We learn at an early age that money plays an important role in our lives. Even the toddler knows that coins must be handed over the counter before he can have an ice-cream. Later we find that money, or the lack of it, will dictate the standard of our living accommodation and degree of education; it will even affect our medical treatment.
It is useless to enter the supermarket with an empty purse, though on its shelves are displayed the very items we most urgently need; these have not been primarily produced as useful articles but as commodities to be sold at a profit. Access to them is obtained only by way of the special commodity in which the value of all others is expressed — money.
Money is familiar as a means of payment and exchange, but in capitalist society it is the medium by which the necessities of life are rationed to the great majority of people so that they must retain their position as wage workers. Conversely it is also the medium through which the owning class pockets surplus value.
How then do we get money?
The privileged minority who owns the means for production and distribution — the land, factories, communications, etc. — get money from rent, interest and profit. They do not need to work.
The vast majority of people, about 90 per cent, possess only their ability to work The members of this working class must sell that ability, their labour power, to obtain money in the form of wages. Their labour is the source of all wealth yet access to the products of that labour is rationed by the size of their pay packets.
Though many look with envy at the better social conditions of higher paid workers the rights of the truly wealthy, the owning class, are seldom questioned.
“And why should they be?” Argues the capitalist. “I supply the machinery and raw materials and provide jobs for workers. The profits are justly mine and they get their share in wages".
But what are wages? Labour power is itself a commodity, bought and sold in the manner of all other commodities, and wages are its price.
Also in common with other commodities the value of labour power is determined by the average socially necessary labour time needed in production. Wages will be generally sufficient to keep a worker, and his family, at a standard demanded by prevailing social conditions. Workers whose labour is expensive to replace and maintain will command higher wages than those paid to the unskilled labourer.
Just as the working class is dependent on wages so the capitalist cannot make a profit without the employment of workers. When the capitalist buys labour power he gets a bargain, for this commodity has the unique capacity to create a value greater than its own.
Workers sell their mental and physical energies to an employer in return for wages. Then, for specified amounts of time, they work in his factory, operating his machinery on his raw materials. Over a given period the amount realised on the sale of the finished commodities will be greater than the cost of wages even after taking into account the cost of the raw materials and machinery. It is only labour power that can actually expand value. Only part of the workers’ labour time is needed to create a value equivalent to their wages; over the remaining time their unpaid labour is creating surplus value to be appropriated by the employer.
From this surplus value, now in the form of money capital, the capitalist can buy new machinery and expand his labour force so that an increased amount of surplus value can be created. However, expansion in the production of any commodity will only continue while market conditions are favourable. When sales fail to realise sufficient profit there will be a cut back in production, even if the commodity is a food crop and people go hungry.
Modern capitalism is a complex system and every individual capitalist may not always make a profit; but it is through their ownership of the means for production as a class that they are able to appropriate the wealth produced by the working class.
Every worker as an individual does not produce surplus value, it is in fact a social process. Workers co-operate to perform all of the tasks necessary to the running of capitalism, and it is as a class that they produce all wealth.
The capitalist mode of production has played a vital role in man’s social evolution. From it has come the ability to mass produce but paradoxically the profit motive prevents the realisation of production in abundance.
Is capitalism, as many would have it, the best of all possible worlds? Fortunately the answer is an emphatic No! There is a basic contradiction between social production and private ownership of the means for production.
When the working class understands its position in society it can, by way of the ballot box, perform the task of abolishing private property and take control of the means for production on behalf of all mankind. In other words Socialism will be established as soon as the vast majority of people want it.
With the means for production owned in common by the whole community production will be for use, not sale at a profit, with human needs the only criteria as to what is useful. With production geared to human needs the wasteful elements of capitalism such as advertising, built-in obsolescence and machinery for war will disappear.
Men will work in harmony as free individuals to produce all of the goods and services required by society and will partake of them according to their needs.
When all that is on and around the earth is owned in common by all of its inhabitants; when commodity production has given way to the production of articles for their usefulness and buying and selling is no more, the only possible part that money can play will be as a museum relic.