Today capitalism is a system in complete crisis. Three years after
the financial collapse of 2008 and the vast sums poured into bank bailouts, the
world economy teeters on the edge of a second enormous slump. Austerity is the order of the day for the world’s capitalist governments. To pay for the crisis ordinary people are being forced to suffer job losses, service cuts, tax
increases and more.
But weren’t we told that capitalism is by far the most efficient
model for running society? Wasn’t boom and bust supposed to be a thing of the past?
Not everyone in society is feeling the pinch. In 2011 the world’s
1,210 billionaires increased their wealth by $1 trillion – up by almost a
third. Combined, they are worth more than the GDP of 170 countries put
together. This tiny few possess obscene wealth and power. And yet governments around the world protect their interests above all else.
But workers and youth are fighting back. The last year saw mass
strikes, student protests – even revolutions! The mantra of governments
everywhere has been almost uniform: ‘There is no alternative’ is their plea.
But they’re lying. Increasingly, workers and young people are looking for an
alternative; an alternative to cuts, austerity and pain, but also to the
capitalist system itself.
In this article SEAN FIGG, answers some of the most frequently
asked questions about socialist ideas. This serves as a very short introduction,
but follow the links at the end and you’ll find some more detailed articles and
pamphlets on the question: What is Socialism?
Isn’t it old fashioned to talk about capitalists and workers?
Capitalist society is a class-based society. At one end we have a tiny number
of capitalists who own all the land, factories, shops, banks and so on. At the
other end we have millions of workers and their families. One of the great
myths perpetuated by the government and the media is that ‘class’ no longer
exists. We have been told that ‘we are all middle class now’.
But the majority of people are not bosses! Most sell their ability
to work to a boss. In the last century the living standards for many working
class families in the advanced capitalist countries such as Britain and the US have improved – car ownership and modern conveniences like Plasma TVs and IPods – but this doesn’t stop someone from being working class.
But capitalism’s inability to continually improve or even maintain
living standards is one of its greatest failings. In the current crisis huge
reductions in the living standards of working class people are taking place. In
austerity Britain, hundreds of thousands are being thrown on the dole while those who keep their jobs are facing huge pay cuts. For young people our right to a future is under
attack. Education is being made out of reach with sky high fees and EMA cut.
Even if we do get a degree there are no jobs for us when we graduate.
Isn’t it just greedy individuals and poor management that makes
Capitalist economies operate in ways that make economic crises, poverty,
inequality and exploitation unavoidable. Capitalist production is for profit.
Goods are made and services provided only if profits can be made. Things that
are not profitable, such as keeping the Vestas wind turbine factory open to
protect green jobs, are not done; and things that are profitable, but shouldn’t
be done, like arms production, come to the forefront.
Capitalist production is blind. Goods and services are produced
for the market where individual companies compete with each other for
customers. This ‘hit and miss’ approach leads to massive waste, duplication of
effort and environmental destruction. Capitalist production is exploitative. It
is ordinary working people that create all the wealth in society, not the
bosses. Profit doesn’t come from the ‘genius’ of the boss or the shareholders,
but from not paying workers the full value of the work they do. In other words
the capitalist class are engaged in a massive rip-off of the working class.
Isn’t competition essential for economic innovation and
The work done in all the large monopolies and multinationals that dominate the
economy are the result of the collective efforts of millions of workers. Think
about Tesco. In the UK Tesco employs 250,000 people, has over 2,000 stores and
moves goods by road, rail and even canal. As well as retail, the company has
services now including banking, telecommunications, insurance, and more, all
backed up by an army of engineers, software designers, architects, surveyors
and so on. Tesco is in effect almost a mini planned economy but run in the
interests of Tesco profits, not workers or consumers. When we factor in its
2,000+ stores outside the UK we find that this model of efficiency is free of competition and the result of intricate planning on an international scale.
This is also true of society more generally. Without a division of
labour between different workers specialising as doctors, engineers, shop
assistants, cleaners and so on society couldn’t function. But capitalism
doesn’t recognise this collective effort. Instead, the collective work of
others is ‘owned’ by individuals – the capitalists.
The capitalists have to maintain the myth that they and competition are somehow of benefit to society. The massive bank bailouts show how outdated the economics of free-competition and free-markets really are. A world where a tiny number of banks can dominate the economy and in effect be ‘too big to fail’ is a clear indication that we need an alternative to ‘competition’.
Isn’t there a more ‘modern’ alternative than socialism?
Socialism has a major ‘trump card’ over other ideas to improve society.
Socialism is based on an analysis of how the world works right now. No ‘leap of
faith’ or ‘flight of fantasy’ is required; the starting point is here and now.
A socialist critique of capitalism can point to measurable and observable
problems and proposes practical ways to resolve them. Thinkers like Karl Marx
did not sit down with a blank piece of paper and invent new societies from the
depth of their imaginations.
One of the most frustrating features of capitalism is how it hints
at all the solutions to its own problems. Capitalism creates huge wealth. But
ordinary people don’t get to share in most of it. Capitalism has developed
science and technique to a massive degree. But this is used to make profits
rather than solve the problems of the world. The pharmaceutical companies take
this to an absurdity. Through patenting life-saving drugs they deny millions of
poor people access to medicines that could save their lives. The potential to plan
production and distribute resources to meet the needs of ordinary people is
demonstrated by the internal planning of the vast multi-nationals. No rational
plan would include a tiny layer of unproductive individuals who cream off vast
amounts of wealth for no good reason.
How would socialism be different to capitalism?
A socialist economy would iron out all these contradictions. Economic crises
would become a thing of the past and society’s resources could be used to
provide a decent life for everyone. A socialist economy would end the
contradiction between the established fact of collective work and the
individual capitalist’s ownership that distorts that and prevents it reaching
its full potential. This would be done by bringing the top companies, monopolies
and multinationals into democratic social ownership. Competition would be
replaced by a democratic plan of production. Ordinary workers, both as
producers and as consumers, would have a real say in how the economy is run.
Production would be geared to what was actually wanted and desired by the
majority rather than towards making profits for a minority. The world division
of labour brought about by globalisation would necessitate economic planning on
an international scale. A socialist economy could create the material basis for
the realisation of all the vast human potential in the world and a flowering of
culture, creativity, science and art.
Sounds good, how will it be achieved?
Socialism will not be handed to us. We will have to fight for it. To have an
impact people need to be organised and have a clear idea of the socialist
alternative they are fighting for. Socialist Students works to play this role
on the campuses. But we can’t do it on our own.
The most important creation of capitalism is the modern working
class. Working people have a massive objective interest in seeing capitalism
being replaced by socialism. The enormous potential power of the working class
is demonstrated time and again. Trade unions bring workers together in the
workplace to fight for better conditions. When tube workers strike London grinds to a halt.
But workers, students and the unemployed need to be organised in a political
party armed with a socialist programme to unite different struggles in a
movement to fundamentally change society.
The following are some useful sources of more information. But if you’re interested in socialist ideas, you should come to a Socialist Students meeting. Fill in the join form and we’ll get in touch!
Socialism in the 21st Century, by Hannah Sell: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/socialism21/index.html
Capitalism in Crisis: The Case for Sociailsm, by Hannah Sell: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/books_pamphlets/The_Case_for_Socialism
What about Russia? http://www.marxist.net/trotsky/russia/