Socialism can be defined simply to mean that the factories, mines, transport and so on will belong to all the people of the world, who will partake freely of the things and services which they produce. This will bring fundamental changes to many aspects of human life. It will alter our social relationships because it will be a new social system with a basis which is different from that of present-day society. We define society as people who are bound together by certain relationships. Today, for example, people are bound by the relationship of employer and employee, landlord, and tenant, buyer and seller, debtor and creditor, etc. A casual inspection of society reveals millions of people all over the earth constantly entering into such relationships, and into others, in an apparently haphazard manner. A man may work one week for this employer, the next week for another. But, in fact, these relations conform to a definite social pattern or system which, in turn, stems from what we call the basis of society. One man may employ another because he owns the place of employment, a factory, mine, ship, and so forth. Buying and selling involve a change of ownership; lending is a temporary surrender of the use which comes with ownership. In other words, these social, relationships have something in common. None of them can operate unless the social condition of property ownership is in existence. What seemed a confused and formless mass of social, relationships, in fact, falls into a pattern; what it is that forms the basis from which our social relationships are born, and the institutions through which they operate. Every social system has its basis through which almost every feature of it can be traced and explained. Today, for example, the basis of the social system is the private/government ownership of the means of producing and distributing the world's wealth. A section of the population, as direct proprietors or company shareholders, own the land, factories, ships, banks, trading concerns, etc., or invest their money in government or municipal securities, this being the method by which capital is provided by the central and local authorities for industries and undertakings in their control. This is the basic social condition which forms social relationships like buying and selling, employing and being employed. It is also responsible for the social institutions, like shops and markets, which are needed for the relationships to operate. This social system is called capitalism.
Because many of the features of capitalism are an accepted part of modern life, many workers think that they have always existed. But capitalism is a comparatively young social system but even so, socialists say that capitalism has outlived its usefulness and that it is destructive and wasteful, and now is the time to abolish it. The capitalist system denies the vast majority of people full access to the wealth which could be produced in abundance. It hedges round its productive efforts with a mass of restrictions — considerations of cost and profit and of military strategy, for example. In other words, capitalism has fulfilled its historic function, has outlived its social usefulness. Now it is a hindrance to mankind's advance and it is to mankind's benefit to abolish it. Capitalism inevitably produces a mass of people who are forced to suffer poverty and to live insecure lives. It means that for the great majority of humanity capitalism is a restrictive and harmful social system. Capitalism must produce profits. When the profit is not available capitalism stops producing. The market has no relation to human needs. Capitalism makes a mockery of human priorities. Capitalism dooms the majority of people to poverty. Its economy is anarchic. It is a destructive system; it produces continual wars. It is an insecure system. That is a massive indictment.
No matter how it may be superficially altered, capitalism cannot operate in the interests of the majority of people and it is in the interests of those people to abolish it. This is the social revolution by abolishing the class ownership of the means of producing and distributing wealth. This means the abolition of private property. It means that society would be based upon the opposite of class ownership - that the land, the factories, mills, mines, transportation and so on, would become the property of the whole of mankind. It would also mean that, because the basis of society had changed, the social superstructure would also be transformed. People's relationships would be different. The cultural and social features of living would be completely different from those of capitalism. This, in brief, is the meaning of the revolution to end capitalism and establish socialism. And in changing the basis of capitalism and its other features the revolution will abolish the problems which are an essential part of private property society.
If we are to abolish capitalism we must aim at political power to neutralise the legal source of the coercion which holds capitalism together. To get this power we must dissuade the popular support upon which the coercion ultimately depend upon. A socialist party must convince the working class of the need for socialism. It must spread knowledge of society widely and deeply so that the workers become knowledgeable socialists. Unless people understand socialism and want it, they will never establish it. History teaches us the validity of this argument. At the beginning of the century, many political parties thought that a small elite of wise intellectuals could on their own set-up socialism and impose it upon an ignorant and indifferent working class who, ran the argument, would like the new system so much that they would soon come to support it. The aspirant leaders were tied down by the ignorant desires of their supporters. By the time they came to power they had forgotten all about socialism and could only administer capitalism. Such was the sorry tale of the Labour Party in this country and of many similar organisations in other parts of the world. The prospect for Socialist knowledge is by no means dark. Ideas change; even ideas which seem stubbornly popular. When they have reached that condition the workers will require general strikes or barricades to establish socialism. Nor will they need leaders. They will know where capitalism's power is controlled. Instead of electing pro-capitalist members to the seats of government they will elect socialist delegates who will be mandated to take the formal, legal steps to abolish private property in the means of wealth production and distribution and to make these things the property of the whole of mankind. When that happens socialism will have been established. The task of the world-wide socialist parties will be finished. It may seem an enormous task but there is no choice in the matter.
