The Class Struggle

The major problem that most people face today can be summed up in one word — poverty. They are denied access to the wealth of society which would enable them to develop and enjoy themselves to the full. They have to make ends meet and make the best of it. The result is a life-style of frustration and boredom — getting up in the morning, the buses, the trains, the traffic, the shop, the office, the factory, the boss, the canteen and so on ad nauseam.

Not everybody has the life of a battery human. There are a small minority who have a life of wealth, ease and luxury. In a recent divorce case, the counsel for a textile magnate’s wife who was claiming maintenance, explained to an incredulous judge: “The wife of a millionaire is liable to go to Paris at any time and spend £1,000 on a dress.” (Glasgow Daily Record, 19th March 1975) Doubtless, she would leave dinner in the oven and do the washing-up when she got back.

There is no natural reason for this division between rich and poor. Both classes include every biological and psychological facet of humanity — you find the black and the white, the jew and the gentile, the lazy and the industrious, the aggressive and the timid, the intelligent and the dull, and the philanthropist and the skinflint. The only difference between them is one of ownership.

The vast majority of people own practically nothing but their ability to work and the little that they do own — some clothes, some furniture, perhaps a house and a car — is dependent on their continuing to possess and exercise that ability to work. Unable to do so through sickness, old age or unemployment, they will quickly be reduced to the level of pauperism. They are the working class because they have to sell their working power to live and to such an extent that they are virtually living to work.

This lack of ownership among the many is paralleled by the immense wealth of the few. In fact, they own practically all the means by which the wealth of society is enabled to be produced and distributed. They are the capitalist class because they live on the income from their capital which, as well as the means of production and distribution, includes the labour-power, the mental and physical energies, of those workers hired to operate them.

The capitalist class do not give workers jobs out of charity. If they did not make a profit out of the deal, they would soon be left in the same position as the workers. They only employ you if your abilities can be exploited to provide some of the wealth which secures their life of ease and luxury. If not, your much vaunted “right to provide for home and family” becomes your right to whistle for it. This is what is happening in many industries just now. All over the world, there are large stockpiles of unsold goods with many either wholly or partly unemployed.

These situations give the lie to the false notion that Hard Work will solve all the worker’s problems. If the people in these industries worked any harder they would just be out of a job so much the sooner. The market that they produce for is on the downturn, their masters cannot profitably sell all they are capable of producing, and so there is no work for the wage-slaves.

This is all happening despite the fact that the commodities they produce — cars, houses, electrical appliances, etc. — are still needed by many workers. This is because, in capitalist society production does not take place for the purpose of satisfying the community’s needs but for the purpose of satisfying the needs of the capitalist class at the expense of the rest of us.

The working class produce all the wealth of capitalist society but they only get back a part of it. The rest goes to the capitalist class — first, to provide for the continuation of production and the maintenance of the conditions by which the working class are exploited, and second, to keep them in the manner they are accustomed to. This is the basis of the class struggle in capitalism. It is the real Socialist struggle which has hardly started due to the lack of class consciousness on the part of the working class. They are divided against each other and can only dimly react to the actions of their class enemies.

Politically, the capitalist class are supreme but, economically, they need the working class. Much is made of the wealth of the capitalists “providing” jobs for the workers. The only way that they can put their wealth to effect is by hiring the labour-power of those with no wealth.

In terms of playing a social role in production, the capitalist class are redundant. At the dawn of their epoch, they were instrumental in razing to the ground the anachronistic restrictions of feudalism and developing the means of production and distribution on an enormous scale in their drive for bigger and better profits. Today, they only take part on a small, individual basis and have been replaced by paid managers and various other hired hands. The only role left to them is that of consuming the finest fruits of a society run by the working class.

The workers in capitalism are in a similar position to that of the bourgeoisie in feudalism. Economically, they are the most important class but their efforts on their own behalf can only reach fruition by taking political power from the class who seek to maintain an order built to work in their own particular interests. To achieve their ends, the bourgeoisie had to become revolutionary and set out for the complete overthrow of the whole structure of feudal society. In order to do this they had to gain political power — control of the bureaucratic, military and legal apparatus of the state. The working class, to achieve their ends, will have to follow the path of the bourgeoisie and declare for revolution. But there the similarity ends.

The Socialist Revolution will be fundamentally different from all previous revolutions. What was at stake before was the freedom of one class to exploit the rest of society. Today, working class emancipation from the bonds of capital will mean the emancipation of all mankind. The production of wealth is the cooperative effort of untold millions and the potential capacity of that production is unprecedented. No person need go short of anything. Under capitalism, productivity has increased dramatically but the fruits for the producers have only been slow and grudging: for this is a capitalist world and the ruling class can only be expected to look after their own interests. We must look after ours, by working for Socialism.

Con Friel

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