The Socialist Party's view in detail - what a genuine socialist government would do
Socialism vs Capitalism
The Socialist Party believes that socialism is an genuine alternative to global capitalism.
Capitalism is a society where billionaire capitalists own vast companies, banks, shares, and much of the land as well. Elected governments are bent to the will of the big corporations which the capitalists own. To achieve genuine socialism, this ownership of the world's wealth by the 1% must be ended.
Capitalism means that a great deal of our society's resources, needed to produce the things we need, are privately owned.
Hannah Sell explains that capitalism is:
based on the private ownership of the productive forces (factories, offices, science and technique)
The bosses of the big corporate enterprises always threaten that if wages and conditions are not worsened, they will take their business to another country where wages are lower.
Socialism is a society where this large-scale private ownership of the big corporations, the banks and the land, is ended. This means that we can collectively and democratically plan how we use the world's resources. In her book, Socialism in the 21st Century, Hannah explains how:
This would mean bringing all the big corporations, controlling around 80% of the economy, into democratic public ownership, under democratic working-class control.
Ordinary working class people - the vast majority of society - would then collectively own and control these wealth producing resources and would draw up a plan for their best use.
A socialist society would put people's needs and interests, immediate and long-term, before profit. Hannah explains what this would mean below.
There are no countries where this takes place today.
There are none in Europe, which is suffering from a great capitalist crisis. In Latin America, Venezuela is not socialist, despite nationalising some enterprises. See articles on Venezuela here.
Socialism requires the joint efforts of workers in a number of advanced capitalist countries. Of course, a genuine socialist government could initially achieve a great deal, whilst campaigning for socialism worldwide.
A genuine socialist government would appeal to the workers and oppressed of the world to win support for a socialist transformation of society in their own countries, and its example would inspire the working class and oppressed all round the world.
The Socialist Party is profoundly optimistic about the prospects of achieving socialism throughout the world today.
Below, Hannah Sell, the Socialist Party's deputy general secretary, explains that the conditions have been ripening, and continue to ripen, for the establishment of a socialist society internationally. Socialism has never been more achievable, because, as Marx once explained, capitalism creates its own gravediggers.
The Socialist Party's view
Socialism in the Twenty-First Century - the Way Forward for Anti-Capitalism, by Hannah Sell, is the best introduction to the ideas of socialism today.
Here Hannah, writing in 2002, outlines the ideas explained in her book:
"FOR MOST of human history it has not been possible to satisfy even the most basic human needs. Now, as a result of the labour and ingenuity of working people, the potential exists to eliminate want forever.
The barrier to achieving this is the capitalist system itself. Based as it is on the private ownership of the productive forces (factories, offices, science and technique), capitalism creates immense inequality and deprivation when the potential exists for providing the material components of a decent life for all.
Capitalism is driven by big business' need to make the maximum possible profits. A socialist society, by contrast, would be driven by the need to provide a decent life for all humanity, whilst protecting the environment for future generations.
Socialism has to be international. It's impossible to create socialism in one country, surrounded by a world capitalist market. Nonetheless there is an enormous amount that could be achieved by a socialist government after it came to power as part of a transition from capitalism to socialism.
A genuine socialist government would extend and deepen democracy enormously. This would be much more far-reaching than the parliamentary democracies of capitalism where we simply get to vote every few years for MPs who do what they like once elected.
Elected representatives would only receive the average wage. Nationally, regionally and locally - at every level - elected representatives would be accountable and subject to instant recall. So if the people who'd elected them did not like what their representative did, they could make them stand for immediate re-election and, if they wished, replace them with someone else.
It is often argued that socialists simply want to share out the wealth. This, it is asserted, would only mean increased misery for the rich - as the wealth would not be enough to obliterate poverty. But we are not interested in merely doing this.
Of course, it would be nice to take some of Bill Gates' $36 billion (£24 billion), but in order for socialism to work it would be necessary to do much more than that.
