Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Understanding Capitalism

Today the whole world is in the grip of capitalism. Millions of workers are unemployed and reduced to near subsistence standards of living. It is an astonishing that in a world where science and technology have developed to an advanced stage there could be plenty for all, there is a growing poverty and hunger. Not only are untold millions unnecessarily materially deprived but the human species has even developed an antagonistic relationship towards its environment by poisoning the atmosphere, polluting the oceans and ravaging the land so that now nature has turned against us. At the root of all these problems is the exploitation of some people by other people - the capitalist class exploiting the working class. All of the deprivation and conflict are brought about by a society divided into oppressors and oppressed. No lasting solution to any of these problems will be found while capitalism is allowed to survive in the world. For the working class the only way forward is to struggle to bring about a class revolution and begin the struggle to eventually build a socialist society where exploitative class divisions and all the evils that go with them are abolished. Either we achieve a socialist transformation of society or our civilization will eventually be destroyed. There is nothing inevitable about the further advancement of the humanity. The only real, lasting way forward is socialism but whether or not this road is taken is a matter of decision for people themselves to make. In the world today only the working class has sufficient objective interest in the overthrow of capitalism and the strength to carry out this revolutionary task if it chooses to do so. The working class has it within its power to overthrow capitalist society and in so doing to pave the way for the liberation of the whole of humankind. The Socialist Party is dedicated to the cause of socialist revolution in Britain as part of the world-wide struggle against capitalism. We do everything within our power to stimulate the working class to overthrow its capitalist masters. If we do not move forward then we will move backwards. The choice before us is “Socialism or Barbarism”.

The future of the working class in Britain is unavoidably bound up with the development of the world as a whole. Only if we conduct our struggle against capitalism on the basis of being just one contingent of the international working class will we achieve ultimate victory. The capitalist classes of the different countries are in rivalry with each other in their struggles to dominate the world. The very character of capitalism drives the capitalists to continually search abroad for new sources of cheap raw materials, cheap labour and new markets and this eventual gives rise to wars.  

The working class has no interest in making peace with its own rulers so as to weather the storm of any economic depression. On the contrary we have every interest in stepping up and intensifying the class war to overthrow this oppressive and exploitative capitalist system. Taking the road of tightening our belts to help our masters through the recessions of this rotten system simply perpetuates a class-divided and oppressive society.

Central to the capitalist economic system is the exploitation of workers by capitalists, the chief means of production – raw materials, machinery, buildings, transport, etc. are owned and controlled by a small minority of capitalists. This determines that the great mass of people, the working class, have no choice except to work for capitalist employers so as to earn a money wage to buy the goods and services, the commodities, necessary for them to survive. On the face of things this relationship between capitalist and worker seems to be a fair and equal one: the worker agrees to do so many hours work for the capitalist and in return the capitalist agrees to pay a certain amount of money in wages. In reality this relationship is an unequal and exploitative one because the wages paid to the worker are less than the value of what he or she produces. The difference between the value of what workers produce and what they receive in wages constitutes the profits of the capitalist employer. Massive exploitation of the working class is an integral part of the capitalist economic system and will persist for as long as does capitalism.

Not only do capitalist exploit workers but the system operates in such a way that capitalists constantly have to try to exploit workers even more. Different capitalists producing the same kind of commodity are competing with one another in the market to sell their products. Failure to sell the commodities produced by his firm means bankruptcy and ruin for a capitalist and the main way of ensuring steady sales is to offer given commodities on the market at a price below that charged by other capitalists. If a capitalist is to reduce his prices without reducing his profits then one way is to increase the hours of work of his employees without paying them any more wages. Sometimes employers get away with this move (for example, in the car industry paid, time for tea breaks and cleaning up have been abolished), but in many countries where many workers are organised in trade unions, it is not easy for capitalists to force workers to accept such an increase in the degree to which they are exploited. Another ploy is to speed up the rate of work, increase its intensity, and thus reduce the cost per item by forcing the workforce to produce more commodities in the same time as before. In the car industry this generally takes the form of speeding up the rate at which the production assembly line moves. Again, this does happen but in a given type of production there is usually a very definite limit to which the pace of work can be increased and anyway workers are likely to resist such a move.

Another way, in fact the most important way in which capitalists try to gain an advantage over each other is by introducing new and more efficient means of production, technological innovation. The capitalist employer in a given field of production may be able to reduce his costs of production by introducing new production processes which enable output per worker to rise and thus cost per unit to fall. This allows the employer to sell his commodities at a price lower than that of his competitors while at the same time increasing his rate of profit on the capital he has invested. This advantage does not last long because the other employers will also quickly adopt the new production processes so as to be able to compete and stay in business. As the new production processes become introduced throughout an industry the proportion of total capital which is spent on raw materials, machinery, etc. rises while the proportion spent on employing labour power, on paying wages, falls. The consequence of this change is that since capitalists can only extract surplus value from those workers they employ directly and the number of these is falling, their rate of return on their capital falls as well. Paradoxically the greater efficiency in production brought about by developments in technology means a falling rate of profit for capitalists and redundancy for workers. Such is the inbuilt unavoidable absurdity of the capitalist system of production: its enormous productive power brings it grinding to a halt. The only way in which the working class can permanently rid itself of these cycles of boom and slump is to get rid of capitalism and replace it with socialism. The only way out of economic depression for the capitalist class is to do whatever is necessary to restore the profitability of capital. One way or another, this means intensifying the exploitation of the working class.

