“Being a wage slave, even with the best conditions, is no life at all”
At the next election, the working class will decide which party's appearance is the most appealing and we shall have a Labour or a Conservative government and capitalism will stay with us. Some voters think that only certain politicians make a mess of things; in fact, the whole of the capitalist system is a mess. It is working-class ignorance and apathy which keep that mess there; and, ironically, it is the working class who pay the price of their folly.
Wealth is meaningless if everyone is wealthy. Power is meaningless if everyone has power. The ruling class have a vested interest in keeping everyone poor and powerless, because if everyone is a ruler, then no one is a ruler. The more power everyone else has, the less power our current rulers would have over us. This is why so much politics goes into ensuring that votes have as little effect as possible on the operations of the state and making sure everything stays the same no matter what the public wants. In a system where money is power, the ruling class naturally needs to suppress the wealth and power of its subjects in order to continue to rule.
Imagine if working people started having as much influence over the direction human civilisation as the oligarchs and plutocrats. Imagine if everybody could work less and relax more, and start discovering what’s really going on in the world. Our capitalist world is perpetually at war, social injustice is rampant, and human and animal suffering is too commonly accepted or overlooked. Capitalist greed drives this malevolence. Capitalist greed with its insatiable appetite for profit creates chaos. Socialism affirms our compassion and shared humanity, replacing violence with harmony. The world’s predicament is not one that can be resolved via piecemeal legislation. In the end, it’s either profit over people or people over profit – and, if the latter arrangement is ever to be obtained, it requires nothing less than a comprehensive overthrow of capitalist society.
The worker is the source of all wealth. Who has raised all the food? The worker. Who built all the houses and warehouses, and palaces, which are possessed by the rich? The worker. Who manufactures all the products? The worker. Yet workers remain poor and destitute, while those who do not work are wealthy.
One of the first goals of a socialist world would be to put all of these important economic resources under the common ownership and collective control of the people. By doing so, the majority of the population would decide what the priorities of production and distribution should be. Technology could be used to link every workplace and every suburb in a city, every city and every region in the world to determine the needs and availability of resources for every community, a way that would let the system know how much it had produced of certain goods and how much of certain other goods its population needed for the week (or the day). The system would then balance out all the claims and society would immediately know where there were excesses and where there are shortages can alter production accordingly. It sounds so simple as to be utterly utopian. But this is basically the way the world works already. Take the extensive global supply chains linking farms to food processors, warehouses to supermarkets—everything is coordinated down to the last kilogram between buyers and sellers.
Somewhere a supermarket manager is scanning barcodes and tomorrow a supply truck will turn up with whatever it was that they ordered. It’s as simple as that. When it comes to this sort of distribution, capitalism is in general incredibly efficient. However, in today’s world the process today is carried out only if they believe it will make money and a profit. That’s the limitation to the capitalist economy and its efficiency. But there’s no technical reason that this operation couldn’t be run instead to meet human needs. The whole process is already carried out by workers—from producing the food to transporting it to stacking the shelves in the shops. All that would need to happen is for production and logistics to be put under the democratic control of the people who do all the work. Under capitalism, shareholders reap the rewards of the impoverished, exploited workers.
With socialism, working people would reap the rewards of their own labour and communities would turn around and say, “We need a hospital”—and it would happen. It’s not materially or technically different; it’s just a different set of priorities and beneficiaries.
Along with its inability to distribute things equitably, capitalism generates a huge amount of waste.
First is the mountain of things that are thrown out because they aren’t sold. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, nearly half of all fruit and vegetables produced globally are wasted. In the United States, it’s about 30 percent of all food. Of that, up to a third of wastage happens at the farm and one-quarter at the retail level. It’s actually extra work to keep people starving—food producers and sellers have to put extra time into organising to dump or remove unsold produce, rather than simply allow it to be distributed, in the usual way, to those who need it. Plus they wasted all the labour producing it in the first place only to see it rot. It was also a massive waste of soil nutrients and precious water resources.
Second is the huge amount of planned obsolescence in capitalist production: many things are designed to fall apart or with short lifespans so that people come back and buy them over and over again. It’s such a waste of labour and resources, but it’s the production model that makes companies the most money. In many cases, it is cheaper to drive wages lower and just produce more and more new things than it is to create durable or serviceable products.
Third is the monumental waste of entire industries and the staff associated with them: things like the legal profession or sales and marketing. One estimate of the cost to end global hunger (using existing capitalist economic means) is about US$33 billion per year over ten years. Compare that to the investment in marketing: that in the United States alone will reach US$4.7 trillion in 2025. That’s trillions of dollars and millions of labour hours, every year, expended by companies trying to convince us to buy their products, which will soon fall apart, rather than their competitors’ products, which are generally the same and also fall apart.
Socialism would get rid of most of this waste almost overnight by starting with simple questions that the whole population can respond to:
First, what do we all need?
Second, what do we want?
Third, how many resources do we have?
Fourth, what are our priorities?
A huge amount of office space, factory space, fertile land, machinery and, above all, labour time, would be freed up by starting with those questions, rather than the capitalists’ questions of:
“How do I make people want to buy this product? How can I generate a profit?”
Think of all the millions of hours of wasted labour and energy that could otherwise be used to increase the production of things in short supply, or to reduce the working week by either producing things to last (therefore reducing the need to produce so much) or by bringing in a greater number of workers into productive industries and reducing everyone’s working hours, while still providing for everyone’s needs.
Socialism would be more rational. Defenders of capitalism always talk about how innovative their system is. But take the ongoing economic addiction to oil, coal and gas. How innovative is it, really, to be wedded to energy sources from the nineteenth century? The problem again is profits: the huge companies already invested in and determined to squeeze every cent out of the fossil fuel economy just won’t let go. Socialism, being run by the majority in the interests of all, simply would not allow our planet to be trashed so that a few of us could live better than the rest.
Getting to a socialist economy will not be simple—we need a workers’ revolution to get past capitalism. But once we are there, it will be quite easy to use existing technologies and processes to run the world according to the maxim, “From each according to their ability, to each according to their need”.
Adapted from here