Max Shachtman


The Fight For Socialism


A Workers’ Government and Socialism

SOCIALISM, based upon the planned organization of production for use by means of the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production, is the abolition of all classes and class differences.

“As an ideal, it would be a good thing to have socialism; but it is only an ideal which cannot be realized in practice.” This is said by many people who have a poor understanding not only of socialism but of capitalism as well. Let us see. Is socialism merely a noble ideal, or is it more than that – a practical possibility and urgent necessity?

The First Steps of a Workers’ Government

Without production, society cannot live. The first step that a genuine Workers’ Government would take would be directed toward assuring continuous production so as to satisfy the needs of the people.

How could that be assured? There would be all sorts of difficulties in the way. Most of them would come from the big capitalists. If they saw that this government was really serious in applying its principle of serving the interests of society and not merely of serving the profit-lust of capitalism, they would set up all the obstacles they could. Their aim would be to throw monkey-wrenches into all the machinery of industry and administration, to weaken the government, to undermine its authority, to discredit it, and to overthrow it as soon as possible. When the capitalists feel that their property and profits are in any way endangered, there are no lengths to which they will not go to preserve them. The interests and welfare of the people are their very last concern.

What would they do? They would refuse to carry out the orders of the government, or carry them out in such a way as to nullify their purpose. They would sabotage production in a thousand different ways, or shut down their plants on one pretext or another. They would conceal their real stocks and assets. By their control of the banking system, they would deny the government the funds required to carry out a progressive program. They would even create an artificial financial panic, as they have done on other occasions. They would use their great economic power to finance bands of thugs and reactionaries assigned to the job of creating turmoil, of impeding the smooth operation of the government, and eventually of overthrowing it by force or the threat of force. By their monopoly of the press and radio, they would keep up a running fire of misrepresentation, lies and slander against the government with the aim of undermining it, sabotaging its efforts, and confusing and misleading the people. They would soon show the Workers’ Government what it means for them to have a monopoly of social power!

These are not mere predictions. They have already occurred in many countries. The capitalist class acted in exactly that way not only in Russia, when a revolutionary Workers’ Government took political power, but also in England, Austria, Spain, Germany, France and other countries, where there were only conservative and timid Labor Governments or half-Labor Governments. The only country in which this campaign was properly dealt with was in Russia, in the revolution of 1917. A genuine Workers’ Government in any other country would have to deal with the capitalist class in fundamentally the same way – if only in simple self-defense.

A Workers’ Government would, first of all, nationalize the key, basic industries, the means of transportation, and the banking system. These are the main strongholds of monopoly capitalism and the foundations of modern production. By nationalizing and centralizing them in the hands of the state, the Workers’ Government accomplishes two objectives with one stroke. It is now in a position to organize production and distribution in a planful and systematic way, and it deprives the reactionary monopolists of the economic power to interfere with production and the functioning of the government.

In undertaking the nationalization of industry and finance, several questions of first-rate importance immediately face the Workers’ Government. Let us consider them one by one.

First: Shall the property of the big capitalists be confiscated without compensation?

The very word “confiscation,” especially when the words “without compensation” are added to it, raises shrieks of horror from the ranks of the capitalists. Outrageous! Inconceivable! Yet the whole system of capitalism is based on confiscation. The original accumulation of capital, as will be recalled, was accomplished for the most part by an elaborate system of confiscating (expropriating) the wealth and resources of small producers, independent peasants and farmers, and entire colonial peoples. Day-in and day-out capitalism exists only because it confiscates the surplus-value produced by the worker over and above the wages he receives for his labor. Capitalism has developed confiscation to a forcibly-maintained, scientific process of exploitation. If we understand the fact that the value of all the products of society has been produced by labor, it would be perfectly proper for labor to confiscate without further ado.

Nevertheless, confiscation of capitalist property without any compensation to its former owners is not an absolutely necessary step for the Workers’ Government to take. If the capitalists reconcile themselves quietly to the new government and the social progress it undertakes to achieve, it might very well prove to be a wise step to compensate them for the property that has been nationalized. Or, compensation might be offered them in order to show that the new government is not interested merely in vengeance. Its primary concern is the organization of economic life for the benefit of the whole of society. There is room in this organization even for former capitalists who wish to cooperate and are ready to place at the disposal of society whatever technical and managerial skill they may possess. Under these conditions, compensation would be a cheap way of assuring a smooth and speedy reorganization of economic and social life.

