Sunday, March 26, 2017

Marx and the "Blackcoats" (1935)

From the March 1935 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is a sign of the times that the name of Karl Marx is so often mentioned wherever social problems are discussed. His opponents, and they number many, including such bitter “opponents" of each other as Conservatives and Labourites, pay an unwitting tribute to the soundness of Marxism each time they attempt to “prove" Marx wrong.

To give an example of the manner in which his critics “dispose" of Marx, here is an extract from the Daily Herald, “Labour's own paper." Under the heading, “All Together," it printed a leader dealing with the proposed affiliation of the Medical Practitioners' Union to the T.U.C., which it described as being “full of significance." “The middle-class workers," it says (italics ours) “in the professions, in commerce, and in industry, are established in positions of great influence and power. Their numbers are growing with astonishing rapidity. The class whose decline Marx foretold in his certain accents is expanding in numbers, growing in power and developing its own outlook as a great new factor in politics." (December 15th, 1934. Italics ours.)

"The class whose decline Marx foretold in his certain accents . . . . "! Which class? In the Daily Herald's own words, the "middle-class workers! The managers, foremen, architects, clerks, salesmen, etc.? Since when have these types of workers constituted a separate class? And when and where did Marx “foretell their decline" ? Not a word from the Herald in support of their allegation.

In fact, Marx quite clearly foresaw that the work of administration would be taken over by the workers. In his work, “Capital" Marx says: “Just as at first the capitalist is relieved from actual labour so soon as his capital has reached that minimum amount with which capitalist production, as such, begins, so now, he hands over the work of direct and constant supervision of the individual workmen and groups of workmen, to a special kind of wage labourer. . . . The work of supervision becomes their established and exclusive function." (Vol. 1. Swan Sonnenschien. Edited by F. Engels. Page 322.)

Further, in dealing with clerks, etc., he states: “The commercial labourer, in the strict meaning of the term, belongs to the better-paid classes of wage-workers, he belongs to the class of skilled labourers, which is above the average. . . . The generalisation of public education makes it possible to recruit this line of labourers from classes that had formerly no access to such education and that were accustomed to a lower scale of living. . . . The capitalist increases the number of these labourers whenever he has more value and profits to realise." (Italics ours. Vol. 3, Kerr and Co. Trans, by E. Untermann. Edited by F. Engels. Page 354.)

These are "certain accents" of Marx all right, but they give no support to the case of the Daily Herald. Marx did not make the mistake of confusing the better paid workers with the smaller capitalists, as the Herald writer apparently does.

Perhaps the “subjects" of this controversy, namely the Daily Herald's “middle-class workers," those who are established in positions of “great influence" and “power" may derive small comfort from what Karl Marx or the Daily Herald says about them. But they will sooner or later be forced to listen to what the Socialist Party has to say to them.

Firstly, there is no fundamental distinction between the workers by “hand" and those by "brain." In fact, all workers have to use both, and because all of them have to sell their working ability, whatever its character, to an employer for a livelihood, all of them belong to that economic category, the working-class.

The clerks, architects, and many other of the “superior" sections of the workers face the same problems, generally speaking, as tailors, bricklayers or engineers. All those problems can be traced to one root cause—the private ownership of the means of living. In many cases, the position of the professional workers and clerks is worse than that of their “manual" brethren. When in work, a constant struggle to keep up appearances; when out of work, some do not even get the dole. And mechanisation and rationalisation have wrought havoc in their ranks, too.

Therefore, the Socialist Party does not select particular sections of the working-class for special mention.

Misunderstanding of the Socialist case is prevalent amongst all grades of workers to-day. Professional workers do not possess some mental kink which will make it impossible for us to convert them. Even the snobbish outlook born of “semi-detacheds’’ in Suburbia cannot withstand for ever the bitter lessons which capitalism is teaching.

Marxian Socialism — Scientific Socialism — stands primarily for the recognition of the fact that the working-class, nine-tenths of the population here, cannot live without getting permission to use the land, the factories, railways, etc., from the capitalists who own them. This means nothing but slavery and exploitation for all working-men and women, no matter what their jobs are.

And therefore, we of the Socialist Party ask you, whether you are “black-coated workers, or workers with no coats at all, to join us?" Because the task we have set ourselves is the most vital of all, the task of taking the means of life out of the hands of the minority and securing them for common ownership.
Sid Rubin

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