One of capitalism’s historic functions has been to refine society’s class structure. Now only two classes confront each other in conflict, immediately over the division of capitalism’s wealth and ultimately over the ownership and control of the means of wealth production and distribution.
It follows from this that whatever temporary internal dissension they may undergo, each class has a common interest to unite against the other. The capitalist class—the present masters of society—can be left to look after their own affairs. Socialists are concerned with the revolution to abolish capitalism, which can only be the work of a working class politically aware, participating and united. This is why socialists are concerned with working class unity.
There are many powerful influences which run against the idea that working class interests lie in unity. Male and female workers, for example, are too often preoccupied with opposing each other in the labour market and for dominance in social organisms such as the family. Then there is the popular spurious model of class structure which the apologists of capitalism offer a model which has a “middle” class and various other shades such as “lower middle”, “upper middle” and so on, each one having a supposedly different interest.
Another potent force for dividing the working class is that of nationality. All over the world workers are taught that the artificial boundary which separates “their” country also confines special qualities like courage, verity and intelligence which are denied to those across the frontier. And finally there is the propaganda about “race”, which divides human beings on grounds of prejudice, malice and pseudo-scientific mumbo jumbo.
All of this takes no account of the fact that a social class must have a common interest, because it is only on that basis that it can be defined as a class. This unity of interest extends across all other divisions. Thus there are female, as well as male, members of the capitalist class: American, German, French, Japanese capitalists; and capitalists of all “races” black and white. Oriental and Latin.
This also applies to the working class, who exist and are exploited wherever capitalism holds sway. When there is a dispute on the industrial field which involves some sort of action such as a strike, that action is more effective if it includes a committed effort from all the employees concerned, all consciously struggling for the same object regardless of sex, “race” or any other spurious division. When this fact is ignored—as when, for example, British miners opposed the employment of miners from Italy just after the war—they are acting against their own interests.
On the central issue of the ownership and control of the means of life the capitalist class can be seen to operate a unity of a sort. They each have a state machine with its armed and police force which, with varying degrees of ruthlessness, protect their monopoly in those means of life. But so far there has been no comparable recognition of class interest on the part of the workers. The socialist movement, which alone is the weapon the workers can use to take control of the state machine, is so far puny and anything but world-wide.
To remedy this is an urgent and immediate task for the working class. The socialist movement sprung from a handful of workers who understood the capitalist system and the need for its replacement by socialism. An essential clement in this understanding was that of capitalism’s class structure, of the interests which defined that structure and of the role of capitalism in forming those interests. As that understanding spreads, so will the socialist movement grow and branch out.
This movement must be based on a unity which is conscious. It does not rest on blind faith in some super intelligent vanguard or a manipulative elite who aim to lead the rest to some other, so far undefined, social system. Working class understanding and acceptance of socialist ideas will be international, just as their present support for capitalism infects the entire world.
For socialism, then, human unity is vital—a unity for the majority in society to establish a system based on majority interests. Socialists have had enough of division, of human beings opposing each other without reason, when the world is desperate for them to unite to change the basis of society.
So we struggle to persuade the working class that all of them—in the words of our Declaration of Principles “without distinction of race or sex”—have the same interests to work together to rid the world of capitalism with its artificial and destructive divisions and replace it with socialism. That will be a society of common ownership and democratic control of the means of life, of abundant production and free access to wealth.
For the first time in its unhappy history the human race will in socialist society satisfy its needs. Socialism will be abundance, freedom and unity.