From the December 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard
Most people nowadays have some grievance with this or that aspect of society. Millions suffer the horrors of capitalist wars in Vietnam and Biafra. Mental illness is a growing problem. Old-age pensioners are dying from malnutrition, from cold. Slum violence and riots hit the headlines. Waiting lists for hospital beds and houses outstrip supply. Town planning is without reference to the individual: he has no control over his environment. Every day more strikes, more redundancies, and so on.
Most people would agree that each of these grievances could be remedied with a fair measure of goodwill and intelligence.
Socialists would disagree. They are all inherent in the way this society is organised. Their solution lies in abolishing capitalism, which embraces the entire world and whose motive is not the satisfaction of human needs or the alleviation of human suffering, but the creation of profit for disposal by the privileged few, and the accumulation of capital.
What, then, constitutes capitalism? Capitalism is the society in which a certain group of people, a small minority, monopolise the ownership of the factories, land, mines, transport concerns, and every other point where wealth is produced. In this country they are proud to be called the capitalist class. This appellation is a hallmark of respectability, of privilege, and of alleged superiority. In Russia, China, and Eastern Europe they are proud to be called people’s commissars and members of praesidiums and politburos.
But mere monopoly of these means of production is not enough to give them a privileged position in society. They must employ workers, people who will produce all society’s wealth but never own more than that which their wage represents. Some say that the workers get a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work, but what is ‘fair’? If the working class produce everything then they should receive all of it. But do they? No. The fact is that the worker’s wage represents only a fraction of the wealth he has created. He is robbed—but legally. And although he constantly struggles to improve his wage, he apparently never dreams of abolishing the entire wages system.
Some radicals think that this is unnecessary. After all, they argue, if you seize all the means of production from the capitalists and institute state ownership, then only the state (and through the state, the people as a whole) will benefit from the wages system.
And if the state machine is managed by people who call themselves Marxists or Socialists or Communists or the National Liberation front, then this is obviously a more just and sane society. A society where people can at last plan their environments; with human priorities to the fore, and unrestricted by the demands of the market economy. But is it?
Will these advocates of state ownership have eliminated the contradictions of capitalism, manifested in a class struggle between the capitalist who strives to intensify exploitation through lower wages, longer hours, and faster production, and the wage slave, whose aim is to raise his wage, slow down production, and lessen his working hours? And forced into competition with other states and their ruling-classes, will housing have priority over defence or more profitable industries like motor cars and cosmetics?
The rulers of Russia, China, Cuba, North Vietnam, and other self-proclaimed ‘socialist’ countries perform the same function as that of the capitalist described above. They must pump surplus value out of the working class or be destroyed in the international competitive process.
Periodically they urge their workers to fight wars for them, sometimes for ‘defence’ (of their capitalist private property), sometimes for blatantly imperialist aims. They crush strikes of dissatisfied workers, ruthlessly, with all the state power at their disposal.
Their workers are exploited and oppressed just as surely as we are. Perhaps more so, for in those so-called ‘workers’ states’, the workers are prohibited from forming their own independent trade unions.
To summarise, capitalism means class monopoly of the means of production—its prime motive is profit, and to hell with the interests of the worker. Its mechanism, the means by which it robs, is the wages system. Solutions to capitalism’s problems can be found only after abolishing this system.
All other solutions, such as the ‘welfare’ state, housing squats, treaties to abolish or localise wars, non-aggression pacts, backing Britain, Labour or ‘communist’ governments or ‘workers’ control’ (of the wages system) are at best palliatives, at worst outright deceit.
And our solution? Don’t follow anyone, don’t believe anyone who offers you paradise—and a wage. And don’t expect us to lead you. We are allergic to sheep. Instead, cultivate your self-reliance and organise yourselves democratically (and that means equal participation in decision- and policy-making, with all tasks not assumed by leaders but delegates) for the conquest of political power. When you have political power as a class, you will be the last class in history to be emancipated. There are none below you, none you will need to dominate to maintain your position as free men and women at last.
Voluntary co-operation on a world scale will replace compulsory economic competition between individuals. Social antagonisms will fade into history. With the abolition of the wages system the interests of the individual will coincide with those of society. Genuine freedom will have dawned.
M. A. B.