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Socialism: What It Is and What It Is Not

“Socialism!” The mere uttering of the word conjures up the most horrifying nightmare for a small, extremely rich minority who, because it monopolizes the productive forces of society-the factories and businesses that make up our economy – succeed in pursuing unlimited profit and unimaginable riches by allotting to the rest of humanity an increasingly smaller share of society’s wealth. Having created an objectively unstable system because of the perilously lopsided distribution of wealth, these rich people are compelled to manufacture on a daily basis massive doses of propaganda to serve as their life-support system, with the earnest hope of convincing their victims that this is, after all, the best of all possible worlds. Socialism, a doctrine which threatens to pull the plug on their perverse system before it succeeds in destroying us, the environment, and the future of humanity, is deservedly the foremost target of this campaign of lies, deceit, and slander.

This small, capitalist, profit-addicted minority has consequently unleashed an unrelenting campaign intent upon tying socialism to totalitarianism, drawing the knot so tightly that the two concepts are pressed into one. One might note, by the way, that U.S. capitalists themselves have no particular aversion to totalitarianism – they have toppled countless democratically elected governments and replaced them with military dictatorships throughout the world. But they also know that ordinary, decent working people are repelled by any form of totalitarian rule and with hypocritical glee these capitalists eagerly exploit this human moral aversion in order to advance their own profit-pursuing interests.

This campaign of lies received an unexpected windfall ironically from the USSR itself. Having usurped state power, Stalin violently shredded every remnant of workers’ democracy and proceeded to establish a privileged bureaucracy which enjoyed all kinds of luxuries, although many people did not have enough to eat. While Stalin personally ruled over the bureaucracy, the bureaucracy in turn ruled over the entire country, smashing every independent voice with an iron fist and murdering those who dared protest. Then, having created its own repressive regime at the expense of the working population, the Stalinist bureaucracy was compelled to manufacture its own propaganda machine to give itself the semblance of legitimacy. Without missing a beat and with his own hypocritical smirk discreetly concealed from the masses, Stalin, with the pious hope that all honest aspirations for a genuinely socialist society would be safely set aside, proclaimed this wretched state of affairs a glorious “socialist” society .

What more proof could an unsuspecting, inquiring person need when the two superpowers, avowed enemies, nevertheless agreed that socialism and totalitarianism were one and the same?

But if one is seriously interested in the truth, would it not be appropriate to inquire whether Stalin, who was intent on suppressing millions of people, might not also be intent on suppressing the truth, if it served his interests? Or should we assume that, even though he fed the Russian people lies while depriving them of food, when it came to an explosive concept such as “socialism,” he became an honest man? And similarly, should the capitalist class in this country, who could lose their vast fortunes if the masses acquire a clear conception of socialism, be exclusively relied upon for an unbiased presentation of the facts? With these questions in mind, let us turn to Marx so that we may be in a position to separate fabrication from fact.

Marx has been credited with codifying the first scientific formulation of socialism. But in what sense is the term “scientific” being employed here? Other socialists, utopian as opposed to scientific, preceded Marx and were united by their moral repulsion when faced with the cruel exploitation of capitalism. All of them individually imagined their own version of a moral, more humane society and hoped that their vision might capture the hearts of humanity so that people would be moved to throw off the barbaric capitalistic system and reorganize society according to the principles they outlined. None, however, offered a realistic strategy that would suggest how their particular utopia could be achieved, nor did any of them argue why their particular version was a more realistic alternative than any of the others, or why it was a realistic possibility at all.

Marx departed from this utopian tradition and established socialism on a scientific foundation by undertaking two studies which enabled him to resolve the above problems. First, he engaged in a detailed study of history which led him to conclude that the propelling force that underlies historical development is class struggle: “The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggle.” Of course, such a statement is an empirical claim, but history is replete with so many examples that even bourgeois historians have been forced to resort to the concept of class in order to explain historical events.

But the fact that history is generated from class struggle still leaves unanswered the questions, within capitalist society: What are the contending classes? Which class will prevail in the struggle? What new kind of society will this class be compelled to create?

In order to tackle these questions, Marx’s second study amounted to a detailed analysis of capitalism, the results of which are recorded in his four volumes of CAPITAL. A few basic features of his analysis are of particular relevance to the questions at hand.

First, because it is an economy based on individual private property, capitalism, at least on one level, is a system which places everyone in competition with everyone else. In this respect, it is indeed Hobbes’ war of “all against all” where each individual attempts to maximize his or her own well-being at the expense of others. “The only force bringing them together, and putting them into relation with each other, is the selfishness, the gain and the private interest of each. Each pays heed to himself only, and no one worries about the others.” (CAPITAL, Vol. 1.)

Second, and on a deeper level, we find that capitalism by no means places individuals on a level playing field in this Hobbsian war. At the outset some individuals, because of historical conditions, own the productive forces of society – the tools, machines, buildings, etc. that are required to produce articles that will satisfy society’s needs – but the majority of society’s members do not own them and are consequently forced to seek employment from those who do. The capitalists, the owners of the productive forces, are then in business to make a profit and thereby expand the amount of private property at their disposal. But the enterprising capitalist cannot be content with just any profit; each must aim at the maximum amount, since capitalists are in a perpetual state of competition with one another. Extra profits serve as an arsenal that a capitalist can employ to undercut and thereby eliminate a competitor.

But this requirement to maximize profits, resulting from inter-capitalist competition, in turn unleashes an inexorably antagonistic dynamic between the capitalists, on the one hand, and their workers on the other. All of the things that workers want for themselves and their family – higher salaries, health benefits, lengthy, paid vacations, sick leave, pensions, etc. – can only be won at the expense of the capitalists’ profits. The more the workers succeed in pressing their interests, the lower the capitalists’ profits. Consequently, capitalists and workers find themselves in a perpetual state of war with one another. Sometimes this war is waged quietly, almost invisibly, as workers simply leave work early and let someone else punch them out on the time clock. But at other times these antagonistic relations erupt violently where workers battle cops in order to defend their picket lines, defy court injunctions, and halt production until the owners are forced to their knees and concede to their demands.

