The Reward of ability

The capitalist class to-day have control of the education of the worker’s children. Our youngsters have placed over them a set of more or less “educated” individuals, who, trained to the idea that capitalism is all that is good and noble, too often succeed in drilling into their charges’ minds the same fallacious notion. So our children leave school obsessed with the idea that capitalism is a system in which the good and virtuous youth is sure to find wealth, happiness and honourable place, if virtue be combined with industry and meekness.

The discerning young worker who is compelled to obtain a livelihood in the factory or workshop, soon finds that the capitalist system is not what it is made to appear. He finds himself in a world of constant warfare—not only between class and class, but between his fellow worter and himself ; a warfare in which he is compelled to engage in order to get and keep a job.

He has been told of the dignity of labour and the certainty of rising to an honourable place if only he applies himself studiously to his work. He finds, however, instead of a field-marshal’s baton in his knapsack, a key to the workhouse, and instead of welcome in the field of labour, he is received with indifference by the employers and with jealousy by his fellow employees.

And he further finds that in the factory, as in all other stations of life, the reward of virtue is too often the workhouse or the gutter.

The orthodox anti-Socialist talks much of the “reward of ability” under capitalism, and of the absence of incentive that would result from the abolition of poverty.

In the factory and workshop the worker is faced with the knowledge that the more he pro­duces the worse it is for him and his class, that should he introduce methods increasing the productivity of his own and his fellows’ labour, increased unemployment must result.

Who reaps the reward of the inventive genius of the worker? Is it the working class or the class that own the means of wealth production ?

Professor Thorold Rogers says :

“In 1495 the peasant could provision his family for 12 months by 15 weeks of ordinary work while an artizan could achieve the same result in ten weeks. In 1533 the price of wheat was, relatively speaking, high, and in this case the farm labourer would have to give nearly double to make a provision as his ancestor did in 1495, while the artizan would have to give between 14 and 15 weeks work for a similar store. The first year is an exceedingly cheap one, the latter, the less advantageous to the labourer, is one in which he still might be able to maintain his family and lay by a considerable margin from the charges of his household, from a quarter to a half of his earnings.”

How many labourers in 1910, with all the “labour-saving” machinery, with all the modern improvements in agriculture and manufacture, can lay by from a quarter to a half of their wages after meeting the expenses of the household ? How many in the bast of modern “good times” can maintain themselves and their families with ten weeks work a year ?

Charles Booth tells us that 30 per cent. of the population of London are continually on or below the poverty line, while Thorold Rogers says that in the 13th and 14th centuries there was demand for labour winter and summer on the above quoted conditions, that the labourer in harvest time received the same wages as the artizan, and that the wages of the women workers were only a little less than those of the men.

To-day, with all the increased productivity of labour, the working class—the producers of all the wealth of society—are in such a condition of poverty and wretchedness that they are compelled to apply to the charity of the shirkers for doles, for the crust of bread and the basin of soup by the aid of which to eke out a miserable existence.

How does this compare with the time mentioned by Thorold Rogers ? Are the conditions of the workers’ lives altered for the better ? Those who know aught of their conditions then and now, know that they are immeasurably worse in the present day.

Miss Jones, who according to the Daily News (2.4.10) is “a well known Yorkshire Factory inspector,” reports :

“Married women in the West Riding of Yorkshire, in addition to bearing the children and caring for the home, are often compelled partly and sometimes wholly to support their family. In a number of cases which come under our notice the wives work all day in the mill and on their return, tidy the home, baking and washing for the family. Many do not retire till midnight, rising again early in order to provide for a midday meal before going to work. In the dinner hour they quickly return, prepare the meal, serve the husband and children, swallowing their food far too hurriedly and again hasten back to work. Their lives often appear to be little better than those of slaves, and many at 45 are broken-down women prematurely aged. If a community is to be judged by the status of its women, here certainly the condition of the working women reminds one of coolie women in India, or those of many of the African tribes where women are more or less beasts of burden.”

In face of the above, which could be backed by dozens of other reports from all over the country, you are told of the enormous increase of wealth under this, “our” free trade system.

Every improvement in the capitalist machine adds to the wealth of the idle class, and adds also to the misery of the toilers.

And those who have been instrumental in inventing the means whereby the capitalist class have obtained this enormous wealth—how have they fared ?

Those who, according to the anti-Socialist, are entitled to the reward of their ability ; who have devoted their lives to the perfection of the capitalist profit-grinding machine, are they revelling in luxury or ending their days in poverty ?

The capitalist concern is not run on the principle of love and honour, neither does the conscious worker toil for the love of work or the benefit of society. “The real and effectual discipline which is exercised over a workman,” says Adam Smith, “is not that of his corporation, but of his customers. It is the fear of losing his employment which restrains his frauds and corrects his negligence.” He is compelled to work by fear of starvation, and to work hard by the fear of the sack.

Take, as an example of the reward given to the men of ability, the case of those who have produced the finest works of art under conditions that would have driven mad the sweating bully who to-day we are told is the captain of industry ; the possessor of that mystic power, “directive ability.” Look through the lives of Milton, Dryden, Steele, Goldsmith, Fielding, Savage, Chatterton, Spencer, Marx, Cervantes, and scores of others who have enriched society with their art and learning and you will see how private enterprise has rewarded them.

To-day the inventor is robbed of the fruits of his labour just as the labourer is robbed of the wealth he produces. While the present system of society is allowed to last and a few individuals ave permitted to monopolise the wealth of society and hold the tools of production to the detriment of those who use them and produce that wealth ; while the workers are content that a few shall dominate them, so long will the workers vegetate amid sordid and unhealthy conditions. So long as they are willing to leave their destiny, their lives, at the disposal of a master class, so long will that master class rob them, so long will they be compelled to toil that others may enjoy ; so long will they use their overworked brain and muscle that others may lie in the lap of luxury and indolence.

When the workers recognise their true position as wage-slaves, when they recognise, as we do, that they must organise to fight the capitalist class; ; when, by forcing their tired brains to study the history of their class, they learn the true nature of the problems that surround them, they will become Socialists and organise to overturn this system of society which allows a class of idle parasites to live upon their product.

Then and then only shall the good things of life, the results of labour, of genius and of ability, be enjoyed by those who assist in any way in their production.

T. W. L.

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