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What would socialism look like?

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To understand what socialism would look like, what it actually is, and present the case for it, it is essential to look at the present economic system – capitalism – and understand its nature. Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels did this over 150 years ago. They developed a thorough understanding of the nature of the capitalist system and their writings are still an incredibly – almost eerily – accurate analysis and critique of capitalism.

Marxism is often referred to as ‘scientific socialism’, as it is based upon a materialist analysis of history and society, looking at social and economic systems in their historical development. This materialist understanding of capitalism underlines why socialism isn’t just a nice idea or an ‘alternative’ to capitalism, but is actually an essential solution to the problems inherent in the capitalist system.

Capitalism: an ‘efficient’ system?

The dominant narrative of the past three decades is that the free market is the most efficient economic system available, and, whilst not flawless, has nevertheless allowed for greater production and year-upon-year increases in living standards.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and with it a living alternative to capitalism, was hailed as the ‘end of history’ by US academic Francis Fukuyama. Western ‘liberal democracy’ and the market economy were heralded as the crowning achievement of mankind and the pinacle of human development.

In Fukuyama’s own words, “…what we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such.... That is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

This encapsulated the triumphant mood of the capitalist class in this period. Twenty years later, with the greatest crisis of capitalism in history, with the ruling class at a complete impasse over how to get out of the crisis, and with revolutions and mass dissent across the world, we can see that the notion of “the end of history” has been proven to be utterly false.

On the one hand, it is true that the capitalist system has created an enormous level of productive forces. Historically, capitalism can be seen as an economic system that grew out of the late Middle Ages and cast aside the old feudal system, leading to a massive economic and social development of Europe. This led to a constant expansion of not just the productive forces of the economy, but of significant social and cultural progress also.

Initially the Renaissance, or ‘rebirth’, of the 15th and 16th centuries saw the rediscovery of arts and science that had been lost since the days of ancient Greece and Rome. Likewise the European ‘Enlightenment’ of the 18th and 19th centuries can be seen as a flowering of new, radical thought, from which many of the concepts of modern capitalism, such as that of the parliamentary democracy, or the free market – as envisaged in Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations – were born. The massive expansion of the productive forces which came to be known as the Industrial Revolution saw the development of the major cities of Europe and ultimately what is modern society.

In these regards capitalism has played a historically progressive role. But as Marx and Engels outlined, each historical mode of production has within it a set of contradictions that limits its productivity to the point that it eventually will be unable to expand any further. These ‘fetters’ on economic development are the catalyst for social and economic revolution.

As feudalism stagnated, the emerging merchant and banking class – the bourgeoisie – was the engine of social change, but only so far as this aided its material interests. Thus the power of the church was diminished, parliaments formed to allow for the political representation of this new class, and the archaic system of serfdom – of ‘tying’ people to the land – phased out in order to allow for waged labour. From this, modern class society developed.

The accumulation of capital by the bourgeoisie through profits and property, previously impossible under feudalism, facilitated the further expansion of productive forces. Over the course of two centuries, small workshops creating a few items per day were replaced as the dominant means of production by large factories producing goods at a rate many thousands of times faster. For example, in 1900, 40% of the US population was involved in agriculture. Today that figure is only 1.9%. Yet the US now produces many more millions of tons of grain that it did in 1900.

This shows how technology and techniques have evolved, and underlines the immense productive capability that capitalism has developed. Yet with these developments comes the accumulation of contradictions that hinder the further development of the productive forces – of industry, science, and technique.

First of all, whilst the bourgeoisie owns and controls these means of production – whether they are gigantic rolling mills for steel or a call centre – it is the working class who operates them and who therefore produce commodities - services or products - that the company can then sell on to produce a profit.

The ability of a worker to perform useful work – i.e. labour – is a commodity that can be sold and used like any other commodity. Marx called this commodity ‘labour power’. However, the working class is paid in wages a lower sum than the value of the work they do. This is how a company turns around a profit. Profit is nothing more than the unpaid labour of the working class. But this inner logic of capitalism produces contradictions – primarily the contradiction of overproduction.

In order to try and expand and increase profits capitalists will invest in new premises, new machines and more workers. But since the working class as a whole is paid less than the value of the goods it creates, it cannot afford to buy everything that is up for sale, meaning that inevitably companies cannot simply grow indefinitely.

With the market hindered by its own limits on development, namely the drive to produce combined with the limited consumption of the working class, there is a problem that the company cannot sell all that it has the potential to produce. This is known as overproduction – the fundamental contradiction of capitalism, which leads to economic crises.

