From issue # 18 of the World Socialist Review
The time has come in the history of our species when it can get everything it want for free. Yes, you heard me right, for free!
Technology has evolved to the point where there is no reason why food, clothes, housing, medical care, education, transportation, computers, books, CDs, digital connections, cannot be freely available to all human beings on the planet. It is time for such a change. And we are urging our fellow humans to organize to bring about this new world, which is no pipe dream, but a logical outcome of our technological progress as well as our desire to live a fuller, freer, life.
Many of us are used to campaigning for, or at least voting for, different politicians to run our political and economic affairs for us. We find that our lives do not change at all after each election. The leaders often do represent differences in how much money should be spent on the military, on the environment, on education, and the like, but when we get right down to the nitty gritty we find our lives are fundamentally the same no matter who we vote for. We still have to work hard (some of us in more than one job) to raise enough money for our families and ourselves. Our lives are still ruled by the alarm clock, traffic congestion, budgeting, saving, praying for an economic miracle when we spend more than we earn, and by the stress that our working lives produce for us. Ever wondered why our lives are so similar no matter the outcome of the elections? The reason is that the market system itself, based on buying and selling, operates by its own laws. So when politicians say they are going to reform it for the better, they are not telling the truth.
There is nothing they can do to stop recessions, or to significantly improve the value of our wage or salary, or to meaningfully reduce the prices of the things we need to live. In other words, the economy controls them – just the way it controls us.
You see, the companies that produce all the things we require must compete to save as much in production and to make as much from the sale as they can. The value of the things they produce is roughly determined by the amount of labor it took to make the things, including the costs of feeding and housing the employees (wages), of the rent, of the electricity, and other miscellaneous expenses. The value of our wage or salary is also determined by roughly the values of the educational and other living needs we possess that allow us to work five days a week for our employers. That can't be changed much. Our unions can work for small increments here and there, yes, but they can't work for, say, five times the value of our wages and what we would really like to earn to buy all the things that would make our lives fuller and less stressful.
It would therefore be true to say that money itself prevents us from having what we need. There is no technological reason we cannot have all the food and clothes and other important things we need to live absolutely for free – if the whole community owned the farms, food plants, clothing factories, and all other workplaces where wealth is produced. The only reason money exists is so that the owners of these places of work can generate profit to live off, the value above our wages and all other production costs from the revenue obtained from sale.
Although our culture likes to think of itself as possessing many classes (e.g., the middle class), that is really a lot of nonsense. There are only the class of people living off rent, interest and profit, and the class (most of us) who lives by working for wages or salaries (a fancy word for wages that are paid once or twice a month instead of every week). So the wealth accrues to the population in only those two ways, the vast majority of us only earning wages or salaries. While there are always failing businesses whose owners fall into the work class, the capital class tends to make the most money, while the work class tends to make the least. That is always how it is going to be, as long as money exists. No politician can do a thing about that. Even in the countries our media incorrectly call "socialist" or "communist" like the old USSR, or England under the Labor government, or China or Cuba today, the laws of value still apply. Most people in those countries are working people who are paid wages that they must budget all their living expenses out of, while a small clique lives abundantly. Although, theoretically, one can become President, the Prime Minister, or some other fancy name for Head of State, even a Manager or Chief Executive Officer for some giant multi-national, living off high salaries and million-dollar bonuses, we all know the chances of that happening!
The truth is that real socialism or communism has never existed. It means a society in which the means of producing wealth are owned "socially" or "in common." Obviously if the state owns the railroad that does not mean all the people do, unless they get to ride it for nothing. The government owns the Post Office in the United States but you still have to pay for stamps, don't you? Government ownership in countries such as ours merely means that the capital class decided that there were industries that they could all benefit from, or share the expenses for as a class, like the post office, most roads, state hospitals or the military. But in countries like China where the government owns most of the industries, there is a whole class of bureaucrats who lives off the hog of the land, just like here.
Our revolutionary movement – one of ideas, not violence - consists of working people from around the world who feel that the time is ripe for us as a species to finally own the means of producing wealth collectively. In such a society we would no longer need money. Everything really would be free, but that obviously doesn't mean it would work if we were all hoarding ten times more than we needed. But we believe that hoarding behavior is more likely to occur in an economy of scarcity rather than one of abundance. For example, in today's American economy, most of us can afford basic foodstuffs like bread, so we don't store 600 loafs at a time in our freezer, do we? That is because we know we can always get more in the supermarket. Real socialism or communism will be like that. Knowing that we can get what we need for nothing, we will hoard much less (if anything) than we do even now in our cluttered homes, where today we keep every piece of rubbish we bought in case we need it again and would have to pay dear money for it a second time! When wealth is held in common, we believe that without the impediment of financial cost limiting efficiency and progress, our society will be able to recycle at an almost 100% capacity. Greenbacks prevent us from having a truly green society. The beautiful visions of ecologists remain pure pipe dreams as long as we inhabit a world in which the economy commodifies nature and in which the most idealistic reforms are going to cost money. The class-based money economy remains the true obstacle to all other technological and social advances that we could have today, to the type of society of peace, abundance, ecological balance, and creativity that we find is achieved on Earth only in Star Trek The Next Generation. Make it so!
