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Socialist Studies Pamphlet: WHY DO WE NEED SOCIALISM?

Why do we need socialism? The reaction of many workers to this question will be to dismiss it as being of no concern of theirs. They are concerned, they say, with the company that employs them, with their chance of keeping their jobs or getting more pay.

They are mistaken. What happens to a particular company depends upon its ability to sell its products at a profit, which in turn depends on what happens in the economy as a whole – that is capitalism. Workers partially recognise that they have common interests with other workers by organising in trade unions. Socialists urge them in their own class interest, to take the further step of replacing capitalism with socialism.

Capitalism, the social system we live under today, is briefly described in our DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES:

Society as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living, (i.e. land, factories, railways, etc.,) by the capitalist or master class, and the consequent enslavement of the working class, by whose labour alone wealth is produced

Our OBJECT deals with socialism as we define it:

The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.

Unfortunately, and through no fault of their own, the terms “capitalism” and “socialism” have both become to be widely used to mean something quite different from what they mean to socialists.

The Labour and Tory parties have for many years, restricted the term capitalism to cover only part of the capitalist system, excluding from the definition the nationalised or state capitalist industries. In keeping with this unjustified limitation, both parties have chosen to call the state capitalist industries “socialism”.

This was not always so, for some of the leaders and founders of the Labour Party once took a different view. Sidney Webb, later to become a Minister in Labour governments, signed THE MANIFESTO OF ENGLISH SOCIALISTS (1893) which contained this declaration:

On this point all socialists agree. Our aim, one and all, is to obtain for the whole community complete ownership and control of the means of transport, the means of manufacture, the mines and the land. Thus we look to put an end for ever to the wages system, to sweep away all distinctions of class, and eventually to establish National and International Communism on a sound basis

In 1907, Kier Hardie the “father of the Labour Party”, and its first champion, justified nationalisation, not as an end for itself, but on the grounds that: “it will prepare the way for free communism…in which the rule of life will be ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs’”. In saying this, he was, as he said, claiming the Labour Party to be “Marxist”.

The Tory Party has been equally inconsistent. Nowadays they say that nationalisation is socialism They did not say that in 1844, when they passed the first Act giving the government power to nationalise the railways, or when Tory governments nationalised the postal, telegraph and telephone services, or when they set up the Central Electricity Board and the BBC. Their claim, when they did these things, was that those were measures undertaken in the interests of capitalism.

The Tories have a special problem with their idolised leader, Winston Churchill, for during the greater part of his political life, he was a supporter of nationalisation and, in their misuse of language, there must have been a “socialist”. Churchill was a Minister in the Liberal government, before 1914, which introduced pensions and other “welfare” benefits for workers, copying the German system introduced by Bismarck, an opponent of Socialism. In 1943, when he was prime minister, he declared:

There is a broadening field for state ownership and enterprise, especially in relation to monopolies

Karl Marx spent a large part of his life studying the historical developments which produced the social system we now know as capitalism. He identified what distinguishes it from earlier social systems, and described how capitalism came into being with the forcible removal of the peasants from the land, turning them into a propertyless class – wage earners producing profits for the owners of capital.

In his analysis, Marx set out the conditions necessary for the rise of the capitalist system of society: - a peasantry forced off the land and compelled therefore to seek employment; an owning class possessing land and money; the prevailing arrangement being the production of “commodities” (the products of industry not directly produced for use but for sale on the market), and the dispossessed class being wage workers as opposed to peasants or serfs.

Marx showed that the essential distinctive characteristic of capitalism is not the exploitation of one class by another, or riches and poverty, (both existed when there was slavery and in the feudal system). The hallmark of capitalism is commodity production and exchange for profit as the prevailing system, where the social wealth is produced by a class of wage earners. So the opening paragraph of Marx’s CAPITAL (vol. 1) begins with the words:

The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails, presents itself as “an immense accumulation of commodities”

In line with this, Marx’s aim of replacing capitalism with socialism involved, not only the dispossession of the owning class but the ending of production for sale. It was put by Marx and Engels in THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO as “the abolition of buying and selling”. Engels said: “With the seizure of the means of production by society, production of commodities is done away with”. Marx also showed, historically, in all forms of society, the way in which the products of industry are divided among the different classes is determined by the existing mode of production itself.

In socialist society, with production directly and solely for use and the consequent disappearance of the money system, the wages system and incomes from the ownership of property, all members of society will have free access to what is produced. It follows that Socialism will be democratic or it would not be Socialism: there is no way a Socialist society could function if it were not democratic.

Of course socialism as we define it does not exist anywhere in the world today. Such “socialist” countries as China and Cuba are merely examples of state capitalist countries which use the “socialist” tag purely on the grounds of the dictatorship of the Communist Party leadership and nationalised industries. The recent financial and property crisis in China has not seen Chinese bankers and economists reaching for CAPITAL but going to bourgeois economic text books and theories. The recently elected government in France will certainly not establish socialism although the governing party goes under that name. The same applies to the “socialism” of Jeremy Corbyn if he becomes Labour Leader and wins the next election. He shares with the 1844 Tory government under Sir Robert Peel, the policy of nationalising the railways. These claims to be socialist are totally without foundation.

In all the countries of the world there is a wage earning class which is divorced from the means of production, getting its living by being employees of the companies and government which own and control society’s means of production and distribution. In all the countries of the world there are inequalities of wealth and income, along with commodity production and exchange for profit

Everywhere the profits of the capitalist system of production derive entirely from the unpaid labour of the working class. Each day our class works for the employers we get paid only a part of what we produce: their profits can only come from our unpaid labour. Each day we work for them we make them richer. But our wages, commissions and salaries are carefully calculated in relation to just the basic cost of living, plus a bit more for those with skills. For the most part we are lucky if we can get the employers to pay enough to cover our basic needs.

That is the reason we argue for socialism: the capitalist system is not in the interests of us, the working class – 99% of the population. The only way this system can work is through our exploitation through the wages system, and no amount of reforming it can change this fact.

In seeking to abolish capitalism and replace it with socialism, the appeal of socialists is to the working class of the world. It is in the common interest of the working class to bring about this revolutionary change, democratically, through a political movement whose sole aim is socialism.

Socialist Studies, P O Box 70259, London N4 9DS



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