It may well happen that the contents of this pamphlet will not be at all what some readers anticipate from the title. The word ‘Socialism’ is widely used in so loose and inaccurate a way that they may expect to find in ‘The Case for Socialism’ arguments about the supposed merits of the nationalised industries or about electing a Labour Government. No such arguments will be found in this pamphlet or in any of the propaganda of the Socialist Party of Great Britain and its Companion Parties in other countries. Instead, the reader is asked to consider the case for replacing the social system that exists here and in all countries of the world by a fundamentally different social system.
In order to remove all possibility of misunderstanding we emphasise that the Socialist Party of Great Britain is not the Labour Party. It was formed in 1904, two years before the Labour Party. It is an independent organisation opposed to all other political parties in this country. It is associated with companion Socialist Parties in Australia, Canada, New Zealand Ireland, and the U.S.A.
Emphasis is justifiably laid on the independence of the S.P.G.B., because its object and its view of economic and political questions are quite different from those of various political parties in this country that claim to be out for Socialism.
This pamphlet is intended as a general introduction to Socialist principles. The same distinctive principles on which the Socialist Party of Great Britain is based are applied in other pamphlets to particular issues, including war and disarmament; trade union action; Russian State capitalism.; democracy and dictatorship; education; etc.
It is our hope that the reader of ‘The Case for Socialism’ will be encouraged to realise his or her obligation to help in the great task of establishing Socialism.
Socialist Party of Great Britain, October 1962
This pamphlet is intended to set out, in general terms, the case for the establishment of Socialism. We say ‘in general terms’ because this is only a short pamphlet – and politics is a very wide subject. In order to compress so much into so small a space, we must make a number of general statements. Some of the ideas will perhaps present difficulty, to those who meet them for the first time. The reader who is looking for more detailed statements of the Socialist attitude is referred to other pamphlets published by the Socialist Party of Great Britain. There is a lot of confusion about the meaning of the word Socialism. The Labour Party and the Communist Party, for example, both claim to be Socialist organisations. They also profess to be hostile to each other. We are hostile to them both!
Projects like the London Transport Board and the Tennessee Valley in the U.S.A. have been described as ‘bits’ of Socialism. Some of the policies of, say, the Democratic Party in the United States of America and the Conservative Party in Great Britain have been called ‘Socialistic’, and the State Capitalism of Russia is erroneously called Socialism. Little wonder, then, that there is so much confusion about Socialism. The word seems to have any number of interpretations, to mean almost anything – or almost nothing; as it did nearly eighty years ago,, to the Liberal politician, Sir William Harcourt, when he declared: ‘We are all Socialists now’.
But Socialism can, in fact, be defined precisely. It is a system of Society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealthy by and in the interest of the whole community. More simply, it means that the factories, mines, railways and so on will belong to all the people of the world, who will partake freely of the things and services which they produce.
Socialism will in fact bring fundamental changes to many aspects of human life. It will alter our social relationships because it will be a new social system with a basis which is different from that of present-day society. To explain this more fully, let us say what we mean by system of society.
First, we can define society itself as a number of people, millions of them, in fact, who are bound together by certain relationships. Today, for example, people are bound by the relationship of employer and employee, landlord and tenant, buyer and seller, debtor and creditor, etc, A casual inspection of society reveals millions of people all over the earth constantly entering into such relationships, and into others, in an apparently haphazard manner. A man may work one week for this employer, the next week for another. He may lend money to a friend on the same day as he pays an instalment on the T.V. set. He may be both buyer and seller, with any number of people. But in fact these relations conform to a definite social pattern or system which, in turn, stems from what we call the basis of society.
Let us now take a closer look at the social relationships we have mentioned. One man may employ another because he owns the place of employment, a factory, mine, ship, and so forth. Buying and selling involve a change of ownership; lending is a temporary surrender of the use which comes with ownership. In other words, these social, relationships have something in common. None of them can operate unless the social condition of property ownership is in existence.
We can now see that what at first seemed a confused and formless mass of social, relationships in fact falls into a pattern; what it is that forms the basis from which our social relationships are born, and the institutions through which they operate.
Every social system has its basis through which almost every feature of it can be traced and explained. Obviously, that basis must be something which is very important to human beings. It is, in fact, the most, vital thing of all – the methods by which we produce the necessities of living and the way in which the things we use to produce wealth are owned. Today, for example, the basis of the social system is the private and government ownership of the means of producing and distributing the world’s wealth. A section of the population, as direct proprietors or company shareholders, own the land, factories, ships, banks, trading concerns, etc., or invest their money in government or municipal securities, this being the method by which capital is provided by the central and local authorities for industries and undertakings in their control. This is the basic social condition which forms social relationships like buying and selling, employing and being employed. It is also responsible for the social institutions, like shops and markets, which are needed for the relationships to operate.. This social system is called capitalism.
It is immediately obvious that nothing that the other political parties do, or say that they want to do, can have any effect upon the kind of social relations we have mentioned. This is because not one of them wants to change, the social system fundamentally. Only the Socialist Party of Great Britain, and its Companion Parties abroad, want that. We alone stand for the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of Socialism,
Because many of the features of capitalism are an accepted part of modern life, many workers think that they have always existed. But capitalism is a comparatively young social system. There were other systems before it, each with its own basis and therefore its own social relationships and institutions.
Going right back to man’s earliest days we find social, systems in which there was no class division, no employers and employees, no social and economic privilege reserved to a particular section of the population. This was because at that time the essential means of living, the proceeds of hunting, were commonly owned.
It was the development of primitive man’s means of wealth production which finished communal ownership. For man learned to tame animals and put them to his own uses — to domesticate them. He enlarged his agricultural techniques to such an extent that it became possible to produce more than enough for his own needs. This was the economic background to the establishment of the social system called chattel slavery under which people were kept as the physical property of their master, who put them to work much as the farmer once put his horse to labour in his fields, and who lived upon the surplus which the slaves produced. This development split society into classes which were based upon property ownership. It finished the relationships which had existed between men who were socially equal, for those who possessed the means of living became the social superiors of those who did not. It was the beginning of centuries of property society.
The next stage in man’s social history is called feudalism.
During this period the principal method of wealth production was by settled agriculture and from this method the social relationships and institutions of the time arose. The land, owned ultimately by the king, was held in fief for him by his nobles who, within their domains, had parts of their land tenanted by serfs. Each serf worked his plot and kept what he produced, with the exception of a certain portion which he was compelled to hand over to his lord; but he was also required to work two or three days each week on that part of the land reserved by the lord of the manor for his own use.
From these brief facts we can discern a number of the social features of feudalism. The serf held an inferior social position but he had direct access to the means of wealth production; he generally did not work for a wage; he did little or no buying and selling; he did not work in a place where production was socially organised, as it is in a modern factory. There were no employers as we know them today and no trade unions, and the main stream of feudal society did not depend on banks, merchant houses, and other everyday features of modern life. We can put this another way by saying that the social relationships and political institutions of feudalism were fashioned by the form of ownership of the means of wealth production which then existed, which in its turn was determined by the state of development of the productive forces of society.
We can now turn from our brief review of previous societies to look at the modern world; in doing so we can find out why social systems change, and with them mankind’s relationships.
During the Middle Ages a class of merchants emerged in this country and in Europe. These merchants traded in the wool, silks, fruits and spices which were being produced in significant quantities. Over a period they opened up the world to their trade and founded the great fortunes which were to provide the springboard for the next step forward-the Industrial Revolution.
The manufacturers who were to profit by this needed, to put it bluntly, that men were made property-less, so that they would be forced into the factories. Let us consider the case of the hand-weaver who had his plot of land and who owned the hand loom on which he wove his cloth. The transformation of the weaving process from the hand-loom to the factory meant that the weaver was first driven off his land into the town. Then he was forced into the factory, to operate looms which did not belong to him, and to live on the wage which he received from the factory owner. We can see that the weaver’s life had changed together with the social relationships that surrounded it. In miniature, this represented the change from one system of society to another which followed developments in the methods of producing wealth and the rise of a new class to dominance.
These changes were accelerated by the development in man’s knowledge of working iron, by the invention of new methods of spinning and weaving, and the application of steam power. They made possible the complete separation of the worker from ownership of the means of production and confirmed the need for the newly established capitalist social organisation. For modern industry requires a ‘free’ labour force — free in the sense that it can move from one factory or town or country to another, instead of being tied to one strip of land owned by one overlord. It needs to organise its production so that the entire process is the work of many people, each contributing a part to it, in contrast to the restricted, individual method of the feudal serf. It must be able to pay its workers money-wages which they are free to spend how they like, instead of giving them a part of what they have produced. And it needs a working class which has no ownership at all in the productive machinery and only comes into contact with the machinery when working, instead of having a partial ownership of it. Modern industry’s other needs are a free market and a comprehensive monetary system to handle the wide exchange of commodities.
Let us sum up by saying that the social organisation of feudal society was an encumbrance to the development of what is now modern industry. To keep up society’s material advance it was necessary to abolish feudalism and replace it with a social system — capitalism, more in tune with the new productive techniques. The clash between the established social relationships on the one side, and on the other an advancing method of wealth production, and the classes whose interests are involved, has been responsible for the changes in mankind’s social systems. It was responsible for the change from feudalism to capitalism. It will cause the end of capitalism and the establishment of Socialism.
