Human life is utterly dependent on social organisation and activity. As the poet John Donne observed, “No man is an island entire of itself.” Yet addicts of the free market declare that there is no such thing as society. We should interpret their odd claim as a call to arms of a ruling class determined to stop its rival leading a dignified life. Capitalism’s innate urge is to dragoon working class existence inside purely economic parameters, within exclusively market constraints, free from other civilising influences.
Left to itself, capitalism operates a system where the only connecting mechanism, the only functioning link between classes and people is the cash nexus of the profit drive. Capitalism is obsessed by maximising profits and keeping costs – particularly those of labour – down. It is not concerned by workers’ working conditions or quality of life (unless these factors happen to hamper their ability to maximise profits). Accordingly, in recent decades it has set about dismantling and undermining those enhancing aspects of society that support or benefit workers, spawning a stark age ever more bereft of professionally delivered social provision, churning out privatised profit-grabbing organisations as alternatives. As wealth accumulation for capitalists soars, workers plummet into deprivation and suffering.
Society does exist, but today it only finds expression, it only has a source, within the working class. The capitalists, acting as if they are beyond and outside of society, want to remove the protections and enhancements of society from workers. Two opposing perspectives are clashing. Workers, propelled by the nature of their economic position, are having to combine to press their class interests, to counter the incessant exploitation and degradation stemming from the market. Letting the barbarism of profit be the supreme arbiter of human existence would otherwise cripple us.
If we want to survive we must sweep capitalism aside. Civilisation means meeting collective need and fostering the blossoming of social organisation and activity. Nowadays there is society only when workers act together to pursue and enforce common interests.
While denying and hemming in society, the capitalists shamelessly wield power in their favour through the mechanism of an increasingly corporate state. So we live in a paradox where the working class majority are without the trappings of power whilst the ruling class minority selfishly dictate the direction of life. But who pays for the state? Workers do, via a range of taxes. The state must not bulldoze society. Nor should we be reduced to mere individuals or families at the beck and call of callous market forces. Rather we must grow into a class wanting to exercise power as a mutually supporting society.