The basic Marxist analysis of capital is the fundamental groundwork on which modern socialism stands. Marxism explains how capital works; how the workers — free workers, not chattel-slaves, but the legal equals of the richest in capitalist society — are exploited in the process of production. In short, why it is not hype or demagogy, but plain truth, to say that the modern working class is a class of wage-slaves.
The education of the working class about the fundamental mechanics of capital, and the workers’ place in capitalist society, is the basic, the essential, the irreducible work of socialists.
As the Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels said, though we see ourselves as the advance-guard of the working class, we have no interest apart from that of the working class. Our primary role is to explain, to educate, and also to learn from working-class experience.
It is work that has for long been neglected by socialists for too many of whom everything revolves around demagogic agitation, regulated by calculations about what will allow their organisation to recruit. Theirs is what we have named “apparatus Marxism” — “Marxism” as a set of terms and intellectual gambits to be deployed in the service of the “apparatus” of the “revolutionary party” which selects or discards issues with an eye not to truth or to the education of the working class, but to “quick returns” for “the party”.
What follows is a brilliant exposition of how exactly the working class is exploited. Its author was the American socialist Daniel De Leon. It is taken from a speech given to a large audience of striking workers in New Bedford, Massachusetts.
De Leon was an early and very acute critic of the pre-1914 international socialist movement and its leaders — of the movement that would collapse at the outbreak of World War One. He was an early advocate of industrial, not craft, unions.
He saw such unions as the infrastructure of the future workers’ republic, being constructed within the womb of capitalism. De Leon died in May 1914.
Lenin, when in 1918 he read De Leon’s pamphlets, had high praise for him as a partial forerunner of Bolshevism. “De Leonites” in Britain, America, and other countries played a central role in building the early Communist Parties after the Russian Revolution. The text here has been abridged as follows. An introductory section has been cut, and so has the final point, in which De Leon advocates industrial unionism in relation to organisations which long ago ceased to exist. That section is now of interest only as part of the history of the revolutionary socialist movement. What we have here is a concise explanation of working-class exploitation.