Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Check your label

Socialism and capitalism are among the most misused words in the world. They all refer to social systems which should historically develop out of one another.

 Socialism originally referred to a way of living in which all the means of producing our needs would be controlled by society as a whole. This would entail the free association of the world's people, with every associate a co-owner of the entire world's vast array of resources, natural and human made. The global community would collectively make decisions on matching their needs with available resources. This would mean the end of wage labor, i.e. the selling of one's ability to work in order to gain access to social wealth, an end to separate nations and enterprises, an end to money and all forms of exchange.

Capital is a social relation, a relation between people expressed through things. Goods were exchanged in previous social systems although the scope of exchange was much more limited and its occurrence much less frequent. But in capitalism, labor power becomes a commodity, something to be bought and sold. Workers sell their available time in return for the money needed to reproduce themselves as workers. In return, those few who own or control the means of production and/or investment funds, be they corporate owners or state bureaucrats, obtain control over the workers' time and energy, and thus can require them to produce beyond their needs. The capitalists' control of the products means that by selling them, they can potentially draw a profit from the surplus (beyond expenses) which is thereby produced. Some of this profit is used for their own consumption and vital but unproductive expenses, such as running the government and keeping track of money. But profits are primarily for reinvestment in profit-making activity. This is how investments grow. And growth is capital's reason for living, its ultimate priority, even if growth requires war.

Capitalism survival, as well as its potential overthrow, depend on the working class. This social class includes all who own little except their labor power, their capacity to perform work. The working class not only produces all wealth which exists in usable form, but also enriches and empowers the owners/controllers of capital. The workers' activity exhausts them, while strengthening the impersonal forces which dominate their lives. Their own creative energies are transformed into a seemingly alien entity, capital, which stands ever taller and more imposing, and confronts them as a “given" fact of life, like the weather. Outside work, activities like commuting and passive entertainment reinforce our roles as workers for capital. Even when survival Is not In question, a wage slave's life is a boring treadmill compared with the passionate creative lives we could be living within a different social structure. This is the essence of exploitation. which most people think of as low wages and other obvious injustices. In their effort to ensure continued growth of their capital, the ruling elite throughout the world are driven by the dynamics of global competition to get the most out of their labor forces, to substitute machines where possible, and to get people to act like machines when this is unfeasible. This has led to social conflicts since the bloody beginnings of capital, as workers were forced to take drastic action to protect their living standards.

Socialism was first proposed as goals by activists in the working class movement of the early 19th century. They believed class conflicts would escalate, and would present the working class with both an opportunity and a necessity to tear down the social structure and live differently. Marx and most of his contemporaries saw socialism as arising out of the ensuing social conflict. By the end of the 19th century, the movement had degenerated. Socialism came to be redefine  as an evolutionary process whose aim was the redistribution of money. In their view, a party made up of intellectuals and experts. i.e. themselves, would take over the government, and gradually have the state acquire control of the means of production in society's name. An updated distortion of socialism see it as the ownership of each enterprise by a workers' cooperative, the break-up of large enterprises, and support for small ones, nationalization of some sectors, and coordination of the whole mixture by state planners. In other words, they propose to deal with the problems of "free" market (dog-eat-dog competition) and inefficient state control by combining the wont features of both. But workers' control and/or ownership of an enterprise does little to relieve the market pressures which all companies face—outcompete rivals or go under. Workers in a co-op situation often resort to speeding themselves up, cutting their own wages, even laying themselves off, so the enterprise has a chance to survive. And forcing companies to become and/or stay small does very little to improve their competitiveness. In the meantime, state regulators will have tremendous difficulties reconciling their need to centralize decision-making with the decentralized co-op ownership pattern. Besides, any effort at planning the economy would quickly find that it is merely a part of a world mechanism. Most of those who call themselves Leftists dismiss the possibility of an anti-capitalist transformation. This is usually due to a mixture of a lack of understanding of capitalism and socialism, cynicism about human nature and a desire for power.

Adapted from here

No comments: