Many people feel frustrated at having to endure the continuation of capitalism while seeking a mass understanding for socialism. However, the alternative, minority action, would not change things. Without a mandate from a conscious socialist electorate, the minority could only be another government. Socialists in trade unions make their own choices as to voting for officials. They may take political affiliations into account, but the function of trade unions is the limited to of one of seeking better wages and conditions; a candidate for office will be judged for his likely effectiveness as a negotiator above anything else. Socialist Party members in unions do not pay the political levy for the support of the Labour Party.
Political groups and parties which advocate the abolition of capitalism have to be viewed for the validity of their claims. If their policies are not realistic they will not achieve the aim they talk about, and capitalism will continue. While not avowedly in favour of it, they do their bit for it.
Marx did not argue that the working class must continuously slide into more abysmal conditions. On the contrary, he pointed out that under some circumstances:
"A larger part of their own surplus-product, always increasing and continually transformed into additional capital, comes back to them in the shape of means of payment, so that they can extend the circle of their enjoyments; can make some additions to their consumption-fund of clothes, furniture, etc., and can lay by small reserve-funds of money. But just as little as better clothing, food and treatment, and a larger peculium, do away with the exploitation of the slave, so little do they set aside that of the wage-worker. A rise in the price of labour, as a consequence of accumulation of capital, only means, in fact, that the length and weight of the golden chain the wage-worker has already forged for himself, allow of a relaxation of the tension of it." - Capital
The governing factor is the needs of capitalism:
"The rise of wages therefore is confined within limits that not only leave intact the foundations of the capitalist system, but also secure its reproduction on a progressive scale."
What is the standard of judgement for “worse”? It can only be the potentialities of society. In the same chapter Marx reviews a Budget speech of 1863 in which it was claimed that “the poor have been growing less poor”. He says:
"How lame an anti-climax! If the working-class has remained “poor”, only “less poor” in proportion as it produces for the wealthy class “an intoxicating augmentation of wealth and power”, then it has remained relatively just as poor. If the extremes of poverty have not lessened, they have increased, because the extremes of wealth have. "
It will be agreed by SPGB members that they have to spend as much time with enquirers telling them what socialism is not as with telling them what it is. The greatest coup of the capitalist propagandists was when they succeeded in misrepresenting Socialism to the masses. Their allies are those organisations which claim to be socialist or communist, though they are nothing of the sort.
Classes are defined by the relationship of their members to the means of production, not by how rich or poor they are. Of course the members of the dominant class are generally rich and the members of the dominated class are generally poor, but this is an effect not the cause of the division of society into classes.
This means that the figures for wealth ownership are only an indication of the class structure of society–they show that society is divided into classes but not how it is. So, classes should not be defined on the basis of them; classes are defined socially not statistically. And the working class is defined socially as those members of capitalist society who are excluded from the ownership and control of the means of production and are therefore forced to get a living by trying to find an employer to buy their labour power.
Most of those called the “middle class” fall into this category, even if they do have savings, since these savings are not sufficient to change their social position. In the vast majority of cases their “investment income” is not going to amount to more than a few thousands pounds a year at most. Nor are we convinced that such people regard themselves as capitalists; they may not call themselves “working class” but this is because of the term’s popular (but mistaken) association with manual labour and not because they don’t regard themselves as working. In fact they get quite irate if you suggest this. On the other hand, as we said in our criticism of Class War, “making a putative middle class into an enemy is as divisive as anything dreamed up by the owning class”.
Have these better off workers some want to call the “middle class” an interest in establishing socialism? Why not? They are exploited in the sense that they produce more value (or save more time) for their employers than they are paid for (this surplus value they produce will also be more than what they get as income on their savings). Like the rest of the working class (properly understood), they suffer from pressures to work harder, stress and job insecurity.
And even if their higher income does allow them to avoid bad housing and hospital queues and dump schools they still suffer from the bad–and worsening–“quality of life” under capitalism: rampant commercialisation, lack of community feeling, social breakdown, decadent values, not to mention pollution and the threat of war.