A socialist society requires that production as a whole should meet the needs of people and be sustainable for the rest of nature. In other words, what humans take from nature and dispose of them after use, should all be done so as to leave nature to go on supplying and reabsorbing those materials after use. In the long run this implies stable consumption and production levels. Production would be simply to meet current needs and to replacing and repairing the stock of means of production. The only rationale for accumulating means of production would be to be in a position to satisfy all reasonable consumption needs, not as at present to manufacture ‘wants’ for marketing and profits. Once achieved then further expansion of the stock of means of production, could stop and production levels be stabilised. The proportion of people’s time devoted to ‘production’ would be correspondingly reduced and stabilised, leaving them free to indulge in whatever pursuits they fancied. So if human society is to be able to organise its production and other activities in an ecologically acceptable way then it must abolish the capitalist social, economic and political system of profit accumulation and replace it with a system which gears production to the direct satisfaction of needs.
To produce the things that people need in an acceptable and ecologically benign manner presupposes that society as a whole must be in a position to control production and direct its purposes. This cannot be done in a society where the means of production are owned and controlled by the privileged few and governed by the blind economic laws which impose their own priorities. Production for needs, therefore, demands an end both to capitalist control and the market. Production for needs requires that direction over the means of production (nature, materials, and machinery) should be available to all. Everyone must stand equally with all others in relation to the means of production. Also, production for needs demands the end of buying and selling; the end of the market. It means that goods are produced, and services made available, simply for their use-value, that is, capacity to satisfy human need. Production for the market is an expression of the fact that the means of production and therefore the products are owned not by all the members of a society in common but by individuals or groups such as corporations. Exchange would completely disappear in a society where there were no property rights over the means of production.
Democracy and common ownership
Production for needs can take place only on the basis of common ownership. With common ownership, what is produced is no longer the property of some individual or group, which has to be purchased before it can be used or kept, but becomes directly available for people to take in accordance with their reasonable needs. We say that it is common ownership which provides the framework for the development of a balanced relationship between human society and the rest of nature. We are talking about the common ownership of all the Earth’s natural and manufactured resources by the whole of humanity. We are talking about a world socialist society which would recreate, on a world scale and on the basis of today’s technological and other knowledge, the communistic social relations of freedom, equality and community which many humans have aspired to since the coming of property society.
Humanity is now in a position, and has been for some time, to supply, in a sustainable way the needs of the population. The means of production and the knowledge at its disposal are more than sufficient to enable this to be done. The problem is capitalism. Common ownership on a world scale means that there will be no property or territorial rights over any part of the planet or over any of the technology. The Earth and its resources will not belong to anyone. They would simply be there to be used in accordance with democratically-decided rules and procedures. We can imagine the local community being the basic unit of such arrangements. People could elect a local council to co-ordinate and administer local affairs. Delegates could be sent to regional councils to decide matters concerning a wider area, and so on. Possibly a world council would be the best way to deal with matters on a world scale (for instance, the supply of scarce minerals, the protection of the biosphere, the use of the oceans, and space research). On the basis of common ownership and democratic control, the world-wide network of productive and administrative units can be geared to meeting human needs. This need not involve the organisation of a bureaucratic world planning authority. Instead we could set up production and distribution mechanisms at different levels to respond flexibly to demands communicated to them.
Gearing production to meeting needs means making arrangements for individuals and groups to have free access to what they need. Socialism not being a society in which goods and services are produced for sale, people would not have to buy what they needed. They would be able to decide for themselves in a socially responsible way what their needs were and then take from the stock of products set aside for individual or group consumption. In the case of services, advance booking, priority according to need, or ‘first come, first served’ arrangements could apply. Information to the network of productive units as to what to produce would thus come from what people actually chose to take or order from distribution stores under conditions of free access. This would essentially be a system of stock control in the first instance at local community level. Needs would be communicated to the productive network as demands for given amounts and types of specified products, materials and services. This information would then be communicated throughout the system, where necessary to other regions or to the world level.
Goods and services would be produced and distributed as useful items intended to satisfy some human need. Because they were no longer being produced and offered for sale on the market, they would not have a price. Instead, estimates of what updated information suggested was likely to be needed over a given period would be expressed as quantities of specified products, materials and human time, not money. There would be no need for any universal unit of account to measure need, supply or demand. Other more important factors than cost could be taken into account in making choices about which materials and productive methods to use or what services to supply. Instead of minimising the cost of production being the only criterion, other factors such as the health, comfort and enjoyment of those doing the work, the protection of the environment and a sustainable ecological system could be given the prominent place they deserve.
Protecting the environment
In a society oriented to meeting needs the concept of profits would be meaningless, while the imperative to ‘growth’ would disappear. Instead, after an initial period of increase in useful production to provide the whole world’s population with basic amenities, production can be expected to reach a level sufficient to provide for people’s current needs and the future viability of their society. A sustainable relationship with the rest of nature could be achieved. Needs on a world scale could be in balance with the capacity of the biosphere to renew itself after supplying them. As the only life-form that can act in a way conscious of the wider impact it can have on other species and on the planet as a whole, humans have the potential to act as planet’s ‘brain’, consciously regulating its function in the interest of present and future generations. But before we can hope to play this role we must first integrate our own activities into a sustainable natural cycle on a planetary scale. This we can do only within the framework of a world socialist society in which the Earth and all its natural and material resources have become the common heritage of all humanity.
We humans are part of nature, not external to it. We are one with nature; we must nurture it if it is to sustain us. Socialists work for a revolution in society from world capitalism to world socialism. The revolution we want is a social revolution that will change the basis of society from the present monopoly of productive resources by rich individuals, corporations and states into one where the Earth and its resources belong to none but will have become the common heritage of all humanity. This revolution can only be carried out democratically by the majority class in society, those forced to work for a wage or a salary in order to get a living, with a view to freeing themselves from exploitation for profit and from the restrictions and problems that the capitalist profit system imposes on them. At the same time socialists understand that such a revolution has also to achieve a sustainable relationship between human society and the rest of nature. Together we can be architects of the future rather than victims of the present.