The Socialist Party talks about class because this is the basic feature of present-day society. The productive resources of society are owned and controlled by a minority class and are run for their benefit. We can’t see how any person can deny that we are living in a class society and that this is the all-important social fact that those of us seeking social change must take into account. In fact, that the immense majority are excluded from the ownership and control of productive resources means that there is a group in society that has a material interest in ending this state of affairs by establishing a society of common ownership and democratic control, it means that socialism is not some ideal society to which all people of goodwill are somehow to be converted. It provides it with a basis in social reality, with a group of people—the overwhelming majority, it so happens—who have an interest in establishing it as the practical solution to the problems they face.
Capitalist society is rushing headlong towards barbarism. So long as the mad struggle for profit in this private property economy exists, and it must exist as long as capitalism exists, war, hunger, and environmental destruction is forever the prospect of life. Chaos and misery are forever the rewards of the overwhelming majority of the peoples of all countries. The destruction of the world is a grim reality unless the social order of capitalism is abolished and replaced by socialism, the society of all the people for all the people.
While all the capitalists are incapable and unwilling to produce in the interests of the common good of the people, while production is organised solely in the interests of profit, invention in the interests of society as a whole remains stagnant. New technology which could lighten the lives of the people and produce enough to have plenty for all, is impossible in an economy where the main aim of those who own the industries, mines, transportation, and utilities is production for profit.
Capitalism had not always existed. Capitalist production grew out of individual production of feudal times. The typical feudal form of production was production for local consumption: food, clothing and other articles were produced by the serfs for themselves and for their feudal lords. With the development of a surplus – that is,, more articles than the particular group needed – the surplus was sold in exchange for articles brought in from other countries or from other parts of the country. But the main part of production was still for consumption by the producing group and the lord who had feudal rights over it. It was only when the feudal units began to break up that this form of production gradually gave way to production for profit, which is the essential mark of capitalism. Production for profit required two things: someone with enough resources to buy means of production (looms, spinning-machines and so on); and, secondly, people who had no means of production themselves, no resources by using which they could live. In other words, there had to be “capitalists,” who owned means of production, and workers whose only chance of getting a livelihood was to work the machines owned by the capitalists.
The workers produced things, not directly for themselves or for the personal use of their new “lord,” the capitalist, but for the capitalist to sell for money. Things made in this way are called “commodities” – that is, articles produced for sale on the market. The worker received wages, the employer received profit.
Tools and instruments of production, of one kind or another, have also existed from time immemorial. But only with the rise of modern capitalism, which is only a few hundred years old, have money and the means of production been converted into what they never were before, namely, capital. More accurately, it is only under modern capitalism that capital becomes dominant, that it pervades and controls and actuates all economic life.
Under slavery and feudalism, the nobility and the landlords owned human chattels or the land and mercilessly exploited the slaves and serfs. But what these slaves and serfs produced beyond the needs of their own wretched existence, was consumed by their overlords. What did they produce? Food, clothing, castles and palaces, and other objects of personal use and consumption. Little or nothing was produced for exchange. There was an accumulation of great personal fortunes, but no accumulation of commodities to speak of. The means of production were simple and primitive, like the hand-plow and the spinning wheel, and their primary purpose was to satisfy the needs of the ruling classes. In addition, there were numerous free producers who owned their own land or their own shops and tools. They were small independent producers.
Modern capitalism arose only with the development of machinery, with the great expansion of production which this made possible, with the expropriation of the independent producers, and the concentration of the means of production in the hands of a few. The means of production became capital when they became the private property of a capitalist minority and were employed for the exploitation of the modern wage-worker.
The peculiarity of capital, which distinguishes it from mere money and mere tools and mere raw materials and mere labor power, is this: All these become capital when they are used for the purpose of accumulating more capital. This is the difference between capitalism and all societies that went before it. The difference is so important that it cannot be over-emphasised.
When the overwhelming majority—the working class, as we define it—take conscious democratic political action to do this, classes can then be abolished and a genuine community with a common social interest created. Production will be switched from production for sale on a market with a view to profit to production to satisfy people’s needs. Money—as a means of exchange, a means to buy things produced for sale— will become redundant and disappear. The existence of money and the existence of socialism are incompatible since the existence of money implies the existence both of exchange and of private property whereas socialism, as a society of common ownership and production for use, implies the non-existence of both and so also of the need for money. Under capitalism, money is very useful, indeed indispensable. Without it capitalism could not function; to try to abolish it would lead to chaos and economic breakdown. So we don’t stand for the abolition of money now under capitalism. What we stand for is the establishment of the common ownership and democratic control of productive resources; this will allow production to be geared directly to meeting people’s needs, so making money unnecessary. A society dominated by money is one of the effects of capitalism, not its cause as you seem to imply. The only way to end the nefarious effects of money that you correctly identify is to establish socialism, where human values can flourish instead of the commercial and financial values that distort and debase our lives today.