In times of crisis, it is the workers in these companies who are asked to pay in the form of redundancies, or, as the bourgeoisie prefer to call them, ‘efficiency savings’. These are the fundamental contradictions inherent in the capitalist system and explain why the capitalist system goes into crisis again and again, i.e. ‘boom and bust’.

It also explains why, despite numerous attempts at reforming capitalism instead of replacing it (regulation and Keynesian policies) none have successfully managed to stop it from entering crisis again and again.

Whilst historically capitalism may have once played a somewhat progressive role, it has reached its limits and acts as a regressive force that can no longer further the lot of humanity. It has furthered the unjust juxtaposition of extreme wealth being enjoyed by the few alongside widespread abject misery, and with the global economic crisis it is the working class, the unemployed, the poor, the disabled, the young and the old that are bearing the brunt of austerity. Clearly it is a system that is dysfunctional, doesn’t work for the majority of society, and because of its very nature, cannot ever hope to do so.

What about socialism?

Our aim then must be socialism. This would involve the transfer of political and economic power away from the wealthy elite and toward the masses, through workers taking control of their workplaces away from the bosses and running them democratically.

The overall aim is the development of a classless society, one where the class antagonisms that create the accumulation of wealth, the downtrodding of the working class, and wars over resources or geopolitical power cease to exist.

As far as political power is concerned, this would be entirely different from the parliaments that get elected once every five years, and whose MPs seem remarkably removed from day-to-day life. If historical experience of workers taking control is anything to go by, government on a local level would likely take a form similar to that of the soviets formed by workers in Russia during the revolutions of 1905 or 1917, the Joint Strike Committees in Britain during the General Strike of 1926, or the communes in Spain during the revolution and Civil War of the 1930s. Here, workers elected their own representatives in order to help organise the distribution of food, energy, transport and medical provisions – i.e. the necessities of life.

Under socialism, these local councils would likely have similar powers and elect a government that would take on responsibilities of a national scale; most importantly the running of the economy – for it to be democratically planned and rationally thought out, to ensure the most egalitarian distribution of jobs, and investment in industries in order to ensure the betterment of the standard of living.

Undoubtedly humanity has massive productive potential at its fingertips, but because of the chaotic, contradictory nature of capitalism much of that potential is squandered. For instance, $1.5 trillion alone is spent arms and armies every year across the world. That’s the equivalent of $1,500 for every family on the planet – an amount that could be used to instantly lift humanity out of poverty.

Meanwhile “excess capacity” – i.e. overproduction” has meant long-term unemployment for many across the globe. In Spain, 25% are unemployed (with 50% of young jobseekers unemployed). Yet in Spain, only around 70-80% of productive capacity, i.e. what the country could potentially produce, is utilised. So millions are unemployed, yet recession is leading to falls in living standards and represents a waste of both individual potential as well as economic potential. That is the logic of capitalism.

Under socialism, the aim is to utilise everyone’s creative and productive potential in order to improve society. A reduction in working hours without loss of pay – possible with the eradication of unemployment and of profit accumulation by the bourgeoisie – would mean that people would have more free time to pursue their interests and take part in the running of society instead of the alienation from it that work brings. This would open up employment to those without it at present, allowing them to not only earn a wage but also use their potential to work toward the betterment of society, whether that is in much-needed infrastructure projects, the expansion of healthcare, education, or any other role.

A change in attitude to work is also necessary. With higher pay, lower hours, better working conditions and with each worker playing a valued part in the planning and running of industry; work would change from being seen as a menial set of tasks to something with intrinsic value that is not simply done to try and scrape by, but as a potentially rewarding activity, both financially and intellectually, for all.

Education, for instance, would be changed substantially. At present, in state education, pupils will sit in large classes of 25 to 30 in massive, decaying buildings, furthering the alienating role that capitalism plays in everyday life. A reduction in class sizes to something that would allow a much more rewarding learning experience is only possible under socialism, as more teachers would need to be employed for this. Even new buildings could reflect an attitude different from that of school being something of a filing process for every generation.

Attitudes to further and higher education would change also. Capitalism has successfully marketised universities into something where people essentially have to buy a degree in order to access a better standard of work. Certain degrees, particularly those that are science based, are more valuable (as they can be used in profitable industries) and arts or social sciences degrees have less social value.

