Socialism versus the Servile State

We have heard a good deal this last six months or so in various quarters about the Servile State. According to Mr. Hilaire Belloc, the author of a book possessing that title, we of the working class are in danger of becoming slaves as a result of modern social legislation.

Belloc is cute enough to recognise that this legislation, while approved in principle by many so-called Socialist bodies, such as the Fabian Society and the I L.P., is not Socialism, and does not make for Socialism. He shows ably enough that the nationalisation and municipalisation of public services, coupled with various measures, such as the Labour Exchange and the Insurance Act, so far from emancipating the workers, only tighten their bonds and give greater security to the capitalist class.

Nevertheless, he is illogical enough to go on calling the reformers, who applaud these things, Socialists, and even to deny that genuine Socialism is the objective of anybody. Mr. Belloc appears to imagine that the Socialist shrinks from confiscating the property of the capitalist class, and further, takes for granted that social reforms will give the workers security and sufficiency.

Both these arguments are false. The man who has not assimilated the fact that the workers are robbed every day of their lives, and that the capital which the masters possess is simply the accumulated fruits of that robbery, is in no fit condition to teach working-class people.

Further, everyday experience testifies to the utter failure of reforms to prevent starvation and poverty in all its forms. It is, again, an unwarrantable assumption that such social re­forms as are actually practicable have been and are being adopted as the result of “Socialist” agitation.

Social reform is as old as capitalism. It pro­ceeds from the development of industry, which is ever compelling the capitalist class to re-adapt the machinery oi government to new conditions, if they would exploit the labour of the wage-earners as economically as possible.

The attempt to popularise reforms is only one method of preserving to the masters the allegi­ance of the workers on the political field.

In so far as Belloc’s arguments imply that the Fabian Society and the I.L.P. are the tools of the capitalist class, this writer agrees with him. I fall out with him when he tells us that the workers are exchanging freedom for security.

On the contrary, we claim that the workers are slaves now, and have been since the estab­lishment of capitalism, and that slavery under modern conditions must be wage slavery, which implies competition and insecurity.

Let us take Mr. Belloc’s own definition of sla­very. He gives it, for example, in “Everyman” (29.11.12) as : “A society in which any consi­derable body of men can be compelled to labour by positive law to the advantage of others is a servile society.”

Now the only way the law can compel any­body to do anything is by penalising them for not doing it. Can Mr. Belloc tell us of any alternative to wage-earning which men without property can adopt without being legally pun­ished ? Stealing, begging, wandering about without visible means of subsistence—all these are punishable offences. Even if a wage-earner attempts to commit suicide he has to be success­ful if he wants to avoid the law ! Altogether it would seem that the capitalist class had got all the laws necessary to compel the property less to work, and if wage-earning is not working for the benefit of the capitalists it would be interest­ing to know what object these benevolent indi­viduals have in employing us.

The differences between wage-slavery and other forms of slavery have been admirably summarised by Marx in “Value, Price, and Profit.” Says he in Chapter IX:—

“Although one part only of the workman’s daily labour is paid, while the other part is unpaid, and while that unpaid or surplus labour constitutes exactly the fund out of which sur­plus value or profit is formed, it seems as if the aggregate labour was paid labour.

“This false appearance distinguishes wages labour from other historical forms of labour. On the basis of the wages system even the un­paid labour seems to be paid labour. With the slave, on the contrary, even that part of his labour which is paid appears to be unpaid. Of course, in order to work the slave must live, and one part of his working day goes to replace the value of his own maintenance. But since no bargain is struck between him and his mas­ter, … all his labour seems to be given away for nothing.

“Take, on the other hand, the peasant serf . . . This peasant worked, for example, three days for himself on his own field or the field allotted to him, and the subsequent three days he performed compulsory and gratuitous labour on the estate of his lord. Here, then, the paid and unpaid parts of labour were sen­sibly separated, in time and space.

“In point of fact, however, whether a man works three days of the week for himself on his own field and three days for nothing on the estate of his lord, or whether he works in the factory six bourn daily for himself and six for his employer, comes to the same, although in the latter case the paid and unpaid portions of labour are inseparably mixed up with each other, and the nature of the whole transaction is completely masked by the intervention of a contract and the pay received at the end of the week.”

The wage-earners, be they employed in fac­tory, mine, office, or warehouse, work to produce, not only an equivalent of their wages, but a pro­fit. They are compelled to do this by the fear of starvation which is necessarily imposed on them by the owners of the means of producing wealth. The only difference between the re­ward and the reward of serfs and slaves is the fact that it takes the shape of money and is called wages—albeit it represents on the average just sufficient to enable them to go on working.

There is, however, an important and vital difference between the wage slave and the slave of old vital to the Socialist because it implies the final abolition of slavery in all its forms.

Unlike the relationship between chattels, serfs, etc., and their lords and masters, the rela­tionship between wage-earners and capitalists is not, as such, a personal one. Its basis is essentially economic. That is to say, the wage-earner is forced into his “free contract” with the capitalist firm, trust, or State Department by the lack of the means of producing wealth for himself. The chattel-slave owners and the barons of the Middle Ages used the lash and the sword to drive their slaves to toil. The capitalist has no need to resort to such “barbarous” practices. It is the fear of starvation which causes the propertyless to turn up at the factory or wherever they may be employed.

