The term “working-class” is used by many people who have never seriously considered what it means. Some, like the left-wing, use it to mean industrial and manual workers. They do not think of doctors, teachers, scientists, authors and other “professional” people, as members of the working-class. What is even more tragic is that most people in these groups do not appreciate their class position. What in fact determines class is not the kind of work that is engaged in, but the fact of having to work at all.
From this it will be seen that the teacher or the doctor is in the same basic position as the bricklayer or road sweeper. The question is not “Do you wear a white-collar or overalls,” but “Have you any means of livelihood apart, from working.” If the office, bank, school, or laboratory you work in does not belong to you and if rent, interest or profit does not come your way, you can call your wage a salary till the cows come home, but you are a member of the working-class.
The fact that the factories, offices, and the whole apparatus for producing and distributing wealth belong to a parasite minority is not the invention of the wicked socialist imagination. The reverse is the case. The Socialist Party is a product of class society, but a very special product with a unique purpose.
Many notions have been advanced as to what history and society are all about, but to understand society as a living changing social structure, it is necessary to look to the breaking up of men into antagonistic classes, and to the process of exploitation. All of the institutions of the state, law, administration and all private wealth and privilege throughout written history up to present times, rest upon a surplus of wealth being created by a class of toilers and appropriated by a class of non-working owners. The material interests of each class of owners have been, and remain, completely opposed to the interests of the property-less mass they exploit.
The state as the executive committee of the ruling class is the seat of political power. The institutions of wealth and privilege are legalised and enforced through this political power. The way to ownership of the means of production lies, for workers and capitalists alike, through political power.
On the question of material interests, it can be seen why Karl Marx is so feared, hated and abused by the capitalist class.
"The bourgeois relations of production are the last antagonistic form of the social process of production—antagonistic not in the sense of individual antagonism, but of one arising from conditions surrounding the life of individuals in society; at the same time the productive forces developing in the womb of bourgeois society create the material conditions for the solution of that antagonism."
(Critique of Political Economy)
To get rid of the antagonistic relations of production means, getting rid of capitalism. This is what it meant to Marx and Engels, and this is what it means to the Socialist Party of Great Britain. How could the head-fixing experts of T.V., radio, press, pulpit, treat Marx fairly when Marxism says the system of wage-labour, profits and privilege must go? Yet, the idea of abolishing wages, and producing for use, must be grasped by the working class before the terrible problems with which the world is faced, are to be removed. The present system of production for profit is a brake on any rational progress.
Most workers are so accustomed to working for wages that to talk of a world without wages is frightening to them. What they fail to realise is that when the factories, mines, railways, etc., belong to all mankind in common, the fruits of our labour will be freely available without having to meet the demand of the price tag. Wages, far from being a blessing which we could not do without, represent the debasement of humanity and the divorce of the producers from the means of production.
The wage system takes away from the workers what they produce, and creates a situation in which money becomes the sole end of human endeavour. The worker is reduced to a creature who seeks a wage packet. What he makes, how he makes it, and what becomes of it, is of no importance to him. The fact that a great deal of wealth today is shoddy and inferior is hardly noticed. If he could get more wages digging holes and filling them in again he would be counted silly not to take the job. The capitalist, on the other hand, has no interest in being the owner of thousands of washing-machines or pairs of shoes. His only interest in production is to get as much profit out of it as possible. If one line fails he will try another. Socialism will restore the use motive to everything that is produced. People will then have a direct interest and say in what is produced and how the process is conducted.
The working class have trodden many false paths and taken up many unsound ideas in the course of their history. When sections of organised workers engage in sound action by striking for improved wages or conditions, they receive the almost unanimous condemnation of the Press. This should indicate to them that such action is in their interest. Industrial action on its own is however very limited and has its best chance of success in boom time when the employers need us most. At best, a strike can win the day on a wage issue, but the capitalists still remain in their privileged position as owners of the means of production.
The trade unions have long been subject to much misuse by careerists and job hunters, also on the other hand, many sincere workers have devoted themselves to the task of winning concessions through trade union action. The real strength of trade unions rests on the growing class-consciousness of their members. If the workers understand their class interest they would be able to struggle much more effectively and could not be duped by the double talk of their leaders. The whole record of leadership has been a very painful one for the working class. Many workers in the “Communist” and Labour Parties, despite disillusionment in the past, still waste their efforts looking for the right leaders. Against all past experience, the idea persists that leaders can do something about the effects of capitalism. In fact, the situation produces and controls the leaders—not the other way around.
Leadership involves the acceptance of an “enlightened” few by an ignorant mass. It is essentially a sheep and dog relationship, except that in this case the dogs do not know where they are going either. Perhaps one of the most famous of all leaders was Lenin, who held:
". . . that the Soviet Socialist Democracy is in no way inconsistent with the rule and dictatorship of one person; that the will of a class is at times best realised by a dictator, who sometimes will accomplish more by himself and is frequently more needed."
For our part we have always argued that the workers must think for themselves and can only take sound action when they understand the society they live in.
The reformist parties are lost before they start, partly because of the ignorance of their adherents and partly because their policies involve them in retaining capitalism while trying to lighten the problems of that system. In this the parties of the so-called “ left” share the fate of the so-called “ right.” The record of their activities reveals some strange alliances and compromises. Liberals have helped the Labour Party; Tories have been helped by “Communists”; the Liberal, Labour, Conservative and “Communist” parties have worked together in war time. Nazis and “Communists ” have made pacts of peace and friendship and all of them are prepared at all times to promise anything that will win votes. All this seems strange until it is realised that the economic dictates of capitalism, control them all. What is strange is that despite their black records the working class continue to support them.
All of these things, leadership, reformism and political ignorance, interlock and form a sinister pattern. Inevitably political parties which do not seek support to abolish capitalism find themselves immersed in its sordidness. Hypocrisy becomes their stock in trade. They all support war.
They all have to talk the language of nationalism, and stimulate and appeal to nationalist feelings. In this country this means they must all be very British and concerned with the good of the nation. The idea has to be continually sold lo the workers that they have a national identity and that their interests are at one with the ruling class. Those African and Far Eastern countries which are new to the capitalist fold have been quick to learn from the example of their older rivals.
While socialists work for an end to national divisions and the introduction of a world community democratically administered and co-operating to produce wealth for the free use of all, Lenin wanted the proletariat to "decisively and actively support the National movements for the liberation of oppressed and dependent nations."
This cry of “national independence" is still echoed by various dupes of capitalism today, including the “Communist" Party. It has found fruit in the coming lo power of home-grown oppressors with the workers being used as a bulwark against their own class interests.
In making this very brief survey many things to which workers devoted their energies, have been left out in order to pay attention to the main points which have a direct bearing on working class activities today. What turn events will take next depends on how rapidly the workers of the world can learn from their experience and the lessons of the past. One thing is certain, for as long as capitalism continues, poverty, insecurity and wars will remain our constant nightmare.
In 1905 the Manifesto of the Socialist Party of Great Britain was first published. On page 25 of the sixth edition, it said:
“In all human actions material interests rule, and therefore the dominant class can only be concerned in upholding wage slavery and increasing their power over the workers. The working class, on the other hand, are driven by their material interest, to struggle for the possession of the means of living. To the working class history has committed the mission of transforming society from capitalism to Socialism. A glance over past history shows that every class that emancipated itself had to commence with the capture of the political machinery, that is, with the power of government. It is therefore, necessary for the workers to organise a political party having for its object the capture of political power.
This political party of the workers can only be a socialist party, because socialism alone is based on the facts of working-class existence.”