Thursday, December 24, 2015

Does class matter? (1987)

From the January 1987 issue of the Socialist Standard

You are a member of the working class. Forget all the pretensions about being "middle class" or the put-downs about being "lower class" or the evasions about being "just an ordinary person". If you depend on a wage or a salary in order to live, as most people do, you are a worker. As a worker you have a human commodity, to be bought on the labour market by an employer. To the capitalists who use your labour power you are just an item on the list of production costs: if they can pump more value out of you than they pay you they will use you, if not you will be thrown on to the scrapheap of the unemployed. Your function in life, as a worker, is to be exploited. You are a human machine for creating profit.

You like to think you are free. A wage slave is never free. Without selling yourself you will face huge problems, leaving you dependent on state or private charity in order to survive. As an unemployed worker your chances of premature death are greatly increased. So you are free to do what your employer dictates. Your liberty must be trimmed to fit in with the profit requirements of the bosses. Do you have access to whatever you need? You will spend your life saving up for things because they are not free but must be bought on the market. Are you free to live where you like? Can you travel wherever you want to go? Are the best health facilities available to you? Can you provide for the ones you love? Don't even bother to try and answer. We know that as a worker you cannot afford to do these things. Your home will never be as pleasant as the bosses' residences. You will never be as free to travel the world as are the rich who need have no work to get in the way of their travelling. If you are ill you will queue up for the cheap, lower-class NHS treatment because as a worker you are replaceable. The ones you love and care for will always be deprived of some of the good things you want to give them because, unlike the boss who is legally robbing you for profit, you can only afford to be as generous as your wage packet or salary cheque allows you to be.

If you were free you would not have to jump up like a trained circus animal every time the alarm clock tells you that it is time to go and sell the best part of each day to the boss. You are a wage slave. Don't like the label? Then try giving up working for a wage or salary for a few months and living like a lord. You'll soon find out how compelled you are to return to the task of making profits for the capitalists. And don't kid yourself with that line about being free to become a boss yourself. A mass of new companies over the past few years have gone broke within a year or so.

They tell you that you are British. How much of Britain do you own? Little or none. Maybe you possess a few shares. Possibly you own a house, although you more likely own a mortgage or a rent book. You are asked to get excited about "your" country, "our" trade. Will "we" get the order to make aeroplanes for the USA? Why should you care? You will not be profiting from the deals which the British capitalists make. They whip you up into a frenzy of excitement about “our" Queen You are urged to regard yourself as a subject. But if you are broke and can't pay the rent or feed the kids you can forget about any prospect of the two-billion-pound parasite in Buckingham Palace giving you a hand-out. The capitalists, including their crowned figureheads, treat you as a worker, with contempt. Your role is to cheer the British gang of thieving bosses in their quest to become rich, but profits for them has nothing to do with a good life for you.

Not only are you conned into believing that you have a country. You are told that you must die for it. You are so unfree that if a war is declared tomorrow you will stand a high chance of being blown to pieces. They will not consult you before they push the button. Not only you but your children, who are considered too young to vote but not too young to be murdered in the cause of market competition. You might console yourself that the bomb will never drop. You're safe. And ignorance is bliss but it does not protect you from the hard fact that you are now living in a world which is more full of armaments and more capable of mass annihilation than at any time in human history. If you think that war is not on the agenda you are fooling yourself into being a candidate for the post-holocaust pile of corpses and you are leaving those around you unsafe as well.

You could pray that life will improve. Religion used to be popular in this country — these days fewer workers believe it. Prayer will solve nothing. There is no almighty power up in the sky who will put things right. The only powers worth thinking about are those down here on earth. Maybe you are one of those who believe in the afterlife. A comforting thought: after a life of wage slavery down here there's going to be pie in the sky up there. But it's a pretty miserable and pathetic ambition: suffer now and have a good time up on Cloud Nine when you're dead. Intelligent workers will want something now, not promises for when they're six foot under. Then they tell you about "human nature", that disease we are all supposed to be born with. Do you really believe that humans are naturally anti-social? Or do you accept that our behaviour is determined by the social conditions we find ourselves in? In a jungle society of rat-race competition people act like rats. But we are adaptable in our behaviour, as you will know from the many examples of co-operative behaviour you have experienced. As a worker you want to be decent but under the profit system decency pays no dividends.

You have read this far. You agree that you are a worker and that you are not free and that nationalism is a joke and war is a danger and religion offers no answers and humans are not natural aggressors. When you think about these points they make sense to you because they are in line with your experience — that's always the best way to decide whether a point is right or wrong. You agree that the way we are living now needs changing. what is the alternative?

Socialism. You've heard that one before. We have had eight Labour governments and we are no closer to a new system of society than we were when the first one was elected. All that Labour governments do is run capitalism in much the same way as the Tories. Most workers do not believe that Kinnock and his gang will change much. Those who are planning to vote for him are doing so usually to get rid of Thatcher, not because they believe in Kinnock's promises. You are right not to trust the Labour Party. They are simply another capitalist party. They do the dirty work for the bosses whenever they are given the chance by the votes of the workers. Yes, they have nationalised industries but that has nothing to do with socialism. That is state capitalism. That's why the miners had to fight just as hard against their state exploiters as ever workers have against private exploiters. Don 't allow yourself to be conned by nationalisation or "social ownership" or any other schemes for running the same old system of wage slavery. What about Russia. China. Cuba — the countries which claim to have established socialism? You know very well that there is no basic difference between them and the other capitalist countries.

Socialism does not mean capitalism run by nice chaps. It does not mean more crumbs, higher wages, bigger pensions. A socialist society will be one where class ownership of the major resources of the world will be replaced by common ownership. The world and everything in it will belong to everyone. The factories, farms, offices, media, transport — all the means and instruments of wealth production and distribution will no longer be the property of capitalists but will belong to us all. We will all run these things in common, without being led or dictated to. We will govern ourselves, sharing ideas and information and respecting different points of view. In a propertyless world society there will be no exchange relations, because you cannot exchange what you already own. So money will not exist. There will be free access to goods and services. Why waste time and resources on the business of buying and selling when we can all just take what we need from the common store, using modern computer technology to express our demands? Just as socialism will do away with money, so it will abolish the wages system. Instead of selling your labour power to an exploiter you will contribute it in accordance with your abilities. This will only work if people cooperate to give according to ability and take according to need. Socialists think that our fellow workers are that sensible. If you know that you are. then why doubt the co-operative potential of those around you?

It will certainly be a very different way of living from the poverty and insecurity of the present, when we establish socialism. You would be odd if you did not find it an appealing prospect. But there are still questions to answer. How soon can this new system be set up? How do we go about establishing socialism? How much detail about socialism can we give? These are the important questions facing you today.

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