It is important to realise that capitalists are not always looking for ways to increase the degree of exploitation of workers because they, the capitalists, are inherently greedy but that they do this because of the way in which the capitalist economy operates leaves them with no choice if they are to stay in business. Similarly, if workers are not to be worked to death and totally impoverished then they have no choice except to take a common stand together against capitalist employers so as to resist employers’ attempts to exploit them even more. This is done by forming trade unions to defend wage levels and working conditions. In Britain a greater proportion of workers are in trade unions than in any of the other advanced capitalist countries. Even so it is obvious, especially with the onset of an economic depression, that trade unions only have a very limited capacity to defend the living standards and working conditions of the working class. While trade unions are a necessary means of defence of the working class against the capitalist class it is also the case that they pose no fundamental challenge to the whole capitalist system. Trade unions do not challenge the right of capitalists to exploit workers but only the degree to which this takes place. Even the most militant trade union struggles, involving workplace occupations and clashes with the police, pose no fundamental challenge to the dominant position of the capitalist class. If the working class does not rise above the level of recognising the necessity to organise industrially, of a trade union consciousness, then it will be doomed to an eternity of struggle with the capitalist class.

The whole of capitalist society is organised around the capitalist economy. The modern family is structured to produce and discipline the workforce, labour power. The state passes laws and maintains the police and armed forces So as to keep the working class in line. Education and the mass media are powerful means of spreading the ideas and outlook of the capitalist class, bourgeois ideology, among the working class so as to get them to accept the capitalist system. Religions promise the good life in this world for those who knuckle under to oppression and exploitation in this one, and so on. Capitalist society in its totality is structured so as to preserve the exploitative relationship between the capitalist class and the working class which lies at its heart. Nonetheless this same system contains within itself forces which periodically throw it into crisis and open up the possibility of its final overthrow arid replacement by a society where oppression and exploitation do not exist.

As with all class societies, there is a fundamental division between the small but immensely rich and powerful monopoly capitalist class who own and control the chief means of production and the great majority of people, the working class, who own and control no means of production except for their ability to work, their labour power which they are forced to sell to the capitalist class in return for wages. The relationship between capitalists and workers is unavoidably and inherently exploitive and oppressive because capitalist profits are derived from paying workers less than the value of what they produce. It follows that all the time a class-divided capitalist society exists there will be a continuous, never-ending class war between capitalists and workers. The main enemy of the working class, the target of the revolution, is the capitalist class. While there are differences within this class on what is the best way of controlling the working class so as to perpetuate the rule of capital they stand united in their determination to uphold its reign.

These people are the real rulers. Many people believe in democracy, and that everyone should have a say in how the country should be run, what laws should be passed etc. In reality this is an illusion, a clever and subtle illusion which is propagated by the capitalists. It is they and they alone who have real power over the destinies of the great mass of the people. The employing class own and control all the means of production, that is the factories and all the other places where wealth is created by means of the exploitation of the working class. In this way the ruling class dominate the economic life of the whole people. Yet economic domination in and of itself is not sufficient for them to maintain an all-round rule. They also need to dominate in an ideological way, that is, they need to mould and shape the very thinking of the people whose bodies they already control: They need to rule both hearts and minds. The ruling class need to manipulate and restrict the consciousness of the working class so that their world-view is seen as the only possible way of seeing things and is the natural order of things which can never be altered. So in order to maintain economic and ideological control, that is - total control, over the great mass of the people, the boss class have created a number of agencies of social control. One very important agent of ideological control is the bourgeois state. More specifically the idea that this state is fair and neutral; that it is the same for everybody, rich or poor, that it stands above the class divisions in society. Yet in truth, the bourgeois state is the instrument of control of the employers and investors who exercise a dictatorship over the working class. The range of activities of the capitalist state has been expanded in response to the growing instability of the whole capitalist system and a corresponding desire on behalf of the ruling class to keep control at all costs. The working class can only take control of its destiny by taking political action to capture the bourgeois state and then to abolish it as an institution of class rule. As the working class abolishes capitalist relations of production and replaces them by non-oppressive, non-exploitive ones then the alienation characteristic of capitalism will begin to disappear. As the great mass of people gain control of their productive activity and the products of their labour so their antagonistic estrangement from each other and their aversion to work will be overcome. Productive activity will become once again a creative, fulfilling and truly human activity. The division between work and non-work will gradually disappear and people will freely choose what to produce rather than being constrained by immediate necessities.

Workers in Britain are just one part of the global working class and our revolutionary struggle is essentially an international one. Although we have an immense task in front of us it is one worth tackling for ’the proletariat have nothing to lose except their chains, they have a world to win’.

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