Wage Slavery 2/3

Revolutionary Optimists

As socialists, the World Socialist Movement (WSM), understands society’s main problem is the capitalist system itself and always uphold that the only real solution is socialism and political rule by working people, not capitalists. A socialist party fights for the interests of the working class as a whole and doesn’t take a narrow sectional view of just looking out for the interests of a few trades. A socialist party struggles for the long-term, political interests of working people, and not just a few short-term economic gains. The WSM also recognises that international borders should not be allowed to divide workers from other working people around the world because we are all fighting one international capitalist system.

Workers sell their labour power to capitalist enterprises for a wage. As a commodity, labour power has an exchange value and a use value, like all other commodities. Its exchange value is equal to the sum total of the exchange values of all those commodities necessary to produce and reproduce the labour power of the worker and his or her family. The use value of labour power is its value creating capacity which capitalist enterprises buy and put to work as labour. However, labour power is unlike other commodities in that it creates value. During a given period it can produce more than is needed to maintain the worker during the same period. The surplus value produced is the difference between the exchange value of labour power and the use value of the labour extracted by the capitalists. Capitalism is a market economy, but not a simple market economy. A key difference of course is that under capitalism production is not carried out by self-employed producers but wage workers employed by business enterprises. In other words, by profits we mean income that flows to the owner of a workplace or land who hires others to do the work. In other words, under capitalism, the producers have become separated from the means of production. This makes all the difference.

Capitalism is not a system of fair exchange as argued by free-marketeer propertarians. The interests of employees and employers are sharply at odds.This creates conditions of conflict and employers have to take ever-stronger measures to exert and maintain control. Hostility and resentment among workers thrives. When workers challenge the employers’ right to dictate what happens in the workplace, they challenge capitalism itself. The word of the manager is the law, and endless time and energy is expended rationalising its essential goodness. But where is a person less free than in the typical workplace?  The worker has little choice but to submit. And pretend to like it.

A medieval peasant had plenty of things to worry about, but the year-round control of daily life was not one of them. Historians points out that in pre-capitalist societies, people toiled relatively few hours over the course of a year compared to what we work now. They toiled and sweated during harvest-time when there was an urgency, true, but there was ample free time during the off-seasons. Holidays were abundant through fairs and holy days – as many as 200 per year. Marx saw that modern industrial production under capitalist conditions would rob workers of control of their lives as they lost control of their work. Unlike the blacksmith or the shoemaker who owned his shop, decided on his own working conditions, shaped his product, and had a say in how his goods were bartered or sold, the modern worker would have little autonomy. His relationships with the people at work would become impersonal and hollow. Clearly, the technological wonders of our capitalist system have not released human beings from the burden of work. They have brought us more work. They have not brought most of us more freedom, but less.

Many working people have unconsciously accepted the conditions that exist as somehow natural, unaware of how the machine is constructed and manipulated to favour elites. Fear and frustration can even make us crave authority. We collaborate in our own oppression. Workers should not permit themselves to be treated like machines, ruled by despots determined to drive down what few freedoms and rights we possess, and to crush our physical and mental health, all in the interest of wage slavery and accumulation of capital.

Class inequality increases over time because employers pay workers less than the value of what they produce. However, this exploitative relationship is hidden by the lies that a) employers create jobs and b) workers are lucky to have them. In fact, labour creates all wealth, and capitalists are lucky that workers keep producing it for them. We are taught that workers who are better off have achieved this position at the expense of workers who are worse off — that men benefit from the oppression of women, that whites benefit from the oppression of blacks, that workers in richer nations benefit from the exploitation of workers in poorer nations, and so on. If this were true, then class solidarity would be impossible. Fortunately, it’s not true at all. There is no middle class. There are only workers with “half-decent” jobs, and workers who don’t have decent jobs. The purpose of pitting workers against one another is to prevent unity. Accepting the lie that some workers benefit from the oppression of others does not serve the need of the oppressed to end their oppression, nor does it serve the need of the working class to unite. On the contrary, it feeds the employers’ strategy of divide and rule. The presumed beneficiaries of oppression feel guilty around their oppressed co-workers who, in turn, feel resentful toward their more ‘privileged’ brothers and sisters.

