1920s >> 1928 >> no-287-july-1928

What is Capital?

We do not evade discussions regarding words or terms and their definite meanings. Such discussion is not, as we are told, mere hair-splitting. A term frequently misused by our opponents is the one, Capital, and there are very good reasons why those intent on spreading confusion should make special efforts to prevent the Workers obtaining correct views regarding its nature and function. To understand this form of wealth it is first necessary to realise that similar methods of production have not prevailed from all time. Those claiming that “Capital is wealth used to produce further wealth” draw such inference.

All previous social systems may be said to have used part of their wealth for future production, but no previous system has existed in which the mass of the wealth producers were property-less wage workers, hiring themselves out by the day, week or month to a non-working property-owning class as the Capitalists of to-day. In no previous system was profit the primary motive of production, a profit derived from the unpaid labours of the Working Class, as we shall show. These are features distinctive of Capitalism. If the slaves of antiquity, kept directly by their masters, and producing wealth with crude methods, could sustain such Empires as that of Greece or Rome, it is obvious that wage workers to-dav, with colossal steam-and electricity-driven machinery, can produce an enormous surplus above the value of their keep given them in money (wages). As in previous slave systems, the wealth produced becomes the property of the Masters, its great proportionate increase explains the orgies of luxury enjoyed by the Capitalists and their hangers-on to-day.

Exploitation gives the key to an under standing of Capital. To-day the Workers as a class are born, and remain, propertyless; they therefore do not own Capital, which is a form of wealth. Capital is the accumulated wealth of the Capitalist Class. It is used for further production, but with only one object—that it may absorb the further unpaid labour of the Workers, and thus produce the surplus value mentioned— the source of Rent, Interest and Profit. Not the means of wealth production in themselves, but the class relations under which they are used to obtain surplus value, realised through sale in the world market— make them Capital.

Bodies like the Labour Party and the I.L.P. do not stand as we do for common ownership, which would mean the abolition of such class relations. The I.L.P. (Forward, May 12th, 1928) asks :—

“When and where any Socialist ever pretended or suggested that we could dispense with Capital. Socialists propose that Capital should be publicly owned.”

Socialists do nothing of the kind. By Public Ownership the I.L.P. means Nationalisation or Government Ownership, a condition under which the Capitalists would still collectively own their property as Bond Holders, while the Workers would still be exploited by receiving wages which presuppose unpaid labour. That explains their enthusiasm for a Living Wage and their desire to retain Capital. Even when they call Government Ownership Socialism, as in their pamphlet “Socialism at Work in Queensland,” we find the wages system in full working Capitalist “order.”

During a recent dispute in which 11,000 of Queensland’s State employees were suspended or dismissed for refusing to handle what they called “Black” traffic for the Lo. Johnstone sugar mill,

Mr. McCormack’s Labour Government fought the Railwayman’s leaders, as an employer, and won. (Report ”Daily Chronicle,” 12/9/27.)

All Socialists stand for the abolition of Capital. It is implied in the abolition of class society through the Workers’ emancipation. Common ownership must end exploitation because society’s means of live lihood would cease to be the private property of the Capitalist few—in their hands, Capital.


(Socialist Standard, July 1928)

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