Thus far we have considered the relation of capitalist-to-capitalist and worker-to-capitalist. Before we turn to the crucial relation of worker-to-worker, we should understand that Marx identifies various tendencies operating within this system.

First, there is a tendency for the working class to grow as a result of the competition among capitalists where the losers are precipitated into the working class.

Second, as one capitalist enterprise swallows up another, there is a tendency for the prevailing enterprise to increase in size, bringing an increasing number of workers into close proximity to one another.

Third, the growth in the size of the remaining enterprises then requires the assemblage of ever-larger quantities of profit to combat the ever-larger capitalist opponent. And this tendency correspondingly implies an intensified struggle between capitalists and their respective workers.

Finally, the chaotic, unplanned, every-capitalist-for-himself nature of capitalism has the inevitable result of spawning endemic economic crises so that huge sectors of the working class are thrown out of work and production in many industries comes to a grinding halt.

“Modern bourgeois society with its relations of production, of exchange and of property, a society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, is like the sorcerer, who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells.” (Communist Manifesto)

All of these tendencies conspire to compel the working class into action in order to defend its standard of living. Initially, workers will pursue the satisfaction of their needs individually since capitalism, after all, encourages everyone to operate as an isolated individual.

But workers soon learn the futility of obtaining all they want in terms of job security, health benefits, pensions, etc., by approaching the boss alone as individuals, since capitalists know very well that if they concede to the demands of one worker, the others will soon be knocking at the door. But while one worker alone is powerless, workers discover quickly that together they can wield tremendous power. For example, when they launch a strike, production comes to a halt, profits vanish, and the owner incurs ever greater losses as machines lie idle, products sit on the shelf, and customers threaten to seek out another producer.

However, to win a strike, it is not sufficient for workers to remain at home. They must transform themselves from workers who passively take orders at the work place into workers who take the initiative, actively organize themselves, and prepare for battle. They must organize picket lines, make provisions for food, train defense units, create public relations committees, etc. And when all these efforts pay off and workers claim victory, their celebration reverberates throughout the working class. Other workers say to themselves that they could do the same and proceed to organize themselves so that strikes spread like a wildfire. But setbacks are inevitable. Neither ‘the course of true love (nor the course of class struggle) ever did run smooth.’

But there comes a time amidst all these trials and tribulations that the workers come to the realization that this constant struggle is not the result of a few bad capitalists but of the capitalist system itself, a system predicated upon producing profit for the rich by exploiting the entire working class. Workers realize that they are not simply being oppressed individually, but as a class, since profits for capitalists can only be maximized by minimizing wages and benefits for workers. They come to understand that all competition among workers, all attempts to promote oneself at the expense of one’s co-workers, serve the interests exclusively of the capitalist class, while inevitably damaging the prospects of the working class as a whole. They realize that their only salvation lies in acting as a class: organized, unified, and galvanized by the principle, “An injury to one is an injury to all.” Moreover, because the working class represents the vast majority of the population, because all wealth is produced by its own sweat and blood, because the working class, like a beast of burden, carries the entire society on its shoulders so that capitalism would collapse in an instant without its willing participation, a deep-seated conviction begins to take hold of the consciousness of working people – a conviction that they alone have the power to seize history, shake society at its very foundations, and remake it according to principles that operate in their interests – the interests of the majority.

So Marx, in painstaking detail, demonstrates that the logic of capitalism ineluctably pushes workers into a march towards socialism. This is no utopian recipe: workers either move towards socialism or watch their standard of living decline. “Along with the constant decrease in the number of capitalist magnates, who usurp and monopolize all the advantages of this process of transformation, the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation and exploitation grows; but with this there also grows the revolt of the working class, a class constantly increasing in numbers, and trained, united, and organized by the very mechanism of the capitalist process of production.” (Communist Manifesto)

Tired of watching their real wages fall, tired of being told the company will leave the country every time they ask for a raise, tired of monotonous work, long working days, short vacations, and tyrannical bosses, tired of watching politicians pander to every whim of the rich at the expense of the public welfare, working people will rise up, seize society at its foundations and overturn the entire system with the overpowering strength that comes when the immense majority of the population, act in their own interests and in the interests of all the oppressed members of society. “The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interests of the immense majority. (Communist Manifesto)

This revolution – for nothing less than a revolution will suffice – will inaugurate a new age where working people take control of the economy and all the wealth they themselves created and begin to implement economic policies that reflect their own interests. The anarchy of capitalism, where individuals struggle to maximize their own private well-being, will be replaced by a democratically determined, planned economy where the most socially enlightened economic alternatives are implemented – those that maximize the well-being of everyone. “Let us finally imagine, for a change, an association of free men, working with the means of production held in common, and expending their many different forms of labor power in full self-consciousness as one single social force.” (Capital, Vol. 1)

For example, in capitalist society huge expenditures are allocated to military production which are then employed to protect the profits of U.S. business abroad. Whenever an elected leader in some foreign country hints at nationalizing U.S.corporate property there, the U.S. government orchestrates a coup, installs a military dictatorship which proceeds to outlaw strikes, restrict unions, etc., and thereby succeeds in lowering wages and raising corporate profits. But as a result of these measures, the wages of American workers decline as they must now compete against cheaper foreign labor. Moreover, under capitalism vast sums of money are spent on advertising to convince people to purchase products that are actually harmful to them (cigarettes, fast food, alcohol, etc.), or products that they really do not need, or to convince people to buy one brand rather than another when there is no substantial difference between the two.

In a socialist society, workers will be in a position to discontinue these kinds of investments in favor of others that directly promote the social well-being of the majority; for example, quality education, housing, public transportation, heath care, cleaning up the environment, developing solar energy, organic farming, etc.

But all aspects of the economy can be similarly reorganized to reflect the interests of the majority. While capitalists strive to minimize the number of workers at every business, but maximize the amount of work each worker performs, thereby making unemployment endemic, under socialism everyone who is able will be encouraged to work so that the work week may be correspondingly reduced, thereby providing working people with more free time.