This pamphlet shows how the social relationships of capitalism are clashing with, and hampering, the economic advance of society; how the problems of the modern world are caused by the nature of capitalism, and why they can be removed only by the establishment of a new social order. It also shows why and how- Socialism must be the next stage in the social advancement of mankind.
We have seen that a social system consists of a set of social relationships which are patterned by the form of wealth ownership, which in turn is patterned by the established method of producing wealth. We must now apply this to capitalism, to look at the basis of modern society and find out some of its implications.
Today the things which are needed to produce and distribute wealth are owned by a section of the people – in other words privately owned. Such ownership does not take the form of an immediate, personal possession in the same way as we own our clothes and other such articles. It is quite impersonal. The shareholders who own a factory or group of factories need never see them or even have a lawful right to walk around in them. Their rights are asserted by the fact that they are legally entitled to the profits derived from selling the things which the factories produce. And why are they so entitled? Because they hold stocks, or shares, or some other documents.
These documents not only carry the positive rights which we have mentioned. They also have their negative aspect because they give the capitalist class the power to prevent the rest of society from encroaching upon their property, unless it is on the capitalists’ own terms. We shall see that the laws of capitalism are designed to uphold and protect the legal rights of property ownership.
What makes a person a member of the capitalist class is the fact that he has enough ownership in the form of bonds, stocks, and shares to enable him to live without going to work for a wage. Thus he need not be somebody who does not work – some capitalists may work very hard. Nor is he a person who simply holds shares — a great many people own a few shares, government bonds, savings certificates, etc., but this does not make them capitalists. A capitalist, as a result of his ownership in the means of producing wealth, gets his living in a different way from the rest of society. Because of this his interests are opposed to those of the working class.
On the other side is the working class, which consists of people who do not have enough of such things as stocks or shares to give them a living but who rely for their livelihood upon going out to work for wages. While the line between the capitalists and the working class is not sufficiently clear-cut to allocate each individual to a class, that does not alter the fact that the division exists and that most people are on one side or the other. This will be made clearer when we examine the working class more closely in the next chapter. For the moment, it is enough to state the fact of their existence and to consider the part they play in producing the wealth which enables their masters to live so much better than they.
Is there such an enormous difference between the amounts of wealth which capitalists and workers own? After all, we have been told by the newspapers, the churches and so on that we are all really quite well off and have a lot to be grateful for. Over the years many estimates have been made of the relative ownership of wealth in capitalist society. In 1904 – the year the Socialist Party of Great Britain was formed – the liberal M.P., Sir Leo Chiozza Money, in his book ‘Riches and Poverty’., estimated that one-third of this country’s income was going to less than one-thirtieth of the population. In 1931 Lord Arnold, who was Paymaster-General in the Labour Government, stated that there were then about 90,000 people who,, after tax, had an income of about £60 a week. At the same time a Ministry of Labour Inquiry revealed that the weekly earnings of male workers ranged from 36s. 8d. in the linen industry to 72s. 6d. in the fur trade.
These inequalities are not simply a feature of a bygone age. In 1960 Professor Morgan, in his book ”The Structure of Property Ownership in Britain, gave figures which showed that one-twentieth of the population of this country own three-quarters of its wealth and that 95 per cent of the rest of the population own practically nothing, in February 1961 the bulletin of the Oxford University Institute of Statistics stated that one per cent of the country’s population above the age of 20, owned 81 per cent of company stocks and shares and that 10 per cent owned 79 per cent of the total personal net capital. There were 20,000 people who had an average capital of over £250,000 – and 16 million people with less than £50 per head. In other words, vastly unequal ownership and distribution of wealth is a ‘constant feature of capitalism and is not peculiar to any one period of its existence. Let us have a. closer look at the cause of this inequality.
The capitalist class receive interest and dividends on their bonds, stocks and shares. Their income derives directly or indirectly from the results of the sale of the products which the capitalists own. Because of this the wealth takes a particular form, that is to say it has certain social features. It is commodity wealth. A commodity is an article or service which, because of its social features, only exists in certain, social conditions.
What are these features? First, though this is a physical property, a commodity must have use value – it must be useful to human beings, whether by need or fancy. It must be something that can be produced in quantity, in the way that factory products are. It must be produced for sale with the intention of realising a profit, not produced for personal consumption. by the producer. These are a commodity’s social properties and they have nothing to do with its physical features.
Let us illustrate the point by considering the case of a humble chair. In medieval England this may have been made by a peasant who cut the wood for it with tools which he himself had made. When the chair was finished the peasant used it himself. It had none of the characteristics of a commodity,, except that it had use value. In contrast modern chairs are turned out in great furniture factories, from wood cut in another part of the country and shaped by tools which are perhaps made abroad. Before they are finished the chairs will have been worked upon by many people, none of whom intend to sit upon the chairs they helped to make. That is reserved for the people who buy them. These chairs have all the characteristics of a commodity – they are typical products of capitalistic society. The overwhelming mass of wealth in capitalism takes this form.
Let us now examine some of the implications of this. A sale is the exchange of something for money, which in turn may he exchanged for some other commodity. In this way commodities as different as coal and cheese, or steel and wheat may exchange — and when they do so it is in regulated proportion to each other. Suppose a ton of coal exchanges for one cwt. of cheese. Why should the coal not exchange for five cwt., or five tons? What is it that regulates the proportion in which commodities exchange with each other?
It is obvious that it can have nothing-to do with the physical properties of commodities. We can only compare different things by the things they have in common. Coal may be weighed in the scales against a weight made of iron, because both coal and iron have the physical property of weight. But when the coal has been weighed all we have done is to discover that, no matter how much they may differ in bulk, colour, smell or in any other way, we have amounts of coal and iron which are equal in weight. Or we might compare a gallon of beer with a gallon of petrol; there we have liquids equal in volume. But we arc no nearer to discovering why so much beer exchanges for so much petrol, or so much cheese.
In fact, there is only one thing which all commodities have in common no matter how much they may differ physically. They are all the result of human labour being applied to some available material; they have all absorbed a certain amount of average human labour. This labour can be measured by time and this is what fixes the proportion in which commodities exchange with each other. In other words, it is the relative amount of labour time absorbed in a commodity which sets its value, so that if it took five hours of labour to produce a ton of coal and five hours to produce a hundredweight of cheese they would be equal in value.
We must make it clear that by labour we mean the amount “which is necessary in socially average conditions and intensity of production. For example, it would take more labour time to produce motor cars by hand assembly than by the automatic processes which are so widely used by the motor industry today. But this would not make the hand-assembled car the more valuable, if the average type of that car is assembled automatically.
Let us sum up by saying that the value of a commodity is fixed by the amount of socially necessary labour required to produce it at the time and place at which it is wanted. This value regulates the proportion in which one commodity may exchange with another.
But it is evident that the rate of exchange of the same two commodities can vary at different times. This may be explained by a change that has taken place in their respective values; more efficient production or the discovery of more accessible raw materials could mean a fall in the amount of labour necessary to produce some commodities. More commonly, the change in the rate of exchange is brought about by price fluctuations. We must, then, have a look at the nature of a commodity’s price and its relation to value.
The price of a commodity is affected at any one time by the relative forces of supply on the one hand and demand for it on the other. Let us suppose that the price of a ton of coal is the same as for a hundredweight of cheese. Let us suppose that, for some reason, people lose their taste for cheese and a lot of it accumulates on the market. There would not be much wisdom then in a cheese merchant still asking the same price for a hundredweight as the coal merchant got for his ton! The price of cheese could fall so that the ton of coal would have a price equal to, perhaps, two hundredweights of it. And if the same fate were to befall the coal, because householders were changing to oil heating or for some other reason, the previous price relation might be restored and the hundredweight of cheese again cost as much as the ton of coal.
Such fluctuations, as we all know, are a constant feature of capitalist society. But it is important to keep in our minds the difference between price and value. For although the forces of supply and demand are responsible for the fluctuations in prices, the point about which they fluctuate is determined by their value. We may compare this to the string of a guitar, which vibrates as it is played. The musician’s finger works upon the string in the same way as the forces of supply and demand affect prices, without being responsible for the point at which the string will come to rest when the forces which are pulling it this way and that have died out or been equalised. For the guitar, that point is fixed by the bridge and the peg holding the string. For the commodity, it is fixed by the social property of value, that is the socially necessary labour time embodied in it. There are commodities which, more or less permanently, sell above their value or below it, but this does not affect our argument. It is still value which determines the point above or below which prices fluctuate.
The same economic laws apply to a commodity which no member of the working class ever has to buy, because he is born with it. Every human being has the ability to work, which we call labour-power. When the workers are in the factory or office or wherever else they earn their living, they are selling their labour-power to their employer for their wages. These wages are not a reward for being faithful servants, nor are they a portion of the wealth which has been produced. They are not the price of labour, because labour is the expending of labour-power and is embodied in the wealth which the workers produce and which is owned by their employers. No. Wages are the price of the commodity which the working class own because it is in their very bodies; wages are in fact the price of labour-power which is sold for certain periods of time.