Naturally, even if compensation were decided on, it would certainly not be based on calculations arbitrarily made by the former capitalists, but on estimates made by the government. The capitalist would not be permitted to present the government with any claim he himself saw fit to make and to demand, “This is what my property is worth. Pay me off in full.” In addition, whatever compensation he received would be for his personal wealth, but could not be used to acquire ownership of the means of production all over again so that the exploitation of labor might be resumed. Finally, all incomes would be subject to a progressive tax with a democratically-fixed schedule.

All experience indicates, however, that the capitalist class will not quietly submit to a Workers’ Government. Wherever it seemed on the verge of coming into existence, the capitalists always organized all the armed forces at their disposal to crush it. Wherever it did take power, the capitalists fought tooth and nail to overturn it by the same armed force. In all likelihood, that is how they will act in every country where their immense power to rule society is threatened. It goes without saying that where the capitalist class or any part of it tries to overturn the Workers’ Government, tries to impose the will of the minority upon the majority by force and violence, tries to throw the country into a bloody civil war, it would be treated like any traitor. These capitalists would be declared outlaws, they would be deprived of all civil rights and their properties confiscated outright by the state.

In other words, the choice is really theirs. If they recognize that the day of their despotic domination over society has ended, and that they had best cooperate as useful citizens, then chaos and bloodshed will be averted, and smooth and speedy progress assured for all. If they do not reconcile themselves, and seek to turn progress into reaction by sword and bomb, they can hardly complain about the inevitable consequences.

Second: Shall all private property be nationalized immediately?

Certainly not! In the first place, we are concerned not with private property but with capitalist private property, that is, privately-owned means of production and exchange, that is, with capital, or wealth used for the creation of more wealth by exploiting the labor of others. We do not have in mind such things as clothing, the family home, radio or automobile, furniture, your own fishing boat or hobby equipment, and other items of purely personal property. If anything, the aim of the Workers’ Government is to make such “property” available in larger quantities to millions who have never enjoyed them. The basic problem of society is related to such property as is represented by the means of production and exchange. It is these that must be nationalized, and forthwith.

Does this mean the Workers’ Government will immediately take over every corner grocery, every shoe store and tailor shop, every little farm? Certainly not! In the first place, it would be foolish for the Workers’ Government to alienate the members of the middle classes and drive them into the arms of monopoly-capitalist reaction. In the second place, the evils of capitalist society do not grow out of the little farm or grocery store, but out of the big industrial monopolies that are linked with the big banking institutions. In the third place, the Workers’ Government can act with complete confidence in the superiority of the way it will organize and manage economic life. It can afford to let the evidence of this superiority convince the small farmer that it is far more economical and far less back-breaking to work collectively with other agriculturists on highly-mechanized, scientifically-exploited, efficiently-managed, socially-owned-and-operated big farms. It is wrong and quite unnecessary to try forcing the farmer to rive up his farm for a collective farm. Essentially the same attitude may well be adopted toward the small merchant and producer. The Workers’ Government has no need or interest in forcing these small property-owners, producers and merchants into the machinery of state-industry, state-farming. It can fully rely on the persuasive power of example.

Third: Shall economic life be centrally organized and planned?

Most decidedly! If not, what sense would there be to the nationalization of the means of production? The government would have the responsibility for solving the economic problems of the country. It could not possibly discharge this weighty responsibility unless it had the power to do so. It cannot have this power unless it has the economic machinery in its hands and is in a position to gear all its wheels so that they operate smoothly.

There are people who argue against a Workers’ Government nationalizing the means of production and exchange. They say that it is not so much that they oppose the formation of a Workers’ Government, but that they are against it having “too much economic power.” As a “compromise,” they propose that some industries be nationalized and others remain private property.

But this does not make sense. If private property is superior to nationalized or socialized property, then the nationalization of property should be opposed altogether, which is as good as saying that a Workers’ Government has no reason for existence. If both are equally good or equally bad, there is supply no point in bothering to replace one with the other. If nationalized property is superior to capitalist property, then, even if only part of industry were nationalized, its superiority would be demonstrated so quickly that private property could not properly be maintained. The worst aspect of this argument is this: If only part of the means of production were nationalized and centralized in the hands of the Workers’ Government, it would not find it possible to organize and plan production on a national scale. It is not possible to plan the production and distribution of goods if part of the machinery is under one control and direction and the other part under different control. The whole purpose of the nationalization of property would be defeated in advance.