Moreover, work itself will be immediately humanized. In contrast to capitalism where workers are compelled to submit to the will of the boss, in a socialist society every position of authority will be elected so that these elected officials will nevertheless be required to submit to the will of the majority, under threat of being removed from their position. With this inversion of power, workers can take steps to organize production so that their own well-being and the interests of society are simultaneously maximized.

Once everyone is afforded a quality education, once workers’ control of production is institutionalized and the work week is reduced, the crippling division of labor that capitalism imposes on its work force will gradually be replaced by a society in which individuals will be encouraged to develop all their capacities. “…[T]he division of labor,” according to Marx, “offers us the first example of how… [an] activity is not voluntarily, but naturally, divided, man’s own deed becomes an alien power opposed to him, which enslaves him instead of being controlled by him. In contrast, under socialism, we will be in a position to move towards establishing a society in which “nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming a hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.” (The German Ideology)

Marx suffered no illusions about the possibility of establishing a fully developed form of communism in one single revolutionary leap because the kind of human nature engendered under capitalism – selfish individualism, an insatiable desire for the accumulation of material gain, unbridled aggression and the steadfast determination to avoid as much work as possible – will not be extinguished overnight: “What we have to deal with here,” he argued, “is a communist society, not as it has developed its own foundation, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally and intellectually, still stamped with the birth marks of the old society from whose womb it emerges.” (The Critique of the Gotha Program)

Accordingly, Marx distinguished a lower and higher stage of communism. In the lower stage, which has come to be labeled “socialism,” people will be rewarded in proportion to how much work they perform: “He [the worker] receives a certificate from society that he has furnished such and such an amount of labor (after deducting his labor for the common funds), and with this certificate he draws from the social stock of means of consumption as much as costs the same amount of labor.” (The Critique of the Gotha Program) In this way, people will experience a direct incentive to work.

Of course, this principle – rewards commensurate with the amount of labor performed – represents an about-face from the prevailing capitalist principle: those who have the most shall receive the most, regardless of whether they perform any work at all! Consequently, the wealthiest 200 members of the capitalist class enjoyed watching their wealth double in one year recently, thanks to the stock market, while 20% of working Americans worked full-time but were not paid sufficiently to rise above the poverty line.

One absolutely crucial ingredient in this process of historical development is the relation of the working class to the state. Under capitalism, the state is generally controlled by the wealthy, and democracy amounts to the rich determining among themselves which policies to impose on the rest of society. Even such bourgeois publications as The New York Times have supplied accounts detailing how capitalists – through an elaborate process of lobbying, campaign contributions, etc. – succeed in imposing their will on the public domain. But Marx did not simply endorse the working class trading roles with the capitalist class, taking the reins of government in its own hands and expelling its former oppressor. The capitalist institutions of government have become a huge bureaucracy, immune to dramatic change, a feature which serves capitalists quite well since they have no interest in forging great changes in a system that operates exclusively in their interests. But a bureaucratic government would be anathema for working people, since power is monopolized in the hands of a few while the majority is disenfranchised.

In order to create democratic institutions that could be wielded by the majority, not simply a minority, Marx insisted that the former bureaucratic institutions would have to be “smashed,” as he explained in a letter: “…[I]f you look at the last chapter of my 18th Brumaire, you will find that I declare that the next step of the French Revolution will be no longer, as before, to transfer the bureaucratic-military machine from one hand to another, but to smash it, and this is the preliminary condition for every real people’s revolution on the Continent.” (Letter to Kugelmann, 1871) In place of the oppressive bureaucracy, Marx envisioned commune-like institutions that were created by working people in Paris in 1871 and later in Russia prior to and at the time of the 1917 revolution. These are institutions that are created by workers on the most basic level of their experience, in the factory or in their neighborhoods, in order to democratically press their own needs. “Instead of deciding once in three or six years which member of the ruling class was to misrepresent the people in Parliament, universal suffrage was to serve the people, constituted in Communes….” (The Civil War in France) The centralized power was then to be demoted in favor of creating real power on the local level:

“…[T]he Commune was to be the political form of even the smallest country hamlet…. The rural communes of every district were to administer their common affairs by an assembly of delegates in the central town, and these district assemblies were again to send deputies to the National Delegation in Paris, each delegate to be at any time revocable and bound by the mandat imperatif [formal instructions] of his constituents.”

In this way, “The Communal Constitution would have restored to the social body all the forces hitherto absorbed by the State parasite feeding upon, and clogging the free movement of society,” and the former centralized, bureaucratic government would give way to “the self-government of the producers.” (The Civil War in France)

As socialism unfolds and scarcity is eliminated, removing the blight of poverty from humanity, and after people create new, more nurturing relations among themselves so that the individual no longer looks out in fear upon a hostile world, these social relations will give birth to a new human nature with a new social consciousness where people realize that no one can be free as an individual while others are enslaved. As social creatures dependent upon one another for the satisfaction of both our physical and psychological needs, we come to the realization that our individual well-being cannot be achieved alone. “Only in community [with others has each] individual the means of cultivating his gifts in all directions; only in the community, therefore, is personal freedom possible. ” (The German Ideology) Hence, “…the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.” (Communist Manifesto)

Far from suppressing individuality, therefore, communism, as defined by Marx, will be the first social formation that actually allows individuality to blossom. Under capitalism, “… that for which I can pay – that I am…. Thus what I am capable of is by no means determined by my individuality…. I am bad, dishonest, unscrupulous, stupid; but money is honored and therefore so is its possessor.” Under communism, on the other hand, “…you can exchange love only for love, trust only for trust, etc. If you want to enjoy art, you must be an artistically cultivated person; if you want to exercise influence over, people, you must be a person with a stimulating and encouraging effect on other people. Everyone of your relations to man and to nature must be a specific expression, corresponding to the object of your will, of your real individual life.” (1844 Manuscripts)

A life in which most of our waking hours are devoted to acquiring the necessities to survive will give way to a life in which our physical needs are satisfied and we can proceed to develop our more spiritual talents: art, science, philosophy, literature, etc.

