Capitalism long ago ceased to be historically progressive. Humanity faces the task of wresting the world-girding socialisation of production from its control right on the verge of a new industrial revolution involving robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, quantum computing, biotechnology, the Internet of Things, 3D printing and the like. Capitalism cannot develop their full potential while China leads the way, increasingly gaining control over their standards, intellectual property and associated rents from the capitalist world and challenging the cyber supremacy of the US security state.
Today a number of peoples are already building socialism, but most are left paying the price of keeping declining and extortionate capital in control. It is high time all working people began building socialism by forming themselves into a ‘class for itself’, overthrowing the capitalist class and taking political power.
Of course, we will reach communism – a society that produces use values, rather than (exchange) value, and distributes the social product by taking ‘from each according to their ability’ and giving ‘to each according to their need’ – only at the end of a long road. We must traverse several stages of socialism – increasingly socialised production, distribution and outlook – before our productive capacities, our societies and our cultures become capable of relating to other individuals, groups and societies in solidarity, whilst living harmoniously with other species and the planet.
In doing this, the key is seizing control over the state from capital. The role of the public power, the state, is essential and distinctive and control over it should be in the hands of working people. Though capital may rule over considerable private enterprise, particularly during the early socialist stages, a socialist state must progressively subject all production to social ends through planning for the general interest. Whether to socialise given means of production will be a contextual and often pragmatic decision.
Each country, with its historical configuration of productive development, social organisation and culture, will proceed along this path with its own pace and pattern. Some may join the journey late, some may take interesting detours and some, likely a small number, may not join in anytime soon.
The overriding principle of ‘people and planet over profits’ implies the following major demands of people and peoples struggling for socialism:
1. Physical, economic and emotional suffering during the pandemic makes the full socialisation of health care, with universal access free at the point of use, the lever that opens the gates to socialism. It must include community-based public health systems extended to the remotest districts and villages capable of offering the best prevention and treatment approaches for present and future pandemics. Such healthcare systems are possible in poor countries as well as rich and have two further advantages. Their need for skilled medical practitioners will expand public education, training and research in prevention and cure, offering high quality work for many. Their need for an active public authority strongly committed to social welfare is just what is objectively necessary for the transition to a socialist society. If such a public health system proves possible, if not wholly at least substantially, people will clearly see, demand and be willing to work towards, extending its model to other cognate spheres, such as education, child and elder care or housing.
2. To chart the onward path of socialist advance, we recall what Marx knew well: the two main elements of production, land and labour, are not commodities and nor is the chief instrument of their social organisation, money. Capitalism, by treating them as such, entangles itself in contradictions – of the private appropriation of the fruits of social labour, environmental devastation and precarity of agricultural and primary commodity producers, and mismanaged money and financial crises.
Decommodifying land, labour and money will constitute a major advance towards socialism.
The urgency of resolving the ecological emergency cannot be overstated. We must take land and water bodies into public ownership for a viable and actionable plan to prevent ecological calamity. Such a plan should be based on wide popular participation and large-scale state investment, and will necessarily include divesting from fossil fuels, investing in and deploying renewable energy and zero-carbon public transport on an unprecedented scale, restoring biodiversity, afforestation, and reorganising the food system. It will also promote the rational and equitable provision of housing and allocation of land for various economic purposes.
Universal access to work and its rewards for all able to work, combined with support for those unable to work and a reduction in work time for all as productivity advances, opens the door to autonomous and creative pursuits capable of advancing individual fulfilment, science and culture to previously unimagined levels.
We must nationalise money and banking to transform them into instruments of socially organised production and distribution.
In recent years, in addition to land, labour and money, imperialist countries have sought to commodify knowledge and technology through intellectual property rights. Like nature, culture, knowledge and technology are the common heritage of humankind, its second nature. We must reverse its commodification too and make education and research public and flows of knowledge free.
3. Further socialist advance lies in the rational principle that monopolies – such as resource extraction, transportation, the digital platforms whose private ownership prevents the full exploitation of their potential to benefit society – and the production of the essentials of life – food, housing, education or healthcare – be heavily regulated or nationalised. Their private ownership ill serves society.
Progress towards socialism will be smoother where, thanks to class and international struggles, public provision and public ownership are already quite advanced. Of course, we must remove their existing limitations – class, patriarchal and racist biases – and democratise them, not just formally but substantially.
4. All countries, particularly the wealthy ones, must also separate, through debate and discussion, real need and ‘need’ simulated by capitalism’s need for markets through consumerist illusion and planned obsolescence generating, rather than satiety, only permanent dissatisfaction and covetousness, not to mention environmental destruction. A critical corollary is halting all wasteful activity – for instance, arms production (beyond basic defence) or financial speculation.
These goals will be easier for societies to pursue in the right international environment.
5. We must oppose the US-sponsored imperialist New Cold War and build an ambitious multilateral international governance enabling all countries to develop, create economic, gender, racial and religious equality, and address shared challenges through economic, political, financial, scientific and cultural cooperation for mutual benefit in ‘win-win’ relations. True development in the Third World requires investment in human capacities and a new scientific and technological revolution to fulfil human and planetary needs, cooperative integration of economies to enhance industrial, data and human resource chains and sustainable connectivity and green infrastructure to diffuse the gains widely.
6. We must also mount a challenge to the false and hypocritical universalism with which imperialist countries have articulated their domination for centuries. We must replace it with common values and principles to tackle common challenges: insecurity, mistrust, disrespect, war, inequitable development, rising inequalities of all kinds, serious damage to the land, soils, water, seas and air that sustain human life and whose degradation threatens ecological health, deficient health infrastructure, ineffective disaster management, and unsustainable debt. International governance needs to reflect the world’s objective and developing pluripolarity. The original ideals of the United Nations Charter and the principles of peaceful coexistence advocated by the Non-Aligned Movement are excellent foundations for further constructing alternatives to institutions of US and Western dominance.
The diversity of our world and its civilisations is a great resource and only principles of equality, mutual respect and mutual trust can sustain it. While peace, development, equality, justice, democracy and freedom are common values of humankind, there is no universal political model. Instead, the world must engage in constant exchange, mutual learning and in sharing the benefits of progress.