Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

Why socialism? Part 2

Explaining and imagining socialism

Workers who come across socialist ideas for the first time believe they are "utopian" and "unrealisable". We are criticised for "wanting the clock to chime thirteen", as the leader of the Social Democratic Federation, H.H. Hyndman, apparently once declared against the 19th century "Impossibilists". The "impossibilists" Hyndman had in his sights went on to establish the Socialist Party of Great Britain, in 1904.

Unlike other political parties we have set ourselves a hard task. We insist on first convincing the workers, the world’s working class, of the need for socialism. Without a majority of socialists there can be no socialism. It is a repetitive and time-consuming effort. We have only a pittance to spend on the truth while our political enemies have millions to spend on their lies.

Besides having to face avowed supporters of capitalism like the Tories, we have to deal with the Labour Party, the Greens, Counterfire, SWP, the Socialist Party and others. They want the support of the working class for their own anti-working class ends, not for the establishment of socialism. Socialists reject leadership as a political concept, a concept associated with capitalism and capitalist political parties. A democratic socialist party does not have leaders and the led and neither will socialism. Workers have to think for themselves and stand on their own two feet if they are to establish revolutionary change and administer a social system democratically and voluntarily.

Our critics on the capitalist left reject our insistence that workers must organise as socialists in order to end capitalism. They claim workers want "something now". This "something now" is usually some social reform or another. The Labour Party, for example, offers a menu of social reforms, particularly at elections. At the last general election they offered so many social reforms that the working class ended up not believing them - there is no such thing as "magic money trees" and "infinite social reforms" planning away the problems of capitalism. Instead workers voted for the more openly capitalism supporting Tories.

What of the question of social reforms and socialist revolution? Socialists do not put reforms in our electoral programmes to gain working class support. We have described social reformism as futile. Social reformism has never changed the basis of capitalism leaving class exploitation intact. Social reforms have never brought socialism any closer. Nor have the problems of poverty, war and unemployment been resolved. And after umpteen different reforms, working class housing remains an insoluble problem. We are for social revolution not social reform. Social reforms we leave to the capitalist left and their ugly street politics.

The capitalist left do not think workers are cut out for socialism. Unlike socialists the capitalist left believe workers should be led and regimented to pursue social reforms, not socialism. They want workers to be hot and angry, to lash out rather than think with cool heads. Workers are forced to face their circumstances "with sober senses". We tell workers that the only "something now" is socialism otherwise their social problems will be carried on from one generation to the next. Establishing socialism now is vitally important. Our lives and those of our children and grandchildren depend upon it.

Our object is socialism and only socialism.

Contrasting capitalism with socialism

Socialists are not content to wait for socialism. We actively pursue socialism to the best of our ability. However, socialism cannot be established by a minority. The establishment of socialism must be the democratic and political act of a majority of workers who are consciously socialist.

We live and are exploited under capitalism because the majority of workers give their support to the profit system - to capitalist political parties and their leaders. The work of a socialist is to encourage the spread of discontent with capitalism and to persuade workers that there is an alternative to it.

Explaining the case for socialism to non-socialists is not easy. One way is to contrast the essential features of socialism with capitalism. We can diagnose the problems caused by capitalism with some forensic precision. And we can contrast these debilitating problems, like war, poverty and unemployment, with socialism, a social system in which they are absent. Socialism, for example, will be like capitalism a globally integrated social system, but the basis of production and distribution will be directly to meet human needs not profit.

We must expose and highlight the failures of the capitalist political parties, And because the workers' support for capitalism is so deep and widespread, we have to spend an inordinate amount of time criticising the profit system and show it needs to be replaced by socialism.

And the problems facing the working class will not go away. They remain an exploited class producing more social wealth for employers than they receive in wages and salaries. Each day they take part in a class struggle over the intensity and extent of class exploitation. This class struggle goes on whether workers are aware of it or not and whether politicians want it to stop and go away.

As capitalism came into being historically as a result of class struggle, with the emergence of a new class, it can only be ended by class struggle. The important question is how to end the class struggle. We say that it has to be ended politically by a working class majority. It can be nothing less.

To create a classless society of free men and women requires democratic political action by a socialist majority. It requires a principled socialist party who can send delegates to parliament to get hold of the machinery of government, including the armed forces. Socialism can only be brought about democratically by a socialist working class majority.

We do not know when the working class will establish socialism. We cannot guarantee they ever will. Workers might collapse into mass political mediocrity, bought off with a bread and circus diet of commercial sport, pop music and "celebrities". Capitalism might destroy itself and the world we live in through environmental degradation or nuclear holocaust. Yet we campaign, day-in and day-out, on the basis that it is in the interest of workers to become socialists and establish socialism. After all, if we became socialists, - there is no reason why other workers cannot become socialists.

Capitalism is not a natural system but a social one. Capitalism replaced feudalism, simplifying class and class relations. Capitalism is a class society in which the means of living, such as land, factories, oil-fields, etc., are owned individually or collectively by the capitalist class, whereas socialism will be a classless society. In capitalism, labour is coerced while in socialism social labour will be cooperative and voluntary.

Capitalism is also an integrated global system of commodity production and exchange for profit. And capitalism is based on the private ownership of the means of production and distribution by a minority capitalist class to the exclusion of the working class majority. Socialism also will be a globally integrated system, but production and distribution will be under common ownership and democratic control by all of society.

Furthermore, we can show that the capitalist class and the working class are locked in a diametrically opposed class struggle over the intensity and extent of class exploitation. Class exploitation is a necessary feature of capitalism. The working class produce all the social wealth in society but receive only a fraction of that wealth in wages and salaries. An unearned surplus is taken by the capitalist class as profit to re-invest to make more profit. Capitalists might lead lives of luxury but under competition they are forced to re-invest.

Workers are forced to work because the means of production and distribution are protected by the machinery of government. Under capitalism we cannot have direct access to what we need to live on or to produce directly for the good of all society. The coercive forces of the state prevent us. We have to enter the labour market to sell our ability to work as a commodity in exchange for a wage or salary.

And capitalism causes all the problems workers face: poverty, war and unemployment. In contradistinction to these inherent problems created by capitalism, socialism will produce at the level of abundance thereby ending hunger and inadequate housing, there will be no markets and competition, no borders, no countries, and no war and conflict. In a world without money, the economic laws which bear on commodity production and exchange for profit will not be there to generate the trade cycle with its bankruptcies and high levels of unemployment.

So capitalism can be described with some accuracy. What about the socialist alternative?

We cannot offer a detailed description of socialism. We can only give an outline based on socialist principles and a socialist object. We can offer a sketch of socialism not its details. A more detailed plan and organisation will be for future socialists to decide. We ask workers to use their imagination. Imagine an alternative to capitalism. As Ursula K, Le Guin once said: "The imagination is considered dangerous and of course, it is. The Imagination is truly the enemy of bigotry and dogma"

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