Toward Social Transformation – an Outline

by Frank Thomas Smith

The objective of any conscious changes in society's structures, if they are to be positive, must be to provide a social environment in which humanity is able to realize its potential in freedom – with respect for each other, the creatures and nature. In order to provide the conditions within which this objective can be achieved, a structural transformation is necessary.

The Myth of Capitalism

Those who own and/or control the means of production have created the myth that their system of private ownership is the only alternative to totalitarianism and the only road to well-being (“the pursuit of happiness”). That the myth is fallacious is evident to anyone who dedicates a minimum of objective thought to it. Though it is true that the Marxist regimes of Russia, Eastern Europe and Asia were totalitarian, it is also true that the capitalist-fascist regimes in Europe and Latin America and the pseudo-religious ones of the Middle East were or are no less totalitarian. It is also a fact that poverty and violence are prevalent and permanent features of capitalist societies.

It is absurd to equate capitalism with freedom when the only way to be free therein is to find a way to privilege (or be born into it) or to be in the enviable position of being able to opt out of the system, in which a very large percentage of wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few individuals or corporations and large segments of the population, often the majority, are condemned to poverty. Only the cynic or the brain-washed can speak of freedom in a society in which a tiny group of "CEOs" at the top of military-styled, hierarchical organizations still buy human labor on the "labor market". It is the height of arrogance to speak of equality, let alone fraternity when the state's principal function is to protect the interests of capitalist industry (or services), and the concept of democracy is thus debased.

The End of History

If the citizens of the industrialized democratic societies were to ask themselves why there have been violent revolutions in Europe, in Asia, in Latin America and, more recently, the Middle East, and if they resist political propaganda, they will be able to see that the past, current and future revolutions are reactions to our own exploitative system and that the private ownership of the means of production is the most efficient tool thereof.

Although Karl Marx was largely correct in his analysis and critique of early capitalism, his solution could not have been more erroneous: to wrest private property from the hands of individuals and turn it over to the state in its incarnation as a "dictatorship of the proletariat", destined to magically "wither away" in some future incarnation. Such dictatorships were in fact founded and the appalling results are history.

We were right after all, the neoclassical political economists cry. The beast is dead and the end of history has arrived. Our masters have not only survived, they have triumphed for all time. History has ended. This attitude indicates either astonishing innocence or devilish cunning, or both. Are we really so cynical and immoral or simply stupid that we will accept the essence of capitalist philosophy - greed - forever?

The Revolt against Feudalism

It is important to note that the "successful" communist revolutions (Russia., China, Cuba) were directed against feudal types of agricultural oppression and not, as Marx predicted, capitalist industry (although the latter may have escaped by the skin of its teeth with the not insubstantial aid of two world wars), as were the many unsuccessful ones, in Latin America for example. This indicates that the single most important element of exploitation is property, and the ownership of productive land is its most blatant manifestation.

Land as an inherent right

The free use of land for agricultural purposes is an inherent human right. When one person owns land and another works it and the former receives the benefits from the latter's work, it is a flagrant infringement of the latter's rights. The farm worker, if he has the choice, will desert the land and try to subsist in the city. Agriculture is then converted to agribusiness, carried on by the corporations and the land is worked by machines with the help of pesticides and chemical fertilizers which gradually poison the population.

The land is, economically understood, also a means of production. The private ownership of land is already an abuse of fundamental rights, just as the private ownership of other capital, such as manufacturing units, is unjust and can lead to violent upheaval.

If the means of production should not be taken from its owners and handed over to the state, as in Marxism, what is to be done with it? In the case of agriculture, the person or persons who actually work the land, for profit or subsistence, should continue to do so. But they should not be able to sell the land to any other person or entity who does not work it, nor should offspring who do not work the land inherit it. The person or persons who work the land should have concessionary rights to that land, which are valid until their death or until they no longer work it. They may appoint their successor - offspring, for example - but only providing that the appointee continues to work the land. Workers will be co-concessionaires in the sense that they will participate in profits (and losses, but only to a stipulated base level). In the case that the concessionaire leaves the farm, he has the right to his original investment plus whatever increase in value may have accrued due to his work, which the new concessionaire will pay him. In no case, however, may the land be taken over by corporations.

The new banks

Where will the new concessionaire get the money? If he doesn't have it already, he will obtain it from a bank, which will decide if he is a worthy risk. However, the bank may not take the farm as collateral, the only collateral will be the new concessionaire's signature on the loan contract. In the case of default, the farm will be turned over to another concessionaire, who will be obliged to pay off the loan. Obviously, very few banks as they are presently constituted would be willing or able to enter into this kind of transaction. The new banks, however, will be non-profit making organizations and the difference between the interest charged for loans and that paid to depositors will be the amount required to cover the bank's operating costs. They will be obliged, in accordance with their statutes and the law, to make low interest loans available to those who request them and can be reasonably expected to repay them.

Industry restructured

Manufacturing organizations may be restructured in a similar manner to agriculture. Already existing corporations should be divested of their share holders and these replaced by the persons who work in production, planning, sales, etc. The share holders would be compensated by a fair price for their shares. The amount of compensation received by the ex-employees, now owners, would depend on their needs (size of family, for example) as well as their capabilities. It is recognized that an engineer or manager would have to receive more than a janitor, but the difference between the highest and lowest compensation should never exceed a reasonable amount, as it currently does when top executives become millionaires because of the benefits they assign themselves.

Financing culture

A percentage of profits, in addition to taxes, would be set aside, by law, to finance schools and other cultural institutions. The funds would go directly to these institutions (or to a council of their representatives) bypassing the state and thereby guaranteeing the independence of schools and universities. Education should be recognized as society's most important duty and adequate means and attention must be dedicated to it.

Free market vs. planned economy

Capitalism itself – the working with and augmenting of capital – is not condemned, only the way it is used. Capitalism preaches a free market economy, socialism a centrally planned one. Both extremes are wrong and right at the same time. A centrally planned economy sinks in the morass of its own bureaucracy and inhibits individual initiative. On the other hand, “free” market is a euphemism for the monopolization of industry and finance by a few multinationals and holders of capital and the exploitation of the rest. It is nonsense to claim that a free market exists of could exist. Markets are always controlled, if not by the state, as in communism, then by the corporations, as in capitalism, despite anti-trust laws.

It is therefore necessary to find the means of market planning which encourages initiative and protects the weak. The weak are the consumers and the workers. Until now, the democratic state has tried unsuccessfully to protect consumers’ rights. That it has failed is due to its simultaneous role as protector of corporate interests. The only practical alternative is for the consumers to look after their own interests. For this purpose producer-consumer councils would be formed - by law, with authority over prices, quantity and quality of production of goods and services and all other matters directly involved in the economic process.

Method: non-violent civil disobedience

The resurgence of totalitarian communism or capitalistic fascism can only be avoided by changing the face of capitalism. A new social structure must arise from the unacceptable extremes of classical capitalism and suffocating communism. This can only be accomplished by the people. The method will be non-violent civil disobedience with the objective of convincing the democratic legislatures to enact laws which entail these suggestions, or similar ones, to be put into practice.