What is socialism? what is capitalism? and why is the working class so important? here we try to reply to some of the most basic questions which are often asked in relation to Marxism.
Why are we socialists?
We are socialists because we believe that the present system of society, capitalism, is not able to secure progress for the vast majority of the population. Everywhere we look, society is at an impasse. It stumbles from one crisis to another with devastating consequences for the majority of working people. Millions of people suffer in deep poverty, unemployment, homelessness, etc. For a large part of society life has been reduced to a struggle for survival. For the youth, the future does not offer any hope. Almost 25 years after the fall of the apartheid regime, the democratic freedom of the South African people is overshadowed by the widening gap between rich and poor.
All of this is happening while the wealth in society has never been greater. Modern science, technology, and production could solve all the major problems of humanity. The problems of housing, electricity, water, food, poverty, unemployment, education, landlessness, and transport could all be solved by the resources that exist today. Instead, while a tiny minority of super rich get richer and richer, the majority of people are doomed to live a life full of hardship in a neverending struggle to stay afloat. Instead of using modern technology to develop society and raise living standards, it is used to dismiss millions of workers and simultaneously to increase the pressures on the ones who are lucky enough to keep their jobs.
The present system, capitalism, can no longer satisfy the needs of humanity. It is a society dominated by a small group of people whose interests are not in solving the problems of society or helping people, but in generating profit for themselves by exploiting the working class. As socialists we want to overthrow the current system of exploitation and lay the groundwork for the building of a new socialist society where the wealth is owned and controlled by the majority of the population and used to raise living standards and modernise society.
What is capitalism?
Capitalism is a form of society which is based on the private ownership of the main levers of the economy by the capitalist class (also known as the bourgeoisie), which is also the ruling class. With their control of the main levers of the economy the capitalists make all the important decisions affecting society and the lives of millions of people. But they do not plan production to benefit society. For capitalists, production only takes place if it generates profit for themselves.
The vast majority of the people, though, do not own anything and are forced to work for wages, on terms dictated by the capitalist class. The goods which are created by the workers are then sold, and part of it used to pay their wages. The rest is kept by the capitalist and spent the way he wishes.
The capitalists also compete against each other, which means they must constantly increase the exploitation of the working class in order to produce more and cheaper goods.
What is the working class and why is it so important to us?
The modern working class (or proletariat) was created by the capitalist system. The working class is the biggest class in our society, but because they do not own any property, the workers have to sell their ability to work to the bosses in exchange for a wage. Under capitalism the labour of the working class creates all wealth in society. However, the workers only receive, via wages, a fraction of the wealth back that they created, while the surplus product is taken by the bourgeois.
However, although the working class is the most exploited class in society, it is also the potentially the most powerful. The whole of modern society is based on large scale production in which the working class plays a key role. In every power plant, factory, mine, bus, plane, or shop it is a worker or a group of workers who is doing the essential labour. If they chose not to work, all of society would grind to a halt.
The working class, as opposed to capitalists, peasants, or small shop owners, does not own any property. Workers are generally not in competition with other workers. In fact, because of the social nature of capitalist production and the collective nature of production that brings workers together in a common struggle, the workers have a collective mentality rather than an individual one. The workers have no individual property to defend, and therefore a society ruled by the working class would be based on collective ownership over production, rather than private ownership. That is precisely why Marxists base themselves on the working class, as it is the only class in society that can lead a socialist revolution.
What is socialism? What is communism?
As Marxists, we believe that the alternative to the current system is socialism. Socialism is a transitional phase between the exploitative capitalist system and a classless society, which is communism. As opposed to capitalism, under socialism, all the big industries, the banks, utilities, and other monopolies will be publicly owned and run by the the workers themselves. This would mean that production would take place for need and not for private profit.
This means that the wealth generated by normal working people would not go to a small number of capitalists, but would be invested back into society and into raising living standards. Through a democratically planned economy, most of the basic problems of humanity could be easily solved.
