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Future Socialist Society

John Molyneux

The Future Socialist Society

10. From necessity to freedom

The ultimate goal of Marxism, of socialism, and of the struggle of the working class is freedom. The bourgeoisie are, of course, keen to proclaim their commitment to freedom: freedom of speech, of the press, of the individual to do what they please with their money and so on. They know full well that as long as they control the means of production and therefore the wealth, the media, and the state, these freedoms remain enormously restricted and almost meaningless for the vast majority. They know also that they have the power to limit or indeed trample on such freedoms whenever they find it necessary.

In contrast Marxists recognise that in a society divided into antagonistic classes, founded on exploitation and ruled by capital, there are and can be no ‘absolute’ freedoms. We expose the sham abstract freedom offered by the bourgeoisie because what we want is real concrete freedom.

Freedom from hunger and poverty (without which all other freedoms mean nothing), freedom from war, from endless toil, from exploitation, from racial and sexual oppressions – these are the real freedoms we fight for. They can be made a reality only by establishing the positive freedom of the working class to run society.

However, in the course of achieving this the working class also paves the way for a freedom of which the bourgeoisie has never dreamt, namely freedom to live without the supervision of the state.

It is commonly alleged that Marxists believe in the state. The opposite is the case. We are opponents of the state.

The state by its very nature is an instrument of domination and oppression – a means by which one section of the population forcibly holds down another. States cannot be other than institutions of violence. Essentially, as Engels put it, they consist of ‘bodies of armed men’. People bear arms either to kill other people or to force them to do things against their will, that is to deprive them of their freedom.

All this applies to the new workers’ state emerging out of the successful revolution just as it does to the capitalist state. There is a difference of course. The capitalist state is an instrument for maintaining the exploitation of the many by the few. The workers’ state will be an instrument of the majority for suppressing the minority of exploiters.

Nevertheless, even at its most democratic the workers’ state remains an institution which limits human freedom in various ways. Indeed, even though the workers’ state represents and involves the majority of the working class, it not only suppresses the old ruling class but also places certain restrictions on the freedom of the working class itself.

The workers’ state is a weapon of class war and waging war means not only attacking the enemy but disciplining your own forces, just as a picket line is a weapon of struggle against the employers which operates by disciplining backward workers.

This is why there can be no talk of complete freedom – of freedom for all – until even the workers’ state has been dismantled. And this has always been the ultimate objective of Marxists, repeatedly reaffirmed by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky.

However, there is no Marxist proposition that has been so consistently dismissed as utopian as that of the withering away of the state. So let us examine the arguments.

First let us be clear that Marxists do not suggest that the state can be dispensed with immediately (that is the anarchist view), but only on the basis of certain preconditions. These have been dealt with earlier in this pamphlet: the international victory of the socialist revolution and the total defeat of the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie; the abolition of the root of all exploitation and class divisions; the achievement of material abundance in which goods are distributed according to need.

In these circumstances the state will have lost its essential functions. There will be no oppressor class to defend and no oppressed class to hold down. Nor with world socialism will there be national (or imperialist) interests to assert or foreign interests to combat.

What about crime and managing the economy, the sceptic will ask.

In a fully socialist society crime will, to all intents and purposes, disappear, not because under socialism everyone will become ‘good’ or morally perfect, but because the motives and opportunity for crime will be removed.

Let us illustrate the general case with the example of one of the most common forms of crime, car theft. An advanced socialist society will probably resolve the problem of transport in one of two ways. Either every individual will be supplied with adequate and equal means of transport, or public transport will be raised to the level where personal transport is unnecessary. In either case the market for stolen cars and the motive for stealing them will both have gone, and what applies to cars will eventually apply to all goods.

This leaves the question of crimes against the person – assaults, murders, sexual crimes and such like. These are already a small proportion of crime and a non-competitive socialist society which cares equally for all its members will undoubtedly reduce them greatly. What anti-social behaviour remains will best be dealt with by collective organisations of local communities. It will not require the state.

As for running the economy, it should be said that in the last analysis it is economies that run states, not vice versa. In so far as state management of the economy has greatly increased in the modern world this is for two reasons: to try (unsuccessfully) to mitigate the internal contradictions of capitalism; and to organise the forces of national capitalisms in competition with others.

With socialism both these requirements will cease.

Thus in the socialist society of the future the state will wither away and this will mark the disappearance of the last vestige of the terrible legacy of class society, and the final completion of humanity’s leap from the realm of necessity into the realm of freedom – which is the essence of socialism.

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Last updated: 15 November 2015