The Class Struggle 3/3

The  World Socialist Movement doesn’t wish “increasing misery” for the working class. It doesn’t look forward to the attacks on the workers’ standard of living in the hope that it may attract more members. What we do is recognise economic facts.

Capitalism is an economic system based on three things: wage labour (working for a wage), private ownership or control of the means of production (things like factories and farms), and production for exchange and profit. Capitalism is based on a simple process – money is invested to generate more money. When money functions like this, it functions as capital. For instance, when a company uses its profits to hire more staff or open new premises, and so make more profit, the money here is functioning as capital. As the amount of capital increases (or in the bigger picture, the economy expands), this is called ‘capital accumulation’, and it’s the driving force of the economy.

The class struggle varies over time and place, depending on social-economic, political conditions and organisation. The nature of the struggle between labour and capital vary in terms of comprehensiveness, intensity, geographic location and class interests. Class struggles involve two basic antagonists. The ruling class struggle “from above”, in which various sectors of capital use their social power, economic control of the state to maximize present and future profits. We the working class, struggle “from below.” The class struggle in its multiple expressions is a ‘constant’ moving force and the organisational form which it takes changes. Trade unions and community-based movements have great variations in make-up and mode of operation. The bulk of the class struggle against exploitation finds expression in movements by the oppressed and dispossessed who rely mainly on their own resource.

The class struggle is the conflict between those of us who have to work for a wage and our employers and governments. Socialists argue that our lives are more important than our boss’s profits, which attacks the very basis of capitalism, where profit is the reason for doing anything.  Nor does the class struggle take place only in the workplace. Class conflict reveals itself in many aspects of life. For example, affordable housing is something that concerns all working class people. What is affordable for us means unprofitable for builder or landlord. Government attempts to reduce spending on health-care by cutting budgets and introducing charges shift the burden of costs onto the working class, whereas we want the best health-care possible in free NHS, or at worse, as little cost as possible. Workers have an interest in fighting to improve their housing, health, education and protection from destitution. There is therefore an inbuilt potential for conflict over welfare provision. The outcome depends on the balance of class forces.

Every state of society admits of certain improvements called reforms. These reforms are either required by the interest of the whole ruling class, or they are only for the benefit of a particular fraction. In the former case they are carried without much agitation; in the latter, that fraction for whose benefit they are to be carried, call themselves reformers; these form a distinct party, and appeal to the oppressed to aid them in their endeavours  by means of placing bait on the hook.

Reform can be viewed as a response of behalf of the ruling class to pressure from below, an attempt to buttress the existing class structure by making minor concessions. Reform is the reply to the threat of revolution. A reform is infinitely better than allowing the pressure of discontent to build up until it explodes with revolutionary force.

Reforms make the system run more smoothly by helping to foster illusions about the state. Instead of seeing the state’s real role of protecting capitalist exploitation, it is seen as eliciting rewards from the state and that there will be a the expectation of a better tomorrow. Like the casino, the best publicity for it is the occasional winner even though the house is always ahead in the end. It pays the capitalist state to appear to be generous since this conceals the true nature of its being.

Some reforms are a boost for the capitalist class. Improvements to the educational system can be construed as a victory for the workers. On the other hand, they provide employers with a labour force better qualified able to cope with modern production techniques. Likewise the National Health Service is regarded as a great boon for the working person. But it also helped the employers, who have known for a long time that personnel who are healthy are also more productive.

Any meaningful pro-worker regulations eventually become fetters to capital’s well-being, so it becomes necessary to neutralise or dismantle them – to “save” business from an unnecessary burden of extra expense. Each piece of legislation has a cost. Consequently, it is likely to squeeze profit margins and damage the competitiveness of the economy. The laws of capitalism are designed to facilitate the smooth-running of capitalism within the limits they impose which precludes effective amelioration of conditions. Even when face by a discontent the ruling class may wish to grant reforms but this is not always feasible. Indeed, even those concessions that have already been made can conflict with the system’s ability to meet them. In deteriorating economic conditions, when capitalism no longer can concede reforms, or when workers defend past gains the situation can turn into an intensified class struggle.

This is what we’re experiencing now with government austerity cut. Reformers are spreading illusions that divert energy away from the vital struggle. To be a real socialist is to be a revolutionary socialist – there is no other kind. So the World Socialist Movement says that it is reformism which is “utopian” and the only “realistic” way out of this mess is to go beyond legislation and regulation. What the WSM insist upon making clear is that we can and we must establish a socialist society now, not in the long distant future. Taking control over the means of production in order to make things we require and share them out  according to need without the mediation of money is not a far off aspiration but a society  we could have right now. Too often the “realistic’, the “practical” activists, insist that we must lower our expectations and aim for achievable reforms. They present capitalism as a “natural” system which happen to possess some flaws that can be remedied.  There is nothing intrinsically socialist or even working class about reformism. These reforms alter nothing in the fundamental system of the existing state of things. The World Socialist Movement has opposed such reformists. We say to them that they deal with effects and ignore the cause. We can point to history and demonstrate that the reformist programme has failed repeatedly. The reformist message preached has brought disillusionment, apathy and despair.

The present crisis will not end until the capitalist’s expectations of higher profit margins is met. This requires the rate of exploitation to be increased and the main way would be by continuing to lay off workers (or make them part-time, or impose zero-hour contracts) and cut wages. If wages are lowered then obviously what is often described as the social wage, made up of welfare benefits (paid indirectly by capitalists to particular workers via taxes). The capitalist class can also do so better when they can shift costs onto others. If companies can cut costs by not protecting the environment, they will.

 The World Socialist Movement’s case can be explained very clearly – to people whose clothes are rags we don’t offer to mend and patch them together. Rather we offer them completely new attire to wear.