Under capitalism, the majority of wealth belongs to the capitalists, who primarily use it for their own narrow needs. In a socialist society the enormous resources which currently flow into the coffers of the capitalists could be used to raise wages dramatically and to invest in modernising all aspects of society.
Under capitalism, new technologies often mean the destruction of thousands of jobs. Under socialism, such technology would be used to decrease working hours while maintaining wage levels. By lowering working hours, all unemployment could be easily eradicated, as well as freeing up time for working people to participate in the democratic running of society and to pursue science, culture, etc., so as to develop the full potential of all human beings.
By eradicating hunger, poverty, and general want, socialism will lay the basis for the withering away of class society itself. The struggle for survival will be replaced by a society where the highest development of each individual is the basis for the higher development of society—and vice versa. Such a society, where scientific and technological advances have replaced want with superabundance and where classes will begin to gradually wither away, is what Marxists call communism.
What is a revolution?
Although capitalism does not benefit the vast majority of humanity anymore, it will not collapse by itself. The capitalist class will not let go of their power, positions, and privileges voluntarily. Only a revolutionary movement of the masses, led by the working class, can overthrow capitalism and establish socialism.
A revolution is not “made” or invented by a small group of clever people or agitators. Capitalism itself prepares the ground for revolutions through its ever increasing exploitation of the working masses. More than anything, a revolution is made by unemployment, poverty, and misery in the face of the corrupt and lavish lifestyles of the rich.
A revolution is when the majority of the people in society feel that they can no longer maintain their standards of living, and when they collectively enter the political arena as direct participants in order to change society. In ordinary times people generally leave the running of society to the politicians, economists, and the so-called “experts.” A revolution is that point when the masses intervene as active participants in running their own lives.
A good example of this was after the assassination of Chris Hani in 1993. Millions of ordinary South Africans thronged the streets in order to seek justice and demand real change. Once the masses moved, the state apparatus could not resist. In fact, it was the revolutionary struggle of the masses which overthrew the apartheid regime, and not the negotiations of the ANC leadership.
During that movement the masses began to break down the barriers which kept them from participation in politics, the economy, and the administration of their own lives. It is precisely this point, when the people actively participate in the running of their lives and begin to change society, that we call a revolution.
A socialist revolution is when the masses not only overthrow the government of a country, but when the capitalist system is overthrown and the masses take state and economic power into their own hands. In the fight against the apartheid regime, the main figures of the regime were thrown from state power, but the same state apparatus persisted and the same few families remained in control of the economy. Thus, the capitalist system, which created apartheid, still remains, and the main problems of the people of the country have not been solved.
What is a revolutionary party?
As we can see, the fact that a revolution happens does not automatically mean that it is victorious. A revolution is a very complex event, and it is limited by time. In a revolutionary situation there is little time to experiment, and mistakes made in the white heat of a revolution can have very grave consequences. The masses can only physically be on the streets for a limited period. Therefore, if a revolutionary movement does not take power, it will eventually go into a crisis and be defeated. Another revolution can take many years to occur.
Therefore, it is necessary to build the revolutionary party of cadres beforehand, over a long period of time, to prepare for the overthrow of the system. Only the conscious struggle of the workers internationally, and the building of a revolutionary leadership, can lead to a successful socialist revolution.
A revolutionary party is much more than just an apparatus or a structure. A revolutionary party is first of all a party with the correct ideas, methods, and traditions with which to intervene in the daily struggles of the working class people. The party is also an organisation of cadres who understand the general processes taking place in society and who can educate new generations in the necessary theories and methods of Marxism.
It acts as the collective memory of all the struggles of the working class, and learns all the lessons of the past in order to prepare for future events. The Bolshevik Party was such a revolutionary party. Over a period of 30 years the Bolshevik party was created under all the pressures of tsarist Russia. By going through all the experiences together with the masses, the party learned all the lessons necessary to intervene decisively in the Russian Revolution and lead it to victory.
