New Internationalist Issue281
5 July 1996
New Internationalist Issue 281
Manifesto for the millennium
IN A CLASSLESS SOCIETY:
- THE LAND WILL BE OWNED BY THOSE WHO LIVE ON IT
- INDUSTRY WILL BE OWNED BY THOSE WHO WORK IN IT
- HOMES WILL BE OWNED BY THOSE WHO LIVE IN THEM
- SCHOOLS WILL BE OWNED BY THOSE WHO VALUE EDUCATION
- HOSPITALS WILL BE OWNED BY THOSE WHO VALUE HEALTH
- STORES WILL BE OWNED BY THOSE WHO SHOP IN THEM
- THE INTERNET WILL BE OWNED BY THOSE WHO SURF
- PATENTS - AND MOTORCARS - WILL BE OWNED BY NO-ONE
THE EARTH WILL BE INHERITED BY EVERYONE
THE CLASSLESS SOCIETY
For as long as there have been classes there have been rebellions - from Spartacus and the slaves in Roman times to the Peasants' Revolt in medieval England and the revolutions in France, Russia, China or Cuba. People simply will not put up with oppression for ever. But what is the alternative? Can we imagine a classless society in the next millennium? Many people cannot. Here are some of the familiar objections they raise, and the answers they might be given by those of us who can.
'IT'S BEEN TRIED BEFORE AND IT FAILED.'
You mean the collapse of Communism and 'the end of history'. Well, Soviet Russia and its satellites were never classless societies, and they didn't even try very hard to be so: the rulers lived incredibly privileged lives and wielded immense personal power. They claimed that they wanted to overthrow capitalism but ended up trying to copy it. So now the old ruling classes have slipped effortlessly into the role of rulers in 'free-market' societies. There have never been genuinely 'classless' societies - one good reason, you might think, why there never will be. The point about Utopia, however, is to travel rather than to arrive - as 'the end of history' theorists like to hope we already have.
'EVERYONE'S DIFFERENT. YOU WANT TO MAKE US ALL THE SAME.'
Yes, we are different - and yes, we are all the same! Equality would not mean we'd become identical. Quite the reverse: in a classless society our distinctiveness as individuals would be equally valued and we'd be better able to celebrate it. Education is the crucial issue here. Free education of equal quality for all is fundamental to a classless society. It can then begin to serve its real function: to 'bring out' the natural talents of everyone. Education in class-based societies is wasteful of talent and teaches most children to devalue themselves so that they will fit in. It's hard to imagine anything more pernicious than this. In a classless society the education of privilege will be an anachronism.
'THERE WOULDN'T BE ANY INCENTIVES.'
Incentives to do what? Since many millions of people have no job at all, free-market economics hardly provide a perfect motive. In any case, we need to rethink the nature of work for the next century, because there will be less of it around. The only jobs that cannot be replaced by machines are the 'caring' ones based on relationships between people - like bringing up children - and these will be revalued. We have to ask: 'What are we working for?' Developing new relationships with our environment and with each other as social beings on a lonely planet is a far more creative and exacting 'incentive' than mere material wealth.
'THE MAJORITY IS USUALLY WRONG.'
Sometimes, yes - and those of us who dream of a classless society are in a minority at the moment, so we're in a good position to know! The point is that the human rights of minorities, and genuine freedom, can only be guaranteed by the majority. Their protection depends upon equity between all people, when justice is no longer a commodity to be bought by those who can afford it.
'WE'D JUST BE RULED BY BUREAUCRATS.'
You mean, we aren't already? The struggle for real democracy will continue. Casting a vote once in a while for someone with the money or influence to seek election isn't good enough. We have responsibilities as well as rights. We have to challenge the immense, unaccountable power of states and corporations. The answer will be to take control at local level, and to develop closer links between groups in 'civil society' across national and continental boundaries - 'think globally, act locally' remains the slogan for the next century. Meanwhile, proportional representation can begin to transform barren 'party' politics that offers no real options at all.
'THERE HAS TO BE SOME WAY TO RATION SCARCE RESOURCES.'
The really scarce resource is our environment. We can now see the limits to economic growth quite clearly, and we have a choice. The free market allocates limitless resources to those with the wealth and power to acquire them. As resources become more scarce, so will the people who can consume them to excess - or else the Earth will become uninhabitable. Terrible conflict and eventual disaster would then be inescapable. Classless societies, which set human needs above market forces, can face the environmental challenge more rationally and confidently.
'WE'D ALL BE EQUALLY POOR.'
The impoverishment of the majority of the world's people is indeed the most urgent problem of all. But greater equality enriches everyone. This is a practical as well as a moral issue. Take healthcare. Virtually all the improvements in general health have come about because of shared benefits - like better sanitation or improved housing conditions. As the wealth gap widens the diseases of poverty, like TB and malaria, return. In classless societies research and resources would be devoted to healthcare freely available to all, rather than to hugely expensive treatments designed eventually to make the ruling class immortal.
'RACE AND GENDER ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN CLASS.'
They all matter equally. No form of oppression is worse than any other. A 'classless' society may not guarantee liberation - but liberation does not guarantee that the oppressed will not become the oppressors. Liberation struggles have done most to change the world for the better in recent years, but the class struggles of earlier generations did most before that. This history belongs to us all. We can reclaim it together.
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