August 26, 2021 | 5 minutes read | Tags: Capitalism 101

Capitalism 101: Socialism

In the final instalment of our ‘Capitalism 101’ series, we will be discussing Socialism. What changes might we see to the economy and society under a socialist state?

Capitalism 101: Socialism

You can read the previous instalment of our Capitalist 101 series, ‘Crisis and Imperialism’, here.

Throughout the ‘Capitalism 101’ series, we have explained how the different elements of capitalism work. Capitalist society is organised around the production of goods and services as commodities, the drive to accumulate greater and greater profits by the capitalist class, and the exploitation of the working class. As we have learned, the great majority of the world — the proletariat or working class — has no choice but to sell its labour power in order to survive. Class conflict is at the core of capitalist society, and the capitalist state is used — violently — to sustain the existing, capitalist social order in the interests of the bourgeoisie. This article asks: what would our lives be like if we, the proletariat, took control of society and organised it in our own interests?

What is Socialism?

This article is intended to be a speculative political imagining; a space for us to explore what life might be like following the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of a socialist state. It is by no means a roadmap to revolution, but a tentative hypothesis of what changes we might see once our lives are not dictated by capital.

Real world examples of socialist states, both past and present, have shown us what is possible when capitalism is replaced with a social system oriented towards the needs of the people. However, any socialist revolution must be attentive to the particular material conditions in which it occurs. As revolutionary socialists in the imperial core, it is not our intention to simply mimic the tactics or strategy of our revolutionary heroes, but to apply Marxist-Leninism to our own context. When we use real world examples this is not to suggest that we must treat them as universal blueprints, but to demonstrate that another world is in fact possible.

We cannot talk about Socialism without talking about the State. As we explained in our article on the State, its various apparatus are used to protect the interests of the bourgeoisie under capitalism. Any socialist revolution would necessitate the State being taken into the hands of the proletariat. The exact circumstances which lead to the seizing of state power are, of course, determined by the particular historical conditions of a given society. What history has taught us with great certainty, however, is that the proletariat must take control of the State if it is to defend itself against the counter-revolution that inevitably follows any proletarian revolution — the bourgeoisie will not go quietly. In the Soviet Union, the Bolsheviks were only able to establish a Socialist state after they successfully fought off invasion from all angles by imperialist countries. For centuries, revolutionary socialist governments around the world have been overthrown by the forces of US imperialism and their puppets.

Seizing State power is about more than just fighting off the bad guys. Taking control of the State is necessary for us to begin reorganising the entire social order. Socialism is the structuring of society based on, as Engels puts it, the ‘liberation of the proletariat’, as opposed to wage labour and private property. A socialist society is one in which the factories, roads, tools, and industry as a whole (the means of production) are owned by the majority: the proletariat or working-class. The abolition of private property is often mistaken for the abolition of personal property. We would not, in fact, have to share one toothbrush under socialism. Instead, the abolition of private property would take apart the economic relations that existed under capitalism. Rather than wealthy individuals owning the means of production through which they make a profit by exploiting the proletariat, the means of production would be owned in common, and administered by a workers’ State.  

This upheaval of the existing economic system would, in turn, transform ‘work’ beyond recognition. We would no longer work to line the pockets of our bosses, but instead to advance the building of a socialist society. Our labour would no longer alienate us, but unite us in common cause. The labour of the masses would not be commodified under Socialism, but rather used as a means to advance Socialist society. Instead of surplus value being extracted for private profit and greed, it will be used for public good: to build infrastructure, housing, parks and other facilities and services available to all. If under capitalism even human labour becomes a tradable commodity, then Socialism will abolish wage labour and in doing so, abolish wage exploitation. The technology previously used by capitalists in order to squeeze the greatest amount of profit out of us would instead be taken into the hands of the workers, dramatically reducing the amount of time spent labouring. This is not to say that we could all put our feet up, there will still be a lot of work to do for example in making reparations to enslaved and colonised people, nor that wage labour could be immediately abolished in the event of a socialist revolution - but instead that with a radical, socialist restructuring of economy and society would come an equally radical transformation of our working lives.

The establishment of a worker’s state and the eradication of wage exploitation would in turn lead to a dramatic reduction in poverty. Historical and contemporary socialist states have repeatedly demonstrated the material gains made possible by a socialist system. Following socialist revolutions in countries such as the Soviet Union, Cuba, China and Vietnam, within a few decades rapid progress with regard to literacy, education, healthcare, gender equality and the basic standard of living could be seen. This has often been in the face of great, seemingly insurmountable challenges; invasion by imperialist powers, the violent overthrow of socialist leaders and US embargos intended to crush socialist countries by starving their people and depriving them of essential goods.  

A Socialist state would guarantee the basic necessities of life. There would be no landlordism or living in mouldy council flats, but a commitment to safe housing for all. This is not to say we’d never want for anything, or live a life of limitless luxury.  The point is that, under a social order which is concerned with human need and not the limitless accumulation of capital, the basic necessities of life — housing, food, fuel, clean water, health care, education — will no longer be exchanged as commodities for profit.

As we explained in our earlier article, the system we live under can be described as Racial Capitalism. We have shown how the different forms of oppressions inherent to the capitalist system — whether based on class, gender, disability, race— are tightly interwoven. As any socialist project will find itself building on the corpse of the capitalist society that came before it, these forms of oppression will not disappear overnight. However, the establishment of a Socialist state would allow us to make significant progress in combating these forms of oppression. We would see the increased socialisation of reproductive labour, transforming the gender roles seen under capitalism beyond recognition. This gradual withering away of the gender binary, along with the provision of free and properly funded healthcare, would allow trans and gender non-conforming people to live liveable lives. Systems of care would prioritise the liberation of disabled people — rather than their punishment by a cruel welfare system, or their virtual incarceration in ‘care’ homes. We would make financial and social reparations for centuries of imperialism, the Home Office would be abolished, and prisons with them. Revolution is of course, a process, and a long one at that: even in a Socialist society there will be contradictions, pitfalls and mistakes. Yet we cannot begin to address the root causes of the oppression we face without first abolishing racial capitalism.

Conclusion

The vision of socialism we have offered above is inevitably flawed and incomplete. What this imaginative exercise allows us to do is create space for the articulation of our demands as revolutionary socialists. As cultural theorist Mark Fisher has argued, it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism. We must resist the fatalism that pervades capitalist society: this is not the ‘end of history’. As our Final Crisis paper argues, capitalism has entered its final days. We must organise in our communities to fight for a better world. The question that we see before ourselves is simple: Socialism, or Extinction?