Revolution’s Reply to Reform


The answer to “Arms for the Workers: A Defence of the Programme of the Social-Democratic Party.” (E. C. Fairchild, Lon. Organiser, S.D.P.)

On a Workingman’s Wages

Under the above heading Mr. Fairchild tells us that the third objectiou usually preferred against what he is pleased to call a Socialist programme is that some of its proposals would decrease the cost of living and result in lowering wages to the detriment of the working class. He says that this objection is generally advanced by “those who claim some acquaintance with economic science,” and declares that it “depends upon confusion of the amount of money the employer pays to the workman as wages with the amount or quantity of goods the workman can purchase with that money.” The confusion, however, is with our critic, for when we claim that some of the proposals would cause wages to fall, we do so in the full knowledge of the fact that “The food, clothing, or other things which the workman can obtain for his money” (i.e., wages) “is the real wage paid to him for his labour.” Nevertheless, if the money wage falls and buys less “food, clothing or other things,” the fact remains that “real wages” have fallen, and this notwithstanding that the deficiency is made good by a dole from “the municipal authority or the Government.” An argument which the revolutionary puts forward to show that the workers can be no better off for the so-called palliatives, is met by this bolster of capitalist politics with the retort that they will be no worse off ! What a defence of the palliative programme of the S.D.P. ! What a justification for this modern wandering in the arid Desert of Gobi, that after all the toil and travail of shifting a portion of their cost of maintenance from their employers’ pay-bill to the municipal alms box the workers are no worse off ! Sach a defence is a complete surrender to our contention, yet the defence goes no further. An attempt is made, it is true, to exploit the eternal “if,” but the result is ludicrous. “If,” says Mr. Fair-•ehild,

“the money wage paid by the capitalist should fall by 5s. weekly, and the municipal authority or the Government provided the workman with goods or services to the value of 5s. weekly, the workman would not suffer any hardship. If the municipal authority or the Government supplied him with goods or services worth 6s. weekly, the workman would gain, though his wages fall by 5s.”

If, if, if. But if the result of the “palliative” (in this case the “goods or services” supplied by the municipality or Government) is a fall in wages because it cheapens living, it is clear that the effect will be measured by the cause—in other words 6s. worth of “palliation” will be followed by a wage reduction, not of 5s., but, of 6s. There was no logical position for our reformer between absolute denial of the cause and full surrender to the effect, and when, he states that the “third objection” is due to confusion of money wages and “real” wages, and that the loss in money wages is compensated by the dole, he accepts the argument of the cause and effect, confesses that his only defence against the “third objection” is that workers are no worse off, and so doing surrenders, with the worst grace he can, to our contention that they are no better off, and that their efforts have therefore been in vain.

And Englishmen’s Homes
The burden of this section is the housing problem. The proposal seems to be to provide the employers with homes for their workers at the expense of the landlord class. It is like the horse siding with his master in a demand for a free stable. But as our author says at the end of his previous section : “the source whence the workman draws his maintenance is a matter of no concern at all. The vital thing is that he gets maintenance.” It is a matter of no concern at all to the workers who pays “the cost of the land . . and also the interest payable to the lenders from whom the housing authority borrowed.” Such charges are in the same category as taxes, which even S.D.P. literature proves are not paid by the working class. The maintenance of the workers as a class in a certain average degree oE health and strength and efficiency is the first and indispensable charge upon the wealth produced by the workers. It is the vitally necessary condition without which the workers’ power to produce wealth must cease. This degree of efficiency is determined by the degree of development and general conditions of production itself. The housing problem, then, is a problem for the master class. It is an important part of the problem how to provide the necessary maintenance of the workers with smallest possible call upon the latters’ total wealth production. For the rest it becomes a tussle between the industrial capitalists and the landlords for the plunder of the fruits of the workers’ toil. It is for this reason we find certain sections of the master class proceeding with municipal housing schemes and other sections opposing.

“If the money wages of labour were to fall by a sum equal to the reduction in rent—a decrease only possible if municipal housing was of stupendous magnitude . .” next says the S.D.P. oracle. It appears then that we can have too much of a good thing—even of an S.D.P. “palliative”—and that the time may come when we shall find the reform mongers anxious to get elected to undo their own handiwork, to keep wages from falling by preventing municipal housing attaining “stupendous magnitude.”

It would be interesting to know exactly what “stupendous magnitude” means. Where is the line to be drawn beyond which the reform cannot go without affecting money wages and why ? If one municipal house, through its reduced rent, does not affect wages why should ten ? If ten do not why should a hundred ? If a hundred do not why should a thousand, or ten thousand, or a million ? What is there in the last that is not contained in the first ? Nothing. The difference between one reduced rent and a million reduced rents is simply the difference between .one and a million—a quantitative not a qualitative, difference—a matterof multiplication. Hence the effect of a million reduced rents can only be the multiplied effect of one reduced rent. This talk of the wage-reducing effect of certain “palliatives” only operating when the proposals become general, or “of stupendous magnitude” is rubbish, and comes fittingly from those who magnify a few municipally reduced rents into an important increase of “the amenities of the workers’ lives,” because they can see those reductions, but cannot understand an exactly equal and equally insignificant wage reduction because, as our author very felicitously puts it, they cannot know the things they cannot see.

