On the formation of a working-class party
It may be remarked that the caption under which this is written does not state what the nature of the working-class party is to be. It leaves it an open question whether the party or organisation is to be political or economic or both political and economic. The reason for this is quite easily explained. It is intended by the present scribe that the enquiry upon which he invites the reader to embark with him shall go back behind such questions as these, and so include them within its scope.
We start, then, only with the assumption that the workers are a class apart, that as a class they must have a class interest, and that having a class interest they must of necessity organise themselves for the furtherance of that class interest. We shall proceed with our enquiry from this basis without spending more than a little time and space in making clear how we arrive at that assumption.
In sociology a class is a division of society the conditions of living of whose members are similar in the main, but different to those of another section, or other sections. These conditions invariably and essentially have their roots in privilege on the one hand and exploitation on the other. Throughout history class division has rested upon property conditions. In all the forms through which society has paesed nothing has ever been found upon which class privileges could be founded, or with which they could be maintained, that did not resolve itself, directly or indirectly, into the ownership and control of property.
Modern society can quite adequately illustrate the point. The ownership of property enables the owners to appropriate wealth without producing its equivalent. As the natural corollary of this, the absence of ownership of property entails upon the property-less the penalty of producing, and being robbed of, that wealth which the property owner acquires without labour. If the non-producer appropriates the product of human toil it is incontestable that he must take the wealth of those who do produce.
This property ownership creates, for those who share in it on the one hand, and for those who are debarred from it on the other, conditions of life that are as divergent as, that possibly are even more divergent than, are the life conditions of the propertyless class and the common, domesticated animals. Let no one dismiss this as a wild exaggeration. The facts as revealed by a little thought are convincing. The horse lives to work ; the propertyless worker does the same. In this respect they are parallel. To say that one lives a human existence while the other lives an animal existence is sophistry. It is, in reality, trying to cover up the truth by revealing the “human” nature of the worker and the “animal” nature of the horse. It utters no truth at all concerning the respective conditions under which the one and the other live. It is quite plain that the higher mind which it is commonly assumed is embodied in the human make up may be but an instrument of torture under wretched conditions—a suggestion amply borne out by the prevalence of the drug habit among “intellectual” failures, and, dare we say, the drink habit among those who find it more suited to their needs. The rock bottom fact is that both the propertyless human worker and the horse live only to work—and to work for somebody else. In this respect there is no distance between them.
On the other hand, there is all the difference in the world between the life conditions of the property owner and those of the propertyless worker. An immensity of difference separates them. It is not only that the former is set free from the necessity of having to work for his living while the latter has to produce the livelihood of both. It is much worse than that. The wage-worker does not merely live by the sale of his labour-power : he has to sell the whole of his labour power, even to the point of exhaustion, and for just so much as will suffice in the long run to reproduce that labour-power. Day in and day out, from childhood to decrepit old age, this is his dreay fate, with super-added misery that he never knows when he is going to find it impossible to get a purchaser for his commodity, and hence when he and those dependent upon him will find themselves face to face with actual starvation.
The life conditions of such as these, with the misery of their hopeless toil, the constant anxiety of their insecure hold upon the means of subsistence, the narrow circle of their horizon, the sordid surroundings of their habitations, and the poverty-burdened atmosphere of their home life, have nothing at all in common with the life conditions of the propertied class. The latter do not know what it is to have work for their living, to be chained from year’s end to year’s end to one spot, like tethered goats, because their living lies there, to want for common necessaries of life. How completely these two sets of life conditions are separated from each other can only be left, after all, to the imagination of the reader.
It is not denied that many of the working class are considerably better off than the bulk of their fellows ; but even these cases the main features of the working-class lot are present—they have to sell their labour-power, and as a consequence are bound to a prescribed daily round, never sure when even the opportunity of following that dull round may be denied to them.
No one can help observing that these two classes exist in society. We shall next proceed to enquire whether classes whose lives have so-little in common can have common interests, or whether their interests, like their life conditions, are peculiar to the class.