Like any other commodity, labour-power commands a price in accordance with the balance struck at any time between the supply of it and the demand for it, influenced of course by trade union action. If industry is at a low ebb and there is little demand for workers, then wages tend to fall. In times of boom they tend to rise – and workers are in a better position to force them higher still. A factor which has considerable influence in striking this balance is the struggle which workers must always engage in to defend and improve their conditions of employment through their trade unions.
The value of labour-power is fixed in the same way as for other commodities, by the amount of labour needed to produce it. This labour is embodied in things like food, housing, clothing and so on — whatever is necessary to maintain workers bodies and reproduce their energies. Thus the value of labour-power is fixed by the amount of socially necessary labour involved in producing the workers’ means of subsistence. This is the point about which wages fluctuate, under the influence of the forces of supply and demand.
There is one aspect, however, in which labour-power is an altogether peculiar commodity. It has the ability to increase the value of the wealth to which it is applied — it can, in fact, create value. Let us go back to the furniture factory, where the worker on the bench is working with tools, wood, glue and other materials which his employer owns. All of these are commodities and have a value. One worker is making a chair which, when it is finished, will have in it the value of the wood, glue and so on; some of the value of the tools, and some of the worker’s labour. But the chair has a greater value than all of the commodities which are embodied in it. How-does this come about? The materials and the tools can only transfer their value to it. It must, therefore, be human labour-power which, in co-ordinating tools and materials, has produced something with a value greater than that of the original components. Human labour-power has added value to the chair. It has created value.
We now have the explanation of the paradox of capitalism by which, although commodities on average exchange at their value — as equal values, in fact, the capitalist class gets the surplus from which they derive rent, interest and profit. We say ‘paradox’ because there is a common notion that capitalism’s profits are made by the capitalists buying goods cheaply and selling them dearly. Any worker who has tried to amass a fortune in that way can be expected to realise the fallacy of the theory. For this process is only a sort of mutual cheating in which there must be as many losses as there are gains. It does not explain the existence of profit as a social feature of capitalism. Profit, in fact, cannot be made by buying and selling; it can only be realised at that point, in the same way as a loss may be realised.
We can explain the process which produces capitalism’s profits by taking again the example of the furniture factory. Here the owner has installed machinery, tools and materials, all of which he has bought at a price determined by value. To transform these things into saleable furniture he must now employ some workers — he must now buy some human labour-power. This commodity he also buys at its value. The workers apply their mental and physical abilities in the factory and so produce furniture which is greater in value than all its component parts. This furniture sells at its value. But because this value has been increased in the making of the furniture the factory owner has gained what we call a surplus value, which is the source of his profit and of any rent or interest on loans which he is liable to pay. This surplus value arises out of the exploitation of the working class.
The production of commodities and of surplus value, and the realising of profit on the market, are the basis of capitalist society. They are inseparable from capitalism and are the direct cause of the problems which are a constant feature of our lives. They cause the misery and bloodshed of war. They cause the persistent worry and grind of poverty. They cause the insecurity which overshadows every moment of our existence.
But it is not enough merely to make these assertions. They must be justified with arguments and facts. This is what we shall attempt to do in the next two chapters.
We must now examine the working class, economically and socially, and explain why it is important to the case for Socialism.
Before we do so, however, we should explain the division of society into classes. What do we mean by the word ‘class?’ By what standards do we decide that a person belongs to one class and not to another?
A class is a group of people who, although they may differ in their nationality or background, or their so-called race., have economic interests in common with each other. We should mention here — because we shall return to the point — that a class, with its common economic interests, exists whether or not its members realise it.
Now let us apply this yardstick to capitalist society. As we saw in the last chapter, the great majority of people in the. modern world get their living by going out to work for a wage or salary, because no other method is open to them. We also saw that when they go to work they are in fact selling a peculiar commodity which is bound up in their own bodies — and we call that commodity labour-power. Now when somebody sells something there must be somebody else who is buying it. So that when the workers sell their labour-power there must be another social class who are buyers of labour-power.
Whenever a commodity is bought and sold, there immediately occurs a clash of interest. For it is to the advantage of the seller to obtain the highest possible price for his goods and the best possible conditions for their sale. On the other hand, the buyer’s interests are best served by struggling for the lowest price possible and the easiest conditions of purchase that he can get. This conflict must arise in every sale although, let us notice again, one or other of the parties in the transaction may not realise where his interests lie.
The interests of the sellers of labour-power are therefore opposed to those of the buyers. In other words the interest of the working class is in getting the highest wages and the best working conditions that they can; and the interests of the employers are the opposite-their object must be to exploit workers as intensely as they can, for as little as they can give.
We can now see, taking as our dividing line the economic interests of any group, that society is split into two classes: the capitalists who own the means of production and. distribution, and the non-owners, the workers, who sell labour-power. Many people may think that this is a trifling reason for making so sweeping a division in human society. In fact it is a vital distinction to make for the very existence, not to say comfort and security, of the two social classes is involved. The. working class, as we have seen, live by selling their mental and physical energies. Unless they assert their economic interest they are doomed to social and personal degradation. In the same way the capitalists exist as a class only because they are the owners of the means of production. If they do not assert their interests they are doomed to decline, economically and socially.
We have seen that, whatever wealth the working class produce, they only receive a part of it as wages. The remainder goes to the capitalist class in the form of surplus value. It is obvious, then, that the more the employers take the less there is for the workers and vice versa.
We are all familiar with the claim which the ruling class makes, that if the workers work harder there will be more wealth to go round for everybody. It is not true that when workers produce more wealth they necessarily receive any part of the increase; but even if they did, it would not alter the fact that the two classes go on struggling over the division of wealth produced.
These, then, are the reasons for dividing society into two classes; it is worth while to repeat the definition of them. The capitalist class is made up of people who, because they own the means of producing and distributing the world’s wealth, are able to live without having to work. The working class consists of those people – the great majority of society – who do not own the means of wealth production and distribution. Their only method of living is by getting a wage – and the only way of getting a wage is by going out to work for it. Anybody who has to work for a living, then, is a member of the working class.
We have already pointed out that the class division of society exists whether or not anybody wants it to and whether or not anybody realises it. There are, we know,- many members of the working class who refuse to recognise their class position and who would turn pale with shock to hear themselves described as workers. Some of these may earn their living as teachers or doctors, or clerks or something similar. They like to think of themselves as members of the so-called middle class.
It is perhaps as well that nobody ever attempts a serious definition of the term ‘middle class’, nor of any of its more fatuous variants like ‘upper middle’ or ‘lower middle’. No such definition could be found because there are no middle interests between those of the owners and non-owners of the means of production. Sometimes certain professions are classified as ‘middle class’ because they are ‘respectable’ and relatively highly paid. But this need not be a constant factor; the fortunes of schoolteachers, for example, have varied considerably since the first world war. At times they have been relatively prosperous; at others comparatively depressed. However their immediate conditions have changed, their social situation has remained unaltered. They have always been forced to work in order to live; have always, in other words, been members of the working class.
Sometimes people who like to call themselves ‘middle class’ can boast a few stocks, or shares or bonds from which they draw dividends or interest. Or perhaps they have a little something tucked away in the bank. This, they think, is what lifts them, above the working class. Yet none of them could claim that even with their shares and their savings, they do not depend on their wages for their livelihood. If for some reason they were to lose their jobs they could not exist for long on their savings. In the end they must find an employer to buy their labour-power. For they are as dependent on their wage as any other worker – and their interests, because they arc also sellers of labour-power, are the same as those of any industrial worker.
And let there be no mistake about it, the members of this so-called middle-class often live in dire straits. True, they exist behind a facade of genteel prosperity in neat, if small, houses with trim gardens. They contrive casual remarks about expensive holidays, exclusive clubs, aristocratic sports. Daily they pack their brief-cases, adjust their umbrellas and ‘respectable’ newspapers, and commute from the suburbs. To the passing observer all is well. But the cuff may be furtively darned, the shirt threadbare, the lunch skimpy. Here is the reality behind the facade. It is all rather pathetic.
Often the very job at which they earn their gentility makes the poverty of the ‘middle-class’ all the sharper. A bank clerk or commercial traveller cannot afford not to put up a show of being well-to-do. And some of the ‘responsible’ jobs which they hold require long and arduous work, lots of unpaid overtime and lots of worry (also unpaid, of course). All this to keep up the little neat house which is probably on a long mortgage and full of hire-purchased furniture and fittings. Even the natty clothes may be bought on deferred terms. These debts make their dependence upon their job intense, even desperate.
Of course employers can be excused if they exploit this dependence, as they exploit the loyalty which the ‘middle class’ bear to them. Strikes, think the ‘middle class’, are unpatriotic, undignified and in downright bad taste. It suits their employers that they should regard themselves as superior to workers; but in fact they are often one of the most downtrodden section of the working class. And in the end, just like the miner and the roadsweeper, they live on their wages. Their interests are the same as the rest of the working class and the sooner they realise it the better!
Now why are the working class poor? We know that most of them would deny that they are poor because they think the word more aptly describes the sufferers from nineteenth-century famines, or from the slumps of the twenties and thirties. But the word ‘poor’ does not mean being destitute; it means deprived, restricted in access. And that is the condition of the working class; sometimes they may slide down into destitution but they never rise above being poor.