With a change in attitudes to work and society that would come under socialism, these attitudes would no doubt change. Learning would be seen not in terms of economic usefulness but in terms of social value for all. And with that, access to learning must be opened up to people of all ages and social backgrounds. At present people who go to school then university will have essentially finished learning and access to education by the time they are in their early 20s. But surely education is a lifelong process? The free time offered by a reduction in working hours, increase in pay, and a much greater provision of childcare and other care would allow not just greater access to work but also greater access to education throughout life.

Although society needs engineers, scientists and doctors – and a socialist society would utilise these jobs in a much more productive way than under capitalism – there is more than just jobs and economic efficiency. The Bible, of all texts, famously stated, ‘(mankind) cannot live by bread alone’ and socialism would allow the true recognition of this.

Despite the adverse circumstances faced by the Soviet Union at the outset – economically and socially backward, polticially and economically isolated – there was an explosion of arts and culture in the 1920s before Stalinist repression clamped down on these forms of expression. A massive amount of new literature, theatre, music, cinema and art that had previously been repressed or stagnant came out of the Soviet Union in this period. These art forms, previously the reserve of a wealthy elite, or of pompous snobs – just as they are still seen to a certain extent in the West today – were opened up to the masses and the masses for the first time took a leading role in them. It goes some way to show what is possible under socialism.

Without a doubt socialism would see not just a change, but also an improvement in every area of life imaginable. Whilst we have only barely touched on what is possible under socialism, these examples should highlight not only how capitalism impedes on aspects of everyday life but also the ways in which socialism could help change them for the better. And that is why it is this generation’s duty to fight for it!

Educate Yourself

  • Educate Yourself
  • The Fundamentals of Marxism
  • Dialectical Materialism and Science
  • Historical Materialism
  • Marxist Economics
  • The State
  • Russia, Lenin, Trotsky and Stalinism
  • Anarchism
  • Feminism
  • Fascism
  • The National Question
  • Revolutionary Strategy
  • Revolutionary History

Socialist Appeal are proud to publish this basic guide to help focus your studies of Marxist theory and practice. Visit the various tabs to find links to introductory articles, classic texts, and audio talks for different topics. We also invite our readers to become acquainted with the more basic ideas of Marxism by starting with the recommended short reading list, going through the FAQ section, reading this article that combats the myths about Marxism, and listening to the following audios:

Why Marx Was Right - Alan Woods

What is Marxism? - Alan Woods

What Will Socialism Look Like? - Fred Weston

What is Socialism? - Rob Sewell

We will be expanding and developing this section over time. Please contact us if you have any questions, or if you'd like any suggestions on what to read next.

Reading the classics of Marxism is the best way to understand these ideas. At first it may seem difficult, but every worker and young person knows that things worth having are worth working hard for!  Patient and persistent study, discussion, and ultimately, the day to day application of these ideas over a lifetime are the key.

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Marxist theory is the basis upon which our analysis, perspectives, program, and participation in the movement are based. It is our "guide to action." This why Socialist Appeal and IMT place so much emphasis on political education. To this end, we have created an extensive Education Plan to assist comrades in their political development. This is an important resource.

However, it's length and scope may seem daunting to new comrades. With this in mind, Socialist Appeal has compiled a shorter list of classic works and other important writings we think will serve to lay a strong foundation in the ideas and methods of Marxism. We would like to encourage all our supporters and those interested in learning more about Marxism to read (or re-read!) through the works on this list.

This selection of writings is an excellent introduction to many of the fundamentals of Marxist theory. There are many other writings that could be added, but this selection provides a strong basis for those wishing to equip themselves with the necessary ideas for the daily work of fighting for socialism.

Many of these are smaller books or pamphlets; some are more lengthy books; and others are just short articles. This

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Dialectical Materialism is the philosophy or methodology of Marxism. Every political movement, party, or even statement of any kind bases itself, consciously or unconsciously, on some sort of philosophy or world outlook. Marxism is concerned with effecting a radical change in society, and therefore requires an exceptionally clear, thoroughgoing, and systemic set of philosophical principles.

The ideas of Dialectical Materialism, based on the best traditions of philosophical thought, are not a fixed dogma but a system of tools and general principles for analysing the world materialistically and scientifically.

If we are to understand society in order to change it, this cannot be done arbitrarily, since the human will is not master of nature; rather, our ideas and thoughts are reflections of necessary material laws. Instead, we must seek to understand the laws of how human society changes. By following our education plan for Dialectical Materialism, the reader will familiarise themselves with this way of looking at the world so that they too can begin to apply Marxist ideas.

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Historical Materialism is the result of Dialectical Materialism applied to human society and history. It encompasses the general theory of how and why society develops in the way it does. A deeper, more concrete understanding of these principles in combination with a study of real, living history of class struggles enables us to come to a general understanding of where capitalist society is headed and what political strategy is required to successfully influence the course of events.