Finally, “…after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therefore also the antithesis between mental and physical labor has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-round development of the individual, and all the springs of cooperative wealth flow more abundantly – only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banner; “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” (The Critique of the Gotha Program)

While the capitalist class and Stalinists have gone to exceptional lengths to conceal and distort Marx’s positions, Marx himself, with unbridled enthusiasm, did everything in his power to disseminate them in the most unambiguous form conceivable. And so the Communist Manifesto concludes:

The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. WORKING MEN OF ALL COUNTRIES, UNITE!

Publication note: Originally published in Socialist Viewpoint, 2001.

Legal & Law, Politics,

A Better World is Possible With Socialism

Ann Robertson
But socialism is more than being well paid for the work one does. It truly revolutionizes how society operates. The capitalist system, in which a small number of capitalists are allowed to subordinate everyone else’s interests to their own – sometimes perverse – pleasures, is replaced with a democratic structure in which the working class […]

Ann Robertson
Originally published in 2002.

When people in the United States are introduced to the concept of socialism – whether in the popular media or in a high school class – they are presented with a simple equation: socialism = a crippled economy that fails to meet people’s basic needs + a totalitarian government. Stalinism, for example, is invoked as a model socialist government, one that brutally murdered anyone who dared oppose it, while the Soviet economy is repeatedly and incessantly visualized in terms of weary consumers standing in endless lines in order to purchase dull, defective products.

Consequently, if the question is raised concerning the relative merits of capitalism versus socialism, we discover that capitalism is the undisputed winner every time, provided that capitalism’s version of socialism is the definition employed. And that is about as far as the investigation proceeds within the few venues for public discourse afforded by capitalist society today.

But with the world economic order in an increasing state of disorder as the U.S. economy falls back into a recession and Japan cannot seem to crawl out of one, a disorder where many countries throughout Asia have just experienced their worst economic crises in recent history and Argentina’s economy has almost ceased to function, a disorder which promotes and intensifies world poverty and world war, it becomes increasingly urgent to raise the question that capitalism always prefers to dodge: Which system is superior, capitalism or socialism? where by socialism we mean the system as originally defined by its founders, Marx and Engels, and as it was elaborated by its supporters. We will argue that when the question is posed in these terms, socialism triumphs decisively. In particular, we will focus on socialism’s ability to raise people’s standard of living to a significantly higher level than what capitalism provides. But first we must have a clear conception of what socialists mean by the term “socialism.”

Marx’s Conception of Socialism

In The Critique of the Gotha Program (1875), Marx distinguished what he termed the “lower” and “higher” stages of communism. Lenin later noted in State and Revolution (1917) that the lower stage came to be referred to as “socialism” while the term “communism” was reserved exclusively for the higher stage. We will adopt Lenin’s terminology in this essay. Here is how Marx drew the distinction:

“What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally and intellectually, still stamped with the birth marks of the old society from whose womb it emerges. Accordingly [in the lower form of communism, i.e. socialism], the individual producer receives back from society – after deductions have been made – exactly what he gives to it… The same amount of labor which he has given to society in one form he receives back in another.

In the higher form of communist society [i.e., “communism” proper], after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want; after the productive forces have increased with the all-round development of the individual – only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banner: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!

In other words, Marx argued that a revolution does not immediately transport people into a fully developed form of communism where, because people are more spiritually and socially motivated, they become unconcerned with the amount of material rewards they receive for the work they perform. Rather, because capitalism creates a culture in which individuals are encouraged to pursue their own, isolated self-interest without regard for others, to measure their self-worth in terms of the quantity of their material possessions, and to regard work as something about as desirable as the plague, while some of these impulses largely disappear in the process of organizing and consummating a revolutionary upheaval, others linger and must be acknowledged as factors that demand recognition in the immediate post-revolutionary period. Consequently, one important attribute of socialism is that people are paid commensurately with the amount of work they perform, thereby providing them with a direct incentive to work. No such correlation between the amount of work performed and one’s material rewards exists within capitalism, but we will return to this point later.

A much deeper transformation that socialism introduces in relation to capitalism, however, concerns the fundamental running of society. Under capitalism, businesses, of course, are privately owned, and these owners, who constitute a small percentage of the population, unilaterally determine economic policy. They decide what kind of article their company will produce, how many of these articles will be produced, who will be hired to perform the work, how many workers will be hired, what procedures they will follow, etc. All these decisions are made with a calculating eye fixated on “the bottom line.” All concerns are subordinated to the one supreme concern: the maximization of profits.

But under socialism, the picture is inverted: working people, who constitute the vast majority of the population, will themselves take responsibility for formulating and defining society’s basic economic direction. Of course, such a radical transformation presupposes that workers have created their own democratic institutions in which they can exercise their voice in an organized and effective way, directing the economy through the democratic control of the state. These institutions spontaneously arise in revolutionary periods – workers created Soviets in Russia in the process of overthrowing the czar, and more recently workers in Poland created Solidarity as a vehicle for overthrowing Stalinism. In our society, trade unions are the closest approximation. Through these revolutionary organizations fundamental economic policies can be discussed, debated and determined according to majority vote. In other words, the economy itself will be run, not autocratically where a minority dictates policy as under capitalism, but democratically where the will of the majority rules. And since the majority of the population would wield control, these policies can be reconstituted to reflect the interests of the majority of the members of society.

The Case For Capitalism

As soon as we are old enough to follow the argument, educational institutions hammer into us the conviction that capitalism is the only sensible economic system that history has, or ever will, produce. If one butcher sells rancid meat while his competitor’s meat is fresh and healthy, customers, in pursuit of their own self-interest, will exclusively patronize the business of the second butcher. Or if two butchers sell meat of the same quality, yet one sells it at a lower price, business will flow in his direction. Consequently, each producer, in defending his own interests, is compelled to maximize the quality and minimize the price in order to remain in business. Adam Smith, who developed this defense of capitalism most eloquently, argued in The Wealth of Nations (1776): “…he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it.” In other words, every individual is naturally concerned with his own personal well-being. Capitalism acknowledges and incorporates this basic fact of human nature into the logic of its operations. And because we are most productive when we are pursuing our own interests, in the system that Smith described we unintentionally promote the interests of society as a whole since we continually seek to produce the best products at the lowest cost.

