Aphorisms of Socialism II



In society, therefore, there is an antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a class struggle between those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess.

We saw, in considering our first aphorism I, that society is divided into two c1asses – a class of sellers of labour-power and a class of buyers of labour-power. This division was seen to arise from the class-ownership of the means of life – those who do not possess being compelled to sell their labour-power to those who do.

This sale and purchase of labour-power resolves those who possess into non-producers and those who do not possess into producers.

Hence we have, in the terms of our second aphorism, a class “who possess but do not produce,” and a class “who produce but do not possess.”

The proposition is that between these two classes in society there is an antagonism of interests manifesting itself as a class struggle.

The very nature of selling and buying presupposes opposing interests. While sales, in the long run, are exchanges of equal values, individually they are not necessarily so. A given class or grade of goods may at one time be selling above, and at another time below, its value. In these cases the sales are not exchanges of equal values. But eventually the high and the low prices cancel each other, and so the result is arrived at that sales, in the long run, are exchanges of equal values.

The reason, if course, of this fluctuation of prices, is that their adjustment is left to the forces of competition.

It is clear that, since commodities, as such, are insensate, and have no will power to fight their own battles, it is in reality their owners who must stand in opposition to one another. It is they who resist the forces of competition when those forces are against them, and use them to their utmost capacity when they are in their favour.

It is only by this continual struggle of buyers and sellers against one another – the former to buy as cheaply as they can, the latter to sell for the highest possible figure – that prices rise and fall. Without this struggle we cannot imagine prices falling when goods are plentiful by comparison with demand, and rising when the reverse condition obtains.

This struggle, presupposed by the competitive exchange of goods which we call buying and selling, can only arise out of opposing and conflicting interests. Therefore the sale presupposes the struggle ; the struggle presupposes antagonism of interests.

Without the last, then we cannot have the first, and where the first (buying and selling) is found, there antagonism of interests must inevitably exist.

So when we show that society is divided into two classes. one of which has no means of livelihood other than selling its labour-power to the other. we have no option but to conclude that there is antagonism of interests between those classes.

Let us look at it another way. The struggle is over the possession of the product of the workers’ toil. Whatever this product may amount to, and whatever form it may take. this fact concerning it remains constant : the more of it that is taken by the producer the less there remains for the non-producer, and the larger the portion taken by the non-producer the smaller must be the amount remaining for the producer.

In such case neither side can prosecute its own interest without detriment to the interest of the other, and hence again we find that “in society there is an antagonism of interests between those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess.”

In the case of buyers and sellers of ordinary commodities, that is, of the products of labour, this antagonism of interests cannot manifest itself as a class struggle, because there is no class distinction between buyers and sellers as buyers and sellers. That which draws the class line between those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess is not the fact that the one does not produce and the other does, or that the one buys labour-power and the other sells it. It is the fact that the one possesses the means of life and the other does not.

As a matter of fact, buyers and sellers in the ordinary commodities market cannot be separated into classes as such, for every buyer becomes a seller in his turn. So the antagonistic interests, here, can only manifest themselves in a series of struggles between individuals or groups of individuals.

On the other hand, in the labour market the buyers and sellers are only such because of the class distinction. There, buyers and sellers are by this very fact separate classes. The seller only becomes a buyer by becoming a possessor and so passing into the other class, and the buyer only becomes a seller by becoming dispossessed and so being precipitated into the propertyless class. And this changing about is comparatively rare in the latter case and extremely rare in the former.

In these circumstances, then, whatever may be the differences between individual workers as competitors for the sale of labour-power, and between non-producers as competitors in the purchase of labour-power, the two classes, as long as they exist as such, must always be opposed to each other as buyers and sellers.

The breach between the individuals of the same class may to some extent be closed, for it is largely a superficial breach. It has been said that the more one class takes of the product of labour the less falls to the lot of the other class. This means that class interests must be antagonistic. Between individuals of the same class, no such thing is true. One worker does not necessarily get less because another gets more, nor does the increased share of one capitalist necessarily leave less for another. The capitalist does not ordinarily increase his wealth by taking away from his fellow capitalist, but by subtracting from the worker.

The sectional interests, therefore, differ from class interests in this, that though they are often antagonistic, they are not fundamentally so. The class interests, on the contrary, are fundamental and must inevitably clash.

