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Critical of Capitalism

Questions concerning socialism--Professor Huberman's answers


Professors Huberman and Sweezy, "Introduction to Socialism," Monthly Review

Isn't socialism un-American?

For socialism to be un-American its aims must be not in accord with the spirit and tradition of the American people. Is that the case? What could be more American than the socialist goals of social justice, equality of opportunity, economic security, and peace —all American principles expounded in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution? And have not these always been the professed ideals of our greatest statesmen?

The socialism of Karl Marx is a science. Like all other sciences it is universal and has affected directly or indirectly the thinking of millions in every corner of the globe—including America. But the test of whether an idea is American or un-American is not where it came from but whether it is applicable to America.


Can our system function without capitalists?

Change the last word of this question and you will find it is a standard type that has been asked in every period of history. Four hundred years ago, in Europe, the question was: Can our economic System function without feudal lords? One hundred years ago, in the United States, the question was: Can our economic system function without slave-owners?

Just as society found that it could do without feudal lords and slave-owners, so it will find that it can do without capitalists.

A distinction must be made between capitalists and the means of production which they own as capital. Society cannot, of course, do without these means of production—the land, mines, raw materials, machines, and factories. These are essential. The difference is made plain by Robert Blatchford in his famous book, Merrie England:

To say that we could not work without capital is as true as to say that we could not mow without a scythe. To say that we could not work without a capitalist is as false as to say that we could not mow a meadow unless all the scythes belonged to one man. Nay, it is as false as to say that we could not mow unless all the scythes belonged to one man and he took a third of the harvest as payment for the loan of them.

So long as the capitalist performed the necessary function of administration, so long as his income was earned, he was essential; now that he merely holds stocks and bonds from which he draws unearned income while hired executives do the work, he is not essential.

Ownership, once useful, is now parasitic. And who can deny that our economic system could operate—better than ever before— without parasites? The fact of the matter is that we have reached the point where society not only can but must function without capitalists, since the power which is theirs as owners of the means of production must be used in such a way as to lead to unemployment, insecurity, and war.


What about human nature?

The people who argue that "you can’t change human nature" make the mistake of assuming that because man behaves in a certain way in capitalist society, therefore that’s the nature of human beings, and no other behavior is possible. They see that in capitalist society man is acquisitive, his motive is one of selfish greed and of getting ahead by any means, fair or foul. They conclude therefrom, that this is "natural" behavior for all human beings and that it is impossible to establish a society based on anything except a competitive struggle for private profit.

The anthropologists say, however, that this is nonsense—and prove it by citing this, that, and the other society now in existence where man’s behavior isn’t anything like what it is under capitalism. And they are joined by the historians who say also that the argument is nonsense—and prove it by citing slave society and feudalism where man’s behavior wasn’t anything like what it is under capitalism.

It is probably true that all human beings are born with the instinct of self-preservation and reproduction. Their need for food, clothing, shelter, and sexual love is basic. That much, it may be admitted, is "human nature." But the way they go about satisfying these desires is not necessarily the way that is common in capitalist society—it depends, rather, on the way suited to the particular culture they are born into. If the basic needs of man can be satisfied only by knocking the other fellow down, then we can assume that human beings will knock each other down; but if the basic needs of man can be better satisfied by cooperation, then it is also safe to assume that human beings will cooperate.

Man’s self-interest is expressed in his desire for more and better food, clothing, and shelter, in his passion for security. When he learns that these needs cannot be satisfied for all under capitalism as well as they can under socialism, he will make the change.


Isn't the US superior to the former Soviet Union?

Capitalism in the United States is over 150 years old, socialism in the Soviet Union is only 50 years old. To compare the two is, therefore, as unfair as comparing the strength of a grown man with that of a baby just beginning to walk.

Furthermore, the Soviet Union was a backward industrial country devastated by war and famine at its birth; it had just begun to grow when it was laid waste a second time in World War II. Obviously the relative merit of socialism and capitalism is not proven by choosing for comparison the richest capitalist country in the world, the one most advanced industrially and least affected by war’s devastation.

A fairer comparison would be the capitalism of Tsarist Russia with the socialism of the Soviet Union. Here every impartial observer agrees that socialism is far and away superior in every respect.

