The Effect of Reform

The revolutionary has shown that the present system of society is utterly incapable of fulfil­ling the proper function of a social system, i.e., the satisfying of the needs of the community. In effect that has been admitted by reformers of every school. The very need for reform shows the existence of evil, and no agitation would or should find any support were all well with the community.

The reformer does not understand that the social evils cannot be removed while the cause—private ownership in the means of living—is permitted to remain. The cause of the evils cannot be touched by the measures they advo­cate, however earnest and sincere the advocates may be ; and no reform has yet been propounded that can be shown to effectively deal with the “problems” of poverty and unemployment.

The basic laws of capitalist society, being in harmony with private ownership of the tools of production, operate against such interference, and to push up the price of labour-power would simply, on the one hand lead to greater intensification of labour, and on the hand to the restriction of production, and, by throwing a number out of employment, bring down wages to or below the previous level. Competition regulates prices, and the price of labour-power is subject to the same influences as any other commodity that the labourer produces.

The competition between the workers for jobs—the fight of each to sell his labour power—must of necessity keep down wages to the lowest possible point. Not that that point can be fixed at will by the capitalist—or the worker. It fluctuates, but only above or below a given level, that level being determined by the cost of pro­duction of labour-power under the conditions, climatic or otherwise, of the time and place of production. That standard of subsistence is by no means stationary : it will rise and fall at the dictates of the system. The higher the intensification of labour, the greater the speed at which the labourer is called upon, to produce, the higher will be the cost of his subsistence.

That standard, however, is not altered by the wishes of the people, either workers or owners. Wages can, and do, rise higher than the level of subsistence, just as they can, and do, fall below the level of physical efficiency. It can be readily understood that the efficiency of labour-power cannot be maintained for any length of time unless the wages given are sufficient to sustain the labourer, and with the modern intensifica­tion of labour the tendency is to increase the efficiency of the worker, not to reduce it.

Individual employers within the system may wring extra surplus for a time by so-called sweating, and it is to guard against this “un­fair competition” that Trades Boards are estab­lished and Minimum Wage Bills agitated for. The tendency is to increase the rate of wages and to introduce speedier methods of production and a greater intensity of exploitation.

This, however, but increases unemployment, which is advantageous to the buyers of labour-power, since it is only by the existence of a reserve army of labour that they can keep wages down to the level of efficiency demanded. No other means can compel the workman to work faster and ever faster as the machines are speeded up.

It is the existence of the unemployed at the factory gate that compels the workers to toil at lowest wages and under conditions they would not otherwise submit to. It is the fear of being supplanted that forces them to tolerate the insults and degrading treatment of bullying foremen for a mere living.

The increasing speed and consequent exhaus­tion compel the introduction of the shorter working-day. Many of the employees object to its introduction, and affirm that their wages are lower as a consequence; but the capitalists profit by it, because in the reduced time as much or more wealth is produced, and with the two-shift, or even a three-shift system, greater profits are obtained.

The forward march of the capitalist system is toward cheap production, and no human action can stay it. Economy of production can only be obtained at the expense of the workers, as it is only by cutting the wages bill that the capitalist can economise. The present system, based as it is upon the private ownership of the tools of production, is the system of those private owners, and the better and more smoothly it runs the better it is for them.

How can reform increase the toilers’ share of the product ? The general level of wages is determined by the cost of the production of labour-power. Can any reform alter the cost of production ? And if it could would that benefit the producer ? In the United States wages are higher than in England, and the cost of subsistence is higher also. But is the worker of U.S.A. the better off for that ? He receives more money and pays more for food, clothing, and shelter, and in the end finds himself with just sufficient to buy food, clothing and, shelter for himself and a family—sufficient, in short, to keep himself in a fit condition to continue production for the master class. Here, then, the reformer can do nothing.

We saw, however, that wages could rise and fall. Can reforms, then, force wages above the general level or prevent them falling below it ? Let us see.

