How would socialism address the terrible problems of capitalist society?
The following is an edited version of a talk given by Brian Becker, a member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation’s Executive Committee, at an East Coast PSL membership conference.
We consider socialism to be a better economic system and a more democratic system than capitalism.
What do we mean by socialism and why do we consider it to be a superior system?
1. Eliminating competition as the basis for survival
Capitalism is premised first and foremost on competition between individuals. When Walmart said that they had 800 jobs in D.C., 24,000 workers showed up applying for those jobs. That meant that 23,200 of them did not get that job. They lost in the competition for jobs.
If you want to go to college, you’re competing to get accepted. If you want to get an apartment, you’re competing to get accepted, and if you don’t have enough money you can’t compete—you’ve lost the race before you started.
Why does an investor invest in a health insurance company? Not to cure sick people, but to maximize profits. So how does an insurance company, or a hospital, or a company that manufactures health care equipment maximize profits? They jack up prices, they reduce wages, and they cut services. In other words, the whole process of competition has the working class in competition with each other in a race to the bottom, and has the capitalists competing at workers’ expense.
The ending of competition between workers returns the human family to the condition under which human beings have lived for 95 percent of our existence. Human nature is not one of greed, or dog-eat-dog competition. That is learned. We know in indigenous societies, those societies which existed for tens of thousands of years before the origin of class society, there was no such thing as private property. There was shared, communal property. Socialism is the first step in returning human beings to the society in which our species developed based on solidarity, cooperation and interaction with each other based on equality.
2. No more recessions and depressions
There is another way that socialism is superior. Capitalist production leads every five or ten years to recession. In other words, when the capitalists can’t sell all the products that they’ve produced in order to maximize profit, they lay off millions and millions of workers. Look at what happened during the current economic crisis: 9 million families lost their homes after the biggest housing construction boom in history, which was between 1998 and 2007. Why did the 9 million families lose their homes? Because too many homes had been built, not in terms of meeting human need, but too many homes had been built than could be sold at a profit by the capitalists. That is the crisis of overproduction: an absurd, bizarre crisis that only exists under the process of capitalist competition.
Socialism ends depression and recession by rationally and democratically planning the economy on the basis of meeting human needs. Poor and working people will determine what is produced under what conditions—not the Walton family.
3. Scientific advancement belongs to all of society
Another reason socialism is superior: it ends “intellectual property rights.” Intellectual property rights are a form of thievery by one small sect of society over the rest of society.
Right now there are four companies competing with each other, all secretly, to make the perfect sleeping pill.
They’re all competing with each other so that, at the end of the day, the Food and Drug Administration can give one of them a patent that says, “You discovered this first. You get a 17-year long patent which means the exclusive right to sell that sleeping pill and inevitably jack up the price by 100 times over what it would be otherwise.” Think about all of the waste of energy, resources and talent that goes into that.
We have such high prices for medical equipment and drugs because of the exclusivity of patents.
Socialism is a more productive system because it eliminates intellectual property rights. The reason the Soviet Union could launch Sputnik and have the first space vehicle was that all of the scientists worked together. The property belonged to the people, through the agency of the state, not between different competing capitalist corporations.
4. Saving the planet from what will otherwise be certain destruction
There are many other reasons socialism is superior, but I want to come now to the part that the capitalists can never answer. Unless there is a planned economy without competition driving production, the environment will be completely destroyed. You cannot have a sustainable environment when every decision on what you do for energy, what you build, what resources and chemicals you use, are driven by the needs of private capitalist corporations. Unless that system is ended, there will be irreversible changes in the environment that will make life as we know it something of the past.
The only way to get real control over environmental damage is through a planned, people’s economy in which the workers themselves and through their elected representatives decide collectively what to build, what energy resources to use and how to build or produce any products in a way that both meets human needs and sustains the environment.
If they want to say, “The socialists are utopian dreamers,” we would say that the further habitation of planet Earth by human beings and others under the capitalist system— that’s a dream.
5. Guaranteeing social and economic rights
In a positive way, what do we say about socialism? In the Soviet Union, even with all its defects, when you got out of school, you got a job. That job paid you a wage with which you could live. Just think if every young person in the United States knew they were going to have a job, and you also knew you were going to be given an apartment or a house, and it was either going to be free, or it could never be more than a couple percentage points of your income.
Just think if you knew that childcare and health care were absolutely free. And that your education would be free at every level.
What we mean by socialism is that those rights, not corporate rights, become the dominant rights.
Just think what that would do if we socialized all the things that right now women are compelled to do in capitalist society with unpaid labor or under-valued labor—the raising of children, the maintenance of families, the housework and other work.
6. A new stage of human history
We don’t have a blueprint for what families look like in post-capitalist society, or interpersonal relationships, but we do know that only socialism lays the foundations so that we can enter a stage of history which Karl Marx called “human history.” What he meant is that we are actually living in pre-human history right now because our existence is not guaranteed, our lives are not guaranteed, our food is not guaranteed, our education is not guaranteed. People in capitalist society live their lives under the control or at the mercy of the productive forces that are dominated in turn by market forces. Marx believed that the advent of socialist and communist society put people in control of the productive forces rather than having their lives driven by social and economic forces that they did not control.
By implication, then, only under the conditions of socialism does the real history of a fully human society begin.
Before then other economic and political forces are dictating how human beings function, and within that system they’re competing with each other for limited resources.
Socialism is the beginning of human history, where human beings can really shape their own destiny, really become self-determining as individuals, as families, as collective neighborhoods and communities, because the essentials of life have been guaranteed.
Society has developed to such a point that only by liberating the means by which the wealth of society is created from the possession of capitalist owners, by dramatically reshaping the economic foundations of society, can all these rights be realized. That will require a fight, a revolution, but it will be humanity’s last fight for basic survival.