50 Years Ago: What is Capital?

Exploitation gives the key to an understanding of capital. Today 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 useful for further production, but with only one object — that it may absorb the further unpaid labour of the workers, and thus produce . . . surplus value, 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 Independent Labour Party do not stand as we do for common ownership, which would mean the abolition of such class relations. The ILP (Forward May 12 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 ILP 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.

From an article “What is Capital”, Socialist Standard July 1928.