The Revolutionary Proposition

The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.

That is the Revolutionary Proposition.

It is revolutionary by virtue of what it proposes.

Many people, hearing us speak of the revolution, conjure up a picture of armed conflict and carnage. These things, however, can only be a means to an end, not an end in themselves. Our proposition says nothing as to the means. It answers the question “what?” not “how?” It is revolutionary because of the end it proposes, and whether that end be achieved by peaceful means or violent makes no difference to its revolutionary character.

The proposal is to establish a system of society. What then is a system of society ?

A modern lexicographer tells us that a system is “an assemblage of things adjusted into a regular whole ; a regular method or order ; an arranged scheme,” and defines society as “a number of persons living in community.”

Accordingly a system of society is an arranged scheme or regular method in accordance with which a number of people live in community.

But people live in community at the present time, and it is not to be supposed without some method or order ; therefore the essential characteristic of the proposition must lie in its final terms—that the social system is to be based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth.

Common experience teaches us that these means and instruments (the land, factories, railways, mines, machinery, etc.) are private property, therefore present society cannot be based on the common ownership of these things.

It follows from this that the Revolutionary Proposition is destructive as well as constructive, that its proposal to establish is by implication a proposal to disestablish. One system of society is to be overthrown in order that another may be set up in its place.

The thoughtful man, before assenting to so momentous a proceeding as the overthrow of the social system, will demand the weightiest reasons for its condemnation and the fullest assurance that there is a better system to take its place.

The first question then is, why do social systems exist ?

Since that which is essential to social systems will appear as surely in the simplest system as in the most complex, and in the former may be most easily discerned, let us turn to one of the earliest social systems we have knowledge of.

In the form of savage society known as the hunting pack, it is obvious that people come together in social relationship to co-operate in the chase and in battle—to get their living together, in short. In all forms of society the primary object which holds people together in community is the need for joint effort in procuring food, clothing and shelter.

The first and most important function of a social system, then, is to facilitate the satisfying of the material needs of its component units, for it is for this reason that, consciously or unconsciously, those units enter into social relations.

Does the present social system fulfil this function ? If not, can it be made to do so ? If again the answer is in the negative, is there any other system which would fulfil the purpose for which people unite in community ?

Material needs are satisfied by material wealth. Statisticians give the amount of wealth annually produced in this country as approximating eighteen hundred million pounds sterling (£1,800,000,000) in value. On the indisputable authority of the census returns the population of the Kingdom is roughly forty millions.

So the ratio of wealth produced per head of the population is about £45 per annum, or, taking the average of families as 4½ persons, over £200 per family per annum.

There are very few working men indeed whose wages, even were they always fully employed, amount to half this sum, whilst millions of families have to subsist on an income of one-quarter (or less) of this amount per family.

It must be admitted, then, that material wealth sufficient to adequately (from a working-class view-point) satisfy the material needs of the whole of the people is produced under the present social system.

The production of the material wealth, however, is only the first step toward satisfying the material needs of the people. However much wealth exists, it must be accessible to the people before they can satisfy their wants. Is the wealth of capitalist society accessible to those who constitute capitalist society?

Responsible politicians and writers amongst the upholders of the present system, admit that nearly one-third of the population of this country are always on the verge of starvation,

A system which enables the people to produce ample wealth to satisfy, even with a degree of luxury, their material needs, yet leaves a third of them lacking bare necessaries, certainly appears not to fulfill its function. The wealth is produced, but the system fails in distribution.

The next question is, can this defect of the social system be rectified ? Before we can find the answer to this we must understand why the system of society does not fulfil its function.

All economic wealth is produced by labour. Labour-power applied to nature-prodded material, changes the form or position of that material and makes it available and useful to man—turns it into wealth. There is no other source of wealth, therefore all who produce wealth are workers.

When workers have produced wealth what becomes of it ? We know that generally the producer has no title to it. He is compelled to leave it in the possession of another, to accept a money payment called wages as the fruits of his toil. Why this is so does not matter at present. The result, then, of the efforts of those who come together to facilitate the winning of their livelihood is that the wealth produced passes from the possession of those who produce it into the hands of those who do not.

At the end of this process those who produced the wealth are not themselves without wealth, but theirs takes the form of money, which they can neither eat nor drink. This money, their wages, however, becomes their sole means of obtaining necessaries. It will exchange for them on a basis of value, so that the wealth of society becomes accessible to those who produce it in proportion to the amount of their wages. Obviously, then, the reason the social system breaks down at the point of distribution is because wages are insufficient to secure the necessaries of life.

