Today we live in a society which has made amazing technological leaps and bounds. Under the system of capitalism, we have seen innovations that could not previously be imagined – from the smartphones in our pockets, to the rovers on Mars.
But despite these great steps forward, capitalism is no longer advancing our interests. This system cannot provide clean water to over one billion people, and its inaction on climate change threatens the very future of the planet.
The problem is not that there is not enough money or resources to give everybody the quality of life they deserve. We know that there is more than enough wealth produced in society to solve the problems of hunger, poverty, disease, war and climate change. The problem is the way wealth is controlled under capitalism, and how decisions are made.
When we talk about capitalism, we are talking about the system as a mode of production. That is to say, who controls the resources and infrastructure – for example, the office buildings, the call centres, the factories, the banks and so on. Under capitalism, it is a tiny elite group of people who control these things, not the majority of society.
This is because capitalism has two defining features: the private ownership of society’s wealth and resources, and the profit motive.
It is becoming increasingly clear to many that we can’t go on like this. Another world is not just possible, it is necessary.
This world would be one where everyone’s basic needs are met, where our work is meaningful and where our lives are valued. A world where we are free from all forms of inequality and oppression and where we can put the best of people’s abilities to use for the common good. But what would this society look like, and how would it work?
While we can’t predict the future in exact detail, we can outline in general terms some of the features of, and possibilities for, a socialist society.
We can see that the technology and resources already exist to build a better world. But it is not in capitalism’s interests to use technology that way. Instead, it is only developed when the capitalists can make money out of it. Often advancements are suppressed, or at the very least they are not being used for the common good.
This is because in a market economy, a handful of super rich people will always decide what is produced, where, and in what quantities. The alternative to this is a socialist economy which is publicly owned and democratically planned. A socialist economy would put the greater needs of society first.
Generally, people have a few basic needs – a house, food, power, transport, education and healthcare. So much of what we do in relation to these things is done electronically. We shop, pay bills and do our banking online, and use countless apps to assist us in our daily lives. Almost everything we do today is counted or tracked in some way.
We have more information than ever before about how to plan a society. The internet allows us to share this information around the world in an instant. It would be very easy to use this information to organise production to be efficient, to eliminate waste, and to begin solving the environmental crisis. Instead, the capitalists use the information they gather to simply make more profits!
Through the use of online inventories, it would be very easy to calculate and plan for what we all actually need to get by. We would seek to do away with the overproduction that is an inherent part of capitalism.
A publicly owned and democratically planned economy would bring all of the big corporations, which control around 80% of the Australian economy, into public hands and under working-class control. That would be the companies that make billions in profits, like Telstra, the big banks, the major supermarket chains, and huge energy and mining companies like BHP.
We would utilise the wealth produced by these big companies to invest in the jobs, homes and services that we need. It’s not a question of “where would the money come from?”. The wealth is already being created, the problem is that a rich minority are hoarding it. Socialism changes all that. It puts the wealth we create in the hands of the people.
Of course, we wouldn’t trust the politicians of today to run this planned economy. We would need to implement real democratic structures. Socialist democracy would be much more far-reaching than the parliamentary democracies of capitalism. Everyone would have the chance to take part in deciding how society and the economy would be run.
This would be done by setting up committees – from the workplace, to the local community, to larger regional areas and so on. These committees would have elected representatives who would be accountable for their actions and subject to instant recall if they went against the wishes of the people they represent. Further, there would be disincentives for career politicians as those elected representatives would only receive the average worker’s wage.
With the democratic structures in place to run the planned economy, one of the first things we would see in a socialist society would be an immediate improvement in our living standards.
We would straight away invest in a plan of useful public works that would create hundreds of thousands of jobs. People working in jobs that are not socially useful, and the unemployed, would be given training and education so that they could participate in this plan.
We would immediately start transitioning to renewable energy. We would expand the public transport network, build more hospitals and schools and improve the current facilities. We would build public housing to get rid of homelessness and invest in all the social services that we need.
We would shorten the working week with no loss of pay to get rid of unemployment. We would raise the minimum wage to cover the real costs of living, and very quickly we could also start providing essential items for free.
All of this would mean an immediate increase in people’s disposable incomes as well as our quality of life. Stress and insecurity would immediately begin to recede. We would start to see an immense improvement in people’s mental health.
We would see the beginnings of a world free of inequality and oppression. Because socialism would strive to share society’s wealth equally, other forms of equality would naturally flow from that. Instead of being forced to compete with each other, and being subject to the artificial divisions that capitalism propagates, prejudice would start to disappear.
Of course, this won’t all happen automatically. It will take time to undo the damage that capitalism has wreaked upon us by seeking to divide us on the basis of our race, gender, sexuality or otherwise. A conscious effort would need to be undertaken to remove all forms of discrimination and disadvantage, and educate people in a progressive way. Socialism would aim to replace the exploitation, inequality and hierarchies that exist under capitalism with cooperation and negotiation.
With the major companies responsible for research and development under democratic public control, there is no telling what could be accomplished. There would be no need for secrecy between companies researching the same ideas because information would be freely passed around for the common good. Science would be focused on solving our biggest problems such as climate change, and curing diseases.
Just as capitalism is a global system, so too will be socialism. The trillions wasted on individual countries’ defence budgets would not be necessary with an international society that is truly co-operative. Money could instead be spent on making more and more basic products free, eliminating poverty and raising our standards of living.
Over time, technology would advance beyond what we can think of today. On the basis of cooperation, innovation would advance much more quickly than we see today. Under socialism automation would be a positive thing. Instead of creating job losses and forcing people into poverty, automation would mean the working week could be shortened even further without sacrificing jobs.
People’s time would be freed up to be used how they see fit. There would be a revolution in cultural life, art would flourish. Everyone would have the chance to reach their full potential, creative or otherwise.
Socialism will enable people to pursue a line of work that they are passionate about. Many people would be able to follow their talents without having to live in poverty, or simply be able to get the education they need for the career they want.
Socialism is a very simple concept. It’s about using society’s wealth for the betterment of all. It’s about sharing out the wealth rather than having a world where the top 1% live very nicely while the rest of us struggle to make ends meet. Socialism is about putting an end to want, to wars and to ongoing crisis.
Some of our critics claim that there will be no incentives under socialism. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Our incentive will be the betterment of society, – this is what will drive people.
In the words of Oscar Wilde: “Socialism, by converting private property into public wealth, and substituting co-operation for competition, will restore society to its proper condition.”
By Kat Galea