Socialism is probably the most misunderstood word in history. Many describe the murderous Stalinist regimes in Russia and Eastern Europe that collapsed in 1989-91 as socialist. Others describe the tyrants now ruling China, North Korea and Cuba as socialist. But those states have nothing to do with socialism.
For the AWL, socialism means common ownership and democratic control by the producers - the workers - over what's produced and distributed. That's how it will end poverty, class inequality, exploitation, boom-slump cycles and the trashing of the environment. That's how it will ensure good social provision for all, in place of the chaos and the inhumanity of the free market.
To make planning democratic, the process will need to be detailed and interlocking. People in their various industries and localities will discuss and draw up proposals for planning targets. A balance will need to be found between local, national and international issues.
Meetings can be held in work time to maximise attendance. Each workplace group will be able to elect its own delegate, mandate him or her, get regular reports, and replace its delegate whenever it wishes. In this way, socialist democracy will mean more real control than any democratic procedure in society today.
Elections to administrative and managerial positions will be for fixed, short periods. Rotation of responsibility will make it hard for vested interests to dominate. Administrators and managers will be paid the same as other workers, so that they do not have privileges to defend.
Three things are necessary for this sort of democracy to work:
1. everyone needs a decent standard of living, so they're not preoccupied by the struggle to survive or the struggle to get a better job;
2. the working week is short enough for every worker to have time and energy to take part in debates;
3. everyone has adequate education.
Without these things, as Marx once put it, "all the old crap" will revive.
Are these things actually possible? Definitely. Capitalism has generated the technology and the productive capacity to make them possible.
But not overnight. As a first step, wages will be made more equal. But there will still be wages. People will have to work for the reason they work today: you don't have enough to live on if you don't.
The difference will be that everyone will have the right to a decent job: workers will have control over conditions of work and what they produce.
But there will still be some drudgery, and it will still have to be done.
Over time socialism will whittle away wage-labour. More and more goods - food, transport, housing, education, entertainment, clothing - will be distributed free ("to each according to their need") so that people do not need to rely on wages to have access to these things.
Meanwhile, people will become more aware that their work is for the common good. Most people will want to contribute to the common good and the pressure of majority opinion will push along those who don't.
The development of science and technology will allow us to reduce drudgery to an absolute minimum, shared out equally. Enjoyable, creative work (over and above the drudgery) will become something people want to do, not sharply separated from "leisure".
Of course not everything will be done via meetings. There will be managers and administrators and they will make decisions. But they'll be elected and accountable, and paid ordinary wages - not a privileged class of people separate from everyone else.
At first, some activities will have to be left to the market economy and the balance of supply and demand. Many smaller enterprises (like shops and small farms) will remain in private hands. We will win fuller social control over what we produce as we become more cooperatively minded, more educated, more skilled.
No perfect model of a socialist society exists. The main 20th century "models" - those countries that claimed to be socialist - were not socialist at all. But society has progressed before without anyone having a blueprint! Capitalism is an advance over feudalism; but no-one in feudal society had even a vague idea of how capitalism would work.
We do have general principles about how socialism would work, and soundly-based theories about why the modern working class is the class that can make socialism. And general principles are all that's possible in this case. As socialism liberates the working class, it will liberate a level of creativity we can't predict in advance.
Socialism will expand individual liberty. By removing most social constraints, it will free individuals from many of the burdens that hold them back today. Socialism will create more choice, more time and more freedom to do the things individuals want to do - to fulfil their potential, enjoy themselves and learn.
Socialism will not just change the way society works. It will change people.
We can get an inkling of that change in the transformations that big class struggles - like the miners' strike of 1984-5 and the French general strike of 1968 - make in people's minds. Socialism will be a much bigger and more permanent change in the way people live, so it will make even bigger transformations possible.
Socialism will be the basis for a revolution in human nature: removing the fear of being ripped off by our fellow-beings that affects even the most prosperous workers today.
Socialism is the liberation of humanity from poverty, insecurity, wage-slavery and state tyranny through taking conscious control of our destiny.