The Revolutionary Proposition


Oue consideration of the Revolutionary Proposition has led us to these conclusions : first, that the present system of society, based upon private property in the means and instruments of production and distribution, does not, nor can be made to, fulfil the function of a social system ; secondly, the true and logical social function (to facilitate the satisfaction of the material needs of the people comprising that society) can only be carried out by a social system based upon common ownership of those means and instruments ; thirdly, that such a system of society is both desirable and inevitable ; fourthly, that the revolutionary change is to be attained by the capture of political power, in order that the machinery of Government, including the armed forces of the nation, may be wrenched from the master class—the great disarmament; and finally, that the struggle for this stupendous engine of class oppression, from the very fact that it is a struggle for an engine of class oppression, must be a CLASS STRUGGLE, fought out by hosts separated by the impassable barrier of class interests.

But is there nothing olse to be hoped for but the fruits of that final victory ? May we gather nothing but thorns and aloes on the way to the fateful battle ?

Economic Science gives answer—”Nothing.”

The present industrial system is grounded upon the wage-labour institution. This means that human labour-power, under the present system, is a commodity, and therefore possesses the commodity nature.

Now the nature of all commodities is to sell for a price. That price is not a fixture : it rises and falls according to the relation of supply and demand.

A sadden improvement in the means of production, for instance, may displace a considerable number of workers in a given industry, and the consequent intensified competition for work tends to depress wages. The increased fertility of labour-power due to the improved machinery or methods will result in a fall in the price of the commodity produced, but still the lower wages leave a larger margin of profit.

The larger profit attracts more capital to the particular industry and stimulates production, wages recover because of the increased demand for workers, and the price of the commodity falls because of the increased supply.

Now the wide margin of profit which attracted new capital shrinks, the result on the one hand of the upward movement of wages, and on the other hand of the downward movement of the price of the product, and capital is now repelled, output decreases, supply and demand approach one another more closely, and the price of the commodity recovers.

We see by all this that the price of the commodity and the price of the labour-power have their movement in identically the same causes : the fluctuations of supply and demand, otherwise competition. Competition is the great regulator, the great leveller, under the present system. The competition of buyers and sellers in the market, the fluid movement of capital rushing hither and thither in the competition for the larger profit, the competition for work among the members of the working class, this is the force which gives vitality and movement to the world of pricey whether of ordinary commodities or of labour-power.

It is demand which regulates the production of ordinary commodities. Greater relative demand means higher prices ; higher prices mean increased production ; increased production means lower prices, and that decreased output.

But the production of labour-power is not regulated by demand. The process of its production is necessarily slow, and other factors would intervene to restore the balance long before demand could be responded to with an increased supply of labour-power.

Again, labour-power is the source of all profit, and it would be a strange economic law that corrected an increased relative redundancy of labour-power by destroying the fountains of profit.

The key to the problem is to be found in the following movement—which for obvious reasons must be considered as barred from the influence of other movements which in fact cannot be separated from it :

A general rise in wages means a shrinkage in the rate of profit (other things remaining constant), and tends to a contraction in the demand for labour-power, and so to depress wages.

Conversely, a fall in wages enlarges the rate of profit, stimulates production, increases the demand for labour-power, and elevates wages (we [assume]other things remain unchanged all through.)

So the relative redundancy or scarcity of labour-power is not rectified by the removal or addition of labourers, but by the expansion of production. This shows us the utter futility of all such measures as aim at the abolition or the alleviation of the unemployed evil under capitalism. Any depletion of the labour market must result in higher wages, smaller profits, and the restoration of the required redundancy of labour-power, on the one hand by the contraction of production and on the other hand by the adoption of improved methods and machinery.

Beside the “solution” of the unemployed “problem” (in itself sufficient to bring about the downfall of capitalism), the other “palliative” measures, even if they wore all that their advocates claim them to be, are of small importance. They have been dealt with in detail and at great length in these pages, so it is proposed to state hero only the general economic grounds which foredoom any attempt to palliate the conditions of working-class existence under capitalism.