Moreover, the wage-earner is not tied to any one capitalist. He may leave his master, though he must, of course, find another. The modern worker is a self selling commodity. He exchanges his labour-power, embodied in his brain and muscle, for money, which will buy him the necessaries of subsistence.

Now the fact that the labour-power is an ar­ticle of sale implies that the product of labour is for sale also. The wage earners do not produce wealth for the personal consumption of their masters as did the chattel slave and the serf. They produce for the social market, and it ia from that market, the common stores of society, that they as well as the capitalists draw their material requirements.

The specialisation of the industrial processes, the development of machinery and the means of communication and transit, have, under the auspices of the capitalist, revolutionised the character of production. They have broken down all the petty local barriers that separated men from each other; they have torn asunder the personal ties between the producers and the parasites; they have, in short, developed to maturity the social element in the production of wealth.

The fact that all wealth is, to-day, expressed in terms of money i» but an indication of this. All articles of wealth are articles of sale. The workers of the world are knit together in one vast system of production and distribution, domi­nated by the power of gold, of capital. But in achieving this capital has played its part—its time is up.

So long as the workers were isolated and pro­duced chiefly for their own wants, money was barely necessary. When, by improvements in tools and skill, the workers became able to pro­duce a considerable surplus of special products, the exchange of these products rendered money indispensable. Hence there developed the buyers and sellers, the merchants, forerunners of the modern capitalists.

These men had an incentive in encouraging production for sale instead of for use. By fraud and force they destroyed the independence won by the handicraftsmen and peasants from their feudal superiors, and converted them into wage-earners—but they called into existence forces which are now hopelessly beyond their con­trol. By developing co-operation between the workers throughout the world’s factories, fields and offices they have undermined their own system.

The perfection of transit and communication has reduced buying and, selling to a sheer for­mality. The merchant of old was an essential factor in production and distribution. To-day the “investor” or modern capitalist is a specu­lator pure and simple. All actually necessary economic processes are performed by wage-earners, men and women possessing no means of livelihood other than the sale of their energies. The capitalist is a parasite, a being divorced from the rest of society by every social consi­deration.

This development has two results which cut to the heart the servile State which has existed, Have for brief transitional epochs, since the dawn of private property and civilisation. On the one hand it has enormously increased the quantity and variety of articles of food, clothing, and shelter capable of being produced. The stan­dard of living it is possible to provide everyone with today would stagger the imagination of men of past ages. On the other hand, the time necessary for each individual to take part in production has been enormously reduced. Men and women work long hours, yet there are hun­dreds of thousands able to work who are not doing so. Further, there are innumerable occupations which are only necessary because of the existence of this anarchic system of production.

Organise production and distribution scienti­fically and there would be, not only sufficient of the material necessaries for a full, happy life for all, but also the leisure in which to en­joy them, and in which to cultivate other sides of human nature, besides the capacity to indulge in mechanical toil.

Therefore there is no longer any reason for the existence of a class separate from and above the workers. So long as the labour of all members of society was necessary to secure the «xistence of society classes were impossible. As soon as the productive forces had increased sufficiently, leisure and comfort became possible for a few. Hence there arose the struggle for mastery which resulted in the existence of two classes—rich and poor—incidentally wiping out the old tribal and social divisions between men.

To-day, however, the means and methods of production are capable of providing comfort and leisure for all. There is no reason why every individual should not have the opportunity of complete physical and mental develop­ment. In other words, class society, founded on the institution of private property, an artificial product of the above-mentioned struggle, is now obsolete. Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, based on the common owneiship and democra­tically organised control of the means of producing wealth, and, therefore, of the wealth itself, are now possible. The industrial revolution has taken place. A mental, political, and social revolution is now inevitable. ; the unity of the workers in the industrial process must express itself sooner or later in the shape of a conscious organisation of the working class, aiming at the possession of the means of production.

Economic evolution has emancipated the workers politically. The modern ruling class, unlike its predecessors, is unable to maintain its supremacy save with the sanction of the workers themselves. It but remains for the workers to organise and withdraw front the mas­ters’ control the machinery of government, including the armed forces. The road will then be clear for the establishment of Socialism. Thus must the workers abolish the “Servile State.”

To return finally to Belloc, the workers need fear no other form of slavery than that they are subjected to now. The legislation he boggles at only expresses the difference between modern slavery and the slavery of old. Modern wage-slavery is essentially class slavery, as distin­guished from personal chattel slavery. Therefore it rests with the agent of the capitalist class as a whole, namely, the bureaucratic State, to main­tain that slavery. Social reform is one of its methods of doing it.

Despite all Belloc’s arguments, however, our precious “freedom” to leave one capitalist and go to another or starve is not likely to be seri­ously interfered with. Competition is the main­spring of the existing order, and as such involves “free” labour. But although this is the case, it is indisputable that the characteristic features of the system become more and more pronounced. The gulf between the classes grows wider. The bonds tighten ! Fellow workers, prepare for the Revolution ! To hell with the Servile State !


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