Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Classes in Society - A Dialog

Act I

(Characters: Young Enquirer and Socialist)

Y. E.: You people of the World Socialist Party are so cock-sure, so dogmatic.

Soc.: So! You mean by dogmatic that we present mere opinions as facts.

Y. E.: Precisely!

Soc.: For instance?

Y. E.: Well! Your completely false claim that society is divided into two classes. Anyone with half an eye can see a whole range of classes: Blacks, for instance, against Whites; the Sexes — consider the Women's Liberation Movement and its opposition to male domination.

They've "come a long way, baby!"

Soc.: Sure, sure! But where are they going? Anyway, go on.

Y. E.: You consider the capitalists as one class and the workers as another. In the ranks of both are many classes: people of varying incomes, higher or lower levels, differences in status and standards of living, etc., etc. I could go on.

Soc.: Yes, I'm sure you could. But wait a moment. With all of what you have said, my friend, we socialists generally agree. But the differences you mention are not fundamental. They are more apparent than REAL — more secondary than primary. When one essays an analysis of any question or matter one should be particularly careful in setting priorities.

Capitalists on various levels, with varying incomes and different standards of living, as, conversely, with the workers, does not make the former anything other than capitalists or the latter anything but workers. The basic division of society into two classes is seen as one between PRODUCERS and POSSESSORS. Whatever difference exists in incomes in the one class, or wages (salaries) in the other, does not alter this basic fact: IN society a class exists without PRODUCING (working) and the other by PRODUCING (working). One class, the working class, can live only by selling its energy (mental and physical) for wages. These wages are paid by the other class, capitalist, which lives off the surplus product of labor. This is the FUNDAMENTAL point — why we insist, not as dogma, but as established fact, that society is divided into two classes, capitalist and worker, and as a consequence thereof into master and slave, ruler and ruled.

Y. E.: You may have something there. I've never had it put that way before. I never even thought of it like that.

Soc.: Well! You had better start thinking more and more just like that. It will save you a lot of trouble and confusion in the future.

Now, you mentioned Black v. White; Male v. Female, etc. The things you mention exist, but they are not fundamentally socially significant. There are Black capitalists as well as Black workers. There are propertied females with all the power that property ownership confers, despite certain archaic restrictions carried over from the past. And so on.

While we say that society is divided into these two main classes, one living only by selling its energy for wages and the other from the process of wage payment (all other apparently differing incomes proceed from this process) we also look upon the Human Race as one one great family despite ethnic or other superficial differences.

When Black can come to look upon White and White upon Black; Male upon Female and Female upon Male; and each individual upon every other individual as such — as distinct personalities to be so regarded and respected, possessing equal status — then the first step will have been taken in eliminating the greatest of all pollutions (that of the human mind) . With these barricades removed from the road to better understanding, society, arming itself with increasing knowledge, can move steadily toward that transformation necessary for turning this CLASS DIVIDED SOCIETY INTO ONE HARMONIOUS FAMILY. In this new society — this new harmonious family — wealth can be produced for social good and advancement. Wages and profits will become relics of a dead past.

Y. E.: Well, you've given me something to think about.

Soc.: So! Just go on thinking about it.

Y. E.: I will. And I hope we can meet again and talk some more. I had been led to believe that you World Socialists took what you had to offer from Karl Marx as the parsons take theirs from the Bible — sort of gospel, not to be gainsaid. That's why I thought you were so dogmatic.

Soc.: Let's leave that until we meet again, shall we?

Y. E.: O.K. And now for the present, good-bye.

Act II

(Young Enquirer and Socialist)

Y. E.: Well, here I am again.

Soc.: So I see. You came back rather quickly.

Y. E.: Yes! I wanted to know more.

Soc.: That is good. You were all fired up with the notion that there were many classes in society, and thought we socialists were too dogmatic, taking all our findings from Karl Marx. You seemed to object to that.

Y. E.: Well, you seemed to have altered my opinions somewhat on that.

Soc.: Now let me tell you that while we accept Marx' view of history as being the only completely scientific one, and his theoretical economic analysis as being the only one of all the major economists, to fit and explain the facts, we disagree with some of his findings: his errors in timing (an unjustified optimism which subsequent history has proven faulty); his erroneous early judgment on the Franco-Prussian war of 1870; as also that of the American Civil War. We are dogmatic (as you put it) on his view of Classes in Society. And that is where you fumbled.

Y. E.: Yes, yes! But explain a little more.

Soc.: Well, Marx was by no means the first to announce the existence of "two" classes. There were others among his predecessors. I'll give you only one example.

Y. E.: I'm listening. Go on.

Soc.: Well, my boy! If you are really serious about today's problems and interested in the Socialist Case, you must first grasp the fact — if you want an understanding of socialist fundamentals — that Marx examined all the historians from Herodotus to Guizot, all the philosophers from the pre-Socratic to Hegel, and all the noted (and some not so noted) political economists including the physiocrats from Wm. Petty to Adam Smith and Ricardo.

Y. E.: I'm still listening.

Soc.: Good! Listen further. As distinct from your notion of a "vast array of classes ..."