We saw that the movement of wages, like the fluctuations of the prices of commodities in general, is governed by forces quite outside human control, by laws which arise naturally and inevitably from the competitive nature of production based on private possession of the means and instruments for creating wealth.

The oscillation of wages is regulated by the relative redundancy or scarcity of labour-power. But the mean, of all these fluctuations—what do we know of that ?—a matter of far greater importance than the self-cancelling vibration. How is this mean level determined, and at what height ?

Let us liken wages to the sea. The primary factor in lifting the waves is the wind. But that knowledge tells us nothing concerning the general level about which the waves rise and fall. The hills and valleys of the sea are attributable to the struggle between two forces—wind and gravitation ; the wage-waves also result from the struggle between two forces—those of the buyers and sellers of labour-power.

It is quite clear that in the case of the sea neither the wind nor gravitation determines the level about which the waves gravitate. The analogy holds good to this point. In a similar way neither can the force of either the buyers or the sellers of labour-power determine the mean of the wage-movement.

It is claimed that trade union organisation can have and has the effect of raising wages, but where awkward facts are ignored, false conclusions may be made to appear convincing. As a matter of fact, dearer labour-power demands a relatively larger unemployed army and greater intensity of production. America, with its wide trade-union organisation, its high wage level, its staggering intensification of production, and its appalling nightmare of unemployment, finely illustrates this.

The higher price of labour-power makes necessary a more intense form of exploitation. This intensification takes place bath through improved means and improved methods. But it is obvious that intensification by improved methods—by pitting ganger against ganger, gang against gang, man against man, needs a larger repressive force of unemployed than intensification by the mere adoption of improved machinery. In the one case the men are afraid of the unemployed workers at the factory gates, but in the other case they fear their employed fellows within the factory. The adoption of the machine, by increasing the out-of-works, cows men into submission to long hours and low wages ; but the speeding-up of the machine has the contrary effect of compelling the workers to exhaust themselves in a shorter time—to submit to harrying and bullying possible only with a large reserve to choose from, and supportable only in the face of such a reserve. The machine makes the worker afraid of the man outside who will work cheaper ; the speeding-up makes the worker afraid of the man inside who will work harder. In the first case trade union organisation may act as a brake, but in the second case it is powerless.

There is good reason for this characteristic difference. First, with the development of the means of production an increasing amount of capital is necessary per man exploited, consequently it becomes more important to exhaust three shifts of men in twenty-four hours at a given wage than two shifts at a considerably lower wage. Thus—three men create £3 value in twenty-four hours. Wages at 6s. 8d. = £l, leaving £2 profit. Two men create £2 value in the same time with the same machinery. If wages are at 5s. the surplus is but 30s., and the rate of profit to capital lower. Then machinery is superseded and out-of-date long before it is worn out, hence it become necessary to work it to the utmost limits, which increasingly tends to short hours at high pressure—the eight hours’ day palliative !

This very speeding-up, which tends to reduce hours what time it intensifies the labour and exploitation of the workers, tends also to support a higher rate of wages, because the conditions of life created by the greater pace and strain increases the cost of producing labour-power. In addition, the speeding-up, the introduction of competition inside the factory as well as outside, by the constant discharging of those who fail to keep up with the others—by eliminating the weakest links in the chain, that is—must necessarily presuppose, not only a larger reserve of unemployed to choose from, but also a higher state of physical condition in that reserve army, in order to render it fit material to replace those broken or failing under the stress of everlasting “record-busting” production.

It is necessary, therefore, that this reserve be supported by some means or other. Here trade union organisation, with its unemployed relief, becomes a valuable institution to the masters. The labour-power of the reserve army is as necessary to, and as much at the disposal of, the master class as is the labour-power of those actually at work, for in this connection it is very true that

“They also serve who only stand and wait.”

The trade unions, then, help to spread the wages of the employed over the larger field of labour and to that extent save the exploiters the cost of keeping their reserve army physically fit by private or State “charity.”

