Socialism and War


One cannot help wishing that more of those who have doubts and difficulties in their understanding of Socialism took the trouble to send them along.

The difficulties and objections of the working class regarding their party’s position are precisely what we are labouring to meet, and queries sent to us serve not only to indicate the nature of the difficulties to be met but also tend to show by their discussion the hollowness of objections which too many take for granted.

A subscriber in the Potteries, J. T. Tyson, sends two questions and an objection which, since they deal with matters of general interest and provide an opportunity for making plain the Socialist position, we gladly answer here.

Converting the Capitalist

Regarding the following quotation from this paper: “Members of the capitalist class are only Socialists to the extent that they vacate their class position and go over to the working class,” our correspondent asks :—

Does this mean that a member of the bourgeoisie must give away his wealth and allow the rest of the theiving gang to exploit the philanthropy of that individual ?

By no means. The capitalist would as suggested not do the workers or their cause the slightest good by giving his wealth away in that manner. In present-day society there is for the capitalist only the choice of exploiting or being exploited, and one who vacates his position in that sense simply steps aside to allow a wider field of exploitation to less scrupulous competitors. To expect to lessen exploitation by the withdrawal of a capitalist here and there is like believing that when a bucket of water is lifted out of the sea a hole will remain unfilled by the surrounding ocean.

The capitalist who becomes converted can only use his wealth, power and leisure on the workers’ behalf by helping to end the system of exploitation, and in doing this he “must vacate his class position,” that is to say, take his stand on the side of the class that lives by labour, making its interests his own, and giving battle to his former class which will defend to the last its ability to fatten upon the labour of others. There is, however, little need to worry over the line of action of the genuine converted capitalist. He is a rara avis. No class has yet ruled in the interests of a class below it and our masters are not going to break the rule of history. Our propagandist efforts can only be really fruitful by being applied to the working class whose material interests are on our side; and any isolated individuals from the other side who are converted will, from the very fact of their conversion, know what course of action must be pursued.


Socialism and War

The next question is:—

How do you propose to abolish war ?

To know how war is to end it is necessary to know how wars begin.

Formerly wars were dynastic in origin; but to-day, owing to the expansion of capitalist production outstripping the effective demand of the home market and necessitating “fields fresh and pastures new” for the disposal of the ever-growing surplus of commodities, we find that all modern wars are commercial in origin and in aim.

Thus the foreign and colonial markets are indispensable to capitalism, and form a safety valve which is, indeed, now fast becoming choked up.

And in getting such colonies, “spheres of influence,” “open ports,” protectorates and treaties required for this external trade, each nation finds itself at the throat of other capitalist nations, and war is only averted so long as each is afraid of the other.

Russia in seeking ports open to the sea at all seasons and Japan in resisting Russia’s encroachments upon her markets; Britain in seeking markets and a “scientific frontier” in North West India against Russian advance ; the United States in securing rich fields of exploitation in Cuba and the Phillipines; all indicate the commercial basis of modern war which has literally developed from the continued fighting of the chartered trading companies of rival nations in the four quarters of the globe during earlier times.

So long as a corrupt Press and a powerful section of manufacturers of war stores and munitions have everything to gain by war ; so long as rival capitalist nations strive against each other for the plunder of the world ; so long as increasing productive powers render imperative new outlets for the growing surplus of commodities ; so long, indeed, as there exists a wage-slave class to be held in subjection—in short, so long as Capitalism endures—for just so long will war or the armed threat of war be inevitable and the desire for peace a vain aspiration. They who concentrate upon Socialism alone are the truest workers for peace, for the abolition of capitalist exploitation is the indispensable prelude to international peace and human solidarity. With international Socialism the struggle of exploiters for plunder is ended, since it is the many who labour who rule, and their paramount interest lies not in destructive contention for plunder but in the co-operation of all for the better utilisation of nature’s forces; and compared with this supreme interest of international labour, every petty conflicting interest must pale into utter insignificance.

In the co-operative commonwealth the necessity of forcing commodities into countries at the cannon’s mouth no more exists. The workers of the world have everything to gain when triumphant by peaceful co-operation, and everything to lose by war

Our correspondent will now gather how alone the principal causes of war can be abolished ; it is by destroying the political and economic supremacy of the exploiting class through the organisation and training of the industrio-political army of the workers to that end.

It is, therefore, no part of our duty to aid the ruling class to obtain an improved fighting force or “armed nation” which the class which now rules must perforce control and use to our greater oppression and undoing. Such a proceeding may well be left to capitalists—to Earl Roberts and to the reformers. It is our business to end capitalism, not to forge weapons for our enemies use. When the workers have something other than wage-slavery to defend they will take steps to defend it, for the present all their energy is needed in concentrating upon the conquest of the machinery of government, (which includes the armed forces), in order to convert this “from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege, aristocratic and plutocratic.”


Do THE WORKERS pay for Wars ?