What is Marxism?
Marxism is the body of ideas for the revolutionary reconstruction of society first espoused by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels and which were later developed by Lenin, Trotsky, and Ted Grant. Before Marx, socialism was mainly a series of “good ideas.” But Marx discovered that class society, with capitalism as its highest form, will inevitably lead to a socialist society. Capitalism has, in fact, created all the elements of socialism: modern science, modern industrial production, an international economy, and billions of workers with no property. He also discovered that all modern revolutions will inevitably gravitate towards socialism and towards the collectivisation of the economy. For Marx, the programme of socialism (i.e., nationalisations, workers control, workers democracy, etc.) was not something he made up himself, but elements which occurred in different forms in every revolutionary movement. Marx’s achievement was not to “make up” socialism, but to scientifically develop it from the experiences of the working class.
This historical discovery put the struggle for socialism on a rational and scientific basis. Marxism can be divided into three categories—Marxist philosophy (Dialectical Materialism), the materialist conception of history (Historical Materialism), and Marxist economics.
What is a planned economy?
A planned economy is when the economy is owned and planned collectively by society and not left to the anarchy of ‘’the markets.” In a planned economy the production, investments, etc. are determined collectively with the full democratic participation of the workers instead of by a handful of capitalists. In this way the economy is organised according to the needs of the whole of society.
In such a situation all the resources of society could be directed to rapidly develop all parts of the country, modernising the old power grid and building new power plants as well as bringing modern water and sanitation to everyone for cheap prices. The public transportation infrastructure could also be rapidly modernised and provided to people for free, or at affordable prices.
In a planned economy, the factories and other companies would be run under the control and management of the working class. As opposed to the bosses, the workers have a direct interest in raising the level of production in order to to raise the living standards of all. In fact, an economy where companies are run by the workers would be far more effective than today. It is the workers who carry out the actual production, who know how a factory or a workplace is best run. Only the working class knows how much of each commodity is needed and which is the best and most efficient way of produce it. This is why the direct and active participation of the workers in the running of the economy is necessary in order for it to run efficiently and to avoid the corruption and mismanagement of a capitalist economy.
A glimpse of what is possible under a nationalised, planned economy was in the Soviet Union. Despite massive problems and obstacles, the planned economy, through a series of five-year plans, completely transformed the productive forces and laid the basis for a modern economy. In the period of the first 50 years, on the basis of a nationalised, planned economy, total industrial output in the Soviet Union grew 52 times. Over the same period, the industrial output in the USA grew six times. In other words, within a few decades the Soviet Union transformed its economy from a backward country to the second largest superpower on Earth.
Another good example of what is possible under a planned economy in regard to free health and education is Cuba. On the basis of a planned economy, the Cuban Revolution has created one of the best healthcare systems in the world. With an infant mortality rate of just 4.2 per thousand births, Cuba is amongst the best in the world. Life expectancy in Cuba is 78 years. Cubans live on average 30 years longer than their Haitian neighbours. The healthcare system is so good that Cuba has been exporting doctors to many countries of the world.
The same goes for education. In Cuba the adult literacy rate is 99.8%, while in Brazil (the biggest economy in South America) it is only 88%. The gains of the 1959 revolution with regard to health and education are an undeniable fact, and are even acknowledged by the the World Bank. Even this leading international capitalist institution had to acknowledge that Cuba had achieved universal literacy, had eradicated certain diseases, and provided universal access to safe drinking water and basic public sanitation, and that all of these are comparable to the most developed capitalist countries.
All of this has happened in a small Caribbean island which has suffered under a trade embargo from the United for more than 50 years. The possibilities in South Africa, with its abundance of natural resources, is unlimited. On the basis of a nationalised health and education system, the problems of illiteracy and poor health could easily be eradicated in one or two five-year plans.