The purpose of planning, long-term planning, is to assure the harmonious expansion of industry and the systematic raising of the standard of living. The raw materials, machinery and labor power of the nation would be brought together into an integrated whole. The waste of capitalist competition and the stagnation of monopoly capitalism would be overcome. Production would not be organized on the basis of the blind push and pull of the capitalist market, but in accordance with the needs of the people. Production for profit would give way to production for use.

Fourth: Shall economic life be democratically managed and controlled?

Absolutely! It is the maintenance of capitalist domination of society that demands, more and more, the abandonment of democracy. A Workers’ Government would have to extend democracy continually, not merely because it is a desirable ideal, but because it is indispensable to the planning of production for use.

Capitalism produces bombs for the destruction of homes just as readily as it constructs homes, if not more readily. It produces barbed wire to tear the flesh of men just as readily as it produces clothing to cover them. It produces luxurious palaces while millions live in shacks. Its motive of production was, is, and always will be profit. It is not the needs of the people that dictate its production.

If, however, production were carried on for use, to satisfy the needs of the people, the question immediately arises: Who is to determine what is useful and what would satisfy these needs? Will that be decided exclusively by a small board of government planners? No matter how high-minded and wise they might be, they could not plan production for the needs of the people. Production for use, by its very nature, demands constant consultation of the people, constant control and direction by the people. The democratically-adopted decision of the people would have to guide the course of production and distribution. Democratic control of the means of production and distribution would have to be exercised by the people to see to it that their decision is being carried out.

Otherwise, the government and its planning would undergo a complete perversion of its purpose. At best, we would have a benevolent regimentation of the people “for their own good.” A government which declares itself to be “for” the workers, but is not a government of and by the workers, is a Workers’ Government only in name. Instead of being regulated by the blind market, as under capitalism, production would be regulated by the autocratic, uncontrolled will of a bureaucracy. Economic distortions, social conflict, exploitation and oppression would inevitably result. Production for use, aimed at satisfying the needs of society and of freeing all the people from class rule, would be impossible. Democratic control, the continual extension of democracy, is therefore an indispensable necessity under a Workers’ Government. The idea of a Workers’ Government is thus inseparably connected with the idea of nationalization of the means of production and exchange, the centralized organization and planning of production and distribution, and the continual extension of democracy and democratic control of industry, there must be planing of production. To plan production, the economic machinery of the country must be socially owned and centrally operated. To nationalize the means of production and exchange, a Workers’ Government must be established with power to act. For it to be a Workers’ Government, it must be democratically run and controlled by the workers. None of these is possible without having all.

Now, what must be emphasized at this point is this:

The Workers’ Government has taken the first important steps toward the achievement of Socialism!

Socialism is not a utopian ideal, a blueprint for society that exists in the minds of some people. It is a social necessity; it is a practical necessity. It is the direction that the masses of the people must take in order to save society from disintegration, in order to satisfy their social needs. To be a socialist, merely means to be conscious of this necessity, to make others conscious of it, and to work in an organized manner for the realization of the goal.

How Capitalism Prepares Socialism

How is the goal of a socialist society to be realized? Is it really possible to realize it? In order to answer these questions, we must retrace our steps a little, and deal with two highly important matters. One is the way in which capitalism prepares the economic groundwork for socialism. The other is the way in which capitalism provides the social force capable of destroying capitalism and building up the new society. The great superiority of capitalism over the societies that came before it, lies in the fact that it has enormously developed the forces of production. Under slavery and feudalism, life, economic life in particular, barely moved along. For centuries, people used the same primitive tools. For centuries, people worked as individuals or, at most, in twos or threes or fours, on the farm and in tiny shops. Capitalism lifted society out of this stagnation and sent it off at a furious gallop. Machines replaced hand labor; big industries replaced small ones. Labor productivity was raised to astounding heights. With modern machinery and production methods, one man produces what it took hundreds and thousands of men to produce a century or more ago. In addition, commodities are produced that our forefathers never even dreamed of seeing.

One of the results of this development is that production is already carried on socially. Labor has been socialized. The basis of production is no longer one man on a farm or a couple of men in a little shop. In some industries, tens of thousands of people work together under a single direction, under one roof, so to speak. Capital has become concentrated and centralized. The most important industries are owned and operated as monopolies.