Only employers benefit when workers are divided. The differences in wages and benefits between various sections of the working class go to the employers. When workers unite, they raise the living standards of all workers.  Our fragmentation is a barrier to effective political action that would move us toward a more democratic reality. There are so many different varieties of “us” and “them”—that forging a cohesive majority seems all but a hopeless pipe-dream. Socialism can be described as a community of communities, separate but equal communities.  Imagining a “us” does not mean leaving our separate groups/communities behind, but finding ways of living together. It is crucial that members of every group come to see that what we hold in common is far more vital than what differentiates us. Those powerful political and economic interests that want to keep us fragmented and at one another’s throats rather than working together to establish an inclusive democracy will do all they can to stir up continued discord between groups to defeat our aspirations for meaningful change. Can workers at least agree that we will stop doing their job for them and cease thinking in terms of “us” and “them”?

Because you get a wage, and that wage suffices to keep you working for the capitalist and you can pay the rent and get fed. You have been turned into a wage-slave. He belongs to another class, the ruling class,  and you belong to the lower subservient class. You are in an overwhelming majority and they only a few, yet, they own practically everything and rule the land. And they will keep on owning and ruling the land as long as you  allow them to; and you will allow them to as long as you persist in voting for their politicians, instead of uniting and acting solidly with and for each other and against the capitalists. It is because of your ignorance that you don’t understand your own interest and  believe you need rulers to control you. But you don’t need them. The working class do all the producing and manufacturing. The bosses could not exist second without you. A capitalist without workers cannot exist. While the capitalist could not exist without you, however, you could do just fine and would actually begin to live without them.

Capitalism is based upon the exploitation of the working class; and when the working class ceases to be exploited, there will no longer be any capitalists. What has the investor of a factory got  to do with its operation? Absolutely nothing. They simp1y live off the profits and dividends of what is produced there, because you will allow it to be so. He does nothing and gets everything, and you do everything and get nothing. Some deal! Without you society would cease. Society does not need the idle capitalists. They are parasites. They are worse than useless. They simply take what you make, leaving you in poverty. You make  things in great abundance, but you cannot possess them. You can only consume that part of your product which your wage, the price of your labour power, will buy.

If you think  that you ought to have a master to rob you of what you produced—if you think that you are so helpless that you would die unless you had a master to give you a job and take from you all except just enough to keep you working for him; if you think that workers ought to fight each other; if you think that unity, the unity of the union  would be a bad thing for the working class; if you think that your interest is identical with the interest of the capitalist who robs you; if you think that you ought to be in slavish submission to the capitalist who does nothing and gets what you produce; if you think that, then certainly you are a happy wage-slave. As an individual worker you cannot escape from wage-slavery. It is true that one in a million  may become a capitalist but he is the exception that proves the rule. The wage worker in the capitalist system remains the wage worker. There is no escape for you from wage-slavery by yourself.

In “Value, Price and Profit,” Marx says, “To clamour for equal or even equitable retribution on the basis of the wages system is the same as to clamour for freedom on the basis of the slavery system.”  

In his “Critique of the Gotha Programme”, Marx writes, “The system of wage-labour is therefore a system of slavery and a slavery that becomes more and more arduous as the socially productive forces of labour develop, and independently of the question whether the labourer is better paid or worse.”

Having said you cannot alone break out of chains, if you will unite with all other workers who are in the same position that you are;if you will join the organisation that represents your whole class, you can develop the power that will achieve your freedom and the equal freedom of all.  No matter who or what a worker may be, if he or she works for wages they are in precisely the same economic position that you are, your class; your comrade.

The World Socialist Movement has declared war upon the capitalist class, and upon the capitalist system. We say: Arise! It is in your power to put an end to this exploitation. Make yourselves the masters instead of being the slaves to the machine. Abolish the wage system, so that you can be free. The workers sustain and maintain the world, will take possession of the world and turn all into the common property of all. This is the meaning of socialism and is what the World Socialist Movement stands for.