In the past few hundred years, capitalism has become the dominant form of production and of division of society into classes, i.e. the dominant mode of production. Its distinguishing characteristic is to have simplified class antagonisms by increasingly reducing them to the one opposing the proletariat (or working class) to the bourgeoisie, to capitalism.
The key to the economic and political power of the bourgeoisie is the private ownership of the means of production and exchange (land, buildings, factories, machines, stores, transportation, etc.) and the exploitation of the labour-power of the working class. The bourgeoisie is a class whose reason for existence is the accumulation of capital, i.e. the continual growth of its economic power; a capitalist who does not grow is, as a general rule, a capitalist condemned to disappear. On the other hand, the capitalist has nothing if he cannot find in society a large number of people who have no other means of subsistence but the sale of their labour-power in exchange for a wage equivalent to the strict minimum for survival. The secret of capitalist exploitation lies precisely in the fact that what the capitalist buys from the worker is not his work but rather his labour-power. If the capitalist had to pay for the work furnished, he would not be able to make the profit he does. Let’s look at an example to illustrate this.
Suppose that a worker produces 10 pairs of shoes a week which sell for $25.00, thus making a total value of $250.00 per week on the market. This worker receives a weekly wage of $100.00. Where does the value of the shoes come from? The raw materials – the leather, thread, and glue – along with the other means of production such as electricity, the machines, etc. alone account for $75.00 to which is added the value added by the worker’s labour, i.e. $250.00 less $75.00 or $175.00. This sum represents the amount that the worker added by his work to the value of the materials that he was given at the beginning. If the capitalist paid the worker according to the value of his labour, he would have to give him $175.00. However, this is not what happens because the wages paid to the worker do not correspond to the value of the work he furnishes; rather, they correspond, on the average, to what it costs the worker to reproduce this labour-power or, in other words, to recuperate his energies and ensure his subsistence given the cost of living and the living conditions at a given time.
There lies the essence of capitalist exploitation: the worker gives a certain value of work to the capitalist but his wages do not correspond to this value but to only a fraction of it. The value of the non-paid work is called the surplus-value; the capitalist appropriates this non-paid fraction which constitutes the source of his profit, the source of capital. Here lies the key to the exploitation of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie, the key to the enrichment of the bourgeoisie on the backs of workers.
The history of humanity shows that the exploiting classes are eventually overthrown by those whom they oppress. Capitalism is no exception. It also is condemned as the slave society and feudalism before it. Capitalism is undermined by its own contradictions. This means that, with the development of capitalism, the working class whose historic mission is to dig the grave of capitalism, develops and is strengthened. This also means that capitalism can no longer ensure humanity’s progress; on the contrary, it slows down this progress. It has thus become a reactionary mode of production. Capitalism's fundamental law is the search for individual profit, has reached the point where the development of the productive forces is incompatible with the search for profit. Corporations prevent the utilisation of a large number of technical and scientific innovations which although they would benefit the majority of people, would not be good for profits. Land speculation and the law of profit have had disastrous effects on agriculture which goes from the under-utilisation of arable land to the massive destruction of agricultural products. The quality of goods diminishes constantly. While the productive potential is enormous, capitalism slows down its development.
Contrary to the other revolutionary classes of humanity’s history, the historic mission of the proletariat is not to substitute one exploiting class for another but rather to rid humanity of all exploitation. When the bourgeoisie drove out the feudal nobles and kings, it did so, of course, in the name of all the people; but, in fact, it only replaced the old oppressors with new ones. It couldn’t have been otherwise because the bourgeoisie was itself a class whose existence was based on the private ownership of the means of production and the exploitation of the labour of others. Thus it only substituted a new form of class exploitation for an old one.
What characterises the working class, on the other hand, is that it does not own the means of production and that it is the object of exploitation. As a class, it has no other future but the total elimination of exploitation of Man by Man. This is why we can say that the movement for the emancipation of workers has to lead to the liberation of all of humanity.
In attacking the foundation of the capitalist system – the private ownership of the means of production and wage labour – the proletariat undertakes at the same time the elimination of classes themselves. In effect, to eliminate the private ownership of the means of production is to destroy the material basis on which all exploiting classes are founded. Consequently, it is also to eliminate classes themselves. This is why we say that the aim of the proletariat’s struggle is the class-free society, a community in which no person exploits the labour of another. After the proletariat, there are no classes to serve as the object of exploitation. To eliminate the exploitation of the proletariat is to eliminate all exploitation. The liberating task of the proletariat also comes from the fact that in order to carry it out fully, it has to attack the conditions which, historically, have made class exploitation possible.
Among these, most important are the State, the division between city and countryside, and the division between manual and intellectual work. The very existence of the State is an expression of the fact that society is divided into classes and that it is necessary to fix the relations between the classes. This is why the State monopolised violence by depriving the exploited and oppressed classes of the weapons necessary for their liberation. This is why the State seals in law the rules of the ownership system. Thus, to say that the struggle of the working class leads to a class-free society is to say that it leads to a state-free society.
The first act, the decisive act on the road leading to the total emancipation of workers, is the socialist revolution.
By the socialist revolution, the proletariat suppresses the private ownership of the means of production. It thus suppresses the material basis which allows the exploitation of labour by capital. By the socialist revolution, the proletariat puts in the hands of society the necessary means for the subsistence and development of its members. While under capitalism, production is done solely in order to make profits for those who own the factories, the railroads, the big chainstores, etc., in socialist society, production is planned according to the needs of all workers.
Thus, under socialism, factories won’t shut down because “their lordships, the investors” don’t think they’re making enough money from them. Neither will we see the economy of a country collapse because “their lordships, the investors” don’t have enough “confidence” in the social climate. Under socialism, it is the workers who dictate the rules of the game and their fundamental rule is the material and cultural well-being of the vast majority of the people. No more will working class houses be demolished to build luxury towers for a tiny minority of the population. And no more of capitalist anarchy which provokes crises of overproduction in some sectors while the essential needs of the labouring masses are not satisfied. All this is eliminated under socialism, because the production is planned. Production will no longer depend upon the wishes of a handful of capitalists whose only goal is maximum profits, but on the collective will of all of the workers. While the capitalist is interested in the product of labour only insofar that it makes him a personnal profit, the workers have, above all, a collective interest in that the product be the best possible and that it be adapted to the needs of the labouring masses. Under socialism, the private accumulation of capital, the profit system itself, will not be the motor of the economy.
Socialism means and must mean the elimination of the exploitation of one person by another in any form. The active and direct participation of the labouring masses in all affairs of society is an indispensable condition for successful socialist construction.
Whether it be in a factory, a hospital, an office, in a village, town, or region, be it a question of material production or of culture,the workers must exercise their power everywhere. It is they who must determine what is to be done in school, the length of schooling, its relations to social labour, etc. The task of revolutionaries consists precisely in carrying out the work of preparing the camp of revolution. No matter how decadent and rotten bourgeois power may be, it will not crumble by itself. The Socialist Party educates the working class on the only demand that can really lead to its emancipation: the abolition of the private ownership of the means of production, the abolition of the exploitation of Man by Man, and the construction of a socialist society. It is the fundamental task of the socialist revolution.