The Class War . . . And The Facts Behind it
Mr. J. H. Thomas recently said that the “talk about a class war left him cold.” In a leading article, 14/11/24, the “New Leader,” while agreeing with him in “denouncing class hatred,” says :—
But we think it almost the gravest mistake which a Labour Party could make to ignore the fact that a process which is usually called the Class struggle is the most vital fact of our lives.
According to the “Daily Chronicle,” 15/11/24, Mr. C. G. Ammon “remarked that they all agreed that, so far as possible, they were not desirous of carrying on a class war. . . . They must admit that the class war was with us.”
From the same source we get the following : “Dr. Salter, M.P., also declared that class war was a fact. It was a struggle between the people who were exploited and those who exploited them, and there was no possible method of reconciling the interests of the two.”
One it leaves cold. To another it is the most vital fact of our lives. Another admits its existence, but would not prosecute it; while the fourth declares it a fact with no possible method of reconciliation. Surely it is time that the Labour Party seriously considered whether they do or do not believe in the existence of the class war.
But neither the declarations of these gentlemen nor the flaring headline of a Sunday picture paper “No more class war” proves or disproves the existence of that struggle. The class struggle and its growing intensity is the one outstanding feature of modern times. The pathetic denials of capitalist agents like Mr. Lovat Fraser deceive no one, except those who want to be deceived. The facts are patent to anyone capable of observation and thought. Millions of workers organised on the industrial field to defend themselves against the constant efforts of still more strongly organised employers to reduce their standard of living and bind them more completely to the wheels of industry.
Modern society is split clean across by the antagonism between those who produce wealth but do not own it, and those who own wealth though never assisting in its production. Disputes follow one another in rapid succession over the whole field of industry between the class that owns and controls the means of wealth-production and those who own nothing but their energy.
It is in this last elementary fact that the germ of the class struggle lies. Unable to obtain access to the means of life, the propertyless human being is compelled to sell his energy to those who own. He becomes a wage-slave and must bargain with the capitalist for a wage that will satisfy his wants. As the number of workers seeking to sell their energy is nearly always in excess of the demand, bargaining power is on the side of the buyers, or masters. It is a simple business axiom that when a commodity is plentiful it is generally cheap. But cheap labour-power means a low standard of living, and the owner of labour-power being human and more or less intelligent resents being thrust ever more deeply into poverty; while at the same time those who cut down his rations make huge additions to their bank balances and finding that markets have somehow become glutted, stop production for a time and turn their workers on the streets. Slow starvation on the dole for a time and then, back in the factory to repeat the process with, possibly, a lower wage and managers and overseers hustling and driving with feverish haste that they may be first with their goods on the awakening market.
On the one hand a super-abundance of wealth. On the other poverty to the verge of desperation. Whether they do little or nothing, those who own the means of life increase their wealth daily beyond their power to spend it. The propertyless wage-slaves are driven by the fear of the sack, and the more they yield the poorer they become.
The capitalist increases his wealth by machinery and methods that enables one worker to do the work of many and then reduces that worker’s wages. He does nothing to assist production, but his overseers—themselves urged on by fear of the sack—in his interest, are constantly sacking and speeding up and reducing wages. This is the class war, waged from the employers’ side and accompanied by an avalanche of propaganda that attempts to reconcile these conflicting interests.
But the antagonism cannot be hidden. It cannot be smoothed away by patriotic blather or glib phrases about the indivisible interests of employer and employed. Whether they want to “carry on a class war” or not the workers are compelled to fight back. Whether they understand how to carry the fight to a successful issue or not millions all over the world realise that it is necessary to organise against the capitalist class.
The knowledge that should go with that realisation awaits them in Socialism. Let them acquire it and, instead of being always the victims of capitalist aggression they will fight back on an equal footing. There is a class war; consciously fought on one side, it is true. Talk of it may leave Mr. Thomas cold, and Mr. Ammon may not be desirous of carrying it on, but the “New Leader” is right for once when it says that it is the most vital fact of our lives; however much they may qualify it next time the Labour Party takes office.