A planned economy is needed to provide for the needs of society instead of for private profit. Because production would not be for the market, i.e., for profit, but for human need, wages could be raised drastically and the hours worked during the week shortened without any loss of pay. In this way time would be freed up for people to get involved in the running of society as we well as in science, art, and culture. The higher level of culture would again add to higher efficiency in production and living standards. This means that unemployment will be eliminated, which would lead to the raising of living standards.
Under a planned economy the economy could grow much faster than in a capitalist economy. The main difference is that a planned economy could utilise the resources and talents of the whole of society, as opposed to capitalism, where the majority is kept idle and their intellectual growth constantly stunted by the system.
Would there be any incentive to work and develop society under socialism?
For most people living in capitalist society, there is no incentive to produce, and the human capacity to work is wasted in various ways, including unemployment. Millions of people who are willing and able to do productive work find themselves without work. Those who are fortunate enough to work find themselves in dead-end jobs with marginal wages, few benefits, and declining living standards. The workers never see or use their own products; in fact, many workers can never afford to buy the products they produce. Instead, they work hard to produce wealth for bosses, who constantly push them to work harder. This means that there is always a conflict between the boss, who wants the workers to work harder, and the workers, who try to resist the bosses’ never ending demands for more.
Under capitalism the incentive is not to produce more or better products, but to make more profit. This often hinders development. For instance, the major technology companies spend billions of dollars on lawsuits trying to stop each other from developing new technology. At the same time, the developments which do take place are often done by scientists who are paid regular salaries or not paid at all, but because they have a desire to research and develop science and technology. A good example of this is the internet, which has mainly been built up by volunteer programmers.
In a socialist society, instead of struggling to keep scientists and their results isolated, the scientific community would pool together their findings in order to achieve results far above anything which has been achieved so far in human history.
What about human nature—aren't people selfish by nature?
Human nature is not a static thing, in fact, it is constantly changing. Humans do not think and act the same way they did 100 years ago. This is because the way the way they lived then is totally different to the way in which people live now. Human nature is determined by the environment that people live in and the state of society. Under capitalism, the majority of people are forced to compete against each other for the few jobs which are available. Capitalism also creates a very unstable life for the majority of people. At the same time, the whole of society is formed on the basis capitalist individual competition. This is the so-called ''dog-eat-dog'' mentality of life under capitalism.
But if unemployment, poverty, and homelessness were eliminated, living standards would rise, and this would completely change the way humans relate to each other. Humans are dependent on each other. For instance, no single worker can design a car, mine the minerals and manufacture the materials needed, build the factory, and assemble the car. This process requires the cooperation of many workers in many different industries. Selfish individualism is a result of a society with want and instability. But selfishness would seem absurd in a state of superabundance and high living standards. Instead, a socialist morality would develop on the basis of cooperation for the sake of constantly raising human society to new levels.
What is internationalism?
Socialism is internationalist by its very nature. Capitalist production is production using an international division of labour which has created a world market. This means that oil, for instance, is extracted in the Middle East, refined in Europe, and then sold to African or Asian countries. In this way the same capitalist method of production is used all over the world, with the effect of creating a working class in all countries. Therefore, workers in different countries share the same interests and have a collective interest in overthrowing the capitalist system.
Socialism is internationalist by its nature. Socialism would not be able to survive for a long period in one country because it would be isolated in the world capitalist market. The capitalists would use their access to goods to sabotage the economy and break it down. Therefore, a socialist revolution would have to aim to spread internationally to a large part of the world initially, and further, to the rest from there.
That is why Marxists are also organised internationally. Marxism is against any kind of nationalism which divides the world working class. In all countries we fight for the same aim—international socialist revolution.
What happened in the Soviet Union?
