Editorial from the September 1935 issue of the Socialist Standard
A Timely Reminder
There are so many people who do not understand what is the nature of the class-struggle of which Socialists speak, and so many others who choose to misrepresent it, that the essential facts cannot be repeated too often. The class-struggle is something which exists owing to capitalism. It is not an idea invented by Socialists. It existed before there was any Socialist Movement. The existing class-struggle is a fact arising from the division of human beings into two social classes. They are not divided into classes by Socialists, or by their own ideas and outlook, but by their possession or non-possession of property. The capitalist class are those who own sufficient property to be able to live on the income which flows to them through their ownership. They are the receivers of rent, interest or profit. The working class are those who, because they do not own sufficient property to be able to live on property income, must work for their living. They must sell their physical and mental energies, their labour-power, to the capitalist class and the agents of the capitalist class. In return, they receive wages or salary. The working class includes those who perform practically all of the work necessary for the production and distribution of wealth, from the making of bricks to the task of organising and directing. They are all workers, working to order, producing wealth for the capitalists to own. These are facts, and it is remarkable how rarely the defenders of capitalism even attempt to dispute them. Given this private ownership of the world’s means of producing and distributing wealth, a class struggle is the necessary consequence, expressing itself as a struggle by the propertyless to gain control of property, or as a struggle over the division of the product of industry—strikes, lockouts, etc.
The part played by Socialists is not that they have created this struggle, but that they point it out, explain it, and show how it can be abolished by the abolition of classes.
The part played by some of the defenders of capitalism is to pretend that the struggle has no basis in material conditions but exists only because certain people hold and preach views regarding it. Thus The Times, in an editorial, on August 21st, takes the Trades Union Congress to task for not rejecting the class-struggle theories it is supposed to hold. The T.U.C. is invited to observe that employers, far from seeking to reduce wages during the crisis, “have had for their object that maintenance of the general standard of living which has also been . . . the anxious concern of the Unions,” and to observe further that in the newer industrial areas, where workers are employed “in agreeable surroundings” and have “welfare amenities,” the “conflict of interests between employers and workpeople . . . has scarcely arisen.”
The phrasing of this betrays at once that The Times writer does not understand what conflict of interests means. It is not something which may or may not arise, but something which exists in the nature of capitalism. To him, the absence of trade union organisation in some of the newer industrial areas, particularly round London, shows that there is no conflict of interest. It shows nothing of the kind. The absence of trade union organisation may be due to the employers being able to forbid trade union membership, or to the fact that the workers are not yet aware of the value of organisation. Conflict of interest does not have to show itself in one form only, that of trade unions and strikes. Each individual worker when he weighs up the amount of pay offered to him, and his chance of standing out for more in face of the competition of the unemployed is taking part in the struggle, and is more or less dearly conscious of the conflict of interest between him and his employer. The very relationship of employer giving orders and employee having to take orders is a distinguishing mark of the class-struggle. Again, if The Times writer were familiar with one of the most outstanding examples of modem capitalist organisations in which trade unions are as far as possible prohibited—Ford's— he would recall that only two or three years ago a savage conflict occurred at the Detroit works in which lives were lost and many workers and police were injured. Moreover, in 1933, there were strikes at Ford's Dagenham Works, and at those of his subsidiary, Brigg's Bodies. During August of this year a wages dispute occurred at Ford's Dagenham works and led to the defeat and dismissal of strikers.
The Times writer betrays himself again when he admits that “the conflict of interests between employer and workpeople" has in the past been the “raison d'étre of the Unions." He mentions a certain gilding of the chains of wage-slavery in the form of “welfare amenities" but apart from this he nowhere shows that the conditions in the newer industries are more than superficially different from those in the older ones. And again, how, on his supposition, does he accounts for the persistence of the unions and their 100,000 increase of membership in the past 12 months?
Before leaving this topic we would like to refer The Times writer to an earlier editorial which appeared on June 22nd of this year. In it we are given some interesting facts about the ownership of wealth in America. First, a quotation from a speech by President Roosevelt, in which the President declared that for three generations there had been “a constantly increasing concentration of wealth and power in fewer hands," and secondly, a statement by Mr.. Ickes, United States Secretary of the Interior, to the effect that 80 per cent. of the wealth of the country had accumulated in the hands of 2 per cent, of the population. Let us put a question to The Times editor. He denies that class-struggle and class-conflict have any necessary existence outside propaganda. Knowing that wealth in America (and also in England) is concentrated in the hands of a tiny minority of the population, will he deny the existence of a propertied class and propertyless class, and will he affirm that conflict of interests need not exist between those who own the means of life of the whole of society and those who do not own?