Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

The Tyranny of TINA

The Socialist Alternative to Capitalism

Is there an alternative to capitalism? From Margaret Thatcher to Tony Blair and Bill Clinton we have been told in no uncertain terms that there is no alternative to the market, to buying and selling and to the wages system. More recently, such pessimism has been discussed by the late Mark Fisher in his book CAPITALIST REALISM: IS THERE NO ALTERNATIVE (2009). Capitalist realism, loosely defined, is the belief that capitalism is the only viable economic system with there being no imaginable alternatives. Capitalism is all we have. If that is the case then it must have been a bloody stupid question.

Is the dogmatic assertion that there is no alternative to capitalism true? Of course not. It is wishful thinking on behalf of rabid free market anarchists with their minds polluted by Austrian school economics found at the Mises web site or at some other market fundamentalist outfit. Even though there is a socialist alternative to capitalism, it is ignored by economists and politicians in preference to highlighting the failure of state capitalism or the discredited policies of the Labour Party and its imitators elsewhere in the world. Socialism does not get a look- in. Socialism is a viable and practical alternative to the profit system. The case for socialism remains sound and valid.

A mis-placed Pessimism

Since the collapse of state capitalism in Eastern Europe there has been a marked pessimism about an alternative to capitalism. The literary theorist Fredric Jameson observed in 1994 that "it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism (NEW STATESMAN 27 June 2017). The working class were written off as agents of revolutionary change.

Workers were seen as permanently tied to the consumer fantasy world of the advertising industry, seduced by nationalism and religion and satisfied by second best. However, it is easy to belittle our class much harder to propose other forms of agency - like the dead-end politics of direct action, co-operatives, vanguardism and identity politics. To write-off the working class and its unique interest in abolishing capitalism and establishing socialism means to write-off the means for revolutionary change.

And workers have struggled. Workers, under difficult conditions not of their making, have established trade unions, become socialists and established socialist parties. Workers now run capitalism from top to bottom albeit not in their interests. The formation of a socialist majority is still feasible and is still necessary. Socialists have held a commendable line against nationalism, religion, war and reformism. And socialists retain the optimism of Marx and Engels that only the working class can free itself from capitalism. No one else can do it for them.

Post-Capitalism

And if the working class have problems about class consciousness and political action that is nothing compared to the problems capitalism causes to their lives. Exploited at the point of production, forced to live in poverty, fear of unemployment, compelled to compete on the labour market and generally live lives of mediocrity, vulnerability and unpredictability.

The euphoria that met the fall of the Berlin Wall did not last long. The "End of History" and the "New World Order" came and went. By the turn of the Twenty-First Century there were wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and then came the financial crash of 2008. Wars have continued throughout the 21st century, in Yemen, Syria, Russia and the Ukraine. Marx returned, although he never went away, no longer suffocated by Lenin and Soviet Russia

Since 2008 and the world economic crisis there has been a search for alternatives. These have been under the rubric of "post-capitalism". Writers like Paul Mason (POST-CAPITALISM, 2015), Aron Bastani (FULLY AUTOMATED LUXURY COMMUNISM, 2018) and Eric Olin Wright (HOW TO BE AN ANTICAPITALIST IN THE 21ST CENTURY, 2019) have all claimed that capitalism is on the verge of radical transformation by the introduction of technology and information systems. Yet the world of "post-capitalism" is not socialism. Markets, money, wage-labour, buying and selling still remain in visions of post-capitalism; so they are really not "post-capitalist" at all: merely a rhetorical linguistic trick.

And we do have the imagination to conceive of a socialist alternative to capitalism. The socialist alternative to capitalism is a world-wide social system without commodity production and exchange for profit, no labour markets, no buying and selling of labour power, no artificial national boundaries, no wages system, no money and no coercive state. Instead there will be production solely for use by free and voluntary labour, directly to meet human need. A society based on the socialist principle: "from each according to ability to each according to need".

The Socialist Alternative to Capitalism

The dogma "there is no alternative" (TINA) loses its force when capitalism is considered historically. Capitalism has an origin, a historical existence and a potential termination in class struggle. The class struggle exists on a daily basis between the capitalist class who monopolise the means of production and distribution and the excluded working class majority. The class struggle over the intensity and extent of class exploitation is really a political struggle over the ownership of the means of production and distribution. The class struggle shows that there is a revolutionary alternative (TIARA). And the class to make history is the world's working class.