If, then, the social system is to be made to perform its functions, it is necessary, at least, that it shall in the first place afford wages to all who are able and willing to work, and in the second place assure that those wages shall represent the fullest sustenance possible with the means and materials of production to hand.

It is our common experience that a person goes to the factory, mine, or other place of industry, labours, and is paid wages. Between the payer and the receiver of wages there is a transaction which must be actuated by motives. Undoubtedly the worker produces for wages, and by the same token, the non-worker pays wages because the worker produces.

The wages paid have the form of money, and the product of the worker’s toil is soon “turned into money” also.

The wages which the non-worker pays out and that to obtain which he pays them, are thus reduced to one and the same thing—he pays money to get money.

It is possible to argue, of course, that though, the payment of wages finally results in a return of money to the wage-payer, the reason which actuated him was the “altruistic” motive of producing for use. This, however, is disproved by the practice of adulteration. The ingenuity displayed in making soap carry the greatest possible amount of “standing water” adds nothing to the usefulness of the commodity, though it counts in the scales.

As there must be a motive there must be a difference of quantity between the two values—the worker’s wages and his product. From the wage-payer’s view-point the cycle must be Money— Commodities—Money plus more money, and that final term, the added money, must be the incentive of the wage-payer in paying wages.

Let us call that added money “profit” and see how we stand with the every-day facts o£ life. We know that every industrial concern of any standing keeps a profit and loss account, and that if such account does not show a profit there is an how-to-do about it, the outlook is considered “very serious,” the directors (if it is a company) have to “face the music,” and there is a deplorable slump in shares. Let such a state of things continue and we shall be “sacked” and the concern “closed down.”

This “profit” and the “added money” which we termed profit are alike in one respect—they are both value added to that invested in the concern, as the result of the operations of that concern. That added value cannot come from nothing. If the concern is a bakery and the value of 50 loaves is expended in hour and other material and a like value in wages, added value can only be shown by the production totaling more than 100 loaves. Human labour alone turns the flour into loaves, hence human labour alone produces the added value called profit.

That which appears as profit in the “profit and loss” account and without which the concern cannot be run, is the same thing which induced the wage-payer to pay wages.

So production is carried on for profit under the present system, and cannot continue when profit ceases to result from it.

We saw that both wages and profit are represented in the product of the worker’s labour.

Let us suppose the product to be 150 loaves, of which 50 represent material, and the remainder wages and profit, it is clear that the profit must depend upon the amount of wages, and the more goes to the worker as wages the less is left as profit. Thus if wages equal 75 loaves profit can be only 25 loaves, while if but 25 loaves go to the worker the profit rises to 75.

Since the product of the worker is the object of both the receiver of wages and the taker of profit, they will naturally each endeavour take as much of that product as they can. How, then, is the relative share of each determined ?

If we credit each with being thoroughly greedy—a pretty safe assumption—then each will endeavour to seize the whole of the product. The limitations of each must be, on the one hand, the worker must leave some profit or the other will not allow the machinery of production to be put into operation, while on the other hand the worker must be given something or he will not produce. Between these points how is the decision arrived at ?

The power to labour can only be created by the consumption of material wealth, therefore a new limitation is set up. Obviously not only must wages be given the worker or he will not work, but they must be sufficient to reproduce his efficiency or he cannot work.

The downward limit of wages, then, is clearly marked, but what prevents them from rising until all profit ceases and production collapses?

In any other market than the labour market the price of commodities or goods is regulated by the relation of supply to demand. If the demand outbalances the supply prices will be high, while if the supply is in excess of the demand prices will run low. Can we apply the argument to labour-power, of which wages are the price ?

We know that there exists at all times a redundancy of labour-power in the shape of a vast army of unemployed. These unemployed, in their endeavours to secure work, necessarily depress the price of that which they have to sell—their labour-power.

This unemployed army supplies us with the conditions of the competitive market, wherein prices are regulated by supply and demand.

We see then that production, under the present social system, can only be carried on while profit results, and profit can only result while an unemployed army exists to depress wages.

The defective distribution of wealth cannot be rectified under the present system therefore because in the first place unemployed are necessary to enable production to be carried on at all, and secondly because the competition of the unemployed reduces wages, not to the point of satisfying the needs of the working class, but only of producing and reproducing so many of them as the labour market requires. Hence the present system cannot be made to fulfil its function.


[To be Continued.]

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