Some of the immediate measures that could be taken include:
Eliminating arms spending
The US has promised to rebuild Afghanistan after bombing it to smithereens. Yet the $297 million (£200 million) it has pledged in 2002 is equal to just seven hours of US defence spending!
Arms spending has accounted for $1 trillion a year world-wide since the end of the cold war. This alone could provide $1,000 a year for every family on the planet. Just 25% of the cost of president George W Bush's Star Wars programme would provide clean drinking water for the billion people who are currently without it.
Sharing out work
Even at the end of the economic boom in the late 1990s there were still 35 million unemployed in the European Union. At the same time, those in work are working longer hours than ever before. This is madness: a socialist government would immediately share out the work.
In addition, it would use modern technology to limit the number of hours it was necessary to work. A socialist government could immediately introduce a maximum 35-hour week, with no loss of pay. Capitalism's remorseless drive for profit means that new technology has been used, not to shorten the working week, but to throw workers on the scrap heap.
A socialist government would harness technology to lower the number of hours people have to work. This would give working-class people more time to participate in running society. Combined with a massive programme of socially necessary projects - such as increasing the numbers of teachers, doctors and nurses - unemployment could be eliminated.
Ending competition and duplication
Private ownership of the means of production results in constant duplication. Companies fiercely compete to produce a certain product first and best. Socialism would eliminate this and thereby save a huge amount of resources.
There would also be no need for marketing, on which capitalism spends $1 trillion a year. This does not mean, as is commonly claimed, that socialism would result in a lack of choice or poor-quality goods: a society where everyone dresses in a grey uniform.
It would be possible to have far more choice of the things which people desire to have a variety of (such as clothes, music, holidays etc) than under capitalism. However, a socialist society might choose not to have 200 brands of washing powder!
A SOCIALIST economy would have to be a democratically planned economy. This would mean bringing all the big corporations, controlling around 80% of the British economy, into democratic public ownership, under democratic working-class control.
Of course it would not mean bringing small businesses, such as local shops, many of which are forced out of business by the multinationals, into public ownership. Nor would it mean, as opponents of socialism claim, taking away personal 'private property'. On the contrary socialists are favour of everyone having the right to a decent home and the other conveniences of modern life.
The capitalists argue that a democratically planned economy could not work. Yet, in reality capitalism has provided the tools which could enormously aid the genuine, democratic planning of an economy.
We have the internet, market research, supermarket loyalty cards that record the shopping habits of every customer, and so on. Big business uses this technology to find out what it can sell. Could it not be used rationally instead to find out what people need and want?
Despite all the propaganda of big business, socialist ideas will continue to gain ground. World-wide millions of people are fighting back against the reality of capitalism. They are the Bolivian masses who rose up and prevented the privatisation of their water supply and the Argentinians who overthrew four presidents in two weeks.
They are the ten million Indian workers who took strike action against privatisation. They are the workers in Spain who held a one-day general strike against attacks on unemployment rights, and the workers in Italy who have mobilised in their millions against the right-wing government of Silvio Berlusconi.
At the same time as the poor and oppressed of entire countries are fighting back against the effects of capitalism, a minority are beginning to consciously look for an alternative system. It is this reality that ensures that socialism isn't a spent force but the wave of the future."
On our website, we recommend Socialism in the Twenty-First Century - the Way Forward for Anti-Capitalism. For questions about Communism, we recommend What About Russia? and the Introduction to the Communist Manifesto further examines the importance of the ideas of Karl Marx today.
Finally, How a Socialist Economy Would Work explains about a socialist planned economy, which would plan to utilise human and natural recourses in a non-destructive non-wasteful way, leading to a massive increase in permanent well being.
Socialist countries: Socialist Party website beginners ABCs
Are there any socialist countries in Europe?
If you have read the extract from Hannah's book above and are still confused, possibly the notes below will help.
Sometimes countries have governments that call themselves 'Socialist,' but they do not carry out genuine socialist policies.
For instance, in the past the Labour Party in Britain was often labeled "socialist". When the Labour Party was in government, people sometimes used to say "We have a socialist government," and even that Britain was socialist.