How can we be sure that the socialist delegates will take the legal steps to abolish capitalism? How do we know that they will not simply ignore the mandate, keep capitalism going, and decline into the hard-bitten cynicism which is so typical of the politicians we know today? We do not claim that socialist delegates will be more honest, more knowledgeable, or more skillful than capitalist politicians. We make no claims whatsoever for socialists as individuals. We merely state socialists are not, and do not want to be leaders of the working class. Political leaders exist because of the political ignorance of their followers. Within the limits of that ignorance, the leaders can do almost anything. But because they must always act within the limits of ignorance they can do nothing to set up socialism, which depends entirely upon knowledge. Socialist delegates would - indeed they must - be backed by the knowledge of the working class, consciously opting for socialism, knowing what that society will be and how it must be established. Under these conditions, the Socialist delegates would be powerless to stray outside their mandate. That is the guarantee of socialism; the guarantee of knowledge, as gilt-edged as any can be.
Common ownership of the means of wealth production and distribution means that the things which are needed to make and distribute wealth will be owned by the whole human race. At present these things are the land, factories, mines, railways, steamships, etc. But common ownership does not mean that everybody in the world will own an equal share of every factory, mine, railway train and the rest. This sort of ownership might just be possible if the means of production were primitive; if cloth was produced on a hand-loom and goods carried on the backs of pack horses. It is quite out of the question if the means of production are developed enough to give an abundant life to every human being as they will he under socialism. Common ownership does not mean a grand free-for-all in which everybody grabs everything they can. We shall still have some things under our individual control - such as clothes and other articles of personal use and consumption. Socialism does not mean that everybody will be allocated exactly equal amounts of wealth. Human beings are obviously unequal in their capacities and abilities. There is no sensible reason for two such men being forced to consume exactly the same amounts and kinds of food, clothing, etc. What common ownership does mean, is that there is one way in which all human beings will be equal. Everybody will have an equal right to take however much wealth they need and to consume it as they require. Because the means of production will be commonly owned the things which are produced will go into a common pool from which all human beings will be able to satisfy their needs.
Now if there is unrestricted access to wealth for everybody it must follow that nobody, in the sense of an individual or a class, owns wealth. This means that wealth will not be exchanged under socialism; it will not be bartered nor will it be bought and sold. As a rough parallel, we can consider the air we breathe. Everybody has free access to the air and we can all take in as much of it as we need to live. In other words, nobody owns the air; nobody tries to exchange air for anything else, nobody tries to sell or buy it. Similarly, there will be no buying and selling under socialism; no need for money, therefore, nor for the complicated and widespread organisations which deal in commerce and banking in a capitalist society. Socialism will have no merchant houses, no banks, no stock exchanges, no tax inspectors, or any of the paraphernalia of capitalism.
Nobody will be employed by another person - nobody will sell his labour-power or work for wages. Everybody, in fact, will work for themselves, which means for the whole of society. Work will be a co-operative effort, freely given because men will realise that wealth can only be produced by working - unless wealth is produced society will die. Yet it will not only be a reluctance to commit social suicide that will keep us working under Socialism. Men will be free - free from the fetters of wage slavery, free from the fears of unemployment, free from economic servitude and insecurity. Nobody will be found doing a job which he hates but tolerates because its pays him well. Healthy young men will not grow pigeon-chested over fusty bank ledgers. Nobody will waste his time learning how to kill scientifically. We shall be set free to do useful work, making things which will add to society's welfare, things which will make human life a little better, a little happier. This is an enormous incentive to work. It is the greatest incentive to intense, co-operative effort and that is how it will operate.
Nobody will starve in one part of the world whilst food is being stockpiled or destroyed in another. Nobody will go cold whilst coal is being held at the pit heads. These anomalies arise because capitalism produces wealth to sell. Socialism will produce for people's satisfaction - the only barriers to that satisfaction will be physical. Bad weather, a ruined harvest or some other natural calamity may cause a breakdown in supplies. If this happens society will take steps to deal with the situation, unhampered by the commercial and monetary considerations of capitalism. Human interests will be the only consideration. Because we shall be free of the commercial necessities which hamper production under capitalism, we shall be able to turn our whole attention to satisfying human needs, to making our lives happier, fuller, easier. When that happens society will be able to support itself for the first time in the style to which it is entitled.