In itself, this is highly desirable. One huge enterprise, which organizes a great multitude of little operations under single direction, is far more productive, far more economical and efficient, than a thousand little enterprises each of which does one or two little operations independently of all the others, or each of which tries to compete with all the others. The only important thing that has not been socialized is the ownership and the appropriation of the products of industry. They remain private. And therein lies the root of capitalist exploitation and oppression, of the anarchy of production, of crises and imperialist wars.

Social production, in large-scale mechanized industry, represents, however, the seeds of the socialist society growing right in the soil of capitalist society itself. Socialism could not possibly be built up on the basis of the tens of thousands of isolated, independent, competing little enterprises that existed generations ago. But it can be built on the basis of modern production which is already carried on socially. And it must be built because private ownership, which is the basis of private appropriation, now stands in the way of the further development of the productive forces. The reason why it is now possible is that the only remaining step to be taken is the removal of this last obstacle to human progress – private ownership. Once this is done, the seeds of socialism, sown by capitalism itself, will bloom and flourish.

Capitalism also produces the force capable of reorganizing society on a rational basis. That force is the modern working class, brought into existence and developed by capitalism itself. Capitalist production organizes the workers as a class. The very way in which it is carried on assembles the workers for cooperative labor, so that they are accustomed to work together in a planful way by tens of thousands in the larger enterprises.

By monopolizing the means of production and depriving the formerly independent worker of his tools, capitalism wipes out the basis for the workers’ interest in maintaining private property. The workers are now propertyless workers, who no longer own the tools and machines with which they produce. At the same time, however, they have become the principal productive force. Of all the people in society, the workers suffer most intensely from the rule of capitalism. Their interests are diametrically opposed to those of the capitalists. Of all the conflicts in society, the struggle between working class and capitalist class is the sharpest and most irreconcilable.

The workers cannot rid themselves of their sufferings without abolishing the domination that the machine has over them. They can do this only if they gain control of the machine itself. In doing so, they must destroy capitalism and proceed with the complete reorganization of society.

No other class is capable of doing this historic task. The middle classes are, it is true, ground under by monopoly capitalism. But they are incapable of leading the fight against it. They are isolated and dispersed. Their economic position in society does not make it possible for them to unite as an organized force. As tiny isolated producers or merchants, they are at the mercy of big industry and finance. They may oppose the monopolists, but they cannot fight, much less lead the fight, against the capitalist system of private property – they are little property-owners themselves.

To the extent that they have a program of their own, it is to “break the trusts.” These mighty concentrations of capital, however, should not (and cannot) be broken up into ineffective and inefficient little units. They should be taken over by society itself. Even if they could, by some magic, be divided into the small productive units that once existed, the law of capitalist development would operate incessantly to merge them all over again. The program of the middle class is utterly utopian, unrealizable. It is reactionary, for it tries to turn back the wheels of social development.

Furthermore, the middle classes are doomed to social and political instability. Because they find themselves forced to oppose the industrial and financial monopolists, they seek an alliance with the workers. This is, so to speak, the progressive side of the middle classes of town and country. But because they seek to preserve their hopeless position as property-owners, and because they must intensify the exploitation of the few workers they employ in order to compete with large-scale industry, they oppose the working class and lean upon the big capitalists for support. This is the conservative or reactionary side of the middle class.

It does not follow that the middle classes are exactly “in the middle” between the two main classes or that their interests are as much opposed to the one as to the other. Capitalism destroys them not only as small property-owners, but as human beings. It makes them the helpless slaves of the banks, the railroads, the mills, the packing houses. 0r it deprives them altogether of their half-independent position and throws them into the ranks of the working class or of the “ surplus population.” It oppresses and degrades them, depriving them of both material and intellectual independence. This is true of all the middle classes, from the farmer at one end to the teacher and writer at the other.

