Our case in brief
At such a time of appalling misery and waste of human life as the present, it may be useful to review again the claims of the Socialists, and to set out once more the means by which they propose to reach their goal. The writer has nothing new to tell—nothing at all that he has not said many times over in these columns. Nor can he hope to say it in a different way from which he has said it all before. But the message must be repeated again and yet again, though the messenger grows sick at heart. Conditions are always changing, if the message is not, and therein lies hope sufficient for the day.
Socialists claim that human happiness rests primarily upon the security and sufficiency of the necessaries of life—food, clothing, and shelter. They do not say that there are no other sources of happiness, or that security and plenitude in these things must necessarily banish all unhappiness. What they contend is that these material things are the basis of human happiness viewed generally, just as they are the basis of human life itself.
Socialists maintain that the wealth produced at the present day is sufficient to afford ample of the necessaries of life to every man, woman, and child in the community, while the means at the command of society are sufficient to enable that wealth to be produced by the expenditure of a comparatively small amount of the time and effort by which the working class gain their meagre livelihood to-day.
The first of these contentious, namely, that human happiness depends primarily upon the means of living, hardly needs any enlarging upon at this time of day. Everybody understands, even if he had never thought seriously about it before, that before one can have any experience at all, happy or otherwise ; before one can think or act or desire, one must eat—for the simple reason that every organic activity results from the consumption of food, from this to the proposition, that lack of the means of subsistence is bound to cause physical distress and, in highly sentient beings such as man, mental distress also, is a logical step. This physical and mental distress, which, where it exists and in proportion as it exists inevitiibly undermine all happines, can only be banished by giving sufficiency of and security in the means of subsistence.
Now as to the amount of wealth which is produced today, let us take the evidence of the opponents of Socialism. Mr. Chiozza Money, the Liberal M.P., an accredited capitalist statistician, estimated the national income in the year 1904 at £1,710,000,000. and he says in his book “Riches and Poverty” (page 29), “if the income the nation were equally distributed amongst its inhabitants a family of five persons would enjoy an income of about £200 per annum.” It is seen, then, that sufficient wealth is produced to afford ample means of subsistence to all.
It must, of course, be granted that much of the wealth produced to-day takes a form which would be useless in a society where the products of labour were equally enjoyed by all, but as all this wealth is simply nature-given material to which human labour has been applied, either to change its from (as in the case of cannon) or to change its position (as in the case of coal), or to change both form and position, as in the case of most things, it woudd be the simplest of matters to direct all labour into channels, and turn all useful materials into forms, which would contribute to the end in view.
Is it true that the means which we possess for producing wealth to-day are sulliciently developed to enable us to maintain the present output of wealth with the expenditure of far less time and energy per head of the able-bodied population than the working-class bread-winner of to-day has to give, on the average, to the gaining of his livelihood ? To commence with, think what happens to every commodity which is produced before it becomes available to fulfil the function for which human toil has fitted it— that is, before it can be consumed. It has to be sold, and perhaps sold several times. It is, in fact, produced in order be sold, not in order to be used though unless it was capable of being used it could not (except under false pretences) find a purchaser. This means that, an enormous number of clerks, travellers, salesmen, shopkeepers, and others too numerous to mention must be maintained in labour which adds not one iota to the wealth which is produced. According to the Census returns of 1901 there were 504,294 commercial travellers and commercial and business clerks engaged in this useless labour in the United Kingdom—apart from thousands of other clerks and touts, such as those employed by lawyers, political and other organisations, for example. How many shop-assistants are wasting their time waiting for customers who do not come ? How many baker’s and butcher’s carts chase each other over the same ground ? How many canvassers, agents, and house-to-house distributors swarm the streets ? And all this because goods must be sold when they are completed, instead of then being immediately available for consumption.
And as goods are produced under the present system only to be sold, so they are only produced while they can be sold. Hence there is at all times an immense army of workers unable to find employment because there is not sufficient sale for the sort of goods they are producers and distributors of. In the year when the stupendous amount of wealth mentioned by Mr. Money was produced the “percentage of members of Trade Unions making returns who were out of employment was 6.8” (“Statistical Memoranda,” Cd 4671, Local Govt. Board). It is generally admitted that the unorganised trades would show an even larger unemployment percentage, but this figure applied over the whole field would give about a million workers in the country in enforced idleness.
