The task of the Socialist Party is to present the full uncompromising socialist position. The present labour movement are in general disarray, striving to understand and overcome their heritage of class collaboration. We raise no illusions of the extent struggle is required to win socialism. For this the workers must be prepared. "If we struggle we can win” or “workers united cannot be defeated” are deceits. There are plenty of workers’ struggles that do not win. Leftists who claim to know the truth about capitalism and its state and who still raise reformist illusions are lying to the working class.
For workers, the availability of employment is central for existence. Jobs are the primary if not exclusive means of income, it occupies a great portion of time and is a source of dignity and achievement. But its importance goes far beyond this in considering workers as a whole, their role as a class. Workers form the key productive component of modern society. They run and maintain machinery, build factories and homes, work up the various products for the market—in short produce and reproduce society.
But the tragedy is that a growing percentage are not being allowed to do that, even though there is a crying need for more services and products for the masses. What is behind this madness? It is the nature of the capitalist system itself. To understand it, we turn to its greatest critic and the founder of scientific socialism, Karl Marx.
Marx holds that unemployment results from the basic drives of capitalism. Labor power is a commodity brought to market by workers. To keep its costs down capitalism can either raise the supply by forcing new layers (e.g. immigrants ) onto the labour market, or it can lower the demand by automating labour-intensive production processes. It does both.
Thus capitalism has an inherent drive to introduce new technologies, to revolutionize production. The chief result is accumulation by reducing the proportion of living labor to “dead labour": machinery and materials. Marx made the striking observation that while generals win wars by recruiting armies, capitalists win their competitive wars by firing them. Under the impact ofnew technology, workers are thrown into the street to form what he called the “industrial reserve army,” a mass of disposable labour. Marx noted that this “army” could be used in several ways. One is to supply masses of labor when and where the need arises without disrupting production elsewhere. Another is as a club against the employed workers, a constant downward pressure on wages and combativity. Thus factors that result from capitalist production become key to its success.
But if a surplus labouring population is a necessary product of accumulation or of the development of wealth on a capitalist basis, this surplus-population becomes, conversely, the lever of capitalistic accumulation, nay, a condition of existence of the capitalist mode of production.
Among Marx’s other observations are: 1) the size of the reserve army depends on the needs and conditions of capitalist production; it does not indicate absolute overpopulation; 2) it varies with the cycles of capitalist development—smaller at the end of the boom period, larger in times of crisis—but its existence is constant; 3) it has an active element that Marx termed the “floating” section (including part-timers), a more destitute “stagnant” part, and a “latent” element composed of a population rendered superfluous by productive developments in agriculture and other spheres where capitalist methods were being newly introduced.
Most important, capitalism relies on the working class to produce its source of profit—surplus value. By its nature, it cannot transform the productive forces in a fundamental way to overcome this dependence. Automation has brought big-time changes, but an isolated look at its dazzle can leave a misimpression of just what is being achieved. A look at capitalist society as a whole reveals the limitations. Alongside the automated factory, the sweatshop has re-emerged.
Capitalism is still driven to innovate but in a haphazard, sectional manner. Behind a facade it conserves out-dated production methods and resurrects older ones. The result is an uneven development that projects the dream of an automated world without being at all able to carry it out. Exploitation of the worker remains absolutely central to the capitalist order, but the employers must rely ever more heavily on the reserve army. People must be kept from working to keep wages low, just as farmers are discouraged from growing too much, to keep prices high. These are vicious absurdities, symbols of the inhumanity of this system. The only solution is to replace capitalist rule with workers’ power.