Why the Unemployed are Necessary under Capitalism

Beyond doubt the problem of unemployment is beginning to assume a new aspect. Hitherto a regrettable, but quite incidental, visitation of Providence, a working-class concern (as bad trade has been to do with the muster class), a temporary inconvenience, our rulers have said, not entirely beyond the ameliorative touch of Private Charity, the problem is now developing a new visage.

The Incubus of the Out-o’-Work.
There is an ugly gleam in its eye, an all-devouring menace in its bestial mouth. No longer can the capitalists pretend that Private Charity is able to deal with the situation—it has been like a bee lending its honey sac to the support of a hungry elephant. It is so short a while since the dread shape was rampant over the land, and now it rises again, with added stature, with renewed rage and redoubled vigour. But the disquieting thing is that during the interim the shape has never for a moment been banished. Our lords and gentlemen and honorable boards, our masters and pastors and those set in authority over us, our organisers of production and captains of industry, all took it for a ghost, and tried to “lay” the ghost each in his own way. And alike for those who took it to the Lord in prayer, and those who passed measures in the legislature, and those who offered propitiation out of the lean purse of Private Charity, and those who accepted the Miltonian dictum that “they also serve who only stand and wait,” the shape unobligingly refused to be “laid.” The thing has not righted itself, even temporarily.

A strengthening suspicion is spreading over the minds of the master class that when the thing does right itself, it will do so in a way distinctly unpleasant to them. It dawns upon them that this thing which, they with complaisance regarded as a cross the workers had to bear, threatens more and worse against the rulers than the ruled. The idea takes shape that this nightmare is the product of their own operations, the inevitable and ominous companion of capitalist production, and they go in mortal fear that, sooner or later, it must overwhelm them.

The Policy of Sop Throwing.
Hence there are signs that every cheap expedient is to be used in the endeavour to stave off the flood of destruction which threatens to burst from this heaped up and increasing mass of humanity so completely cut off from the means of life. And are these efforts to succeed ? Let us enquire into the nature of the problem.

It is not the mere fact that so many men are idle that constitutes the serious feature of the problem. It may be no unmixed blessing to have this army of workless workers kicking their heels together, especially when the devil begins to apply his solution by finding work for their idle hands to do, but it is nowhere suggested that any other consideration can compare with the fact that the unemployed lack the necessaries of life—they starve in their great numbers, and those greater numbers dependent upon them starve in company. The real problem is, therefore, not to provide work for the unemployed, but to furnish them with the means of subsistence. It is a misnomer to call it an unemployed problem it is a starvation problem.

The solution of the starvation problem has been left to Private Charity: she has failed. They say the goddess has a slender purse, and we know that is true. Let us then suppose Private Charity’s purse as broad and deep and illimitable as her heart is said to be, that out of her bottomless resources and melting pity she could and did give to repletion to all directly or indirectly suffering from the effects of unemployment, what then would happen ?

The Awful Indolence of Man.
Alas for her peace of mind, our masters never tire of telling us what would happen. “Human nature,” they say, “would assert itself. It is not human nature to engage in uncongenial toil save under pressure. Remove the pressure of want from the unemployed and at once you have an army of ‘won’t works.'” Private Charity consents to the judgment, as must you and I.

There is no doubt about it, man does not sell his labour-power, and with it necessarily his liberty, for fun. To be unemployed is no terrible hardship in the absence of the poverty which accompanies working-class unemployment. Relieve us of the coercive force of the empty stomach, the shameless importunity of the landlord, and so on, and, frankly, we would not worry about work—our human nature is not so different from that of our betters that we need blush to confess that. And then what would happen ?

What would happen, my friends, in this impossible case, is just this. Those in employment,, finding themselves relieved of the competition of the workless (we will leave out of consideration the fact that their “human nature” would impel them to become workless, too, upon such terms), would begin to cast about them for some means of improving their condition. As it is true, as our masters tell us, that the workers would not sell themselves to toil unless they were forced to, it follows that they would oppose a more effective resistance to the weakened coercion. They would demand a higher price for their labour-power, either through increased wages or a shorter working day, or both.

Nothing Left for the Boss – What O !
We are taking here the extreme case, in which the labour market is entirely and effectually relieved of the pressure of the unemployed—whether by provision of work or of direct sustenance does not matter one iota. Theoretically, the worker, being without a competitor, would have things all his own way. Wages, being a price, must rise by leaps and bounds, as all prices do in the absence of competitors. And as, mind you, wages are that portion of the total value created which is enjoyed by those who create it, it follows that a rise in wages results (other things remaining constant) in a decrease of the portion of value left to those who do not create it.

Now mark the effect. Capitalist demand for labour-power is excited only by the desire for that portion of the value created which remains after that labour-power is paid for, and will therefore be in proportion to the relative amount of that surplus-value. Just as the removal of the unemployed from the labour market has torn from the employing class the power of resisting the demands of the working class, so now the diminished profits react against the worker by lessening the demand for labour-power which the desire for profit alone creates. Those concerns which have been run at the lowest profit, immediately cease to show any at all, and are shut down, and Private Charity has other hordes to comfort at her eleemosynary bosom. Solomon gurgled of “breasts like towers,” but she needs breasts like oceans for the job she has taken on, must wear thin and thinner with the calls upon her system, and after all her sacrifice will prove unavailing, for wages, rising to the point of extinguishing all profit, has extinguished with it the capitalists’ desire to engage their factories
and machinery in the process of wealth production.

