What is the Class Struggle?

First of all, so that we shall not be altogether at cross purposes, a word about what the class struggle is.  This will have to be a very simplified, even an over-simplified, word, but I want to be as brief as possible.  The class struggle is not, in the first place, a struggle between the haves and the have-nots.  It has very little to do with what people in England call ‘class distinctions’, meaning a peculiarly English kind of snobbery.  It is not differences of wealth that cause class differences, but class differences that cause differences of wealth.  The worker by his labour creates a certain amount of wealth, only part of which is returned to him in the form of wages, etc.  The rest is appropriated by the employer, or capitalist, so called because his function is to accumulate capital in this way.  The capitalist receives from a great many workers the extra wealth which they produce but do not need for their subsistence and minimal contentment, and bringing all this wealth together he is able to invest, to provide the conditions under which more work may be done — and so on.  On this fundamental division between worker and employer the whole class system rests.  The worker is whoever by productive work actually creates wealth.  The employer is not simply anyone who makes overall decisions about what work shall be done and how; he is the one who takes the surplus wealth created by the worker and uses it (in his own interests of course) as capital.  Capitalism is just the system in which capital is accumulated for investment, in their own interests, by a group of people who own the means of production and employ large numbers of other people who do not own the means of production but produce both the wealth which they receive back in wages and the surplus wealth which is used for investment by the owners.


Under such a feudal set-up the rich man is one who lives more luxuriously than others; a capitalist is quite a different matter.  He is not, except maybe incidentally, a rich man living in luxury; he is a man whose function is to accumulate capital and invest it.  He has no slaves or serfs to keep in subjection and correspondingly no job of protecting anyone.  There are no customary dues, no recognised rights and obligations, no privileges, no servility.  There emerges what Marx calls ‘civil society’.  Theoretically at any rate everyone is free, they are only bound by the contract they enter into.  The worker has something to sell as dearly as possible, his labour, and the capitalist wants to buy it as cheaply as possible so as to have the maximum left over for capital investment.  In this matter their interests fundamentally conflict. (187-189)

Herbert McCabe | “The class struggle and Christian love” in God Matters


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