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Minds and Muddle

It is painfully obvious that workers can only be employed by those who purchase the goods they produce; yet so persistently has the word “employer” been wrongly used, that it is difficult to disabuse people's minds of the muddled idea that workers’ wages are paid by those who own the means of production. . . .  If everybody realised clearly that there is no such thing as an “employing class,” that everyone who uses or consumes any product (that is, every man, woman, and child in the country) is an employer, there would be a perfect revolution of thought on the question of wages, taxation and other vital problems.
So wrote Miss Minnie Pallister in an article entitled “Muddled Minds" in The New Leader (9/5/1930).
If there is no such thing as an employing class, what do we mean when we speak of employers and employees? Most people, whether socialists or not, will agree that there is one class in modern society that employs workers and pays them wages. If we are not to use terms inaccurately, by what name must we designate this class?
We distinguish the capitalist system from previous forms of society by the fact that it is made up of a capitalist, or employing class, and a class of wage workers. This division is self-evident, and easily the most important characteristic of this form of society.
The employing class own the means of production. They pay wages. They own the wealth that is produced by the workers. That wealth is in the form of commodities, which must be sold before its owners can realise the value contained in them over and above the wages paid for their production. These are the essential facts of capitalism as revealed to us in our daily efforts to obtain a living. Miss Pallister denies the obvious.
It has been the fashion for years with supporters of capitalism to refer to the savings, and even the tools of working-men, as capital. Now we have it from a member of the I.L.P., that every child sucking milk from a feeding bottle, or kicking out its shoes at play is an employer of labour.
If there is not a separate employing class that pays wages, there is no case for Socialism. Capitalism, with its opposing classes of employers and wage-workers, simply does not exist.
F. Foan