As the disillusioned environmentalists and disappointed COP26 delegates begin to depart Glasgow, what can we say except that our aim still remains one of achieving the socialist principle, ‘from each according to ability, to each according to need’ - free access - or post-scarcity socialism to reword the title of a Murray Bookchin’s book.
The World Socialist Movement (WSM) has always held that a society of abundance for all is possible and can be quickly turned into a reality. The fact that science and technology have developed to the point where it could be applied to produce enough for everybody to be able to satisfy their material needs strengthens the case for socialism. If the technological preconditions exist in today’s world but what is lacking is the required vast popular movement to bring such a society into being.
How much is too much? Some futurist scenarios are built upon the assumptions that people want luxury and that they detest work. We suggest that neither of these is fully correct and take their reasoning from projecting the capitalist ethos into non-market and not-for-profit economic system.
Our critics claim that there are no other alternatives for the allocation of resources other than prices calculated by the free market or determined centrally by a command economy.
Our critics remain fixated on what we can call the ‘Lazy, Greedy Hypothesis’ which simply preaches the conventional capitalist wisdom about peoples ‘selfishness’, rejecting a system that abolishes the money, prices and exchange economy on the grounds that a money-free scheme would permit the least social conscious, those without any sense of social responsibility to ‘win’ out because they will take more from society and give less to the community becoming anti-social parasites and free riders. Are some innately selfish and inherently idle?
We say no and don’t share this pessimistic view. We have always thought we left ‘Original Sin’ to the blinkered religious believers, not for the progressive-minded to accept.
People behave differently depending upon the conditions that they live in. Although in today’s world working equates to mindless repetitive drudgery there is much more to hard work than that as demonstrated by the long waiting lists to enjoy the sweat of digging at one's allotment. Working people develop deep friendships with co-workers when they engage in social production.
Human behaviour reflects society. In a society such as capitalism, people's needs are not met and reasonable people feel insecure. People tend to acquire and hoard goods because possession provides some security. People have a tendency to distrust others because the world is organised in such a dog-eat-dog manner. In capitalist society a tendency for individuals to seek to validate their sense of worth through the accumulation of possessions and conspicuous consumption.
As Marx contended, the prevailing ideas of society are those of its ruling class then we can understand why, when the wealth of that class so preoccupies the minds of its members, such a notion of status should be so deep-rooted.
In socialism, status based upon the material wealth at one's command would be a meaningless concept. Why take more than you need when you can freely take what you need? In socialism, the only way in which individuals can command the esteem of others is through their contribution to society, and the more the movement for socialism grows the more will it subvert the prevailing capitalist ethos, in general, and its anachronistic notion of status, in particular. How can the status of conspicuous consumption be used as a reward as it is now for a privileged elite when all have equal free access.
In free access socialism, the notion of income or purchasing power would be devoid of meaning. So, therefore, would the notion of status be based upon the conspicuous consumption of wealth because individuals would stand in equal relation to the means of production and have free access to goods and services.
Under capitalism, there is a very large industry devoted to creating needs. Capitalism requires consumption, whether it improves our lives or not, and drives us to consume up to, and past, our ability to pay for that consumption. In a system of capitalist competition, there is a built-in tendency to stimulate demand to a maximum extent. Enterprises, for example, need to persuade customers to buy their products or they go out of business. They would not otherwise spend the vast amounts they do spend on advertising.
Socialism requires that we appreciate what is meant by ‘enough’ and that we do not project onto it the insatiable consumerism of capitalism. Socialism presupposes the existence of a mass socialist movement and a profound change in social outlook. It is simply not reasonable to suppose that the desire for socialism on what it entails on the part of all concerned, would not influence the way people behaved in socialism and towards each other. Would they want to jeopardise the new society they had helped create? Socialists very much doubt it.
Socialism does not require self-sacrifice and for all of us to become altruists, placing the interests of others above our own. Socialism doesn't require people to be any more humane than they are today. We will still be concerned primarily with ourselves, with satisfying our needs, our need to be respected and appreciated by others as well as our requirement for companionship and sexual intimacy. No doubt too, we will wish to ‘possess’ personal belongings, and seek to feel secure in accommodation, but this will be just that – our home and not a financial asset. Such ‘selfish’ behaviour will still exist in socialism but the acquisitiveness encouraged by capitalism will no longer exist.
The coming of socialism will not require great changes in the way we behave, essentially only the accentuation of some of the behaviours which people exhibit today (friendliness, helpfulness, co-operation) at the expense of other more negative ones which capitalism encourages.
A sense of mutual obligations and the realisation of universal interdependency arising from this would profoundly colour people’s perceptions and influence their behaviour in such a society. We may thus characterise such a society as being built around mutual aid and a system of generalised reciprocity.