Standing in the way of social progress and socialism is the capitalist class. The capitalists are a powerful enemy and it will require protracted efforts to overthrow them. But there is a potentially much more powerful force opposing them: the vast majority of people, billions of people all over the world. We are many, they are few, as Shelley put it.
Capitalists live off the exploited labour of others. Marx pointed out that in the case of slavery the slaves were oppressed and exploited in order to produce use values for the slave-owners. This is distinct and different from the exploitation of the working class by the capitalist class, whose goal, as Marx puts it, is “the production of surplus value as the absolute law.” Under socialism, although the value of products, based on socially necessary labour time, must be taken into account, still commodity production is made subordinate to the goal of producing use values for the working people, such as food, clothing, housing, health care, transportation. Exploitation under capitalism is achieved through the buying of labour power, based on the exclusion of the workers from the ownership of the means of production. Under socialism workers are not re-united with the means of production in the sense of individually owning them. Private ownership can be supplanted by state ownership without changing the basic social relationship.
The working class is the class that is most systematically and brutally exploited by capitalism, and is the most revolutionary class. The working class is composed of all wage earners – mental and manual, urban and rural – whether in basic industry, manufacturing, service, farm, sales, domestic, clerical, public, or other jobs. The working class is composed of skilled and unskilled, employed and unemployed. Some workers may make more money than many others, but they are still members of the working class because they do not exploit the labour of others and must sell their labour-power to survive. The vast majority of people belong to the working class. The working class produces the wealth appropriated by the capitalists and its basic interest lies in the abolition of the private ownership of the means of production. It will be the class of the socialist revolution. Through struggle and education, workers will realise that their interest lies in the overthrow of capitalist private property profit system and the establishment of common ownership. But such a revolution will require the solid unity of the workers of all nationalities. The working class is multinational, composed of workers of many different nations. Their common identity is that they are all exploited by the capitalist class.
Most people wonder what the future holds for them, their family and their friends. They want to know if it is possible to see a future free from the stresses and worries of today, free from the poverty for millions and the homelessness. People ask, must the rat-race continue? They want to know why a small number of rich people should cream off most of the benefits of modern technology while the rest of us spend our days in endless drudgery. We have been told such problems are the fault of “human nature” and “man’s in-born greed”, and the like? Socialists believe it is the way our society is ordered today and that there are already other forces growing that can change it for a better one, where life can be improved and made better for all. Our confidence comes also from the study of what life was like in the past, how it has changed and what made it change. It is not “human nature” that is the cause of the problems people face today. It is how society is organised, with a minority of people owning and controlling the wealth and the industry, excluding the vast majority of the people from any real say in the running of society. It is this system, which we call capitalism, which cannot guarantee security of employment, cannot provide the good things of life for all, cannot give a constantly improving standard of living for the millions and cannot guarantee peace in the world. It is this that must be changed. The working people who have produced all the wealth around us must come into common ownership and democratic control of what is their own by right, so that they can then build the society and produce the things they want. The vast majority of the people gain nothing from capitalism and would lose nothing with its passing.