Similarly, a fairer comparison would be that between capitalist United States and a socialist United States.

In no other country are the material conditions so ripe for socialism. Nowhere could the change-over from capitalist insecurity, want, and war, to socialist security, abundance, and peace be made so speedily and with such a minimum of chaos and discomfort. Where other countries on the road to socialism must make great sacrifices to obtain the industrial plant, scientific and technical knowledge, ours is ready to hand. In other countries, as in the Soviet Union, the people must go without, temporarily, in order to create the capacity to produce abundance; in the United States the productive forces have been built—they need only to be liberated. That, capitalism cannot do, and socialism could.


What is the difference between socialism and communism?

Socialism and communism are alike in that both are systems of production for use based on public ownership of the means of production and centralized planning. Socialism grows directly out of capitalism; it is the first form of the new society. Communism is a further development or "higher stage" of socialism.

From each according to his ability, to each according to his deeds (socialism). From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs (communism).

The socialist principle of distribution according to deeds— that is, for quality and quantity of work performed, is immediately possible and practical. On the other hand, the communist principle of distribution according to needs is not immediately possible and practical—it is an ultimate goal.

Obviously, before it can be achieved, production must reach undreamed of heights—to satisfy everyone’s needs there must be the greatest of plenty of everything. In addition, there must have developed a change in the attitude of people toward work—instead of working because they have to, people will work because they want to, both out of a sense of responsibility to society and because work satisfies a felt need in their own lives.

Socialism is the first step in the process of developing the productive forces to achieve abundance and changing the mental and spiritual outlook of the people. It is the necessary transition stage from capitalism to communism.

It must not be assumed, from the distinction between socialism and communism, that the political parties all over the world which call themselves Socialist advocate socialism, while those which call themselves Communist advocate communism. That is not the case. Since the immediate successor to capitalism can only be socialism, the Communist parties,-like the Socialist parties, have as their goal the establishment of socialism.

Are there, then, no differences between the Socialist and Communist parties? Yes, there are.

The Communists believe that as soon as the working class and its allies are in a position to do so they must make a basic change in the character of the state; they must replace capitalist dictatorship over the working class with workers’ dictatorship over the capitalist class as the first step in the process by which the existence of capitalists as a class (but not as individuals) is ended and a classless society is eventually ushered in. Socialism cannot be built merely by taking over and using the old capitalist machinery of government; the workers must destroy the old and set up their own new state apparatus. The workers’ state must give the old ruling class no opportunity to organize a counter-revolution; it must use its armed strength to crush capitalist resistance when it arises.

The Socialists, on the other hand, believe that it is possible to make the transition from capitalism to socialism without a basic change in the character of the state. They hold this view because they do not think of the capitalist state as essentially an institution for the dictatorship of the capitalist class, but rather as a perfectly good piece of machinery which can be used in the interest of whichever class gets command of it. No need, then, for the working class in power to smash the old capitalist state apparatus and set up its own—the march to socialism can be made step by step within the framework of the democratic forms of the capitalist state.

The attitude of both parties toward the Soviet Union grows directly out of their approach to this problem. Generally speaking, Communist parties praise the Soviet Union; Socialist parties denounce it in varying degrees. For the Communists, the Soviet Union merits the applause of all true believers in socialism because it has transformed the socialist dream into a reality; for the Socialists, the Soviet Union deserves only condemnation because it has not built socialism at all—at least not the socialism they dreamed of.

Instead of wanting to take away people’s private property, socialists want more people to have more private property than ever before.

There are two kinds of private property. There is property which is personal in nature, consumer’s goods, used for private enjoyment. Then there is the kind of private property which is not personal in nature, property in the means of production. This kind of property is not used for private enjoyment, but to produce the consumer’s goods which are.

Socialism does not mean taking away the first kind of private property, e.g. your suit of clothes; it does mean taking away the second kind of private property, e.g. your factory for making suits of clothes. It means taking away private property in the means of production from the few so that there will be much more private property in the means of consumption for the many. That part of the wealth which is produced by workers and taken from them in the form of profits would be theirs, under socialism, to buy more private property, more suits of clothes, more furniture, more food, more tickets to the movies.