As further urging the point, it is recognised among both classes that the conflicting interests of sections may be reconciled to some extent by substituting combination for competition. Hence we have rings, trusts, combines, mergers and associations on the capitalists’ side, and trade unions on the workers’ side.

The conflict of sectional interests, then, since these interests are sectional, can only manifest itself as sectional struggles; but the antagonism of class interests must, from its class nature, exhibit itself in the form of a struggle between the classes.

This class struggle is not fought out with the same degree of consciousness at all times, for which reason it does not at all times wear the same aspect. In the earlier days of the capitalist system its nature was masked. There did not exist the same clear line of distinction between the two classes. Men were unconscious of the secrets of capitalist production, and therefore could not realise the irreconcilable antagonism of interests between the classes in society.

The reasons for this are many, but they all have one foot upon the same stone : the stage of development of the means and instruments for producing wealth.

Thus these means and instruments had not then reached the giant proportions and stupendous costliness which forbid the worker ever hoping to become possessors of them and so lifting themselves into the class above. Such uprising on the part of individual workers was in the early days of capitalism so common an occurrence as to largely obscure the class struggle, and it is quite conceivable that men could not easily discern a class barrier which was so easily surmounted, or regard as a class apart that circle which was every day being invaded by members of their own class.

Again, there were not such extremes of riches and poverty to impress the incongruity of the wealth distribution on the minds of the victims of a vicious system. The productivity of labour was comparatively low, and for that reason the share taken by the producer and the non-producer respectively was not as glaringly disproportionate as to compel thought.

And still again, the development of the system had not yet reached that level at which it sets the owner of the productive wealth free from any participation in their operation. The rise and development of joint stock companies have had the effect of largely banishing the owners of the means of production from the arena of production. Their personal command over their productive wealth has given place to personal command over their stocks and shares. They are so far removed from production that they cannot possibly be supposed to have a hand in it. But the earlier capitalists, from their closer connection with industrial operations, never appeared to stand in the position of superfluities. Their co-operation seemed to be a necessary part of the productive operation, and therefore the share they took of the product did not appear as surplus-value plundered from the workers, but as wealth which the masters had assisted in producing.

These things prevented the working class from realising that they were the producers of all wealth, that the capitalist class were parasitic, existing upon the robbery of the workers, and that there was an irreconcilable antagonism of interest between the two classes and therefore a class struggle. So the struggle was fought out without any great conscious direction.

But the development of the means and instruments of production, and the consequent and attendant development of the methods of production, have stripped the capitalist system of most of its secrets. Men cannot let go unchallenged for ever a system in which an astounding increase in the productivity of human energy accompanies the appalling poverty of those who carry on production. Men cannot observe without thinking the growing detachment from industry, the heaping wealth and luxury, the increasing idleness and uselessness, of those who own the means whereby they live. Men cannot witness without rising knowledge of the class division, the strengthening of the barrier which shuts them ever more completely out from the circle of luxury, leisure and comfort which increasingly mock their poverty and insecurity and the hopeless futility of all their weary labour. Men cannot see the forces of competition harrying all into combinations and organisations, but always, always, organisations and combinations of masters and men apart, of masters and men opposed — men cannot see without a dawning of light, a conception of the class struggle, a strengthening of class feeling, and the birth and uprising of a new understanding and principle to guide and direct the class struggle. In other words, the development of the capitalist system itself gathers up all the scattered, inarticulate forces fighting a ragged battle which they only half understand, and welds them into a solid army prosecuting an ordered struggle for a clear and definite purpose – the industrial development, in short, makes the Socialist and the Socialist movement.

So the class struggle, as time goes on, assumes a different aspect, in strict correspondence with the changing visage of capitalism. When the capitalist class stood as revolutionaries before the capitalist system, their victory was essential to further progress, and therefore was good for the race in the long run. But immediately they had overthrown the reactionary system of the period and established a new system, that system in its turn, and the class who ruled under it, became reactionary.

And as this reactionary character has become more pronounced, as the system and the class have become a greater clog to progress and more fruitful of social injury, so the character of the class struggle has become more revolutionary. While the fight for the possession of the wealth produced under the system is not less bitterly maintained, the class struggle finds its highest expression in the movement for the overthrow of the capitalist system of society, with its antagonism of interests, and the emancipation of the working class from thraldom.

This, then, is the true meaning of our statement that there exists a class struggle in society. It is a struggle on the one side to maintain and on the other side to abolish a social system.

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