Working People or Working Class?
For socialists the political concept of class is important to understand and to explain to workers, members of our class how and why they are exploited and why they should accept the socialist case against capitalism.
It is therefore important not to jettison key political concepts because our opponents are using a different language or socialists believe a change of language would be more receptive.
Increasingly the capitalist left are using the expression “working people” instead of “working class” through political opportunism. Evolutionary biologists would not discard their scientific language because of difficulty convincing Christian fundamentalists of the stupidity of their beliefs.
No more so than the Labour Party. In its recent policy document NEW DEAL FOR WORKING PEOPLE. In it they set out a battery of social and economic reforms supposedly to improve the employment conditions of workers. They state:
“Labour will strengthen the protections afforded to all workers by banning zero-hour contracts, outlawing bogus self-employment; and ending qualifying periods for basic rights, which leave working people waiting for up to two years for basic protections. This will include unfair dismissal, sick pay and parental leave, giving working people under Labour rights at work from day one”.
The Labour will not use the term “working class” in its text for fear of introducing the “capitalist class” and the fact that we live in a class divided society.
Socialists reject the use of the expression “working people” as a capitulation to our political enemies. The Labour Party and the Tories would just love class to be abolished from political discourse. We refuse our consent.
As for the reforms in the Labour Party Green Paper, they are just window dressing to attract votes. A Green Paper commits the Labour Party to nothing. What workers will find is that the proposals above and the remnant of these reforms as they are mutilated by representation from employer’s organisations, parliament and haphazardly administered by bureaucrats will be two totally different things particularly as the Labour government, if elected, will be administrating capitalism in the interest of the capitalist class. And the Labour Party also does not say that rights given can be taken away or watered down and that many reforms have unintended consequences. Socialists counterpoise socialism as the only alternative to the reforms of the Labour Party. As we said in our QUESTIONS OF THE DAY:
“For the party of the working class, one course alone is open: unceasing hostility to all parties that lend their aid to the administration of the capitalist social system and thus contribute, consciously or otherwise, to its maintenance. Our object is its removal and replacement by socialism”
(Socialist Party of Great Britain, p. 33 March 1978)
The working class is a material fact of life out of which derives a particular class interest, class consciousness, class struggle and the abolition of classes with the establishment of socialism; the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.
Marx and the Working Class
Unlike the Classical school of economists like William Petty, Adam Smith and David Ricardo, who believed in the harmony of classes, Marx emphasised the importance of class and class conflict.
Marx defined class in an objective way with respect to the means of production – the land, raw resources like oil, transport and communications, factories and distribution points. In capitalism he considered the two principal classes to be the capitalists who owned property, factories and transport and the workers who did not own the means of production but had to work for a wage or salary.
The working class is composed of men and women excluded from the ownership of production and distribution. Workers are forced by economic necessity to sell their mental and physical energies in order to get a living. Workers include the self-employed and those who are deemed to be “professionals”. Anyone who is forced to work for wages and salaries is a worker, a member of the working class. The working class form a majority class in society including retired workers and dependents of workers.
Capitalism, therefore, is a class society with a privileged capitalist class living off the labour of an exploited working class.
In the analysis of capitalism as a class society socialists use the political concept of working class not “working people”.
That the working class is exploited under capitalism is not hard to grasp. And workers need to understand that they are members of an exploited class to become socialists.
Exploitation does not mean that workers are forced to work hard or bullied by managers. It simply means that workers get as wages and salaries less than the value of what they produce as commodities in the production process.
We can present this in a more technical way. Marx employed a labour theory of value to study economic class relations. Value is determined by the amount of socially necessary labour embodied in the commodity.
Unlike David Ricardo, Marx applied the labour theory of value to labour itself. That is, the value of labour power is determined by the socially necessary labour embodied in the commodity.
Exploitation is a necessary consequence of capitalism. Exploitation is a normal process resulting from the nature of commodity production and exchange for profit. Labour is exploited under capitalism because the worker is paid the value of their labour power and the employer gets the use value of this labour power. Pay is unrelated to the value, or the percentage profit, that the commodity realises in the market place. It is the minimum the capitalist (employer) needs to pay the worker to secure their labour.