Under the rule of the working class the small property interests of the middle classes cannot of course be assured forever. The working class can pledge itself – because it is to its interests to do so – not to deprive them of their little holdings by force, or arbitrary law. But more important than that, the working class can release the middle classes from the oppression and humiliation they endure at the hands of monopoly capitalism. The working class can release them from the murderous grubbing for existence which characterizes the life of the middle classes – sun-up to sun-down toil on farm or in store; the constant feverish race to meet the to meet the notes of creditors and mortgagors; the virtual enslavement of wife and children on farm and in store in the attempt to keep head above water; the suffering, insecurity, misery and – in war-time – the death which the middle classes share with all the other little people in society. The working class can offer them the prospects of useful citizenship, freedom and equality as producers in a socialist society. The best interests of the middle classes therefore lie in joining the working class in its fight.

But the very nature of the situation dictates that it is the working class that must lead in this necessary alliance. It is the decisive class in production, and the only one that can reorganize it. It is the most numerous and the most socially-representative class. It is the best organized class, certainly better organized than the middle classes are or can be. But above all, for the reasons set forth in the comparison above, it is the only consistently progressive class.

That is why, throughout these pages, we have spoken of a Workers’ Government and not, for example, of a “People’s Government.” At the same time, we have spoken of the Workers’ Government basing itself upon and being supported by the masses of the people, and not by the working class alone. The reason for this should now be clear. The fight against capitalist anarchy and devastation can be led only by the working class, but it must draw into the fight all the people, middle classes of town and country included, who suffer under the domination of monopoly capital and find in it their common enemy. The words, Workers’ Government, express the fact that the leadership in the reorganization of society can be taken only by the working class. But in the very course of reorganizing society, such a government must liberate not only the workers, but all the people. The workers take the leadership of the nation only in order to emancipate all humanity from exploitation, class distinctions, class privileges, class conflict, to establish social equality for all.

The working class is thus the bearer of socialism. Can it realize it? How would it work?

Between Capitalism and Socialism

The abolition of private ownership would remove the last barrier to the development of production. Production would be organized, planfully carried on and expanded, and aimed at satisfying the needs of society. But this does not mean that all classes and class distinctions could be wiped out overnight.

There would still be classes and social differences, and heaps of material and mental rubbish inherited from generations of capitalist society. A considerable period would elapse between the overturn of the political power of the capitalist class and the establishment of the socialist society. Man did not step directly from the ox-cart into the modern automobile. There was a transition between the two. So will there be a transitional period between capitalism and socialism.

It is precisely in this transitional period that the Workers’ Government – a workers’ state – will be required. At this point, we recall that the state has always been an instrument of force and repression in the hands of the ruling class. Is that also the case with the workers’ state? To reply with a simple “Yes” or “No” would be misleading. It is better to deal with this question in more detail, so that we can see in what sense the workers’ state will resemble the state we have known in the past, and in what sense it would differ from it.

First, the workers’ state would be an instrument of force. It would have to be. It would have to have at its disposal armed men and prisons. Against whom? Against what? Well, it would not make any sense to set up a Workers’ Government and then leave it so thoroughly disarmed from the first day of its existence that any group of capitalists could come along with its armed bands at home, or with armies provided by a foreign country still ruled by capitalism, to overthrow the new government by violence. The Workers’ Government would have to have the organized strength – arms – with which to deal with such reactionary forces, and prisons in which to confine them and any other violent anti-social elements.

All modern experience shows that it is foolhardy to expect the whole capitalist class and all the reactionaries to give up their tremendous power and wealth without a bitter fight, even after the Workers’ Government has taken control. If they resist so violently the demands of the workers for an extra few cents per hour in wages, how much more violently will they resist the efforts of the workers to take from them all their power to dominate society?

Second, the workers’ state would tolerate inequality. This, also, it would have to do. The greatest heights of production yet reached by capitalism are still low by the standards of socialism. Capitalism lays the economic groundwork for socialism, and provides the class that can bring socialism about, but neither the groundwork nor the class inherited from capitalism is what it will and must be in a truly socialist society.

For example, there are skilled workers and unskilled workers. There are those who work mainly with their hands and those who work mainly with their brain. There are day laborers and highly skilled technicians, industrial organizers and managers. In so far as all of them contribute to the process of production, their labor can be reduced to so many and so many units of simple labor. But the number of units, so to speak, is different in the different categories of skill and occupation.

