Monday, June 27, 2022

Poverty in Capitalism


Poverty is the fate of the working class in present-day society. From poverty spring the many subsidiary evils to which a lot of the would-be re-constructors direct their main attention. Poor housing and unemployment are only problems for the poor. Ill-health and crime are largely the results of poverty. The most glaring contradiction of capitalism is the abject poverty that exists besides the super-abundance of wealth. In any effort to reconstruct society it will not be sufficient to attempt to alleviate poverty, it must end. Socialism alone shows the way. If the wages system is retained then poverty will be retained, for the two are inseparable. The end of the wages system will ensure an end of all poverty. Capitalism has shown us the enormous powers of production that humankind can wield. All such powers have not yet been unleashed. Capitalism has arrived at a stage where it must limit the expansion of productive powers in the interest of profit. Socialism will release all pent-up forces and enable working people to produce wealth in such abundance that a condition of poverty, as we know it to-day, will not be conceivable.

Men and women’s ability to work we call “labour-power,” and wages are the price they get when it is sold to an employer. This labour-power is a commodity, produced to be sold, and the price it fetches is determined, as is the price of all commodities, by agencies outside the individual owner’s control. Price is the monetary reflection of value, and value is determined by the amount of social effort necessary to replace the commodity. So wages fluctuate around a certain point, the cost of reproducing man’s power to labour. No amount of legislation within capitalism, no philanthropic effort can alter this fundamental economic law. All attempts to remove poverty by price control, minimum wage rates, family benefits payments, or any form of currency juggling fall to pieces against this “law of wages.”

To-day, wealth is produced for profit; workers receive wages for producing it, and it then passes into the hands of the owners of the means of production. The total value that the workers produce is greater than the amount they receive in wages. The surplus accrues to the owners and becomes divided among all sections of the owning-class, landlords, industrialists and investors. But in the process, in order that the owning-class may enjoy the privilege that ownership implies, the wealth must be sold; it must be converted into money. So out goes the product of the workers’ toil, out into a world-market to compete with similar products produced by similar workers in other countries. And from the ensuing competition follows the struggle for trade routes, for spheres of influence, for control of sources of raw materials, for empires. From this source, also, comes international diplomacy, tariffs, State subsidies, trading blocs, political pacts, military alliances and war.

No amount of tinkering with the effects of a system of production for profit will eliminate this competition. It can be raised from a local plane to a national one by State control, it can be raised from a national plane to a continental one such as the European Union, but it cannot be eliminated without at the same time eliminating the private property basis of present-day society. To guarantee against further and more disastrous wars socialism alone offers a way.War, that most colossal of all tragedies, must be ended for all time. All are agreed upon this. Only socialism offers a guarantee of a permanently peaceful future. Wars are unleashing forces that will sharpen the class conflicts of the future, that will present the administrators of capitalism, no matter who they may be, with a task of such magnitude that they will not be able to trifle with half measures.


Unless the socialist proposition for the revolutionising of society is accepted, and struggled for, by the majority of the workers after the war, then capitalism will forever present us with some problems that will have tragic results. For that purpose it is necessary to organise consciously, politically and democratically for the conquest of the machinery of government in order that this machinery may be converted from an instrument of oppression into an agent of emancipation.

The reformation of capitalism will avail them nought. It is the historic task of the working people to abolish the last of the class societies and to establish a class-free one. To this end alone they should bend their present energies and  effort. Their object must be to establish a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interests of the whole community. Anything other than that will not be a reconstruction but merely a reshuffle.

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