In dealing with present-day society, certain basic features have to be borne in mind. These are the fact that society is divided into two classes—those who, by virtue of their non-possession of wealth, are compelled to sell their labour-power to some firm or organisation which is willing to buy it, and those who, by virtue of their ownership of the factories and the general means of production and distribution, are able to buy the energies of the first group for so many hours per week. In relation to the second group, the first group stand as slaves—wage-slaves. Perhaps they might even be termed “free slaves,” because they have the theoretical right to terminate their employment by a week or a month’s notice. But should they do this, they are not entitled to unemployment pay and being without wealth, they are compelled immediately to seek another employer. This is the extent of their “freedom.”
Every society has a very definite basis, and every class society a very definite method of exploiting its subject class. This exploitation was not veiled in slave society; one person owned another and made him or her work. The master gave the slave the necessities of life and retained for himself what was produced over and above the slave's maintenance. The exploitation and slavery of present-day society are to some extent veiled. They are there all right, none the less. The capitalist does not own the worker, but still the worker is dependent on the capitalist class for a livelihood. And how is the worker exploited? Before production takes place today we have capital. This is money invested, for the purpose of profit, in the purchase of machinery, raw materials, factories, etc. But these things are useless without workers, so capital engages too the energies of the worker. The energies of the worker are used up in producing articles for sale, commodities, but the worker is not paid for the produce of his or her work for the whole duration of the day. In a working day of eight hours a worker may receive wages equivalent to, say, four hours' produce of his work. The other four hours are given free to the capitalist. It is thus that the worker is exploited under capitalism. Were he or she paid for the full produce of eight hours' work there would be no profits for the capitalist class. Whatever minor modifications present-day society may undergo, this is, simply and briefly put, an explanation of the productive process. It is plain to see that wage-labour and capital are the roots of the whole system. Machinery, in simple or complex form, may be employed in any social system—but WAGE-LABOUR AND CAPITAL ARE PECULIAR TO CAPITALISM, and it is by their presence or absence that we can decide whether a society is capitalist or not.
In "Wage-Labour and Capital" Marx rightly points out that the two are complementary. The one does not exist without the other. He writes: "Capital and wage-labour are two sides of one and the same relation. The one conditions the other in the same way that the usurer and the borrower condition each other. As long as the wage-labourer remains a wage-labourer, his lot is dependent upon capital".
And again: "Capital therefore pre-supposes wage-labour; wage-labour pre-supposes capital. They condition each other; each brings the other into existence." (Emphasis by Marx.)
It is true that with the development of capitalism and in different countries the form of ownership and control of capital may differ. But the form of ownership of capital is not the vital question. It may be owned by the small private trader, the large owner, the trust or by the state—"the executive committee of the capitalist class." But in all cases its presence proves the existence of capitalist society.
Socialism can be established only when the working class are ripe for it. The development of capitalism creates a world-wide working-class with identical interests, and presents it with problems the solution of which requires the abolition of capitalist society and the establishment of socialism. Not for any other class is the task of accomplishing the socialist revolution. But to achieve socialism, it does need, not a handful of workers, but the majority of them, class-conscious and with an understanding of what socialism is. Marx and Engels dealt with this point in their “Communist Manifesto,” when they wrote:
“All previous historical movements were movements of minorities, or in the interests of minorities. The proletarian movement is the conscious movement of the immense majority in the interests of the immense majority.”
Socialism means economic equality. It involves the abolition of the wages system, and the creation of a society wherein every member has free access to the means of life. It is the socialist slogan, “from each according to his ability and to each according to his needs.”
There are those on the Left who propagate that socialism is a transitional stage between capitalism and communism. Socialism never had this meaning until the Bolsheviks found it convenient to foist it into the word.
For Marx and Engels socialism and communism were synonymous terms. Hence the title of Engels’ masterpiece, “Socialism: Utopian and Scientific.” In his Preface to “The Communist Manifesto,” written in 1890, Engels makes it clear that he nor Marx had in mind what the Bolsheviks mean when the term “socialism” is used.
Why then did the Bolsheviks give another meaning to word? In the first place, they doubtless wished to attract support of the workers at home and in other lands and therefore used phraseology which appealed to workers. The Nazis did the same with their “National Socialism” Then, again, it was obvious to the Russian people after 1917 that not yet had the millennium arrived. With the impossibility of abolishing poverty it was necessary to hold out hopes of better things to come.
In effect they said: “This, you will get, Comrade Worker, when communism is possible. But you cannot have communism yet; we must finish building up socialism first.”
In this respect, they have succeeded in adding to the confusion which already existed in the worker’s mind as to what socialism means.
Those who wish to improve the housing conditions of the working class have always received considerable vocal support. For a century the housing problem has provoked prolonged debate and intensive efforts from reformists to get something done. Despite these efforts, many workers still live in unhealthy slums and in overcrowded conditions. Basically, there is no such thing as a housing problem. The problem for the workers is poverty, and that will remain so long as capitalism remains. Before the war we witnessed the erection of great buildings for the use of the capitalists, either for homes or for commercial purposes. Colossal quantities of material and thousands of hours of labour were required to do this work. There was no problem—the places were needed by the capitalists, who could afford to pay, so they were built. The needs of the workers are more pressing, but the barrier is insurmountable—the barrier of poverty. Nothing will be built unless it is required by the capitalist or a profit is expected from them. Again we stress the workers live in slums and hovels because they are poor and can afford nothing better.