What is Socialism?
Posted On 29 Apr 2014
A society in which socialism is practiced would look very different to the social system we have today in all the countries of the world.
Understanding capitalist society – a requirement for understanding socialism
The social or socio-economic system we live in is called capitalism or capitalist society.
Capitalism is a system which is widely hailed by the capitalist mass-media and politicians as a free society that practises democracy and offers people freedom to choose, in a “free-market” economy.
Capitalism, strictly speaking, is a society in which the means of production or the things necessary for the large-scale production of all the goods and services that people need, and want, are owned and controlled by private persons owning private companies or corporations and banks.
These owners are known as capitalists and capitalist corporations.
By means of production, we mean land, money, buildings like factories, machinery and all sorts of equipment that are necessary for the production of food and manufacture of clothes, cars and TVs, building of houses, roads and railways and airports and seaports – indeed all the material things we need very much – as well as the not so necessary things – for our modern living.
Thus it is clear that people in a capitalist society are divided into (social) classes. Everybody lives as a member of a class. And the divisions are not because people choose to be divided. The owners of big capital, from bankers to big-time industrialists manufacturing military hardware including weapons of mass destruction and automobiles, property or housing developers are examples of such capitalists. And those owning the controlling shares on petroleum and gas corporations to pharmaceutical firms and children’s toy factories, possess huge sums of money and other forms of wealth.
They are therefore more powerful than ordinary people, that is, the workers, small-scale farmers, people without work, and even those such as small shop-keepers. It is thus clear that wage-workers, unemployed people and pensioners are not equal to these capitalists, in terms of power and wealth.
The big capitalists as a whole, hold power over all the other people, indeed power and control over the rest of society through national leaders, the parliament, the chiefs of the armed-forces and secret police (intelligence service). Almost all politicians do their bidding. It is really a dictatorship of their class.
In such a society it is simply nonsense to talk of “freedom” and “democracy” for all.
Capitalist society, being a class-ridden society, is an extremely unequal society. The riches of the fabulously wealthy are made through the exploitation of the much poorer wage-earners. It is an uncaring, dog-eat-dog world of selfishness. Thus the market is never free; it is heavily weighted in favour of the rich and powerful.
The basic law that drives capitalist society onward is that the capitalist, in order to make an ever greater margin of profit, must never relax his intensity of exploitation in his enterprise. This law applies also for the system as a whole in a country, and at the world level. It must forever continue to grow and expand or it will meet its death. In the last instance it depends on the never-to-be-satisfied greed of capitalists.
Socialism, on the other hand, is a set of ideas which aims to bring about a more equal and humane society. The primary aim of those striving for a socialist society is to bring into being a human civilization that gives power to ordinary working people, and at the same time safe-guard the natural environment.
Socialism is a socio-economic system in which the means of production are publicly or socially owned and controlled. Moreover it is a society where the basic needs of the people are fulfilled, where the essential things for human life are distributed following the principle, “From each according to their ability, to each according to their work.”
What does a socialist society really look like?
Socialism is aimed at distributing wealth and power among the people in every nation on a more equitable basis. In opposition to capitalism, it is a society that seeks to ensure that poor people do not continue to become poorer as the rich get richer. Indeed it is a vast historic, and ambitious human collective undertaking – the first step – that seeks to bring the end of class society into being. Socialism is a stage in human development before such a society without classes can come into existence.
Great and far-reaching changes to people’s lives however cannot just happen through gradual or incremental reforms. The ruling capitalist class and other exploiters (those who draw profits from the labour of working people) would never allow such changes; they would never give up power willingly, not even if their political representatives were voted out of office in elections.
The armed-forces that belong to the ruling class are there to ensure that the capitalist class did not lose power. People have to seize and hold power which can only be done through a revolutionary process and by establishing a revolutionary government to fulfil the needs of remaking social relations founded on equality.
Thus, in order to keep all powers to the people, and prevent the return of the old society (restoration of capitalist society), a condition that cannot be avoided for any successful socialist governance is that the people, especially the working people, must exercise all-round power – in all sphere of public life: political, economic, cultural – over their former exploiters, that is, those who made profits through taking away of values made by the workers (and peasants, as in many cases). Only thus can such an equal society become reality and last for a considerably long period of time.
The socialist experience of the 20th Century in the former Soviet Union (from 1917 till the mid-1950s) and in China (from 1949 till 1976) saw human societies turning from the most unequal societies to the most equal.
Ordinary people who had previously suffered terribly (many died in great numbers) from hunger and easily curable or preventable diseases saw – through co-operative and collective farming – the problem of mass starvation overcome in a few years. People shared. And they cared for their neighbours and they were excited about the affairs of public administration or the state. They saw what the new society was bringing into life. People were thus inspired to push for greater levels of co-operation.
Profit or private profit-making was no longer in command in the new economy.
With collective or public ownership of all the land and enterprises, it was possible to reorganise production (of goods and services) whereby the direct producers, the workers and cultivators of the soil, enjoyed the fruits of their labour through a more equitable distribution of wealth in society.
Women, long oppressed and subordinated to men, found they were equal to men as comrades. Socialist society opened up new avenues for their struggle for equality in place of living lives of misery under male domination.
It was possible to plan human and environmental development on a nation-wide basis.
