Marx, class and socialism (1988)
From the August 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Class and class struggle are central to an understanding of the case for socialism. Marx and Engels had been concerned to show the "class struggle as the primary motive force of history, and especially the class struggle between bourgeoisie and proletariat as the great lever of modern social change" (Circular letter to Bebel, Liebknecht, Bracke and others).

Marx, however, undertook no systematic definition of class. While he certainly planned to do so. the unfinished chapter of Capital intended for the purpose ends after a few paragraphs with a note from Engels that the manuscript breaks off. The omission has certainly fuelled the confusion and ignorance surrounding the meaning of class and its relevance to the socialist case.

It would however be surprising if, in the whole of the writings of Marx and Engels, we were not able to understand what they meant. Indeed, the whole of their writings is about understanding the historic dynamic of class, the class struggle and the abolition of class society. Within the body of their writings there exist enough references for us to constitute what they meant by class. Marx did not, of course, invent class. His contribution was to articulate and conceptualise the existing historical reality. Class is not some figment or idea emanating from the mind of Marx. More>


The Socialist Party of Great Britain is a working-class party and is therefore concerned to do everything possible to arouse the class it represents from indifference into organised action against the present form of industrial organisation to which can be traced the evils under which the workers suffer to-day. No successful conflict with capitalism can be entered into except it be based upon a clear understanding of the class position.  Upon this basis alone can be built the fighting organisations, political and industrial, of the working-class which by concentrating upon the conquest of political power and the substitution of the common ownership and control of the means of life for the present private ownership thereof, shall achieve the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of the socialist cooperative commonwealth.

For this task the workers must acquire the consciousness which can enable them to do so. This consciousness must comprise, first of all, a knowledge of their class position. They must realise that, while they produce all wealth, their share of it will not, under the present system, be more than sufficient to enable them to reproduce their efficiency as wealth producers. They must realise that also, under the system they will remain subject to all the misery of unemployment, the anxiety of the threat of unemployment, and the deprivations of poverty. They must understand the implications of their position – that the only hope of any real betterment lies in abolishing the social system which reduces them to mere sellers of their labor power, exploited by the capitalists. A class which understands all this is class-conscious. It has only to find the means and methods by which to proceed, in order to become the instrument of revolution and of change .

Class consciousness was never more needed than now. To the socialist, class-consciousness is the breaking-down of all barriers to understanding. Without it, militancy means nothing. More >


Marx observed in 1865 that wage levels can only be "settled by the continuous struggle between capital and labour, the capitalist constantly tending to reduce wages to their physical minimum, and to extend the working day to its physical maximum, while the working man constantly presses in the opposite direction."

Hal Draper later remarked, "To engage in class struggle it is not necessary to 'believe in' the class struggle any more than it is necessary to believe in Newton to fall from an airplane. There is no evidence that workers like to struggle any more than anyone else; the evidence is that capitalism compels and accustoms them to do so."

Unlike peasants in a capitalist society the proletariat as the most exploited class divorced from the means of production and therefore condemned to live by selling the only commodity they are left with, their bare hands, or their labour power to the owners of capital. Therefore they are the most revolutionary class. They are located in the most progressive sectors of the economy i.e. large-scale machine production in urban areas and working together in large bodies under one roof. For that reason,  they are the most organised, the most disciplined and therefore the most revolutionary class in capitalist society. And as Karl Marx observed, having lost their property to the capitalists they have nothing to lose in the struggle but their chains. They see for themselves that they toil and live in deplorable conditions and yet they are the creators of the country's wealth which accumulate in the hands of a few rich people.  More than any other class, they are interested in the abolition of private property and exploitation of one person by another and the eventual collective ownership and management of the economy by workers' councils or soviets. This makes them the most revolutionary class once their class consciousness is awakened. Their class interests are irreconcilable with those of capitalism.

In a society of class antagonism, there are basically two socially opposing types of people - the capitalist exploiter and the exploited working-person. This polarisation is sharper in advanced capitalist economies where the bourgeoisie regards the working class as an object for the extraction of surplus value - the source of their profits. The workers are reduced to cogs in the machinery of capitalist production and denied all rights. However, it is important to note that in a capitalist society the workers have actually accomplished a great deal. Due primarily to their efforts, massive productive forces have been built up, which make it possible to create unprecedented  material and spiritual wealth for the benefit of all. The first condition, especially in advanced capitalist countries,  for building a society of equals in which the workers themselves become the aim and purpose of production have already been created.

Unions are important because of the centrality of the working class to the larger struggle for socialism. Karl Marx was the first socialist among his contemporaries to recognise this important role of the working-class and therefore trade unions, as the only leading force in the struggle for a socialist revolution. Utopian socialists before Marx had dismissed unions as irrelevant and some of them even opposed strike action. Marx understood the absolute importance at all times of organising this class to unite as a class against their capitalist enemy. More >


There exists an anti-working class prejudice peddled with no evidence other than anecdote and encouraged by the capitalist class since Victorian times that divides workers into 'deserving' and 'undeserving' categories. The real scroungers are the parasitic capitalist class.

The capitalist class does not produce any wealth, they steal it from the surplus value, created by wage-enslaved labour. Their capital when they invest is 'dead labour' already plundered. They are collectively economic parasites as a social class, in a system designed for their continued dominance. The working class is collectively the only useful class as they produce all wealth. Many of those workers presently unemployed or in poor health already worked and in many cases, their health is a consequence of their previous occupations. Things cannot be allowed to improve for the poor, how else will they submit into waged slavery and how else will profit be derived for the parasite capitalist class?

Those who are unemployed, they constitute a 'reserve' which will always exist, it keeps wages lower, also as the capitalist class may need them in any economic upturn, although they will not give the Right to Work'. It is a better deal for the capitalist class to pay unemployment benefit and welfare in general than to provide enough wages for the workers to afford insurance or to face a social revolution.

Of interest here is, the output per worker in the advanced economies rose more than three times as fast as the rise in real wages, which were close to stagnation. The workers in the advanced industrialised countries were not being undercut by workers in the 'Third World'. They were being robbed even more by their employers in the advanced countries.

Time for an end to wage slavery. The last great emancipation is that of the working class. Time for a societal upgrade to an elite free, democratic, post-capitalist, production for use, free access society, owned and run by us all as part of truly equal humans.

Government bail-outs are nothing to do with 'socialism'.  Government bail-outs are state-capitalist measures in the interests of the capitalist class as a whole, even especially when they are pitched as and seem to be, helping workers. For workers, there is always a sting, whether to dampen wage demands (family allowances) or fob off social discontent (welfare state). They are ultimately a good deal for the capitalist parasite class and can be clawed back if profit erosion occurs. More >


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