What do we mean by socialism?

Sophie Joo explains what’s wrong with capitalism and why we need a socialist alternative

The need for radical change couldn’t be more urgent. Donald Trump’s terrifying presidency means a racist bigot billionaire is at the helm of the world’s most powerful country. But Trump is just the latest symptom of capitalism, a failing system.

Around the world, the divide between the rich and poor grows. In January, Oxfam reported that the world’s eight richest men owned the same amount of wealth as the poorest 3.6 billion people on the planet.

Climate change already drastically affects the world’s ecosystem but corporations and states make only a pretence of acting to stop it. The 2015 Paris Climate Summit was a sham. Its already low targets are voluntary, non-binding and have no penalties attached for failing to reach them.

Wars continue to rage across the globe. Under the Nobel Peace Prize winning Obama, even more countries were bombed than when George W Bush was president. In 2016, the US dropped three bombs per hour. Trump is now escalating tensions with China.

Racist, sexist and homophobic oppression continues to inflict brutal suffering. In Australia, despite Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generations in 2008, the number of indigenous children torn from their homes and families is higher than during the period of the Stolen Generations. Under Obama—America’s first black president—racial discrimination and police brutality was so bad it provoked the Black Lives Matter movement.

Right-wing populism is being used to scapegoat migrants and refugees all over the world. Here, Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten’s anti-refugee policies have fed the re-emergence of racist far-right politician Pauline Hanson.

Revolutionary change

The need for an alternative is clear. However, parliament is not going to bring real change. Under capitalism, democracy is reduced to numbering a set of boxes inside a ballot box once every few years and even then, the governments that get elected almost never live up to their promises.

Most “democratic” states around the world only offer people a choice between two main parties, both well seated in the pockets of the ruling class. The alternative to Trump was Clinton; a war monger and the candidate of Wall St.

In Australia, we have a choice between Turnbull and Shorten. Turnbull is the open candidate of big business, blatantly supporting anti-worker attacks like the ABCC. But neither of them wants to tax the rich to reduce inequality and both support locking up refugees in offshore gulags.

The reason for this is that those who hold most of the power in our society never face election.

Inside the state, we have a completely unelected judiciary, unelected law enforcement and military bodies. The top state officials controlling these institutions are paid a fortune to ensure they are loyal to capitalism. Australia’s Chief of Army, Angus Campbell, earns $548,360 per year.

But the real power belongs to the unelected corporate bosses and investors who control the bulk of the world’s wealth. This elite minority make decisions about what will be produced, where, when and how. These decisions are based on profit, not human need. When politicians talk about the need to cut corporate tax to “encourage investment”, they show their commitment to running the system for these capitalists.

And the control of the media by the likes of billionaire tycoon, Rupert Murdoch, puts enormous influence over information and public debate in the hands of the rich.

Any radical politician that tries to change the system by getting elected will come up against the reality that the capitalist ruling class retains the power to crush any government refusing to serve its interests.


Socialism, in contrast, would mean a radical extension in democracy in a form that is unrecognisable when compared to what exists today.

Democratic control and decision making by ordinary people would exist in all spheres of society. The wealth currently controlled by a small elite, the top 1 per cent, would be put under popular control. Capitalism concentrates workers together on a mass scale, organising production co-operatively. Without their labour capitalism ceases to function. This is the basis of workers’ power.

During the high points of workers’ struggle, the possibility of socialism has been posed again and again, such as in Spain in 1936, Hungary in 1956, France in 1968 or Chile in 1973.

The 1917 Russian Revolution is the only example to date where, for a short period, workers managed to hold power. It exemplified what a genuine democracy could look like.

Workers seized the means of production—the factories, mines, offices and trains normally controlled by the rich. This enabled them to organise society for the benefit of all, not just the elite.

Soviets, meaning workers’ councils, were established through a system of elected delegates at a workplace, regional and national level. These delegates were fundamentally different to the politicians we have today. They were totally accountable to the people. A mass meeting could be convened to recall and replace them at any time and they were paid only the salary of an average worker.

Following 1917 however, socialist revolution failed to spread across Europe, thereby isolating Russia. This led to the rise of Stalin’s dictatorship and the destruction of workers’ democracy. Nevertheless, we can still apply the lessons of 1917 today. The socialist way of running society is the only way to ensure the true needs of the people are met.

In a socialist world, there would be no need for wars. Today, military conflict is driven by the ruling elite who only aim to broaden their power and wealth. With this competitive drive eliminated, resources could be invested in food, education and housing for all.

Work would take on a completely different meaning. Rather than being a site of exploitation, workplaces would be under the democratic control of workers and run for the benefit of the workforce and society as a whole.

Throughout history and still today, racism and sexism are propagated by the ruling class to keep workers divided. Under socialism, where there is no need for competition or exploitation, these would disappear.

Ultimately, without class divisions, we would be living in a truly equal society without oppression.

In the wake of Trump’s election, and in the centenary year of the Russian Revolution, it is time to build for an alternative to the current system. Solidarity is a revolutionary socialist organisation committed to this struggle and we encourage you to join us.


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