1910s >> 1910 >> no-66-february-1910

Who supplies the Brains?

Mankind is prone to many errors. When, for instance, one mistake has been discovered and the error removed, many men fancy they have rid themselves of all wrong notions. Those people who, because they have abandoned certain religious superstitions, are fond of calling themselves Freethinkers, often imagine they have banished superstition from their minds altogether. Vain delusion. The bulk of the so-called Freethinkers, including their leading propagandists (such as C. Bradlaugh, G. W. Foote and J. M. Robertson) still accept and repeat the wholly unsupported assertion of the parson Malthus, that the cause of poverty is over-population. In spite of the example of Ireland, which, under their very eyes, has had its population steadily decreasing during the last 50 years, yet the misery of its working class continuing, they reiterate the same old superstition like the parsons they so often condemn.

Last November Mr. J. M. Robertson wrote a series of articles in the Manchester Evening News illustrating the above truth in another direction. The articles were entitled “Capital, Brains and Labour.” Here the foremost place is given, not to reason, knowledge or even brains, but, to capital !

The Jews of old worshipped the golden calf, the modern “Freethinker” worships instruments of production ! Both worshipping inert, insensate things, the difference in merit is nil.

The articles opened by stating that two war cries are now being used. The first, “All wealth is the product of labour’; the other, ‘All labour is maintained by capital.’ The first formula is the standing maxim of the Socialist platform, the second has been propounded by Lord Rosebery.”

We are then told that “the first criticism they suggest is that neither shows any concern for precision of statement, and that neither, therefore, aims at telling the whole truth.”

Socialist and Conservative are wrong. Liberalism alone is God and J. M. Robertson its prophet. Therefore we shall get precision of statement and whole truths from the prophet—if such things there be.

We are told that “capital” and “labour” mean “in the broad general sense, ‘the capital of the capitalists’ and ‘the labour of the labourers.’ ”

What is a “capitalist,” and what is a “labourer” ? No answer.

Then “a very little reflection will serve to show that . . all existing wealth arises out of previous wealth, and so on back through ages.”

Where then, did the first portion arise ? What is wealth ? How is it produced ? Still no answer. The believer may begin to ask the prophet when we are going to get his precision of statement and whole truth ; but he will ask in vain. Confusion of working-class mind, not precision of statement, is Mr. Robertson’s object.

So we will fill the gap ourselves.

Wealth is the general term for all those things that minister to man’s wants and desires in various ways throughout society. When analysed this wealth in seen to consist of two elements— the material provided by Nature, changed in form and position by the application of human energy. The assistance given by the forces of nature, as the expansive power of steam and gases, the mysterious force of electricity, etc., does not alter the truth of this statement, as human energy is required to control and direct these forces, and without this direction and control the application of those forces is impossible.

Who produces this wealth, or in other words, who applies the energy necessary to convert the Nature-given materials to man’s use?

The miner digs the coal and ore, the navvy cuts the canals and lays the railways and roads ; the agricultural labourer ploughs the fields, sows and reaps the crops; the building operative erects the mills, factories and works necessary for wealth production ; the railwayman and carman transport the goods to the various places requiring them. In other words it is the members of the working class—and they alone—who perform all the operations necessary in the production and distribution of wealth.

What of “previous existing wealth” given by the prophet ? Economically considered the statement is sheer piffle. Wealth, and the instruments used in its production, must be continually re-created to continue in existence ; and in one of his unguarded moments Mr. Robertson admits this when he says : “obviously labour in general is creating capital faster than it draws subsistence from it.” What we owe to the past are the various discoveries and accumulations of knowledge that have reached us, which we amplify and utilise with the knowledge gained to-day.

But, it may be objected, is not the capitalist a worker ? Doesn’t he apply his energy in the production of wealth ? As shown above, our answer is emphatically no ! And Mr. Robertson is in quite a fog over it, for he remarks : “And, say the Socialists, it is the toil of the mass that provides all things for the labour-consuming rich. If they added ‘The skill of the organiser, using the fluid capital of the rich,’ they would be right.”

If the skilled organiser uses the “fluid” capital of the rich, evidently he is not the capitalist, or he would be using his own capital. Obviously also, the skilled organiser is not rich as he uses the capital of the rich. And who uses the “solid” or “fixed” capital of the rich ? Even our prophet had some glimmering that this was a fatal admission on his part, for in another article he says: “Often the organiser becomes a capitalist-in-chief, in virtue of his primary indispensableness.” Unfortunately, this is no help to him, as the fact of an individual occasionally rising from organiser to capitalist still leaves the bulk of capitalists as non-organisers, and therefore obtaining their wealth without doing anything useful in its production.

In this, as in so many other things, Marx has, as it were, met his opponents by anticipation, for on page 322 of “Capital” he says :

“Just as at first the capitalist is relieved from actual labour so soon as his capital has reached that minimum amount with which capitalist production, as such, begins, so now, he hands over the work of direct and constant supervision of the individual workman, and groups of workmen, to a special kind of wage-labourer.”