Marx warned the capitalist class in the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO into falsely believing capitalism had everlasting life:

The selfish misconception that induces you to transform into eternal laws of nature and reason, the social forms springing from your present mode of production and forms of property - historical relations that rise and disappear in the progress of production - this misconception you share with every ruling class that has proceeded you (COMMUNIST MANIFESTO. Penguin Books, 2002 p. 239)

The quotation is taken from the 2017 Penguin edition of THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO. This edition was for some time in the top ten of the paperback books section of the SUNDAY TIMES much to the distress of the newspaper proprietor and its editor. Media Barons, like Murdoch, spend millions of pounds on propaganda and in paying large six-figure salaries to buy journalists to defend their class interest. These political streetwalkers hack away at any opposition to capitalism but still cannot prevent THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO finding its way into Murdoch's media empire to spread its revolutionary sedition amongst the readership.

Why do Marx and his writings inspire so much fear among the capitalist class and its paid supporters? Why spend the money? If there is no alternative to capitalism why are people still reading the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO? If capitalism is all there is; a historical full-stop, why the continued dissent, the questioning and the looking for an answer to how we should and could live beyond the market, beyond buying and selling and beyond the wages system? What the capitalist class fears most is the socialist alternative: the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.

The reason for wanting an alternative to capitalism cannot be explained by idle dreaming of starry-eyed idealists. Socialists are not utopians. Seemingly intractable social problems such as poverty, war, social alienation and environmental pollution call for a revolutionary solution which social reforms cannot deliver. For 200 years and more the statute books have been filled with social reforms enacted to eradicate entrenched social problems facing our class but they have been merely futile and a failure.

There are still wars and conflict in the world, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen to name but a few. There are migration drifts of tens of thousands of people fleeing from civil wars and drought but being met with barbed wire, armed guards and concentration camps. This is the callous response of capitalist governments serving the interest of the capitalist class. And now there are the immanent consequences of Global Warming and the very real threat to the biosphere.

Why Is Marx Still Popular?

And why is Marx still so popular when we were told that the collapse of the Soviet Union ended his revolutionary ideas for good? Is it not the reason that Marx did understand capitalism only too well and many of the predictions he made in the mid-19th century have become reality, notably an integrated world capitalist system with all its misery and pain.

The oft-repeated phrase "There is no alternative" (TINA) is nothing more than a reactionary and conservative doctrine of the political idiot. Such a statement can be considered as the lowest form of thought and the highest form of ignorance, one shared by politicians and journalists across the capitalist political spectrum.

In ancient Athens an "idiot" was someone who pursued private and self-centred interests to the exclusion of the social well-being of society. This just about sums up those who are in the pay of Lord Rothermere, the Barclay Brothers, Rupert Murdoch and the Russian Oligarch, Alexander Lebedev.

Unlike capitalism, socialism will allow free men and women to take an active role in the democratic affairs of society rather than people being led by political leaders. Socialism will be a free association of humanity living together in co-operative harmony.

The class struggle might be an ugly phrase but it is a constant feature of a capitalist social system scarred by the intensity and extent of exploitation. The capitalist class are not the wealth creators. In its strict sense social wealth is produced by the working class although nature is also a source of wealth. However, under capitalism workers not only produce social wealth but value. And workers produce more value than they receive in wages and salaries.

What Marx called "surplus value" is the source of the capitalist's profit. And around the extraction of surplus value from the working class by the capitalist class, the class struggle rotates and spirals out into history. Not just an economic struggle. Marx also stressed that the class struggle is a political struggle; a struggle over the ownership of the means of production and distribution.

And this political struggle introduces into the equation the machinery of government and what Marx called "The executive of the bourgeoisie". Capitalists can only exploit workers because the machinery of government, including the armed forces, protects the private ownership of the means of production and distribution. A socialist majority has to democratically capture the machinery of government in order to establish socialism.

Socialism is not pre-ordained

What about the charge of "historicism" - the belief that history has a preordained pattern - which is often levelled at Marx by the likes of the late Professor Karl Popper (THE OPEN SOCIETY AND ITS ENEMIES and HISTORICISM)? Popper stated that historicism was the view that there existed "inexorable laws of historical destiny" Did Marx view history as having a purpose or a preordained pattern?

Marx did not give history a purpose. His theory of history was Eurocentric and not applicable everywhere. In the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO, he even looked at the possibility of the ruination of the contending classes. Global warming and the environmental crisis might have profound effects for future humanity. Socialism is not certain.

History, as Marx stressed in THE HOLY FAMILY, does nothing. There is no fatalism or determinism involved in the struggle by workers to establish a socialist society. Socialism is made by hard repetitive work persuading workers to become socialists. History is made by the actions of men and women.

Human history is changed by people not by fate and external forces. There is no key to history. We cannot just sit around and wait for socialism to happen. World Socialism requires an active, conscious and political socialist movement. The establishment requires a socialist majority taking hold of the machinery of government. And it requires political commitment and unity.

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