Central to the meaning of socialism is common ownership. This means the resources of the world being owned in common by the entire global population.
But does it really make sense for everybody to own everything in common? Of course, some goods tend to be for personal consumption, rather than to share—clothes, for example. People ‘owning’ certain personal possessions does not contradict the principle of a society based upon common ownership.
In practice, common ownership will mean everybody having the right to participate in decisions on how global resources will be used. It means nobody being able to take personal control of resources, beyond their own personal possessions.
Democratic control is therefore also essential to the meaning of socialism. Socialism will be a society in which everybody will have the right to participate in the social decisions that affect them. These decisions could be on a wide range of issues—one of the most important kinds of decision, for example, would be how to organise the production of goods and services.
Production under socialism would be directly and solely for use. With the natural and technical resources of the world held in common and controlled democratically, the sole object of production would be to meet human needs. This would entail an end to buying, selling and money. Instead, we would take freely what we had communally produced. The old slogan of “from each according to ability, to each according to needs” would apply.
So how would we decide what human needs are? This question takes us back to the concept of democracy, for the choices of society will reflect their needs. These needs will, of course, vary among different cultures and with individual preferences—but the democratic system could easily be designed to provide for this variety.
We cannot, of course, predict the exact form that would be taken by this future global democracy. The democratic system will itself be the outcome of future democratic decisions. We can however say that it is likely that decisions will need to be taken at a number of different levels—from local to global. This would help to streamline the democratic participation of every individual towards the issues that concern them.
In socialism, everybody would have free access to the goods and services designed to directly meet their needs and there need be no system of payment for the work that each individual contributes to producing them. All work would be on a voluntary basis. Producing for needs means that people would engage in work that has a direct usefulness. The satisfaction that this would provide, along with the increased opportunity to shape working patterns and conditions, would bring about new attitudes to work.
Reform or revolution?