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V. Grey

Shop Talks on Socialism

Growth and Decay

(3 August 1946)

From The Militant, Vol. X No. 31, 3 August 1946, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

We have seen that wealth in society is created by the physical and mental labor of the working class. We have seen that capital – which is a surplus wealth over and above the capitalists’ personal expenditures – is created by labor too. All the things that parade under the fancy names of interest, dividends, rents, profits of enterprise, and so on, are only parts of the huge surplus value produced by the workers.

Now we must see why the workers must wrest the surplus from the capitalists. We must see why the capitalist system is breaking down to the point that the workers have to do this even just to defend what they already have.

We learned that factories and machinery, the capitalist method of production, were something new under the sun. We saw that wage workers were something new, too. They displaced the wandering, craftsman, the “journeyman,” the tinker, the spinner, the weaver and the rest. More accurately, all these things were new once, but now they are old.

Readers of The Militant know we predict that these old things, once so new, must give way to still newer things. Privately owned sweatshops shall become modern, airy factories owned by all, under Socialism. Wage slaves shall become free men – masters of nature – joint owners of this planet.

But this may sound like a good program for the dim future. Some people, especially the capitalists, just cannot see it taking place in the present. Others, going a little further, may see such things, for example, as recurring strikes, but fail to see how and why these are the seeds of profound social change, of socialist revolution.

It is by grasping both the growth and the growing old of capitalism itself that we can get the clue to this. The elements of capital: machinery, raw materials, labor power that capital has bought – and the surplus value that is produced – these things constantly undergo change. One begins to eat the other up.

It is like the processes in a human body. It is constantly building up and wearing away. In youth the body is building up faster than it is wearing away. In old age it is just the opposite. Different organs begin feeling the strain in different ways.

We have to study the organs of capital more deeply now in order to analyze the decay of capitalism and understand why it is doomed. We have to see just how and where it is changing, and what has already changed. We have to distinguish one part of capital from another. We have to learn the connection between machinery and labor power. We have to distinguish the dead from the living.

Karl Marx teaches us to do this in the first volume of Capital. He carefully shows the changing role of machinery in modern industry. He shows why this change, which should be a blessing, has become a curse to the worker. And more important, he shows why it becomes transformed from a lever of capitalistic progress to a millstone around the neck of society, including the capitalists.

He shows the feverish mad rush of the capitalist to “expand or die.” He explains that one capitalist must kill many (wipe them out) not just from greed and orneriness, but from the nature of the capitalist system itself.

Capital, when it first expanded over the earth, brought new goods, new ideas, science and many other benefits to the world. Now its expansion is like a spreading blight pushing living things over the borders of death.

What is inside capital, turning it against itself in this way?

(Continued Next Week)

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