Let us explain this a little more fully. The last chapter pointed out that a worker’s labour-power, like any other commodity, sells at its value and that is fixed by the amount of food, clothing, entertainment and so on which is needed to reproduce his ability to work. Whatever may happen on the ‘labour market’ at any particular time, no matter what economic influences or struggles may force a worker’s wages down or allow them to rise, over the long run he gets in his wage on average what its costs to keep him according to his particular job.
This average may vary with geographical, historical or social differences. For example, a worker living in England will have differences in his housing, clothing and diet from an Indian worker. These differences are expressed in a difference between the two workers’ standards of subsistence. The English worker may drink his beer whilst the French worker quaffs his wine; here is another variation in the standard of subsistence. Again, the standard may change with historical and technical developments. Advances in building techniques may alter the amenities of working class houses. Things like radio sets, which were once expensive technical marvels, are now an essential part of a worker’s life and have now become established in his standard of living. But these qualifications do not alter the fact that, no matter how much a worker’s subsistence standards may vary in different countries – upwards or downwards – he generally gets in his wage packet his means of living and only that.
This is the root cause of workers’ poverty. For subsistence standards must be measured against the horizons of possibility. The ownership of a television set is a poor dividend from a world which is technically capable of satisfying all human needs. Workers may be proud of the little houses which they are buying through the building society or the insurance company – but compare them with the sort of building which, unlike working-class homes, does not have to be built to a low cost specification. Then ask yourself whether the standards of reality have kept pace with possibility.
And if the working class are not poor why is it that, even though their material enjoyments are so restricted, they continually suffer the strain of trying to make ends meet? However much wages may increase in money terms —and during the 20 years since the beginning of World War II they increased several times over-they are always only just about enough to cover living expenses. So much for food, travel, rent, insurance and so on. So much for entertainment, books, television, a visit to the pictures, an annual holiday, so much for clothes. We all know the routine. And we know that when it is all over and everything is paid out there is next to nothing left of our wages. It has been well said of the working class that we die as we are born — with nothing.
This is a perilous existence for the workers, with their comforts, their pleasures, even their living, balanced on a tightrope. If the rope remains taut and steady, the workers are comparatively safe. But Jet it wobble a little and they are pitched into hardship. This has happened many times before, and it has involved millions of workers in misery and hunger. After World War II many workers were impressed by the boom which visited capitalism and took on financial commitments which depended, like all working class plans, upon them holding their jobs. The depression which later came to the Midlands, Lancashire, Scotland, Northern Ireland, etc., soured a lot of this optimism and showed that capitalism is no more capable of providing security than it was in the infamous days of the between-war slumps. And it was not only English workers who suffered — millions in Germany, Italy, France and the United States, to name only a few countries, were dumped into unemployment. Capitalism’s insecurity, like the system itself, is international and is an essential part of working class existence.
For whatever comforts a worker may come by, whatever pleasures he may experience, most of them depend in one way or another upon him keeping in employment. But the capitalist buys labour-power quite freely, as the worker sells it quite freely; there is no legal compulsion upon anybody to work for a particular employer, nor to make a capitalist offer employment. Only economic interests hold the worker-employer relationship together. If the interest of the capitalist demand that he stops employing some of his workers, there is nothing to prevent him sacking them. We shall go into the reasons for this in the next chapter; for the moment it is enough to point out that capitalists often dismiss large numbers of workers because they cannot profitably employ them. It is a fundamental law of capitalism – no profit, no work.
We have already noticed the low level by which working class living standards are judged. Nowhere is this more apparent than in housing. Here is a problem which the politicians of all parties have been promising, literally, for generations to solve. It seems simple enough. Here are slums, or other poor houses. Pull them down and build better houses, fit for human beings to live in. But capitalist society does not work like that. Let us remind ourselves that capitalism’s wealth is produced for profit and that this must apply to houses just as to any other commodity. If houses are to be disposed of profitably, most of them must be the sort that workers can afford to mortgage or to rent. The builders could put up a lot of super-luxury houses but this would be at best a risky venture, because the market for such places is strictly limited by the fact that most people do not get super-luxury incomes. The answer, for the builder, is to build houses which the working class can afford to live in. This means cheap, sub-standard houses. Here is the real housing problem, which is not the physical one of simply building enough houses for people to live in.
This is what gives rise to bad housing and slums. The politicians have always been fond of telling us that slums are a product of the bad old days and that they will be cleared up in the present era of enlightenment. Indeed millions of pounds and a lot of effort have been spent in slum clearance schemes. And what has been the result? In 1961 the director of the Town and Country Planning Association offered the ‘conservative estimate’ of a million slums still in Great Britain. In the same year a .Ministry of Housing survey reckoned the number of slum dwellers at two and a half million – and this again was generally recognised as an underestimate. And if we leave the near-dream world of the standards by which houses arc officially designated as slums, we find the 1951 Census of Population telling us that there were nearly seven million households without a fixed bath of their own, over three million sharing or entirely without a water closet, and nearly two million sharing or without a kitchen sink. A Government “White Paper in 1953 stated that nearly five million houses in this country were over 65 years old, which meant that nearly five million houses were decaying and lacked modern amenities like a bathroom and hot water supply.
We know that this is not a distorted, selective picture of working-class housing. We have only to walk the back streets of any town to .see that the slums are still with us. And let us remember that the new houses, because they are built for working class occupation, to a low cost specification, are often the slums of the not-so-distant future. Many workers have had experience of what this means. We know the strains to which personal relations are subjected by poor housing conditions. We know that in cheap, cramped houses children suffer, marriages founder, affections die, In such conditions human beings are seen in some ways at their most degraded.
It seems an insoluble problem and indeed it will remain so until we tackle its cause. Society has the knowledge, the skills and the materials to build splendid houses and to lay out its communities in a pleasing design. What prevents this is capitalism’s need to build houses as commodities and not primarily as human dwellings.
At the same time as capitalism condemns the worker to suffer his poverty, his insecurity and his mean home, it also deprives him quite literally of his physical security. We need not labour the point that war is a constant threat in our lives; in the next chapter we shall examine its causes. For the moment let us only make it clear that the enormous burden of bloodshed and misery falls upon the working class.
To escape from their nightmare situation is the dream of many workers. That is why millions of them gamble each week on the football pools and suffer disappointment when the results come out and they realise that they are doomed to another ‘week’ of poverty. Some workers may dream of making a fortune from an invention, or a brilliant new business venture, or a ‘shrewd’ gamble on the Stock Exchange.
What are those dreams worth? Perhaps a few may escape from the working class by these methods. Similarly some capitalists go broke and find themselves pitched into involuntary membership of the working class. But it is impossible for everybody to be a capitalist – the vast majority of people must remain workers, supporting a propertied minority. These two classes will exist as long as capitalism lasts.
Although we are loath to pour cold water upon workers’ dreams, we cannot ignore the mountainous odds against a worker becoming a capitalist. We all know the odds against the easy, overnight method like winning the pools runs into many millions to one. The chances of a worker starting his own business, competing successfully with the great established combines and eventually emerging triumphantly as a powerful capitalist are almost as remote, although less easily calculable. At best such chances are reserved to a few fields of capitalist activity – nobody stands a chance of competing in industries like newspapers, oil, steelmaking and so on. Many workers have tried and given up, or have been broken. Little dairymen have been swallowed by the combines or are virtually controlled by them. Local bakers have suffered the same fate and, like most small shopkeepers, are no more than immobile salesmen for the powerful food networks. Small businessmen plough a furrow of their own, fearfully keeping out of the way of the big industrial and commercial chiefs. We have only to consider how many of our own personal acquaintances have succeeded in climbing out of the working class mire to realise that the chances of doing so are so remote as to be virtually non-existent.
Yes, capitalism must always have its working class which will always suffer poverty, restriction and insecurity. This class will always hold an inferior social situation, always be on the outside looking in. The full achievements of human society are denied to the worker; he must live in. a shoddy house, wear inferior clothes, eat sub-standard food, receive second-rate education and so on. Council houses, Spam, and mass-produced suits are some of the things which are reserved exclusively for the working class. These are the sort of restrictions which workers suffer day by day and which undermine their health and happiness.
The working class make up the vast majority of the modern world’s population. They produce all the wealth of this world. For they arc the people who dig out the minerals from the earth, who work in the factories and the offices, who drive the motor lorries and the ships. From top to bottom they organise and operate capitalist society’s productive and distributive-machinery. Yet they do all this for the benefit of a social minority whilst they themselves lead dull, unsatisfying, insecure lives. We have seen that this is an essential part of their existence as workers. Let us examine more closely the cause of this – and the cure.
Socialists say that capitalism has outlived its usefulness; that it is destructive, restrictive and wasteful, and that the time has come to abolish it. In saying this, we are not making a moral judgment.
Capitalism has been a necessary stage in social evolution. We have discussed in Chapter One how it was responsible for breaking the shackles by “which feudalism’s social organisation restricted man’s productive efforts, it is true that capitalism has made possible enormous advances in technical methods, has opened great fields of wealth, has shrunk the world by developing a complex and comprehensive system of communication. It has also crystallised the class nature of property society into its final, form — the division into two classes. Yes, capitalism has played a vital part in society’s development.
