The working class is at the centre of our politics

This is the second part of 20 chapters on some of the basic politics of Socialist Labour for discussion by our members.

More than ever in history, the working has never been more equipped to emancipate themselves from the rule of few. The working class spread across all fields of life, from space scientists to workshop engineers, from doctors to teachers to office attendants. The working class produces the wealth, we produce what society needs to survive and by this they should be the ones that make decisions on their own lives.

Under capitalism the working class has a great political advantage compared with all previous exploited classes.  By capitalism, we mean the current economic system in all countries across the world.  The working class is all the people who have to work for others for a wage to survive. This includes teachers, nurses, office workers etc etc.

Capitalism, for its own purposes, has concentrated workers together in great cities and towns. It has forced them together into factories and offices. And it has educated workers far beyond the average level of culture even of previous ruling classes.

As a result, it has made the modern working class a force that can organise itself quite easily into trade unions, political parties, co-operatives, and other bodies and networks. Never has any exploited class in history had such capacity to organise and ultimately to take over and run society for themselves.

The very people whose lives are currently dominated by the fact that they produce the wealth and power of capitalism (the working class) are the key to its transformation. The core of this class is the organised working class, members of trade unions.  But they also influence the wider popular classes; the informal workers, market women, okada riders and the unemployed residents of towns and cities.

Socialism involves the working class collectively taking back, under its own control, the wealth they already produce. No vision of ‘socialism’ is worth a bean if it leaves out the working class, actively organising itself, taking control of the means of production (factories, offices, schools, hospitals etc) from the capitalist class and setting out to rebuild society on the basis of real human need.

The seeds of socialism are the daily strikes, protests and other acts of collective action organised by the working class and its allies.  This is why we support all such activities. They give people the confidence that another world is possible, especially where they win their demands through their own actions.  Our aim is to help to make such actions more successful and to generalise their activities.  This is socialism from below.

The road to socialism and the goal of socialism are linked. We want to build an alternative to all those ‘top-down’ accounts of the way to achieve socialism. These suppose that some small group of clever people – intellectuals, party leaders, members of the National Assembly, guerrilla army leaders, etc can emancipate humanity from capitalism. Socialism cannot be built by such people.  This is ‘socialism from above’.

Socialism is only possible when millions of ordinary working people – women and men, Muslim or Christian, northerner or southerner, of whatever ethnic group – organise themselves democratically ‘from below’ and set out to take all forms of decision-making power away from the minorities who rule us today, and to impose their own collective power over every aspect of social and productive life.

The founding principle of a socialist society is the most extensive democracy, going far beyond the limited principles of ‘democracy’ today. In order to secure and extend its rule the working class needs the active involvement of the masses of people of the popular classes who are currently excluded from decisions about the matters that shape their own lives.

Capitalism has a combination of two drives, both of which are direct obstacles to democratic popular control over social, economic and political life. The first is exploitation. The second is competition.

Exploitation – the extraction of surpluses from the labour of the majority by a minority – necessarily rests on hierarchy and lack of democracy. To maintain the flow of profits to the few, the social power of private and state property over us is upheld by whole armies of supervisors, foremen, managers, police, jailers and (ultimately) soldiers.

Replacing production for profit with production aimed directly at satisfying human need means breaking these hierarchies and substituting direct democratic control over society’s means of production.

Capitalism, though, is not only marked by class exploitation. Its other core feature is ‘the market’ and the necessity of competition between rival companies and states. Indeed, that competition compels the capitalist class to seek, constantly, to step up the rate of exploitation and to devise ever new methods of keeping control over labour. Competition drives capitalists to accumulate, to exploit and so to try and survive. This also results in periodic crises and recessions.

Capitalist production, driven by competitive accumulation, rips the heart out of established communities, and today threatens the very existence of life on the planet with ecological threats like global warming and Covid-19. It prevents the rational collective planning and development of resources.

The sole practical alternative to the anarchy and destructiveness of capitalist competition and exploitation is the development and extension of cooperative and democratic planning.

How, in the end, can human needs and wants be decided unless human beings themselves choose – democratically – what they need and want and where their priorities lie? How else can plans be sensibly evaluated and changed unless the majority (the working class and its allies) can engage in debate and decide how to change things?

Such a world only becomes possible when the workers organise themselves, with their allies in the popular classes, to take the world back from their ruling exploiters and place it under their own collective power.