Editorial from the March 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard
The profit system is a spent force. The present method of organising human affairs is anti-social because all goods and services take the form of commodities. The great material achievements of the past two centuries have not served to substantially improve the lives of ordinary men and women, but to strengthen the power of the rich and privileged. Sale with a view to profit is holy law.
Capitalism makes the rich rich by keeping the poor poor. There is a class division arising from the minority ownership of the means of production and distribution. The working class receive wages and salaries in return for the use of their mental and physical labour power. The capitalist needs to buy this commodity — yes, labour power is also a commodity to be bought and sold, used and disposed of — because, during the course of production workers create values greater than the price paid for their labour power. This surplus value is the source of the profit which keeps the capitalist in his parasitic position. You can't have capitalism without profit and you can't have profit without workers who are willing to be exploited.
The working class is not coerced into accepting this exploitative relationship. Most workers share the view that the capitalist system is the best possible way of running things. The capitalists spend vast fortunes on maintaining this consent. The schools, the universities, the press, the radio and television, the Church — all of these means of securing social control: they are 'the opium of the people'.
That’s not to say there is total acquiescence. Workers complain about low wages, poor working conditions, bad housing, pollution of the environment, racial and sexual discrimination, the threat of war. Sometimes action is taken. In the case of wages and working conditions trade unions are formed, yet these can only win restricted, temporary gains. Other action takes the form of demands in which workers ask for legislative reforms from the owning class. Neither trade unionism nor reformism challenge the foundation of class society.
Different political parties promise to reform capitalism in different ways. In the industrially advanced countries the working class demonstrates its consent to being exploited by electing these thieves and liars into parliament. Whether the majority of workers vote Labour or Tory the role of the government will always be to arrange for the running of the system that exploits them. The army, the police and the legal system are there to look after things should anyone get in the way.
For the sake of profit-making, workers accept the most abject degradation. Children go hungry for the price of food; families are turned out on to the street because they can’t afford to pay their rents; workers kill each other in wars for markets that they will never profit from; people die painful deaths in under-equipped hospitals from diseases too expensive to cure; grown men beg in the streets for the price of a bed for the night. Meanwhile the Financial Times index serves as a barometer of the affluence of the few.
There can be no alternative to this misery which does not propose to end class division, exploitation and profit: the three-headed god of capitalism. The end of class division will be the result of the abolition of the ownership and control of the means of producing and distributing wealth by the rich. It will not mean State control of production, for the State, as a means of coercion, will be a relic of the past once there is no working class to control. The end of the working class must mean the end of exploitation, and production for profit. Once exploitation ends there will be no more production for profit.
That is what Socialism will bring to an end, but it is what Socialism can make possible that we need to consider. For the first time men and women will be free to discover their full potential, to develop their talents, acquire new skills and fulfil their pleasures to the full. Cost and legality will be an obstacle to no-one. Human beings will be able to co-operate, explore, create and plan in new and exciting ways. Democracy will become meaningful in Socialist society for the first time ever.
It may seem strange to realise that the working class has immense power under capitalism. Clearly this is not power over wealth: the wealth producers are treated with contempt, downtrodden, placed in poverty, alienated from their very humanity. But still they have one power which the exploiters do not. That is the political power to change the course of history. The consent of the working class is vital for the continuation of capitalism. As long as the working class place their faith in leaders of all kinds, it will be gratefully accepted. If, on the other hand, workers stopped trusting and started taking democratic political action on their own, there wouldn't be a thing the capitalist class could do to stop the transformation of society.
The Socialist Party was formed in 1904 by men and women committed to working class emancipation. They understood how the profit system exploited them and felt degraded and indignant by what they experienced; they understood that the system of exploitation would not be abolished by trade union militancy, by radical reform programmes, by enlightened leadership, by violent overthrow or by sitting back and doing nothing. The only way to make Socialism is to make Socialists. The larger the party of workers who understand the need for Socialism, the nearer that need will be to becoming reality. Every new member of the Socialist Party is a further nail in the coffin of the profit system. The process is slow. But those who join it can be confident in the understanding that they are engaged in a movement which will one day eradicate the suffering caused by the profit system so that people can construct a society fit to live in.