But that is not the end of the story. Now that the capitalist social system has achieved its great productive works, its very nature is holding back further development. Capitalism is destructive. It is wasteful. It denies the vast majority of people full access co the wealth which could be produced in abundance. It hedges round its productive efforts with a mass of restrictions — considerations of cost and profit and of military strategy, for example. In other words capitalism has fulfilled its historic function, has outlived its social usefulness. Now it is a hindrance to mankind’s advance and it is to mankind’s benefit to abolish it.
We have already shown how the working class, because they are the working class, must suffer poverty, fear and insecurity under capitalism. It is only necessary to add that, as long as capitalism lasts, so will the working class. For capitalism, as a social system in which the means of wealth production and distribution are privately owned, must always have an employing class and a class who are employed. What this means is that capitalism inevitably produces a mass of people who are forced to suffer poverty and to live insecure lives. It means that for the great majority of humanity capitalism is a restrictive and harmful social system.
Few people as yet agree with the Socialist opinion that the capitalist system itself can be held to blame for the existence of modern war. It is true that wars were fought long before capitalism came into existence. Obviously they were not caused by the nature of capitalist society, although they are still the reflection of a private property system. But the relatively confined and disorganised wars which were fought before the emergence of capitalism are no longer the problem of society. Now we have to deal with the all-embracing, socially organised waging of “war which has become the commonplace of the modern world.
Again, war is not the result of individual disputes, nor of clashes of religion. It is not caused by what some people like to think of as essential cussedness of human nature. For in modern war hardly a person on the opposing sides escapes being drawn in. The very weapons with which it is fought are social – made by, operated by, and directed against a number of people together. To discover the cause of modern war we must look into society itself.
We have already seen that capitalism’s wealth is in the form of commodities – articles or services which are meant for sale. The profit which the workers produce for the capitalist when they are making the commodities can only be realised when the commodities are sold. This means that capitalists must always have a vital interest in finding markets for their products and in exploiting and defending those markets against other would-be exploiters. Apart from this interest in capturing markets, the capitalists must also try to increase their profits by producing wealth as cheaply as they can. This means that capitalists are constantly searching for cheap and plentiful supplies of raw materials. They search for oil, for rubber, tin, manganese, diamonds, etc. When they find them they must develop and protect them against any other capitalist concern which also wants to exploit them.
That is why modern industry is always probing the earth for its riches and is often altering the face of the earth – flooding valleys for great dams, or felling forests or throwing tip towns around mines and oil wells. That is why modern industry is always looking for new productive materials, always trying to develop a synthetic for rubber or oil or some other vital raw material. The research and development projects of capitalism are carried out in the quest for cheaper – which means more profitable – production.
The search for markets causes an equal concern to the capitalists for, as we have seen, unless they find markets they cannot realise their profits. To capture a market they will often drastically cut the price of their product or offer long payment credits to a buyer in a far distant country. They will send their representatives out all over a country and all over the world to demonstrate and cajole. They will flood an area with t trashy advertisements or will offer spurious inducements to buy — cheap gifts, and so-called cut price offers, etc. All the time there is a fierce battle within capitalism, between its competing industries and groups of industries, to capture markets at home and abroad.
That, is the reason for governments organising export drives, or subsidising the exports of their industries, or underwriting their export insurance. Again, that is the explanation for the international economic conferences which arc held. Sometimes these conferences produce an agreement which allocates world markets between the various participating countries. Sometimes they produce only disagreement and tension. And sometimes they produce an agreement which nobody takes, seriously and which all countries simply ignore. These are all episodes in the continual struggle for economic supremacy which is going on within capitalism. They are essential to the competitive nature of a social system in which wealth is produced to be sold for profit.
But what happens when government subsidies and protection, export drives, economic conferences and the rest fail? What happens when the industries of one particular country are so expensive, so demanding for markets, that they are a serious threat to the others who are already in possession? Or what happens when a country’s factories desperately need oil, or bauxite, or uranium but cannot get hold of them by negotiation because their competitors already have control of the available supplies and are refusing to budge? Well, we have seen what happens many times in this country, including two world wars.
It is true that very often the competing groups of capitalists will go to great lengths to resolve their differences without actually going to war. They may hold conference after conference. They may try every diplomatic trick they know, may try bluff and bluster or, like the British capitalist class in the ‘thirties, may try to appease their rivals. But the use of force is always being threatened, often with recourse to war at the end. In 1938, for example, it was apparent that German capitalism was determined to expand in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. This was a threat to some of the established, spheres of control of the British and French capitalist class. When they realised the futility of trying to do a deal with Germany, they went to ‘war. The struggle for economic supremacy left the conference table and took to the battlefields.
Modern war, then, is one of the products of the competitive nature of capitalist society. That is why it is such a constant feature of our lives. Since 1945, for example, there has always been a war in progress somewhere, and there has always been the overhanging threat of another world war. And we all know that the methods of waging war have not been allowed to stand still. Capitalist society has spent enormous sums in the design and manufacture of fearfully powerful weapons. Rockets have been made which are capable of delivering nuclear warheads right on target. The object is that nobody should be safe, nothing should escape. Capitalism causes war, causes bloodshed and misery. For that alone we say it is a terrifying and inhuman system.
It is bitterly ironical that, amongst the relief which comes with the end of a war, many workers also feel a certain apprehension. They know that a war keeps industry working and that when peace breaks out and capitalism returns to quieter methods of competition a slump may occur. The capitalists have tried hard to overcome economic recessions. They have developed techniques of market research, have formulated plenty of theories on how to avoid slumps. But despite all this capitalism remains a system of economic ups and downs. No manufacturer is assured of continuing profits for as far ahead as he wants them. Nobody can accurately forecast which industries will be booming in, say, ten years’ time and which will be in a slump or killed altogether. Yet unless it is possible to do these things, capitalism must remain economically unstable.
The basic reason for this is, again, the commodity nature of wealth under capitalism. We have seen how anxious the capitalist class must be to exploit the markets in which they can realise their profit. This means that when a potential market opens up the various interested industries must gear themselves to capture it. They must all send their salesmen there, all start producing at peak production, with the object of flooding the markets with their products’. They may try to undersell and overpower their rivals by a well-timed price cut. This is what often happens when the market is open and industry is booming.
This cannot, and does not, last for ever. A market cannot expand indefinitely and competing industries cannot outsell each other forever. Somebody must lose the battle and for one reason or another the market must contract. It may be overfull of the same type of commodity. Perhaps a government decides to clamp down import restrictions in an effort to protect its home industries. Whatever the cause, the effect upon the producing industries is the same for all of them.. As the demand for their products declines they may cut their prices to catch sales in a falling market. At best, this can only postpone the end. The fall of production is often increased by distributors cutting orders to manufacturers, while they run down the stocks of commodities, built up during the boom, when they were anxious to cash in and fearful of being short of something for which the demand was buoyant.
The fall-off comes to its critical stage at the point of production. Factories which have been geared up to the furious pace of a boom obviously cannot keep it up when the market declines. The workers whom the capitalist once employed so profitably become no longer such a plentiful source of bounty. Profit is the motive of capitalist production and there is little or no profit in. production during a slump. So there is a big lull in production at such times. Factories close, workers are laid off. Working class poverty becomes destitution and their normal conditions of restriction becomes one of hunger and privation.
There is nothing that the capitalist class can do about this. They must try to capture a market when it is available-it would be disastrous for them to refuse to exploit a boom. But there is no guarantee that the market will still be there when the commodities are ready for it. This anarchy is basic to capitalist society. It is one of the effects of the commodity nature of wealth and of the fact that capitalism’s wealth is socially produced but privately owned, ft is something which cannot be abolished within capitalism. Hence capitalism cannot be economically controlled. It is an anti-social system.
There is another aspect of the warlike, anarchic nature of capitalism which we should examine. Supporters of the system often describe it as efficient because they think it exists by virtue of a sort of economic natural selection. Unless something is useful, they say, it will not be profitable and therefore will not be made. In this way the profit-dominated motives of capitalism are supposed to sift out the inefficient and the, backward, leaving only the best in command.
The briefest examination will show the fallacy of this argument. Remember that the working class, because the amount of wealth at their command is determined by the strictly limited size of their wage packet, can only hope to have access to the second best. This means that an enormous amount of the goods which are now produced are sub-standard. When workers buy clothes, they cannot afford to visit one of the discreet, expensive tailors which their masters patronise. For them only the mass-produced, cut-price suit or shirt is possible. So it is with their houses, their holidays and all the other things which go to reproduce their energies. Capitalist industry is continuously turning out goods to satisfy working class standards, which are necessarily a long way below the highest. Capitalist industry deliberately produces shoddy goods for working-class consumption. This is not efficiency. It is wasteful and humiliating.
It is obvious that the economic switchback of capitalism, therefore, is inefficient. Even the capitalist politicians and economists have recognised this for they are constantly looking for methods of controlling it. Blatant evidence of this inefficiency is the destruction of valuable wealth during a slump. At such times, rather than sell their goods at rock-bottom prices – or give them away – the capitalists actually have them destroyed. This happened a great deal in the ‘thirties and again after the second world war. The “United States government stored vast quantities of agricultural produce in moored ships and in granaries, and they have actually paid farmers not to cultivate their land. Each year, in this country and in Europe, the height of the summer usually sees tons of lettuces, tomatoes etc., destroyed, because there is so much of them on the market that their price has fallen below the cost of production.
