Sunday, October 14, 2012

What is socialism?

There are no supreme saviors,
Neither God, nor Caesar nor tribune;
Producers, let us save ourselves,

The International

Capitalism, as its name suggests, is quite simply, the system of capital.  Its sole purpose is the accumulation of capital through the exploitation of human labour.  It is a system that accumulates capital in one phase simply so that it can accumulate still more capital in the next phase -- always on a larger scale. Capitalism requires unlimited economic growth. It cannot stand still. The capitalists task is to expand their profits, capital, wealth. Corporations are machines for accumulation. It is as simple as that. 

Capitalism is also a system of periodic crises. Capitalism has a tendency to break down. The fact that production is organised not to satisfy human needs but to make profits for the capitalist class is the ultimate cause of the system's recurrent crises. The alternative is a real socialism in which workers replace production for profit with production to fulfill human needs and create a society with democratic control over workplaces and society as a whole. We need an ecological and social revolution.  We have all the technologies necessary to do this.  It is not primarily a technological problem, because the goal here would no longer be the impossible one of expanding our exploitation of the earth beyond all physical and biological limits, ad infinitum.  Rather the goal would be to promote human community with the earth.

Few words can have suffered as much as "Socialism". There have been countless claims for having implemented Socialism. If Socialism as a word is to have any meaning, by its nature it must be a precise one. Contrary to a widespread, but wrong idea, socialism is not a transitional society preparatory to communism. Socialism for Marx is communism (including the two stages). Marx called  post-capitalist society identically and indifferently, communism, socialism, republic of labor, cooperative society, union of free individuals, society of free and associated producers, or simply association - all equivalent terms for the same society.

The victorious outcome of the workers’ self-emancipatory revolution is the socialist society. A socialist revolution is according to Marx, the “dissolution of the old society” It is not the so-called `seizure of power' by the oppressed, least of all by a political party in the latter's name. There is also no political power, no state, and so no “workers’ state” in the new society. InMarx already wrote in the 1840s that the “proletariat can and must liberate itself  and that “the consciousness of a profound revolution, the communist consciousness, arises from this class (itself)” As Engels  summed up Marx's ideas: “For the final victory of the ideas laid down in the Manifesto Marx counted only and singularly (einzig und allein) on the intellectual development of the working class as it necessarily had to come out of the united action and discussion"

So what is Socialism? Simply stated the means of production would be held in common, with people giving voluntarily to that society whatever they were able and taking that they required to satisfy their self defined needs. The productive forces in such a society would be so developed to meet those needs, liberated from the restrictive necessity to accrue surplus value, profit. It is not enough to take productive property into state ownership, for this merely transfers property from private to public control. The essential relationship between that property and the actual producers, the workers, remains unaltered.

  A productive enterprise transforms raw materials into saleable commodities: trees into furniture, for instance. In simplistic terms, the raw material arrives at the entrance to a factory, undergoes various processes throughout the factory and emerges from the exit as a product ready for sale. The raw material remains inert unless subjected to labour which transforms it into the finished article. It is the labour that gives the item its value. The process is enacted not to produce any particular commodity, the final product is irrelevant. It is the realisation of the acquired value of the commodity through sale that is the objective and the consequent profit it entails. For the labour is bought at a rate less than the value it creates in the product so that the eventual sale brings a greater return than that paid for labour. This is surplus value, profit, the whole purpose of the enterprise. This surplus value accrues to the holders of the productive process, those with title to the "economic" property that is the social relation for making profit.

 In classical capitalism the owners of the factory might be an individual, a family, a partnership or a group of shareholders. It is clear that in terms of the factory's raison d'etre it is irrelevant which of these are the legal owners. The twentieth century brought forms of ownership that apparently blur such a simple distinction. Transport the factory to the Soviet Union and the claim would be that the social relations had significantly altered. The Dictatorship of the Proletariat, having abolished private ownership in all its forms, had freed labour from its former exploitation, ie it being robbed of part of the value it created. However, it had done nothing of the sort. The State fulfilled the function of owner, buying labour and accruing the surplus value created. Essentially, the factory operates in precisely the same manner, the "economic" property is unaltered. What has changed is the "juridical" property, who has legal title to the factory. Even if the Soviet authorities used all the profit for the benefit of the workers, building hospitals, schools etc., the essential element, the accumulation of surplus value, remains central. How a capitalist spends profit is irrelevant, it is still capitalism according to the "economic" property no matter how the "juridical" property is altered. In this country, miners remained bought labour after nationalisation as much as before under private ownership. The same is true of co-operatives who must realise profit or go bankrupt. The legal ownership of things, factories and machines etc., does not determine the operation of "economic" property. The only way a significant change can be made is to bring all "economic" property under the democratic control of society so it can be deployed to produce to meet need and not profit. 

With the fall of the Soviet Union and the capitalist transformation of China and Vietnam, the lauded  triumph of capitalism  is a hollow victory in that it was bound to win in one form or other, private or state. Socialism cannot have been defeated or proved invalid as it has never been tried.

 Marx identified the working class as the liberators of society. In the latter part of the nineteenth century they were easily recognisable as factory workers. A century later the worker has become as diverse as the modes of work. However, they are still in that crucial relationship with the means of production, having to sell labour for less than its actual value. If this were not so, there could be no profit at all in the world. The suburban house-owner ith a mortgage or the rented council house tenant have that relationship in common no matter how different all other aspects of their lives might be. It is that common element that makes socialism a possibility.

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