No Porfit, No Production.
Here is a deadlock. The solution of the unemployed problem by sustaining the workless has resulted in the raising of wages, the absorpion of profit, and, as a necessary corollary, the cessation of production. From which it appears that idleness has its dignity, no less than labour, since the unemployed are necessary to capitalist production, and that it is true indeed that “they also serve who only stand and wait.”

But capitalist sophism tells us that other things do not remain constant—which, of course, is true
enough. We are told that a rise in wages is followed by a rise in prices, but this is presuming too much upon our ignorance. The workers create all value, whether it take the shape of golden sovereigns, loaves of bread, stained glass angels, or what not. If then the price of loaves went up alone the sovereign would buy fewer than before; but if the price of gold rose proportionately, the relative positions of the two remain the same. Just all prices are to go up, since all commodities are the result of wage labour and all wages are to rise. The result is that none of their relative positions have changed. The sovereign still buys as many loaves before, as many Manifestoes or SOCIALIST STANDARDS. There has then been no rise in prices, though, since our ingenuous masters always except one commodity (labour-power) from the added price-stature, they manage to indicate a fall in wages—which is all they want to do. But, with no unemployed “standing and waiting,” the working class would hold the whip hand. And all this is apart from the fact that prices of commodities do not bear relation to the cost of the labour-power consumed in their production, but to the amount of necessary labour embodied in them.

Machinery creates its own Unemployed.
Again other things do not remain constant. We have been considering an extreme case, where production has ceased because profit has ceased, and all because there were no unemployed to keep down wages. It is clear then, that if production is to continue, is must either do so under conditions in which its operation is not dependent upon profits, or the unemployed must be again brought into being to force down wages and allow profit to reappear.

The system makes beautiful provision for this by the law of the development of machinery. In practically every trade there exists machinery and methods in partial use far in advance of that generally employed—indeed, all through the industrial world there are degrees of perfection or imperfection in the means of production, tailing away into antiquity so distant as can just be run at sufficient profit to save them from extinction. In each degree of development there is a fringe where it is a question if better machinery could not be more profitably adopted. Any raising of wages at once decides the question. At all times machinery is the competitor of labour-power. To increase the price of the latter is merely to hasten its displacement by the former. In the printing world the Linotype composing machine is an accomplished fact. It is not that the machine would have to be invented—it is there, doing the work of several men under the hands of one. The only question is the diameter of the circle of its profitable application, and this, of course, is a matter of competition with the hand compositor.

An Automatic Adjustment (not patented).
If the wages of the latter go up, there is a corresponding advantage on the side of the machine, an enlargement in the circle of its employment, and an addition to the unemployed army to beat down wages again. It may be said that the machine operator’s wages rise also, but that is only one man’s wages against several displaced by the machine. It may also be objected that the cost of the machine is raised since higher wages must be paid for its construction, but that lands us again in the impossible position of witnessing an all-round rise in prices, and runs counter to the economic verity that prices (averaged by rises and falls cancelling one another) express, not the amount of wages consumed in producing the commodities, but the necessary labour embodied in them.

The fact is that every advance in wages reacts upon machinery and methods, pronouncing the doom of those requiring most labour-power to operate them, throwing men out of work, and so creating that army of unemployed which is necessary to the continuance of production so long as production is carried on for profit.

The position may be summed up as follows. As \inder present conditions all commodities are produced for profit, production must cease with the cessation of profit. As profit and wages between them constitute, and have their only source in, the value created by theworker, profit can only appear while wages are prevented from consuming the whole product of labour. As wages, the price of labour-power, are regulated by the relation of supply and demand, a surplus of labour-power (the unemployed) is necessary to prevent wages swallowing up all profit.

The Logic of the Revolutionary Proposal
Therefore the unemployed army is a vital necessity to capitalist production, and there can be no solution under capitalism.

As wages are regulated by the relation of supply to demand of that labour-power which it is the price of, any diminution of the surplus (unemployed) labour-power is attended by a rise in wages. As machinery is the competitor of labour-power, any rise in the price of labour-power induces its displacement by machinery, which thus creates in perpetuity the out-of-work army. Therefore there can be no partial solution to the unemployed problem under capitalism.

As profit is the only incentive to capitalist production, and an unemployed army is an inevitable necessity to the production of profit, it is clear that the solution of the unemployed problem must be sought in a new productive objective—production must be independent of profit.

As the consumer demands the production of commodities because they are use-values, and demands them as long as they have use-value, it is clear that utility would be a more constant incentive to produce than profit, since things have always utility while people need them, and it is just when people need them most, because they are starving, but have no money to pay for them because they are unemployed, that there is no profit in their production.

As production for profit implies the power to wrest from the workers part of their product by keeping some of them (the unemployed) from production, it presupposes also private ownership by the few of the machinery of production.

And as production for use means production while any one has need, it implies free access to the means of production—in other words, common ownership of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth, by and in the interest of the whole community.

The establishment of this changed property condition is the revolutionary proposition, the object of all Socialists. It is revolutionary because it changes the whole structure of society from top to bottom. In particular it abolishes the unemployed by giving free access to the means of production.

Socialism is the only cure for unemployment, therefore study Socialism.


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