Capitalism – let us say it again – produces for profit. When the profit is not available capitalism not only stops producing -it sometimes destroys wealth which has already been produced. And do not let us assume that, when the market is glutted, human needs are necessarily satisfied. Wheat was burned in the ‘thirties whilst millions of workers all over the world were starving and unemployed. The United States government stock-piled butter and cereals at the same time as about two-thirds of the world’s population were undernourished. The market has no relation to human needs. Capitalism can glut the markets and at the same time can fail to fulfil elementary human requirements. Nobody in their right senses, at home, would throw good food on to the fire when they were feeling hungry. But that is what capitalism does. Capitalism makes nonsense of human priorities.
And do not let us forget that other great wastrel of capitalism — war. Capitalism devotes an enormous effort in the waging of, and preparation for, war. This is not just a matter of millions of men spending years in the armed forces which is wasteful enough. There is also the fact that the armed forces are supported by a great social effort from, the rest of the population; that an enormous industrial effort is occupied in keeping the forces in existence; that skilled scientists and technicians are patiently trained for years so that they can design and develop the weapons of modern warfare. These are only some of the examples of the continuous social energy which is poured into the war effort and war potential of capitalism. None of this is useful nor is it productive. All of it is intended to kill and to destroy. Capitalism expends enormous resources in causing death and unhappiness. This is not only inhuman; it is also prodigiously wasteful.
In other fields capitalism also wastes human effort. In civilian occupation millions of people spend their lives in work which, although it is very necessary to the commercial organisation of capitalism, is quite unproductive. Every morning the trains into the big cities are jam-packed with workers who are going to spend their day in banks, merchant houses, stockbrokers’ offices, insurance companies, advertising concerns or some similar employment. According to the British 1951 Census of Population there were an estimated 2,230,100 people engaged in commercial, financial and insurance work, excluding purely clerical workers. There were 140,400 salesmen and canvassers, some of them chasing each other over the same territory. At the same time 37,300 qualified accountants were busy adding up columns of figures which somebody else had already added up and which were sure to be added up again by someone else. There were 57,100 clergymen, priests, nuns and the like dispensing their mumbo-jumbo. -This is only a sample of the unproductive nature of work under capitalism.
Capitalism is a system which dooms the majority of its people to poverty. It is a restrictive system; its economy is anarchic. It is a destructive system; it produces continual wars. It is an insecure and wasteful system. That is a massive indictment. But it is supported and proven by the massive evidence provided by the everyday working of capitalism itself.
Up to now we have devoted this pamphlet to an examination of capitalist society and to diagnosing the cause of the ailments which afflict it so seriously. We can come to one general conclusion. Because of its basic characteristics, capitalism is quite unable to satisfy the needs and desires of the world’s people. It must always deprive them, undermine and suppress them. We must now ask ourselves what should be done about this.
It is in answering this question that we can perceive whether an organisation stands for Socialism. Most political parties, in one way or another, recognise that society has its problems. Politicians continually bemoan the existence of poverty and the problem of war. They all profess to be men of humanity and peace. It is when one examines their suggested remedies that we can see what their protestations are worth. We can also see that the question of what to do about the effects of capitalism divides political organisations into the socialist and the anti-socialist.
To the casual observer the policies of capitalist political parties may seem quite plausible. War? Let every country sign a peace pact or let every country frighten each other into peacefulness by arming to the teeth. Poverty? Pay higher wages so that workers can afford more of the good things in life. This sort of policy attracts millions of voters at election times, who succumb to its spurious appeal. We may call it, for short, a policy of capitalist reform.
What these parties forget — or ignore — is that it is useless to regard every particular problem of capitalism in isolation and to prepare a particular policy to try and deal with it. For capitalism is itself the cause of its own problems and however hard anybody may try to suppress one of them it will reappear in one form or another so long as the basic malady remains. There is only one effective way to abolish the afflictions of capitalism – that is to abolish their cause.
The reformers had their excuses and explanations for the two world wars. They told us that they were caused by an insatiable desire to expand and suppress on the part of some foreign countries. Since then the military and economic machines of Germany, Italy and Japan were defeated. Yet war itself has not been beaten. The sides have changed, the weapons have grown and there is a new generation of people to suffer. But the problem of war has remained because it is an inevitable feature of capitalism.
So it is with workers’ poverty, which persists despite any changes in wages or other conditions. During the nineteen-fifties, for example, average wages in this country soared until they were, in money terms, about three times as high as in. 1939. But at the same time prices rose by about the same amount and the wage earner was little or no better off than before. Similarly, old age pensioners have received several increases since the end of World War II, when they were getting ten shillings a week. Yet the increases have left the dire poverty of the pensioners untouched.
It is true that some reforms may bring advantages to workers. But these are always very limited and quite negligible compared with the improvements in every aspect of human life which would follow from a fundamental change of the social order.
The fact is that, no matter how it may be superficially altered, capitalism cannot operate in the interests of the majority of people and it is in the interests of those people to abolish it. This is in line with the solution which was applied, by earlier societies when the restrictions which arose from the nature of their system clashed with the development of mankind’s methods of wealth production. We have already examined how, when the social structure of feudalism became a hindrance to economic growth, there arose a new class which struggled for its abolition. This we call a social revolution. Likewise capitalism is a restrictive force upon society’s economic freedom and expansion. To remove this restriction another social revolution is essential.
We should break off here to elaborate upon our use of the word revolution which often carries some incorrect implications. To many people ‘revolution’ means a bloody upheaval in which a downtrodden group suddenly runs amok and takes revenge upon its suppressors by executing as many of them as it can lay hands upon. Every schoolboy has been told of the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror. We are always hearing of sudden changes of government in the small states of Latin America in which the deposed group is often persecuted and murdered. Such happenings say the newspapers, are ‘revolutions’. So in the popular imagination revolution means bloodshed and violence.
In fact, the word means simply a ‘complete turn’. In terms of political economy, it has a similar meaning. When we speak of social revolution we mean a complete change in the property basis of the social organisation, as distinct from a reform within that organisation. It is true that in the past such changes .have been accompanied by violence. We have mentioned the French Revolution which played such an important part in the establishment of capitalism in France. There are many other examples: the Civil War in England was part of the same process; the Bolshevik rising in 1917, which did much to set up capitalism in Russia, was accompanied by a considerable : amount of bloodshed.
Must revolutions always, then, be violent? All previous examples have been the result of one minority striving for power over another. Now a minority, because it is a minority, -can only impose its will by using force. It is, therefore, virtually inevitable that bloodshed will be part of a minority revolution. But the revolution to end capitalism will not be one in favour of a minority. It will be the world’s first majority revolution and, as we shall see later, will be the result of the majority consciously wanting a change in the basis of society. In such conditions violence is highly improbable because, apart from anything else, the majority has the power to control all aspects of society including the means of using violence. What sort of revolution is now possible? Past revolutions have deposed one dominant minority only to replace it with another. This basic change in society has caused other, more superficial, changes. A new ruling class, dominating in new conditions of wealth production, has meant new social relationships, new laws, new morals and so on. The ruling class today arc the capitalists who dominate because they own the means of wealth production and distribution. The subject class are the workers who do not own the means of wealth production and distribution. There are no other classes. The only social revolution which is now possible, therefore, is one in which the working class removes the dominance of their •capitalist masters. They can only do this by abolishing the class ownership of the means of producing and distributing wealth.
This means the abolition of private property. It means that society would he based upon the opposite of class ownership -that the land, the factories, mills, mines, steamships, railways and so on, would become the property of the whole of mankind. It would also mean that, because the basis of society had changed, the social superstructure would also be transformed. People’s relationships would be different. The cultural and social features of living would be completely different from those of capitalism. This, in brief, is the meaning of the revolution to end capitalism and establish Socialism. And in changing the basis of capitalism and its other features the revolution will abolish the problems which are an essential part of private property society.
How is socialism to be established? Obviously this is fundamental. To begin with, the method of achieving Socialism must be consistent with Socialism itself: in other words, the means must not be in conflict with the end. This is an important point because there have been some political organisations which developed a strong case against capitalism and had some sound ideas on the nature of Socialism but went astray in their proposed methods. Some of them wanted industrial unionism, others opted for violent revolution. But Socialism cannot be set up by such means. It -will be a democratic social system and must, therefore, be brought about democratically.
We have already seen that the capitalist class must be deprived of its ownership of the world’s means of production and distribution. We shall now show that the only method by which this can be accompli shed is by the political organisation, of the working class to gain control of Parliament. This means that a Socialist party must be a political party father than just an educative group.
Politics at present seems to be a dirty business. The capitalist parties, by their cynicism and broken promises, have caused workers to think that political activity is pointless, that Parliament is a gas house; that most members of political parties are self-seeking and worthless. We can all think of evidence which seems to support this despairing attitude. But there is more to it than that. Let us grant that some Parliamentary debates are long-winded and childish, some politicians ambitious and cynical, some political parties addicted to spending a long time arguing about almost nothing. None of this lessens the importance of Parliament or political parties.
For it is through Parliament that the capitalist class protect their class ownership and deny the working class free access to the wealth they have produced. Through Parliament they assert their right to the profits which are derived from surplus value and to the privileges which must go with owning factories, steel mills, supermarkets, etc. All these are legally asserted. The capitalists draw dividends because they hold shares which have legal force. If anybody tries to deprive them of their dividends by stealing the shares, falsifying the accounts or any other method, they prosecute. Similarly, if any worker tries to take more of the wealth which he has produced than his employer is prepared to give him, he may find himself in trouble.
