From the September 1951 issue of the Socialist Standard
We are sometimes asked why we should spend our time studying economics, and told that there are enough problems and evils in Capitalism for us to attack without wasting our time on such a dry-as-dust subject as economics. We reply, in the first place, by saying that we do not find economics dry-as-dust, but, on the contrary, we find it fascinating, as it is the only way by which the world we live in can be explained. Secondly, it is only be a knowledge of economics that we can explain the poverty and exploitation of the working class, and, what is far more important, how that poverty and exploitation can be ended.
The economics we study is that first of all laid down by one of the founders of scientific Socialism, Karl Marx. The first sentence of the first chapter of the first volume of his monumental work "Capital" says:—
"The wealth of those societies in which the capitalist mode of production prevails presents itself as "am immense accumulation of commodities," its unit being a single commodity. Our investigation must therefore begin with the analysis of a commodity."
Marx then proceeds to examine the commodity. He strips it of all incidental factors—shape, size, quality, use and so on, and finds that all commodities have one thing in common. They are the product of human labour. This characteristic is common to all commodities, and Marx proceeds to examine the exchange relationship between them. As commodities have only one thing that is measurable in common, it must be this that governs the exchange of commodities. Marx lays down that the value of a commodity in exchange must be determined by the amount of socially necessary labour involved in its production. "Socially necessary," mark you, that is, labour under the prevailing conditions and with average skill and produced at an average rate,
Then, one commodity emerges that is different to all others—the commodity labour power—the physical and mental energies of the worker. This, too, is exchanged like any other commodity, and its exchange is governed by the amount of socially necessary labour involved in its production. Here we have the secret of the poverty of the working class. On the whole they can never receive in wages more than enough to keep them going week by week as members of the working class. Surely this should be obvious to you from your own experience. You know that you can never save enough to be able to say that when you wish it you can leave the arena of wagedom and start to enjoy a full and free life. Wages are, in fact, the badge of slavery and slavery will last as long as the wages system remains.
There are, of course, some, a few, not more than 10 per cent of the population, whose position is very different from that of the workers. For them, and in their interests the workers work. For them, the workers produce what we know as surplus value, that is, the amount of wealth produced by the workers over and above what they take in the form of wages. Surplus value produces for the capitalist, rent, interest and profit and the aim of the capitalist is to always increase the amount of surplus value produced. Thus we have speeding up and intensification of the labour process. But the surplus value produced has to be sold as no capitalist wishes to hold on to stocks of commodities produced in his factories. This leads to rivalries on the international field, a struggle for markets, for sources of raw materials, and, at times, for sources of cheap labour power. This is the root of war in the modern world.
You will see now the value of a study of economics—the most valuable and interesting study there can be. In this article we have only touched on the fringe of the subject. There is plenty more for you to learn and we earnestly ask you to get down to the job of learning. We want Socialism established quickly and you are the people who have to establish it. We know that, in Marx's words, "Every beginning is difficult," but in the case of the study of economics the beginning is much worth while.