The need for Revolution

We have been accused of exaggeration, and are told that we want a revolution to overthrow a molehill. We are damned by the faint praise of those who admit the justice of our demands, yet who, advocating the amelioration of the evils we expose, endeavour to show how such evils can be remedied much more easily than by the proposed removal of a social system.

We are told that Socialism has been tried and has failed, not once, but many times, and that the attempt to establish a Socialist regime in this country would result in disaster and chaos.

“Capitalism is bad, admittedly, but what evidence have we that Socialism will not be worse?” “Let us avoid revolution.” “Do not throw away the old garment before we obtain the new.” These are the cries that affect the timid ; but what is Socialism and what is the problem that it proposes to solve ?

Admittedly we stand for a reorganisation of Society ; for a system opposed to and differing entirely from the present. Its establishment means the overthrow of the present system and it cannot be realized (to say nothing of failure) until the present social order has ceased to be.

Let us, then, leave the absurd notions of past failures of Socialism to such puny minds as find their place in the Anti-Socialist Union scribes and speakers and those of equal calibre outside or inside Bedlam.

The only real and necessary function of a social system should be to provide the necessaries of life and add to the happiness of the community. The objective should be to satisfy the material wants of the people who make up that society. Does the capitalist system fulfil this function ? Are the social units under that system well provided for ? and if they are not why is it ?

We claim that the units of society are not well provided for. We are not alone when we say that want—material want—is a feature of capitalism. Poverty is inevitable, say our statesmen. “The poor we have always with us,” chants the parson. Unemployment, with its concomitant evils, is a permanency. The material wants of the mass of society are not satisfied. Responsible statesmen have admitted for years past that poverty grows greater, and that faster than one social sore is healed others break out. (Lloyd George, for instance).

In England, we are told, the average family consists of five persons. The amount of wealth produced in this country is sufficient to provide each family of five with wealth equivalent to the sum of £225 per annum. (Chiozza Money.) The present cost of living would enable each family to live in comfort on such a sum. Yet the late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman said that “30 per cent. of our population are underfed, on the verge of hunger.” The “Daily Chronicle,” of Feb. 12, 1913 stated that: “Millions are without a living wage. Two millions and a half adult males in this country do not obtain 25s. a week ; nearly a million are not receiving 20s. a week, and some 300,000 do not carry away 15s. a week even when they are in full employment.”

Dr. Clifford said at the Free Church Congress at Newcastle on March 12 last: “Offical returns issued yesterday (March 11) show that on July 1st last year the total number of paupers was 773,603, an increase of 14,828.”

The present social system, then, does enable the people to produce sufficient to satisfy their meeds, yet condemns millions of them to perpetual hunger and misery—provides more than sufficient for the comfort of all and allows some of them to starve to death !

Something is wrong. What is the defect in the capitalist system ? It is that while enough is produced to sustain society, the product is so badly distributed that, while some have access to more wealth than they can reasonably consume, the vast majority are without the comforts of life, and many even starve in the midst of plenty.

The question then arises: Why this failure to provide each member of society with the things he needs ?

To answer this question we must discover how wealth is distributed, and in doing so we shall find out how wealth is produced.

Economic wealth can only be produced by the application of human energy to raw materials. One may speak of “a wealth of forest,” or “a wealth of sunshine,” but both forest and sunshine may exist where man is not, and therefore be of no use to him. The wealth of nature must be made available and useful to man before it is economic wealth.

All those who are expending their energy in transforming nature given material into useful articles, or making it available for use, are engaged in wealth production. This task is performed by the workers.

When the workers have produced the wealth it does not belong to them. The basis of the system is the private ownership of the tools and instruments of production. The tools and machinery necessary for bringing wealth into being are not owned by the users. The land and raw materials are privately owned. Apart from the workers there is a separate class who, owning the tools of production, having the power to refuse the non-possessors access to the means of life, lay down the conditions under which alone those tools shall be operated. One of the conditions is that the wealth when produced shall belong, not to the producer, but to the owner of the tools of production.

The producers have no claim or title to the things they have brought into being ; but some of their product is necessary for their sustenance, and wealth is distributed among them in exchange for the wages which are paid them for their labour power. These wages are exchanged for food, clothing, and shelter, and the existing poverty is due to the fact that the wages provided are not sufficient to enable them to purchase the requisite amount of those necessaries.

Can this defect be removed ? Can the capitalist system be reformed to alter this obvious fault ? That it cannot be is soon seen by a glance at modern capitalism.

In the first place we have to recognise an antagonism of interests between the workers or wage-earners and the non-workers or masters of the tools of production. The workers strive to increase their wages so that they may buy back a larger share of their product. The masters, who enter the field of production in order to obtain money, realise that the greater the share of the wealth given to the producers the smaller will be the portion left for them. Moreover, each concern is competing with its neighbour, and each country has its competitors abroad, and as in order to obtain the money they require they must sell the workers’ product in the markets of the world, they have to offer their goods at the lowest price.

The article of merchandise has no value in itself to the capitalist. The investor in coal mines does not want the coal. Rockefeller does not consume the oil produced from the springs in which he is “interested.” These commodities will exchange for gold, and to obtain gold is the immediate object of the capitalist. Each commodity will exchange for so much gold, and to enlarge his share or profit he must obtain his goods as cheaply as he can ; he must pay as low a wage as possible for the production of a given amount of commodities.

The capitalist, therefore, cannot increase wages relative to the product—on the contrary, he must reduce them, for there being almost continually a greater supply of any commodity than is in demand, his article must be cheaper in order to displace the goods of others.

Individual wages may rise, as may rates of wages. If a new process be introduced into production which enables one well-fed man to produce an article in the same time as was previously occupied by two ill-fed ones, then the wage of the one may be raised in order that he may obtain the better quality of food. The wages bill, however, will not be increased, for one man gets the “sack” and receives no wages at all.

In some industries to-day the rate of wages has increased from 6d. to 9d. per hour, but the men are speeded up to such an extent that they double their output in eight hours, while they previously worked ten. Thus they divide the number employed by two, and the total wage paid by the master is less, while his profit may have increased.

Again, if the cost of living increases then money wages may gradually rise, but real wages may decline all the time.

There is at the present moment a demand on all sides for an increase in wages, and in some trades it is claimed that an increase can be shown. But alongside that we have to place other facts—firstly, that this is merely an increase in the rate of wages, and does not take mto consideration the increasing and ever-lengthening periods of unemployment, and also that the Board of Trade returns show that a wage of £1 to-day is but equivalent to a wage of 16s. 3d. in 1895. Money wages have not increased 25 per cent. during the same period, consequently wages have fallen.

The continual introduction of machinery turning out ever more and more wealth with the same or a lesser expenditure of labour power, continually gluts the markets of the world. The restricted purchasing power of the mass of the community forces the masters to check the increase by discharging their employees, and so a constant army of unemployed is created, still further reducing both the total wage bill and the total purchasing power of the worker.

The fact is that for capitalism to continue profits must to increase and wages relatively decline, and to increase wages would ultimately smash the capitalist system.

Unemployment, low-paid wage slavery, poverty and destitution are necessary for the continuation of the system, and to remove the one we must abolish the other. The basis of the capitalist system is the cause of the evil, and as no reform can alter it the system must go. How this can best be done may be the subject of a further article.


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