Introduction to Political Economy, Part Two:
The Class Struggle
August 11, 2011
In the first article in this series, "Introduction to Political Economy," we showed how the capitalist system, based on private ownership of the means of production, disenfranchises the workers and reduces them to the condition of wage-slaves. We also showed that the "secret" of capitalist profit-making lies in the expropriation of the surplus value produced by the workers. Looking at the immediate situation facing the workers, we discussed how the capitalists, trying to shift the burden of their crisis onto the backs of the people, are imposing new and more intense forms of exploitation on the working class.
Thus the very property relations which define the capitalist system give rise to a continual and irreconcilable struggle between the capitalist class and the working class. The capitalists, driven by the very economic laws of their competitive, "free market" system, continually seek to maximize profit and the self-expansion of capital by intensifying the exploitation of the workers. The workers, for their part, are forced by economic necessity (the need to earn a living) as well as by their irrepressible aspirations to realize their humanity, to struggle against capitalist exploitation and the capitalist system. Today, in the conditions of the all-around crisis of capitalism and the drive of the monopolies to throw the workers and society backwards, the class antagonism between the capitalists and the workers has become extremely acute.
Very early on in the history of capitalism, the workers learnt that the first, decisive step in their struggle against exploitation is to come out together. The individual worker is all but powerless in the struggle against the capitalists who have all the advantages and can simply tell the individual "to take a hike." But by banding together in trade unions the workers began to develop their collective strength. In strike struggles, the workers, collectively withhold their labor-power, forcing the capitalist to confront the question of either acceding to the workers' demands for better wages and working conditions or to have production and profit-making halted altogether.
The great significance of the trade union movement is not only that it has enabled workers to fight and improve their wages and working conditions but especially that by banding together the workers express their solidarity and common interests, overcome competition in their ranks and begin to transform themselves from individual wage-slaves to a class, fighting for its own interests and aims.
In fact, the manifold strikes and economic struggles of the workers, which may at first seem isolated and confined to particular factories or industries, irresistibly reveal to the workers the need to organize a class-wide struggle for the general interests of the working class as a whole. Today, for example, it is clear as noonday that such things as wage-cutting, the attacks on trade unions, the shift to a contingent workforce, etc., and so forth, are not isolated phenomenon but a generalized struggle on the part of the capitalist class to reduce the wages of the working class as a whole.
For the workers to come out on a class-wide basis, they must enter the political arena and gain recognition by society as a whole of their general, class interests. Only by organizing themselves in the political struggle can the workers truly become a class-for-themselves with their own aims and agenda for society. For more than 150 years, the working class has been fighting for its own independent political program and building its own political movement and political party. The goal of the workers' political struggle can be nothing less than the elimination of the conditions upon which their exploitation is based – that is, the elimination of the system of private property in the means of production and with it the elimination of the workers status as wage-slaves. The goal of the workers' movement is the building of the new socialist and communist society.
Today, as the crisis of capitalism deepens, tremendous responsibilities confront the working class. The capitalist program of "increasing international competitiveness" and unfettering the "free market" is, in the first place, a program of imposing new and more intense forms of exploitation on the working class. Wages, benefits and living standards are under continual attack. The restructuring of the workforce, including "downsizing" as well as the widespread substitution of part-time and temporary jobs for permanent positions, confronts nearly every worker with extreme job and economic insecurity. The gutting of labor legislation, such as workers' compensation, unemployment insurance, over-time laws, etc., is eliminating the few minimal standards and giving the capitalists a free hand to increase the rate of exploitation. The capitalists and their government, by attacking the trade unions, are trying to suppress altogether the workers' right to come out as a collective; the capitalists want to again reduce the workers to the status of individual wage-slaves. In addition, the generalized anti-social offensive, by targeting vital social programs and privatizing the social sectors of the economy, is further undermining living standards and increasing competition amongst the workers.
As recent experience shows, the workers, through strikes and other economic movements, can resist and defeat various individual attacks but they cannot reverse the tide of the anti-social offensive without coming out on a political, a class-wide basis. The workers cannot allow their movement to adapt itself to the aims of capitalist restructuring but must come forward on the basis of their own aims and agenda. The experience of the strike movement, the demonstrations and struggles against the anti-social agenda, etc., show that the workers are straining in the direction of such a class-wide struggle, burning with the desire to wage a positive, pro-active fight to advance their interests.
The key to developing such an independent working class political movement is, on the one hand to continually strengthen the unity in action of the broadest majority of the workers, bring out the common, class-wide interests and, at the same time, help imbue the class with consciousness of its own independent aims and political agenda.
At the same time, because the anti-social offensive of monopoly capital is attacking all sections of the people, the workers must shoulder the responsibility of mobilizing the whole country around a positive pro-social agenda which opens the path for progress.
By placing themselves in the forefront of the fight against the anti-social agenda, by rallying under the banner of its own class aims, the workers can lead our country into the future along the high road of progress and civilization. By organizing itself in the course of this political struggle, the workers are also positioning themselves on the social front and accumulating forces for the socialist transformation of society, which alone can eliminate the exploitation of human beings and usher in the era of the all-around emancipation of the workers and oppressed people.