The Case For Socialism

Let us now consider which system, capitalism or socialism, can deliver the higher standard of living for the majority of the population, the working class. Of course, one important measure of people’s standard of living is the amount of money they are paid for their work. Unfortunately, Adam Smith’s argument in support of the virtues of capitalism is valid for everyone but working people, particularly with respect to their wages.

In order to compete effectively, every capitalist must keep production costs to a minimum. Otherwise, a competitor who succeeds in producing the commodity for less money can reduce its price on the market and force the former out of business. But labor costs are one of the most important factors among costs of production, and hence each capitalist strives to minimize wages and benefits. In fact, capitalists are no less than ingenious in concocting creative schemes to reduce these costs. Recently, for example, many full-time workers have been converted into part-timers so that they perform the same work as before but for less money with no job security and no benefits. Since labor unions tend to raise the wages of their members because of collective action, corporations have also turned to “contracting out” work to non-union employers in order to circumvent union wages. The most desirable ploy from the capitalist’s perspective, however, is the total replacement of the worker by the machine, thereby eliminating the wage altogether. Consequently, we have witnessed the proliferation of ATM machines and the disappearance of bank tellers, robots have replaced factory workers, computers, have replaced teachers, accountants, telephone operators, and secretaries, and so on.

But while workers must constantly struggle against this unrelenting downward pressure on their standard of living, capitalists enjoy a windfall of rewards without lifting a finger. During the 1990’s, for example, the wealthiest 10 percent of the population watched their wealth double on the stock market. Meanwhile, the people who work the hardest, the farm workers, maids, etc., make the least amount of money.

But if workers’ organizations were running the economy, this picture could be quickly reversed. After all, trade unions have historically fought for higher wages, pensions, health benefits, a shorter work week and safe working conditions. Rather than rewarding people according to how much they HAVE — the principle that capitalism employs – people would be paid according to how much time they actually WORK. With a minimum wage set at a level that would allow everyone who works to purchase their own house and car, if they want one, everyone would have an incentive to work. Currently one-third of the work force is not paid sufficiently to buy a house anywhere in the country.

But socialism is more than being well paid for the work one does. It truly revolutionizes how society operates. The capitalist system, in which a small number of capitalists are allowed to subordinate everyone else’s interests to their own – sometimes perverse – pleasures, is replaced with a democratic structure in which the working class itself collectively directs the economy according to a conscious plan that was chosen after a full debate with all the relevant information and a democratic vote. In other words, a whole new culture will be created in which all of the members of society will become informed and encouraged to participate in determining the fundamental policies that will guide the direction of society. And such a transformation will allow us to leap forward to a qualitatively better life. It will enable us to create a superior economy by substituting the anarchy of capitalism, where every individual capitalist pursues his own individual self-interest, with an economy that is carefully planned so as to meet the vast majority of the population’s needs efficiently. Here, people will have the opportunity to identify and promote productive enterprises that maximize everyone’s well-being while eliminating sectors of the economy which undermine this goal.

For example, quality education for every single child would be in everyone’s interests. When people are highly educated, they are more productive and hence far more capable of producing quality products in vast quantities as opposed to an entirely uneducated population. Free, quality health care for everyone would represent another logical investment choice. After all, people cannot be productive members of society if they are suffering from an ailment, so we all benefit from a healthy population. Moreover, preventative health care saves society billions each year by treating health problems before they become catastrophic or preventing them altogether. Quality housing for everyone is important since being cramped in overcrowded quarters generally produces social conflict, a pervasive unhappiness, and prevents children from developing their full potential, not to mention the debilitating effects of being homeless altogether. High quality, free, public transportation would also make sense since it would eliminate people wasting hours each week trapped in traffic jams, pollution from cars could be reduced, and families would not have to spend huge portions of their income maintaining multiple cars. Other logical candidates for increased investment might include organic food, since pesticides are known to cause cancer, quality day care facilities, after-school programs, solar energy, nonpolluting automobiles, and a massive campaign to clean up the environment. We already know that most people prefer a clean environment, not only for reasons of health, but also aesthetics.

On the other hand, once everyone has all the relevant information, they might choose to eliminate certain branches of the economy because they are either no longer desirable or because they are actually harmful. If people concluded, for example, that the U.S. military actually undermined our safety and security because it was aggressively and unlawfully defending U.S. corporate interests abroad, it might be eliminated altogether and the $350 billion it is presently budgeted could be reallocated into more productive channels. Moreover, there are numerous domestic businesses which produce huge profits for their owners at the expense of the well-being of everyone else. For example, the tobacco industry might be another target for dismantling. Under capitalism these “merchants of death” have been allowed to sell a product that is a known killer, and lie about it; they have been allowed to target youth in a massive advertising campaign, and lie about it; and they have been allowed to spike cigarettes to increase their addictive potency, and lie about it, all with impunity. It’s the power of money in a capitalist society. In fact, advertising, which attempts to manipulate people, particularly the young, into buying products that they do not need and into measuring their self-esteem by the number of commodities they own, might be eliminated altogether, thereby freeing up a sector of the population to seek more gainful, socially acceptable employment. Most working people truly hate advertisements that interrupt television programs, radio programs and the internet, not to mention the billboards that litter the landscape. And telemarketers could be outlawed before they drive us all crazy.

Moreover, through rational planning some of the gratuitous frustrations attached to our current products could be eliminated. For example, under capitalism computers proliferate but are often incompatible with one another. Documents cannot be transferred and e-mail attachments cannot be opened without additional major expenses. Computer companies have chosen to do this intentionally in order to lock customers in to a single brand or to force them to buy expensive accessories. But under socialism, computers could be designed with compatibility in mind, thereby eliminating an array of unnecessary costs.