Obviously then, the organiser is a member of the working class, though occasionally a well paid one. Then all wealth existing is due to the efforts of the working class applied in various directions. If any section or individual owns wealth without preforming any of the operations necessary for its production, it is clear as crystal that they must have obtained it from those who did produce. In other words they must have robbed the workers. And it matters little whether this was done directly or indirectly, legally or illegally, as far as the result is concerned.

What is capital ? Marx alone has given the correct definition, which, in non-technical language, is, “Wealth used for the purpose of obtaining a profit.” When the capitalist amuses himself by pretending to “manage” his business he always takes care to make that “management” a charge on the business independently of his profits. Whatever industry he invests his capital in, he not only expects to get a cerlain “surplus” or “interest” every year, but at the end of a given period—say twenty years—he still wants his capital intact, despite the fact that it has been “used” during that time. He thus requires that the workers shall provide not only their own subsistence and his profits, but shall also re-create or replace his capital at the end of a given period.

Anyone who has the slightest acquaintance with business methods—with the exception, perhaps, of the shining lights of Liberalism—is well aware of the truth of these statements which prove the Socialist contention that the working class produces all the wealth, whether it take the form of capital, interest, rent, profit or wages, and supplies the brains and labour-power necessary for its production.

An attempt at an explanation of the growing discontent of the working class is as follows :

“It is because the modern captains of industry have never contrived to give their veterans either steady subsistence during their fighting years or security for old age that their legions are in large and growing measure distrustful, semi-hostile, disparaging towards their captains, and bent on provoking some system which shall provide for the mass collectively some such security of comfort as the captain takes to be his sure heritage.”

What a glorious ideal ! To remain nice, good, contented wage-slaves with a “security of comfort” as the highest goal after having kept the ruling class in idleness and luxury. Then comes the following mystic question :

“From which class may a deeper insight be most fitly demanded ? From which might a wise law-giver most reasonably demand patience and magnanimity ? On one or the other side these qualities must be evolved if the problem of modern civilisation is to be any better solved than that of antiquity.”

Note the admission that there are two classes,—obviously in opposition since we are asked from which might be demanded “patience and magnanimity.” Seeing that various religions and ethical systems have preached this for centuries, with no effect upon any of the ruling classes (else the problem would not now have arisen); seeing also that the articles were specially written for working men, the deduction is obviously that it is the working class who are asked to practice this “patience and magnanimity” toward those who live by robbing them. And this is proved a little further on when Mr. Robertson says :

“What is needed to save the cause of progress is a coalition between all the friends of just taxation, all of the masters who care alike for economic science and for the elevation of their workers, and all of the workers who can discern between practicable evolution and the planning of Utopias on paper.”

In what way does taxation affect the working class ? In none at all. It being necessary for the capitalist to obtain his wage slaves at a certain standard of efficiency, he must, on the average, give to the workers out of the wealth they have produced, sufficient to keep them at the required standard. For purely business reasons the capitalist is bound to do this. Out of the surplus, taken by the capitalist class, must be paid the expenses, under the name of taxes, of maintaining this system. Important to the capitalist, but to the worker a matter of indifference, is taxation.

And it is the masters who are to “care for economic science.” Why not the workers as well ? Because a knowledge even of the simple elements of wealth production given above would show the workers clearly how they are robbed. In furtherance of the object of keeping the workers ignorant we are told :

“Even as the rich man so often fails to see that he is but as another man with wealth added, the worker often fails to see that he is but a man without wealth, with the passions, illusions, and endless fallibilities of the natural man of all ages.”

What is the “natural man of all ages” ? A religious superstition—a myth. Man has evolved, and in different ages has had different powers and degrees of faculties, as even Mr. Robertson might have known. But granting the worker has “passions” and “endless fallibilities,” how can this be twisted into a defence of the capitalist’s robbery of the worker ? Only by spreading the “illusions,” with which the “Freethinkers” are saturated, that “capital” is a holy mystery the worker can never understand, and therefore must never offend against; that “progress” is a mystic power that only the capitalist and his agents, masquerading as politicians and sociologists, can propitiate ; and that therefore the worker must leave everything to these medicine men of modern times, or disaster will follow. Such is a sample of the superiority of the intellectual professional person over the “common workman.”

“The Problem of Unemployment” has an article to itself full of vague statements and inaccurate history. It is admitted that: “it is quite clear that unemployment is a standing feature in the industrial life,” though no reason or cause for its existence is given, except a very vague reference to “over-population.” The Socialist explanation and criticism of this problem is not even mentioned, let alone met, by this genius. But he supplies us with a splendid remedy—”That true remedy is to be found only on the lines of a national provision of insurance, on the lines latterly laid down by the Government”—though we are warned “that labour legislation is to be gone about not less but more circumspectly than any other.” Evidently this is a warning to those fiery, impatient Liberals who rushed forward to give the workers Old Age (very old age) Pensions—thirty years after they are dead.

