George Walford: We’ve Had the Revolution

The Marxists have overlooked one of the biggest events in recent history: their revolution is over and the workers have taken control. When Marx spoke in the Communist Manifesto of the capitalists exercising “exclusive political sway” [1] and in Capital of “the tribute annually exacted from the working class by the capitalist class” [2] he dealt with the realities of his time. If the wokers were to liberate themselves they had to take control away from the capitalist class, and this has now been done. It was done with explosive violence in Russia and China, more quietly elsewhere, but all over the advanced world the capitalists have bee n deprived of control. Nowhere has the change produced the expected results.

In the definition on which Marxist theory rests the working class includes all who live by the sale of their labour-ower. You may be well dressed and highly educated, get a big salary instead of a small wage and think yourself middle-class; you may be in charge of a business or take part in government. None of this makes any difference. If you live by the sale of your labour-ower then in Marxist terms you are a worker. And people who live in this way now operate and control manufacturing turing industry, service industry, financial industry, education, the media, the law courts, the police, the armed forces and the government.

The world Marx knew, with government and industry run by the owners, has gone. Most workers never see a capitalist; workers hire them, workers train them, workers pay them and workers fire them. Workers arrange and control the supply of materials, tools, machines, buildings, transport and finance. Workers take the product, sell it. collect the money and invest the profits. It is workers who now exact tribute from the working class, handing the proceeds to the capitalists. The (A- )SPGB describe what happens, although without grasping the full implications of what they are saying:

The time has long since passed when members of the ruling class could themselves occupy any considerable number of the administrative posts and manage any appreciable part of their activities. From top to bottom all departments are filled by paid or elected officials, and only a very few of these are drawn from the capitalist class itself. Practically all the work of controlling the activities of society today is performed by people who depend for their livelihood upon their pay – members of the working class. The armed forces, including most of the officers, are also recruited from the ranks of the working class. (Questions of the Day, 1969, pages 20/21).

They tell us that this society is run not by capitalists but by workers, and although we are not bound to believe everything they say, here their assertions are confirmed by universal experience. All the social activities that matter can be explained and accounted for without bringing the capitalist class into it; the only social effect this class produces is the production and consumption of some trivial amount of luxury goods. Individual capitalists take part in the world’s work but these have no more significance, when studying how society operates, than the workers who own shares.

The working class has taken control, but this hasn’t made the difference expected; we still have war, oppression, exploitation, hierarchy, insecurity and all the rest. The working-class now runs society from top to bottom, but it no more demands universal peace, common ownership and total democracy than did the capitalist class. Ideological divisions cut across classes; among the workers, as among the capitalists, majority opinion favours strong government, powerful armaments, coercion of deviants and freedom to try to accumulate possessions.

The workers’ revolution is over. The capitalist class no longer controls society. We are managed, fed, governed, clothed, policed, educated, controlled and exploited by the working class. This class maintains a social system that enables five thousand million people to support themselves, most of them enjoying peace for most of their lives and millions of them living at a standard never known before. Perhaps it isn’t doing so badly after all.

[1] Marx K. & Engels F. 1948 The Communist Manifesto London: Socialist Party of Great Britain 62
[2] Marx K. 1970 Capital, a critique of political economy Volume I London: Lawrence & Wishart 582)

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A recent discussion group agreed that social workers tend to be domineering and manipulative. Several participants ascribed this to a difference in class position, the social workers middle-class, their clients working-class. Nobody found anything odd in drawing a distinction tion between these “middle-class” people and their working-class clients and then saying, every time they were mentioned, that they were social workers. This week, middle-class workers; next week, the three-legged biped.

from Ideological Commentary 54, Winter 1991.