Socialism is a set of doctrines or cluster of ideas and a political programme that emerged at the beginning of the 19th century.It arose out of a revolt against bourgeois property. Property in all ‘civilized’ societies has been considered sacred. (Exceptions were ‘primitive’ communities also known as tribal).In bourgeois society, it losses it sacredness but gets a new type of sanction; it now becomes an inalienable right. (Inalienable is anything which cannot be separated from the person, something entrenched with the individual). What then are the implications of property rights as inalienable?
One main objective of the state is taken to be to ensure the liberty of property. Right to private property has been regarded, by much of the liberal theory, as key to liberty of the individual and to the pursuit of his happiness. To John Locke, the father of liberal view of society, right to “life, liberty and property” is a natural right and human beings enter into a contract to create a state for the protection of this right. From then on, through Adam Smith to Jeremy Bentham and the modern proponents of capitalism (which now has taken an aggressive posture under globalization in our times) the institution of private property has been politically sacrosanct and an essential condition of social progress.
The Doctrine Of Social Progress, Individualism And Capitalism
The doctrine of social progress is predicted on the assumption that the perusal of (rational) self-interest by every individual will over a period of time, even if temporary setbacks have to be faced, lead to social good. This means that general social welfare will be the result of individual maximization of interest. This prevailing view of the new man was well captured by Alexander Pope in the following verse:
Thus God or nature formed the general frame
And bade self-love and social be the same.
We all know Adam Smith’s oft quoted maxim of the “invisible hand.” Everyone is not only a maximizer of self-interest, but is an infinite appropriator and an infinite consumer of goods of every kind. Property is the measure of man and in a capitalist society, whichever way one looks it, all routes converge on property and through it the individual’s pursuit of his happiness. What we get, as a picture of man under such a social arrangement is an egoistic person, dissociated from all other individuals and all by himself in a space called the market place.
This extreme individualism is best captured in the words of John Locke, the father philosopher of liberalism. He says, the state exists to promote civil interest and “civil interest I call life, liberty, inviolability of body, and the possession of such outward things as Money, Lands, houses, furniture and the like.” (‘A Letter Concerning Tolerance’). He then argues that “Though the earth…be common to all men, yet everyman has a ‘property’ in his own ‘person’. This nobody has a right but himself.” (Two Treatises of Government, Ch.: ‘Of Property’.) It is clear in the above statement that bourgeois property is exclusively individual and that it legitimates the exclusion of others from it. (In feudal property, other members too had entitlements on the fruits of property.)
In this view of things, there is no sense of an individual’s social obligation to others or of sharing in the benefits of a social system in the creation of which people cooperate together. In any complex system, even property is the result of the common exertions of people, but its possession is always exclusively private. The common good is identified with the individual good. The individual good is each man for himself. The state has the function to ensure that those who succeed in acquiring property have full protection.
All the means of production (land, factory, raw material, tools and instrument and such other things which go into the production of necessities of life & other goods) in such a society are privately owned. And these get, as history shows, concentrated in fewer and fewer hands as capitalist production is based on (increasing) accumulation. This has two very important consequences for society. First, all decisions about investment choices-which commodities to produce and in what quantities-is determined by a small group of people who own these means of production. Whether the commodity is socially beneficial or not is not the main consideration. What determines the investment choices is whether effective demand can be created.
In other words, profitability of goods is the sole consideration in the making of choices about investment. Whether luxury cars will be produced when there is a crying need for buses-public transport-is left to be decided by the profit motive of the individual entrepreneurs; same is the case whether guns or bombs should have precedence over the urgent need to have a hospital or a school. Production in society is without any plan and often can be a wasteful nature; expensive fatless potato chips can score over the need for cheap bread which ordinary people may badly require. Distribution following from the above investment choices for wrong kind of commodities goes on regardless of social need or urgency of one who can pay.
Secondly, such an economic system or mode of production creates a class freed from social and legal obligations to perform labor. This is the class of capitalists. It stays out of the labor process and imposes the burden of productive labor on the rest of the society. So we have a large part of society, a majority, who live solely on their wages which in turn are determined by the cost of reproducing the labor power of the person as well as the demand and supply of labor. We, thus, find that the capitalist society is sharply divided between those who own the capital and other means of production and those who have nothing but empty hands and sell this labor power under conditions which are loaded against them. Just look around the world to see the see the truth of this statement.
A society with such a class division cannot respect the person who labours. One who labours is dispossessed as he just survives on the wages he receives. Property and possession is the basis of esteem. All the economic privileges, social predominance and prestige are with those who own the means of production, capitalists. All of these social assets are means to and provide immediate access to political power. That is why the bourgeoisie in capitalist societies have rightly been called the ruling class, the class with the power to determine the main features of any capitalist society. In sum, we can say that class determines the structure of society, which in turn conditions the values, attitudes, actions, and the overall articulation of any civilization.
So when we talked in the beginning that socialism has been a revolt of sorts against bourgeois property, it was not just property per se, but the entire system of production and government that the bourgeois property gives rise to and imposes on the rest of the society.