Could the Workers’ Government say, on the first day of its formation, that everyone will receive exactly the same income, exactly the same share of the total national production? It seems obvious that it could not and would not make such a rule. The working class is not utopian, and neither are the socialists. Different categories would have to be established in the first period of the social reorganization. No one would any longer receive special privileges and rights merely because of his ownership of capital. But the skilled worker or technician or industrial organizer, who is able to contribute more to production than the unskilled worker, would receive a correspondingly higher income. Whether he received it in the form of money or some other certificate entitling him to a given share of goods produced, is of secondary importance. The important point is that the more skilled man would have a larger income than the less skilled. In other words, there would still be a form of inequality. The state would tolerate it and take it into account in organizing the production and distribution of products, while working to eliminate this inequality too.

These characteristics of the Workers’ Government show its similarities with the preceding state. But it is in its fundamental differences with it that the workers’ state shows, as the founders of scientific socialism have put it, that it is no longer a state in the classic sense of the word. A whole world of difference separates the two.

First, the force at the disposal of the workers’ state would not reside in bodies of armed men separated from the people, as under capitalism or feudalism or slavery. The arms would be in the hands of the workers themselves. The government which could summon these arms into action would be in the hands of the workers themselves.

Second, the state power would no longer be the instrument of an exploiting minority for the domination of the exploited majority. For the first time in history, the state would be in the hands of the majority to be used whenever necessary against the reactionary or anti-social minority.

Third, the state power would no longer be governed by a special or professional bureaucracy. It would be ruled and controlled by the people. It would have no permanent officials, and all elected officers would be subject to immediate recall by their electors. By virtue of its system of democratic representation, which will be dealt with in detail further on, every worker will participate directly in the affairs of government, from the humblest to the most prominent.

That is not all. The workers’ state, which is compelled to tolerate inequality in the initial period of its existence, nevertheless aims consciously at the abolition of inequality.

Capitalism has already accomplished a great deal in eliminating the need for high skills by simplifying the operations in production. The workers’ state would go much further, but in a radically different sense. With the constantly increasing national wealth at its disposal, education, specially higher education, would cease to be restricted to the few. The spread of education to all would gradually eliminate the difference between skilled and unskilled labor, between mental and physical labor. One or two generations of normal evolution, and everyone would not only be required to divide his contribution to society between physical and mental work, but would be able to do so.

In addition, all the unnatural differences between town and country would be eliminated. Agriculture, under capitalism, has remained the most backward section of economic life. The Workers’ Government would work to make a long-over-due revolution in agriculture. Step by step, the small farmer would be shown in practice the enormous advantages both to himself and to society of large-scale cooperative exploitation of the soil. As has already been said, the government would take no steps to force the small farmer into such cooperative labor. It would not need to. The advantages would speak for themselves, and lead the agricultural population to share in them voluntarily. The most advanced scientific knowledge would be placed at the disposal of agriculture, and it would soon show that the methods that were “good enough for grandfather” are not nearly as good as the newest methods. Instead of the exhausting duplication of work on small tracts of land, the most modern machinery – efficient, time-saving, labor-saving – would be applied to agriculture on a large scale. The horse-drawn plow is as outmoded as the hand-loom. Agriculture would become industrialized; the distinction between agricultural labor and industrial labor would vanish. Rural isolation would vanish as well. As for rural prejudices, originating in hostility to the wealth of the industrial centers and to the fact that industry and finance lived at the expense of agriculture, they would disappear with the disappearance of rural poverty and misery.

Hand in hand with this development would go another of equal importance. Once the profit barrier is removed, and the huge wastes and destructions of capitalism eliminated, productivity and production would reach undreamed-of peaks.

Man would no longer be the slave of the machine. The machine would be the fertile slave of man. Every increase in productivity would bring with it two things: an increase in the things required for the need, comfort and even luxury of all; and an increase in everyone’s leisure time, to devote to the free cultural and intellectual development of humankind. Man will not live primarily to work; he will work primarily to live.

A most practical perspective! Even today, with all the restrictions that capitalism places upon production, there are capitalist experts who declare that industry, properly organized, can produce the necessities of life for all in a working day of four hours or less. Organized on a socialist basis, even this figure could be cut down.

As the necessities and comforts of life become increasingly abundant, and the differences between physical and mental labor, between town and country are eliminated – the need for tolerating even the last vestiges of inequality will disappear as a matter of course. This may seem incredible to a mind thoroughly poisoned with capitalist prejudices. But why should it be incredible?