In other words, the laws of capitalist society are designed to protect and maintain the institutions of private property. The machinery which administers these laws – the State apparatus, the police forces, the armed forces, the judiciary and so on, has the same object.
But this machinery is not independent. It may administer the laws of capitalism but it does not make them. Indeed, for most of the time it must itself conform to those laws. Where, then, are the laws made? They are made, in this country, in Parliament. In the U.S.A. they are made in Congress; in France in the National Assembly; in Japan in the Diet and so on. Parliament, in other words, is supremely powerful under capitalism – it can make, change or abolish laws, can give itself extra powers. Parliament votes the money to keep the police and armed forces in being, decides whether the forces are to be reduced, expanded, or abolished. And Parliament in the end says whether those forces shall be used against any object of capitalist fear, greed or malice. Sometimes Parliament may debate for a long time on a point of enormous inconsequence. Sometimes its members may be cynical or foolish. None of that alters the fact that it is in Parliament that the power of capitalism resides. The working-class ignores this fact at their peril. Unless, they control Parliament and therefore control the power which Parliament wields, it is certain that that power will be used against them. This has happened before, when workers were demonstrating for something much less than Socialism. It happens constantly to workers involved in major strikes which threaten a country’s economy. It happens to civil disobedience movements like the anti-nuclear campaign. It happened to workers in Eastern Europe who showed their opposition to Russian rule and to South African workers who demonstrated against their government’s race laws. There is no chance for Socialism in the butchery of the barricades. That is something which the syndicalists and the insurrectionary organisations have always ignored.
Now if capitalism is maintained by its laws, which are made by Parliament, what keeps Parliament going? The answer to that question is plain for all to see. Members of Parliament are elected by the votes of millions of workers; in the end anything which Parliament decides must have the support or the acquiescence of the voters. At present the working class supports capitalism and so elects Members of Parliament who arc pledged to make the necessary laws to keep capitalism functioning as smoothly as it may. Having done that, the workers are content to trust their leaders and for the most part they lose interest in the matter. This is another example of potential power being misused; it does not mean that the power does not exist, nor that it could not be used for worthwhile, revolutionary ends.
The fact is that the legal force of capitalism which declares its wars, punishes its criminals and protects itself, exists because the majority of society support it. If we are to abolish capitalism we must aim at political power to neutralise the legal source of the coercion which holds capitalism together. To get this power we must change the popular support upon which the coercion ultimately depends. A socialist party must work to convince the working class of the need for Socialism. It must spread knowledge of society as widely and as deeply as possible so that the workers become convinced, knowledgeable socialists. When they have reached that condition the workers will not take industrial action or go to the barricades to establish Socialism. Nor will they need leaders. They will know where capitalism’s power is controlled. Instead of electing pro-capitalist members to the seats of government they will elect Socialist delegates who will be mandated to take the formal, legal steps to abolish private property in the means of wealth production and distribution and to make these things the property of the whole of mankind.
When that happens Socialism will have been established. The task of the world-wide Socialist parties will be finished.
At this point the faint-hearted may shy away, aghast at the prospect of trying to convince the world’s workers of the need for Socialism. It may seem an enormous task but there is no choice in the matter. Socialism, as we shall mention in the last chapter of this pamphlet, will be a social system which depends upon the conscious support of its people. Unless people understand Socialism and want it, they will never establish it. History teaches us the validity of this argument. At the beginning of the century many political parties thought that a small band of the intellectually elite, wise in political theory, could on their own set up Socialism and force it upon an ignorant and indifferent working class who, ran the argument, would like the new system so much that they would soon come to support it. Experience blew this theory to pieces. The aspirant leaders were tied down by the ignorant desires of their supporters. By the time they came to power they had forgotten all about Socialism and could only administer capitalism. Such was the sorry tale of the Labour Party in this country and of many similar organisations in other parts of the world.
In any case, the prospect for Socialist knowledge is by no means dark. Ideas change; even ideas which seem stubbornly popular. We can appreciate this by simply comparing the accepted notions of today with those of the beginning of the century. Few people now think that women are constitutionally incapable of rational thought and should therefore not be allowed to vote in elections. Even race and colour discrimination is retreating, if slowly. What causes such changes?
Ideas do not exist on their own; they do not enter our heads out of nothing. They are formed in response to our environment. And, broadly speaking, they change as our environment changes. Nowadays we live in-and therefore think in terms of huge industrial cities with their social organisation and their sprawling suburbs. Travel is faster. The seas are no longer the haunts of sirens and monsters; they are highways on which the world’s trade is carried. If we are caught in a thunderstorm we do not hide from the anger of the gods, our fears have been disposed of by scientific knowledge. We have confidence in scientific progress because it has helped to build cities, enabled us to travel, clothe ourselves, etc. But these were not the ideas held by our ancestors nor are they held today, for example, by some people still living in isolation from modern developments. Their ideas, compared to ours, are as primitive as their conditions. Advancing our environment means that we advance our ideas. A worker who understands the need for Socialism is a worker with ideas a little more advanced than the rest of society.
How can we be sure that the Socialist delegates will take the legal steps to abolish capitalism? How do we know that they will not simply ignore the mandate, keep capitalism going, and decline into the hard-bitten cynicism which is so typical of the politicians we know today?
We do not claim that socialist delegates will be more honest, more knowledgeable, or more skilful than capitalist politicians. We make no claims whatsoever for socialists as personalities. We merely state one fact and in that fact is the answer to any doubts. Socialists are not, and do not want to he, leaders of the working class. Political leaders exist because of the political ignorance of their followers. Within the limits of that ignorance the leaders can do almost anything. But because they must always act within the limits of ignorance they can do nothing to set up Socialism, which depends entirely upon knowledge. Socialist delegates would – indeed they must – be backed by the knowledge of the working class, consciously opting for Socialism, knowing what that society will be and how it must be established. Under these conditions the Socialist delegates would be powerless to stray outside their mandate. That is the guarantee of Socialism; the guarantee of knowledge, as gilt-edged as any can be.
Again, why do we lay such stress upon the working class establishing Socialism? Simply because, it is in their interests to do so. It may be argued that a world without war, in which problems like physical disease can be tackled freely, has a lot to offer the capitalist as well as the workers. Perhaps an individual capitalist here and there may see the force of this argument. Or perhaps some of them may be acutely humane people and from that point of view appreciate the benefits of a socialist society. But whatever individual capitalists may do, their interests as a class lie in opposing Socialism, because as a class they can five only so long as capitalism lives. There is only one class which stands to gain wholly by the advent of Socialism, that is the working class. They, therefore, are the people who must gain the knowledge to enable them to deliberately establish the new system. That is why the Socialist Party addresses itself to the working class alone.
Let us sum up. A socialist party must be a political organisation standing for Socialism and nothing else. It must not be diverted into trying to tackle the individual problems of capitalism, no matter how pressing they may seem. It must not take part in capitalist reforms. It must not have any leaders nor will it have, for its membership must be of men and women who know what Socialism is and how it must be achieved. The Socialist Patty must spread its knowledge as-widely as possible amongst the working class, to link it with their expanding general consciousness. And when, in knowledgeable, mass political action the working class of the world establishes the Socialist system, the Socialist Party will be the political instrument they will use.
It is now time to summarise the argument so far.
We have defined Socialism as a system of society based. upon the common ownership of the world’s means of wealth-production and distribution. We have shown that the present social system — capitalism – has not always existed; briefly described past systems and pointed out that social systems arc the sum total of human relationships which spring from. the method of wealth production in operation at any one time.
Past societies ended because their social relationships clashed with the productive forces which they had developed,. Each system has had its own peculiar problems which have been solved by social revolution.
We then went on to examine the social relationships of capitalism which arise from the private ownership of the means of wealth production, the basis of the system. This ownership, the wealth of capitalism, is in the form of commodities – wealth produced for sale. We saw that capitalism divides humanity into two opposing classes — capitalists and workers, who are respectively owners and non-owners of the means of wealth production.
The workers sell their labour-power to the capitalists and that labour-power, which is itself a commodity, is sold at its value. But it produces a value greater than itself – it increases the value of the materials on which it works. The surplus produced by workers labour is known as surplus value. This is the source of the rent, interest and profit, which the capitalists take for themselves.
We then discussed the class division of capitalist society, defining a class as a group of people who are united by a common economic interest. We saw that there are only two classes in present-day society and that the ‘middle-class’ is a myth. We pointed out that the working class is exploited and always will be under capitalism. Workers suffer poverty expressed in inferior housing, insecurity and the like. They must always remain poor – there is no escape from poverty.
We asked whether capitalism satisfied human needs. We examined the cause of poverty, war and economic anarchy and saw that these spring inevitably from the nature of capitalism. Capitalism is a wasteful social system which does not fit in with the interests of humanity.
Trying to reform capitalism is a waste of time. We need another social revolution and the only possible one would, abolish private ownership of the means of wealth production and. distribution and substitute common ownership.
