Friday, February 07, 2020

Understanding capitalism to understand socialism

For a hundred years the world has known no rest. Hunger, poverty, illiteracy, and all kinds of degradations make the lives of hundreds of millions of men, women, and children scarcely tolerable. War has continued to wreak destruction. Humanity’s resources are wasted while people’s basic needs remain unsatisfied, land is spoiled, misery increases, and poverty spreads. National chauvinism, racism, and ethnic hatred are developing at an alarming rate. There is an increasingly evident imbalance between humanity’s capacity for progress and the wretched reality that hundreds of millions of people must live under daily. While factories are closed down, prisons are opened up. The economic base of this social regime is the capitalist system.  The vast majority of the people share a common condition: that of living in a society where the owners of the means of production impose their will over those who possess nothing or little. In other words, people live in a society divided into social classes where the propertied class, the capitalists and landowners, dominate those who have little or no property, the working class. The key to the economic and political power of the capitalist class 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 capitalists are 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.

The capitalist is 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. 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 workers by the employers and investors, the key to the enrichment of the capitalist class on the backs of workers.

It is important to see that the means the employers are using today to increase the exploitation of the working class are designed to re-introduce, in a new form, mechanisms that the workers’ movement had successfully and efficiently fought in the past. For example, the working class obtained the 8-hour work-day. To get around this legal obstacle, the capitalists do two things:
a) they speed up the work to obtain more products in the same time, and
b) they institute compulsory overtime.

With this second method, the capitalists considerably increase the proportion of surplus labour, i.e. the unpaid labour that they appropriate. By making the same worker work longer, they avoid the costs involved in hiring another worker. This, of course, increases unemployment at the same time that it increases profits. Through legislation limiting the increase in wages below the increase in the cost of living, the boss-class does not reduce the actual amount of money received by each 56 worker as it did in the past but the result is the same: a drop in the real wages of the working class and a rise in the profits of the capitalist class.

But to attain their ends, the capitalists have to weaken the means of resistance of the working class and of the people in general. And to achieve this goal, there are no methods they won’t resort to.

On the whole, the bourgeoisie combines two types of tactics to check the workers’ movement: on the one hand, minor concessions, crumbs, and superficial reforms, the carrot, and, on the other hand, political and economic repression to intimidate, the stick.

The working class has nothing to lose but its chains. This is why we say that it is the only class whose interests are fundamentally opposed to those of the capitalists. It is the only class which has nothing to lose and everything to gain by the overthrow of the ruling class and the destruction of capitalism, even though they want improvements to the present situation, limit their demands to partial changes which don’t put into question the present economic base – the private ownership of the means of production and the exploitation of wage labour. 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 ultimate aim of the proletariat’s struggle is the class-free society, i.e. the socialist society, a community in which no person exploits the labour of another.

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 transport and the media, the big stores, etc., in socialist society, production is planned according to the needs of all workers. With 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. With 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. 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.

The Socialist Party speaks of replacing the capitalist production of goods by the socialist organisation of production. While the capitalist is interested in the product of labour only insofar that it makes him a personal 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. These are only a few examples of what replacing the capitalist production of goods with the socialist organisation of production means.

 A transformation of such magnitude of the economic base of society can only be accomplished by revolution, by socialist revolution.

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