. Indeed, interesting and pleasant work is itself a human need. And work that isn't in itself interesting and pleasant must be minimised or abolished. If a household gets a washing machine, you never hear the family members who used to do the laundry by hand complain that this "puts them out of work". But strangely enough, if a similar development occurs on a broader social scale it is seen as a serious problem—"unemployment"—which can only be solved by inventing more jobs for people to do. The fact is that most jobs under capitalism are either completely or partially unnecessary. Many of those that are necessary are performed by stressed people working long hours while others suffer poverty. In a sane society, the elimination of all these absurd jobs (not only those that produce or market ridiculous and unnecessary commodities, but the far larger number directly or indirectly involved in promoting and protecting the whole capitalist system) would reduce necessary tasks to such a trivial level that they could easily be taken care of voluntarily and cooperatively, eliminating the need for the whole apparatus of economic incentives and state enforcement. That economists now believe that in 20 years time, total world demand for all commodities could be met by 2% of the global population—and this in capitalist society!—suggests necessary work in socialist society could be so organised as to enable individuals to contribute no more than a few hours a week to the good of society. Waste, destruction and exploitation are the ultimate outcomes of the market economy and production for profit. The market develops and ‘regulates’ the economy through booms and slumps, with an inevitable tendency towards overproduction and overcapacity. As society moves towards socialism goods and services become directly produced to meet needs, not indirectly for a market based on an exchange to realise profit. At the early stage of socialism there will, of course, still be elements of capitalism left. Money will have to be used for a time but, unlike before, the material and human resources are there for a rapid advance towards a society – or more correctly, a world – based on the socialist principle: ‘From each according to his or her ability, to each according to their needs’. Many reasons are given for the fall of the planned if highly bureaucratic economy of the Soviet Union but It was not central planning as such that brought Stalinism to its knees. It was the absence of democracy, elected bodies and accountability, the prerequisites for a planned economy. The more the economies developed, the more acute became the crisis. In response, the bureaucracies themselves started to introduce ‘market-reforms’ which, in turn, accelerated the process of crisis and disintegration. Leon Trotsky was the first to explain how the ulcer of bureaucratism and totalitarianism worsens "the more the economy runs into the problem of quality, which slips out of the hands of a bureaucracy like a shadow. The Soviet products are as though branded with the grey label of indifference. Under a nationalised economy, quality demands a democracy of producers and consumers, freedom of criticism and initiative – conditions incompatible with a totalitarian regime of fear, lies and flattery". "Behind the question of quality stands a more complicated and grandiose problem which may be comprised in the concept of independent, technical and cultural creation. No new values can be created where a free conflict of ideas is impossible... Soviet democracy is not the demand of an abstract policy, still less an abstract moral. It has become a life-and-death need". (Revolution Betrayed, p247) At the centre of the struggle conducted by Trotsky and the Left Opposition was the restoration of workers’ democracy based on elected representatives subject to the right of recall and with officials’ wages brought down to the level of an average worker. The aim was "the gradual involvement of the entire working population without exception in the work of state administration and the systematic struggle for equality". Workers’ or socialist democracy was a condition for the development towards socialism. A planned economy requires the active participation of the mass of the working class to implement, check, regulate and make changes to the plan. In the absence of this democratic involvement the bureaucracy inevitably becomes an absolute fetter on further progress. The process of stagnation and decline that started to set in during the 1970s reflected the unsolvable contradictions between the nationalised economy and bureaucratic dictatorship. A socialist economy would for the first time give people, as producers and users, the chance to control every step of production, take initiatives and experiment without being strangled by profit-driven competition. This, together with research and testing, would make possible an economy based on equality and in harmony with nature. Why would people produce poor quality goods when they are producing to meet their own (and others) needs? Is the revolution we are talking about at all likely? Appearances would suggest not. The odds seem to be stacked against it. Indeed, when we put forward the idea, most people can scarcely believe we are serious. But most revolutions have been preceded by periods when most people were scoffing at the idea that things could ever change. There was a time when the idea of a capitalist society would have been dismissed as a hopeless utopian dream. To a peasant living in feudal society, the idea of radical change would appear as hopeless as it may appear to you now. To them, feudalism would have appeared as eternal and unchanging and unchangeable as capitalism appears to us now. In Europe, when capitalism was relatively young, the idea of workers working an eight hour day with a weekend would have appeared hopelessly utopian. In the past in countries where everybody now has a vote, there was a time when the idea was scorned and violently opposed. So we're not too surprised that people find it difficult to take our ideas on board. of course. Yet, despite the many discouraging trends in the world, there are some encouraging signs, not least of which is the widespread disillusionment with previous false alternatives. Fewer and fewer people are bothering to vote in elections, for example, correctly realising that it will have little effect on their everyday lives at this stage even TUSC is facing difficulties due to this widespread apathy. We have the ability to change things if we act together. The power to transform society lies in the hands of those who create everything—the working class. This is the source of our power, should we eventually use it. The power not to make a few reforms, but to change the whole system, to make a social revolution.