During the on-going pandemic, humanity’s suffering has increased enormously. To date, 35 million people in the world have contracted the coronavirus, and more than 1 million have died. In the richest and most powerful country in the world, more than 7 million cases have been reported, with more than 200,000 deaths.
While the more affluent classes can choose to comfortably stay at home, millions of wage-dependent women and men are caught between a rock and a hard place: stay at home and face the risk of starvation that can cause illness or death, or go to work and face the risk of infection that can cause illness/death as well. The pandemic is, in fact, forcing us to think about what kind of society we wish to live in, what kind of society is worth fighting for. This article discusses the conception of a new society in relation to production, work and needs, ecology and spatial development, and the political in the public sphere.
Production, Work, and Human Needs
Means of production will be used to produce things that meet human needs – the need for food, drink, shelter, clothes, energy, transportation, healthcare, education, culture and leisure, etc. – and to produce the things that are needed to produce the means of subsistence. The motive of production will be to directly meet everyone’s needs and not to accumulate things or profit.
Resources for production will be allocated on the basis of meeting people’s needs. If more food and shelter are needed than vacation houses, more of society’s total labour capacity and its physical resources will go to the former. There will be economic planning at multiple levels of society with active participation of people who will spend a fraction of what is now their working day.
Along with nature, which directly supplies the resources for the means of production, human beings – as performers of work – are the co-producers of wealth. Society will restore dignity to both nature and to labour. Society will recognize people’s innate abilities and natural talents. It will make sure that people freely develop their multiple abilities and interests and are free to choose any vocation.
In a good society, everyone should be able to perform enjoyable work for a few hours every week. Everyone should have enough time for their family, friends, and for leisure, personal pursuits, volunteer work, enjoying nature, expressing love and affection. How much work one does in the workplace will not be governed by the principle that the more work people do, the greater the profit. A part of people’s work will be contributing to the management of common societal affairs. More and more functions of the state will be transferred to common people as they learn new ways of living.
Doing productive work will fulfill a need, and rather than a means to earning a livelihood. And when people do their work because they love doing it, they will produce more and better things/services. Society’s productivity will be enhanced. Society’s productive powers will also develop because no longer does an economic crisis put a stop to production, and production is no longer driven by profit and exploitation. When productive powers are immensely enhanced, existing unmet needs will be met and new needs will emerge and will be met.
It is through people’s work that they will contribute to society. Society, in turn, will meet the needs of the people, the needs that can be democratically justified. The needs will be met in different ways. Initially, people will receive compensation based on their work, and they then will procure their means of subsistence from society. So, initially, some people may receive more than others because they perform a greater amount of work and/or more skilled work. Over time, however, when society reaches a stage of plenty, and when work becomes a human need, people will contribute to society depending on their variable abilities, but the needs of all will be met, irrespective of how variable the needs are and how much work one does.
Harmonious Spatial Development and Restoration of Ecological Health
In a good society, the gap between manual and mental labour will be gradually closed. Connected to this division is the one between villages and cities, which will be bridged. Rural areas will have as many amenities as urban areas, and rural living standards will match those of urban areas. New hybrid spaces will be created which will have the advantages of rural life and urban life. It will not be a curse to live in villages. Rural life will not have the stigma it has now because of relative economic and cultural under-development. A proper health center, a library, and a non-farm workplace will be built within a reasonable distance from where people live. Given that productive investment will be rationally planned, different regions of a country will develop in a more or less harmonious manner: the living standards of some people will not be lower than those of others just because of where they live. With the force of private profit gone, productive resources will not be geographically concentrated to increase profit to avoid creating geographically uneven development and forcing different regions to compete for capital investment.
The new society, which is no longer driven by the profit motive, will live in as much harmony with nature as possible. The gap between what is extracted from nature and what is put back into it will be reduced, just as the gap between how much people contribute and how much they receive (in private wages and government benefits) is minimized. The new society, freed from the shackles of private profit, will take immediate steps to reverse global warming and other global environmental problems. It will make massive investment in public health and it will be always prepared to deal with natural emergencies such as pandemics.
This new society will not necessarily reduce total production, because increased production of useful things is necessary to meet the unmet needs of millions and to meet new needs that will arise. However, it will produce things differently (i.e., sustainably). And it will not produce polluted air or toxic chemicals as a commodity nor will it produce military weapons. More and more production, especially, in the of food and drinks, will be organic. Nature – its rivers, hills, plants and animals, seas and beaches, the skies and valleys – will be valued as a something to enjoy as a thing in itself and as a resource to fulfill humanity needs. Nature, with labour, is the co-producer of wealth. The new valuation of nature, which includes ‘compensation to nature’, will influence the compensation to people as producers and workers (as explained earlier).
