Capitalism is a system of productive relations based on the exploitation of labor, the realization of surplus value as profit, and the expansion of markets. In practical terms, all sort of behaviors and practices which are ‘irrational’ from the perspective of long-term human and ecological well-being are cultivated and sustained for the pressing end of profit.
Socialism is the antithesis of capitalism: the seizure of power by the proletariat and the movement of society toward communism, a mode of production and series of societal relations free from class divisions and a state.
Socialism also marks a break in the relationship between social production and the natural environment. Whereas capitalism involves productive relations of exploitation sustained toward the circular end of profit, socialism involves the democratic control over the means of production as part of the rational and increasingly egalitarian satisfaction of people’s wants and needs. Implied in such rational and democratic production is the inclusion of ecological regeneration and co-dependence as regulative economic principles.
Lastly, socialism represents the complete abolition of the ‘global division of labor’ and an end to the structural relationship of imperialist exploitation of the majority Third World by the minority First World.
Practically speaking, we can gain a glimpse of socialism when we ask how life might be made better from the perspective of humanity’s long-term interest were it not for the fetter of capitalism.
More specifically, we could speak of how life might be altered in Occupied North America (the United States and Canada) for the oppressor and oppressed populations which reside throughout it, under a hypothetical socialism:
- For starters, capital-intensive agriculture would no longer be subsidized. Food would be produced in more local economies and in ways no longer dependent on Third World and migrant labor. Mass consumption of industrial meat might diminish. On the other hand, traditional and new ways of growing food might be developed and adopted on a mass scale.
- Beyond socialized health care is the institutionalization of preventative care. Physically-balanced lifestyles and healthy diets will be promoted, not physical inactivity and profit-driven pharmaceuticals.
- Productive activities will no longer not cause disruptions to ecological metabolic cycles. Instead, productive activity will be undertaken to improve general human health via regenerating and re-integrating positive features of the natural environment into populated and unpopulated spaces. For example, planting trees will no longer serve the business, aesthetic, or philanthropic sensibilities of the ruling classes, but will be carried out as a productive end unto itself for the concrete and intangible benefit it brings to local populations and humynity as a whole.
- Disposable products and packaging could be diminished. Small bottles and cans such as those which are widely available at convenience stores could be largely done away with. Other types of plastic packaging could be reused on a mass scale. Under a system based on the ration democratic fulfillment of human wants and needs, waste (whether in the form of dumping, packaging, or uneaten food) is no longer a ‘cost of business’ but becomes a social problem with social solutions. Things like ‘planned obsolescence’ will no longer exist.
- Food production could become socialized. Restaurants could be replaced with larger-scale cafeterias, thus reducing resource cost and increasing efficiency, along with ensuring a healthy diet for every member of society. Such a reform would reduce the importance of the home-kitchen along with the need for the individual ownership large refrigerators and other energy-draining larger appliances.
- Residential patterns would also change. The single family home will go the way of the estate house. Cities would become more pedestrian-focused. Car-culture could be done away with. Entire blocks and neighbors could be blocked to motor traffic; sheltered walkways be built. Bike lanes could take over roads. Public transportation infrastructure could be developed for the long-term facilitation of daily travel. Via the social ownership of vehicles, the needs of individuals to transport larger objects could be met.
None of these examples of structural changes are made impossible by an unknown law of physics. They are all quite feasible given the current developmental level of the productive forces and available technologies. However, these relative examples taken as a whole are rendered impossible under capitalism, a system of productive relationships in which profit, commodities, and labor are regulative norms. Only through the development of a new socialist world-economy based on different regulative principles can the seemingly inherent contradiction between people and nature be resolved.