1900s >> 1906 >> no-28-december-1906

Trusts and Soap

Trusts and Soap.
It was the Liberal Star, mouthpiece of that great progressive, democratic, Liberal and Labour combination of which Mr. Lever is so distinguished a member, that hooted its horn gleefully because it was of opinion that Mr. Lever’s soap combine was undone—smashed by a great wave of popular and righteous Liberal-Labour indignation forcefully and fearlessly expressed out of a knowledge of the rascally rapacity of the capitalists who dominated the Trusts which are so emphatic a feature of American commercialism. The yankee Trust has had a most unhappy time of it, thinks the Star, in endeavouring to fix its tentacles upon British industry. The hard-headed practicability of sober-minded Englishmen is a guarantee of the invincibility of free and unfettered English commerce against the threatening advance of the monopolist market-riggers across the herring pond, even if it were not the fact (which of course it is) that the anti-protectionist policy of the great Liberal-Labour combination aforesaid was in itself a sufficiently insurmountable barrier. Trusts as is well known (in Liberal-Labour circles), are only the accompaniment—the necessary and inevitable accompaniment of production within a tariff ring.

The True Blue Variety.
Instead of which the English Sewing Cotton Trust has just absorbed the few sewing cotton manufacturers who until now have maintained a precarious and financially disastrous existence in competition with the trust which has been able, owing to its command of capital and its control of more highly organised and economical methods of production and distribution which command of practically unlimited capital gives, to show profits on its working of about three million pounds sterling per annum.

Then the tobacco manufacturers after a short, sharp fight with the American trust, found that their only way of escape was by combination, and as a result we have the Imperial Tobacco Co., a true blue British trust operating, not in opposition to its American fac simile, but hand-in-hand with it to control the British and American markets and avoid the waste of competition. Then we have the Wall Paper Trust, a most eminently respectable hall-marked product of merry England. The Railway Companies also, although not yet in the trust stage, are recognising the value of combination and are avoiding unnecessary expenditure over certain competitive routes by pooling receipts and so on.

The Evolution of Capitalist Combination.
It would almost seem that the Star chortle is only possible because of the Star’s stupidity. The Star has been so taken up with its efforts to scintillate that it has forgotten that it is not a celestial body far removed from mundane affairs but quite an earthy sort of a product, whose coruscations depend for success upon the measure of their power to reflect facts. And the facts are that unrestricted competition engenders waste which can only be avoided by combination. Competition goes on until the dwindling margin of profit warns the competitors that they are approaching an abyss. And the smaller the capital at their command the more rapid their approach to the abyss is. They perceive that the competitors who are offering best resistance, to the profit-ebbing tide are those whose larger capitals have enabled them to improve their machinery and perfect their methods so that for them production is cheaper. They have the advantage in competition. Then the smaller capitalist comes to himself and offers the bit of the market he can influence, to his larger competitor. He is swallowed up in a combination or if he is stubborn and stupid he is crushed out. The combination grows snowball wise until out of the tussle of interests emerges victoriously in free trade England or protectionist America—the trust.

Inevitable and Necessary.
The trust form of industry, therefore, is the outcome and the necessary product of the competitive form. It is the highest expression of capitalist production. It has eliminated waste. It produces economically in the least time and with a minimum of effort. It is the perfection of production. But it has in its growth developed something else. It has eliminated the capitalist director—the man who under the old competitive system performed some service at any rate in organising and supervising. He is now, perhaps, hundreds of miles from the seat of commerce; perhaps never sees the mill or the factory and is only concerned in them on dividend days. The direction and organisation of the business has passed into the hands of a managerial staff wage servants all. That is to say the whole process as such is now out of the control of the capitalist class and in the hands of the working or wage-earning class. They produce all wealth but as they do not own the machinery by which that wealth is produced, they do not own the wealth itself. Therein is an anomaly that cannot stand for long. Distribution is out of harmony with production. It cannot remain so. Directly the workers who produce recognise their position and their power they will restore the harmony by appropriating the product of their toil and—out goes the capitalist.

The Cry of Wolf !
All very simple. Curious the Star hasn’t seen it! Well, perhaps not so curious. Perhaps the Star does see it but wants to stave off the inevitable as long as possible by shouting wolf. But it won’t do. Trustification is inevitable and just as inevitable is the appropriation by the working class for their own use of the undertaking perfected by capitalism. Try as it may, capitalism cannot destroy that germ within itself which will presently outgrow the shell in which it is evolving to maturity. Then behold a revolution. Capitalism (production for profit) dead. Socialism (production for use) on its feet, established and secure.

As for Mr. Lever’s soap combine, it may of course happen that by vociferously crying wolf the Star and the Daily Mail and the rest of the organs may inspire a successful opposition to this particular organisation. They may even kill poor Mr. Lever of the great Liberal-Labour combination. But they will not kill the soap trust. That is going to happen. Whether it is Mr. Lever’s or not doesn’t matter. The trust’s the thing. “We’ve got to have it whether we like it or not” as the poet puts it.

Peace where there is no Peace.
Indeed, at the present moment there are indications that the free and independent firms who are outside the soap trust are forming themselves into a combine in order to combat the plaguy and malignant trust. In other words they are forming a trust of themselves to fight a trust of others than themselves. And in this delightful occupation it must be a great satisfaction to them to know that they have the sympathies of a trust-hating, hard-headed British nation and the active support of those champion “trust-busters” the Star and the Daily Mail ! We are a great people !

(Editorial, Socialist Standard, December 1906)

Leave a Reply