Sunday, March 19, 2023

After Capitalism?

Right now there are hundreds of campaigns globally for fossil fuel divestment as a strategy in the fight against climate change. Many are proposing that when institutions divest from fossil fuels, they should then "reinvest" in clean energy and low-income communities. The debate about divestment raises important questions about how we bring about social and economic change and how much we should engage with capitalist enterprises and government.

For sure, to address climate change, we clearly need massive development of solar, wind and other clean energy. And we need improved and expanded public transit, and energy-efficient housing. A "divest and reinvest" strategy is being advocated of universities and other institutions to use their endowment money to support environmental initiatives. Selling fossil fuel stocks will not significantly hurt fossil fuel companies financially. Buying solar company stocks may lead to small increases in the price of those stocks but that’s all. A divest-reinvest strategy is not likely to lead to the clean energy economy we need. We have evidence. Ethical investors have failed to end the arms trade or the tobacco and alcohol industries.  Such campaigns give a legitimacy to the capitalist system by focusing on money rather than politics undermining the rationale for capitalism’s existence.

There exist two rival conceptions of socialism. What is known as “state socialism” and what is called “market socialism”. One advocates a system of state ownership, where there exists no private enterprise of individual capitalists. The economy is run by a series of plans under the centralized command of the State. Wage labour still exists but the employer is the government and the bosses are the officials of the various ministries and departments. The other model promoted is where the economy is operated by a mixture of cooperatives and nationalized industries that will no longer possess the imperative to accumulate capital or compete with other nation-states. Wage labour remains but because enterprises are worker-owned or, at least managed, the worker pay themselves (profit-sharing), they are their own employers. The Socialist Party rejects both types and even challenges them to legitimately call themselves versions of socialism as they both involve buying and selling, the continuance of private property (albeit collectively owned) and the retention of the prices system as an expression of value.

Advocates of either “state socialism” or “market socialism” describe the socialist vision held by the Socialist Party as utopian. The idea of overthrowing existing “corporate” capitalism and replacing it with a nicer sort of capitalism is a political project that the Socialist Party would ascribe as a fantasy. The Left strangely enough share the same criticism of socialism as the Right.  “It sounds good on paper, but socialism will never work, because if everybody gets everything they need whether they work or not, then there is no incentive to work at all!” So the old argument goes, you need wages and you need money to force people to work. “No money, no honey.” This is the case against socialism shared by that avowedly pro-capitalist and some who declare themselves to be some sort of “socialist.” They then present a picture of a society where there will be no pressure among competing enterprises to undersell one another by allotting some workers a smaller share in income, working some harder than others, laying some off, and hiring the poor from other regions. Workplace democracy within the market is supposed to minimize such exploitative tendencies. It should be obvious by now that neither “state” nor “market” socialism is “realistic” proposals that provide a solution. We might as well revert back to Henry George or Major Douglas plans for a “post-capitalist” society.

Workers sell their labour power as a commodity.  That is why we concentrate efforts on the price of our labour power (wages) and the terms and conditions at which it is sold. Certain workers’ cooperatives anticipate a new society growing within the womb of the old.  It reunites workers with the means of production and removes the capitalist from the workplace.  It gives ownership to the workers and elevates their power, confidence and consciousness.  It can prepare the workers involved and other workers for the task of making the whole economy the property of the working class, which is socialism. Some co-ops provide the services that are currently provided by the state and which leaves them at the mercy of the state and the politicians who preside on top of it.  Such services include education, health, welfare and pensions. Thousands of cooperatives already exist; they are not purely idealistic mental constructions.  What’s more, they can be, and many are, very successful; providing hundreds of thousands of jobs.  Living proof that workers can do without capitalists to tell them what to do.  Workers can take control, can make decisions and can be successful. When critics say – “where is your socialist alternative after over 150 years of your movement?” we might be ventured to point to the cooperative movement as a simple promise for the future. Of course, cooperatives are not a solution to everything. An objection is made those cooperatives will simply teach workers to exploit themselves within a market economy based on competition.  They will simply become their own capitalists. Co-ops aren’t anti-capitalists because they do not provide an alternative to capitalism, except in the legal sense of ownership. In capitalist society ownership entitles control and capitalist ownership entails capitalist control. Markets do not disappear and therefore capitalism does not disappear.

We must urge the start of a new period of major struggle against capitalism, after a long time of relative inaction. The Socialist Party can be thought of as representing, in embryo, the democratic participatory socialism of the future, in which popular groups will make economic decisions.  In this way, socialism can be made real, although socialism cannot fully be installed without making a radical break with current property relations and the current allocation of political power. There is a need for mass education about the ways in which capitalism lies at the root of the problems afflicting ordinary people around the world. The belief that nothing beyond capitalism is possible can be countered by a vision of a workable socialism, based on democratic participation in the economic as well as the political institutions of society. The socialist movement can be rebuilt, and socialism can become a real possibility again, only when millions of people become convinced, not only that capitalism does not meet their needs, but that a better alternative system is possible. If the resistance to reformism can prevail, a vision of a socialist future for humankind may again be placed on the world’s political agenda.

We cannot be effective socialists if we work alone. We cannot inspire socialism without embracing self-education. Revolution is not a product, but a process. We don’t ever “finish” our training. The class struggle remains a perpetual work-in-progress. It’s tempting to write off all those so-called comrades who don’t share your epic vision or your one-of-a-kind discipline or you're... whatever. You’ll start the damn revolution all alone. Who needs them, right? You need them. We all need “them.” For many reasons. For example, it is collective efforts that create the checks and balances. Unless we work as a team, we might aim our rage and anger at the wrong targets. A socialist party needs commitment. It doesn’t need loners. It needs teammates and solidarity support for all who join the struggle. Our shared personal visions help lay the groundwork for political action. Let’s join together to work towards collective liberation.

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