The future, if there is to be a future, will need to be socialist. The apathy of the world's working class has contributed to keeping intact the barbaric and rapacious system of capitalism. People do not believe there is an alternative to capitalism, so capitalism keeps on going. Socialists, however, are concerned for the suffering of humans and look for a solution to this.
Many on the Left claim to advocate a society based on cooperation and production for use, a sustainable society where production is in harmony with the environment and affairs are run in a decentralised and democratic manner. They argue that only in such a system can ecological problems such as pollution and global warming be solved. However, on further reading, it is perfectly clear that this sustainable society is not socialism, for the continuance of money and the market is assumed, together with private ownership. Their declared aims appear to be desirable these are contradicted by a fatal flaw in all green policies. They stand for the continuation of the market system. This must mean the continuation of the capitalist system which is the cause of the problems of pollution in the first place. Their ultimate aim is a participatory economy, based on smaller-scale enterprise, with a greatly-reduced dependence on the world market. What is being proposed is the abolition both of the world market, with the competition for resources and sales it engenders, and of existing centralised states, and their replacement by a worldwide network of smaller human communities providing for their own needs. This will involve a steady-state economy based on maximum conservation of materials and energy. But these lofty goals are firmly wedded to a form of capitalism, holding a belief that capitalism can be reformed so as to be compatible with achieving an environmentally sustainable society. They are setting out to impose on capitalism something that is incompatible with its nature. Competitive pressures to minimise costs and maximise sales, profit-seeking and blind economic growth, with all their destructive effects on the rest of nature, are built-in to capitalism. Very few social activists reject capitalism. Most are in favour of some form of capitalism
Socialists are seeking ultimately to establish a “steady-state economy” or “zero-growth” society which corresponds to what Marx called “simple reproduction” – a situation where human needs were in balance with the resources needed to satisfy them. Such a society would already have decided, according to its own criteria and through its own decision-making processes, on the most appropriate way to allocate resources to meet the needs of its members. This having been done, it would only need to go on repeating this continuously from production period to production period. Production would not be ever-increasing but would be stabilized at the level required to satisfy needs. All that would be produced would be products for consumption and the products needed to replace and repair the raw materials and instruments of production used up in producing these consumer goods. People must change the social system to a community where each contributes to the whole to the best of his or her ability and takes from the common fund of produce what he or she needs.
Socialism is a money-free society in which use values would be produced from other use values. Socialism is a decentralised or polycentric society that is self-regulating, self-adjusting and self-correcting, from below and not from the top. It is not a command economy but a responsive one. Socialism is essentially a question of organising productive units into a productive system functioning smoothly to supply the useful things which people had indicated they needed, both for their individual and for their collective consumption. What socialism would establish would be a rationalised network of planned links between users and suppliers; between final users and their immediate suppliers, between these latter and their suppliers, and so on down the line to those who extract the raw materials from nature. The responsibility of these industries would be to ensure the supply of a particular kind of product either, in the case of consumer goods, to distribution centres or, in the case of goods used to produce other goods, to productive units or other industries. Planning is indeed central to the idea of socialism, but socialism is the planned (consciously coordinated and not to be confused with the central planning concept) production of useful things to satisfy human needs precisely instead of the production, planned or otherwise, of wealth as exchange value, commodities and capital. In socialism, wealth would have simply a specific use value.
Production and distribution in socialism would be a system of coordinated linked chains between users and suppliers, enabling resources and materials to flow smoothly from one productive unit to another, and ultimately to the final user, in response to information flowing in the opposite direction originating from final users. The productive system would thus be set in motion from the consumer end, as individuals and communities took steps to satisfy their self-defined needs. Socialist production is self-regulating production for use. Simply put, in socialism there would be no barter economy or monetary system. It would be an economy based on need. Therefore, a consumer would have a need, and there would be a communication system set in place that relays that need to the producer. The producer creates the product, and then send the product back to the consumer, and the need would be satisfied.
The factor that critically decides the production of commodities within capitalism is the judgement that enterprises make about whether they can be sold in the market. Obviously, consumers buy in the market that they perceive as being for their needs. But whether or not the transaction takes place is not decided by needs but by the ability to pay. So the realisation of profit in the market determines both the production of goods and also the distribution of goods by various enterprises. In the market system the motive of production, the organisation of production, and the distribution of goods are inseparable parts of the same economic process: the realisation of profit and the accumulation of capital. The economic pressure on capital is that of accumulation, the alternative is bankruptcy. The production and distribution of goods are entirely subordinate to the pressure on capital to accumulate. The economic signals of the market are not signals to produce useful things. They signal the prospects of profit and capital accumulation, If there is a profit to be made then production will take place; if there is no prospect of profit, then production will not take place. Profit not need is the deciding factor. Under capitalism what appear to be production decisions are in fact decisions to go for profit in the market.
The function of cost/pricing is to enable a business enterprise to calculate its costs, to fix its profit expectations within a structure of prices, to regulate income against expenditure and, ultimately, to regulate the exploitation of its workers. Unfortunately, prices can only reflect the wants of those who can afford to actually buy what economists call “effective demand”. – and not real demand for something from those without the wherewithal – the purchasing power – to buy the product (or even to express a preference for one product over another. I may want a sirloin steak but I can only afford a hamburger ) .
Socialist determination of needs begins with consumer needs and then flows throughout distribution and on to each required part of the structure of production. Socialism will make economically-unencumbered production decisions as a direct response to needs. With production for use, the starting point will be needs. By the replacement of exchange economy by common ownership basically what would happen is that wealth would cease to take the form of exchange value, so that all the expressions of this social relationship peculiar to an exchange economy, such as money and prices, would automatically disappear. In other words, goods would cease to have an economic value and would become simply physical objects which human beings could use to satisfy some want or other. (One reason why socialism holds a decisive productive advantage over capitalism is by eliminating the need to tie up vast quantities of resources and labour implicated in a system of monetary/pricing accounting.)
Yes, socialism is a real alternative.