Y. E.: I think I've now gotten away from that.

Soc.: Let me refer to one who differed from your conception but erroneously thought he had discovered "three." Francois Quesnay (1694-1774), French economist, physician, and founder of the Physiocratic school, in the Analyse du Tableau Economique, holds that there are three classes, as follows: "the productive class" (Which he claims to be agricultural laborers); "the class of landowners," and the "sterile class." He considers landowners to be productive, creating surplus value. I'll talk about "surplus value" at some future date. It must wait now. I've quoted this man to show just how far off you were in thinking that there were a vast array of classes.

Y. E.: I'm beginning to learn something.

Soc.: Let's continue your education. Now I'm going to quote another Frenchman — one with a fairly large measure of percipience, Jacques Necker (1732-1804). Note both these men lived before Marx. Necker was a politician and economist, several times — in the 1770's and the 1780's — Director General of Finance for France.

I could quote at length but I'll be as brief as possible. In his De L'Administration Des Finances De La France, he writes (pp. 285-86):

"I see one of the classes of society whose wealth must always be pretty nearly the same: I see another of these classes; whose wealth necessarily increases . . ."

And later:

"The class of society . . . is composed of all those who, living by the labor of their hands, are subject to the imperative law of the owners and are compelled to content themselves with a wage proportionate to the simple necessities of life . . ."

In another work, Sur La Legislation Et Le Commerce Des Grains, (p. 63) he writes:

"When the artisan or the husbandman have no reserves left, they can no longer argue; they must work today on pain of dying tomorrow, and in this conflict of interest between the owner and the laborer, the one stakes his life and that of his family, and the other a mere delay in the growth of his luxury."

Y.E.: Thanks! That's quite an eyeopener.

Soc: That's much better than the half-an-eye fellow you thought could see all kinds of classes. Enough for this session. We'll meet again and talk about "economics." But before you go. That conflict of interest between the owner and the laborer, highlighted by Necker, is what Marx, and we Socialists of The World Socialist Party, call the "Class Struggle."

Act III-a
Method and Strategy

(Characters: Socialist and Young Enquirer)

Soc.: You again! All right — Economics! — I promised, you know.

Y. E.: Yes, but . . . !

Soc.: But what? No buts, now.

Y. E.: It isn't that I don't welcome this chance. Questions from fellow students as I try to explain what you have given me. They want to know:

(1) How are we going to do it? — and,

(2) If a majority, though knowledgeable and determined, could not be thwarted by the resistance of supporters of the status quo, particularly the state forces?

Soc.: Well, now. First: "WE" are NOT going to do it. It will be done, if at all, by that "knowledgeable and determined majority" you mentioned — the working class. Presumably, by that time there will have developed a clear and sufficient consciousness which will have suggested many forms of organizations and agencies designed to further their efforts. No need to worry on that score. What is presently needed is much more work now to secure the majority we spoke of. Capitalism, as it develops, produces the potentials — which can become active agencies — through which socialism may be established. Look at history!

Y. E.: That's another thing. Many tell, me history's "bunk." They see no sense in "messing around," as they put it, with the past.

Soc.: Sure, I know. They'll have to learn that their generation is NOT the first to discover something. And their nonsense about anyone over thirty being effete doesn't suggest that they have too much time to "do their thing." Consider how nonsensical and illogical it is to spurn anyone over thirty and at the same time parade around in futile demonstrations and engage in confrontations which might result in violence and injury, and at the same time chant their silly slogans and shout "Ho, ho, ho — Ho, Chi Minh," waving aloft Mao Tse-tung's little red book?

Y. E.: Hey, that's good! I can use that. O, boy!

Soc.: Back to our discussion. We hold that it is necessary that a fully conscious and determined majority, must first appear before the power of the state can be abolished and administration taken over by, and for, the people. That a revolutionary "vanguard" — a minority — should attempt this would not only be futile but dangerous. That is why we condemn violence in any form.

In almost all those countries in which capitalism has reached its highest development parliaments or other counterparts exist. To these institutions of power a vast proportion of the adult population, under laws (the product themselves of historic development) from time to time send delegates. This is called, as you know, "voting." And as time goes on and capitalism develops further we see this franchise being continually extended. Have we not just seen the law changed to take in 18-year-olds? In my time I've seen the franchise extended to "female persons." We look forward to the time when we will be strong enough, and influential enough, to nominate candidates, and for a time, even then, it will be for educational purposes.

OUR FIRST PRIORITY NOW IS THE MAKING OF SOCIALISTS. Suppose, as your fellow students say, that a good and sufficient majority has been elected to the seats of power and the supporters of the status quo resist?

"When the general public no longer 'buy' an idea or institution that idea or institution will die of itself — no one has to kill it."

Think that over and I think you'll find your answer. When social faith in government, the banking system, politicians or whatever dies, the objects of that faith die of inanition. History is replete with instances.

We can develop this at our next session. And then to Economics. That's important.

Y. E.: Fine! That suits me. Besides you've given me some more to go on.

William A. Pritchard.

Editor's Note: Currently, the Socialist Party does not have the remainder of this play. If it is found, it will be added here.

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