The Forum: Cleaning up Blatchford’s mess

To The Editor.
Dear Sir,—I have just finished reading that famous book, “Britain for the British,” and the only result obtained thereby is a rather confused idea of the true position of the inventor under Socialism. While I know that “R.B.’s” definition would only mean the handing over of the “spoils” to a new specie of makers, I cannot quite see how it could be otherwise, if every worker received the full product of his toil. I will try and make my enquiry more clear. Should one hundred workers be required to produce a given amount of any commodity with, the present kind of machinery, and eventually an inventor (or a worker) conceive the idea of a new machine which would produce the same amount of commodities with fifty workers, then it appears that the inventor should receive the wages of the dismissed fifty workers in order to obtain the full value of his toil, but if this be given, how about the idle workers in consequence thereof, and to whom would they have to look for their existence : the inventor or the employed fifty operators ? This is providing the new machinery cost about the same as the old to produce or instal.
—Wm. Searle.


The first point of confusion afflicting our correspondent is his notion, due, doubtless, to the misleading of “Britain for the British,” that wages, payments, and conditions of employment will remain the same in essentials, though pephaps improved in some details, under Socialism, as they exist inside capitalism. When thia notion is removed the answer becomes easy to follow.

To-day the workers cannot use the means of production without the permission of the master class, and this means that their lives are under the control of that class as, by withholding this permission, they can starve the workers to death—and often do so. Hence the workers, to-day, live by selling their power to perform, certain operations in production or distribution, of wealth to the masters. They are thus their slaves—a thing Blatchford seems profoundly ignorant of.

Under Socialism the workers—then the whole community—will own the means of production, that is, the means of life, themselves. Slavery will have been abolished and consequently buying and selling of labour-power, and other commodities, will no longer exist, and wages will have vanished.

Leaving out the question of the impossibility of determining exactly the value of any individual’s toil, the broader social needs would make it necessary to provide for future requirements by setting aside a certain amount of stock, such as seeds for next season’s crops, animals for continuing breeding, and provision for contingencies such as floods, droughts, etc., so far as these could not be foreseen and dealt with. There would also be the providing for children and for the sick and the aged. It is thus clear that every worker could not receive the “full product of his toil.”

As, however, there would be abundance of comforts, and even luxuries of a kind, for all, this provision for social needs would mean no hardship for the producers.

And of what use would more of these things be to any individual ? To-day the possession of wealth means the opportunity to exploit others. Under Socialism, where exploitation no longer existed, it would merely mean surrounding one’s self with encumbrances. The inventor who, under such conditions, wanted to claim the “full” result of his invention, would therefore merely desire to surround himself with useless lumber, a philosophy lower even than that of the pig.

Moreover, there is the question of how much is exactly due to any one inventor, and how much he owes to others. Ideas are social, and there has hardly been an invention or discovery without its various claimants to have each been “first.” Newton’s discovery of the greatest of all physical laws—the Law of Gravitation— would have been impossible without Kepler’s great work and inductions, that in their turn owed much to Tycho Brahe and his predecessors. Adams and Leverrier each independently worked out the position of the planet Neptune. Darwin and Wallace independently formulated the theory of the “Origin of Species,” while Spencer pathetically points out how near he came to the same conclusion without actually stating it. Marx, Engels, and L. H. Morgan independently, and from different standpoints, discovered the laws of the “Materialistic Conception of History.” In things mechanical Watt merely adopted Newcomen’s atmospheric engine for his mine pumps and did not suddenly conceive the whole mechanism from watching a kettle boil—as the pretty nursery tales tell us. Arkwright took, practically, the whole of his “invention” from Paul Kay, while thousands of inventors of detail improvements in machinery and processes have not even had their names recorded. The classic instance is that of the essential process in making steel by the Bessemer system. The process was suggested by a workman whose name even is not now known.

To take things modern, in the “Daily Telegraph” for 1st March, 1915 is an article on “Great Inventions,” wherein it is pointed out that “Wireless Telegraphy,” associated in the popular mind solely with Marconi, was due to the mathematical work of Clark Maxwell and the scientific experiments of Hertz on electro-magnetic waves, now known as “Hertzian waves,” and of which a practical demonstration was given by Sir Oliver Lodge in 1894—two years before Marconi’s provisional specification was filed. Again the success of the Wright brothers in mechanical flight was based upon the researches and experiments of S. P. Langley, “the head of the most prominent scientific institution of America,” (The Smithsonian Institute), particularly those he carried out on the Potomac River.

We thus see how little is generally due to the individual claiming to have “invented” some machine or process. Nor is this all. Under capitalism the inventor, if a poor man, is almost sure to have his invention stolen from him by the capitalists. Under Socialism he would receive the approbation of his fellow men for his contribution to the good of society—a factor that will be much more highly prized then, when the means of life are under our control, than it can possibly be in the midst of our present sordid relationships. And if the invention reduced labour time in any industry to a large extent it would mean not fifty men thrown out of work but such proportionate reduction in the hours of social work as the circumstances would show to be best, which reduction would benefit the inventor as well as the others. The pleasure an inventor experiences in having his efforts crowned with success is another factor in his reward.

There remains one other point often brought forward by our would-be opponents, though it will have no existence under Socialism. This point is “suppose the inventor refuses to let you use his invention unless you accept his terms, what will you do then ?” The answer of course is quite simple. Firstly, as shown above, he would soon have rivals in his particular field, and so would lose his power even to withhold his invention from society. Secondly, society could quite serenely ignore his conditions and continue in their old way till he became more sensible.

However, this situation will not arise under Socialism as it will be to every member’s interest to improve the powers of production so as to enjoy the increased leisure resulting ; and in all other ways the question of the inventor will present no difficulties under Socialism.


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