What is a Social System ?
There is no question, then, of abolishing these economic effects while retaining the system. Therefore, if the working class are ever to be freed from the tyranny of economic laws which decree that they shall receive only enough to enable them to exist as an efficient labour force, with no lot or portion in the joy of living, no business in the world but to work, it must be, not by tampering with the workings of the social system, but by abolishing the system.
We have to deal with a social system or system of society. Let us see, then, what a system of society is.
Society is a number of persons united by certain ties or relationships. To-day, for example, people are united by the relations of employer and employee, buyer and seller, debtor and creditor, and so on.
These relations are called social relations.
Now the social relations do not take the same form at all times and in all places. Under the Roman Empire, for instance, the vast majority of the people of Rome were slaves. Between them and their masters, therefore, there existed, not the relations of buyer and seller of labour-power, but the purely property relation which unites the horse and its owner. Like the horse, the slave was property. He did not own his labour-power, so he could not sell it, and for that reason could not enter into the same relationship with his master as exists between the modern worker and his exploiter.
But if the social relations do not always take the same form, they, in any given society, are always sufficiently in accord one with another to form, in the mass, an orderly scheme or system. Thus our universal relations of buyer and seller, debtor and creditor, landlord and tenant, and employer and employee, are all in accord, because they all arise from one social institution.
The sum total of these social relations, together with the institutions through which they operate, constitutes what is known as the social system or system of society.
EVERY SOCIAL SYSTEM HAS A BASIS.
Every social system has a definite basis or foundation on which its whole structure rests.
The basis of all primitive, social systems, such as that of the Greeks and Romans at the dawn of history, was common property in what was at the time the essential means of living — the land. Because every social unit had equal rights in the soil, or, to put it more correctly, because no individual rights in the land existed, there were no class privileges. Society was, therefore, not divided into economic classes. There were no employers and employees because the common lands afforded each the opportunity of gaining his livelihood without selling his labour-power. The social relations for this reason were those of social equality, and the whole structure of society, arising from and resting upon the basis of communal ownership of the means of living — the land — shaped itself, in agreement with that base, into a communistic social system.
When the people of Greece and Rome lost their communal control of the land a new social system was developed. Society became divided into classes based on property, and the whole of the social relations changed in accordance therewith. No longer were they relations between social equals; instead, they were relations between people rendered unequal by the new property basis of society. Those who possessed became the social superiors of those who did not possess.
It will be observed that the reason the social system changed from primitive communism to a class society was that the social base had changed from common ownership of the means of living, in which each had an equal place, to private property in those means, which placed those who owned in a position of privilege, and reduced those who did not own to servitude.
The Basis of Modern Society.
The social system prevailing to-day, like all previous systems of society, has its definite base. To this base almost every feature of modern society can be traced.
Let us take one of the main features of existing society — its division into two classes; a propertied class and a propertyless class. This is obviously the result of the ownership of the wealth of society by some of the people, to the exclusion of the others, for this alone produces a class of possessors and a class of non-possessors.
With record to the ownership of property, Mr. Zorn has shown (Daily News, November 29th, 1919) that 10 per cent of the population owns 99 per cent of the wealth, while the remaining 1 per cent, is divided among nine-tenths of the people. And Professor Clay tells us that —
it is probably safe to say that over two-thirds of the national capital is hold by less than 2 per cent of the people. — Times. 24th March, 1925.
So the two-class nature of the present social scheme is directly traceable to that form of private property which excludes one class from ownership.
As the wealth of society comprises all the means of living, its ownership by a class sets up that most widespread set of social relations of modern life — the relations between employer and employee. For those who do not own must become wage-workers in order to live. It is plain, therefore, that the whole institution known as the wages system, arises from and rests upon the class ownership of the means of living.
The relations of landlord and tenant, buyer and seller, debtor and creditor, are also all seen to have their roots in the private property institution. Our laws are mainly property laws; our political institution is an instrument for maintaining the property system and property interests, our marriage institution is at bottom a means for legalising heirs and for establishing property relations between the parties concerned — as the divorce court reveals in assessing monetary damages for the broken " civil contract." The very ideas current amongst us take their shape from the property basis of society, for the possessors view all things from the stand-point of property owners; and even the revolutionary idea, inasmuch as it is a reaction against the present form of society, arises, finally, from that property condition — the ownership by a small section of the community of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth — which we have said is the basis of the modern social fabric.
The Basis of the Future Social System.
When we were speaking of primitive social systems we pointed out that primitive communism gave place to a class-divided social system because the basis of the social structure underwent a change. Arguing from this it seems that we are to change the present social system by changing its basis—by substituting something else for the private ownership by a few of the people of the means and instru¬ments of prodnotion and distribution. We must find the substitute first.