If the supply of any article approximates to the demand it will exchange on the market at its value. To increase its price one must stop or check the supply of similar goods or increase the demand for them. Now the worker has his commodity, labour-power, to sell upon the open market, and the supply of labour-power is greater than the demand for it.

This is undoubtedly so, anti-Socialists not­withstanding. Flowery orators may tell us of the enormous increase in wealth production necessitating an increase in the number of employed. After-dinner speeches may contain references to great employers of labour searching the country for “hands.” But the average worker knows that no sooner does he leave his job than another comes forward to take it, and the reports of the Labour Exchanges give the lie to the assertion that there is a real scarcity of labour.

The question of the moment is, then, can the supply of labour-power be restricted ?

The Trade Union movement has attempted to bring about such a restriction and has signally failed to do so It has attempted to keep the unemployed off the market by raising a fund for the purpose of providing them with food, cloth­ing, and shelter. But the army of out-of-works has grown too great for them to maintain, and the capitalists have simply used the union funds to maintain the surplus workers in a certain state of efficiency. To-day even that is insuffi­cient, and the State has taken over the matter by subsidising the unions and other organisa­tions for the purpose of keeping a supply of labour-power ready for any demand of capitalist production. The Trade Unions have never been able to prevent the unemployed from acting as a drag upon wages, and of recent years, in this connection, it has simply provided a sum from the pockets of the workers to prevent the revolt of the hungry, and save the extra charge that would otherwise have fallen upon the capitalist in the form of rates.

Consider for a moment what would happen were the ideal of the reformer realised. No un­employed, hungry slaves clamouring for a job at almost any figure would mean that the employed workers would refuse to accept the miserable pittance they now receive and would force the employers to raise wages until produc­tion for profit was impossible. Capitalism would then collapse, and even though the workers were unable to take over the control of affairs the masters would no longer be able to manage production; for willing wage slaves are essential to the capitalist system. But the ideal is not practicable. It presupposes the impossible and is absurd.

Does this mean that the revolutionary must oppose reform ? The Socialist is necessarily opposed to the advocacy of reform as it is inadequate for his purpose. Reforms, in the main, do not even palliate, and those that do are used by the capitalist class in their own interest, and are introduced because the stage to which capi­talism has advanced demands the change.

The battle (often a sham one) over any parti­cular measure is at the most but a quarrel between two sections of the master class whose interests will be bound up in the abolition or the continuation of some antiquated methods for the abandonment of which the agitation is raised. That various changes are necessary, and that some of them are held back by vested interests we recognise ; but if benefits are to be obtained from capitalism, a very different atti­tude to that of the present-day reformer must be taken, and our best advantage will be gained by constant opposition to the masters and a growing demand for revolution.

That some reform agitation may hasten the changes rendered necessary by the rapid deve­lopment of the system and held back by the parsimony and mulish obstinacy of those in power is all that can be said for the movement for reform within capitalism. But nothing could be obtained by such a movement that could not be as easily achieved by the Socialist Party. If such work, however, is to stand in the way of the presentation of the Socialist case, and is injurious in the slightest degree to the growth of the Socialist idea, then such a movement must be opposed, though the realization of its object may be shown to be inevitable and desirous.

While recognising the ruthless onward march of capitalist development it must not be for­gotten that society is composed of human beings, and that the fear instilled into the minds of the masters will have some effect in lessening the oppression and hastening the coming revolution. The master class fear no reform, but the fear they have for revolution can only be compared to the hatred and contempt that they feel for their willing wage-slaves. We cannot play upon their pity or reach their hearts by tales of woe and misery, and such is the stock-in-trade of the reformer.

He who would hoist the revolutionary banner should know the strength of economic laws and the comparative weakness of the human will, and should underrate neither. Above all, he must set himself the task of fighting the repre­sentatives of capitalism, for not until the con­tempt they feel for the workers is displaced by the fear of the growing revolutionary army will the capitalists even consider their wage-slaves to be aught but parts of a profit earning machine.


Leave a Reply