But this was not true. Labour governments did not go beyond the boundaries of capitalism. The country remained capitalist. Big business was still owned by a tiny minority who do not represent the majority, and do not act in their interests.
In Spain and in France, and elsewhere around the world there are parties that go by the name of 'Socialist' and they have been elected into government.
When the French Socialist Party was in government, it was called a 'Socialist government', and we were told France had 'gone socialist.' This was not true.
When the Spanish Socialist Party was returned to power in 2004, (because of its opposition to the invasion of Iraq,) it did not bring about a socialist society.
In Germany and other countries, parties going by the name 'Social Democratic' were sometimes referred to as socialist.
But this was not true either.
These countries remained capitalist through and through.
The battle to build genuine mass workers' parties in the coutries of Europe is the most important battle for European workers today. Without such parties workers have no political represention. Instead, they only have parties which, like the democrats in the USA, have some trade union allegance but ultimately do not act in the interests of the working class - the vast majority in society.
These parties will surely adopt a socialist programme, explained above, if they are to genuinely act in workers' interests .
"Left-wing" and "right-wing"
Parties and governments which are called Socialist are also often termed "Left" parties or governments, or "left-wing."
"Left-wing" means "influenced by socialist ideas" or promoting public welfare or the well-being of ordinary people.
Governments of the conservatives, republicans, or nationalists, are called "right-wing."
Right-wing means supporting rich, capitalist, big business interests against the interests of the poor.
But keep in mind, what people or political parties call themselves, or describe themselvs should not be accepted as true on face value. Workers will test out how each party acts.
Changing government or changing society?
Changing government, or using a "left" sounding name like "socialist" is not the same thing as changing the way society is run - and who runs it.
It is true that in the past "Left" governments sometimes took into public ownership ('Nationalised') industries that capitalism could not run profitably, yet relied on in order to make a profit in the rest of industry.
Nationalised industries provided cheaper energy, transport and communications and so boosted the profits of capitalism.
These "Left" governments, in the past, were more likely to introduce welfare reforms to support the workers that capitalism had thrown into poverty through low wages, unemployment, disability or old age.
These so-called socialist governments were simply patching things up.
This was not genuine socialism. Ownership of the economy remained in the hands of big business.
Working people still had no democratic control over their workplaces. Capitalism - the profit system - was not abolished.
Yet these governments were often led by parties going by the name of 'Labour' or 'Socialist' or 'Social Democratic' and in some cases their origins go back to the inspiration and struggles of the early Marxists.
That is where they originally got their names from.
Now they have completely abandoned the cause of socialism and turned definitively to represent the capitalist class.
Today the Socialist Party here in England and Wales, and its sister parties throughout the world, are helping to re-found new mass working class parties, that will turn towards genuine socialist ideas, to break with capitalism and transform society.
The other group of countries that were often called socialist were the former Communist countries of the old Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.
Although capitalism and feudal landlordism were abolished in those countries, (which enabled great advances in living standards to be made) those 'Communist' regimes represented a grotesque caricature of the genuine ideas of socialism, and were a collection of ruthless dictatorships based on bureaucratically planned economies.
For further information about these countries see What About Russia?
None of these countries are or were socialist.
Today a few countries, for instance Cuba, are still labelled 'Socialist' sometimes. But whilst the Socialist Party supports Cuba against the vindictive aggression of the United States, and we recognise the important advances the revolution brought to the poor and oppressed, it is still not a socialist country.
See Che Guevara - Revolutionary fighter on our website for a discussion of Cuba, our support for its struggle as well as our criticisms of the regime.
19 Jan Want to fight austerity?
Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777
Email: [email protected]
Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206
Regional Socialist Party organisers:
Eastern: 079 8202 1969
East Mids: 077 3797 8057
London: 020 8988 8786
North East: 078 4114 4890
North West 079 5437 6096
South West: 077 5979 6478
Southern: 078 3368 1910
Wales: 077 7221 5281
West Mids: 024 7655 5620
Yorkshire: 078 0983 9793