The capitalist system prevails not only by brutal force but by ideas which it instills into the heads of the people. The schools, the media, and the church are all the means by which the thoughts of people are shaped. They are used by the ruling class that controls them to argue that the society we live in is fundamentally good and correct. By and large, the working class accepts these ideas. If it did not, capitalism could not exist very long. Because he or she is stuffed full of these ideas, the worker will usually accept that it is the normal state of affairs.
It is perfectly right that if a person who has genuine talent and applies diligently to study and practice, rises to prominence as a violinist, a painter, a writer. If someone with no talent and is lazy, he or she cannot rightfully complain if I am not recognised as a prominent artist. But the great artist who has risen to the heights cannot be compared with the capitalist. The artists entertain us and enrich our lives. They do not employ us, exploit us or oppress us; nor does they have or claim to have the power to do so. They cannot and does not bequeath his skills and talents to their heirs. The social consequences of “being at the top” are in no way the same as in the case of the capitalist.
It is also clear that the whole working class, which numbers tens of millions, cannot become capitalists, who number only thousands. If ten workers rose, by one means or another, to the ranks of the capitalist class, that would change the social position of ten persons but would leave the fundamental division of society unchanged. If worker Dick became a capitalist and capitalist Tom was forced to become a worker, that would change the social position of two persons, but everything else would remain the same.
It is plain to see we see many capitalists who do not lift a finger to do work of any kind and yet remain the wealthy and powerful owners of industry and finance. Others do perform a useful task, but their tremendous incomes and powers do not correspond to their labour but rather of their mere ownership of capital. Still, others never did work of any kind in all their lives, or haven’t a trace of ability or a functioning brain cell in their heads, yet they are wealthy and powerful and part of the ruling class only because of the accident of birth and the law of inheritance.
Wherever we look we can see workers by the millions who sweat and toil at their job, who are skilled in their trade or profession, who prudently save every penny they possibly can, and yet do not become capitalists.
The worker is interested in production primarily in so far as it is production for use, that is, in so far as it makes it possible for him to have the things needed to preserve and expand life – food, clothing, shelter, comforts.
The capitalist is interested only in production for profit. He will produce whatsoever yields a greater profit. If he cannot, he suspends production. He closes down his plant and hard-working employees are thrown out of a job.
The workers’ interest in production is not based on whether or not it yields a profit to the capitalist. It is based on their needs. The capitalist, on the contrary, will produce only if it is profitable to do so. Capitalism cannot reconcile these two conflicting social interests. To repeat, the capitalist produces only if a profit can be made. When there is no profit, he does not keep his plant working but closes it down or disposes of it to someone else.
Let us always bear in mind that capitalism is based on commodity production, that is, production for the market. For capitalism or a capitalist, to provide an article, it must, therefore, have exchange value. That is nothing but the quality of an article, of a product, that makes it possible to exchange it on the market for other commodities, usually through the medium of money.
The exchange value of the commodity known as labour power is received by the worker in the form of wages. With his wages, the worker buys other commodities which enable him to maintain and renew his ability to work. But while it takes him only a part of the working day to produce the value represented by his wages, the capitalist has the use of his labour for the whole of the working day! A shirt is worth more on the market than the cotton originally used to make it. In transforming cotton fabric into a shirt, the worker has added to its value. But if the worker is to be paid in wages to the amount of the value he has added to the cotton fabric, the employer, as in the illustration above, has not advanced an inch. He does advance if the worker adds a greater value than he receives in the form of wages. That is exactly what happens. During the first three or four or five hours of the working day, the worker adds enough value to equal the wages he receives. But he contracted to work a full day. He continues to create value during the balance of the day. This additional value is known as surplus-value. It goes, not to the worker who created it, but to the capitalist who hired the worker for the full day (or week, or month, as the case may be), and who pockets this surplus-value in the form of profit. It is only because the worker can create this surplus, and only because the employer can pocket it, that labour is hired and capitalism can produce.
That is the basis for the exploitation of the working class by the capitalist class. The ownership of the means of production as the private property of capitalists makes it possible for them to exploit the workers, to squeeze out of them surplus-value and thereby profits. The capitalists give every explanation possible for their profits, except the real one. They talk about “ business risks,” about the “entrepreneurial skills ” about their own “hard work from the bottom up” and a thousand other things. But if they were a million times more enterprising than they are, and took a million more risks than they do, and if they cheated each other and everyone else a million times as much as they do – there would still be no other way of making profit under capitalism than by exploiting labour, by forcing labour to create a surplus-value above that which is represented by wages. And the methods they use to reduce labour to the position of a wage-slave rests on the private ownership of the means of production and exchange.
That is why capitalists always seek to reduce wages. The lower the wages paid, the higher the profits made. That is why they seek to intensify the working day and cut out unproductive time so that the worker devotes more hours to producing surplus-value. That is why they always seek to speed-up the worker, to introduce more and more machines to do the work of more and more workers. The more intensely the worker labours, the more value he or she creates; therefore, the more surplus-value; therefore, the more profit. Profits can be obtained and increased only by a constant intensification of the exploitation of labour, by reducing labour’s share, by lowering labour’s standard of living. The greed for profits knows no limit. If capital makes five per cent profit, it is not content until it makes ten; when it makes ten, it seeks every possible way of making twenty.
There are also conflicts inside the capitalist class. Each capitalist seeks to dominate others. Each seeks to control, absorb, expropriate the other for his own benefit. Such conflicts rage within the capitalist class of each nation, and between capitalist nations themselves. But the capitalists are united as a class for the maintenance of their own social system and the defense of their class interests. They can and will differ on a thousand subjects, but they are united in defense of the system of capitalist private property upon which rests their power and rule. The class struggle between capital and labour is, therefore, basic to modern society. It is a struggle that goes on all the time, now hidden and now open. It is not only unceasing but also irreconcilable. The basic class interests cannot be harmonised. One or the other must triumph. Let us do our best to ensure it is our own class that prevails in this war.