Basically, capitalist society is divided into the capitalist class and the working class. The great majority fall into the latter category: those who produce wealth by applying their ability to work with raw materials, either in the state in which they are found naturally or already transformed by human labour. The minority, the capitalist class, are those who purchase this useful activity and employ it to increase their own wealth. How is the capitalist class able to buy the abilities of the worker? Because the division is based on ownership. The capitalists are the owners of all wealth of social significance. In comparison to them all previous owning classes—feudal lords, slave-owners, churches and ancient potentates—appear like paupers. The capitalist class have grabbed all the earth’s resources and will maintain their ownership until the working class decides to take it away. The workers own practically nothing, and as a consequence of this fundamental fact the worker is forced to sell his or her ability to work.
The capitalists are the greediest class in history. They insist that the workers continue to produce more and more wealth; not for the purposes of human satisfaction but solely to increase the profits of the capitalists and enable them to increase their ownership of wealth. The working class is the most “charitable”. Having produced all this wealth they allow it to be appropriated by another class, whilst they live in various degrees of poverty. There has never been such philanthropy in the history of the world! When the working class establishes a society of cooperation in their own interests as distinct from the interests of others, it will be a step towards a society that brings to an end the ruling exploiting class.
On the face of it, the Socialist Party attitude of opposition to reformism often seems harsh. We are frequently accused of being unsympathetic to worthy causes or removed from the centre of important action. Neither charge is true. These charges are superficial responses to a thorough assessment of social reforms which are at best irrelevant and most of the time dangerously diverting. We do not doubt that there are much sincerity and indignation in reformist campaigns, but by itself, this is not enough. Of course, it is important to care but sincerity can be misdirected and therefore illusory. When indignation is made sterile, it is tragic. Socialists want to avoid this.
The Socialist Party's attitude to programmes of social reform is central to our political position. It is a matter of crucial importance that this attitude be clearly understood. The Socialist Party commitment is to the solution of working-class problems confronting mankind. The two are inseparable. Socialist policy is not arrived at through obstinacy nor by a deliberate selection of difficult paths. Socialist policy is determined by the facts of the situation as we find them. Our analysis of society is directed first towards a description of the way in which social problems arise and then to a programme of political action which would lead to their solution. This is an objective analysis of the reality of everyday human experience, which leads to principles of action given by practical necessity. If social problems can be shown to be inherent within capitalist society then it follows that capitalism must be replaced by different social arrangements which will not generate the same problems. Social reform policies leave the basic structure of capitalism intact. Therefore programmes of social reform cannot hope to solve social problems. This argument is supported by a theory which is proved valid by the evidence of real experience. Whether it be through well-meaning ignorance or opportunism, one thing is certain, the present chaos shows that after a century of social reform, basic social problems remain unsolved. So-called “pragmatists,” tell us that politics is the art of the possible to justify compromise since political change require integrity of purpose and action. Socialism is the science of what is possible, and the surrender of principle is totally self-defeating.
Capitalism cripples humanity. It does this in every way in which life is important. Materially it limits production to what is profitable. To maintain this human needs are sacrificed. At the level of relationships, capitalism is exploitative, men and women are objects to be used, their best potentialities as cooperative human beings remain unrealised. The condition of our lives is given by the productive relationships of capitalism. This material condition is circumscribed by economic laws which are not merely a product of capitalism but are inseparable from its nature. Under capitalism, the working class must secure its material standards within the limitations of the class ownership of the means of production, and the production of commodities for sale on the market with a view to profit. Within this system, the possibilities of employment and the ceiling on wages are determined mainly by the expectation of profit. In all the circumstances of class struggle in capitalist society, capital and labour pursue their interests against a background of competition and the struggle for markets, control of trade routes and resources, continued capital accumulation, strikes and other industrial action and the expansion and contraction of production which is the trade cycle. Our social possibilities are confined within the general anarchy of capitalist production with all its artificial scarcity.
The total amount of wealth that becomes available in the form of commodities (the social product), is given not by political processes but by economic processes within the framework and limitations of capitalism. In describing the economic limitations within which wealth becomes available under capitalism we are at the same time describing forces which prevent capitalism from operating in the interests of the whole community. In reaction to these conditions, various protest movements and reformist organizations become active in the hope that either as pressure groups or political parties they can improve the material conditions of life. We have ruled out the idea that such organizations can lead to a greater availability of wealth under capitalism. The organizations best suited to achieve a distribution of the social product more in favour of the working class are the trade unions. But even with their muscle and the pressures that they are able to apply, they have to accept that there is little they can do. When trade is expanding trade unions can negotiate marginal increases in wages. In the present time of recession with a high level of unemployment, even trade unions have to accept a lowering of workers’ living standards. They can only wait now until their negotiating hand is strengthened, whenever that may be. This by itself is a sad comment on the way in which capitalist economics is beyond any rational control.
With the welfare schemes of the post-war years, such as family allowances, improved old age pensions, sickness, and unemployment benefits etc., the state became more involved in the distribution of the social product. These schemes are part of the distribution of that portion of available wealth which goes to the working class as a whole. These measures were supposed to herald the dawn of a new era of social equality. The only equality about them was that the state organized and administered the more equal distribution of working class poverty. Regardless of the hopes of reformists, these schemes were introduced and are maintained by governments for the purpose of stabilizing and augmenting the general pattern of exploitative relationships. It is important to emphasize that what becomes available for this kind of distribution is given by the general level of exploitation over the whole economic field and again this is beyond the control of reformist governments. With some exceptions, on balance history does not show that capitalism has unwillingly absorbed reform. On the contrary, capitalism generates reform in its own interests. Reform is part of the normal pattern of political administration, its function being to stabilize capitalism. Social reform is the political process through which capitalism continues its own economic development and since government and the state are the political expressions of capitalist ownership, social reform will preserve that class interest. Reformism, inevitably then, involves an endorsement of capitalist productive relationships.
It is an undeniable fact that under capitalism man cannot control the productive process. We cannot set up productive objectives and then organize social resources to achieve those objectives. For example, the Labour Party has been powerless to act against mounting unemployment and lowering working-class standards. This is the price we pay for private ownership and the profit motive. The solution is to bring productive relationships into harmony with human needs. The means of producing wealth must be commonly owned, the earth’s resources must be at the free disposal of the whole of mankind. In these relationships, free from the economic barriers of capitalism, man can co-operate to simply produce the wealth that humanity needs. Socialism will not only achieve productive efficiency but will establish a pattern of relationships in which the dignity of man’s coming together will be enhanced through equality and co-operation. We can only break away from the self-repeating failures of reformism by recognizing that the problem is capitalism itself. We can replace disillusion with effective action by working to establish socialism.