Then even before the war there were in the Army, Navy, Police force and Prison staffs, the very pick and flower of the race another half-a-million men adding nothing to the wealth of community, while 50,000 parson “labour” but to keep us in the land of nod.
Everywhere around us we find energy wasted, from the railway ticket-collector and the ‘bus company’s spy to the jeweller setting diamonds in the collar of her ladyship’s Pekinese pup and the flunkey buttoning up his dilettante master’s breeches. And on top of all this there is that great group of the master class, to the number of about 5,000,000, who prodnce nothing, and who would, if they contributed workers in the same ratio as the working class, add another 2,000,000 to those available for production.
These figures, even if they may be disputed on the matter of strict accuracy, are sufficient to show that society has means to hand to produce vastly more wealth than is at present produced with the same average expenditure of time and toil which the members of the working class who are in employment render for their bare, miserable subsistence, or the same amount with far smaller average expenditure of time and effort. But we must find a method by which all these idlers, compulsory or voluntary, shall be brought into production, and all these workers whose efforts are directed into wrong channels shall become fruitful in their labours.
Before we go any further let us make up our minds for the wholesale destruction of preconceived notions, it is quite apparent that, the enormous waste of human labour entailed, in the selling of all the products of man’s industry cannot be eliminated by anything short of the abolition of sale and therefor of production for sale. Nor can unemployment be abolished, it is equally evident, until men’s employment ceases to be dependent upon the sale of the goods they produce—which again means that production for sale must go. And again, it is quite certain that we shall have to have a very different set of social conditions and a very different distribution of social power before those idlers, the master class, can be brought into production and distribution, and compelled to contribute their share to the common labour fund, in return for the food they eat, the clothes they wear, and the houses they live in. So it is plain that the method we are looking for must involve very great changes in our social structure, and that before we can accept, such changes many of the ideas current among us to-day, and many of our common ways of looking at things, must go into the melting-pot together.
Why do working-class men and women have to sell their strength and skill (commonly but wrongly called their “labour”) to the masters for wages or salary ?
Because the masters own and control all the means by which people to-day can produce the
things by which they live…..that is, all the land, mines, factories, machinery, raw material, railways, ships, and so on.
Why do the masters not have to sell their strength and skill, or, indeed, why do they not have to work at all, in order to live ?
Because they own the means and instruments by which all wealth is produced and distributed, and owning these things, own also the wealth which is produced with their aid.
Why are there at all times many workers who are unable to get employment ?
Because the goods in the production of which they seek employment are only produced for sale and when such goods cannot be sold the owners of the means of production will not employ workers to produce them,
Why will not the owner of these means of production employ workers to produce goods which cannot be sold ?
Because, firstly, in order to maintain himself in the position of property-owner (that is, to keep solvent) he must pay his way, which he can only do by turning the wealth his employees produce into money, or in other words, by selling it ; secondly, in order to live without himself producing wealth the employer must secure that produced by others (his employees). But as he cannot satisfy his needs with the actual goods his employees produce, any more than he can pay his debts with them, again he must sell them. And if he cannot sell them he could [not] continue to stand the expense of their production.
It is seen how all these things have their root in the basic condition—the private ownership by a class of the means and instruments of production and distribution. Clearly, then, private ownership in these things—in all things which are necessary for the sustenance and well-being of mankind, in fact—must go.
That, in brief, is the Socialist remedy. Private ownership in the instruments of labour and the raw material, in the land, mines, factories, machinery, railways, canals, ships, and the like of all these things, must cease. They must become the property of the whole community, and be controlled and operated by the whole community. Can anything be simpler than that?
Socialism, after all, is very simple. There is never any need to wrap it up in hard terms. It is just a social system based upon the common ownership of the means of living, as the present social system—capitalism-is based upon the private ownership of these things.
In a future issue it will be shown what will follow from the changed property condition.
A. E. JACOMB