The Class Struggle, Reforms & the Unions

The interminable nonsense talked about the nature of the class struggle by Trotskyists, Young Labourites and Communists does much to hold back class consciousness. According to these empty vessels, every possible aspect of working-class action, real or potential, is part of the class struggle: protests against the Government’s prices policy, squatting, and demands for higher pensions, lower rents, higher Social Security payments, etc., are all part of the class struggle. In fact reformist activities in support of these aims cannot solve the problems they are about. The Class Puzzle would be more appropriate to these utterly useless activities, and not the class struggle.

The class struggle is a struggle between collective Capital, i.e. the class of capitalists or employers, and collective Labour, i.e. the working class. A class is a category with common economic interests, the interests defining the class. The interests of employers and workers are diametrically opposed. The capitalists’ interest is to continue private ownership of the means of production, and to appropriate as much as he can of the social product (wealth) which is currently produced by the working class. The working class resist this process by taking defensive action, mainly through trade unions and strike action. Their economic interests can only lie in the removal of the conditions which give rise to this struggle. This means the abolition of capitalism and the replacement of private ownership by common ownership (Socialism). It is not possible to reconcile these opposing interests. The class struggle is an organic part of the capitalist system of production and consequently is inseparable from its operation.

This is the Issue
The whole social and economic system rests on the capitalists’ control of the political machinery. That control in turn is based on the support of the majority of the population who either actively or by default vote for political parties who propose to continue and administer the capitalist method of production. Alternative methods of administering capitalism through a Labour Government in this country, or a Communist Government in Russia or China, do not materially alter the basic position. It is perfectly clear that the class struggle is ultimately a struggle for political power, the issue being Common Ownership vs. Private Ownership. There is no half-way house. This is the revolutionary proposition, and this is the sole issue upon which Socialists seek political support.


It is not the function of a Socialist Party to advocate, support, or oppose, or otherwise participate in reformist issues. This includes agitation or protest against the withdrawal of any reform previously granted; for example, the withdrawal of housing subsidies, or school milk and Health services, or protests against rising prices — to quote a few recent examples.


Reformist schemes designed to improve the lot of workers under Capitalism can never express Socialist political activity in the class struggle, or have any prospect of achieving a Socialist revolution, and it is a waste of the workers’ time and energy to attempt to improve capitalism. But instead of workers using their votes to abolish Capitalism, they use the same vote to keep it going, even if on a temporary reform basis. This is not in their interests, either in the short or long term, as history has shown. Whilst the “welfare of the working class” under capitalism is not worth the effort wasted on trying to enhance it, the political welfare of the working class is our concern, and ours alone.


Interests & Understanding
This is why we are hostile to those political parties and groups, be they Right Wing or Left Wing, who mislead the workers by pretending that their real interests lie in making capitalism more comfortable. Communists, Trotskyists, Labour, International Socialists, etc. even describe their reformist activities as leading to Socialism. Typical of the stupidity and worse was the advice given recently by the Socialist Worker (I.S.) to workers during the recent G.L.C. Elections—


  The socialist case for voting Labour does not depend on any assumption that the Labour Party will carry out its pledges. We know very well that, in general, it will not carry them out, indeed cannot carry them out because it is committed to making capitalism work. We know it, but millions of workers disagree . . . Power is the test. And so we urge all our readers to swallow their distaste and vote Labour — vote Labour without illusions but vote Labour. (Socialist Worker, 7th April, 1973).

Similar advice was given by the Communist Party, who condemn the Labour Party as being a Capitalist Government, and then advise workers to vote for it.


The struggle to obtain or retain reforms, i.e. changes in capitalism made by and through the machinery of government in such fields as housing, pensions, health, education, Family Allowances, or political activity over prices, wage freezes and high rents, is not part of the class struggle, because such activity accepts and favours the retention of private property. It is no excuse to justify this on the grounds that the workers are unable or unwilling to understand Socialism, and that their lives should be made a little easier in the meantime. This is the Gospel of Despair. By the same political act (the vote) the workers can obtain Socialism. What is lacking is Socialist understanding. If that is so, then it is the plain duty of those who do understand to devote their entire activity to the spread of Socialist ideas.


Reforms are not revolutionary, and it is highly debatable whether or not they are effective in the long or short term. The main point which is sometimes forgotten is that the introduction or the withdrawal of any legislative measures endorsing reforms depend ultimately on the will of the capitalists who control the political machinery. It is they alone who have the final word, and their attitude will be determined by their economic and political interests and not on the particular merits of the reform, no matter what the social need.


What Unions Can Do
The struggle for higher wages, etc. is not reformist. It is an aspect of the class struggle. It is not the will of the capitalist that determines what wages he shall pay. As the product of labour is divided into Wages and Profits one cannot relatively expand without the other relatively contracting. Almost invariably the employers are opposed to higher wages, or shorter working hours, which is, in effect, the same thing. More money for less labour. Economic forces decide this issue. The Strike by workers, the Lockout by employers, wage increases are gained against the will of the employers, and wage reductions enforced against the will of the workers. This is open class conflict. Workers who take part in strike action, either inside or outside trade unions, are not committed to any particular political point of view. Anarchists, Socialists, Communists, Labourites, Tories, Christians, will unite for the common objective — not through choice, but through necessity. They do not have to squander their votes to get higher wages as is the case with reforms.


Trade unions are not revolutionary institutions, neither are they political parties. They are an integral part of capitalism, and their rôle is that of negotiating the conditions under which their members shall sell labour-power. They do not represent the interests of the working class, but the interests of their members. They are not Socialists and neither does Socialism depend on workers being trade unionists. Trade Unions who decide to extend their activities and press for political objectives, such as the reform of trade union law and government prices policy, or oppose various Government policies, and who are prepared to use the strike for these purposes, will find that the economic weapon is no match for the political power wielded by the capitalist class. Also, as protests and demonstrations are the stock-in-trade of Communists, Trotskyists, Labourites and other hangers on, trade unions who join in reformist agitations are no longer functioning as trade unions, but as reformist organizations.


It speaks volumes for the resourcefulness of the capitalist class that they are only being asked to contribute to the reformers’ begging bowl and will donate as the needs of capitalism dictate. Surely if the workers, using their most potent industrial weapon, the strike, cannot force the capitalist employers to disgorge their wealth beyond a certain point on the industrial field, what hope have they of getting any extra by appealing to their better nature on the political field?


A Socialist Party does not waste time and energy chasing reforms. It seeks political power for the sole purpose of abolishing capitalism.


Jim D’Arcy