Socialism (SPGB, 1941)


Réédition en 1941 d’une brochure du Parti socialiste de Grande-Bretagne.


THE first edition of this pamphlet, which amounted to 20,000 copies, was sold out some time ago.

The delay in bringing out the second edition has been due to that bugbear of working-class organisations— lack of funds. Perhaps those who are interested in seeing more pamphlets produced by us, and who are able to spare a little towards this end, will bear that fact in mind. The more funds we have, the more literature we will produce.

In bringing out this second edition we have brought some of the illustrations up to date and deleted others that are too old to be interesting and illuminating. We have also revised the text in places where we thought greater clearness of presentation would be achieved by so doing.

Our aim has been to give our fellow-workers as clear and concise a picture of their present position in society as is possible in a pamphlet of this size. How far we have succeeded is for the reader to judge.

At a time when attempts are being made, in various parts of the world, to crush out all working-class aspirations, and to convert the worker into a dumb and placid beast of burden, it is imperative that workers, wherever possible, should understand why they are poor and how to end their poverty. The explanation and the answer are given in the following pages. We urge the reader to give them his careful and unbiased consideration.

August, 1933

Reprinted May, 1941


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 today is divided into classes—into two classes, one of which is called the working class, because its members have to work tor 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 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 him are leisure and freedom—for the others the fetters of constant toil; for him are the Riviera and the Alps—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.

These 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.

Why all Workers Should Read this Pamphlet.

Those who address these pages to the reader are working-class men and women—clerks and taxi-men, artists and accountants, shopmen and sweeps, carpenters, bricklayers, masons, excavators, plumbers, painters, journalists, printers, scientific workers, weavers, porters, and men of many other trades—but all working-class people; all folk who depend for their livelihood on the sale of their own labour-power, or the sale of the labour-power of those who are their breadwinners.

The men and women, then, who address you through these pages are in the same position as you are. They work side by side with you in the office, workshop or factory; they face death and disablement with you in the mine; they fight shoulder to shoulder with you in the strike; they know what it is to walk the streets day after day in vain search for employment. The experience of poverty and humiliation which has seared your minds has burnt also into theirs. We ask your earnest consideration of the pages that follow, because, being of the same class, suffering the same ills that you suffer, we know that only with your deliverance can we be delivered.

The means of production and distribution which you made and which you renew and enlarge belong to the capitalists. The wealth which you produce provides for the whole race. Yet only part of it goes to the working class, who produce it, while the rest goes to the master class, who do not. It is plain that the more the masters take, the less there is for you, and the more you secure the less there remains for the masters.

What does this mean? Can it mean anything else than opposing interests? Of course it cannot. It is the interest of each class to obtain more of the wealth produced, and since the more either class gets the less there is left for the other, their interests must clash. The capitalists admit that the more they get of the wealth produced the less is left for the workers, but they deny that there are opposing interests. They claim that the interest of both classes is to combine to produce more wealth. We shall show presently that to produce more wealth by no means necessarily increases either the absolute or the relative portion received by the producers. But even if it were true that the interest of both classes is to combine to produce more wealth, it would remain as true as ever that it would be to the interest of each to obtain the largest possible share of the wealth produced, and hence the class interests would still clash.

As a matter of fact, the classes do combine, willingly or unwillingly, but very effectually, to produce ever greater wealth, yet although they succeed in this, the signs of opposing interests, strikes and lock-outs, remain as glaring as ever. It is because it is so plainly the interest of the capitalist class to do all they can to prevent the workers obtaining ownership and control of the means of production and distribution and more of the wealth they produce, and, therefore, above all, to keep them from learning why they are poor, and how to throw off their poverty, that the latter must look only to their own class for help. They must examine closely every message that is opposed and reviled by the masters and by their instruments and hirelings— their press, parsons, and politicians. It is for these reasons that all workers should read this pamphlet.



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