1990s >> 1992 >> no-1056-august-1992

Editorial: What classless society?

Nobody really believes that we live in a classless society. Not even Major. He knows as well as anyone else that at the top are a small group of big businessmen, financiers, landed aristocrats and rentiers living off their investments. Around them is another group, many of them the first group’s relatives, who occupy the top posts in the civil service, the judiciary, the armed forces and the Church. In Russia they would have been known as the Nomenklatura. Here they are called the Establishment. A more accurate name is the capitalist class.

It is not their posh accents, their old school ties or their titles and honours that makes them privileged. These could disappear without ending class privilege. As could other frills like the monarchy, the House of Lords, Henley and Ascot. Their real privilege is in being rich.

Being rich doesn’t mean having a country estate, a chauffeur-driven Rolls, a yacht and the like. Rich people do have these things, it is true, but any rich person who spent all their income on them wouldn’t be rich for long. The trick is to use your money to acquire a regular income that enables you to sustain a life of privilege. And the way to do that is to invest your money, to use it as capital and live off the profits.

How the rich got their money in the first place— whether through inheritance as most do or like most of the others by financial wheeling and dealing—is irrelevant. To stay rich they have to become capitalists. They must use a part of their wealth to purchase a stake in the ownership of the means of production.

Profits are an unearned property income that accrues to those who invest their wealth as capital. Making profits is what capitalism is all about. It is what motivates production. But it involves depriving those who actually produce the wealth of society of a part of the fruits of our labour. This is why capitalism works in the interests of the rich. As a profit-making system it works, and can only work, in the interests of those who live off profits and never in the interests of the rest of us.

Capitalism is a system of exploitation. One class, thanks to its ownership rights over the means of production, is able to live off the work of the other class. Not that the two classes are equal in numbers. In Britain those rich enough to be able to live off their profits can’t amount to more than 2 per cent of the population. Their exploitation of the rest of us is quite legal. In fact property rights are entirely granted and maintained by the state.They amount to a licence to levy a tribute on production.

The way to end exploitative class society follows from this. We, the non-rich, must use our overwhelming numbers to win control of the state and revoke all private property rights over the means of production. At a stroke this will render null and void all stocks and shares, title deeds and other legal entitlements to live by exploiting others. These will become useless pieces of paper. The means of production will become the common heritage of us all and the way will then be open for us to democratically control them in the interests of the whole community. With the capitalist class off our backs, we can begin producing things to satisfy people’s needs and not for profit. This is what a classless society must mean. Nothing short of it merits that description.