Capitalism has failed. Across the entire world increasingly desperate conditions exist for the vast majority—mass unemployment, poverty, indebtedness, ever declining wages—are combined with the most fantastic levels of wealth. CEOs make more in a day than their workers make in an entire year, and hedge fund managers make more in an hour than most Americans make in their entire lives. At the root of all the problems of modern society is capitalism, in which everything is subordinated to the interests of a tiny elite. Under capitalism, this tiny capitalist class dominates society by dividing the working class and derives its vast wealth from the extraction of profit by paying workers less than the value they produce. Every capitalist is committed to raising productivity – increasing the amount of capital that can be squeezed from each worker and confiscated by the employer. As more wealth is extracted from the working class and concentrated in the hands of the one percent, society becomes increasingly unequal. Counter-measures can slow the twin process of capital accumulation and growing inequality, but it can be stopped only by eliminating capitalism. Individual capitalists might see the value of a fairer society, but any who chose to slow the rate of capital accumulation would be replaced by others with no such concern. Capitalism has socialised production and distribution i.e. commodities are produced socially by many people, while the products and the value from their sales are privatised, appropriated by the owners of the means of production. Socialism merely balances out the situation, that is to say, production is still socialised, but the appropriation of the value that is produced, including surplus value, is also socialised – all people have a claim upon the goods. Thus society benefits as a whole from common ownership.
Socialism means the extension of democracy to the foundation of all of society for the general improvement of humanity. Many today wrongly assume that the struggle for democracy in much of the world has been won. States that claim to be democratic are taken at their word, or at least those with universal suffrage and ‘free’ elections of representatives. This is because democracy is conflated with elections, which are equated with democracy (while occasionally paying lip service to referendums.) If people cannot gather in assemblies to act directly, they can at least elect representatives to act on their behalf: this is called “representative democracy”. The reality is quite different. It replaces the rule of the people, by the people, for the people with the rule of the self-proclaimed representatives of the people. Neither the expansion of the electorate through universal suffrage nor electoral reform (of the voting system, campaign finance, nomination rules, ballot access, media access, etc.) changes the underlying oligarchic logic of elections. This does not mean that socialists should oppose it but take cognition of its flaws. Socialists argue that capitalism undermines democracy.
Human beings in a given society produce wealth, in various forms, and this wealth is distributed among the members of society via various institutions, laws and mechanisms. However, to speak about how and to whom wealth is distributed inevitably leads to asking questions as to who produced that wealth in the first place. Speaking about distribution without mentioning production is simply useless. Capitalism is an exploitative mode of production in which the capitalist class extracted "surplus value" from the working class. For the first time in human history, labour power itself was sold as a free commodity on the market. Workers are free to sell their labour power to whatever capitalist chose to employ them. But the asymmetry of power in this alleged "free exchange" is that while the capitalist class owns the means of production, the working class only has their labour power to sell. This asymmetry means that while capitalists pay labour a "living wage," the value of this wage (the value of labour power) is always less than the value of the commodities produced by the workers' labor -- if capital could not make a profit it would not employ labour. Under capitalism, private ownership of the means of production such as factories, machines and raw materials is what determines the ownership of not only the commodities produced via those means of production, but also the proceeds of the sales of the commodities. In other words, shareholders and proprietors appropriate commodities they did not produce, and pocket the profit from their sales. Workers' needs under capitalism are always subordinate.
Realistically, there’s only one way to achieve workplace democracy across the whole of society – a global working-class revolution that takes collective control of production and eliminates the two-class system of capitalism. Socialism is something far more comprehensive than a simple redistribution of wealth but entails the expropriation, the seizure, of the means of production by the working class. Then we could build a truly cooperative society in which everyone is equally worthy to share life’s work and life’s rewards.
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