Failing to find any fact or argument in the circumstances around us, to meet the Socialist’s case, our seeker for the “whole truth” invents some. We are told, for instance, that : “The theory that employers in general are to be driven forward by exasperating blows, and that there is no other way of advancing,” is now “discredited by history” (!) while only just previously he had said the workers knew well that “The certainty that every advance had to be extorted is the basis of every effort to force an advance and to resist a decrease.” Beautiful precision of statements that in a few lines flatly contradict each other.

A still more striking example may be taken from the article entitled : “The Evolution of Capitalism” :

”It is some sixty years since there emerged in politics, at the hands of Marx and Engels, the conception of capitalistic production as proceeding inevitably to an irretrievable overthrow, in which society would be violently disrupted, whereafter a new and better system would promptly be raised upon its ruins.”

Th« growing misery of the working class is referred to and then we are told that:

“The course of events has callously falsified this theory of social destiny. Framed before the biogical laws of evolution had been established, it presents the Hegelian view of development as operated by or in an ‘idea’ or abstract momentum, in which the adaptations of historic life count for nothing.”

To see a development operating “by or in an ‘idea’ or abstract momentum” would be beyond the powers of the old prophets who claimed to converse with angels. So it is left for the new “freethinking” prophet to present a tissue of absurdities exceeding the Apocalypse.

The whole statement is so curiously akin to that of Ramsay McDonald in “Socialism and Society” that we can only suppose membership of both in the Liberal party has furnished them with the same arguments (!) in almost the same words. The dangerously weak point in these inventions, however, is that the working class are beginning to read Marx and Engels themselves in increasing numbers year by year. Then they find that, so far from being a Hegelian, Marx has pointed out in the preface to “Capital” that, thirty years before the latter volume was written, he had criticised and opposed Hegelianism from the materialist standpoint. Also that in the preface to the “Critique of Political Economy” (p. 12) published in 1859, Marx says:

“At a certain stage of their development the material forces of production in society come in conflict with the existing relations of production. . . From forms of development of the forces of production these relations turn into their fetters. Then comes the period of social revolution. With the change of the economic foundations the entire immense superstructure is more or less rapidly transformed. . . No social order ever disappears before all the productive forces, for which there is room in it, have been developed ; and new higher relations never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of society.”

Do these statements contradict the “biological law of evolution” ?

Leaving aside tbe fact well known to every school-boy, though not yet discovered by Mr. Robertson, that not only Goethe and Wolff, but particularly Lamarck, in 1809, and Geoffrey St. Hildaire, in 1830, had laid down and defended the development theory, let us take the words of an eminent modern biologist—no less a one than the son of Charles Darwin.

“The physicist, like the biologist and historian, watches the effect of slowly varying external conditions; he sees the quality of persistence or stability gradually decaying until it vanishes, when there ensues what is called, in politics, a revolution.
“These considerations had led me to express a doubt whether biologists have been correct in looking for continuous transformation of species. Judging by analogy we should rather expect to find slight continuous changes occurring during a long period of time, followed by a somewhat sudden transformation into a new species, or by a rapid extinction.”—Professor G. H. Darwin in Presidential Address before the British Assn for the Advancement of Science, South Africa 1905.

Startling is the fact here brought to light, for we see modern physicists and biologists applying in their particular spheres, the theory of evolution Marx laid down for societies in 1859. Magnificent indeed is the vindication of Marx’s position, and complete the refutation of shallow agents of the capitalist class, like Robertson and McDonald.

Moreover, in the article entitled : “The Ideal of Equality” Robertson says : “Economic pressure alone sufficed to substitute, first serf labour for absolute slave labour, and later, hired labour for that of serfs.” Which is just the position Marx was the first to demonstrate.

Lack of space prevents us dealing with all the absurdities and misstatements made in these articles ; indeed, we, should require at least the same space as the articles themselves to meet all the points. So one more example of the contradictions must close our quotations. In the fifth article it is said :

“It would probably be difficult to find anywhere a Socialist who has anything but the most nebulous notion of how the existing world of competitive production is to transform into the ideal world of his theory.”

Yet when he comes to state his own miserable “remedy” of State Insurance he is obliged to say: “I do not profees to elaborate such a scheme, the realisation of which is far off”—for which we may be thankful.

The articles were a tricky but shallow attempt to draw the workers’ attention away from the only thing that will solve the problems of poverty, unemployment and misery, viz., Socialism, and to lead them again into the Liberal rut. Both Liberal and Tory recognise that they are beginning to lose their old influence over the minds of the working class. Hence these articles ; hence Tariff Reform agitations. Let the working class study Socialism, read Marx and Engels in their scanty leisure, and then the days of capitalism and its trained tricksters will be over.

J. FITZGERALD

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