Socialism in Debate


Mr. Daw’s Second Contribution.

The statement in the opening paragraph of the reply to my previous contribution may claim to be the key-stone to the Socalist case, viz., that all existing wealth “is produced by the application of human labour-power to nature-given materials.” It has probably gained more adherents to Socialism than any other argument advanced by propagandists. No defender of Capitalism, we are assured, has been able to show a flaw in the statement. Nevertheless, we shall find on examination that this invulnerble argument is based on a partial suppression of relevant facts.

Existing wealth owes its origin not to two, but four primary agencies. (1) The nature-given material. (2) Machinery propelled by steam or electricity. (3) Labour. (4) Invention and Design. The Socialist argues that without labour, the material would be useless, but pursuing this method of deductive reasoning, we may contend that without demand there would be no value, for as Marx himself admits, “nothing can have value without being an object of utility,” and the same writer, referring to nature’s gifts, says “We see, then, that labour is not the only source of wealth.” It is obvious that labour without material is valueless, for labour creates nothing of itself, but merely shapes or changes the form of matter already existing.

We have now three sources of wealth recognised. It is when we come to machinery and design as wealth producers that the contention arises. Machinery is the most important item because it is the multiplier of wealth, to which we are indebted for that surplus value which Socialists use to dazzle the eyes of the proletariat.

“This wealth is all produced by your labour-power” the Socialist says in effect, “and is appropriated by the capitalists. They are robbers and you are the victims.” If this wealth was all produced by human labour-power, such a statement would be just, but it is not true. Machinery effected an industrial revolution which largely supplanted human skill, and steam power reduced human labour-power in the process of manufacture to such an insignificant part that the early manufacturers who first availed themselves of its agency, dispensed with men and—to their lasting disgrace—-employed children of tender age to attend the same. But these employers of Lancashire and Yorkshire were not aristocrats, but all self-made men. A writer in “Justice” (9.12.1905) “estimated that of all work done by this country, an average of 84 per cent. was done by steam power.” To day it is not the workman that employs the instrument of labour, but the instrument of labour that employs the workman. When we examine the part steam power and machinery take in distribution, this is more plain. In past ages haulage was done by man. He carried produce on his back. To day the steam engine carries tons of merchandise and the workmen are driver and stoker.

Now let us examine the claim of the designer to be considered as a contributor to wealth. If I desire to become a ship owner I must utilise materials, labour, machinery, capital, and an architect to design the vessel. The material may be the best that can be obtained, the labour the most skilled, both human and mechanical, but when the ship is launched it has such a heavy list that it is condemned as unseaworthy and therefore useless. Labour and material alone, unaided by a competent designer, fail to produce wealth. As with the ship, so we shall find on examination, design, in one form or another, play an all-important part in wealth production. Two men start life with the same opportunities, the same capital and equipment, yet whilst one amasses a fortune, the other lands in the Bankruptcy Court. The different results are not due to the labour employed by each—both being equal—but owing to the inequality of business capacity on the part of the two men.

It is, however, when we come to the inventor and the machinery he has designed that the absurdity of the Sooialiat claim becomes most apparent. For centuries human labour-power plodded along, turning out with no appreciable variation, the same amount of goods per man. Of production in those times it might be said with truth that wealth was due to human labour, plus material ; but it was comparative poverty. WE ARE INDEBTED TO THE INTRODUCTION OF MACHINERY, AND THE SUBSTITUTION OF STEAM-POWER FOR HUMAN LABOUR-POWER, FOR THE ENORMOUS SURPLUS WEALTH OF TODAY. These are facts which cannot be gainsaid, and to read the futile attempts of Marx and his followers to evade this fatal flaw in their argument provides amusement which is seldom found in the pages of professed economic works.

The contention of Marxists is that the use of machinery is to exploit labour, and of itself creates no value. “The surplus-value comes from unpaid labour only.” This surplus-value is said to be the difference between the cost of the labour-power to the capitalist and the amount of labour-power he is able to extract from his work people. This is Marx as interpreted by Bax and Quelch in their “New Catechism of Socialism.”

