Ethics and the class struggle
Among the middle-class “Socialists” who run the so-called labour movement in this country, it is hardly fashionable just now to deny the reality of the class struggle; yet when it is shown how necessary it is to base working-class political action on that reality, these Utopians wriggle like eels to escape such a logical conclusion. When driven by argument from their objections on practical grounds to the class war basis, such sentimentalists often fall back on the assertion that it is immoral, that it stirs up strife and sets one class against another.
Now, with those who profess to base their “Socialism” on the New Testament, such a position is not to be wondered at; for to them the injunction applies, to “Resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on they right cheek turn to him the other also. And if any man sue thee at law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.”– Matt. V. Obviously, the only logical attitude for such people is that of absolute non-resistance to the capitalists. And there the working-class may leave them.
As is only to be expected, the capitalist and his satellites strongly deprecate any hostile attitude on the part of the worker. The proper conduct of the working-class should be, according to capitalist ethics, duly sheep-like. According to this code, working men should be thrifty (that they may work cheaply and keep off the rates), they should be industrious (that they may pile up wealth for others), and above all, they should be meek and obedient (that they may duly obey the laws kindly made for them by their masters). The prevailing code of ethics has its foundation in the material interests of the ruling class, and may be summed up in the words, “Whatever injures capitalist interests is immoral.” The charge that the class struggle is immoral is founded on such a code. For us, then, it is necessary to look at the matter from a higher standpoint, that we may see whether an insistence on the class struggle is immoral or not in the light of humanity’s interests.
What is the basis of the modern class antagonism? It is based on the fact that one section of society owes its income and its superior position to property, to the ownership of the means of producing wealth; whilst another section, so vast as to be practically the nation, owes its inferior position to the fact that it owns no property but is compelled to live by the sale of its labour-power to those who own the means of life. Out of the total product of labour the worker cannot obtain, in general, more than his cost of subsistence. Those who own the instruments of labour appropriate the rest. Thus there is born a class struggle, pursued consistently by the capitalists, but, as yet, ineffectively and spasmodically by the workers. The scientific Socialist urges a more consistent waging of this struggle because (to put it shortly) only by the defeat of the enemy can peace be obtained.
All classes will, as in the past, fight bitterly to retain their superior position to the workers’. The only class that can be relied on for the abolition of privilege and power to exploit, is the unprivileged propertyless working-class. The recognition of the class struggle is consequently the only effective basis of working-class action, for it is childish indeed to expect that the capitalists will of their own accord get off the backs of the workers. Obviously, the immediate interests of all except the working-class are opposed to the abolition of private property in the means of life.
The strife of today is, then, not created by the Socialist, but is the result of economic conditions maintained by the ruling class. The Socialist seeks to enlighten his fellows on the causes of this struggle, and to show how utterly futile it is to expect the owning class to abolish the cause of strife, or abandon in any way its own interests. He wishes to point out above all, that since the interests of all sections of the capitalist-class are fundamentally opposed to the interests of the workers, therefore the sane policy of the working-class must be in consistent opposition to all capitalist political factions however these may name themselves. The struggle is already going on. The Socialist endeavours to give it definite and consistent aim, that the conflict may the more speedily end.
Those who would, on moral grounds, have the workers refuse to recognise the class struggle should, to be logical, refuse to struggle against parasites of any other kind. For in society the class which lives by the ownership of the means of life of the workers is a parasitic class, sucking to itself by its monopoly the fruits of the industry of the people. Not, indeed, that one need hate the individual capitalist, for he is the product of his circumstances; but in the interests of toiling humanity the firmest action must be taken. The power to exploit must be wrested from the parasites. They will, of course, oppose this by cunning and by force and will have to be fought, for non-resistance is the policy of the weak-minded.
Clearly then, the cause of the present struggle (i.e., the private ownership of the machinery of wealth production and distribution), can only be abolished by waging war on the class which defends and maintains private ownership. And since the only class that, by its material interests, is unfettered to the maintenance of private property is the proletariat, on this class must fall the toil and the battle for freedom.
Thus the only means of ridding mankind of conditions which now bind the mass in degradation and slavery, is the active opposition of the workers to the parasitic class as a whole; and what is this but the prosecution of the class war?
The victory of the Socialist working-class is the only possible ending of this great struggle. This, however, does not mean the subjection of the capitalist-class by the workers; it means the abolition of capitalism and an end of classes, for the great unprivileged masses cannot secure equality of opportunity without abolishing class privilege, and privilege is based on private property. The triumph of the great working majority thus involves the emancipation of all from class oppression, for the interests of the toiling masses are fundamentally the interest of humanity.
The workers are now the only necessary class in society, and upon them all tasks are devolving. To the capitalist remains the task of tearing the coupons from his shares, and reaping the reward of his abstinence – from labour.
The democratic ownership of the means of wealth production must necessarily abolish the economic basis of classes and of class antagonisms, and unite all in a bond of labour with identical interests, Under such conditions it must be unnecessary and above all unprofitable for the vast majority to exploit a few. Hence society will have but one aim, to lighten the toil and increase the well-being of all by the greatest possible economy of labour and life. In the society of harmonised material interests that must result from the abolition of class parasitism, the greatest well-being of the individual will only be possible by promoting the well-being of all. Thus will the welfare of all become, for the first time, the immediate interest of each.
Socialism is, then, the ethics of humanity, the necessary economic foundation of a rational code of morality. The interests of the human race are bound up with the aspirations of the oppressed working-class in its struggle with capitalist domination. As it has very truly been said: “Militant, the workers’ cause is identified with class; triumphant, with humanity.”
(Socialist Standard, July 1905)