Social Consciousness, Science and Religion
As the system of production changes, and as material needs are met, a gradual change in people’s consciousness will emerge as material obstacles to the expression of humanity’s goodness are removed.In all societies, every human being wants to avoid suffering and wants happiness. In a good society, fewer reasons will exist for one to intentionally cause suffering, emotional or physical, to another person. People will contribute to other people’s happiness and reduce their suffering. The relationship among people will be based on compassion and solidarity and not on competition and animosity.
People of a country or a region will read about their history as a part of the history of global humanity, and will enjoy and feel proud of the accomplishments of their country or region and be critical of follies committed. And they will do the same with respect to other countries and regions and with respect to the entire humanity. A country’s or territory’s political conduct will not be driven by animosity toward another country or territory.
A good society must promote scientific temper, without believing that only science and technology can solve people’s problems. People will be discouraged from holding views about society which are not based in reason and evidence, whether historical or contemporary. They will be encouraged to view things from the scientific standpoint of materialism and dialectics.
Society will increase investment of resources in basic and applied natural sciences and technology. It will build on the scientific accomplishments of humanity and further these accomplishments by separating science and technology from their shell of profit-motive and militarism. Government and society will also make an effort to instill ethical values among scientists who must be sensitive to society’s material and cultural needs.
Along with national parochialism (and sentiments against immigrants), religious identity is important raw material for fascistic tendencies that the new society will guard itself against. As long as there is a need for religion, people should enjoy religious freedom, but within limits: religion, whether it is defined as a way of life or not, will not influence politics or education, or indeed, the public conduct of individuals. Religion must be strictly a private affair. The government should be completely separated from religion and will not practice the ‘socialism of religion’: it will not practice the principle of promoting all religions equally. It will not promote, or be influenced by any religion. No person or group will be judged based on their religion, either within the government or outside. No one will view society’s problems as being caused by differences in people’s religious beliefs and practices.
Politics in the Public and Private Spheres
In a good society, everyone’s democratic right – the right to free speech and assembly, etc. – will be respected, except for a limited period when the democratic right of only those who used to exploit and dominate common people (e.g., owners of big business, big landowners, powerful government officers, etc.) and who might want to return to their previous positions and who might create disorder in the new society, will need to be restricted but in a way that is proportionate to their degree of resistance. No one will have the right or the freedom to appropriate the fruits of another person’s labour.
No one will be discriminated against, whether in the spheres of employment or healthcare or any other sphere, because of their gender, religion, sexuality, ethnicity, caste, location, language, eating habits, and so on. One person will not be allowed to lynch another because that person worships a different god or eats a certain kind of food (beef or whatever) or decides to marry someone of his or own choice. People as workers-citizens will freely debate how to run a cooperative society, one that is without wealthy business-owners and their compliant political friends, and they may even form different types of political parties which reject the right to own private property and to exploit.
The power of politicians and high-level officers will be drastically curtailed as their material compensation will be almost like that received by the vast majority of the people and they may be recalled by the people if they do not perform their service adequately and in the interest of the people. Their role will mainly comprise the work of coordination among different parts of society and the government. They will be subordinated to the people and will not be allowed to behave like kings or wealthy business owners. No member of the family- of big and medium-sized businesses, to the extent that they exist, will be allowed to stand in election or contribute to election funding.
The new society will be judged by how well it treats traditionally oppressed groups such as women, religious, ethnic and racial minorities, and children. In all societies, parents endure suffering in order to ensure the well-being of their children. Such a sense of parental love and sacrifice will permeate the whole of the new society such that the biological parents of a child will also look after the other children in a community/neighborhood.
The pandemic has given humanity a great opportunity to ask fundamental questions about society. For example, why are people’s needs, including the need for good health, not being met? Why are the governments, which are supposed to meet the common needs of society, failing to do their duties, including the duty to save lives? Why is the satisfaction of human need not being prioritized over private profit? These questions, in turn, prompt us to think about what kind of society we would like to live in.While I discuss above some of the qualities of the new society, my intention is not to suggest that people just fold their hands and wait for such a society to appear. It won’t. People must fight for those good things right now, under, and against, the present conditions. They must fight for de-commodified services such as healthcare, indexed living wages, the democratization of the state, and states’ separation from the influence of moneybags and religion. They must fight to have more and more control over what happens in their workplaces. People should make demands for the things that they need even if the business-owners and their state say that these demands cannot be met.
Raju J Das teaches radical political economy, international development, state-society relations, and social struggles. He is on the editorial board of Science & Society and the editorial advisory board of Dialectical Anthropology. His most recent book, published this year Critical Reflections on Economy and Politics in India: A Class Theory Perspective (2020) presents a class-based perspective on the economic and political situation in contemporary India in a globalizing world. Abridged from the author’s article in The Bullet, June 2020 on The Pandemic and the Need for a New Society.