Socialism is a form of society in which the whole community owns the means of production—the land, factories, mills, mines, transport and all the means whereby wealth is created and distributed to the community. Socialism is also the name given to the body of thought which explains why the Socialist form of society is now a necessity, the forces upon which its achievement depends, the conditions under which and the methods whereby it can be achieved. Socialism stands for common ownership. Capitalism stands for private property. Socialism is a society without classes. Capitalism is divided into classes. Socialist society are diametrically opposite to those of capitalism. We can easily understand, therefore, why landlords, employers, financiers and the like are opposed to socialism. Their very existence are at stake. They do not merely reject the theory of socialism, but fight every movement which is in any way associated with the struggle for socialism.
For many, it is clear what we are fighting against but it can be harder to picture exactly what we are fighting for. In concrete terms, how might a new society work? In what way would our lives be affected? What will socialism look like? Socialists aren’t crystal-ball gazers. We cannot predict the future with absolute certainty and so we cannot say exactly what socialism will look like. Nonetheless it is still possible to make some deductions about what socialism will look like. We can make reasonable hypotheses about the future, based on the evidence from the present and the past, although this is not an exact science (just as a geologist cannot give the date and time of the next earthquake or volcano eruption), so socialists cannot predict exactly when a revolution will break out or the specific form that it will take. By looking at capitalist society we can see the potential for what a socialist society will look like. We can see the embryo of socialism within capitalism and by examining the contradictions and barriers that capitalism – a system of private ownership and production for profit – imposes on society, we can see what the potential for a future, socialist society might be; a society where these barriers are removed, and where production is instead run on the basis of human needs.
We are frequently told that capitalism is the most efficient of all economic systems – yet if this were the case, why would factories and offices lie idle and empty, despite being able to produce an abundance of goods and services that society needs? Profit stands in the way of distribution as well as production under capitalism. There is no reason fertile land in some regions could not be used to produce food to be distributed to people living in harsher environments. The only reason it is not done is because it is not profitable to do so, and because of the enormous barrier of the nation state, which prevents a genuinely worldwide solution from being implemented. Under capitalism, wasting food is preferable to feeding those who need it most.
It is said that competition is the secret to capitalist efficiency; but in reality competition leads to greater waste. For example, there is significant duplication of work between businesses performing similar functions – meaning that time and money is invested twice into the same things. Take supermarkets as an example: if food distribution were carried out by one organisation, then economies of scale would make the process cheaper and centralised planning would make it more efficient. Competition also forces companies to create needs for their particular products through advertising, the cost of which is passed onto the consumer. Trade secrets and intellectual property rights mean that the best ideas and innovations are not pursued as fully as they could be Instead of the world’s best and brightest minds being employed in tandem to produce the things that society needs, scientists, engineers, and designers are split up into different corporations and set against each other in competition, resulting in completely unnecessary duplication of effort and resources.
Socialists are often asked what will be the incentive to work in a socialist society. The incentive to work under capitalism takes the form of requiring people to work in order to earn money so that they can live their lives. This is why people demand the freedom to work – to be able to live. Socialism, by contrast, is about freedom from work. The incentive to work under socialism will be that we are working to build a society in which we will be free from the necessity of labour. This freedom could be won by the collective efforts of society to develop the economy and forces of production to such an extent that little human labour would be required to keep it moving, leaving us free to lead our lives however we like. Capitalists have a very narrow and incorrect conception of what motivates people to do things – they see it all as a question of money, despite the fact that there are many things that everyone does (hobbies etc.) which are motivated simply because we like doing them; things that develop us as people, give us a sense of purpose, and help us to form bonds with others.
Instead of alienating us from our work, socialism will gives us a real stake in the economy and in society, by giving us collective ownership over it. The work itself, not just the wages derived from it, will therefore have a more direct purpose and be clearly for our own benefit and the benefit of others around us, instead of for fat-cats in a far off boardroom.
Socialism means the end of a society in which human beings are oppressed and exploited by other human beings. It promises a system that is capable of developing the forces of production to such an extent that humans can stop destroying themselves and their planet, and instead begin to take conscious control of their own lives.