Why socialism? Part 1
Why Socialism? Why do we need to establish socialism? Why do we want to replace world capitalism with world socialism?
And the socialism we are talking about is the absence of buying and selling, the absence of the price mechanism and markets and the absence of an "economic order". And it would mean the common ownership and democratic control of the means and production and distribution by all of society.
In a debate on what is meant by socialism, the philosopher Bertell Ollman asked the question as to what an alternative to capitalism would look like. He wrote:
"Margaret Thatcher's words, "There is no alternative", are now found on millions of lips the world over. People who believe this will put up with almost any degree of suffering. Why bother to struggle for a change that cannot be? The collapse of the Soviet Union seems to have reinforced this view, oddly enough, even among many on the Left who never considered the Soviet Union a model of anything"
He went on to say:
"In this historical setting, those of us who believe that a qualitatively superior alternative is possible must give top priority to explaining and portraying what this is, so that people will have a good reason for choosing one path into the future rather than another. Developing our criticisms of capitalism is simply not enough, if it ever was. Now, more than ever, socialists must devote more of our attention to-socialism
(Market Socialism: the Debate among Socialists p. 1, 1998).
Ollman was debating against the use of the fashionable term "market socialism". However a term like "market socialism" is absurd. It is an oxymoron. Where there is socialism there is no market and where there is a market there is no socialism. It was not a debate among socialists but a debate about a form of capitalism now that nationalisation or state capitalism has been discredited. Socialism will be a marketless and wageless society in which production and distribution will take place directly to meet human need.
Ollman suggests we must devote "more of attention to - socialism". Well, socialists have been devoting our attention to socialism for a long time. In fact the necessity for socialism comes out of our analysis and criticism of capitalism. There has first to be a criticism of capitalism. Workers must understand how they are exploited as a class and why their needs are not met by the profit system. The socialist conclusion cannot be divorced from why capitalism fails the working class.
Ollman states that "People need to have a good reason for wanting to replace capitalism with socialism". That's because they are rational. It is rational to engage in struggles to change what can be changed, and it's rational to refrain from struggling against what cannot be changed.
I struggle to diet. It is rational for me to lose weight. It is good for my health. I am struggling against something that can be changed. What cannot be changed is that I am now nearer in age to death than I was when I was born. I struggle physically with getting older. But the physical entity that is me cannot be changed. I will eventually die. Within fifty years I will be forgotten like millions of others. We come and go. We are born and die. That is being human. And we can do nothing about it.
The same reasoning can apply to social systems. We have to produce to survive. To produce goods and services means we can produce and reproduce ourselves as human beings. We do not have an alternative. To be unable to produce and to produce enough on a daily, monthly and yearly basis means starvation and death.
However, we can change social systems. Social systems come and go. Social systems are not a natural state of affairs. Production can be developed and what can be produced increased qualitvely and quantively. And the way people relate to each other and to the means for producing goods and services can also be changed.
Under capitalism, workers are employed by employers to operate machinery and work with raw materials owned by their employers, on premises owned by their employers, and under conditions dictated by those employers, And the whole purpose of this labour is to enrich their employers while only providing enough for the wage-slave workforce to live on and reproduce itself. This is a system which is not in our interests as it means continued exploitation.
If human nature means anything, it is that we can change our circumstances and in doing so change ourselves. We can change social systems but only under certain conditions.
Capitalism has the potential to end poverty; its potential is contained within the forces of production including social and co-operative labour. Capitalism, Marx noted, acts as a "fetter" on production which the establishment of socialism will release to meet the needs of all society. We do have an alternative. We can consciously and politically struggle to democratically replace capitalism with socialism.
What also can be changed is how we look at history and what we are told about the past. We can look at mistakes and the claims of other political organisations, like the Labour Party, who believe capitalism can be regulated or reformed to meet the need of all society. And we can say that capitalism cannot be made to work in the interest of all society and that social reformism is futile. And we can bring evidence to support our claim.
We can look at two centuries of social reformism and its failure to end poverty, war and unemployment. And we can show how and why social reforms failed to meet the needs of all society. More importantly we can show how and why capitalism also cannot meet these needs and is in fact the problem we face.
Take the following as an example.
On 20 July 1946 the late Aneurin Bevan claimed in a speech at Durham that:
"when the next election occurs there will be no housing problem in Great Britain for the British working class"
(Hansard, 14 July 1948, Col. 1202).
And four years later the Labour Party stated that:
"...destitution has been abolished"
(Labour and the New Society, 1950, page 5)
Yet the housing problem still exists in 2020 with millions not able to buy or rent decent housing. And tens of thousands of workers are forced to use food banks in one of the wealthiest countries in the world.
Shelter estimate that three million new homes have to be built over the next 20 years to "solve" the housing crisis (BBC NEWS 8th January 2019). The charity estimates 277,000 people are homeless in England, most commonly because they have lost their privately rented homes.
The housing crisis affects people of all generations and in all parts of the country. They face a wide range of issues, from homelessness and serious debt to overcrowding and ill health.
As for food, The Trussell Trust's food bank network provided 823,145 emergency food parcels to people in crisis between April and September 2019, a 23% increase on the same period in 2018.
Why wait that long? What is stopping the houses being built now? There is no reason why enough decent houses for all should not be built or enough food produced so everyone can eat well and we dot go hungry.
The building materials exist; so do the building workers, architects and engineers. The land exists, so do the crops and farmers.
What then, stands in the way of decent housing and adequate food? The simple fact is that there is not a market for decent housing and adequate food for everyone. Most workers cannot afford to pay for them, and never will because of the restrictions and rationing of the wages system.
Not having decent housing or enough food is an aspect of the poverty of being working class and the profit priorities of the capitalist class who own and control the means of production and distribution as private profit.
We do not have to produce blue prints of a future socialist society. Socialism is necessary because of the failure of capitalism and the futility of social reforms.
Socialism is still an alternative to Capitalism. And that is something that should be on the lips of millions of workers.
Object and Declaration of Principles
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.
Declaration of Principles
THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN HOLDS:
1. That society as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living (ie 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.
2. That in society, therefore, there is an antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a class struggle, between those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess.
3.That this antagonism can be abolished only by the emancipation of the working class from the domination of the master class, by the conversion into common property of society of the means of production and distribution, and their democratic control by the whole people.
4. That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom, the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.
5. That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself.
6. That as the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, exists only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers, the working class must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that this machinery, including these forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege, aristocratic and plutocratic.
7. That as all political parties are but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class, the party seeking working class emancipation must be hostile to every other party.
8. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, therefore, enters the field of political action determined to wage war against all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist, and calls upon the members of the working class of this country to muster under its banner to the end that a speedy termination may be wrought to the system which deprives them of the fruits of their labour, and that poverty may give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom.