Capitalist Progress and Its Meaning to the Workers

The leaders of the Liberal Party have been very busy for some time past, telling us about the wonderful commercial prosperity of the day. They have pointed to the 44 millions increase in last year’s trade, and to the ever-growing amount upon which income tax is paid. New companies are being floated by the hundred and business on the Stock Exchange is being carried on almost until midnight.

While it is quite true that the employing class have been getting richer year by year and the productive power of labour has made tremendous strides, it must be remembered that at the same time the condition of the working class amidst this plethora is a terrible one indeed. Recent official reports, etc., provide plenty of evidence of this.

Unemployment in 1909, with all the privation that it means for the workers, shows a higher proportion than the average for the past ten years. The Annual Abstract of Labour Statistics (issued by the Board of Trade on Feb. 22nd, 1910) states that amongst trade unionists, etc., making returns, unemployment averaged 7’7 per cent, in 1909. Changes in the rates of wages affected 1,150,919 workers and resulted in a decrease of £3,599,024 for the year. It is serious enough to have the rate of wages reduced in a time of decreasing employment, but to make matters worse, almost every one of the necessaries of life rose in price. We will quote some items from the report: Bread 19’9, Flour 31’4 Bacon 26’2, Eggs 13’5, Beef 7’9, Butter 3’0 per cent, increase in price compared with the index year 1900.

The number of persons who are forced to apply for Poor Law relief is a very large one. The latest figures giving the total number of paupers in a year were published in the Feb. 1909 issue of the Board of Trade Labour Gazette, which stated that, excluding lunatics and casuals, there were 2,076,216 paupers in the United Kingdom.

The increasing poverty is reflected in the falling number of marriages, with the result that the Registrar-General in his report (April 1910) pointed out that economic pressure was responsible for the lowest birth-rate on record, viz., 25’58 per thousand against 26’5 for the previous year.

The death rate rose from 14.9 per thousand in 1905 to 14.55 for 1909. A fact which is a most damning indictment of capitalist society was brought out by the issuing of a white paper in April 1910 which said that 52 persons in London and 73 in the provinces died from starvation during the year. The records of thousands of other deaths from this cause are partly hidden by being given under the names of the diseases to which the privation gives rise. The fierce struggle for existence and the pace of modern life, the anxiety and nervous breakdown, which the fight for bread and butter occasions, is the reason that the Commissioners in Lunacy in their Annual Report show that while 106,611 persons were inmates of lunatic asylums on Jan. 1st 1900, the number on Jan. 1st 1909 was 128,781, an increase of 22’5 per cent.

The desperate economic condition of the mass of the people serves to explain why it is that, according to a Parliamentary blue book (30.3.10), the number of persons tried for indictable offences in 1908 amounted to 68,116, an increase of 6,735 (about 11 per cent) over the previous year. The influence of poverty is made plain by the fact that out of the 68,116 offences, 64,493 were offences against property ! An unparalled proportion !

Centuries of co-operative effort, the labours of myriad workers, have made possible means of enjoyment and well-being sufficient for all. Yet the barbarous nature of modern society drove 3,751 persons to commit suicide last year, 294 more than in 1908. Life is a burden to an increasing number, whereas in a properly organised society it would be carefully treasured.

At the Plymouth conference of the National Union of Teachers (March 31st, 1910) the ex-president of that body, Mr. W. A. Nicholls, pointed out that ” there were 200,000 child wage-earners, apart from half time, during school age, and that was even worse than half time, because it was an uninspected child labour.” The 38,000 half timers in this country added to the figures given, indicate the extent to which the the helpless little ones are sacrificed to the greed of capital. Mr. John Burns, in the House of Commons (April 8th, 1910), said that on a summer’s day in 1909 there were 242,000 children in Poor Law institutions. Think what this State “maintenance” means ! These mites are fed, clothed, and taught under the direct supervision of those entirely opposed to working-class welfare. They are drilled into acting completely in accord with the interests of the master class. Taught the murderous doctrine of “patriotism,” which has such a maleficent influence in after years, they make poor material for receiving the views opposed to those of the capitalist class. The London County Council in their Annual Statement (issued 12.12.09) show that owing to the tremendous extent of destitution unrelieved by private charity, they had to provide 7,702,536 “meals” in 1909 in contrast to 4,546,791 in the previous year.

The awful plight of the worker, when he has been thrown on the scrap-heap by the employers, mentally and physically exhausted, was borne witness to by the figures prepared by the Local Government Board for the purposes of the Old Age Pensions Act. They showed that out of a population of 2,116,267 aged 65 and over, only 778,283 had an income of 10s. or more per week. It becomes, too, more and more difficult for the children of the old folk to help their parents owing to the struggle to even keep themselves on their wages.

Sir Benjamen C. Browne said in his evidence before the Poor Law Commission :

“I believe a great many employers would not take on a man of fifty if they knew …. Many employers would not take a man if he is the least bit grey haired.”

The majority report of the Commission states :

“In many trades it seems certain that middle aged men are being displaced by younger men where the former cannot keep pace with the speed and alertness now required—men between 25 and 35 are preferred because they are in the prime of their working powers. In many trades, particularly engineering, boilermaking and shipbuilding, men have little chance of finding a fresh situation after 50 or even 45.”

We have had more than a century of social reform, yet the fact remains that misery, unemployment, and uncertainty of livelihood find a place in almost every worker’s life. This should convince every worker of the need to cease to deal with effects, and proves that the only sound method is to remove the cause from which these manifold troubles flow. After being in power nearly sixty years of the past hundred, the Liberal Party, through one of their ministers, have to make the following confession of failure to reform “the social problem.” Said the Lord Chancellor of England in the House of Lords (Nov. 22nd 1909) :

“For twenty-five years there has been going on a constant increase in the wealth of the country, but there is a dark side to the picture. The agricultural population has alarmingly decreased, wages have hardly risen. Poor Law figures are specially high and show signs of increasing. The conditions of labour in regard to sweating, especially among women, have been the subject of constant debates in this house. Overcrowding is dangerous to the very life of the nation. Drunkenness is still the greatest of our national evils. There are grounds for thinking that the progress of physical deterioration is being threatened amongst our people. I take no delight in referring to this state of things. I do not pretend that this Government or any Government can rapidly cure these evils ; perhaps they cannot cure them altogether at any time.”

The working class, by associated effort, produce all the wealth, yet this wealth is individually owned by the members of the capitalist class. They are able to appropriate the result of the workers’ applied energies because they own the means of production, which they only permit the proletarians to use upon terms involving the robbery of the producers of the greater part of the produce of their labour. It is because of this that we have such anomalies as the existence of poverty in the midst of plenty.

The only remedy is then to end the possession by the masters of the instruments of wealth production, and so institute Socialism.

The attainment of Socialism implies the organisation of the working class, economically and politically, with a view to getting hold of political power to transform society.

Are you content to stand idly by, seeing your class done to death in workshop, factory and mine, robbed of all the joys that make life worth living, or will you take a hand in the struggle for the emancipation of the workers of the world ? Will you join us ?


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