This must be political action as it would be disastrous to attempt it in any other way. The working class must gain socialist understanding of society and apply it in a socialist movement which, because it is based on knowledge, will have no need of leaders. The workers will take conscious political action to abolish capitalism and establish Socialism, using the socialist parties to do so. Socialism is in the interest of the working class. That is why we appeal to them. Now let us pass on to discuss what Socialism will be like.
We have already defined Socialism once but there is no harm in doing so again. It will be a social system based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth, by and in the interest of the whole community. This definition was composed by the Socialist Party of Great Britain when it was formed in 1904. We have never altered it; not because we are stubborn and blind to changing conditions but because the word Socialism means the same today as it did in 1904- and as it will mean when Socialism becomes a reality.
We can now go on to say what Socialism will be like. Before we do so we must point out that it is not possible to go into precise details, because lack of knowledge as to the conditions likely to prevail when Socialism is established prevents us from so doing. We know that a social system’s relationships emerge from its basis. Let us go on from there.
First of all we should dispel some false ideas about Socialism. Common ownership of the means of wealth production and distribution means that the things which are needed to make and distribute wealth will be owned by the whole human race. At present these things are the land, factories, mines, railways, steamships, etc. But common ownership does not mean that everybody in the world will own an equal share of every factory, mine, railway train and the rest. This sort of ownership might just be possible if the means of production were primitive; if cloth was produced on a hand-loom and goods carried on the backs of pack horses. It is quite out of the question if the means of production are developed enough to give an abundant life to every human being as they will he under Socialism.
Common ownership does not mean a grand free-for-all in which everybody grabs everything they can. We shall still have some things under our individual control – such as clothes and other articles of personal use and consumption.
Socialism does not mean that everybody will be allocated exactly equal amounts of wealth. Human beings are obviously unequal in their capacities and abilities. One man may be able to run faster than his neighbour, who in turn may be taller and broader. There is no sensible reason for two such men being forced to consume exactly the same amounts and kinds of food, clothing, etc.
What common ownership does mean, is that there is one way in which all human beings will be equal. Everybody will have an equal right to take however much wealth they need and to consume it as they require. Because the means of production will be commonly owned the things which are produced will go into a common pool from which all human beings will be able to satisfy their needs.
Now if there is unrestricted access to wealth for everybody it must follow that nobody, in the sense of an individual or a class, owns wealth. This means that wealth will not be exchanged under Socialism; it will not be bartered nor will it be bought and sold. As a rough parallel we can consider the air we breathe. Everybody has free access to the air and we can all take in as much of it as we need to live. In other words nobody owns the air; nobody tries to exchange air for anything else, nobody tries to sell or buy it. Similarly there will be no buying and selling under Socialism; no need for money, therefore, nor for the complicated and widespread organisations which deal in commerce and banking in capitalist society. Socialism will have no merchant houses, no banks, no stock exchanges, no tax inspectors, or any of the paraphernalia of capitalism.
In a Socialist society wealth will be produced to satisfy people’s needs and not for sale as it is today. Because of this there will be no deliberate variations in quality of wealth. Capitalism produces a vast quantity of cheap skimpy stuff to fill a market composed of workers who have to live within the restrictions of their wage packets. It produces pokey, mouldering houses, sub-standard food, shoddy clothing, etc. At the same time it turns out rather better stuff for those who can afford it and the very best for the few who can afford that.. In contrast, Socialism will have only one quality. Whatever is produced will be the best that human beings are capable of. Homes, for example, will be designed and built with the only motive of housing human beings in the best possible style. The materials of which they are made, their facilities and location will all conform to this. They will be the best homes that society knows how to build.
Nobody will be employed by another person – nobody will sell his labour-power or work for wages. Everybody, in fact, will work for themselves, which means for the whole of society. Work will be a co-operative effort, freely given because men will realise that wealth can only be produced by working – unless wealth is produced society will die. Yet it will not only be a reluctance to commit social suicide that will keep us working under Socialism. Men will be free – free from the fetters of wage slavery, free from the fears of unemployment, free from economic servitude and insecurity. Nobody will be found doing a job which he hates but tolerates because its pays him well. Healthy young men will not grow pigeon-chested over fusty bank ledgers. Nobody will waste his time learning how to kill scientifically. We shall be set free to do useful work, making things which will add to society’s welfare, things which will make human life a little better, a little happier. This is an enormous incentive to work. It is the greatest incentive to intense, co-operative effort and that is how it will operate.
Socialism will be free of the anomalies and stupidities which are now so common. Nobody will starve in one part of the world whilst food is being stockpiled or destroyed in another. Nobody will go cold whilst coal is being held at the pit heads. These anomalies arise because capitalism produces wealth to sell. Socialism will produce for people’s satisfaction-the only barriers to that satisfaction will be physical. Bad weather, a ruined harvest or some other natural calamity may cause a breakdown in supplies. If this happens society will take steps to deal with the situation, unhampered by the commercial and monetary considerations of capitalism. Human interests will be the only consideration.
There will be no war – the cause of war will no longer exist. This means that there will be no armed forces with their dreadfully destructive weapons. It means that the people who are in the armed forces, together with the rest of the enormous social effort which is channelled into them, will be able to serve useful, humane purposes instead of destroying and terrorising.
Socialism will not retain the coercive machinery which at present exists to sustain the dominance of the capitalist class.
Capitalism has its own laws, built upon its basic property rights. There is an intricate system to administer these laws -the courts with their judges, magistrates, lawyers and so on, supported, by the organisations which train people to take on such tasks. At the end of the process there is the police force to prevent people breaking these laws and, it they do, to hand them over to the penal institutions. None of these things will exist in a Socialist world.
It is true that policemen do some useful work. They control road traffic, rescue lost children, see old ladies across the road and so on. But these things have nothing to do with their role as members of capitalism’s repressive forces. In many cases, indeed, the useful jobs which policemen do – like traffic control – are being passed over to people who are not policemen so that the police have more time to catch thieves and other offenders against private property. The useful work will still be needed under Socialism but the people who do it will not also have the job of protecting private property because none will exist.
This is not to say that Socialism will be a hotbed of crime. Let us remember that it will be a social system established by the conscious action of the overwhelming majority who will have set it up because they have decided that it is in their interests to do so. Such people will have appreciated that the interests of every individual are inextricably bound to those of the rest of society. They will realise the importance of social effort and co-operation and will act and work accordingly. This will be the power and the force which will induce people to behave socially and to work co-operatively. Socialism will not have a coercive State machine and a comprehensive legal system to enforce conformity. Order and welfare will depend upon mankind’s appreciation of its own interests and will be the stronger for it.
When production is only for human use we shall see a great development of society’s productivity. First of all, an enormous number of jobs which are vital to capitalism will become redundant. We have already pointed out that capitalism wastes human effort and that it has a vast army of accountants, salesmen, soldiers and sailors, and others who produce absolutely nothing. Socialism will have no use for such jobs because its wealth will not be produced for sale. There will probably be statisticians to collect information about society’s productive resources and to relate this to our need;. A lot of people will work at transporting wealth all over the world. These are useful occupations, just as all work will be.
Because we shall be free of the commercial necessities which hamper production under capitalism, we shall be able to turn our whole attention to satisfying human needs, to making our lives happier, fuller, easier. When that happens society will be able to support itself for the first time in the style to which it is entitled.
We should say something about the effect which Socialism will have upon the relationships between men and women, which is a matter of obvious importance to us all. In property society men and women are bound by the legal tie of marriage, which has its roots in property rights.. Descent is traced, in one way or another, through marriage and it is in this way that inheritance, rights are passed on. Again marriage confers legally enforceable property rights upon one or other of the couple. It places legal obligations to care for any children which may be born of it – to treat them, in fact, like property until they reach an age at which they are regarded as being independent. All these things have a material value today. Sometimes this value is assessed, in term? of hard cash. We have all heard of divorce cases or breach of promise actions in which the court awards a sum of money to one of the contestants to compensate for damage to a marriage. These are some of the sordid aspects of a human relationship and one of the most satisfying aspects of Socialism is that it will abolish them. It will have men and women living together simply because they desire to. They will do so for the best of all possible reasons; because they are attracted to each other, because they want to live together. The realisation that a baby is on the way will not be a cause for panic as it is in so many families today because it throws an extra strain upon their budget. Children will be a social responsibility and society will ensure that they are well looked after. Yes, Socialism will, set men and women free in the personal sense. They will be able to regard each other as human beings instead of pieces of property or as meal, tickets.
This will also apply on a world-wide scale. Capitalism has veined the world with frontiers and has fostered patriotism and race hatred, none of which has any scientific basis. Frontiers arc purely artificial and are often altered at international conferences. Many workers are proud of their nationality although in logic they cannot take pride in something over which they had no control. Their patriotism leads them to fall in with the racial theories which capitalism’s apologists use to excuse the failings of their social system. Socialism will have none of this. No frontiers, no racial barriers or prejudices. The world will be one with only human beings working together for their mutual benefit.
These are some of the features of Socialism, although necessarily we have left a lot unsaid. But we have done enough to show that Socialism will end the wasteful, fearsome, insecure world we know today. Socialism will set men free to Jive their lives to the full. It will remove poverty and replace it with plenty. It will abolish war and bring us a world of peace. It will end fear and hatred and give us security and brotherhood. Socialism will be a world worth living for.