Why class is important
ireland / britain |
the left |
opinion / analysis
Thursday June 09, 2005 17:19 by Alan MacSimóin - WSM
WHY IS THE concept of class so important to anarchists? Why are we constantly talking about classes and class struggle? Some of our opponents accuse us of living in the past, they claim the working class is dying out. After all you don't see too many workers wandering around in donkey jackets, cloth caps and heavy boots. So that settles the question, doesn't it? No, it doesn't, so let us get away from silly caricatures and get down to basics.
Thinking about anarchism
WHY IS THE concept of class so important to anarchists? Why are we
constantly talking about classes and class struggle? Some of our
opponents accuse us of living in the past, they claim the working
class is dying out. After all you don't see too many workers
wandering around in donkey jackets, cloth caps and heavy boots. So
that settles the question, doesn't it? No, it doesn't, so let us get
away from silly caricatures and get down to basics.
The modern world, like the societies that preceded it, does not
consist of a single group of people who have more in common than they
have dividing them. Sadly there is no single 'humanity', not yet. In
every country there is still a division of people into classes which
have conflicting interests.
Classes are defined by their relationship to the means of
production; their relationship to the factories, machinery, natural
resources, etc. with which the wealth of society is created. Although
there are groups such as the self-employed and the small farmers, the
main classes are the workers and the bosses. It is the labour of the
working class that creates the wealth. The bosses, through their
ownership and control of the means of production, have legal
ownership of this wealth and decide how it is to be distributed.
Only a part of this wealth is returned. Some is paid as wages,
some as the "social wage" (hospitals, schools, public services, and
so on). The rest is creamed off as profit. But labour creates all
wealth. An apple on a tree is worth nothing until someone picks it,
coal in the ground has no use until someone mines it. What is known
as surplus value or profit is stolen wages.
The working class is the majority in Ireland today. All who work
for a wage, salary or commission are in its ranks. It consists of all
who have to sell their ability to work to those in control. It makes
no difference if you work in a factory, office, school, hospital or
shop. It makes no difference if you work with your hands or your
brain, whether you wear overalls or a suit, whether you earn 'good'
or bad wages.
WHAT ABOUT THE UNEMPLOYED?
The unemployed also form part of the working class. Social welfare
payments are made to those who have worked and those who may
potentially provide some employer with their labour power. It is a
condition of payment that a claimant is "available for and actively
seeking work". Needless to say, the partners and children of workers
are also part of the same class, as are the retired.
The interests of the working class (wages, working conditions,
jobs, useful public spending, etc.) are in constant and inevitable
conflict with those of the boss class. They seek to maximise their
profits and gain an advantage over their competitors at the expense
of the workers.
Anyone who talks about 'social partnership', about labour and
capital working together for the benefit of all is talking nonsense.
What rights we have and gains we have made have been the result of
long and often bitter struggles. The bosses only give such rights and
concessions as they are forced to. In times of recession, such as
now, they try to make workers pay through job losses, cuts in real
wages, cuts in public spending, productivity deals, etc. for the
crisis that is a periodic and inevitable product of capitalism.
Although capitalism oppresses people on many different levels,
race and sex to name but two; it is the exploitation of our labour
that is fundamental to the system. It is on this front that the fight
for a new society will be won or lost. If we can reclaim that aspect
of our lives, the system can be overturned and replaced with
something much better.
The working class are brought together in large towns and cities.
At work we co-operate with others. Each person has to do their bit so
that the person at the next stage of production can do theirs. In the
services it is the same; in hospitals, schools and offices. This
means that the working class can be a force capable, not only of
rebelling against injustice but of taking over and recreating society
in its' own interests.
As a class we have to think and act collectively. In a strike you
need the support of your workmates and of the workers in supplier
firms. Individual action won't get you very far. We have to
co-operate. The same applies to the mammoth task of creating a new
society. We cannot divide up an office or factory between all the
workers there. We act as a group or not at all. This collective
nature that is part and parcel of our class provides the basis for
the solidarity and mutual aid we will need to scrap the old order and
build a truly free and egalitarian society.
POTENTIAL FOR CHANGE
However just because someone is a worker it does not always follow
that he or she will think of themself as a worker, or realise the
potential for change that the working class collectively possesses.
We all know of workers who sometimes identify with their boss, or
unemployed people who become demoralised and totally isolated from
any sense of belonging to the working class. And there are plenty of
ignorant academics running around talking rubbish about a new 'sub
class' and a 'natural conflict' between those with jobs and those
Class consciousness, an awareness of our common interests and the
potential we have for real change, needs to be encouraged and
strengthened. This is one of the tasks of an anarchist organisation.
The struggle between the classes will only come to an end when the
boss class and the state which protects their privileged position are
overthrown. Nationalisation or state control of the means of
production would not mean an end to class society. It would simply
mean the replacement of individual capitalists by a bureaucratic
state capitalism. Like their predecessors they would be in control
and would have the final say about what happens to the wealth we
create. Whether they like it or not this would be the logical outcome
of the statist politics of the Workers Party, Sinn Fein and the
THE WAY TO FREEDOM
Only the direct control and management of production by the
working class themselves can end the class division. A classless
society is not possible without this.
Everyone affected by a decision should have a say in making that
decision. Production in an anarchist society would be managed by an
elected workers' council in each workplace. Planning on a higher
level would be subject to the agreement of delegates from the
councils, delegates who would be subject to a mandate from their
members and instantly recallable if they don't do the job they were
elected to do. In such a society the wealth would be created and
managed for the benefit of all. There would be no elite of bosses or
rulers. This is the vital precondition for real freedom.
First published in Workers Solidarity No 31 (1991)