Trade Increase and Poverty

From time to time we see glowing accounts of the progress of trade in the columns of the capitalist Press. A ready sale is found for volumes that describe this progress in detail and calculate future possibilities. The worker is expected to rejoice because markets expand. As the red-herring of commercial rivalry is dangled before him, his breast should swell with patriotic pride because the cheapness of his native commodities—produced by the cheap labour of his class—has gained preference in the world’s market.

“Our trade has gone up by leaps and bounds.” “Our exports are the highest on record.” “We have not yet reached the crest of the wave, and we look forward to greater trade activities, higher profits, increased wealth.” So runs the chant of the “Chiozza Moneys” to the “commercial spirit,” which is the capitalist Gcd Almighty.

In monotonous repetition for a hundred years trade has risen and fallen like the mercury in a barometer. Statisticians have recorded and economists have prophesied ; but just as the weather expert is powerless to add to the total sunshine, or even to correctly forecast the weather for more than a few days, so all the experts and captains of industry, bewildered and paralysed with every crisis, can neither prevent markets from contracting, nor predict the state of trade a month hence. Every trade crisis up to the present, falling like a bolt from the blue, has found them busy with favourable estimates of future prosperity.

The engineer who sets up a machine in the modern factory is expected to understand its parts, no matter how intricate they may be. But the capitalist neither controls the mechanism of trade, nor yet understands it. Periodically it gets out of gear, and millions of workers are plunged into extreme poverty. The Bank Act is suspended and prayers are offered up in the churches for the revival of trade. Having done so much, the boasted “directive ability” can only wait till the fever subsides.

Of course there are political quacks who blame the fiscal policy of the day. It is easily shown, however, that crises are no respecters of fiscal systems, that bad trade falls periodically on the world’s market and on every capitalist country, no matter whether free trade or protectionist.

Trade rises and falls in monotonous rhythm, now sweeping the workers into the mires and factories, next throwing them back on the streets workless and starving. Side by side with rise and fall, with ever-increasing wealth, powers to produce wealth, growing luxury, statistics of trade that make new records on an ascending scale, there exists in unbroken continuity—the poverty of the working class.

The history of the working class during the 19th century is a record of poverty—caused by robbery, for an idle class cannot obtain wealth by other means. In every period, whether trade was good or bad, the effects of working-class poverty—discontent—was in evidence. Machine smashers, co-operators, the early trade unionists and. the Chartists, were all engaged in the same desperate cause, fighting poverty. In one passage in “Sccial England” Mr. J. E. Symes writes : “Hitherto the working class had gained little by the series of inventions and discoveries that characterised the half century before the Reform Bill. The wealth of England had been doubled ; but the wages for most kinds of labour had hardly, if at all, increased, and the conditions under which the work was done had in many respects deteriorated. Children were at plentiful at a penny a day; they were often swept into the factories when they could hardly walk.”

From the Reform Bill onward the wealth of the idle class has increased enormously. As Lord Rosebery said in 1910, “capital is being sent abroad because there is so much of it available. We have enough for ourselves and to spare.” Trade, measured by imports, had risen from 64½ millions in 1800 to millions in 1908, yet so little does increased prosperity affect the working class that Mr. Lloyd George declared in 1911 that the aggregate amount of poverty was greater to-day than it had ever been in the history of our country.

When trade rises the wealth of the capitalist class increases more rapidly. Whether trade is good or bad they continue their robbery, adding to their wealth all the time. Trade benefits only the capitalist class. The bulk of society—the working class—produce and distribute all wealth ; they are not assisted in any way by trade. Instead, they are hindered, because production is stopped when the market is choked, instead of when the requirements of the workers are satisfied.

The capitalist levies tribute on the workers ; trade exists for the sole purpose of collecting that tribute— it serves no other purpose. Human beings provided themselves with the necessaries of life for thousands of years before trade came into existence. It is not trade that gives us the necessaries of life to-day any more than it gave them to our forerunners in thoee distant ages, but it is man’s labour applied to the natural material alone which supplies them.

Because the land, mines, factories, and means of transport belong to the capitalist class, the workers are left with nothing but their labour-power—the value-imparting energy, which, of itself, cannot produce a pin’s value without the nature-given material to expend it upon. That labour-power the capitalist must have. Tools and machinery do not operate ‘of themselves, and the capitalist hates work like poison. He therefore buys labour-power—through managers and foremen, because any sort of contact with “honest toil” is obnoxious to him. A bargain is struck with the worker, who is hurried into acceptance by the knowledge that it is the only way by which he can obtain the necessaries of life, and, further, that the supply of labour-power exceeds the demand. The energy that he brings to the market is bought by the capitalist at a price which fluctuates around its cost of production. The capitalist makes no distinction between commodities : the law that fixes the price of pig-iron or sides of bacon, determines for him the price of the human energy he buys en the labour market. But human energy applied to the nature-given material creates value—more value than it has consumed in its own production, in other words, the cost of production of the labourer represents a lower value than that which he adds to the raw material, when he transforms it into useful articles (or, by changing its position, renders it available where it is needed) to be sold for the benefit of the capitalist. The difference between the value of the necessaries of life obtained by one worker and the value he adds to raw material by his labour is net easily seen, but a view of the industrial field, by means of statistics that show the actual distribution of wealth and the relative numbers of both classes, shows it to be enormous.

According to Mr. Chiozza Money, the working class, numbering 38 millions, get approximately one-third of the wealth produced, while the capitalist class of six or seven millions luxuriate on two-thirds.

No wonder they boast of their trade, when it enables them to levy a toll like this on the working class ! No wonder that they want the worker to believe that their prosperity means his prosperity ! No wonder they are ever asserting that man cannot provide for himself without trade and commerce ! They fear that the worker will wake up to the fact that their prosperity means nothing to him ; that the intricate mechanism of trade can be dispensed with when the means of life cease to belong to a class whose only function is robbery, and whose only right is the armed might they control through the political machine.

F. F.

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