Sunday, January 08, 2017
Who are the Working Class?
These words are addressed to the members of the working class. Let us, then, explain whom we mean when we speak of the working class.
In political economy a class is a body of people united by what are called economic interests, or, to put it another way, material interests, or wealth interests, or bread-and-butter interests—the interest, makes the class.
The economic or wealth interests of a class, though they may clash as far as individuals are concerned, are, as against the interests of another class, a united and solid whole.
We do not intend, at this early stage, to go into the matter of what causes the division of society into classes. It is sufficient for the present to say that society to-day is divided into classes—into two classes, one of which is. called the working class, because its members have to work for their living, and the other of which is called the capitalist class because those who compose it, owning the land, mines, factories, machinery, railways, raw material and. the like, use them for the purpose of making a profit.
Now the line between.- those who have to work and. those who do not is not sufficiently clear for us to explain by it the class position of every individual—neither is the line between those who possess and those who do not possess.
Many capitalists work in some capacity or other without becoming thereby members of the working class,. while many a working man has a share or two in some industrial concern, but this does not make him a capitalist.
Nevertheless, the fact of possession or non-possession at bottom determines which class a man belongs to, and sets up those distinctions by which we shall show who are the members of the working class.
Since people can only live on the wealth which is produced, and since all the means of producing that, wealth (the land, mines, factories, machinery, and so on) are in the possession of some of the people to the exclusion of the others, it is clear that those who possess and those who do not possess are placed in very different circumstances.
Those who possess have in their hands the means of living, and more than this, they are able to deny to those who do not possess all I access to the means of life. To draw upon our common knowledge, the only terms upon which the non-possessors are allowed access to the means of living are that they- must become the employees of the owners. In other words, they must sell to the owners their mental and physical energies, the working power which is contained within their bodies.
This is the distinction which marks off the member of the working class from the capitalist. The former is compelled to sell his bodily powers in order to live. In comparison what else matters? What does it matter whether these bodily powers are skilled or unskilled or whether that for which they are sold is called wages or salary?
What does it matter whether the labour upon which those bodily powers are expended is performed with a pen or a pickaxe, or in an office, a workshop, a factory, a mine, or the street? What does it matter whether the worker is well paid or ill paid, or whether he is a professional, clerical or so-called manual worker?
The essential thing is that the member of the working class has to sell his labour-power in order to live. Beside this salient fact all else pales into insignificance. The differences of dress, pay, education, habits, work, -and so on that, are to be observed among those who have to sell their working power in order to live are as nothing compared with the differences which mark, them off from capitalists.
No matter how well paid the former is, or how many have to obey his commands, he himself has a master. He has to render obedience to another, to someone who can-send him adrift to endure the torments of unemployment.
Because he has to sell his labour-power his whole life must be lived within prescribed limits. His release from the need to labour is short and seldom; he has no security of livelihood; he has always to fear that a rival may displace him.
On the other hand, the capitalist, because he is able to deny others access to the means of living, and is. therefore, able to compel them to surrender their labour-power to him, is relieved from the necessity of working. His conditions of life are essentially different from those of the worker—different, not in one or two particulars, but in practically every particular. Ease and luxury are only the most obvious features of a life which has little in common with that of the working class.
For the capitalist then are leisure and freedom—for the others the fetters of constant toil; for the capitalist then is conspicuous consumption—for the others, the office prison, the weary workshop, the choking town, or the drab country labour yard. And yet the complete story cannot be told in these inadequate comparisons.
The whole world is the capitalist's, and-the workers live their hard round simply to enable the capitalist to enjoy his world.
Our words, then are addressed to all those who in order to live, have to sell their labour-power, whether “mental” or “manual” “skilled” or “unskilled,” high-paid or low-paid, for wages or salary.
Adapted from the pamphlet Socialism.