For Marxists, the October Revolution of 1917 in Russia was the greatest event in human history. For the first time in history, the mass of workers and peasants proved in practice that it was possible to run society without landlords, capitalists, and bankers. The superiority of a planned economy over capitalist production was proved, not in the field of ideas, but on the concrete arena of industrial development, raising living standards, education, and health. Russia developed from a backward peasant country to an economic, political, and military superpower in just a few decades. The nationalised, planned economy massively raised living standards. For decades after the revolution, the Soviet economy had an annual growth rate of over 10 percent. Science and technology were greatly expanded, to the extent that the Soviet Union was a world leader in space exploration. By the 1980s the Soviet Union had more doctors and scientists than the USA, Germany, Britain, and Japan combined. These and many other successes showed the huge gains of the October Revolution.
The October Revolution also led to the spreading of revolution throughout Europe and the rest of the world. Unfortunately, all of these revolutions were defeated in one way or another due to the lack of a revolutionary leadership. This meant that the Russian Revolution was isolated in a country with a very backward economy. As a result of its isolation, and its backwardness, civil war, and the assault of 21 armies of foreign intervention, the revolution in Russia hung by a thread. Without the assistance of revolutions in more economically advanced countries in Europe, there could not be socialism in Russia.
Marx always explained that socialism must always start on a higher basis than a capitalist economy. He also explained that socialism in one country is impossible because of the integrated nature of the world economy. If the revolutions in the rest of Europe had been successful, they could have all pooled their technology, natural resources, and populations as one in order to begin production on a higher level. Instead, the isolated revolution meant that poverty and want could not be eradicated and living standards could not rise. This laid the basis for the rise of the Stalinist bureaucracy, who installed a dictatorship. While the planned economy, the main achievement of the October Revolution, was kept intact, a privileged layer developed within the state who usurped political power from the working class. Workers’ democracy, one of the pillars of the revolution, was completely suffocated, and all dissent was punished harshly. All of the leaders of the revolution who did not adhere to the new line were murdered. In spite of leaning on the legacy of the October Revolution, Stalinism was only a caricature of Marxism.
Nevertheless, capitalism was not restored in the Soviet Union, which remained a deformed workers’ state. That is, a state based on a planned economy, but where the political power is in the hands of a state bureaucracy. It was this planned economy which allowed it to see enormous and uninterrupted economic growth for decades. But without workers’ democracy, this could only have a limited duration. In the 1930s Leon Trotsky, the Bolshevik leader exiled by Stalin, argued that either Stalinism would be overthrown by a political revolution of the working class, or, under certain conditions, could revert to capitalism. This is exactly what happened 60 years later.
What is the state?
Today the bosses dress up their attacks on workers’ rights, the right to strike, etc. in the name of the Law with a capital “L,” or Democracy with a capital “D.” When the police and the government defend the “right” of a scab to break a strike, they do it in the name of his “democratic right to work.” When a million-and-one obstacles are placed in the path of workers taking action, it is in the name of legality. As if the law or democracy, the courts or the police, are all independent entities removed from the issues and conflicts involved. In reality, we all know there is one law for the rich and another for the rest of us.
The law isn’t a system of “fair rules”; it’s just like any other aspect of the state—a means of coercion by which one class in society, the ruling class, the minority, maintains its rule over the majority, the working class.
In the last analysis, the state apparatus is armed bodies of men in the form of the police, the army, and their appendages, the courts and so on. They are tools for the oppression of one class of society by another (for example, the capitalist class oppresses the working class).
Marxists believe that democracy in capitalist society is nothing but a cover for the dictatorship of the capitalists. Of course, we fight for all democratic rights, such as the right to vote, assemble, speak, organise, and strike. But how democratic is capitalism? In capitalist democracy there is nothing but the rule of the bankers, industrialists, and capitalists who control the economy, over which the majority has no say. Ultimately it is big money and the unelected capitalists who decide the fate of millions of people. Sure, elections take place every 4–5 years. But once the politicians are elected, they immediately abandon their election promises and start behaving in the old way. At the same time, most of the top officials of the state within the ministries, the police, the army, and the judiciary are never elected.