Referring to the question of taxation to pay for wars, the objection which our correspondent raises runs as follows :—

“It must be admitted that the capitalists do not pay for wars, the wealth has to be got out of the workers, and seeing that the Boer war cost about £240,000,000 it is not likely that this will come out of the capitalists, and to say that they cannot get more than all is in this case wrong. For instance, the English worker gets one-third of the value he creates while the American gets but one-fifth, so that if speeding up became the rule in order to get the equivalent of the cost of the war the worker would be worse off. If I have wrongly understood the situation I hope you will put me right.”

Let us then endeavour to put our friend right.

In the first place, all marketable wealth is created by those whose labour is manually and mentally expended in its production, therefore all the cost of war and everything else comes ultimately from those who produce. So far there is agreement. But to imply from this that the producers actually pay for all, is to say that they possess the wealth their labour has created, and that their banking accounts would have benefited by the £240,000,000 if that amount had not been spent on the war ! It is, however, notoriously not the case that the workers possess the wealth they create, for the wealth as soon as produced is already the property of the master class; the workers, indeed, only receiving the market price of their labour-power—that is, a bare sufficiency for the reproduction and maintenance of that labour-power, and which leaves no surplus with which to pay for wars.

The master class is always engaged in screwing wages down to the lowest profitable limit under the conditions prevailing, and this whether a war has occurred or not. A war in fact does not even usually act detrimentally to the modern workers—at least as far as wages are concerned—since during war and often as an after consequence of war there is actually a larger demand for labour-power, both for the supply of munitions of war and afterwards to replace the property destroyed and to produce for the extended market. The great prosperity of France and Germany after the Franco-German war is a case in point. The condition of the labour market is the immediate governing factor of the price and conditions of labour-power, and if the market is not turned by the war against the wage-worker, how is it possible for the master class to get extra out of the workers for that war ?

The fact that the English worker gets on an average one-third of his product while the American, in spite of higher wages, gets only one-fifth, does not prove that the masters can at will or for any length of time get another two-fifteenths of the English worker’s product by taxation. Indeed, if the taxation could be so manipulated that it really reduced the average wages it would have the effect of causing serious loss to the masters by lowering the efficiency of their available labour supply ; thus they would tend to get even less out of the workers than before. Friend Tyson’s own illustration goes to prove this.

The American worker gets higher wages and his product is proportionally greater because his high wages are the price of a more efficient and speedy labour-power. The lower the standard of subsistence of the workers the lower is the average efficiency of their labour, therefore to reduce wages by any means (other things remaining equal) is to reduce the efficiency of that kind of labour-power.

The researches of C. Booth, Rowntree and Robert Hunter show that the working class under the most diverse conditions gets barely sufficient to maintain and reproduce the respective grades of labour-power; and while the advance of capital steadily increases the robbery of the working man, so also the fact must remain that “high” wages usually mean high profits only because a more intense and more profitable labour-power costs more to produce than a lower grade, and because low wages mean inefficient labour.

To get as much out of the worker here as in America is therefore impossible by means of taxation whether for a war or even a peace conference. To increase the proportion of surplus value to wages here to the same degree as in America can only be done by improvements in the methods of production and in increasing the efficiency of the human machines by feeding, sheltering and training them better. This again depends on economic and social causes for its practicability.

While the bigger capitalists generally recognise that starvation wages do not conduce to efficiency or to high profits in the long run, yet since the efficiency of the workers is due to historical and social rather than to individual or temporary causes, the average capitalist will endeavour to force wages down to the lowest physical limits unless he can in some degree as at Port Sunlight, Bourneville and other places segregate and improve a supply of labour-power for his sole use. If the capitalist cannot ensure that he individually will reap all the benefit of the higher efficiency that is induced, he is not going to embark in “philanthropy” to benefit his competitors. The larger capitalists, indeed, are not generally averse to legislative enactment which aims at increasing the general profit-making capacity of workers, or indeed to old style trade union “collective bargaining” for similar reasons. Such legislation and collective bargaining operates also as a means of crippling the competition of the smaller capitalist, the middle-class manufacturer, baker and the like, who, in his futile struggle against the advance of great capital, strives by sweating and by the payment of wages insufficient to reproduce efficiency to make profit parasitically by the depreciation and degradation of the normal labour-power, relying for renewals upon the necessities of fresh normal workers.

Thus the amount to be wrung out of the workers by the master class is limited by the degree of economic development and by the prevailing state of Society. It is consequently difficult to conceive how the master class in order to pay for wars is to get more from the workers than it otherwise gets, since the capitalists rob the workers to the utmost of their power under any conditions.

The conclusion, indeed, is clear that the workers do not pay for wars since they do not possess the millions required as means of payment. The toilers are skinned before they leave the factory gates, and to rob them further is very like trying to take the trousers off a highlander.

The ruling class takes all that remains over the bare average keep of the wage workers and is, therefore, already squeezing all that it can out of the working class. The payment for war comes in consequence not from wages but from profits, for the class that lives by the daily robbery of the workers is no more a magician than is the common cutpurse and like him it “cannot take more than all.”


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