Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

Socialism: An Alternative to Capitalism


The purpose of this article is to give in a brief and clear form the attitude of the Socialist Party of Great Britain towards understanding capitalism, the political means to abolish capitalism and the revolutionary political process necessary to establish Socialism.

All three strands are interrelated. The analysis of capitalism, the political means to abolish capitalism and the socialist object cannot be separated from each other. Analysis determines political means which informs the objective. Socialists are not just “anti-capitalists”. We are not interested in democracy as an abstraction or view Parliament as a benign institution. Nor do we consider Socialism as a utopia with no connection to the reality of capitalism.

The Principles of the Socialist Party of Great Britain describes capitalism as a class divided society based upon private property ownership of the world’s resources, class exploitation and more importantly the class struggle which is the motor force of history and social change.

The eight principles of the S.P.G.B. clearly state that:

• The world’s resources are owned by the capitalist class

• The working class live in wage slavery

• Social wealth is produced by the working class

• Within capitalism there is a conflict of interest between the capitalist class and the working class.

• The only way in which class conflict can be abolished is for the working class to be free from the capitalist class through the establishment of socialism

• The working class is singled out as the last class in human history to become free of class exploitation

• To obtain freedom from Capitalism is the sole responsibility of the working class.

• The armed forces and so on exist to protect private property ownership, class exploitation and class privilege.

• To achieve its freedom, the working class must organise consciously and politically to gain control of the machinery of government in order for Socialism to be possible

• All political parties who do not share the Party’s analysis, political means and socialist object are to be opposed.

• The Socialist Party of Great Britain enters the field of political action and calls upon the working class to join it to bring about Socialism as quickly as possible.

Consequently the Socialist case reflects the political interests of the working class. It is all or nothing. We do not compromise our Principles and we oppose all political parties and organisations who do not share them.

From the above the OBJECT of the Socialist Party of Great Britain becomes compelling:

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”.

For a member of the working class to understand capitalism is to simultaneously reject commodity production and exchange for profit and to become a class conscious socialist. This is what class consciousness or awareness means.

Once a worker realises that capitalism can never be made to work in the interest of all those who live on salaries and wages or those who are dependent on someone with an earned income then an alternative social system becomes a pressing and necessary political objective.

What of Socialist propaganda? Socialists have often said that the best propaganda is the truth. We do not have to create a case against capitalism. Capitalism creates a case against itself. Capitalism and its own political supporters, including the legions of social reformers, provide, on a daily basis, facts and figures against capitalism; its wars, poverty and unemployment.

These statistics provide socialists with factual evidence to support our argument that capitalism is the cause of the problems which face the working class today, that these social problems will remain while capitalism lasts and workers continue to vote for capitalist political parties, and that capitalism can never be made to work in the interest of the working class class.

Here are a few facts and figures, pulled from various sources at random:

• About 30 percent of the global work force –or roughly one billion people –are unemployed (International Labour Organisation quoted by the National Centre for Policy Analysis 2000).

• “Poverty is the main reason why babies are not vaccinated, why clean water and sanitation are not provided, why curative drugs and other treatments are unavailable and why mothers die in childbirth. It is the underlying cause of reduced life expectancy, handicap, disability and starvation. Poverty is a major contributor to mental illness, stress, suicide, family disintegration and substance abuse” (Richard Robbins: GLOBAL PROBLEMS AND THE CULTURE OF CAPITALISM)

• Estimates of the number of people with insufficient food range from 600 million to over a billion (loc. cit).

• 12.2 million children under 5 years die through starvation, lack of medicine, and unsanitary conditions (loc cit)

• There is enough food in the world to feed 120% of the world’s population but millions starve(loc cit)

• The latest figures from the World Health Organisation (June 2000) show that 1.2 billion people, a fifth of the world’s population, are living in officially defined poverty.

• Seventy per cent of the poor are female and there are twice as many women as men among the world’s 900 million illiterates.

• In sub-Saharan Africa, where a combination of Aids and poverty is ravaging the population, life expectancy is dropping back to levels akin to the Black Death, which afflicted Feudal society in the 14th century.

• A baby born in Sierra Leone in 1999 can expect to live 25.9 years in good health. And defenders of capitalism say that we live in the best of all possible worlds.

