Capital, workers, and socialism: sections A1 to A6
A1. Why socialism?
What will socialism be like? Is it workable? Is it worth fighting for?
The two souls of socialism, by Hal Draper
A2. Why is the working class the decisive force for progress?
Why the working class, and not just "the poor" or "the people"?
What is special about the working class compared to other exploited classes in history?
"The workers or 'the people'," from Workers' Liberty 66.
A3. Why capitalism means "a sacrifice of life" for the great majority, the working class.
"The worker's life-activity he sells to another person... the creative force... the worker surrenders to the capitalist... living labour serves accumulated labour."
Read the first part of Wage Labour and Capital, down to the heading "By what is the price of a commodity determined?". Skip, for the present, the introduction by Engels. The first section, about three pages long, under the heading "What Are Wages?", is the essential one for now, but you may find it useful to read further; if doing so, skip the four pages or so (depending on the edition) from the heading "By what is the price of a commodity determined?", to "the same general laws which regulate the prices of commodities in general, naturally regulate wages."
Capitalism reduces human creativity to a commodity to be hired and exploited, or shelved, for the sole purpose of the profit and greed of the rich. Through the exchange between capital and labour - apparently a free and equal contract between individual capitalists and individual workers - the whole working class gets merely a pittance, to enable it to grab a bit of life in the time left after work ("life begins where [labour] ceases, at table, in the public house, in bed."); the capitalist class gets control of social wealth and the whole creative, productive power of society.
Marx's indictment of capitalism here sets the scene for the questions to be dealt with in the following sections: How are prices and incomes determined? How can such inequality arise even when the exchange between capitalist and worker is, on the face of it, free and equal, and the worker is paid "the rate for the job"? What is the answer to this inequality and inhumanity? Just to get better wages and conditions, or to replace the whole system of wage-labour by a different one? How can that different, better system be brought about? What can we do within the existing system to speed its replacement by a new one? What is capital? Why and how does it create unemployment, crises and increasing inequality?
A4. Why labour produces all values; how profits come from unpaid labour.
"The working class alone produces all values... however... the working class receives back only part for itself... the part which the capitalist class keeps for itself becomes larger with every invention."
See our PowerPoint presentation on wage-labour and profit. Read Wages, Prices and Profit section VI ("Value and Labour"), VII, VIII, IX and X; and the Introduction by Engels to Wage Labour and Capital.
Here Marx answers the questions: how are prices and incomes determined? How can a "fair wage", the "rate for the job", result in inequality? The essential ideas are:
- a) Prices represent value, which is the social labour-time embodied in different commodities.
- b) Wages are the price of labour-power, not labour. Labour-power is the relatively fixed, available commodity on sale when the worker hires himself or herself out for this or that many hours in the week; labour is the variable, creative process set in train when the capitalist "consumes" the labour-power he or she has bought.
- c) The value of labour-power is set by the socially-established "living wage" (averaged over the whole working class, children, etc. included).
- d) Profits arise from the difference between the total new value created by labour, and the limited quota of old value paid out for labour-power.
A5. Why the class struggle over wages and hours is central to capitalism; why we fight for the abolition of wage-labour.
"Between the limits of the rate of profit, an immense scale of variation is possible. The fixation of its actual degree is only settled by the continuous struggle between capital and labour... At the same time, the working class... instead of the conservative motto, 'A fair day's wage for a fair day's work'... ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword, 'Abolition of the wages system!'."
Read Wages, Prices and Profit sections XI to XIV.
The answer is not higher, fairer or better wages, but to do away with the whole system of domination of one class over another which is built into wage-labour. But also built into wage-labour is a continuous and lively struggle over the level of wages, hours and conditions. In that struggle the working class gains the solidarity and confidence to overthrow capitalism.
A6. Why capitalism constantly tends to increase inequality and domination.
"Capital is a social relation of production... a sum of commodities becomes capital as an independent social power, the power of a part of society... wage-labour produces the alien wealth dominating it, the power hostile to it, capital."
Read the later parts of Wage Labour and Capital (from the heading "By what are wages determined", or (in some editions that heading is not included) the sentence: "Wages will rise and fall according to the relation of supply and demand, according to the turn taken...".
- a) The inequality and domination in capitalism is not just a fact of each week's transaction between capitalists and workers. The whole dynamic of the system is to increase and sharpen that inequality and domination.
- b) This happens even if real wages increase.
- c) Under capitalism, the necessary processes of correlating each individual's labour with overall social labour take the form of the individual being coerced by "social relations between things" - commodities and money.
- d) Labour thus becomes, for the worker, a mere "sacrifice of life", and only incidentally a positive, creative activity.
- e) Capital is a social relation. However, under capitalism it appears as a thing, a fact of nature, which demands profit as a "return to capital" by its very nature. The human relations between workers and capitalists appear as relations between the commodities labour-power and capital.
- f) Conventional accounts of wages, price and profit simply mirror these appearances. They assume that capitalism is eternal.
- g) In fact the economic forms of capitalism - prices, wages, profit, capital - are not eternal but transitory. Our aims should not be limited to fair exchange, fair wages, democratic control over capitalism, or such like. We should stretch our imaginations to envisage the abolition of the wages system.