Then how stupid the capitalist employers must be to spend millions on the installation of steam power and machinery, which “create no value” and reduce the number and quantity of human labour power, from which alone profit is produced !

Of course, all Marxists do not take this view. For instance, Mr. H. M. Hyndman informs us in “England for all,” that “the riches due to machinery have gone to the few.” That the rich alone have benefitted is not true, but even if wholly accurate, I would emphasise the admission that this wealth is the result of the exploitation of machinery, and not men.

I have often met with the retort on the platform that the machinery was made by the workers. My reply is that it was designed by the few, and violently opposed by the industrial classes because they recognised that the machinery was a substitute for human muscle power, in fact, it was doing their work. The capitalists had discovered a substitute for human labour-power and skill, which was able to produce wealth in far greater abundance. The old hand-loom weavers became machine-minders. Bearing on this I ask, if labour makes the machinery, how can capitalists maintain an exclusive monopoly ? There is sufficient capital in the hands of the employed to acquire their own instruments of production.

If the workers are robbed of two-thirds of what they produce, they would, by setting up as their own masters, reap enormous profits, which would enable them to drive all competitive capitalist employers out of the market. The capitalists have no monopoly of human labour-power, or of the market—viz., the consumers. Anyone with capital can buy land, material, and machinery.

I should like, if space permitted, to have dealt in some detail with Chapter XV. of Marx’s “Capitalist Production,” showing how, whilst indulging in a long diatribe on “Machinery and Modern Industry,” he shuffles over the question. [We have pleasure in offering Mr. Daw additional space for this specific purpose. Ed. Com. “S.S.”] I will give one example of hia sophistry for my critics to ponder over. He says (p. 405) machinery “being constant capital, does not produce surplus-value.” This platitude is as peurile and irrelevant as if he had written: “An overcoat bought on the instalment system produces no warmth.”

G. W. DAW.


Practically the whole of our opponent’s second contribution is taken up with one point, viz., the one emphasized in his sixth paragraph that “We are indebted to the introduction of machinery, and the substitution of steam for human labour-power, for the, enormous surplus wealth of to-day,” and according to Mr. Daw, this is another “fatal flaw” in our argument.

Now even if this statement were true, as it is put by Mr. Daw, it would still leave our case untouched. All the various ringing of the changes, in words, about the same point can be met with two answers, so simple that only an opponent of Socialism fails to see them.

Firstly, machinery and steam-power are quite useless and incapable of producing a single atom of wealth until labour-power is applied in starting, running, and controlling that machinery and power. Hence these factors are still dependent upon the human element—labour-power—for their operation.

Secondly, the machinery and engines themselves are manufactured by the working class and the capitalists do nothing in the introduction or manipulation of this machinery and power, yet they own both the means and results of wealth production, thus enslaving the rest of society.

If we take our opponent’s variations upon the one theme, we will find the same answers fitting them every time, though amplification may be useful on some of them.

Thus we are told in paragraph (2) there are four primary agencies in wealth production instead of the two given in the brief statement of our case. But what is machinery itself except the result of labour-power applied to the nature-given materials ? We thus see at once that it is no new factor but simply a portion of the previously stated ones.

Again, are not Invention and Design the application of human energy upon certain materials in the endeavour to obtain a given result ? Then we are still left with but two primary agencies, labour-power and natural resources.

In paragraph (3) we read that “Machinery is the most important multiplier of wealth, to which we are indebted for that surplus-value which Socialists use to dazzle the eyes of the proletariat.” It would be interesting to know how this statement opposes Socialism. As shown above, machinery can do nothing without labour-power.

That various discoveries and the general growth of knowledge increase our powers of production is a point in favour of, not against, Socialism, though it contradicts Mr. Daw’s statement in his previous contribution that we can never supply the needs of our growing population. He even now admits that there is a “surplus value,” a thing not usually conceded by our opponents.

