Avoiding the term socialism,which has many negative connotations in the United States, it is hard to come to an honest term for the vision of a society that can be constructed by human agency that has at its heart the desire to develop human beings to their fullest, which has as an underlying structure of social justice. The society that we need to build is constructed based on the dignity of the human being and the interaction or relationships of those human beings. These relations must be just and the nature of those relations must be agreed upon by the body of society achieving conscious consent, defining the responsibilities of all its participants to the society. [see any of the works by Michael Lebowitz and Marta Harnecker for such a vision of society]
There is a first principle that first must be laid down to make this society possible, there must be a material basis to the society. The principle is simply that the members of a society must produce a surplus. This not even a first principle that all must agree to as condition of society. This is a first principle without which there is no society, whatever its nature or structure. For a society to arise it is based on the precondition of the ability of a body of people to produce a surplus, such that the contributors to the economy must produce commodities that are beyond their need to replicate themselves in a subsistence mode.
The definition of a society is an integral of four major functions.
- Production of goods and services.
- Politics; the defining of laws to protect the citizenry, policies reflecting the will of the people, and regulation of the institutions of a society.
- Culture; the things that make a society develop, make it worth being alive.
- Ecology; how the natural world and its resources are handled by society.
For each of the functions there is a dependency on the first function, and sometimes the dependency is an existence relationship. The production of commodities to satisfy the needs of society is the key function that must be carried out for a society. The production of commodities by one group of people that go beyond the needs of that group make the political and cultural life of the society possible. That is one thing capitalism has developed to its fullest. That property has allowed the economic development of society and with it the surplus that makes a fuller society possible. The specialization the comes with capitalist development has accelerated the accumulation of wealth by the propertied class and with it the commiseration of the those producing the surplus. But it still stands that a society to be possible must produce a surplus, value must be embodied in what is produced that is beyond the value necessary to reproduce the labor.
The production of a surplus is not a first principle, it is really a first condition for the generating the non-production functions of a society. In Marxist terms, there are class processes and non-class processes, within a capitalist society. But if I want to describe a socialist society could I use the terminology that there is a surplus producing processes and a surplus consuming processes. The first principle is that those that produce a surplus must be the main section of society that determine the distribution of the surplus. The surplus is distributed to the those societal processes that do not produce but consume the surplus. And as a corollary the surplus must be completely consumed over time and not accumulated as wealth.
The economy is value in motion and value used to create more value, with value not just being instantiated as money. Once surplus value is generated is needs to used by the society to satisfy the needs of the individual making up that society. The surplus value is needed by the productive enterprises to maintain and improve the productive process, and to reward the workers for efficiency and effort. Thus part of the surplus value needs to be under the control of productive enterprise, but a portion of the surplus value need to be given to society to make life fulfilling for the whole of society. What is now deemed as taxes needs to considered the appropriation by society from those surplus value producers to meet the needs of social human beings, which of course includes the producers. With this appropriated surplus value road and bridges are constructed and maintained, the political bodies are funded, and culture is enhances with endowments to the arts. When the surplus value is converted into accumulated wealth, it take value out of society and lessens what it could have been. Accumulated wealth has the tendency to be rent seeking, which violates a political principle to be discussed, that is that interest as rent on accumulated wealth generates no value, further value can only be exchanged for value. When value is exchanged for money, stagnant accumulated value, without a use value being gained, then that money becomes a destroyer of value.