The basic principles of Historical Materialism are that human society has inherent laws guiding it - its developments are by no means arbitrary or accidental, nor the mere subject of the will of great men and ideas. Human individuals can and do influence society according to their ideas, but only ever within definite material constraints and conditions. Above all, the law determining historical development is that of the development of the means of production - meaning economically productive technology, science, technique etc. The extent of the development of the productive forces determines the social relations of production - i.e. the structure of society, class relations etc. Each social system has its inherent laws of motion. If we want to overthrow capitalist society, we must understand how

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Marxist economics is the study of the laws of motion of capitalist society. Why does capitalism perpetually go into crisis? Why does mass unemployment exist? Are commodity production, the domination of the market, and rich and poor natural, immutable states of being for humanity? Or are they merely the products of this specific mode of production - capitalism? If so, is there any way capitalism can exist without these problems, or by minimising them?

Marxist economics is a “holistic” way of analysing capitalist economy. It starts out by placing it in its real historical context (rather than dreaming up abstract idealisations of capitalism to justify it, as bourgeois economics does), studying all its interconnections and contradictions, rather than artificially isolating one aspect of it. In doing so, Marxist economics lays bare the functioning of capitalism; the exploitation and injustice inherent within it. Those who want to get to the essence of why, in the 21st Century, despite having a more advanced understanding of the world than ever before, humanity seems plunged into perpetual crisis it cannot get to grips with, should look no further than Marxist economics, beginning with the writings of Marx himself.

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Like money, the state is something we are all very familiar with and take for granted, but its real essence tends to elude us. The ideologists of capitalism have tried, in various ways, to justify the capitalist state as supremely rational; a neutral arbiter for society, and the embodiment of justice. For Marxists, the state is not at all neutral, nor just. It is certainly anything but rational. We must strip the vale of mysticism away and reveal the state’s real basis. To do that, we have to treat the state historically - taking in its origins, rise, and eventual fall.

The state has not always existed. It is inseparable from class society. Ultimately, it is the instrument for the ruling class to oppress and hold down the masses, guaranteeing the status quo and the sanctity of property. Although the modern state performs many other functions, these are secondary to its real basis - the protection of a set of property relations. To do this, it needs “armed bodies of men” and a monopoly on the use of violence. To establish socialism, it will not be possible for the working class to use the state as it currently exists - that is, with

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The Russian Revolution is the greatest event in world history for Marxists. For the first time, the working class successfully took and held power. The slaves fought back and won. For these reasons, the name of Lenin and Trotsky, and the entire 1917 episode, has been deliberately dragged through the mud by the bourgeoisie ever since.

Naturally they are aided in this task by the degeneration of the revolution and by the existence of Stalin’s monstrous dictatorship. However, Stalinism represents the opposite of Bolshevism’s real traditions, which readers can read about in this section, as well as the Marxist explanation for why Stalinism took place and what this means for our movement.

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Radicalised youth, seeking to understand how to change modern society, naturally tend to look to both Marxism and Anarchism in equal measure. The question as to which philosophy, or which combination of the two, has the best answers, has long been at the forefront of the minds of revolutionaries.

Anarchism is naturally attractive to all those correctly alienated by bureaucracy in the revolutionary movement. Anarchists are certainly correct to reject Stalinism and careerism. However, it is not sufficient simply to reject these phenomena. We need to understand why bureaucracy and oppression exist and what role they play, in order to understand how to avoid them. We believe that, for all its opposition, Anarchism has little to say about the alternative to bureaucracy. Instead, it is Marxism’s historical materialist method that allows us to understand these problems. In this section the reader will find a series of articles dealing with anarchism and the issues that anarchism raises.

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The discrimination and oppression of women is integral to class society, such that Engels even referred to it as the “first class oppression”. Along with the class system itself, the oppression of women often takes on the appearance of being natural, immutable and eternal, since it has been with us for so long.

But Marxism is a historical science, concerned with understanding the fundamental changes that society goes through. It cannot be satisfied with comfortable prejudices. A study of the origins of human society, as Engels famously conducted in his book The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State, reveals that the oppression of women is by no means natural and was not even known for much of our history. As Engels explains, the oppression of women arose with the emergence of class society and private property; it will fall with it.

