“A house may be large or small; as long as the neighboring houses are likewise small, it satisfies all social requirement for a residence. But let there arise next to the little house a palace, and the little house shrinks to a hut. The little house now makes it clear that its inmate has no social position at all to maintain, or but a very insignificant one; and however high it may shoot up in the course of civilization, if the neighboring palace rises in equal or even in greater measure, the occupant of the relatively little house will always find himself more uncomfortable, more dissatisfied, more cramped within his four walls.” Marx, Wage, Labour and Capital
It is true that the standards of living have improved considerably since the days of Marx and Engels. Karl Marx never said that the workers under capitalism would all end up as “paupers”.
In Capital, Vol. 1, Marx wrote:
‘The lowest sediment of relative surplus population [unemployed] finally dwells in the sphere of pauperism. Exclusive of vagabonds, criminals, prostitutes, in a word, the ‘dangerous’ classes, this layer of society consists of three categories. First, those able to work. One need only to glance superficially at the statistics of English pauperism to find that the quantity of paupers increases with every crisis, and diminishes with every revival of trade.’
‘the demoralised and ragged, and those unable to work, chiefly people who succumb to their incapacity for adaptation, due to the division of labour; people who have passed the normal age of the labourer, the victims of industry, the mutilated, the sickly and the widows, and so on.’
And is this the reality we see with the present austerity policies of the ruling class. So Marx was correct when he said “misery” would increase in the course of capitalist growthand will fluctuate along with the ups and downs, with “booms” and “slumps”. Marx pointed out, firstly, unlike the peasant or artisan, members of the working class are devoid of any means of production, they must work for one or another capitalist, or starve. With the growth of capitalism and technology their livelihood becomes ever more precarious. In the “depressions” millions of them are forced into the ranks of the unemployed. All methods for raising the social productiveness of labour are brought, about at the cost of the labourer.
Marx goes on to explain:
‘All means for the development of production transform themselves into means of domination over, and exploitation of, the producer ... degrade him into the appendage of a machine, destroy every remnant of charm in his work and turn it into a hated toil . . . they distort the conditions under which he works, subject him during the labour process to a despotism the more hateful for its meanness.... It follows therefore that in proportion as capital accumulates, the lot of the labourer, be his payment high or low, must grow worse. Accumulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole.’
One might think that Marx still lived with such an insightful description of today’s economic malaise. Marx said of the worker “be his payment high or low”, his labour is still drudgery, the job speeded-up and intensified.
Many think that Marx meant that “increasing misery” simply spelled reduced wages, with the workers reduced to the status of “paupers”, as do many other “critics” of Marx. As you see, nothing is further from the truth. It is but an aspect of it. The gloomy predictions of Marx that the rich would become richer while the poor would suffer ever greater hardship has unfortunately been vindicated on an international scale.
American commentators have increasingly been vocal in the disappearance of their ‘middle class’. Yet they pay no heed to the Communist Manifesto prediction:
‘In countries where modern civilisation has become fully developed, a new class of petty-bourgeoisie has been formed, fluctuating between proletariat and bourgeoisie and ever renewing itself as a supplementary part of bourgeois society.The individual members of this class, however, are being constantly hurled down into the proletariat by the action of competition, and, as modern industry develops, they even see the moment approaching when they will completely disappear as an independent section of modern society, to be replaced, in manufactures, agriculture and commerce, by overlookers, bailiffs and shopmen.’
In each “recession” tens of thousands of small enterprises are ruined. In each ‘boom’ period, large numbers of small enterprises, have sprung up again, the middle-class “renewing itself.”
Presently, the renewal process is ever more difficult. Whole sections of independent proprietors have already disappeared. Where today is the independent hotel-keeper? Everyone knows that the hotels are owned largely by corporate chains and the independent owners are indeed a vanishing race. The managers, “overseers, shopmen and bailiffs” have, taken over, as Marx said; the so-called “managerial revolution.” The so-called ‘managerial revolution’ in the shape of the oligarchy of CEOs has resulted in a more ruthless efficiency in the exploitation of people, in maximum profits.The class of small entrepreneurs has shrunk, while the number of those who work for wage or salary has grown. Small businesses are going into bankruptcy. That is the process of expropriation of small capitalist by the cartels.
The change from capitalism to socialism, from capitalist dictatorship to rule of the working class, is a revolution, the most far-reaching revolution in human history. What tactical methods are used, whether by majority vote or by the General Strike or by insurrection, cannot alter that fact. As genuine socialists we do not consider that socialisation is a piecemeal process as visualised by the reformists.
Our aim is the unity of the working class movement, and, ultimately political unification in one party based on socialist principles. While capitalism lasts, so too will the inevitable class struggle proceed.