Is socialism democratic?
Yes. Socialism is democratic by its very nature. Under socialism all officials—including the judges, generals, and police chiefs—are elected democratically by all, and are subject to recall at any moment; all officials receive a wage which is not higher than that of a skilled worker; and all functions of administration in society will gradually be done in rotation by all members of society. The army and the police will also be put under the democratic control of the trade unions and other mass organisations. These measures mean that the representatives are under the direct control of the masses of the people and have no separate interests from the people. In this way, socialism is far more democratic than any capitalist regime will ever be.
Under capitalism, even in a nominally ‘’democratic’’ republic, there is no real democracy. The real big decisions in society are not made by parliamentarians but by capitalists in the boardrooms of the multinational corporations. Through their ownership and control of the economy, the capitalists have much more political power in the decision making process than millions of people combined.
What about racism?
Racism has not always existed. In fact, it is the product of capitalism. In order to continue their rule, the bosses use anything with which to divide the working class, including racism. The capitalists realise that a united working class is a mortal threat to their interests. In South Africa, racism has been a major tool used by the bosses to undermine the unity of all workers. It is therefore the duty of all workers to combat the scourge of racism in the working class by explaining that unity is the greatest strength of the workers. Through a united struggle against capitalism, racism can be replaced by working class solidarity.
Two decades after the formal overthrow of apartheid, racism is still very much alive in South Africa. This was highlighted during the “Rhodes Must Fall” movement when many young students protested against racism in universities. But racism can only exist in a society where some are poor and oppressed. It is a way for the capitalists to blame different sections of the working class for the poverty of others. However, in a socialist society this will be combated by full employment and higher living standards.
What about women's liberation?
The discrimination and oppression of women is integral to class society (and therefore also under capitalism). Along with the class system itself, the oppression of women often takes on the appearance of being natural, immutable, and eternal, since it has been with us for so long.
The October Revolution gave women rights they had never had before. These rights were far greater rights than in any country in the world. Before the revolution it was legal for a husband to beat his wife. The Bolsheviks gave women an equal legal status with men through the Code on Marriage, the Family, and Guardianship, ratified in October 1918. Children born outside wedlock were given the same rights as those born in married families. Divorce was made available on demand, and abortion was legalised. The principle “Equal pay for equal work” was enshrined in law. Bolshevik women’s detachments spread the news of the revolution among women, set up political education and literacy classes for working-class and peasant women, and fought prostitution.
The origins of women's oppression lies in the division of society into classes and in the division of labour. Women are oppressed as females in class society, and then on top of that are exploited as workers. For Marxists, the emancipation of women is inextricably linked to the overthrow of capitalism, because a successful socialist revolution is impossible without the participation of half of the working class population. Just like with racism, Marxists explain that the best path to women’s liberation is through a united working class struggle. The working class must oppose all oppression of women and inequality between men and women. By paying women lower wages, the bosses undermine the wages of all workers. In the last analysis, the liberation of women can be attained by raising living standards in order to make women economically independent, while at the same time collectivising domestic labour such as childcare and food preparation.
Why should I join you?
The ideas of Marxism are powerful tools in the hands of the working class. However, as it is today, the working class is barred from access to them. The aim of the Revolutionary Young Marxists is to spread the ideas of Marxism in an organised fashion through the youth and labour movement. We believe that the emancipation of the working class and all oppressed layers of society can only be realised through a revolutionary mass movement, led by the working class. Our goal is to fight along with the working class to end capitalism and replace it with a democratic socialist system.
By getting involved in the daily movements of the local and national working class and student movements, we also take an active part in the struggles of the working class around the world. With news and analysis, solidarity campaigns, educational material, and study groups we work to spread the genuine ideas of Marxism to as many people as possible in the country and around the world. Join us in the fight for socialism!
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