We have seen that the present social system does not fail in the matter of the production of wealth. Wasteful as the system is of natural resources and human energy, the fact remains that sufficient wealth is produced to maintain every social unit in a considerable degree of comfort. To-day some of this wealth may be of the wrong kind. We do not want bullets for breakfast, and battleships and the like add nothing to the general comfort. But to turn bullets into waterpipes, and battleships into baths, and swords into ploughshares, is simply a matter of re-directing human energy.
Where the system principally fails is in the distribution of the wealth that is produced.
We know why it fails in distribution. It is because the workers' demand upon the wealth they produce is limited to the amount which is necessary to enable them to produce it.
The reason for this is, of course, that the worker has to sell his labour-power, and has only the price thereof on which to live.
This means that the new basis of society must be such as will remove from the workers the need to sell their labour-power to others. It must, therefore, give them free access to the means of living.
Now one thing is certain. If the workers are to have free access to the means of living, those means must not be in the ownership and control of any section of society.
Either they must be divided among the whole of the people and individually owned by them, or they must be collectively owned by the whole of the people without any form of division.
The first is ruled out of court at once. We have seen that the present method of production is satisfactory, since it results in ample wealth for the needs of society. This method of production could not continue it the means of production were divided among the whole of the people. A factory or a. railway system would be useless for the purpose of producing arid distributing wealth directly it was divided.
The fact is that the means by which man gets his living have developed beyond the stage of individual ownership, because those means have developed beyond individual operation. Only social labour — the labour of many united — can operate the modern instruments of production.
It is clear, then, that the form of ownership with which we are to replace the private ownership of to-day must be social ownership. Only this is in agreement with socially operated instruments of labour. If we are to retain all the advantage which ages of evolution and invention have culminated in; if we are to reap the reward of the centuries of suffering with which the working class have paid for this perfection of productive processes, we must bring the ownership of the instruments of labour into agreement with the stage of development they have reached.
What is the difference between the flail and the threshing machine, the windmill and the steam flour factory, the spinning wheel and the spinning mill, the pack horse and the railway system? The most pregnant difference is that the first-named in each instance is an instrument of labour operated by one person and capable of being owned by the user, while the second in each instance is an instrument of social labour, and cannot be individually owned by those who use it. If we are to have individual ownership we must go back to the crude instruments of labour which lend themselves to such ownership without disruption. If we are to retain the gigantic means and instruments of production and distribution which make our labour so tremendously fertile, we must bring the ownership of the instruments into unison with their highly developed character.
It is because that ownership is not in unison with the development of the means of production to-day that the workers are in their present, miserable position. The evolution of the instruments of labour has divorced their users from ownership in them. When a machine requires several people to work it they cannot all individually own and control it. But the taking of the instruments out of the possession of the workers has destroyed the sane and logical incentive of the workers to produce. The peasant proprietor, owning his own means of production, did not produce for sale, but for his own consumption, he therefore produced what he required — bread to feed his family, clothing to cover them, and so on. But when the productive wealth ceases to belong to the user, and the latter becomes a wage worker, he cannot produce what he needs : he must produce what his master needs. The master needs goods to sell — it is only by selling these that he can pay his men. And above all, it is only by what is left after paying his men that the owner of the means of production himself lives.
This surplus (or rather the portion which remains after rent and interest are paid) we call profit, and it is for this profit that goods are produced to-day.
In developing the instruments of labour so that they could only be socially operated, the old incentive to produce (use) has been destroyed. No longer is bread produced to feed the hungry, and clothing to cover nakedness, and houses to shelter those who need shelter — they are produced for profit. Hence the cry of children for bread sets no wheel of industry in motion, and people starve, not of dearth, but of glut.
Just as the means of living demand social labour to operate them, so they demand social ownership and control in order that they may be used as means of living instead of as means of producing profit. At present the workers must produce more than they consume. Since, however, it is not produced to maintain them, but for sale, it heaps up in the warehouses and throws them out of work. That is because the stage of' development of the instruments of labour (which has taken away from the workers the power to produce individually the things they need) and the ownership and control of those instruments of labour, are out of unison. They clash and conflict. In order to make them agree we must TAKE AWAY FROM THEIR PRESENT OWNERS ALL THOSE THINGS THAT ARE NECESSARY FOR THE COMFORT AND WELL-BEING OF SOCIETY AND MAKE THEM THE PROPERTY OF THE WHOLE OF SOCIETY.
That is establishing social ownership in instruments which can only be socially operated. It is enabling those who can no longer individually produce the goods they require, to produce them collectively. It will result in the social appropriation of the social products, and will therefore harmonise the purpose of the means of wealth production with the incentive to operate them.
The substitution of this new property condition for the old one will abolish the existing basis of the social system and provide a new one. This is what we call the Social Revolution. It results in a revolution of the social structure — a complete change from top to bottom.