1960s >> 1969 >> no-783-november-1969

Letter: Capitalism a class society?

Sirs,

While agreeing entirely with your aims of socialism, I would quarrel with the idea, enshrined in your declaration of principles, that society is still clearly divided in such a way that everyone is a member of either the “master class” or the “working class”, or as you put it those who produce but do not possess and those who possess but do not produce. There are now a vast number of people who, for example, work and own shares. It seems to me that the idea of a divided society is no longer valid: all the other objections to capitalism are in themselves more than enough, but the concept that everyone can be put on one side of the fence or the other is not acceptable. In particular, this would suggest that anyone who, for example, receives interest on a bank account, or who is partly paid in shares of the firm he works for, cannot support the SPGB’ as “all political parties are but the expression of class interests.”

Yours sincerely,
Neil Mitchison,
Edinburgh.

Reply.

A class is a group of people who all have the same economic interest. The make up of classes, the dividing lines between them, their functions in society, the number of them in existence, have all varied with different social systems.

One thing which capitalism has done has been to tidy up classes. There are now only two of them and, with relatively few exceptions, the whole population of the capitalist world is in one or other of them. The exceptions may be peasants living and working under social relationships more akin to feudalism, or shopkeepers and tradesmen existing in a sort of class twilight These people — and they are a small minority — may be unclassifiable but this does not affect the overall, significant class division of capitalism.

The vast majority of people can be placed in one class; they are forced to sell their working abilities in order to live. They do this to the owners of the means of production and it is only by selling their working power that they are allowed access to the means of production. It is reasonable, and accurate, to call these people the working class and to call the other class, who own the means of production and who therefore buy labour power, the capitalist class.

Now what about the person who sells his labour power to an employer but who also owns some shares, or receives interest on savings? . This does not alter the fact that he depends for his living on selling his ability to work; his relationship to the means of production make him a member of the working class.

The division of society into classes, with opposing interests which cause so much unrest, is only one of capitalism’s malaises but it is not to be ignored or minimized. The revolution for Socialism will overthrow the capitalist class and take away their monopoly of the means of production. It is, therefore, against their interests but it is in the interests of the other, subject class — the working class. That is why it is only the Socialist Party which stands for the interests of the working class and why all who oppose Socialism, or who stand for something less than Socialism, express the interests of the capitalist class.

Editorial Committee.