More private property for use and enjoyment. No private property for oppression and exploitation. That’s socialism.


Is a profit motive necessary?

The best answer to this question is that most people work without the incentive of profit—right now—in capitalist society. Ask the worker in a steel plant, or a textile mill, or a coal mine, how much profit he receives for his labor, and he’ll tell you, quite correctly, that he gets no profit at all—that profit goes to the owner of the plant, mill, or mine. Why, then, does the worker work? If profit is not his incentive, what is? Most people, in capitalist society, work because they have to. If they didn’t work, they couldn’t eat. It’s that simple. They work, not for profits, but for wages, in order to get the wherewithal to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves and their families. There would be the same compulsion under socialism—people would work in order to earn a living.

Socialism offers additional incentives to work which capitalism cannot offer. For whose sake are the workers asked to exert themselves to increase output? Under socialism the appeal to work hard and well is based on the justifiable ground that it is society as a whole which benefits. Not so under capitalism. There the result of extra effort is not public benefit but private profit. One makes sense and the other doesn’t; one inspires the worker to give as much of himself as possible, the other to give as little as he can get away with; one is a purpose that satisfies the soul and excites the imagination; the other is a purpose that entices only the simple-minded. The objection is raised that while this may be true of the average worker for whom the incentive of profit has been largely illusory anyway, it does not hold for the man of genius, the inventor, or the capitalist entrepreneur for whom the incentive of profit has been real.

Is it true that it is the dream of riches which prompts scientists and inventors to work day and night to carry their experiments to a successful conclusion? There is little evidence to support that thesis. On the other hand there is ample evidence to support the argument that inventive genius seeks no other reward than the joy of discovery or the happiness that results from the full and free use of its creative powers.

Look at these names: Remington, Underwood, Corona, Sholes. You recognize three of them immediately as successful typewriter manufacturers. Who was the fourth, Mr. Christopher Sholes? He was the inventor of the typewriter. Did his brain child bring him the fortune it brought to Remington, Underwood, or Corona? It did not. He sold his rights to the Remingtons for $12,000.

Was profit Sholes’ incentive? Not according to his biographer: "He seldom thought of money, and, in fact, said he did not like to make it because it was too much bother. For this reason he paid little attention to business matters."

Sholes was only one of thousands of inventors and scientists who are always so absorbed in their creative work that they "seldom thought of money." This is not to say that there aren’t some for whom profit is the only incentive. That is to be expected in a gold-hungry society. But even in such a society, the roll of great names for whom service to mankind was the incentive is long enough prove that scientific genius will work without the incentive of profit.

If ever there was any doubt about that, there can be none today. For the day of the individual scientist working on his own has long since gone. Increasingly, men of ability in the scientific world are being hired by the big corporations to work in their laboratories, at regular salaries. Security, a dream laboratory, the gratification that comes froni absorbing work—with these they are content, and these they frequently have—but not profits.

Suppose they invent some new process. Do they get the profits that may result? No, they do not. Additional prestige, promotion, and a higher salary, maybe—but not profits.

A socialist society will know how to encourage and honor its inventors and scientists. It will give them both the monetary rewards and the veneration which is their due. And it will give them the one thing they treasure more than anything else—the opportunity to carry on their creative activity to the fullest extent.

Profit was indeed the incentive for the capitalist entrepreneur of long ago—but he has faded from the industrial scene. He has been supplanted by the new type of executive more suited to the change from competitive to monopoly industry. The recklessness, daring, and aggressiveness which characterized the old-style entrepreneur are not wanted in monopoly industry today. The big corporations have cut risk-taking to a minimum; their business is mechanized and planned; their decisions are no longer based on intuition but on statistical research.

These corporations are not run by the owner-entrepreneur of yesterday. They are not run by the owners at all—in the main they are managed by hired executives who work, not for profits, but for salaries.

Their salaries may be large or small, they may include a big bonus or no bonus. In addition there may be other rewards—praise, prestige, power, pleasure at doing a job well. But for most of the men who manage American business the incentive of profit has long since wilted away. Will people work for other incentives than profit? No need to guess. We know that people do.

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