What Socialism Means

The People
December 9, 1995
Vol. 105 No. 16

WHAT SOCIALISM MEANS

BY KEN BOETTCHER

"Settle the economic question and you settle all other questions. It is the Aaron's rod which swallows up the rest," said the 19th-century English Socialist poet and artist, William Morris.

Morris was right. The capitalist economic system lies at the root of all of modern society's major social AND economic problems. Abolish strife-breeding capitalism and those problems are either eradicated or left to die, for lack of nourishment, on the ugly vine from which they spring.

The Socialist Labor Party has long contended that only socialism can solve the major social and economic problems plaguing our society today. But many people have been taught all their lives that "socialism" means the state-controlled system that existed in the Soviet Union, exists today in China or Cuba, or bureaucratic state control of society in general.

The Marxian socialism upheld by the Socialist Labor Party, however, is completely different from the Soviet or Chinese systems, or any existing system. It has nothing to do with nationalization, a welfare state or any kind of state ownership or control of industry whatsoever.

On the contrary, it would give power not to the state, but to the people themselves, allowing collective control of their own economic future.

Socialism means a classless society. Unlike under capitalism, where a tiny minority owns the vast majority of wealth and the means of producing it, everyone would share equally in the ownership of all the means of production, and everyone able to do so would work. There wouldn't be separate classes of owners and workers. The economy would be administered by the workers themselves through industrially based, democratic "associations of free and equal producers," as Marx described it.

The workers collectively would decide what they want produced and how they want it produced. They would control their own workplaces and make the decisions governing their particular industry. With the abolition of the capitalist expropriation of the lion's share of workers' product, all workers would receive, directly or indirectly, the full value of the products they create, minus only the deductions needed to maintain and improve society's facilities of production and distribution.

As Engels once described it, socialism would be a system in "which every member of society will be enabled to participate not only in the production but also in the distribution of social wealth."

Far from being a state-controlled society, socialism would be a society WITHOUT A STATE. Marx once said that "the existence of the state is inseparable from the existence of slavery." Consonant with this truth, socialism would have a GOVERNMENT, but not a separate, coercive body standing above society itself -- a state. The people themselves, through the democratic associations of workers, would BE the government.

Socialism can only be built in a developed, industrialized society with a working-class majority. Though partly inspired by Marxism, the Bolshevik and Chinese revolutions weren't socialist in character. They occurred in preindustrial societies. Without a majority working class and the ability to eliminate scarcity of needed goods and services, creation of a classless society was impossible. Material conditions there bred conflict and made the continuation of the class struggle inevitable in such countries.

In a socialist revolution, the industrially organized workers take possession of the means of production, abolish capitalist- class rule and supplant the state with an industrial government formed by "associations of free and equal producers." In the Bolshevik and Chinese revolutions, an elite "vanguard" party seized control of the state and used the state to control the means of production. Instead of establishing a classless society, the party-state bureaucracy became a new ruling class.

Daniel De Leon was among the first to posit how a REAL socialist society might be organized. He recognized that, although workers must organize on both the political and the economic fields, the economic organization of labor -- unions -- must play the primary role in the transformation to socialism.

A socialist political party is needed to educate the working class and to recruit workers to the socialist cause. But a political party isn't suited to carry out the primary objective of socialism -- to bring the workers into collective control over all social production and distribution.

De Leon concluded that workers could organize new, revolutionary unions, unlike the business unions that exist today. Based on industry, aiming to unite the working class into a single force, these Socialist Industrial Unions would play the decisive role in taking control of the means of production, and then BECOME, in effect, the "associations" that Marx advocated as the basis for a socialist workers' self- government. As De Leon wrote: "Industrial unionism is the Socialist Republic in the making; and the goal once reached, the industrial union is the Socialist Republic in operation."

Far from being a bureaucratically controlled system, socialism would bring democracy -- the rule of the people -- to the most vital part of our lives, the economy. Though no blueprint can possibly exist for what the workers themselves must ultimately build, socialism's general mode of operation is described in the Socialist Labor Party's platform today:

"In every plant, every office and every workplace in socialist society, the workers themselves will meet in democratic assembly to determine their own workplace policies and elect committees to administer and supervise production.

"To administer production at higher levels, the workers will also elect representatives to local and national councils of their respective industry, and to a central congress representing all the industries and services.

"This all-industry congress will ascertain what goods and services are wanted and will determine the resources needed to supply them. It will draw up the necessary plans to carry out production and allocate the resources. The congress will also arrange a just distribution of the output with the workers receiving the full social equivalent of the labor they contributed.

"All persons elected to posts in this economic administration, at whatever level, will be subject to rank-and-file control, and to removal whenever a majority of those who elected them find it desirable....

"Instead of economic despotism, socialism means economic democracy. Instead of production for sale and the profit of a few, socialism means production to satisfy the human needs and wants of all."

Socialism will allow for us to carry on production for use in the most modern production laboratories we can possibly create, utilizing the safest and most productive methods. The more we collectively produce, the more we shall collectively enjoy. All of us will be useful producers, working but a fraction of the time we are forced to work today. But we shall not only be useful producers, we shall all share equitably in the wealth we produce, and our compensation will literally dwarf anything we can imagine today.

In socialist society there will be neither involuntary unemployment nor poverty. The young will be educated not only to prepare them to participate in social production but also to enable them to expand their interests and develop their individual interests and talents.

The aged will be cared for, and not by any such demeaning methods as are used today. We shall provide all their material needs and create a social atmosphere in which they can live lives that are culturally and intellectually satisfying. It will not be charity, but their rightful share as former contributors to production.

Under capitalism, improved methods and machinery of production kick workers out of jobs. Under socialism, such improvements will be blessings for the simple reason that they will increase the amount of wealth producible and make possible ever higher standards of living, while providing us with greater and greater leisure in which to enjoy them.

Under socialism, we shall produce everything we need and want in abundance under conditions best suited to our welfare, aiming for the highest quality. We shall constantly strive to improve our methods and equipment in order to reduce the hours of work. We shall provide ourselves with the best of everything: the finest educational facilities, the most modern and scientific health facilities and adequate and varied recreational facilities. We shall constantly seek to improve our socialist society. Purposeful research, expansion of the arts and culture, preservation and replacement of our natural resources, all will receive the most serious attention. It will be a society in which everyone will have the fullest opportunity to develop his or her individuality without sacrificing the blessings of cooperation.

Freed from the compulsions of competition and the profit motive that presently hurl capitalist nations into war, socialism will also be a society of peace.

In short, socialist society will be a society of secure human beings, living in peace, in harmony and human brotherhood.

This all may sound too good to be true. Yet the United States has the productive capacity to provide a high standard of living for all, to provide security and comfort for all, to create safe workplaces and clean industries, and to help other nations reach these same goals. The only thing keeping us from reaching these goals is that the workers don't own and control that productive capacity; it is owned and controlled by a few who use it solely to profit themselves.

In the words of De Leon, "the socialist movement is the sole one that furnishes the foundation for the loftiest aspiration of the loftiest minds of all ages -- the Brotherhood of Man." But that socialism's goals are lofty should not discourage workers looking for a better life.

Organizing to bring the industries under the ownership of all the people, to build a socialist society of peace, plenty and freedom, is the only real alternative workers have. For, as William Morris once wrote, "While theologians are disputing the existence of a hell elsewhere, we are on the way to realizing it here: and if capitalism is to endure, whatever may become of men when they die, they will come into hell when they are born."