Class Unity: Our Answer to Divide and Rule

The working class consists of all those who are forced to sell their labour-power in order to survive. Whether currently in or out of work, whether engaged in mental or manual labour, we are the class that owns no capital yet through our labour we produce the goods and provide the services that make up the economic life of the world. Today we make up the majority of the world’s population. Workers come from all walks of life, we exist right across the divides of ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexuality, ability and disability, culture and subculture. And we have a common condition (exploitation) and a common interest: putting an end to a system that is rotten to the core.

Two Tactics of the Capitalist Class

Since the dawn of capitalism, when wage-labour became the dominant relation of production, the capitalist class has used various propaganda tricks to divide us. Like any ruler, they prefer to have us, their subjects, fight among ourselves and focus on the electoral game rather than on the real enemy: the system which exploits us. Resentment towards others is a common response to your needs not being met, and capitalism is not interested in fulfilling those needs, except where it can make a profit. The politicians and bosses of a more conservative or reactionary persuasion feed this resentment, by stirring up prejudices old and new, by convincing us that we should blame our neighbours or workmates for the misery we experience in our lives, because in one way or another they may be different from us. In such a way, racism became a justification for slavery and colonialism, sexism legitimised the oppression of women, while nationalism, that most potent form of identity politics, provides the pretext for imperialist wars.

Of course, the capitalist class, in order to protect its interests, does not just have the stick, it also has the carrot. The politicians and bosses of a more liberal or reformist persuasion have embraced the rights of workers, women, migrants, black people, LGBT people, and so on, as a way to make all feel included and protected by the system. This has been useful to ensure a degree of social stability within democratic regimes. However, while certain forms of oppression may have been undermined this way, the most such inclusion can offer us within the framework of capitalism is simply equal exploitation on the one hand and the equal opportunity to exploit on the other. And, particularly in times of crisis when the system seems threatened, all these rights can be swept away since it is the capitalist class which ultimately writes the law according to their own needs.

Ironically, the limits of gaining representation within capitalist society, so desired by the left of capital, are well demonstrated by the various Conservative Party cabinets of recent years. These have been relatively diverse, both in terms of sexuality and ethnicity; Sunak even being the UK’s first non-white prime minister. Yet it has not stopped his government from scapegoating migrants, fear-mongering about trans people, stoking opposition to environmental policies, and rallying for war against Russia and China. The Labour Party, His Majesty's Most Loyal Opposition, is quite happy to play along in an attempt to win over marginal constituencies.

Whichever tactic the ruling class adopts, the politicians and bosses are laughing all the way to the bank (whether the bank in question happens to be adorned by a Pride flag, the Union Jack, or both!). Workers who get entangled in the culture wars and identity politics of the right and left of capital become foot-soldiers of the system. A system that, aside from daily exploitation, seems to offer us only a future of oppression, economic crises, imperialist wars, environmental destruction, and health disasters.

Working Class Response to the Electoral Trap

It is particularly in the run up to elections that different factions of the capitalist class unleash their ideological arsenal in order to win enough votes to earn their place at the trough. The UK’s ruling class parties are already testing out their propaganda, playing off the identities of their voter base. What gets lost in the picture is that this is purely a contest for who will be the custodian of the British capitalist state for the next five years. Behind all the culture war mystifications, designed to excite the electorate, are hidden the real interests of every capitalist state: the accumulation of capital.

As individuals we can reject all the options on the ballot paper. But as a class we can, and must, do more than that. We have to build a movement that can provide an alternative to the hell capitalism is taking us into. The only real alternative is a stateless, classless, moneyless society based on humanity collectively producing and distributing the products of our labour for the satisfaction of our needs. A society which could put an end to war, exploitation, and oppression, and change our relationship with nature. But for such a society to come about, we need a “self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority” (Marx). Only such a movement could overthrow capitalism and lay the foundations of a new world. Only the world's working class, united, can do this.

To make this happen the working class needs its own international political organisation (not another parliamentary farce!), which we have to start building now, and its own political and economic bodies, which will have to emerge from the class struggle as a break from the institutions of the old society. If you agree with the urgent need to frame all the social, political and economic questions facing humanity in a completely different way to that of the right and left of capital, then get in touch.

The above article is taken from the current edition (No. 64) of Aurora, bulletin of the Communist Workers’ Organisation.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023