1980s >> 1982 >> no-935-july-1982

Class versus Class

With all the jingoistic talk about our masters’ imperial battles it is easy to ignore the fact that there is a social war going on which will never cease as long as society is divided into two antagonistic classes. The class war turns humans into competing enemies and transforms society into a battlefield.

Under capitalism the means of wealth production and distribution are monopolised by a class which is legally entitled to defend its ownership and control by means of violent force. The facts of class possession are beyond dispute: in Britain, for example, the richest ten per cent of the population owns more of the accumulated wealth than the poorer ninety per cent put together. A society which is so fundamentally unequal can never be genuinely democratic.

The relationship between the two classes –capital and wage labour –is that of exploiter and exploited, robber and robbed. To understand this, one must consider the common source of wages and profits. It is sometimes claimed that workers should be grateful to their employers for giving them wages. It is implied that employment is a gift provided by the capitalists so as to support the workers. In fact, the opposite is the case: wages are the hallmark of legalised robbery; profits are a gift provided by the workers so as to support the capitalists. This closely-guarded secret may sound strange to workers ignorant of their own exploited position, but a little investigation into capitalist production soon demonstrates the truth of it.

The capitalists own and control the technology, means of production and resources which enable humanity to survive. In some countries they own them privately; in others they do so through their executive committee, the state. They are only in this privileged position because a majority of people allow them to be. In Britain, workers regularly go to the polls and vote for representatives of the system of class monopoly.

The majority of people are not capitalists: they possess very little except their ability to work: labour power. So the workers possess mental and physical energies, but lack the ownership and control of the productive machinery; the capitalists have the productive machinery, but they need human labour to run it for them. The obvious conclusion must be for the two sides to form a “partnership” : the workers are employed to produce, but not possess and the capitalists are permitted to possess, but not produce.

A partnership between Haves and Have-Nots is bound to be an unequal one and this is the case under capitalism. The relationship of wage labour and capital is not that of equal partners, but of user and used. The capitalist employs –uses –the worker’s labour power at a price which is called a wage or salary. When labour power is purchased it is the capitalist’s to use for a period of time. Labour power is a commodity in that, like baked beans and electric toasters, it is produced for sale on the market. Why does the capitalist buy labour power? It is not that he or she feels sorry for propertyless workers and wants to give them money. Capitalists only pay workers to produce wealth if there is a likelihood that the value of the wealth produced will be greater than the wage or salary paid to the wealth producers. In short, unless workers create surplus value they are of no use to the capitalists.

Surplus value is that proportion of wealth produced by a worker which is over and above the reproduction of his own wage or salary (variable capital) plus the cost of machinery and raw materials, used during production (constant capital). So if a worker is paid £100 a week he must produce wealth which reproduces the value of £100, reproduces the cost of machinery and materials used, and in addition he must create a surplus which provides unearned income for the idle owner of capital. If a worker earning £100 only reproduces wealth to the value of £100 plus the cost of machinery and materials used, but not any surplus value, he or she will be considered unproductive.

The objective of capitalist production is the creation of surplus value. Out of surplus value comes rent, interest and profit. In short, profits arise from unpaid labour of the working class. This is not simply a case of a few fraud capitalists robbing a few gullible workers; legalised exploitation is as necessary the capitalist system as illegal robbery is to mugging –just as one cannot have a successful mugger who does not hit his victims over the head and rob them, so one cannot have a successful capitalist who does not exploit workers.

Many workers thank the capitalists for exploiting them; they think that being exploited is the greatest piece of luck that could happen to them. Some misguided workers, who call themselves socialists, but are in fact the most backward of social thinkers, actually organise processions demanding the right to be exploited. Yet despite the political acquiescence of the working class to its own inferior status, there are frequent and inevitable battles between the two classes. This struggle is inevitable because of the fundamental antagonism of interests between those who receive wages and those who receive profits. At its most primitive level the class struggle is a series of minor battles between sections of the two classes over the rate of exploitation, or how much of the wealth produced shall go to the workers as wages and how much will go to the capitalists as profits. Because the capitalist class own the productive and distributive machinery they always have the upper hand in these battles over the conditions of exploitation. Trade unions are a feature of this defensive struggle by workers to obtain a few more precious crumbs from the capitalist-owned, worker-baked cake. The class war never ceases under capitalism because there can never be a reconciliation of interests between capitalists and workers.

Victory in the class war can only be won by the exploited class, consciously, politically and democratically defeating the exploiting class. The workers must have no sympathy for the professed needs of the capitalists: they are our class enemies, they possess what we want and every effort must be made to take it from them. The political objective of socialists is to dispossess the capitalist class of its ownership and control of the means of life. Once we have done that society will be able to produce wealth for use rather than for profit. Socialists will not waste time engaging in diversionary and ultimately utopian attempts to reform the capitalist system. The revolutionary task is to end the system, not to amend it, for until the wages system has been abolished the majority of humankind will continue to be exploited.