One municipal house in every thousand houses in the London area would mean about a thousand municipal houses. We will not ask Mr. Fairchild if such a ratio would be of “stupendous magnitude.” A two-shillings per week reduction of this thousand rents is a visible movement, because it is concentrated. If it resulted in an equivalent reduction in money wages of the actual tenants of these houses, that would be a visible effect. It would be two shillings a week off the earnings of each tenant if there was one tenant to each house. But if this wage reduction, instead of affecting merely the actual participants in the reduced rents, were spread over all the wage earners of the area, it would mean less than three farthings—not per week but—per annum reduction to each. Of how much more “stupendous magnitude” must this become before our “palliator” can see and therefore know it !

Luxuries a Necessity
The “mixed thinking” of the reformer is shown by our opponents’ remarks under the above heading. First declaring that “the supply and demand for labour regulates the wage that is paid,” he proceeds to flatly contradict himself in the words : “the employing class . . conspires to fix wages at a price sufficient to maintain the physical efficiency required for the production of average profits, . . .” Wages are the price of labour-power, hence to speak of the price of wages is to speak of the price of a price—which is idiotic jibberish. Again, to regulate a thing is to control its movements, therefore that which is regulated is not fixed. Still again, to attribute control of wages on the one hand to competition, in the labour market and on the other hand to conspiracy by the masters is taking idiot’s license, to say the least. Two flat contradictions and a lunacy in three dozen words is not a bad performance.

Of course, by one who holds that wages are fixed by the conspiracy of a to class yield profit, it is an easy transition to the argument that they can, by the conspiracy of another class, be fixed at such a level as to leave no profit at all (that they have ceased to become wages then need not trouble such free-and-easy economists). The first step toward this is for the workers to want more. “On first awakening,” we are told, “workman demands more bread in return for labour” (how much of the “palliators'” confusion arises from ignorance of the fact that the workman does not sell labour, but labour-power ?) “He will inevitably advance from that position into the struggle to acquire education, and refinement.” So it seems that the source of the workers’ troubles is that they haven’t wanted anything. How then, are we to read the next sentence : “The standard of comfort held by the workers is the result of prolonged conflict with the capitalist class.” If they have not wanted anything what have they been fighting for ? Are we to suppose that their share of the “prolonged conflict” has been resistence to a beneficent capitalist class intent on forcing upon them “luxuries” they have not wanted ?

A most fertile source of confusion is this spectre, “Standard of Comfort.” Behind it lurks the idea that it is all to do with the resistence of the workers, and they have only to wish for and strive for a higher “standard of comfort” in order to get it. This is far from the truth. In all their long struggle with the master class the workers have never for a moment forgotten their appalling poverty, have never for a moment been without a desperate and feverish longing for a higher standard of living. If desire could have endowed with “luxury” the working class would be redolent of comforts. As a matter of fact all their powers of resistence are necessary to enable them to realise for their labour-power its plain, naked value, without any reference to the adjustment of that mystery of mysteries, the “standard of comfort.” This resistence is common to all owners of commodities. They all sell as dear as they can, and according as the market is favourable to or against them, they now get a little more, anon a little less, than the value of their goods, but in the long run neither more or less than that value. Yet no one dreams of saying that if commodity-owners desired more for their goods they could get it. The same with the commodity labour-power. The owner’s resistence, his determination not to part with it for less than the most he can get for it, is the presupposed condition which enables its value to find expression. The “standard of comfort,” on the other hand, is one of the conditions of the determination of that value. The value must exist before it can find expression, therefore the conditions determining the magnitude of that value must come before conditions which enable the value to find expression in (in this instance) the wage. To say then, that “When no longer required to devote the same proportion of his wages to the purchase of absolute necessaries, the workman . . . can be trusted to follow the methods of the middle and upper classes, who spend more when they have more to spend,” is to take hold of the wrong end of the stick. The workers can never keep the suggested surplus because they have first satisfied “absolute” needs, but only because they have made “luxuries” equally with the so-called “absolute necessaries” a first charge upon their wages. And this they can only do when their environment has rendered those “luxuries” so necessary that they are prepared to go without food rather than abandon them, and then they have become “absolute necessaries” in the cost of producing labour-power, must therefore be embodied in its value, and eventually in wages.

All this is to say that the “standard of comfort” is merely the level of subsistence determined by the general conditions of production and the social and natural environment. “The gradual lowering of the cost of living,” therefore, must leave the standard of living unchanged. The gradual lowering of the cost of working-class living is a constant factor in capitalist society, and it is accompanied by a steady decrease in the proportion of the product of their toil which goes to the workers.

And if “the gradual lowering of the cost of living” does result in “the growth of new desires,” what are these but new miseries to be endured, new whips to scourge them into submission, new chains to bind them to their benches and desks ? The anxiety of the threatened is in proportion to the loss he is threatened with, and new wants can only add to the horrors of insecurity. Not all, not even the worst, perhaps, of the evil of the working-class position is contained in their actual poverty. Its most awful aspect is the utter insecurity, the growing precariousness of their hold upon the means of subsistence. To talk of “new desires . . . leading them to resist wage reduction” is to ascribe the workers’ present awful plight to the lack of desires. Heaven knows they have desires and needs enough, and are sufficiently conscious of them, to make such insulting mockery quite superfluous. The peculiar position of the working class decrees that necessity must precede means, hence the question of luxury can never arise for them.

To be Continued.


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