Letters to the Editors from the December 1936 issue of the Socialist Standard
In a copy of The Socialist Standard left at my house I notice a phrase is frequently used, i.e., "The Classless Society." Will you kindly explain as fully as possible what you mean by this?
It appears to me that such a position, if ever achieved, could not remain in practice, for surely the members of the community holding the more responsible positions and directing "the centralised machinery of administration" (quoted from The Socialist Standard, December, p.54) would, and could, fairly ask for greater recompense in return for shouldering this responsibility. It follows, them, that there will be, as at present, many varying grades or classes of society—graded according to their abilities; the only class which will not then be extant being the person deriving an income from capital investment.
This, I think, is what the phrase must mean, but allowing that such is the meaning, it appears to be a most vague manner of describing the position I have mentioned previously. However, I should be very pleased to know your definition of the "Classless Society."
Wishing your policy, which I gather is the educating of the general public to an understanding of Socialism, every success.
A. H. Kincey.
A careful study of the copy of The Socialist Standard, to which the above correspondent refers, should have convinced him that the S.P.G.B. only knows of two classes in present-day society, namely, the working class and the capitalist or master class. It is the exploitation of the former by the latter which gives rise to the manifold problems with which we are confronted, including the particular one which is puzzling him. The workers are graded and degraded because the structure and purpose of capitalism make that necessary.
Grades, however, are not classes. Hundreds of thousands of workers are promoted to more or less responsible and better-paid positions in the course of their lifetime. Very few can, however, change their class. Those promoted go on working for the master class in once capacity or another; quite unlike those rare ones who suddenly find themselves being left fortunes by hitherto unheard of uncles in the Colonies, or who succeed in winning the Irish sweep.
The reason for the illusion that the more highly-paid workers belong to a different class from those to whom they give orders arises from this very fact, that they are specially paid, not merely to administer affairs in the technical sense, but to supervise or maintain in one way or another the exploitation of their nominal subordinates. Although they receive greater recompense for this work, many of their subordinates are usually as competent, technically, as themselves.
In the very early days of capitalism, the capitalists themselves had to perform this task; but the growth of their capital enabled them to employ special wage-slaves for the purpose, on whom they conferred in varying degrees the appearance and some small portion of the substance of social superiority. So great have the powers of production grown to-day, however, that there are, not only a multitude of unemployed labourers of varying degrees of skill, or lack of it, but also a growing number of unemployed technicians and administrators of all types.
The multiplicity of parties and the fierce competition in the political area is one expression of this. Under Socialism, however, the principle of co-operation will apply, not merely inside the individual factory or other industrial establishment, but throughout the whole process of social administration. The motive for effort will be neither private profit for the masters, nor individual wages for the slaves. The production and distribution of wealth as efficiently as possible will be in the common interest of all.
This will rule out any need for "grades" (or "classes" as our correspondent terms them) among the workers. As social equals they will be free to develop their abilities in any desired direction to the fullest possible extent. The material means for their training already exist or could be rapidly produced when the restrictions imposed by capitalist conditions have been removed. There will, therefore, be no lack of trained men and women capable of occupying responsible positions interchangeably, and their development into a class or caste is inconceivable. This was made possible and necessary in ancient times only because of the limited resources and small wealth-producing capacity of society in those days.
Economic development has given rise to priests and patriarchs, feudal lords and capitalists in turn. Each of these groups have evolved into classes and dominated society for a period only. New conditions and new needs have brought about the downfall of all, save the last-named, who now stand confronted by the heirs to the slavery of the ages. The emancipation of this class, however, the working class, involves that of all mankind, and the accomplishment of the goal of history, the classless society.