A planet-wide society based on private or state property is also divided into nations. It causes war, terrorism, starvation, child labor, ecological devastation, racism, sexism, shoddy goods or waste through planned obsolescence that the market requires companies to produce for their economic survival - and totally useless industries that squander our planet's resources while not producing anything, such as those industries that revolve around advertising, selling, buying, banking, ticketing, investing, brokering, insuring, militarizing, policing, governing, managing. Think of the millions of wasted buildings, or the vast supply of wasted energy, resources and human lives that are entailed in these useless occupations - useless from the point of view of producing wealth, although, of course, the market system requires them, and that is one reason it is so wasteful.
When we own the means of producing wealth as a community, we won't need those industries anymore because goods and services will be free. So we will require far less resources and energy than we do now to produce much, much, more. We will probably only need to work about a day or two at most per week to produce a lot more wealth and get everything we need. But since we are not a lazy species (except when forced to work or do anything else), we will probably choose to work more (though there will be no law saying we have to, since without property even law itself will be redundant). We will probably want to spend the remaining five days of the week in athletic, creative, intellectual, social, sexual, scientific or other pursuits, depending on our talents and interests.
Imagine actually being happy and secure in our world. We have the technology to liberate our lives, yet we find ourselves working many more hours each day for our masters than the feudal peasants did to support theirs. Our amazing technology is rapidly developing into the future, yet our social organization based on working people and employers, buying and selling, money, and nation-states, is from the primitive past and is still around today, holding us back! Capital society is only a few hundred years old. Before that, most of humanity lived in feudal societies with kings and queens, in slave-based economies, or in tribal systems (some of which did possess relatively communistic organizations, but they could not prevent the advance of capital society and the turning of their common land into a vast commodity or into production sites for other commodities). And while capital society helped to abolish feudal privilege and slavery, and to usher in our scientific progress, it also caused destruction on an unimaginable scale. Why, in the last century alone, hundreds of millions of lives were lost to war and starvation, and that doesn't even count the billions who were either unemployed or employed in totally useless occupations or living in squalor.
It is now time for us to harness our technological progress and use it for the common good. You think we are going to achieve critical social, spiritual and technological advancements in a society based on wage-labor, or in which we do not produce important inventions or innovations because they are too expensive, like we do today in our society of strife and want? If we did ring about a society of common ownership, we could abolish world hunger in months, poverty in weeks, and war immediately. We could organize our society democratically to produce all the goods and services we need, producing to meet needs rather than for sale. Using our computer technology to record needs and the use of world resources, we could live in a society without poverty of any kind and with relatively less stress (the psychologists tell us we function at our best with moderate stress, presumably not the extreme stress our lives in capitalism produc which has created the entire mental health industry in the first place!). With employment abolished, we could spend more time in stimulating activities that will feed rather than starve the human spirit. When the health of our ecosystem returns, and the quality of our food improves, when we live more in harmony with our planet and with ourselves, will our mental and spiritual health not also greatly blossom?
These ideas have been around for the last 150 years or so, and they have been growing slowly but surely, largely in the industrialized areas of the world. Most recently, this understanding has been healthily spreading in Russia, India and in many countries in Africa. More and more humans are awakening to the promise of a world that can truly be called theirs. They are awakening to their own power, and they are demanding the world for themselves. This is the unfulfilled religious dream of a "brotherhood of man" (and of woman!) that we believe can only be realized by political organization, rather than by prayer. Many scientific ideas have taken entire generations, even millennia, to be accepted, such as the idea that we are not at the center of our solar system. We do not know when our ideas of liberation from the market system will begin to spread like wildfire across the lands. But we believe that the experience of our lives forges our ideas, and that the more people live in this violent and unsatisfactory social world, the more these revolutionary ideas will be accepted a common sense and be seized upon. We invite you to consider them carefully, not as followers but as fellow citizens. And when you are ready, we invite you to join us. Change occurs as quickly as an idea travels. Speed the day!