The United Nations have also provided the following statistics about the state of Capitalism at the beginning of the 21st century.

• The number of people currently expected to die from starvation: 900 million

• The number of children in the world dying each year from controllable illness: 12 million

• The number of people in the world that die each year of preventable social causes: 10 million.

• The number of children in world blinded yearly from lack of Vitamin A: 500 million.

• The number of women who die in childbirth in world: 650,000

• The UN estimate of yearly expenditure on war: $800 billion.

• Number of children in world that die by age 5 (yearly): 12 million.

If capitalism is the answer then it was a bloody stupid question. We do not live in the best of all possible worlds. There is an alternative to capitalism, the market, buying and selling and the profit motive. And that is the Socialist alternative advocated by the Socialist party of Great Britain; common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.

In these statistics we see clearly the absurdity and anti-social waste of capitalism. There is deliberate starvation when potentially enough food exists to feed the entire planet and there is the waste of unemployment where unused labour could be used to generate social wealth. The problems facing the working class like unemployment and poverty have persisted over the hundred years of the Party’s existence and show no sign of being resolved now, in 2004 than when the Party was first established in 1904.

Time and time again the facts have demolished the pretensions of politicians who believed they could create the impossible; capitalism without the effects of capitalism.

Here is Tony Blair in January, 1998:

The last government let poverty re-gain its hold on Britain, to an extent unseen since before the last War…we now face a task of reconstruction as intense as the one that faced the post-war Labour government and need an anti-poverty strategy of the same ambition and breadth”( NEW POLICY INSTITUTE 2004).

The New Labour Government boasted in 2000 that they would eradicate child poverty in twenty years time. Blair gave his word.

What happened? This is what happened. First, Labour’s claim to have taken one million children out of poverty since seizing power from the Conservatives was exposed as a sham. The findings published by the office for National Statistics showed that there were 3.2 million children in Britain living in official poverty-defined as households with below 60 percent of median income, after housing costs. By 2001, the total had only declined to 2.7 million (THE SCOTSMAN 12th April 2002).

And of course the claim that Labour will eradicate child poverty is quietly dropped. The timing of the Huntley murder trial was used by Blair to abandon his pledge to “eradicate” child poverty by 2020 after the government re-wrote its definition of low income (INDEPENDENT December 19th 2003).

We have not even had to draw upon Marx for an explanation of why capitalism causes poverty, exploitation and economic crises.

The case against capitalism and the case for socialism is so compelling surely we would have expected the working class to have established common ownership and democratic control of the means of production by all of society by now.

Unfortunately there is just as much confusion about capitalism as there is about socialism. Most of those defending capitalism do not understand what they claim to defend. Capitalism is as misunderstood as Socialism.

Most capitalists pursue profit but are totally unaware that it derives from surplus value. The process of capitalism, it’s law of motion from one economic crisis to the next is largely unknown. To understand capitalism you first have to read Marx. Few economists bother with Marx. They attribute to him ideas he never held but certainly do not study what he really had to say about capitalism.

There are some defenders of capitalism, -they are littered all over the internet from the Cato Institute in the US to the Adam Smith Institute in Britain, who argue that capitalism only exists when there is no State intervention in the economy. The absurd consequence of this idiotic reasoning is to believe that not only economic theories like Keynesianism are “socialist” but that any State involvement in the economy is “socialist”. Are we to believe that Gordon Brown’s bale out of Northern Rock or President Bush’s rush to prop up the mortgage banks Frannie Mac and Fannie Mae were “socialist”?

The mis-named Adam Smith Institute also rejects Smith’s belief that the burden of taxation falls on property owners as well as rejecting his primitive and crude theory of value. Logically, it is like someone claiming to be a supporter of Darwin but who then rejects his theory of evolution.

Likewise, defenders of State capitalism believe that “nationalisation” or the “Welfare State” are “socialist”. So when nationalisation is replaced by privatisation we are told that “socialism” is being replaced by capitalism. The Socialist Alliance and the Socialist Workers Party are in the forefront of defending public services from being privatised as though there was something “socialist” about State education, the NHS and Local Authority provision of second rate services to the working class. There isn’t. Education under capitalism is to provide for a future work force of exploitable wage-slaves. Health and social security a mean and niggardly set of reforms to ensure workers are repaired and returned to work as cheaply as possible.

