Letter to the Editors from the April 1946 issue of the Socialist Standard
A correspondent (Mr. H. Godfrey, Somerset) writes as follows: -
"In attacking society as constituted now your statements convey the impression that we have a master class and an enslaved class with a clear line of demarcation. Personally, I think that, to-day particularly, this is incorrect. Whilst no one would deny the existence of a definite capitalist class and a definite enslaved class, society is far more complex than that, and though I have no statistics, I should say there is a considerable proportion of the population who belong to both classes, i.e., whose income is derived both from earned and unearned sources. As these are in various proportions, in each person's case, how can one say to which class an individual or group of persons belongs? It is no answer to say in such and such a case unearned income is so small that it is not worth mentioning, because in other cases it is larger and considerable, but still the person is not a ‘big capitalist.' A matter of degree, but degree does not alter the principle.
"My reason for raising this matter is that, in my opinion, this very complexity of society is a real cause why Socialism does not make a more rapid progress; and more important still, I don’t think anything is gained in the long run by obscuring this point of view.”
When our correspondent admits that "no one would deny the existence of a definite capitalist class and a definite enslaved class ” he goes far to destroy his own criticism, and to confirm the soundness of Socialist propaganda. What he calls the definite enslaved class constitute the overwhelming majority of the population, and they are in no doubt whatever that they get their living only by being employed or by being dependent on an employed worker. The fact that a small minority have a considerable interest both in employment and in property and therefore do not have a predominant interest in the one or the other, is a small matter by comparison.
We do not deny the existence of this small minority though we do say (with our correspondent) that there is a definite working class and a capitalist class. That is quite a legitimate statement, just as legitimate as to talk of "urban" and "rural” areas, notwithstanding the existence of areas on the fringe of towns which are neither urban nor rural.
As regards statistics, the pre-war position was analysed carefully by Daniels and Campion, economists at Manchester .University, in "The Distribution of National Capital” (Manchester University Press, 1936). The present position is not likely to be greatly different. In their book the writers show that out of about 22¼ million men and women aged 25 and over, 17¼ million, or about. 77 per cent., owned small amounts not exceeding £100 (p. 30). The number who owned £1,000 or over (including, of course, the largest fortunes) was about 1,366,000.
In between were 2,850,000 who owned £100 to £500, and 825,000 who owned £500 to £1,000.
Some of these will have been people owning a small business, alone or in partnership, but working in it as well. The man who owns £500 cannot simply invest it and live on the very small income he would get from it.
Where, then, are the "considerable proportion” of the population who are neither mainly dependent on employment nor mainly dependent on income from property? Our correspondent misunderstands the point at issue when he says that it is "a matter of degree, but degree does not alter the principle.” The principle is not the question whether a person owns £100, £200, £900, and so on, but whether his property is or is not sufficient to relieve him from the necessity of working for his living. When this test is applied, the problem stated by our correspondent is seen in its proper proportion.