Finally, one’s standard of living should not simply be measured by material well-being but by mental well-being as well. Under capitalism, businesses strive to replace workers by machines in order to reduce production costs, thereby suspending workers in a perpetual state of stress, as each one wonders when he or she will be the next victim on the workforce guillotine list. Under socialism, however, everyone will be guaranteed a job, and the opportunity to work will be considered a basic right. Consequently, when new technology is developed for the work process, rather than laying people off, as capitalists relish, everyone will remain, but work less. Rather than dreading the introduction of machines, workers for the first time in history will have cause to celebrate their arrival. And by immediately drawing in the millions of workers who are currently unemployed in capitalist society, but want to work, into the work force, the work week can be reduced without endangering productivity, thereby freeing up more time for rest and relaxation and a real enjoyment of life. Moreover, since the goal is to reduce the work week, everyone will have an incentive to raise productivity. Once work is regarded as a right rather than something you have to crawl for, one tremendous source of relentless stress that every worker within capitalist society endures will be removed. When health care is viewed as a basic right, another layer of stress will be eliminated. And as the work week is progressively reduced by introducing even more technology into the work process, people will have more time to spend with friends and family, thereby escaping from the capitalist nightmare where all one does is work, eat and sleep.

Conclusion

Hence, socialism sets into motion a process that begins by enriching – both materially and spiritually – the lot of the working class and ends by raising humanity to a higher level of civilization. It aims at a progressive reduction of the work week, a just redistribution of society’s wealthy and the replacement of a despotic system of government by minority dictatorship with a system of rational dialogue where all members of society discuss, debate, and democratically determine society’s direction, thereby raising individual consciousness from exclusive fixation on one’s individual needs to a genuine concern for the common good. Public education will be revolutionized so that, instead of training the young to perform repetitive, meaningless, rote exercises in preparation for an adult job, they are provided with a rich curriculum, ranging from science and literature to music and the other arts, as well as athletics. And by linking science directly to its potential to liberate humanity from the drudgery of work and the rest of life’s afflictions, students, who previously found it abstract and irrelevant, might be inspired to engage in diligent study in order to unlock its secrets. With this kind of education, children will be encouraged to become well-rounded, self-motivated, and critically-minded members of society, eager to use their knowledge to create a better world.

With a reduced work week, universal quality education, and a system where everyone contributes to the running of society, a new culture will gradually emerge in which “…the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor … has vanished; … labor has become not only a means of life but life’s prime want;” and “… the productive forces have increased the all-round development of the individual.” Thus, we will finally be in a position to inscribe on our banner: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!” A better world is indeed possible.

Legal & Law,

The Case for Socialism

The world today is undeniably chaotic — war, abject poverty, and unimaginable wealth exist side by side. In an attempt to explain the current social turmoil, some have resorted to religion and apocalypse, while others place the blame on the few bad apples that held positions of power as the economy slid into destitution. And then there are those who blame conspiracy, immigrants, or a society-wide lack of morality. All of the above explanations seem to be missing a crucial ingredient.

A simple observation should be central to any explanation of the current economic crisis: There are huge surpluses (or overproduction) of houses, cars, food stuffs, and many other products that millions of people desperately need, but cannot afford to buy.

This is the essence of the problem.

And the problem is global, directly affecting the consumers of the world’s largest economy, the U.S. — the same consumers that fuel the economy of the world’s fastest growing economy, China, among many others.

The problem of excess supply (or lack of demand, if you prefer) did not emerge overnight. As the wages of the U.S. workers were gradually plundered, credit became the cure-all that was to maintain the status-quo, until better times returned. The better times never came, and now the creditors are calling in their loans.

One consequence of all this is deflation: the prices of these surplus products keep dropping (deflating) until a point is reached where people are able to purchase these again. The result is initially good for consumers, since they enjoy some immediate relief. For businesses, however, deflation is a death siren. Goods often get sold at cost or below, and businesses are not charitable foundations — they produce for profit.

Many businesses react in the same way: they hoard their goods until the prices they want to see reappear; they may simply lay off their employees and wait for better times, or just declare bankruptcy and get eaten by a bigger fish.

Ultimately, the main strategy that corporations use against recessions is to produce less. Because they’ve produced too many goods for the market to sell profitably, closing factories, destroying crops, and hiring fewer workers, all become attempts to control the price mechanism, so that profitable production may return.

When a recession is especially deep, as it is now, corporations react in unison to produce less, while producing, instead, social barbarism — mass unemployment, homelessness, hunger, crime, social unrest, etc.

A simple solution many propose is to raise wages. This solution, although entirely supportable, is not so easily achieved. During recessions, the goal of the business class is to sell their surplus products at a profit. The fastest and most direct way to restore profitability is to lower workers’ wages. The consensus among the corporate elite in addressing the crisis is not to reverse the gradual erosion of wages, but to accelerate it.

Whatever fancy stimulus package or clever financial recovery plan is used, a persisting problem will remain: people will not be able to consume as they have in the past. Wages are too low — and credit far too overextended — to remotely address the now global issue of over production.

This real-life scenario highlights the truly irrational character of capitalism. It is no exaggeration to say that there currently exists the capacity to produce enough material goods to supply the global population with adequate food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, and education. Under capitalism, however, the profit-motive comes first, creating an artificial barricade towards addressing society’s needs.

Instead, the needs of the corporations come first, and will always come first unless production for profit (capitalism) is replaced by production for social need (socialism).

Socialism is not a system that promises milk and honey and eternal happiness. It is not a “system” at all. It is the realization of a basic principle: that society should own and democratically control the things that affect everybody — technology, manufacturing, science, food, water, transportation, education, healthcare, etc. All of these things have the ability to improve the well-being of all the people on earth and the environment they live in, and thus should not be left to the unnatural limits imposed by a profit-defined market, dominated by a small group of billionaires.

Legal & Law,

Have Unions Cheated Death With Scalia Gone?

Equality loving people breathed easier after Justice Scalia’s last breath. And labor activists partied like it was New Years Eve. Their would-be hangman dropped dead and unions gained a stay of execution.

Scalia’s timely departure implies that the landmark union case “Friedrichs vs. California Teachers Association” will be a 4-4 stalemate, meaning the pro-labor status quo prevails. As they cheer the last minute pardon unions shouldn’t forget they’re still on death row. The solace is temporary.

