In the system known as capitalism there is a class struggle between workers and capitalists and the reason is not difficult to understand. The means of production today are privately owned. A small section of society own all the factories, mines, mills, workshops and through that ownership they are able to live a life of ease and luxury. The other section owning nothing are forced to sell themselves as workers to the owners of property in order that they get food, clothing, shelter for themselves and their wives and children. The mode of production being commodity production for profit, the return to the worker takes the form of a money wage. This wage is the money expression of the value of the particular worker’s labour power. A navvy and an engineer received different amounts of money as wages but both of these workers received the value of his particular labour-power. This value was determined by how much it cost to produce his kind of labour power.
All commodities, labour-power included, had their values determined in the same way, by the amount of socially necessary labour embodied in them. In the process of production the worker produced a surplus over what as returned to them in the form of wages. This was the reason the capitalist employed them and was the sole aim of the capitalist system. The worker found through experience that their wage enabled them to purchase only the cheapest necessities of life and to maintain even this they had to continually struggle with their employer. To assist them in their struggles workers formed trade unions but still their lives are stories of poverty, degradation and misery.
Many political parties claim to exist only for the purpose of assisting the working class and have drawn up programmes of social reforms which they all guaranteed would, if the workers would only trust them and vote for them; solve all the ills which afflicted the working class. The Socialist Party of Great Britain has no reforms on its programme and is opposed to all parties who asked the workers to support a reformist policy. Reform of capitalism would still leave workers in their slave position. Reforms, apart from the fact that in many cases they had proven worse than the evil which they set out to remedy, were but the normal features of capitalism. Capitalism and their representatives had been busy reforming the capitalist system since it had been established but in spite of all their reforms the condition of the working class was worse today than ever it was in its history. Defenders of capitalism boast reform is the antidote to revolution.The parties of the Left with their ever-changing lists of reforms should be an example to the workers of the futility of wasting valuable time and energy attempting to reform a system which could not be reformed in the interests of the working class.
Social reform being no solution to the ills suffered by the workers the Socialist Party pointed out that all the evils could be traced to the one cause and to this one cause only – private property. Take a look around and see the signs “Private Property” or “No admittance except on business ”. To the socialist these were advertisements of the cause of poverty, slums, disease, crime, prostitution, war and all the other curses of the human race. Having found the one cause for all our troubles we find the remedy almost automatically - socialism. Abolish private property with production for profit and establish a new system of society based on common ownership with production for use. This is what socialism means.
This is something worthwhile fighting for and the way to achieve such a new system of society was by the workers first of all getting to understand their enslaved position in present day capitalism, to organise with others, in order to take revolutionary political action to control the State machine in order to transform society from the basis up. This meant the action of a class conscious majority of the workers. Minorities are of no use. We have a class conscious minority today yet it is helpless. That minority have to go on broadcasting the principles of socialism until the majority accepted them.
For the capitalist class mere ownership of wealth is not enough. They require a means to protect that ownership. These means are the police and the armed forces which are under the control of whichever political party having a majority of representatives in Parliament. Whoever had control of these forces are the masters of the situation. History has much to say on this point which disproves the idea that mere ownership in some miraculous manner confers power on the owners. In England, from the 11th to the 14th century, the woollen merchants were the most economically important class, with all their wealth they were helpless and were fleeced right and left by those who had political power – the feudal aristocracy. The history of every country has been the same in this respect. The capitalist class, under feudalism in spite of all their wealth were helpless until they wrested political power from the then dominant class in society. If we study the issues raised at a general election in modern times we see, plainly, the struggle between sections of the capitalist class to get political power in order that their particular interests may be served. “Economic power” is another of the dangerous illusions that the workers must get out of their minds before they can win their emancipation. In the 1926 General Strike we had an example of the masters using their political control to smash discontent among the workers. History as a matter of fact was full of such examples. So long as the workers leave this weapon in the hands of their masters they were helpless. Syndicalism, street fighting and other methods of force are doomed to failure and only lead to another bloodbath to those workers who would enough to attempt them. Class conscious political action to get control of the State machine is the only viable method open today. The SPGB. advocates that the workers must organise on the political and economic field on class lines before they can abolish capitalism. Political action is necessary to end the system, and the act of revolution is political. The state will not commence to “wither away” until it is in the hands of the revolutionary workers who will slowly but surely build up the new order of society thus abolishing the State functions. The state is a necessary evil, as Marx shows, which is transmitted to the workers through revolution. Will we merely put a cross on our ballot papers in order to get socialism, and the kind capitalists will then hand over? No. when the workers understand Socialism and take the action necessary to obtain it, the capitalists will not be asked to “hand over”. The workers will take over and the bosses’ opinions on the matter won’t matter in the slightest. Marx and Engels made it quite clear that political action meant that action which had for its object the control of the governmental powers which controlled the armed forces of the state. Engels pointed out that the workers would have to be in a majority, and thoroughly understanding the necessity for such action before they could establish socialism. Engels described universal suffrage as being one of the sharpest weapons of the working class had. Once the workers have that knowledge, and not until they have it, then the business of emancipation will be a relatively simple matter.
The pessimism of our Leftist opponents that we will never get a class conscious majority is ably answered by Frederick Engels when he writes “When it comes to a matter of the complete overthrow, the masses must participate, must know what is at stake”. All through the later writings of Marx and Engels we find the position put quite plainly that a class conscious majority of workers, in order to establish Socialism, must get control of the State machine. Political power is the power to rule. The capitalist class have that power to-day and the working class give them that power at every election. When the workers understand and desire socialism they will organise in the socialist party in order to raise themselves to the position of ruling class, by capturing political power. With that power in their possession they will set about the task of building a new order of society which will conform to the interests of all."
The SPGB did not concern itself with petty reforms. We want the whole world, everything in it and on it, to be the common property of all mankind regardless of colour or sex; all people would take according to their needs and give according to their ability. Capitalism had fulfilled its historic role in solving the problem of production. Now that an abundance of wealth was capable of being produced the only meaningful struggle was for the overthrow of capitalism, which would result in the major problems being solved. The real task to organise and agitate amongst fellow workers for the overthrow of capitalism by the majority of the world’s population using democratic processes if available. “Peacefully if possible, violently if necessary “ was the SPGB’s viewpoint. Instead of fighting for such reforms one should remember Marx when he said “away with the conservative motto, a fair days work for a fair days wage and inscribe on your banner the revolutionary watchword ABOLITION OF THE WAGES SYSTEM”