So in proportion as trade unionism makes for a higher rate of wages, capitalism replies with intensification and increased unemployment, which in turn renders a higher wage-rate necessary. A wider margin of unemployed is requisite for the operations of capitalist production in the stage of development it has attained in America than in that reached in England, and machinery and “speeding-up” and the contraction of production will always supply the needful.

The perfection of the workers’ means of defence upon the economic field, it is seen by all this, cannot be a factor in determining the mean level of wages in their relation to necessity. Trade union organisation, higher wages, shorter hours, intensified exploitation, increased unemployment—all these hang together, acting and reacting upon one another, necessary to each other. And in their combined effect they work out the good of the master class—as most things do under capitalism—the enlargement of the difference between the cost of labour-power and the value of its product.

That which determines the mean level of wages is the necessary cost of production of labour-power under the standard of subsistence rendered necessary by the conditions of production at the time. As I have shown, this standard of subsistence may be rendered higher or lower by the needs and development of the system—as by intensification—but never at the dictation of the human will. Should wages rise temporarily above this, economic laws immediately exert their mighty influence to adjust things to the level of the greatest possible profit, production tends to contract : the less substantial firms are hurried into bankruptcy and few new ventures are started. Improved machinery is adopted (throwing men out of work, saving wages, and sharpening competition in the labour market), for labour-power finds its most ruthless competitor in its own production— machinery—and a rise in wages inclines the balance in favour of that rival. And should that not have the effect of adjustment, that “speeding-up” which is always taking place, stimulated by the invigorating presence of an increased unemployed army, quickens its pace, and forces up the ratio of exploitation to the utmost the higher wage will stand. A new standard of subsistence is attained, warranted by the industrial development, justified in the capitalists’ “profit and loss” account, marked with greater misery and harassment than ever among the working class.

Is all this true ? Then it is clear that any attempt to alleviate the material conditions of working-class existence, whether by legislation or by economic organisation, must be defeated by those very economic laws which such attempt must in the nature of things set in motion. The best will in the world cannot alter this. Even the so-called sops which it is popularly supposed the ruling class will fling to the workers to “stave off the evil day”—even they will not have the substance of sops, but only of shadows.

Whatever so-called sops fear may induce the exploiters to throw the workers, they can avail the masters little, for the reason that, however much it may be deplored by those who bestow them, these “sops” cannot affect the material condition of the workers for the better.

It is not because the masters control the political machinery that there is no hope for the workers in capitalist legislation. Political power maintains the capitalist system by maintaining its private-property basis, but it has no control over the system which arises from the given basis. The political law falls inert and helpless before the economic law. As we have seen, every palliative effort sets the economic machinery in motion which is to defeat it. It matters nothing whether such efforts come from friend or foe. Wherever political law comes into conflict with economic law, the latter defeats it or turns it to its own advantage, without reference to human emotions.

Is there, then, no hope for the working class ?

Yes. There is hope in our stripes, and our wounds, and our sufferings—for they cannot be fruitless. There is hope in the understanding of our class-position, and in the uniting power of our class interests, for these make us an army and arm us. There is hope in the bitterness of battle, for we, in the narrow circumscription of our joyless existence, have nothing to lose but our chains : we have a world to win. There is hope in the passionless, pitiless face of Nature and in the very inexorableness of the working of the laws of our development, for there is assurance that the eternal forces take their course irrespective of human emotions and utterly without respect for persons. There is hope in our knowledge of the past, for that shows us that those forces which have raised up so many ruling classes and shattered them all, have never abandoned the producers of wealth, but has led them slowly but surely along the path (the only path for all its tortures) from the democracy of the savage to the immeasurably higher democracy which awaits us at the end of the weary journey.

Ah ! there is the crowning hope, shimmering with radiant promise already on the horizon—the realisation of the Revolutionary Proposition: The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic con¬trol of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth, by and in the interest of the whole community.



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