Marxists are fully in solidarity with feminists: we are irreconcilably opposed to the oppression of women and fully support the struggle for their emancipation. We believe this will be achieved through the class struggle, since that is the basic locomotive of history in a class society such as ours. However, Marxism represents a distinct set of

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Fascism is something of a bogeyman in modern British society, and has an almost mythical character in bourgeois public opinion. But despite constant talk of it, very little is said about why it happened and how it may or may not happen again.

Fascism is really the death agony of capitalism and the “distilled essence of imperialism”. The fascists in Germany, Italy, Spain and other countries were only able to come to power on the back of defeats of the working class. Ultimately, the madness of fascism expresses the historic crisis and dead-end of capitalism that had arrived by the early 20th Century, alongside the inability of the working class to take power and replace capitalism with a workers’ state, due to the corruption of their leadership, in the form of both reformism and Stalinism. Fascism could and should have easily been avoided had the working class possessed a militant and united leadership prepared to take power.

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The question of nationalities - that is, the oppression of nations and national minorities, which has characterised capitalism from its birth till the present time - has always occupied a central position in Marxist theory. Once again, the historical materialist approach of Marxism dissolves the apparent “natural” role of the nation as a necessary expression of human society. Nations have by no means always existed, nor will they always exist in the future.

The nation as we know it today is a product of the development of capitalism and its need to unify peoples into units of a certain size (depending on the level of the system’s development – e.g. more recently formed nations tend to be much bigger) to consolidate the market. The contradictions and tensions between nations are a result of capitalism’s “combined and uneven” development. The contradictions of the capitalist mode of production itself force each ruling class to expand outwards, developing a global market and imperialism in the process.

The violent tensions that this process breeds in turn give rise to nationalism, racism and wars. There is no way a successful world revolution, abolishing the global capitalist system, can take place without a careful and nuanced understanding of the

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Socialist Appeal is the British section of the International Marxist Tendency, which is active in around 40 countries. Our aim is to spread the ideas of Marxism, in an organised fashion, in the labour and youth movement. Only the British working class has the ability to change British society, because of the central role they play in production and their shared interest in establishing socialism.

However, we must carefully study the history and traditions of the British working class in order for Marxist ideas to connect with them. There are all too many groups who simply declare themselves the vanguard of the British working class, and have a dismissive attitude to the class’ real traditions.

In this section readers will find a series of articles explaining our position on the class struggle in Britain, the key points in the history of the British working class and the lessons to be learnt from them, and the strategy of the Marxists in relation to the movements of the masses.

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The ideas of Marxism and the need for a revolutionary party are not the result simply of a single individual, but arise from the study of history - the history of class struggle. In this respect, the revolutionary party is often referred to as being the memory of the working class, and our task is to learn the lessons from history in order to prepare for the revolutionary events taking place today and in the future.

In this section we present a series of articles and audios covering the key revolutionary struggles in history - from the early class struggles in Rome to the tremendous movements of the working class in the 20th Century. By reading and listening to these, our readers should gain a good overview of the history of the revolutionary movement and the main lessons to be learnt from these.

For analysis of 21st Century revolutionary movements, check out the News and Analysis sections of the website!

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Marxist theory

The Revolutionary Ideas of Rosa Luxemburg The Revolutionary Ideas of Rosa Luxemburg
Duration: 01:00:53
Date: 7 Nov 2014
Marxism and Feminism Marxism and Feminism
Duration: 00:57:28
Date: 30 Jun 2014
World War One and Imperialism World War One and Imperialism
Duration: 01:03:45
Date: 30 Jun 2014
French Revolution of May 1968 French Revolution of May 1968
Duration: 00:52:35
Date: 26 Jun 2014
Russia: From Revolution to Counter-Revolution Russia: From Revolution to Counter-Revolution
Duration: 01:46:35
Date: 4 Oct 2013
Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State
Duration: 01:12:16
Date: 27 Sep 2013
Marx Walk - The Life of Karl Marx in London Marx Walk - The Life of Karl Marx in London
Duration: 00:59:21
Date: 13 Sep 2013
The Italian hot autumn of 1969 The Italian hot autumn of 1969
Duration: 01:36:03
Date: 16 Aug 2013
Crisis of Capitalism (by Alan Woods) Crisis of Capitalism (by Alan Woods)
Duration: 01:11:09
Date: 17 Jul 2013
Marxism and Science Marxism and Science
Duration: 01:01:57
Date: 7 Mar 2013
Karl Marx and the First International Karl Marx and the First International
Duration: 01:21:11
Date: 7 Mar 2013
The Relevance of Marxism Today The Relevance of Marxism Today
Duration: 01:09:56
Date: 7 Mar 2013