Sunday, February 14, 2016

Economists make astrologers look good

There is great confusion over the question of what is socialism. Our aim in the Socialist Party has always been to clarify our meaning. The word was first coined early in the 19th century in regard to the doctrines advocated by the French utopian socialists Charles Fourier and Henri Saint-Simon, and became common in England from about the time of Robert Owen – another Utopian socialist, in the 1830s. Their doctrines suffered from a major shortcoming, in that they were rooted in the economic and social conditions of the times, in the as yet undeveloped nature of the capitalist economy and with this, the lack of development of the working class as an independent political force. Why didn’t Marx and Engels call it the ‘Socialist Manifesto’? Because at the time ‘socialism’ its adherents consisted mainly of the ‘Fourierists’ and ‘Owenites’ and they had already declined into sects with various quack remedies.

Marx’s epic work ‘Capital’, became virtually the ‘bible of the working-class’. ‘Capital’ not only scientifically explained capitalism - on the basis of enormous, painstaking research - as a socio-economic formation still in a state of development. It also gave the workers a clear understanding of the methods by which the capitalists as a class – manufacturers, landowners and commercial capitalists – got from the labour of the workers their large incomes in the form of profit, rent and interest. All were forms of surplus value, having their origin in capitalist production which was based on the special value-creating commodity bought by the capitalists – labour power.
Thus Marx exposed the whole machinery of capitalist exploitation of the working-class. In doing this, he equipped the workers with a scientific understanding of society and of their class role as the chief executants of the transformation of capitalism into socialism. That is, he gave the workers an understanding of their historic mission in society. Engels points out that with the discovery of surplus value and historical materialism, socialism left behind utopias and became a science.

The whole world, operates above all else according to the rules of capitalism. Under capitalism, the basic goal of society becomes the private accumulation of wealth for the elite few. In other words, the major institutions of society value the production of goods and services that are capable of generating a maximum amount of profit. What is best for the common good is obscured by what is considered best for capital accumulation. Instead of viewing workers as equal members of the broader society, the owners and bosses see us as no more than a necessary resource in the field of production. In a word, we’ve become akin to the machines - we’ve become objects of exploitation. Working people (who are by far the vast majority of the population) are seen simply as a necessary resource for corporations and private owners.

Capitalist enterprises have no incentive to work for ordinary people, and instead they do whatever is necessary to enrich the owners of their corporate stock. Billionaires like Donald Trump can use the bankruptcy laws to escape debt but average people can’t get relief from burdensome mortgage or student debt payments. Optimists say 2016 will be better than 2015 which may turn out to be true, but only imperceptibly so.

The median wage is 4 percent below what it was in 2000, adjusted for inflation. The median wage of young people, even those with college degrees, is also dropping, adjusted for inflation. That means a continued slowdown in the rate of family formation—more young people living at home and deferring marriage and children – and less demand for goods and services. At the same time, the labor participation rate—the percentage of Americans of working age who have jobs—remains near a 40-year low. Workers have lost power that came from joining together in unions.

Our labour is used not as a means to uplift society as a whole, but as a tool to make a select few very rich. On the job, we are often compelled to work under the near dictatorship of the boss. Even when we work for ourselves, we are still dictated to by the wealthy that hire us, the corporations who subcontract us, as well as the ebb and flow of the capitalist economy. In short, we are compelled to engage in work in order to create a massive overall profit that we will never see, and if we don’t like it, and we speak up, we face the likelihood of being fired. The schools teach us that this is democracy. For forty to sixty hours a week we live under a dictatorship in our workplaces, and this is acceptable? We struggle to get by on the sweat of our labour.

The bottom line is that we, as the majority, are standing at a crossroads at which we can choose the path of capitalism, or, the road towards direct democracy, local control, and the social advancement of the common good. We can choose a way that will allow our children and grandchildren to experience the independence, democracy, self-sufficiency, and natural beauty that are the gifts handed down from our common ancestors. Envision a system whereby all major decisions are made through local town or neighbourhood meetings. The future establishment of direct democracy will, in a large part, rely on the extension of the power of town meetings.

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