It is quite informing to know that the “early manufacturers” “to their lasting disgrace, employed children of tender age to attend” their machinery. The later and present manufacturers, who still employ children, are free, we suppose, from any such imputation upon their characters.

The reference to the part taken by steam-power and machinery in distribution is fully met by our first answer.

Paragraph (5) would be laughable were it not swallowed by so many working men when they hear it expounded by one of their masters or his agents. Our second answer meets this point, but a little extension may be useful.

The first point to note, and one that overshadows all else here, is that it it not the capitalist who is the designer. The latter is employed to do his portion, as the others are to do theirs.

Leaving out the entirely baseless assumption that “labour the most skilled” couid not design a seaworthy vessel, we may just point out that for thousands of years various branches of the human race built seaworthy ships with no other “designers” than those who constructed them. In this as in other branches of production and distribution, it is only when “division of labour” reaches a certain stage in its development, that the “designer” becomes a separate person with a single function to perform. That he is, sometimes, better paid than the ordinary craftsman, makes him none the less one of those employed by the capitalist.

Then we come to the “fatal flaw” with our old friend the “inventor.”

What was the greatest discovery mankind has made ? According to the greatest ethnologist that ever lived, Lewis H. Morgan, it was the discovery of iron and how to smelt it. But certainly as great, if not greater, was the discovery of how to control fire, as without this factor iron could not be smelted. Did the capitalists discover these two great factors in human progress ? Or have they discovered any such factor ? What machine did they invent ? What power did they discover the control of ? The answer is, not one. Yet they own the results of all these discoveries. In the vast majority of cases no individual “inventor” is known. And of the others, nearly all died in poverty, while the capitalists stole their inventions. It is the working class who “invent” the machinery and discover how to control various forces in nature as well as manipulate these things in the production and distribution of wealth.

The attempted argument in paragraph (9) is utterly unhistorical, incorrect, and fallacious. What “few” invented the wheel, the inclined plane, and the lever ? Yet every machine is a combination of such powers.

It is true that those who may be displaced by machinery sometimes—not always—oppose its introduction for the simple reason that under the chaos called Capitalism, we have the utterly insane absurdity that every new means of increasing production means increased poverty and misery for the workers. Hence the cure for such a position is obviously for the workers to own the machinery they invent and operate, as well as its results.

And note the question, childlike and bland, “if labour makes the machinery, how can the capitalists maintain an exclusive monopoly ?” Even Mr. Daw dares not attempt to maintain that the capitalists make machinery, so he takes refuge behind his question.

The answer is well known to Mr. Daw. Let any body of workers attempt to take hold of any machinery—or any other commodity—they have produced, and what would happen ? Mr. Daw knows quite as well as any Socialist that the legal machinery, backed by the armed forces of the nation, would be used to protect the “masters’ property” and prevent any workers possessing it. This machinery and force is used for the masters’ interests because they control the political powers, dominating and directing these forces, such powers being placed in the masters’ hands by the working class when they vote Tory, Liberal, or Labour candidates into Parliament.

And where is the “sufficient capital in the hands of the employed to acquire their own instruments of production” ? It must be in some secret place for, as workers ourselves, we haven’t the faintest inkling of its existence.

The capitalist pays the worker, on the average, a wage that will buy such necessaries of life as will keep him in a condition to continue working. To meet the various ills that afflict the worker, even if in work, he sometimes scrapes a few pence together in a Friendly Society against serious illness (he cannot afford to stay away from work for a slight illness), or in a Trade Union against a lock-out or a strike. But it would be an insult to Mr. Daw’s intelligence to pretend that he is referring to these small sums scattered over so large a number.

One remark he makes, however, is generally true. “Anyone with capital can buy land, material, and machinery.” May we add “and labour-power.” As the working class have no capital they obviously are unable to buy any of these things.

Ed. Com.

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