Editorial: Exit Unrestricted Competition
“The truth is that the assumption made by economists and by public opinion during the greater part of the last century, that unchecked competition would always secure the public the cheapest and most efficient service, is one which does not apply to railways, and which may be found in the future to be inapplicable to an increasing number of other businesses. The risks attending competition are too great.”—Morning Post.
Of course ! Unrestricted competition is a good thing, the thing upon which the greatness of the Empire has been built up and depended, the thing that made for stamina and fitness, that developed enterprise, and all the rest of it, until—until the risks became too great, until, that is, it ceased to pay. Now we drop the cant and go in for combines and the elimination of competitive waste, because that way lies the larger profit. If the maintenance of the ancient method spells the disintegration of the Empire —perish Empire ! Perish fitness, perish enterprise, perish everything, but leave us still our profits !
Some of the effects of this railway combine are already making themselves felt. In London the G.W.R. and the G.C.R. have managed to close eight town offices between them. Similar savings are being effected in other departments. A reduction of the Staff of the Railway Clearing House is rumoured and will inevitably occur. The L. & N.W.R. and the Midland Railway will find themselves in the position of being forced to take steps similar to those taken by the G.N.R. and G.C.R. (into which combination, by the way, the G.E.R. has now entered) and will take those steps gladly. Indeed, pooling arrangements have for a long period been in operation between the L. & N.W.R. and the Midland Railway, and a working agreement exists between the L. & N.W.R. and the L. & Y. Co.—a case of intelligent anticipation. Notwithstanding official denials, it is absolutely certain that an extension of this agreement is being arranged, and out will go more workers on to the labour market.
The Struggle for Existence Intensifies
Every economy means, as was pointed out in the last issue, displaced labour. Every move toward capitalist efficiency means a greater intensity of labour exploitation and a keener struggle for existence. The nationalisation of the railways offers no way of escape to the railway workers. As the capitalist Manchester Guardian points out in its article on Railway Alliances:—
“Prices on the Stock Exchange rise when such a scheme is announced and drop at the prospect of a continuance of present methods. We may expect, therefore, that when the time comes for the consideration of some larger scheme of national management our present railway proprietors and managers will be among the most convincing witnesses in favour of its economy and administrative advantages.”
Or, in other words, the capitalist class will itself be quite ready to appreciate the advantages of nationalisation because that means, under the present system, the conservation of their class interests. Better conditions for the workers, even for those the elimination of waste has spared employment, is a matter of very minor moment indeed, and then is conditional upon increased productivity.
The Way Out
No. Against the trend of commercial development toward concentration nothing can stand. No reform, no misnamed palliative, is of any avail to appreciably soften the grinding, crushing, devastating effect of its outworking upon the proletariat. There is no solution at all for the problem, no hope at all for the workers, outside Socialism. Only the Socialist Party has the message of good cheer. And the Socialist Party (that is, in England, the S.P.G.B.), while insisting upon the futility of any reform and the fatuity of the reformer, points out that capitalism, gorging itself to satiety with every increasing profit on the one hand, is perforce digging its own grave on the other. This concentration has effected the practical elimination of the capitalist himself from the sphere of actual production. The working class is in command of the workshop and the factory. The whole process of wealth creation is in the hands of wage earners. Socialism will give them the control of the product as capitalism has given them control of production. Only then will poverty cease to exist. Only then will the workers achieve their freedom. Meanwhile our business is to go forward, undeterred by the influences that astute capitalism has surrounded the Labour Leader with to his undoing, refusing to dabble with the pettifoggeries of the reform parties, that must spell no more than disappointment or apathy or both to the workers misguided enough to follow at the tail of such agitations,—to go forward with our work of preaching discontent, of explaining economic phenomena in the light of Socialist philosophy, of agitating, educating, and organising the working class until, recognising their position and their power, they accomplish the capture of political might in order that they may secure themselves in the possession of the means of living, and enjoy unmolested the product of their own toil.
(Editorial, Socialist Standard, August 1908)