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Wages. A wage or a salary is the price of the human commodity labour power, the capacity to work. Because workers are compelled to work for their employers for a duration of time, being exploited, the wages system is literally a form of slavery and the working class are wage slaves. (See also EXPLOITTION; LABOUR POWER.)


War. Capitalism is the cause of the rivalries that led to war in the modern world. In general, these conflicts between states and within states are over property. Specifically, it is competition over markets, sources of raw materials, energy supplies, trade routes, exploitable populations and areas of strategic importance. Within each state in the world there is a conflict of interests over social priorities. But all over the world there are conflicts of interest between states which lead to war when other means fail.

The vast majority of wars since the end of World War 2 in 1945 have been wars within states (‘civil’ wars), in which the victims are overwhelmingly civilians or non-combatants. Between 1945 and 1999 about 3.3 million battle deaths occurred in 25 interstate wars. In the same period there were some 122 civil wars resulting in 16.2 million deaths – five times the interstate death toll.

Of course wars took place in class societies before capitalism existed. These wars however can generally be attributed to the absolute shortages of the past. In our own age the problem is a different one. Now the means exist for producing enough to supply the needs of all. With international capitalism, however, we have the problem of artificial scarcity created by the capitalist system of production. Social production takes place for profit, not directly for human need. It is this global system of competitive accumulation that creates the rivalry that leads to war. (See also VIOLENCE.)


A Global Time-line of War:


Wealth. A product of human labour, acting upon nature-given materials, that is capable of satisfying needs. This identifies wealth with use-value. But capitalism is a society where wealth becomes a commodity having exchange value also, and sometimes only a socially-bounded use-value that is peculiar to this society – as with nuclear weapons (See also COMMODITY; EXCHANGE VALUE; USE VALUE.)


Webb, Beatrice (1858-1943) and Sidney (1859-1947). As prominent members of the Fabian Society both were involved in the establishment of the Labour Representation Committee (1900) which, in 1906, became the Labour Party. In 1918 the Labour Party adopted a constitution (rejected in 1995) which was mostly written by Sidney. More well-known in their own time for their researches in social and economic history, the main intellectual influence on Beatrice came from Herbert Spencer, whereas Sidney (in 1929 Baron Passfield) was more influenced by Jeremy Bentham.

They both had a very poor opinion of the working class. Beatrice wrote:

We do not have faith in the “average sensual man”, we do not believe that he can do much more than describe his grievances, we do not think that he can prescribe the remedies… We wish to introduce the professional expert’ (Our Partnership, 1948).



Webbs online:


Welfare state. In 1942 the Report on Social Insurance and Allied Services by Sir William Beveridge (later Lord Beveridge) was published to widespread acclaim. All the main political parties hailed the Report as the basis for a restructured and improved social provision for the working class after the war against Germany had been won. The Socialist Party analysed the purpose and nature of the Beveridge proposals in a pamphlet called Beveridge Re-Organises Poverty. This pamphlet quoted the Tory MP Quentin Hogg (later Lord Hailsham) and his advice on the necessity of social reform within capitalism - ‘if you do not give the people social reform, they are going to give you social revolution’ - and suggested that the Beveridge recommendations were best judged in the light of the wave of working class discontent which followed the 1914-18 war, which the capitalist class and their political representatives feared might be repeated.

The actual content of the Report and the proposals it put forward for social reform were, as the Times put it, ‘moderate enough to disarm any charge of indulgence’ (2 December 1942). In large part the reforms aimed at providing an efficient working framework for the replacement of the unbalanced and disparate system of poor relief previously in existence in Britain. In fact a familiar claim of Beveridge at the time was that his proposals would be cheaper to administer than the previous arrangements. As he put it in his Report:

Social insurance and the allied services, as they exist today, are conducted by a complex of disconnected administrative organs, proceeding on different principles, doing invaluable service but at a cost in money and trouble and anomalous treatment of identical problems for which there is no justification’ (page 6, emphasis added).

Many of Beveridge’s proposals were already effectively in force for a significant number of workers, but the Report recommended the introduction of a unified, comprehensive and contributory scheme to cover loss of employment, disablement, sickness and old age. An enlargement of medical benefits and treatments was proposed, as was a plan for non-contributory allowances to be paid by the state to parents with dependent children.

This latter scheme was criticised in another Socialist Party pamphlet called Family Allowances: A Socialist Analysis, which demonstrated how Beveridge’s proposed Family Allowances would be of principal benefit to the employing class, not the wage and salary earners. This scheme would allow employers to make across-the-board wage reductions as wages had previously had to take account of the entire cost of the maintenance and reproduction of workers and their families, even though the majority of workers at the time had no dependent children to provide for. The Family Allowances plan was a scheme based on targeting provision on those workers actually with children. Family Allowances: A Socialist Analysis explained:

'wages must provide not only an existence for the worker himself, but also enable him to rear future generations of wage workers to take his place. It is quite logical therefore from a capitalist point of view to raise objection to a condition which in a large number of cases provides wages “adequate” to maintain children for those who in fact possess no children.’

In outlining the case for universal state benefits and health care, the Beveridge Report was undoubtedly of some benefit to sections of the working class who, for one reason or another, had found themselves outside the existing scheme of provision. But as the case of Family Allowances demonstrated some of the gains for the working class were more apparent than real.

As the Socialist Party was able to predict, the recommendations of Beveridge and, for that matter, the modifications that have been made to the various branches of the welfare state in the past 60 years, have not succeeded in solving the poverty problem. Particularly since the end of the post-war boom in the late 1960s (the ‘golden age’ of capitalism?), the problems of poverty and income inequality have accelerated. The health services and social security have to be paid for ultimately out of the profits of the capitalist class, generally via taxation (the burden of which in the last analysis falls on the bosses) or borrowing. In an increasingly competitive and crisis-ridden global economy, the welfare state becomes a luxury they cannot afford. (See also REFORMISM.)


Pat Thane, The Foundations of the Welfare State, 1996


Workers’ councils. Advocated by some left-wingers as the means to fight capitalism, overthrow it, and establish and administer socialist society. Workers’ councils comprised of delegates from workplaces would co-ordinate the struggle. Workers' councils may indeed have a role to play, but their social base is too narrow (many workers operate outside the traditional workplace) to effect a social revolution, and socialists insist that the overthrow of capitalism must involve the capture of state power.

Workers’ councils are to be distinguished from Works’ Councils. The latter are currently being sponsored by the European Union, as a means to ‘industrial democracy’, by encouraging workers to be more competitive and productive in conjunction with their bosses. (See also DEMOCRACY.)


Serge Bricaner, Pannekoek and the Workers’ Councils, 1978


Working class. All those who are excluded from the ownership and control of the means of wealth production and distribution and depend for their existence on wages and salaries or incomes derived from them. In Britain this is over 90% of the population, the remainder being mostly the capitalist class – those who live on unearned income derived from their ownership of land and invested capital.

As shorthand, socialists sometimes refer to the working class as wage slaves or wage and salary earners. This, however, is a way of bringing out the importance of wage labour for capitalism, and is not a value judgement by socialists on the worth or importance of the workers not employed. The life-blood of this system is the pumping of surplus value out of wage labour. But in fact employees constitute only about half the total number of the working class. Of necessity, there are many roles within the working class that are needed to facilitate the reproduction cycle of labour power, such as schoolchildren, housewives, pensioners and so on. The whole working class is involved in creating, maintaining and reproducing labour power. For the benefit of the capitalist class. (See also CAPITALIST CLASS; CLASS.)


E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class, 1991