A supplement to the "What is Socialism?" module
Sam Gindin argues that socialists must offer a vision of a socialist system that would be a viable alternative to capitalism. Unless we do that, it will not be possible to build a powerful socialist movement with a mass base of support.
In a viable socialism there will be no class that lives by owning enterprises. All workplaces would be owned by government bodies except for self-employment and small-scale cooperatives providing local services.
Economic planning would play a big role, with some space also for markets. Too much planning runs into information overload, and it also concentrates power at the top, bringing social inequality as in the former Soviet Union. Too much autonomy for individual workplaces fosters the pursuit of the narrow self-interest of one workplace without taking account of the effects of decisions in one workplace on other groups in the society, as happened in the former Yugoslavia’s experiment with decentralized worker self-management after World War II.
Workers will have a big say in decisions in all types of enterprises. However, other affected groups will also play a role. Along with workers, representatives of consumers and the local community will be involved in decision-making. Every individual will take on the role of worker, consumer, and community resident over the course of a lifetime and usually every day. Nevertheless, there is an inherent conflict of interest among those three identities. As a worker, people want a decent wage, reasonable work hours, and good working conditions, all of which affect the cost of production. As a consumer, people want high quality products at an affordable price. As a local resident, people do not want a business to harm the local environment. Socialism must have institutions that foster a reconciliation among those three conflicting interests.
Individual workers must not be placed in the position of competing with one another for too few available jobs, as is the norm under capitalism. Involuntary unemployment cannot be allowed under socialism. The planning system will generate enough jobs for all those willing and able to work. Worker pay will be based on hours worked, the intensity of the labor, the unpleasantness of the job, the need to fill labor shortages, and other relevant factors.
Investment decisions about increasing or reducing the output of a product, or introducing new products, will be made through an economic planning system governed by democratic social decision-making. The financing of investment will come from the surplus generated in the economy, not from the whims of rich people or the profit-driven decisions of private financial institutions as under capitalism.
The economic role of the state will grow under socialism, not shrink. However, the state will be democratic, with input from all groups in society.
Socialism will not be “neat,” it will be “messy,” with direct administration, negotiations among groups, various forms of cooperation, and regulated markets. This reflects the reality of a complex social organization directed to meeting the needs of the population.