Monday, March 10, 2014

Five myths about class (1982)

From the January 1982 issue of the Socialist Standard

Class is determined by how you speak, how you dress or where you live.
Class is not a subjective concept, but is determined by the objective relationship of a n individual to the ownership and control of the means of producing and distributing wealth (the factories, mines, offices, docks and so on). In Britain, over half of all wealth is owned by the richest ten per cent and top one per cent own more wealth than the poorest eighty per cent. The working class produce all wealth and the capitalist class, who own the productive and distributive apparatus, receive the profits which result from production.

There are three classes: Upper, Middle and Working
Sociologists invent class labels to fit their own images of society. There are in fact only two classes in society: workers (about ninety per cent) and capitalists (about ten per cent). The characteristic of a worker is that he or she owns virtually nothing but an ability to work (labour power). A capitalist owns sufficient capital to have no need to sell his or her labour power for a wage or a salary. If you can't live without seeking employment, you're a wage slave, no matter what class you claim to be in.

Class used to be important, but these days it's irrelevant.
Any worker who thinks that class is irrelevant should try living the life of a capitalist - he or she will soon discover the extent to which class determines lifestyle. The capitalist is free to exist as a social parasite, living in luxury on the labour of others. Being in the working class guarantees a life of social insecurity; if it is not profitable to hire you the boss will soon fire you.

Under Labour governments, class differences diminish.
Between 1974 and 1976 the richest one per cent increased their concentration of wealth ownership. This under a Labour government pledged to redistribute wealth. (That was one promise they kept.)

Socialists advocate class hatred.
Socialists are opposed to capitalism, not to specific capitalists - some capitalists are bastards, others may be "jolly decent chaps". It is the capitalist class whose interests are antagonistic to those of the working class. The workers must dispossess the capitalists, and to this end the Socialist Party of Great Britain (and our companion parties) call upon workers of the world to join our movement. Should capitalists wish to join, they may do so if they are principled advocates of the working class interest. Should any capitalist object to what we say, too bad.
Steve Coleman


Questions Answered - and Asked (1998)

From the September 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard

We are often asked about how socialism would deal with certain situations that might arise in that society. What about anti-social behaviour, or people who refused to work? How would we allocate genuinely scarce resources? And so on.

Because our definition of socialism is so different from that used by some opponents and those who would also claim to be socialist, it requires a leap in imagination to get one's head round what it will involve. Socialism will not be about equal wages, equal sharing, state control or world government. Nor will its democratic system involve systematic physical coercion, though, in social relations perhaps some form of moral or emotional persuasion, of a non-hierarchical nature, might be needed occasionally. There is often an assumption underlying the questions put to us that there will be some sort of hierarchy who will lay down the law on what and what not to do.

Socialists can deal with general questions of, say, how production and distribution would be carried on. (Readers are directed to our pamphlet Socialism as a Practical Alternative for an outline of this.) But then we get queries about one-off and awkward situations that might arise. Of course we can't always give clear-cut answers to these, nor is it our responsibility to do so. People in that society will have to deal with such situations by using then existing institutions and mechanisms (including emergency and contingency plans) or by introducing new ones to deal with problems when they arise or are anticipated.

The belief behind some of the questions put to us is that members of the Socialist Party and its companion parties, or their successors at the time of the introduction of world socialism (and it has to be world-wide, because it will be replacing the world-wide capitalist system), will have (or claim to have) some sort of collective wisdom which they can call upon to deal with any and all situations, and if they don't then the whole thing will collapse like a house of cards. This is not so. Our contention is that socialism will be established not only when a majority understand and want it, but that there will also have been prior lengthy discussion among members of the working class, who after all are the people that actually run the world today, on how it will be administered and organised.

Socialists came to the conclusion a long time ago that capitalism cannot work in the interest of the working-class majority. That majority, as we said, today runs society from top to bottom, but not for their own benefit, and do so under artificially difficult, dangerous and needlessly complex conditions. Socialism will entail those same people running the world in their own interest, in a benign and much simplified environment. If you agree with all this, then it incumbent upon you to make the effort to bring it about.

What would you propose?
Perhaps it's time socialists started asking the questions. After all, there are many of you out there-people with the relevant scientific knowledge, technical skills and organisational abilities-who are able to offer suggestions on how we can deal with the problems that will inevitably occur. For instance, how to go about setting up a production unit, firm, enterprise, endeavour-call it what you may-to deal with a particular need. In capitalism accountants are brought in to do a costing, involving how much wages it will involve, what is the effective (i.e. ability to pay) demand for the product, and how much raw materials etc. are needed and if their calculations predict a profit then, subject to any local restrictions, the work usually goes ahead. In socialism it will be rather different. It will have to be decided by those appointed to do so whether the production is really necessary. Is there sufficient demand? (Real demand-not can we pay for it.) This could be carried out by some form of consumer-as opposed to market research. How much raw material-in amount not cost-will be required? How much labour will be needed to work on the raw materials or build a factory? What, if any, will be harmful to the environment? If it seems that the amount of resources required will outweigh any immediate general benefits that might accrue, it may be decided to abandon the scheme unless some overriding reason (such as health, safety or some long-term consideration is involved) dictates otherwise.

No-one can say that wrong decisions won't be made-that would be foolish-but we can be certain that any mistakes made won't be in the pursuit of profit

We need your help, not just in terms of increasing our membership, though we welcome that, but also for developing and expanding ideas on how the new society will be organised. If socialism has to wait until everyone has their questions answered in the minutest detail, then we will never achieve it. Now is the time to speed up that process by involving yourselves in the technical and theoretical work that needs to be done.

Dealing with any anti-social behaviour that might occur will take on an entirely different dimension from that pertaining today. First of all, property crimes will have disappeared. So what are we left with? Domestic crime and irrational behaviour. The first are usually the result of people living in intolerable conditions from which, for economic reasons, they are unable to walk away. The second are caused by various mental conditions, and one would assume that these will be dealt with in that context-i.e. as a medical problem. Perhaps there may remain a small rump of anti-social behaviour-much of it a hangover from capitalism-that couldn't be dealt with, that would cause a problem here and there. Surely this would be infinitely better than the uncertain world in which we live today, with millions dying in conflicts and from disease and starvation.
Julian Vein