Freed from the clutches of private developers, homes were built in great numbers to house the previously homeless.
Outbreaks of diseases were not only halted but doctors and nurses were trained in their millions – and hospitals and clinics were well supplied and served the people, free of costs. It was possible because profit was no longer in command in the then new economy.
Education too, from kindergarten to university was free and illiteracy was wiped out within a short time.
Public transport freed from private corporate greed too was virtually free for the people.
National minorities, previously oppressed by Great Russian chauvinism and Han chauvinism eventually won the right to rule themselves in national autonomous regions. Different ethnic groups throughout the USSR and China became equal citizens, with freedom to practise their cultures and religions.
It is such a society that the guardians of big capital, or monopoly capital (also called corporate capital or imperialism) sought to prevent, as it does today. Socialist societies had put an end to private profit-making and therefore they had to be maligned. Indeed, all those seeking to bring about greater social justice, were, and still are constantly vilified or demonized, if not ridiculed. For capitalist rulers of the world, people should not be allowed to see through their lies and deceits.
Today, despite all the lies told through the TVs and newspapers, more and more people are seeing through the mass deception. People are once again beginning to ask serious questions about the world we live in and are trying to understand how the workings of the capitalist system has brought so much suffering and horrendous conditions of life for the overwhelming majority of the people of the world.
Many today have begun to see that the rule of capital must end – and it is necessary to usher in socialism as an alternative to the present nightmare.
Restoration of capitalism in the former socialist societies
The new-born socialist societies of the 20th Century were strangled in their infancy and replaced once again by the same old unequal, cut-throat societies of greed and selfishness. And their ugly banners virtually snarls across the sky once again, “Grab whatever, and however much you can for yourself, and let the devil take whatever is left behind!”
This was possible because the socialist system was not without problems. Socialist societies too in the former Soviet Union and China had deep-seated problems.
There were persons of authority in the new ruling political circles whose approach to economic development called for entrenchment of privilege and inequality rather than doing away with these; profit motive and material incentives, they said, should be enhanced to increase production and productivity; they called for cultural and educational disparities through competition among the different classes of people to be continued and promoted in order to achieve excellence.
Political understanding and social consciousness among the people greatly varied, often leading to ordinary people standing in opposition to their own class interests.
The political clashes of views between persons of authority upholding privilege for the few and inequality (capitalist-roaders) and the revolutionary elements who sought to overthrow them from power was, indeed class struggle. They were clashes of world outlooks, indeed clashes between ideologies as well as political clashes in all aspects of public life.
Thus even under the socialist system there were classes and class struggle. At the very foundation of the society, the economic base, goods and services were produced for sale, for the market (commodity production). The use of money as medium of exchange, as measure and store of value and as commodity continued. Though income differences between the working poor and the former capitalists were greatly reduced. there were still fairly wide wage-differentials among different categories of workers.
Given the limitations in the material development, given the balance of power between the revolutionaries and those standing opposed to the socialist revolution and given the international political context, the socialist systems in the USSR and China could not abolish those inequalities and differences at one go. They could only seek to narrow them step by step. Hence the process of change underwent serious resistance, often giving rise to tumultuous social unrest.
Throughout the period of socialist revolution and construction there was the danger of capitalist restoration as the power struggle between the opposing factions, one fundamentally representing the toiling people or working-class (the proletariat) and the other, the newly emerging power elite in the political circles and in administrative apparatuses or state machinery basically representing the interests of the middle class (the bourgeoisie) was by no means over for several decades.
Class struggle was not settled. Waiting in the wings to pounce and conquer the return of privilege and inequality was the global system of world capitalism or imperialism. As events turned out, persons in high places of authority favouring restoration of the old societies did win out in the end. But there is no end to history as long as there is human life and the will to change.
The socialist attempt at bringing greater equality and eliminate privilege in human societies was defeated and hence discarded in the USSR and China, which is now really a capitalist society.
Socialism: the way forward for humanity
With the world capitalist economic system in deep crisis, with growing numbers of people losing the means of livelihood, with our planet facing major climatic changes, for the worse, and increasing restrictions on peoples’ freedom to voice protest and express themselves, the patience of billions across different continents is running out. It is becoming clearer to so many today, especially with the young people, with each passing day, that the present world capitalist system cannot be sustained for long. The only realistic alternative is socialism.
Class-societies have been prevalent for thousands of years. Capitalist societies in Europe did not develop along a straight line. Capitalist history has been chequered and tortured, going through twists and turns. There had been long and bloody wars and immense suffering. But there had also been restoration of older (feudal) monarchies followed by capitalist counter-restoration until it has come to prevail for a several hundred years now.
The ideas of modern socialism has been on earth for less than 200 years. Socialism promised, not heaven on earth, as its enemies so often assert, but only a better world for the many. And socialism delivered while it lasted, granted its limitations, its shortcomings and failings.
Socialist endeavours were defeated by the then stronger capitalist class forces but its ideas continue to excite. Socialist ideas are still very young like fresh green shoots. It is like the sun rising in the morning. Many are confident that the socialist system will eventually prevail.
The human spirit does not rest for long however. Already there are stirrings among the youth. There is restlessness and desire to learn from history. The thirst and the quest for a more just and equal human society continues to this day.