Friday, September 19, 2008

What is socialism?

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Central to the meaning of socialism is common ownership. This means the resources of the world being owned in common by the entire global population.But does it really make sense for everybody to own everything in common? Of course, some goods tend to be for personal consumption, rather than to share – clothes, for example.

People ‘owning’ certain personal possessions does not contradict the principle of a society based upon common ownership.In practice, common ownership will mean everybody having the right to participate in decisions on how global resources will be used. It means nobody being able to take personal control of resources, beyond their own personal possessions.Democratic control is therefore also essential to the meaning of socialism. Socialism will be a society in which everybody will have the right to participate in the social decisions that affect them. These decisions could be on a wide range of issues – one of the most important kinds of decision, for example, would be how to organise the production of goods and services.

Production under socialism would be directly and solely for use. With the natural and technical resources of the world held in common and controlled democratically, the sole object of production would be to meet human needs. This would entail an end to buying, selling and money. Instead, we would take freely what we had communally produced. The old slogan of “from each according to ability, to each according to needs” would apply.So how would we decide what human needs are? This question takes us back to the concept of democracy, for the choices of society will reflect their needs. These needs will, of course, vary among different cultures and with individual preferences – but the democratic system could easily be designed to provide for this variety.We cannot, of course, predict the exact form that would be taken by this future global democracy.

The democratic system will itself be the outcome of future democratic decisions. We can however say that it is likely that decisions will need to be taken at a number of different levels – from local to global. This would help to streamline the democratic participation of every individual towards the issues that concern them.In socialism, everybody would have free access to the goods and services designed to directly meet their needs and there need be no system of payment for the work that each individual contributes to producing them.

All work would be on a voluntary basis. Producing for needs means that people would engage in work that has a direct usefulness. The satisfaction that this would provide, along with the increased opportunity to shape working patterns and conditions, would bring about new attitudes to work.

1 comment:


For a time a combination of factors seemed to have undermined the idea of socialism. There was disillusion caused by sharp right turn, often accompanied by massive corruption, in Labour, Social Democratic or 'Socialist' parties in government.

The collapse of USSR and reintroduction of capitalism there and in central and eastern Europe seemed to show the failure of 'real existing socialism', although those regimes were not either democratic or socialist. While not having a market economy they were ruled by a totalitarian elite. This elite in the end stifled the continued development of society.

But now it is clear that the overthrow of the old bureaucratic elites in the former USSR and eastern Europe has not opened the way to heaven. Parts of some of these countries have been destroyed as competing elites, each backed by different world powers, encouraged and exploited divisions among the different nationalities. Generally in these countries a new capitalist elite has become very rich while the mass struggle to survive.

In Russia, while the gangster elite moved US $ 60 billion out of the country between 1991 and 1996, average male life expectancy dropped from 64 in 1990 to 58 in 1994. Even where new investment has raised productivity to Western levels workers are not paid Western rates, this is even true in east Germany. As time goes on more and more will ask who has really gained from the market economy?

In all countries the effects of capitalism in crisis is preparing the way for a revival of socialist ideas and movements. Socialism fundamentally means a world where there is genuine democratic control, no elites and where all the world's resources are used to satisfy needs not profit.

On the most basic level there is absolutely no reason today why hundreds of millions still do not even have permanent clean water, proper sanitation or electricity. The technology is there the question is that profit and domination of the world's economy by the imperialist countries blocks the development of much of neo-colonial world. The satisfaction of these kind of basic needs would start to transform the lives of millions. For strategic reasons the USA sponsored the rapid development of South Korea, with a plan the rest of the planet could be transformed as well.

Opponents say that this is utopian and impossible. They say it is impossible to plan the economy. Yet if you look at any multi-national you see that within its own structure it has an economic plan, even though it cannot plan the market outside. If giant corporations, often richer than many countries, can plan the use of their own resources then the world's economy can be planned. The question is who would plan it and in whose interest?

Currently 37,000 companies, 70% of them based in either the USA, European Union or Japan, control one-third of the world's private assets. Just placing these companies under democratic public ownership would mean that a start could be made to plan a real rise in living standards and the creation of a socialist society.