Friday, 8 February 2013
How could a socialist society meet people’s needs?
People often wonder how could a socialist society work and would it work. I’m told constantly there is too much greed in society for socialism to ever work. We do live under capitalism a system based on greed for a few by their blind drive for greater profits. But how could production of the things we need and want be different under socialism surely this couldn’t work? I think it could and I’m not utopian I’m a revolutionary who doesn’t just see things as they are now but as a constant process things constantly changing and developing at different rates. In the 300 years or so of its existence capitalism has transformed the planet over and over again. Rail, electricity, the internal combustion engine, flight, space travel, telephones and electronic computers, the list is endless. The world economy is 17 times the size it was a century ago. In 1900 there were only a few thousand cars worldwide. Now there are 501 million. + Despite this, all the technology developed by capitalism has not provided clean water for 1.2 billion people or food for the 841 million who are seriously malnourished. Nor has it prevented the Aids epidemic rampaging through Africa. Upwards of 28 million Africans have the HIV virus and only 30,000 of them can get treatment. Capitalism is capable of spending billions on developing weaponry that is used to bomb the poor of Afghanistan into the rubble, but it cannot solve poverty, hunger or disease. So our alternative is socialism. A socialist economy would have to be a planned economy. This would involve bringing all of the big corporations, which control around 80% of the British economy, into democratic public ownership, under working-class control. Of course, it would not mean bringing small businesses, such as the local shops, many of which are forced out of business by the multinationals, into public ownership. Nor would it mean, as opponents of socialism claim, taking away personal ‘private property’. On the contrary, socialists are in favour of everyone having the right to a decent home and the other conveniences of modern life. A genuine socialist government would not be dictatorial. On the contrary, it would extend and deepen democracy enormously. This would be much more far-reaching than the parliamentary democracies of capitalism where we simply get to vote every few years for MPs who do whatever they like once elected. Instead, everyone would get to take part in deciding how society and the economy would be run. Nationally, regionally and locally – at every level - elected representatives would be accountable and subject to instant recall. Therefore, if the people who had elected them did not like what their representative did, they could make them stand for immediate re-election and, if they wished, replace them with someone else. Elected representatives would also only receive the average wage. Today MPs are a privileged section of society. Their lives are remote from those of ordinary people. This is no accident. From the earliest days of the Labour Party, the ruling class tried to buy-off socialist MPs. Its method is usually subtler than brown envelopes of cash: it is a high salary, a very comfortable lifestyle and the drip, drip of ceaseless flattery about how 'sensible' and 'wise' it is to be 'moderate' and 'realistic'. The result has been that countless numbers of MPs have decided that the best way to emancipate the working class is one by one – starting with them. That is why members of the Socialist Party who become MPs will only take the average wage of a skilled worker. In the 1980s, three MPs (Dave Nellist, Terry Fields and Pat Wall) were elected as Labour MPs on the policies of Militant (the Socialist Party’s predecessor). All took a worker’s wage. Today Joe Higgins, a TD (MP) in the Irish parliament, and a member of our sister organisation in Ireland, takes a worker’s wage and has been described by the tabloid press as "the red that money can’t buy". A socialist government would ensure that no elected representatives received financial privileges as a result of their position but, instead, lived the same lifestyle as those they represented. There is another crucial sense in which democracy would be far fuller in a socialist society. Under capitalism most of the important decisions are not taken in Westminster or local council chambers, they are taken in the boardrooms of the big corporations. By contrast, a socialist government would bring major industry into democratic public ownership. It would be necessary to draw up a plan, involving the whole of society, on what industry needed to produce. At every level, in communities and workplaces, committees would be set up and would elect representatives to regional and national government – again on the basis of recall at anytime if they disagreed with their decisions. Everybody would be able to participate in real decision-making about how best to run society. Many people will argue that this is utopian, that people would not be bothered to participate in such bodies. Yet in every mass struggle - from the Paris Commune of 1871 onwards - the embryos of this type of structure have come into existence. In Britain during the struggle to defeat the poll tax, when 18 million refused to pay the iniquitous tax, hundreds of thousands of people took part in meetings to plan the campaign. While the anti-poll tax unions were only temporary bodies, organised to fight against a single Tory attack, they nonetheless give a glimpse of working people’s capacity to organise. Even today, thousands of working-class people attend their tenants’ associations and other community meetings. And organisations in a workers’ state would be completely different to the toothless bodies that working-class people are currently allowed to take part in - the committees would actually have the power to say how the economy and society is organised. In addition, for a planned economy to work, it would be vital that the working class had the time to take part in the running of society. Therefore, measures such as a shorter working week and decent, affordable childcare would be a prerequisite for society to develop towards socialism. Another argument against a planned economy is that society is now too complicated to be planned. Some people argue that, in the past, when the majority of people's aspirations were more limited, it may have been possible to plan an economy. But that today, when people want washing machines, videos and fashionable clothes, they claim planning just would not work. Yet modern technology would, in reality, make planning far easier than it was in the past. In addition, it would use modern technology to limit the number of hours it was necessary to work. A socialist government could immediately introduce a maximum 35-hour week, with no loss of pay. Capitalism’s remorseless drive for profit means that new technology has been used, not to shorten the working week, but to throw workers on the scrap heap. "We are living in a world of glut, we have too much of everything from grain to cars." This is the real lunacy of capitalism. We have too much grain - which means more than can be sold at a profit - yet in Africa 20 million people are starving. A socialist government would harness technology to lower the number of hours it is necessary to work. This would give working-class people more time to participate in running society. Combined with a massive programme of socially necessary projects - such as increasing the numbers of teachers, doctors and nurses - unemployment could be eliminated. Private ownership of the means of production results in constant duplication. Companies fiercely compete to produce a certain product first and best. Socialism would eliminate this and thereby save a huge amount of resources. There would also be no need for marketing, on which capitalism spends $1 trillion a year. This does not mean, as is commonly claimed, that socialism would result in a lack of choice or poor quality goods: a society where everyone dresses in a grey uniform. It would be possible to have far more choice of the things which people desire to have a variety of (such as clothes, music, holidays etc) than under capitalism. However, society might choose not to have 200 brands of washing powder. All in all a socialist society would run by the mass’s for the mass’s with not just the wealth being shared out as we as socialists do not support sharing out the misery but owning the means of production to produce for peoples needs not profits of a few. With extracts taken from the socialist party’s excellent pamphlet what is socialism http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/WhatIsSocFrame.htm