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Common Objections to Socialism Answered
from The People, October 5, 1991, pages 1, 6.
Doesn't the decline of the Soviet Union prove that socialism is a failure?
A state-run economic system is not socialism! Karl Marx and Frederick Engels clearly distinguished between state ownership of the means of production and social ownership. They opposed the very existence of the state. State ownership means the continued existence of a governmental power over and above the people themselves; it signifies continued class rule. Social ownership means that the people themselves, collectively and democratically, govern the use of the means of production. Marx and Engels described socialism as a society run by "associations of free and equal producers."
Thus the Soviet Union never was a socialist country. At no time did the Soviet Union ever have place a system in which the people owned all the means of production and in which the decisions governing production and distribution were made by democratic associations encompassing all the workers. At no time did the workers dismantle the state, or abolish exploitation and the wages system.
Furthermore, as The People and the Socialist Labor Party pointed out in 1917, the Bolshevik Revolution was not, and could not have been, a socialist revolution. Russia in 1917 had none of the material prerequisites for socialism. It was a backward, semi-feudal country, incapable of eliminating scarcity. It had very little industry and only a small minority of people belonged to the working class.
The Bolshevik Revolution defeated a weak precapitalist government that had supplanted the czar. It finished the task begun in the February 1917 revolution, defeating the forces of feudalism and imperialist domination. But when no socialist revolution triumphed in the West, Bolshevism soon developed into a new system of class rule and exploitation, in which the party/state bureaucracy became the ruling class. That system -- bureaucratic state despotism -- is what is now falling apart in the Soviet Union, not socialism. Accordingly, the decline of the Soviet Union today proves absolutely nothing about the viability of socialism.
How would a real socialist society prevent a new bureaucracy from taking over?
For one thing, the whole process by which socialism must be established would act against such a development. Socialism can only be established by a classconscious, organized majority of the working class. It can only be built by workers who understand the need to prevent any individual or group from gaining the power to control production or distribution. Socialism would be governed by active organizations of workers, educated by the class struggle and determined to keep economic power in the only safe place for it to reside-in the collective hands of all.
Second, the structure of a socialist society would preclude a bureaucratic takeover. Control of society's economic resources would be in the collective hands of the working class, organized into industrially based unions. All persons elected to serve in the councils governing each industry, and in the all-industry congress in charge of administering the economy as a whole, would be responsible only for performing designated administrative tasks. They would have no bureaucratic power to dictate production or distribution goals toward their own individual enrichment. Voting where they work, workers themselves would determine the general goals of social production, based on their own needs and wants. Distribution would be based on the objective standard of the labor time contributed by each worker.
Socialism's elected administrators would carry out the largely mathematical task of determining which facilities are to produce how much in order to meet the socially determined production goals. These administrators would be compensated on the basis of their labor time, like any other worker. They would have no special privileges nor any power to possess means of production and exploit others. And they would be subject to the control, and to the power of immediate recall, of the union body that elected them.
They would have no opportunity to become bureaucratic rulers even if they wanted to. And once a society of security and abundance for all is established, the motivation to even want to be become a bureaucratic ruler would soon be destroyed.
But isn't it human nature for some people to want to rule others and have more wealth than others? Isn't socialism against human nature?
Much of what is believed to be "human nature" is actually the product of the materiahconditions and social environment under which people are raised. We live in a social system and culture that teaches us that the way to survive, and "get ahead" materially, is tp compete for positions of power, gain dominance over others, and, ultimately, become an owner of productive property and exploit others. Not surprisingly, many people come to greedily and competitively crave power and wealth above all else.
But such behavior is not a fixture of human nature. People clearly have the capability of being cooperative as well as competitive, supportive and helpful as well as antagonistic, egalitarian as well as selfish. All of these qualities are part of "human nature." We can and do choose to employ one quality or the other, depending on how our material circumstances and interests affect us, and how we perceive our own self-interest. It is also part of our human nature to think, to evaluate our circumstances and change our behavior when we conclude that doing so is in our self-interest.
Accordingly, socialism is not contrary to human nature. For the vast majority of the people who belong to the working class today, it does no good to be greedy, competitive or power-hungry; capitalism rewards them with hardship. Sooner or later, a majority of workers can and will come to the realization that their own self-interest demands the creation of a new social system based on social ownership of the industries and cooperative production for the common good. Once a socialist society is established, the material and other rewards of that system will continue to reinforce cooperative behavior and nullify selfishness, greed and the desire for power over others.
Without the possibility of getting ahead of others and becoming wealthy, what's the incentive to produce under socialism?
The idea that there would be no incentive for workers to be productive in a socialist society is a myth, reinforced by the myth that the Soviet Union is, or was, socialist. In the Soviet Union, the incentive to be a productive member of society was severely damaged by the oppressive, self-serving rule of the bureaucracy. Workers had no assurance that diligent work or improvements in productivity would benefit them in any way. This contributed to the breakdown of that system.
In a genuine socialist society, workers would have strong incentives to work conscientiously and improve the means and methods of production-incentives far stronger than those that exist under either the Soviet system or capitalism.
The moral and social incentive to be a productive and responsible member of society would be cein-forced by the knowledge that one's efforts would truly be benefiting all society, and not merely an idle class of social parasites.
The material incentives to be productive, and to improve productivity, would be strengthened as well. With capitalist exploitation abolished, workers would receive the full social value of their labor. The rewards of their own labor, and of improvements in efficiency, would accrue to them, and not to a separate class of owners. Thus, they would have "the possibility" of becoming well off materially -- a far greater possibility than they have today -- from their own labor. And the more efficiently they produce, the more they could enjoy, with a shorter and shorter workweek.
In sum, workers would have strong incentives to be productive in a socialist society because they would be working for themselves and the social interest, simultaneously. With no ruling class in existence, the workers' interest and the social interest would be one and the same.
Isn't socialism too idealistic and Utopian? How are you going to build such a society?
A proposed social change would be too idealistic or utopian if it depended upon people following an ideal that was contrary to their material interest. But that is not the case with socialism. Socialism is grounded in material realities.
It is grounded in the reality that it is now objectively and physically possible for society to meet the basic human needs and wants of all the people -- and more.
It is grounded in the reality that capitalism stands as an obstacle to society realizing this potential to meet the needs and wants of all.
It is grounded in the reality that society's sole useful producers -- the working class, which includes all who do productive work, mental or physical -- are increasingly being denied their material needs and wants under the present system. Thus the modern working class has both a motive and the potential power to replace the present system with socialism. All that's missing is for workers to recognize their true interests as a class, understand the socialist goal, and begin organizing as a class to establish it.
Thus, socialism is realistic. The workers already collectively occupy the industries every day and operate them from top to bottom. The only thing they don't do is own them, control them, and control their product. Properly organized, they can rectify that, and build an economic system that will truly serve the social interest. And given the serious and growing problems that the capitalist system has created, socialism is not only realistic, it is essential to human survival and social progress. To build socialism, workers must organize on both the political and economic fields. For more on that subject, turn to the article on page 5.
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