Friday, April 8, 2016

Wages and their abolition (1977)

From the December 1977 issue of the Socialist Standard

The average worker knows that the money he receives in wages from his employer has to be paid out in living expenses both for himself and his family. For the most part the money is paid out in food, articles of clothing, rent or mortgage payments, fares, and other numerous items of household and personal expenditure. The standard of living of the workers depends on the quantity and quality of these items they can afford to buy. If prices rise their living expenses will rise, and unless they are able to take steps to keep up the price of their own labour they will have to curtail their expenditure and suffer a reduction in their standard of living.

All this is so clearly obvious that most workers regard it as their natural condition in life; a condition to which they must adjust or sink into the abyss of the drop-out or the down-and-out. The workers live their lives for the purpose of serving capital, although they are not often aware of it. In a world of commodities their labour-power too is a commodity and is inseparable from their living selves. The capitalist buys labour-power, the worker sells it. Not only that, they have to keep on selling it as long as there appears to be no alternative way of getting a livelihood. All workers dream of happier times, of perhaps coming into a fortune, of becoming a capitalist and leaving behind the tedium and drudgery of wage-slavery. This dream rarely comes true, and most workers know it. However bleak the immediate prospects, there is a bright future; a future which is well within the grasp of the working class and is theirs for the taking.

Over the thousands of years men have spent in civilized society they have developed and perfected tremendous productive forces which can produce all the wealth that society requires. When we discuss productive forces we are not just referring to machinery and applied technology. The working class is the greatest productive force of all. This social organization carries in its social brain the accumulated knowledge born of centuries of experience of man’s struggle against nature in the act of production. How to grow things, how to breed animals, how to build, construct, educate, and investigate; how to divide its productive activity by the organization of the social division of labour. Men have created a new environment. They have extended their senses by the creation of the machine age, an age which seems to threaten the very existence of millions of its creators by removing them from the productive process through unemployment. To the average working man the social powers of production appear to be beyond his comprehension. In his mind they represent forces which are almost supernatural. To begin with, they are owned by the capitalists and he has no access to these forces except on the conditions dictated by capital, which means in effect that he produces not for himself but for his employer.

If workers looked at their class interests they would see that the means of production and distribution were developed by the working class, continually improved by the working class, and they only function because workers alone perform useful labour without which society could not survive. The workers think subjectively, they look for an escape-pattern or for some cushioning factor which will alleviate or help them adjust to life under capitalism. In the first place they will look for solutions in wage increases, and then social reform. Both of these are dead ends. However much it may be argued that increases in wages are in the interests of the working class, it is quite clear that the energy, time and effort spent in achieving wage increases have to be continually expended. This is the vicious circle which the socialist seeks to break out of. We advocate and propagate the abolition of the wages system. We do this because the social relation of wage-labour and capital restricts the productive process, because productive activity is limited to the needs of the market, and that the marketing of goods must be profitable to those who own and control the means of production and distribution.

The abolition of the wages system could only be accomplished if the means of production and distribution were taken away from their present owners, in other words, to remove the social capital from the ownership and control of the capitalist class and make them social property. There is no reason why this cannot be done, and there is also no reason why production cannot take place with the sole object of fulfilling social and individual needs.

It is not what the capitalists want that matters. Obviously they would want things to remain as they are. It’s what the working class wants that matters. Society is theirs for the taking. All that is necessary is a change of mind on their part. If workers stopped supporting capitalist candidates at the elections and supported socialist candidates they would achieve a peaceful revolution for Socialism.
Jim D'Arcy

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