A similar confusion lies with the so-called “collapse of communism”. The “Cold War” did not see the triumph of capitalism over communism. Nor was it a purely ideological battle. One British trade union leader thought the class struggle was an invention of the Soviet Union. Like all international conflicts between competing nation states the Cold war was about trade routes, spheres of influence and control of raw resources. Socialists were never interested in whether Russian capitalism was better or worse than American capitalism. Socialists opposed both.

The triumph of American capitalism has led to the myth that socialism/communism (they both mean the same thing) has been theoretically and practically discredited. This is not so. Common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society has never existed and does not exist today. Russia under the Bolsheviks, like Chinese and Cuban capitalism today, had the wages system, class exploitation, labour-power as a commodity, the production of surplus value and profit, trade on the world market and other features associated with capitalism.

A popular, but equally misleading view of capitalism is that it is all about stock markets and the buying and selling of shares. This is the view of free market fundamentalists who even wrote off President Truman’s New Deal of the 1930’s as “socialism” and the economic reforms of Lord Keynes as “socialist”. It was Truman’s New Deal that F. A. Hayek had in mind when he wrote his “ROAD TO SERFDOM” in 1945.

However, you can have capitalism without stock markets, as was the case in capitalism’s formative years, because the creation of social wealth takes place in production not on the stock exchange. Social wealth under capitalism takes place through the exploitation of the working class at the point of production and this can take place in Cuba as well as in Britain and in China as well as the in the US. What you cannot have, though, is capitalism without the State. The State is the Executive of the Bourgeoisie, as Marx stated in THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO. It protects the capitalist’s privilege and luxury.

Something should be said of the capitalist class. We have no moral criticism of the capitalist class. The Socialist case against capitalism is not a moral one and nor is it a censure of the greed, decadence and often boredom of how the capitalist class chooses to live their lives. An ascetic philanthropic capitalist who is kind and gentle to his employers exploits them economically just as if he were a ruthless wastrel.

Individuals are not responsible for social relations whose creatures they socially remain. Capitalists have to exploit workers under capitalism. The socialist case is against capitalism not particular capitalists or their political agents. As we are constantly reminded, Engels was a capitalist and part of his wealth subsidised Marx’s researches that produced CAPITAL. We deal with individuals in so far “as they are personifications of economic categories, embodiments of particular class-relations and class interests” (Marx Preface to CAPITAL VOLUME 1 Lawrence and Wishart 1974.

Not so the capitalist Left. Their propaganda is directed at managers-usually workers themselves-fat cat directors-not all of whom are capitalists but salaried employers, albeit well paid and the personalities found in capitalist politics, like Thatcher and Blair. It is quite remarkable that the image of the capitalist still found in Left Wing magazines is of a portly male capitalist with a top hat and bow tie.

That there is a capitalist class who own and controls the means of production is given to us by the FORBES MAGAZINE. Forbes’s “Rich List” is a celebration of the capitalist class, its wealth and its privilege. By the end of 2002 there were 476 dollar billionaires in the world and the net worth of the 222 of these billionaires who live in the US was $1.4 trillion. Ironically the Forbes’s family are in financially difficulties. The Forbes Magazine, the family’s main holding, has suffered a 50 per cent drop in advertising over three years and they are being forced to sell off nine Faberge Imperial Easter eggs from Tsarist Russia worth some $90.

Engels investment in Marx was money well spent. We owe a scientific understanding of Capitalism to Karl Marx. He did not set out to understand capitalism as a detached academic. Marx was foremost a Socialist revolutionary. He gave a scientific understanding of capitalism to further the class struggle towards Socialism. Marx, it should be noted, wrote for a reader capable of thinking for themselves.

Marx showed that capitalism has not always existed. Previous class systems existed before capitalism and were replaced through revolution by class struggle. The same will apply to capitalism. It too will have an end in class struggle. However, history does nothing by itself. The class struggle is the conscious and political action of the working class. Only the working class, by their own understanding and effort can abolish capitalism and replace it with Socialism.

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