August 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard
Capitalism is based upon the private ownership of the means of life with all production geared to profit. Socialism is the common ownership also of the means of life but with production solely for use. They are two distinctive social systems, one a class system and the other classless. The aim of one is to maintain in a position of privilege a small minority and of the other to satisfy all according to need. Let us consider further.
Under capitalism there are two classes. The capitalist class owns all the resources of the world: land, raw materials, factories, mines, machinery of distribution, communications, and so on. The working class, the overwhelming majority, do not own any of these things. The division of the population of the world is therefore between owners and non-owners. There are no other classes. The so-called “middle class, upper middle class, lower middle class,” come into one class or the other. The test is simple. If you work for wages (or so-called salaries, the same thing), and are dependent upon them to live, then you are a member of the working class. Do not be under any illusions about this. Anyone enjoying a life derived from ownership of the tools of production, without the necessity of working at all, is in the capitalist class.
The working class must sell their mental and physical energies for wages. But, as always with buying and selling, there is a conflict of interest. The workers endeavour to get the best price possible, i.e. the highest wages for their labour-power, or working abilities. They learnt that in unity there was strength and in the early stages of capitalism, against great opposition, they combined to form trade unions. There has been since, a never-ending struggle with their employers over wages, conditions and hours of work. But the workers do not hold the right cards, whilst they accept the terms of reference of capitalism. After years of class struggle they are still only paid wages to prevailing standards based on age, experience, sex, skills, education and training. They are confined, harnessed and shackled by capitalism. They are in a humiliating position and as individuals they cannot opt out of the system.
Under capitalism all must bend their knee to the great god of Profit: their energies too. It is the be-all and end-all of production under capitalism. The surplus that makes it possible is created at the point of production by the working class. Profit is realized when this surplus is sold. Members of the working class have no share of it whatsoever. Their wages are part of the costs involved in the process of production and distribution. They create vast quantities of every imaginable commodity and these are greater in value, much greater, than the sum total of wages paid to them. This is the whole object of the operation. Working men and women, cannot you see that the capitalists only employ you to bring into existence this surplus? They do not do it to find work for idle hands to do or because they are sorry for workers. They want commodities, articles made to be sold to realize profit. The capitalist class want to lay their greedy hands on as much as they can and so far, thanks to the working class and their submission to the wages system, the employing class have got away with it.
In periods of slump, when the markets of the world are glutted, workers quickly learn what the form is. They are made redundant. In plain language they “get the sack”. They are told to go, and where they go is of no concern to their late employers. From office- and shop-boys up to so-called managers and “Company Men” they are all treated alike. There is neither work nor wages until “things buck up”.
But capitalism is an up-and-down system. It has its booms as well as its slumps. Now the capitalist rubs his hands with glee, for is not the whole of the modern world his market place? What he now wants is full order books. Out go his hired agents with instructions to sell, sell, sell. At his behest, the workers make, sell, transport and ship, load and unload the wealth of the world. A crowning insult is that thousands of workers are employed in the useless occupation of reckoning profit and keeping track of overseas investments of the capitalist class in such time-wasting occupations as banking, accountancy, Stock-Exchanges, insurance and so on. The Socialist says to his fellow-workers: This is your life, but what are you going to do about it?
Profit will not evolve into production for use. Private ownership will not evolve into common ownership. Buying and selling will not evolve into free access. Socialism means Social Revolution, a complete change in the basis of society which must be ushered in with full understanding and determination by the workers of the world. When a majority have Socialist knowledge, they will do just this. To vote for a change in government is useless, as repeated experience has shown. As long as capitalism lasts, the fundamental position of the wage-earning class remains the same. The workers of the world must become class-conscious, they must become as one and recognize their universal common interest. They must organize consciously and politically for Socialism. The weapon is already in their hands. It is the vote and, backed with understanding, it is the mightiest weapon of all when it comes to world-changing.
A politically mature working class of the world will establish Socialism which is a world-wide system. They will see to it that the whole earth and all its resources will become the common possession and under the democratic control of all mankind. This is the foundation stone, the rock, on which it will arise. It will transform all human relationships and change our ways of thinking. It will be a society of free association and genuine democratic processes. The views of the majority will prevail and the voice of any minorities always heard and considered. Wealth will be produced only to satisfy human wants and needs as quickly as possible and fulfil all aspirations. Socialism means the end of buying and selling, the end of money, the end of profit and the disappearance of the parasitical capitalist class. No-one will work for wages and the slavery of the working class will give way to freedom and human dignity.