1980s >> 1988 >> no-1001-january-1988

What’s your class?

A worker’s class position under capitalism is not determined by the particular function he or she carries out at work. If you depend for your existence either on a wage or a salary then you are a worker. In this respect it does not matter whether or not you are a carpenter or an architect; a nurse or a doctor.

Likewise a capitalist is not necessarily someone who goes into the Royal enclosure at Ascot or holds membership to the MCC. The capitalist’s class position is determined by his or her ownership and control over the means and methods of production. Unlike the wage or salary-bound worker the capitalist lives off the exploitation of the worker through either rent, interest or profit. All other notions of class belong either to the meaningless realm of pop journalism (Sloanes and Yuppies) or to the more insidious. unscientific writings of academic sociology (class as a passive social hierarchy).

Both classes stand in antagonism to each other; both classes have diametrically opposite interests and it is the interests of the ruling class in terms of commodity production and profit that will always prevail. For workers, their sole interest and objective is in the abolition of commodity production and all the other paraphernalia of the economy, such as money wages, buying and selling, property rights and ownership. Nothing short of this objective will ever free the working class from their subject class position.

No matter what errors of judgement workers have made in the past or their current conscious or unconscious support for either private or state capitalism and the various political parties that administer them nothing can take away from the fact that they are the only agents who are capable of ending class society. The belief held by the left – an arrogant and insulting belief – that workers are either too stupid or irrational to establish socialism – says more about their own failings and ignorance than it does about the class they wish to lead. Essentially all that workers currently lack is an understanding of the class ownership of the means of production and their exploited place under it. Workers certainly do not lack intelligence or the capacity to reason since after all they run capitalism as well as design, invent, produce and construct everything in it. Furthermore The Socialist Party is itself evidence that workers can understand capitalism and work democratically for its abolition.

Workers may dream about escaping from their class position by doing the football pools, gambling or entering competitions to win a house or money. But it is a dream that for millions of workers will evaporate by Monday morning when they are forced to return to the factory, office or shop. Here as wage-slaves they will encounter, in their boredom and frustration, in their alienation and exploitation, a reminder of their place under capitalism.

Of course workers might temporarily place their faith in the illusion of “popular capitalism”. Workers might buy shares through unit trusts or in the de-nationalised industries like British Gas or BP but they will never own or control them; they might take on the responsibility for a mortgage or indeed own their house outright but they will never be in the position to live off property incomes; they might receive a few pounds each year on their fluctuating savings in a building society or a bank but they will never be able to stop selling their mental or physical labour-power for a wage or a salary. Workers are imprisoned within capitalism, exploited by private and state capitalism alike but have, through local and general elections, the means as class-conscious socialists to set themselves free.

Capitalism is not a natural, perennial system of commodity production but is instead a social system possessing a beginning and an end. Capitalism is by its very essence anarchic, unpredictable and prone to continual periodic crises. Capitalism does not progress either, but blindly stumbles around in circles. Capitalism has long lost its historical usefulness and it is now a matter of urgency that the working class should instead establish a rational social system based on common ownership and production for social need, for workers no longer have the luxury of time on their side.

Richard Lloyd