Thirsty men will fight tooth and nail for a drink at a desert oasis. But if they are up to their hips in water they may have a thousand differences among themselves, but they will not even dream of fighting for a drink. A dozen men in a prison cell with only one tiny window may trample over each other in the fight to get to that tiny source of fresh air. But outside, who ever thinks of fighting for air to breathe, or for more air than the next man? Announce a shortage of bread, and immediately a long line will form, with everyone racing to get there first, and a policeman on hand to “keep order.” But if everyone knew that there is an ample supply of bread today, and there will be just as large a supply tomorrow and the next day, there would be no line, no race, no conflict; nobody would try to hoard an extra loaf in order to make sure of eating the next day; and there would be no need of a policeman to back up his orders by force. If society could assure everyone of as ample and constant a supply of bread as there is of air, why would anyone need or want a greater right to buy bread than his neighbor? Bread is used here only as the simplest illustration. But the same applies to all other foods, to clothing, to shelter, to books, to means of transportation.

A planfully organized society, efficiently utilizing our present productive equipment and the better equipment to come, could easily assure abundance to all. In return, society could confidently expect every citizen to contribute his best voluntarily.

In the initial period of development, a capitalist morality is still prevalent. Many of the people, even many workers, are still poisoned with the old spirit of greed, selfishness, cheating and other evils of a class society where only the few enjoy abundance and opportunity. One of the reasons for a workers’ state is to enforce sternly the principle, “He who does not work shall not eat.”

But in the midst of abundance for all and of the high cultural development that will accompany it, there is no reason to believe that special force will be needed to maintain this principle. Labor to the best of one’s ability will be as natural an act as breathing, eating, clothing and sheltering oneself. Under those circumstances, let any strange creature try to be so capitalistically “old-fashioned” as to draw on the public stores without contributing his labors The scorn of all around him would quickly make him a social outcast such as policemen and prisons could never make him under capitalism. He would not be long in coming to his senses and performing his social duty.

What happens to the workers’ state? There is abundance for all. There is ample opportunity for the intellectual development of all. All perform their social duty as a matter of course. What need is there for compulsion, for a machinery of force? To prevent burglary? What will there be to steal in the midst of abundance? To prevent rape or murder? Such cases will be exceedingly rare, we may be sure, and in any case they will require medical attention or confinement for the guilty one, and not prison confinement. To regulate traffic? But for that and similar tasks there will be needed, not policemen, as we know them now, but ordinary citizens assigned to perform that social duty in about the same way that traffic dispatchers work on the railway.

The important thing is that there will be no need of a public coercive force to maintain the power of one class over another, to protect the property of one from the assaults of the other, to assure the continuation of oppression and exploitation. The workers’ state itself will die out for lack of any social need or function. The transition from the class society of socialism will be completed. There will be the simple administration of things, but no longer the rule of man over man.

In this most important of all respects, the Workers’ State will be fundamentally different from the state we have known in all past history. Paradoxical though it may seem at first glance, it becomes clear upon reflection that the workers’ state imperatively needed precisely in order to carry society through the transition to socialism in which the state itself dies away.

Such a bold historical prospect, even though scientific and practical, may seem preposterous to a mind that capitalism has taken good care to keep in a dull and conservative condition. Abundance for all? Freedom for all? A society without a state? Impossible! Never had it in all history!

If they could have reasoned and talked, the common ancestors of man and ape could easily have spoken the same way. “We tree-animals will always have to fight among ourselves and with other animals for food. Our fathers and forefathers had to do it before us, and so will our offspring after us. The idea of growing our own food is very attractive, but it is utopian and impractical. As for tails, those we shall always have with us. Our fathers and forefathers found tails indispensable for swinging from branch to branch, and for a third support when trying to stand on two legs. Our offspring will never be able to do without tails. That animal there, who just dropped to the ground and is trying to move on two legs alone, is sure to break his fool neck in no time at all. The idea of moving around without tails is very attractive, because in many ways they are a nuisance, but it will never work in practice. The idea of walking upright on two legs might be an interesting experiment for crackpots, but we know from experience that we need tails for balance and we shall always have them with us”.

Man, as is known, has proved that these hypothetical tree-animals were somewhat conservative and wrong.

Man will also prove that class divisions, poverty and oppression are not unavoidable and the state not indispensable. In the socialist society he will show that abundance, freedom and equality are not only possible but the natural condition for the new history of the human race.

Max Shachtman

Marxist Writers’

Last updated on 23.4.2005