A Coherent System – Socialism


Janet Surman - CounterCurrents

The shortfalls of capitalism, in the news big time, have been expressed loud and clear around the world. Numerous issues, items for serious discussion, have been raised which are generally labelled political, economic or social but which rarely can be considered in one of these areas in isolation. The links between these three areas and between the separate issues are more of a tangled web than isolated connections.

Consider the connections here in matters which would be seen by activists as environmental problems: fracking for oil, mountain top removal for coal, deforestation for monocrops, localised industrial pollution of water, air and ground, depleted uranium contamination from wars, nuclear waste from energy production, etc. All are primarily urgent social problems for reasons of serious risk to the short and long term health of workers and their communities but which have been subsumed by the imperative of business and ‘the market’ to continue making profits, ie economic considerations come first. Politics being so intricately bound to capitalist economics politicians are required to make decisions to uphold the system and keep it running as efficiently and profitably as possible. Whichever single issue is selected for scrutiny a similar pattern appears – when it comes to the crunch, decision time, however they wrap it up or smother it with platitudes the vast majority of politicians toe the economic line.

When problems related to work are considered it is found that what concerns the worker is different from that which concerns the employer. Everything, every angle, every detail, every aspect is decided according to economics. Hourly pay, sick benefits, overtime, final pension, holiday and paternity or maternity leave, contracts are for the employer to break or change – not the employee. Time for breaks and lunch, penalties for late arrival, sudden lay-offs, unexpected redundancies, late meetings – you name it, they decide. Trades unions may manage to fight off some of the worst pay cuts, reduce some of the workforce losses and maybe claw back some previously lost advantage but overall they are fighting an endless, losing battle. A brief scan at statistics clearly shows which side is winning. A social system would approach the work situation from a different perspective: what work is needed to be done by and for cooperating communities, how it can be shared out, satisfaction at work, full participation in decision making and common ownership of all the means of living.

Identifying the cause

When broken down it can be seen that any of the stand alone ‘single issues’ actually all spring from a common root, that of the world capitalist system which places the economy and politics above social considerations. This has been one of the more noticeable factors common to popular demands being made around the world, that individuals within the occupations and uprisings have taken note of the indisputable position of the vast majority – ‘the 99%’ – and are protesting and rejecting their findings. It is unacceptable to them to be without a voice or proper representation; to be denied free speech within supposed democracies; to have banks and too-big-to-fail companies bailed out whilst witnessing record numbers of house foreclosures, unemployed, and children in poverty; to witness increased spending on the military and huge hikes in the cost of further education; to see social services and public sector personnel hammered; to have all kinds of deals and social contracts reneged on as political and corporate interests refuse to grapple with the problems of climate change; and on and on ad infinitum.

Looking back is enormously important to understanding what must be done to avoid repeating earlier mistakes. Unless deliberate steps are taken to change the ultimate direction of politics and economics then all things under the social umbrella will continue to be subsumed as of lesser import to the overall system. The challenge is more than overcoming an unending string of ‘single issues’ but one of the overriding necessity for a coherent, logical system which finally serves the people – a truly social system. As individuals it’s possible or even likely that certain ‘single issues’ strike a chord more personal or pertinent than others, however until the realisation hits home that they are all the result of capitalist norms and that it is the cause that has to be dealt with not the effects, then as the 99% we will continue along the road of calling for a reform here and there, inviting for ourselves and future generations more of the torture we vowed to end.

No to reforms

Anyone who has tried to remake a garment, repair a complicated bit of carpentry, refashion an item from mismatched pieces or in any way attempted to put something back together so that it works well when it didn’t fulfil its function properly to begin with will know that it’s far simpler to start from scratch and create a new item. So it is with capitalism and reformism – bin the idea of trying over and over to reform something that has never worked for the vast majority, tweaking it a bit here and there and then having to have another go at it a few months or years down the road when it comes apart again. Far better to use the combined energies of all those seeking a better way of living and working, one based on people as social animals, to organise together from scratch according to real democratic principles.

If we are seeking an end to the current structure of relations which puts economic matters at the forefront of each and every issue and which is supported wholeheartedly by the current political system then it follows that we are determined to pursue a system organised for the benefit of the vast majority – one where social matters trump the economic and political. Many social movements and activists go a long way to pointing out just such failings as have been written about here but most fall at the last hurdle. They will reveal the reasons for failure clearly enough; the capitalist economic system that doesn’t work for the mass of the people, the logic of which sets out deliberately to fail many. They talk about, suggest, even demand actions to socialise, to redistribute or more fairly distribute assets, jobs, wages, access to land and the means of living but fail to see they are calling for something from a system that can’t respond to their demands because of its innate logic.

Making any significant changes calls for a thorough understanding by the majority of a different kind of politics. A raising of awareness of how participatory democracy can really change the status quo to a democracy that is actually, noticeably, determinedly and deliberately organised to reinforce the social aspect by placing the satisfaction of human needs, not economics, at the forefront of all decision making. This can only be achieved by first removing the primary cause of previous failures; that is by removing the capitalist system itself. The system of socialism, by its very principles, is a whole lot simpler than that which has had to be endured daily within the capitalist system. Removing the prime motivation of continuous accumulation by ending all incentives or inducements for pecuniary advantage in favour of free access for all empowers the majority. This broad democratic shift to revolutionise the political and end the economic will complete the transformation to the new social order.


Janet Surman, member of the WSM/SPGB www.worldsocialism.org/spgb

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