Unions can’t assume the next Justice won’t be another Scalia. The worst should be prepared for; being unprepared last time nearly cost labor its head. The same corporate groups who backed Friedrichs will try again, soon, with a fresh case, new plaintiff, and possibly facing an equally anti-union Supreme Court.

Obama’s nominee is unlikely to be pro-labor. The old assumption that Democratic presidents appoint pro-labor judges may now be false. Times have changed. Pundits are speculating that Obama will nominate a Judge the Republicans will support. Progressive legal expert Scott Horton spoke on Democracy Now:

“… I doubt [the Supreme Court nominee] is going to be the left equivalent of a Nino Scalia. It’s going to be someone who is more of a moderate, more of a centrist, someone who in normal times would be able to count on Republican support.”

Nowadays the Republican Party is viciously anti-union. And while Republicans hate several demographics, unions have become — like African Americans in general — a group that Democrats take for granted and attack when convenient.

Republicans would be especially excited about an anti-union peace offering from Obama. Such a nominee could represent a “grand bargain” to avoid a constitutional crisis, where Obama is allowed to successfully end his presidency and the right wing maintains its dominant position on the Supreme Court.

The Friedrichs case provokes a unique zeal from the right wing because of its vast economic consequences. If unions lose Friedrichs, the labor market would be shifted sharply in favor of corporations. The “natural” pro-corporate laws of the market would accelerate, putting workers at a steeper disadvantage.

Wages in the public sector would quickly drop as union density shrinks, creating knock off effects in broader areas of the labor market. Employers would exploit this new leverage at the bargaining table, slashing benefits and lowering wages. An anti-union Friedrichs decision could set a precedent for a national law affecting all unions, public and private sector alike.

Would Obama actually please Republicans over the bones of unions? Yes, if his record is any indication. He began his presidency with a super majority in Congress, and instead of the bold pro-labor initiatives he promised, he slammed on the brakes, reaching out to racist Republicans who’d rather torch then touch him.  Obama is too smart not to realize he was throwing away his mandate: the big banks that financed his campaign got their money’s worth.

When it comes to unions, Obama is a moderate Republican, just like the pro-corporate “Blue Dog” Democrats that run the Democratic Party. Obama’s flagship national educational program, “Race to the Top,” was even more anti-union than George Bush Jr.’s “No Child Left Behind.” The two-party system now bonds over anti-unionism.

It’s no coincidence that Obama was completely absent from the two biggest union actions in decades: The 2011 Wisconsin Uprising and the 2012 Chicago Teachers strike. The president’s absence spoke much louder than the few hesitant words he spoke on the subjects.

While every Republican in Illinois was mobilizing to attack the Chicago teachers, Obama’s former Chief of Staff was leading the anti-union charge. The battle lines were adjusted to reflect the new political reality: Democrats and Republicans versus the unions.

Anti-unionism is now a bipartisan issue. As the big banks boomed, union power shrunk, luring the Democrats further to the right; their stance on labor changed from ambivalence to hatred. Now they are staunchly in the Republican camp on the front lines in the class struggle against unions.

This new consensus is reflected in many of Obama’s “top contenders” for Supreme Court nominees. Judge Sri Srinivasan, who earned his current position on the Court of Appeals by a 97-0 vote of the current Congress, is someone whose name has been broadly discussed. The lack of controversy was due, in part, to his years as a corporate attorney. Corporate attorneys are habitually anti-union.

Another top contender is 9th Circuit Judge Paul Watford, yet another corporate attorney who hasn’t dirtied his hands with anything progressive.

The two-party system is so anti-union that it’s possible Scalia’s death won’t even matter; a current judge could easily flip on Friedrichs against unions. Scalia’s death doesn’t freeze the anti-union trajectory of the establishment; a lot of momentum has already been built up.

The establishment is unlikely to sit on their hands, and unions cannot afford to either. Hoping that a pro-union Justice is appointed is not a political strategy, but Russian Roulette; a tactic that can work for a while but always ends the same.

Historically unions have only won at the Supreme Court when expressing their power. The establishment only shows respect when you demand and fight for it.

The “progressive” Supreme Court under Warren Burger that favored unions was a response to the mass movements and active labor movement of the 60’s and 70’s. Burger himself was appointed by Nixon, though moved to the left by the political ground shifting beneath his feet.

Labor’s biggest Supreme Court victories came during the time of Franklin Delano Roosevelt under a Conservative Supreme Court that was forced to respond to a union-led mass movement. Without mass action the labor movement shrivels.

After the nationwide actions of organized labor in the 1970’s, the establishment chose to appease this power. But now they’ve decided to test it, through Friedrichs. Future tests are inevitable.

A prior test provoked the Wisconsin Uprising, showing the potential power of all unions. This is why Friedrichs is actually a gamble for the ruling class; they’re hoping that a national version of Wisconsin doesn’t happen. Unions must dash these hopes through organizing and other actions. A quiet labor movement will go quietly to the gallows; and Scalia was preparing the rope when he died.

The death of Scalia should empower unions to mobilize, not rest on their already-withered laurels. Without constant pressure the establishment will feel comfortable continuing in an anti-union direction. Power must be met with power.

Just like the 15now campaign has been mobilizing at the Democratic debates to amplify their issue, so should unions borrow the tactic to promote a Friedrichs victory. The Democratic nominee must feel the pressure to publicly advocate a pro-union decision.

Forcing this issue into the debates would send a very strong message. And organizing mass demonstrations around Friedrichs — as several labor bodies have called for — will send an even louder message. Unions must re-learn how to express their power. They’ve forgotten, but doing is the best way to learn.

Legal & Law,

It’s Not Too Late For Unions to Win Friedrichs

If the future of labor unions is in the hands of the Supreme Court, the outlook is bleak. Labor’s denial was shattered when Judge Alito signaled that the Court had the votes to decimate union membership nationwide. This specific attack aims at public sector unions, the last high-density stronghold of the labor movement. It also foreshadows that private sector unions will be further attacked, into dust this time.