By labour power Marx means:
“the aggregate of those mental and physical capabilities existing in a human being, which he exercises whenever he produces a use-value of any description”
(CAPITAL volume 1, Chapter 6, p.167).
It is this exploitation of “surplus value” which provides a pure surplus which is the basis of the capitalist’s profits.
Workers, then, form a class in capitalism and are exploited just like serfs and slaves were in previous social systems.
Class struggle and Class Interest
The consequence of class ownership and distribution and the accompanying exploitation of the workers is an irreconcilable conflict between the working class and the capitalist class.
This irreconcilable conflict manifests itself as a class struggle. The class struggle takes place all the time over the trade cycle; during periods of boom and periods of bust. Its obvious features are strikes like the many taking place now as workers struggle to keep their wages above the rate of inflation, the formation of trade.
Capitalists use organisations like the Institute of Directors, the CBI and “think” tanks to pursue their class interests. They also give vast donations to the various capitalist political parties such as Labour and the Conservatives parties in the U.K.
The importance of the capitalist enjoying the political support of political parties should not be underestimated or forgotten. In the political field capitalists have the government on their side.
The Tory Government’s new anti-strike legislation to enforce “minimum service levels” in key public sectors including the NHS and schools is an attempt to water down the consequences of industrial disputes. The law will allow employers in health, education, fire, ambulance, rail and nuclear commissioning to sue unions and sack employees if minimum levels are not met.
The capitalist class ownership and control of industry rests on its control; of political power through its political parties. The purpose of capitalist governments is to protect and preserve the capitalists’ monopoly of the means of wealth production.
All the capitalist supporting parties in the U.K., , Conservative, Labour, Green and Liberal Democrats must take the side of employers by protecting their ownership of property, by declaring states of emergency, by using troops to break strikes, by imposing wage freezes, by passing anti-union laws.
And it is also why the working class throughout the world, must organise politically into socialist parties with a socialist policy based on the recognition of this class struggle and the irreconcilable nature of this conflict.
The class struggle can be considered the dynamic of history and historical change since the rise of private property. The Socialist Party of Great Britain is an expression of the material interest of the working class in pushing the class struggle to its limit with the abolition of capitalism.
Class Consciousness and establishing a Classless Society.
Workers must think and act as a class. Workers must come to understand that capitalism can never be made to work in the interest of the working class.
Socialism is the only system within which the problems facing the working class can be resolved. Socialism will be a social system in which the means for producing and distributing social wealth will be owned by society as a whole. Under capitalism the land, factories, mines railways and other instruments of production and distribution are monopolized by the capitalist class to the exclusion of the majority. Socialism will end this class privilege, for, with the means to life owned in common by the entire community, it will be a classless society in which class exploitation will have been abolished.
Human needs can only be met under capitalism to the extent that they can be paid for. This is not good enough. The means of production under capitalism has the potential to feed, clothe, educate and provide heath for everyone to a high standard of living. What prevents this potential from being realised is the profit motive and private property ownership.
These can be removed but only politically and democratically. This requires a socialist majority, throughout the world, understanding their class position and working for its abolition along with the labour market, buying and selling of labour power, employers, class exploitation and the capitalist politicians and governments who defend one of the most miserable and barbaric social systems in human history.
Object and Declaration of Principles
The establishment of 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 interest of the whole community.
Declaration of Principles
THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN HOLDS:
1. That society as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living (ie land, factories, railways, etc.) by the capitalist or master class, and the consequent enslavement of the working class, by whose labour alone wealth is produced.
2. That in society, therefore, there is an antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a class struggle, between those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess.
3.That this antagonism can be abolished only by the emancipation of the working class from the domination of the master class, by the conversion into common property of society of the means of production and distribution, and their democratic control by the whole people.
4. That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom, the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.
5. That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself.
6. That as the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, exists only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers, the working class must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that this machinery, including these forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege, aristocratic and plutocratic.
7. That as all political parties are but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class, the party seeking working class emancipation must be hostile to every other party.
8. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, therefore, enters the field of political action determined to wage war against all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist, and calls upon the members of the working class of this country to muster under its banner to the end that a speedy termination may be wrought to the system which deprives them of the fruits of their labour, and that poverty may give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom.