The battleground of the class struggle
Socialism can only be realised by the success of the working class in its struggle against the owning class. The Socialist movement is built upon the facts of this class struggle. It is useful and necessary therefore to learn what the class struggle really is and the field in which it is carried on.
Labour Party and Capitalist opponents either viciously deny the class struggle or allege that we Socialists make the struggle ourselves by appealing to class hatred and stirring up discontent which should be left to slumber.
Added to these types of opponents we have had those who claimed to be Socialists, but who argue that there is no real class struggle of the workers apart from the Socialists who wage it.
THE FACTS OF THE CLASS STRUGGLE.
Classes arise in the historical march of economic evolution. They result from property divisions caused by economic change. The fact that society is made up of owners of various kinds of property and those who practically have no property, naturally leads each section to take action to protect its interests. Owners of wealth inevitably seek to hold on to their possessions and to add to them.
The great body known as the working’ class, own no wealth as a class, and are compelled to take action to protect their interests as a working and dispossessed group of men and women. The interests of the workers every day is to live as well as they can while employed by the owning class. Naturally the interests of workers and owners clash, because the owners employ the workers to get a profit or surplus out of the work done, and the smaller the proportion given to workers as wages, the more there is left for profits.
Is then the struggle between workers and employers over wages and working condi¬tions the class struggle? Is that the struggle which carries hope of victory for the workers? Is that struggle for better wages and shorter hours, etc., the real fight? Is the workshop, the factory, the mine or strike headquarters, the real final and chief battleground of the class struggle ?
THE ECONOMIC BASIS.
The workers under the present system must seek masters and obtain the best terms for the sale of their working powers. The whole working life of the working class means that they are engaged in the class struggle, a struggle to uphold the interests of their class in the daily conflict with em¬ployers.
It does not depend upon the workers’ state of mind, ignorance or alertness. The struggle is bound to exist whether it is recognised or not. The existence of a body of the population with no means of living but that of working for the group of owners —that fact alone denotes a class struggle. The workers cannot take action to seek work and wages without displaying the conflict of interests between them and em¬ployers, and the inevitable struggle that is involved in it.
THE ECONOMIC FIELD.
The continual struggle about hours and wages seems to some to be petty and in¬effectual, and they therefore deny that these daily struggles of trade unionists and other workers are a part of the class struggle. But these never-ceasing battles over details of wages and hours are the actual result of the conflict of interests, and are inseparable from the struggle of the working class to live as wage-slaves in a society which allows them no other way of living as a class.
The field of industry is therefore a battleground of the class struggle, but it is not the only one. Around the question of “the job,” and job conditions, the workers are always compelled to struggle, and always will be while there is a working class dependent upon employers for existence. The changes in hours and wages always taking place never destroy the power of the employers over the workers. Through all the variations of hours and wages, there is but, on the average, a subsistence wage for the worker, with a rapid exhaustion of his physical powers. The economic battleground of the class struggle is limited to a guerilla warfare, with no chance of a victory for the working class.
LIMITATIONS OF ECONOMIC ACTION.
On the industrial field the power of the workers to fight the employers is small to-day. The workers have practically no savings, and cannot stop work for long. To withhold their labour-power from the employers is in most cases to simply postpone their surrender.
The workers cannot stop the use of modern wages-saving machinery or speeding-up methods, and neither can they prevent amalgamations and trusts dispensing with large numbers of workers required in competitive trading.
Craft and industrial differences have helped to keep alive a narrow, sectional or trade outlook among the workers, and the industrial field with its job rivalries, does not easily promote a class outlook.
It takes much time for the various branches of workers to realise that the competition and conflict among themselves is itself a result of the position of the working class. The workers do not quickly grasp the fact that they are driven to compete with each other because the economic system of to-day reduces each worker to a seller of merchandise (labour-power) in a market where there are less buyers than sellers.
The limitations of the economic struggle are greater than ever to-day, because the employers are closely organised, and the real control in most industries is in the hands of large combines who dominate the situation. Almost every step in industrial development throws the scale heavily against the workers, who in spite of the long strikes and lock-outs are eventually defeated.
On the industrial field, too, there is the sinister and powerful factor which plays so much havoc with the workers’ efforts to fight for better conditions. That factor is the labour leader—Liberal, Labour, Com¬munist, matters not—who, for the sake of his job or to earn the goodwill of the employers—side-tracks the struggles of the worker into blind alleys and to trust in the employers.
THE POLITICAL FIELD.
The employing class maintain their supremacy in the struggle because they have control of powers which enable them to defeat the workers. That power is political. How are the great strikes of our time smashed? Not because the employers rely upon economic means, but because they make use of the law and the armed forces at the disposal of the political rulers. Every Emergency Powers Act, Trades Disputes Act, and Prosecution of Strikers, shows where the real power lies.
Beyond the mere victory in a strike, the employers have the wider and permanent victory of being still in control and possession of the means of production, etc., and that is why they so carefully and strenuously seek to retain control of the political machine.
The real success in the class struggle by the workers can only be secured if they are able to obtain control of the machinery by which the employers at present dominate. That is, if the class struggle is to be waged victoriously by the workers they must win political power, and thus get the machinery in their hands to put an end to Capitalist ownership.
The economic battlefield of the class-struggle is one therefore where the workers are bound to continually struggle within Capitalism for a bare existence.
The political battlefield of the class struggle is the only battlefield where the workers can finally win and abolish the struggle altogether by abolishing classes and Capitalism altogether.
Necessary though it is that the workers should struggle on the economic field, the most important battleground of the class struggle is on the political field. But they must become conscious of their class interests—they must fight for Socialism.
(Socialist Standard, November 1928)