|FOR WORLD SOCIALISM AND NO LESS|
Marx wrote no “Utopia”. Nowhere in his writings is there to be found a detailed account of the new social system which was to follow capitalism but we can make generalized observations from what we know of the present capitalist system and what socialism needs to become. The first essential feature of socialism is that the means of production are taken from private ownership and used for society as a whole. The next step is the conscious, planned development of those productive forces. In socialist society, where production is not for profit but for use, a plan of production is possible. Therefore the factories and the mines, the power-stations and the railways, agriculture and fishing can and must be reorganised and made more up-to-date, so that a far higher level of production can be reached. What is the object of this? To raise the standard of living of the people.
One of the favorite arguments of the anti-socialists used to be that if everything produced was divided up equally, this would make very little difference in the standard of living of the workers. Even if this were true – and it is not – it has absolutely nothing to do with Marx’s conception of socialism. Marx saw that socialism would raise the level of production to undreamed-of heights. This increase in the level of production, and therefore in the standard of living of the people, is the material basis on which the intellectual and cultural level of the people will be raised. From the time when the working class takes power and begins the change to socialism, a change also begins to take place in the outlook of the people. All kinds of barriers which under capitalism seemed rigid grow weaker and are finally broken down. No person is treated as superior or inferior because of his or her gender, colour or nationality. In every factory, in every block of flats, in every aspect of life, men and women are shaping their own lives and the destinies. People are drawn into all spheres of public life, given responsibility for helping themselves and others. The self-seeking, individualist outlook bred by capitalism will have been replaced by a really social outlook. But even within capitalist society there is what is known as “solidarity” among the workers – the sense of a common interest, a common responsibility. This is not an idea which someone has thought of and put into the heads of workers: it is an idea which arises out of the material conditions of working-class life, the fact that they get their living in the same way, working alongside each other. The typical grasping individualist, on the other hand, the man with no sense of social or collective responsibility, is the capitalist surrounded by competitors, all struggling to survive by killing each other. Of course, the ideas of the dominant class – the competition and rivalry instead of solidarity – tend to spread among the workers, especially among those who are picked out by the employers for special advancement of any kind. But the fundamental basis for the outlook of any class (as distinct from individuals) is the material conditions of life, the way it gets its living.
Is this Utopian?
Human beings have no fixed characteristics and outlook, eternally permanent. In primitive tribal society, even in those forms of it which have survived to recent times, the sense of responsibility to the tribe is very great. In later society, after the division of society into classes, the sense of social responsibility was broken down, but still showed itself in a certain feeling of responsibility to the class. In capitalist society there is the most extreme disintegration of social responsibility: the system makes “dog eat dog” the main principle of life. Hence it follows that the outlook of people can be changed by changing their material conditions, the way in which they get their living. When therefore the material basis is socialist production and distribution, when the way in which all the people get their living is by working for society as a whole, then the sense of social responsibility so to speak develops naturally; people no longer need to be convinced that the social principle is right. It is not a question of an abstract moral duty having to establish itself over the instinctive desires of “human nature;” human nature itself is transformed by practice, by custom.
Marx’s whole account of socialist society shows that it will mean the end of wars. When production and distribution are organised on a socialist basis, there will be no group which will have the slightest interest in conquering others. A capitalist country conquers another country to extend its capitalist system, to open up new chances for profitable investments; to get new contracts for its corporations; to obtain new sources of cheap raw materials and new markets. Once again, it is not a question of morals; socialist societies will not make war because there is nothing they, or any groups within them, can gain from war. Years will pass and not a stone will be left of the accursed capitalist system, with its wars, its vile brutality and savagery. In the memory of people the times of capitalism will remain as a ghastly nightmare from a long gone era of darkness and ignorance. Socialist educators and agitators have capably demonstrated how socialism could end poverty, unemployment and war by eliminating private ownership of the means of producing the things of life, national and international competition, and the struggle for existence by the overwhelming majority of the population in this and all other countries. They have supplemented this campaign for socialism with a merciless exposure of the evils of capitalist society, its murderous exploitation of the workers, its utter hypocrisy in human relations, and the most evident feature of its class character: the impoverishment of the masses for the enrichment of a small class of capitalists.
The World Socialist Movement knows how to talk socialism. While, admittedly, failing in organising large groups of workers around the class struggle or the urgent need for constructing a mass socialist party with the aim of fighting for a socialist society, it has accomplished quite an effective job of telling people what socialism was. This propaganda for socialism, the “dream of socialism,” as it was often called, has taught thousands that socialism meant a society without classes, without the exploitation of man by man, without a production system operating for the purpose of producing profits for a few. The PR of Big Business, the paid-for and bought professors and intellectuals of every variety have taken to the pen to explain why capitalism is a wonderful society and socialism a mere utopia. These hired apologists even argued that the new richness of capitalism was actually paving the way to the kind of life, the socialists wanted and now call for a new capitalism with no unemployment, high wages, workers owning their own homes and even sharing ownership of their work-places in various forms of co-operatives. The bubbles keep bursting and the foundations carry on tumbling down, revealing the prosperity was fraud and we the working class are emerging from the slump worse than ever. We are now witness to a new experience.
The necessity of rebuilding the movement for socialism requires the re-establishment of the art of socialist propaganda and agitation, to tell millions what socialism is, its relation and comparison to capitalism, and how it can be achieved. The task now for the WSM is to once more keep describing the present capitalist system, revealing how thoroughly rotten it is, how it is an outlived system capable of producing nothing but unemployment, poverty, war, the scourge of dictators and suppression of the people. Others may have done the same thing. The importance of the WSM is that it points a way out of this foul system and not only shows why socialism is inevitable and necessary, but describes what it is and how it can be achieved. This is all to the good to spread the message of socialism.