The Friedrichs decision now seems inevitable, but nothing is inevitable in politics. The decision will not be announced until June, and this 5-month delay allows unions time to really express their power. A nationwide series of actions would certainly make the Supreme Court think twice. And the Supreme Court is especially sensitive politically.

A primary yet unofficial duty of the Supreme Court is to gauge and express public opinion, by codifying it into law. The biggest decisions in Supreme Court history were the expressions of mass movements, organized social demands that forced themselves onto the pages of the constitution and other landmark precedents that deeply affected millions of people.

The winning of civil rights, ending segregation, a woman’s right to choose, and laws that allow for the formation of strong labor unions were not granted by the Supreme Court, but foisted upon it through sustained collective action. The recent victory of the LGBTQ movement was won through years of militant organizing, not cheerfully bestowed by the conservative Supreme Court.

The landmark labor law that Friedrichs seeks to destroy was itself won through mass struggle. In 1977 the labor movement won a resounding victory in ‘‘Abood vs Detroit.” In discussing the Abood decision, the Supreme Court acknowledged — and continues to discuss — the “social peace” motive that was at the core of the Abood decision.

In 1977 “social peace” referred to the nationwide strike waves in the public sector that raged from the late 60’s and 70’s. The teacher unions were especially active, with a thousand strikes that involved hundreds of thousands of teachers.

The main demand of these public sector unions — strong unions — became legal rights recognized by the Supreme Court. This Abood victory was, like other social movement victories, a power forced onto the Supreme Court, not freely given.

Unions are under attack now because their prior strength appears zapped. Union membership has shrunk for decades and the power that won Abood seems vulnerable to a thrashing. Unions are backed into a corner, and they can either fight for dear life or be steamrolled while frozen in the headlights.

Unions have five months to fight back. The public’s mind is not made up. Social media can influence millions of minds in days. In fact, unions have already successfully transformed opinion about unions in recent years. The ongoing success of the “fight for 15” and high publicity actions like the Chicago Teachers Union strike have deeply resonated with the public.

According to the most recent Gallop poll, union support continues to rise, with a 5% increase in the last year. Now 66% of young people support unions. These are powerful statistics that can and must be transformed into action. Immediately.

If the Supreme Court sees millions of feet in the street, it would take notice. If the Court saw the coordinated occupation of state capitols across the country, à la Wisconsin 2011, the Supreme Court wouldn’t dare rule against unions, since the judges know better than to ignite social fires. Their sworn but unspoken duty is to put them out.

The Supreme Court is the arbitrator of social forces in the country, and for unions to get the best possible ruling they must apply the maximum of social force. Unions cannot temper their demands now, they must maximize them. For example, the unions in California that filed a ballot measure for a $15 minimum wage are boldly riding the tsunami of the “fight for 15,” while an opposite example can be found in Washington state, where unions bargained against themselves by filing a ballot measure for $13.50 instead. Now is the time to shoot for the stars; there is nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Millennials are dying for living wages, stable jobs, and the dignity that comes with the job protections that unions offer. They understand their situation would improve with a strong union. They are waiting to be organized and brought into the labor movement.

The South is likewise very pro-union, and like millennials most people in the South have no union. The basic math here favors unionization strongly, but only a strong and dedicated union movement can take advantage of this.

A nationwide coordinated day of action that promises something like 50 Wisconsin’s in 50 States would certainly grab the Supreme Court’s attention, by the throat. Unions have the power to do something incredible like this, and desperate times demand desperate measures.

Union members must insist that their leaders work with other unions in organizing mass rallies while pouring resources into educating and mobilizing the public behind demands like $15, rent control, and the creation of public sector jobs through taxing the rich. Unions should also link up with the Black Lives Matter movement and demand that Democratic nominees for president become champions for a pro-union Friedrichs decision.

Unions cannot wish Friedrichs away. Not organizing powerfully and broadly will empower the Supreme Court to rule against us, striking a blow that can’t be simply shaken off. It won’t be a mild concussion either, but a coma; one that unions might not wake from for another 30 years.

Legal & Law,

What are the purposes of legal and law system enforcement?

Law is a word that has several meanings such as fair justice, block of rules, the presumption of innocence, and so on. Law has a set of rules, that helps to ensure all the organizations, peoples, governments, and other groups are accountable to the rule of law. Typically, the law is very clear, well stated, known, enforced, and most important for social enhancement. The court or legal and law system is independent that solves the disputes in a fair, public, and proper manner. All the person may consider like innocent, while the legal and law system proven by the court or judge. Punishment is a must while comes under the rule of law which is determined by the court. The rule of legal and law system is so simple than the government, citizen, and people knowing, obeying, as well as respecting the law. The main motive of the legal and law system such as checking the use of government power, the conjecture of innocence, fight for the right, the right to have a fair trial, access to justice, and so on.

How to maintain peace among the society?

Every citizen has several rights that have been protected with the help of rules of law. These law helps to praise a rule, discipline, and rights. The government and court have introduced various types of law enforcement to protect their rights and innocence. Law is classified into five different types such as criminal law, common law, saturate law, business law, and civil law. Typically, these laws are created to provide justice for the innocent and punishment for the criminal. Laws are varying depends on human activities and country situation. These kinds of legal and law systems are used to maintain peace among the society, country, and community. With the set of rules, every individual can file a case. Every dispute should follow the order, decision, judgment, and rule of the judicious.

What are the different types of legal and law systems?

Criminal law is a kind of law that is enforced by the police, but the judgment will be provided by the judicial. Criminal law involves few cases such as fraud, murder, robbery, rape, and so on. This can take action while the offenses are committed against any community or individual. For example, if any person involves robbery, which is known as offenses committed on an individual.

Civil law is one of the laws, that involves while the organization works against the individual. This law will be dealing between the individual and organization. It also involves different cases such as ownership problems, misunderstanding between partners, company rights, property issues, insurance claims, negligence, and so on. For example, civil law can take action while a person hurts someone physically, their property, reputation, and so on.

Common law is known as judicial or judge-enforced law, which is a final decision of the judicial. This is a widely used law in the world. Because it has all the rules and regulations for most of the individual and community issues.