Trade A’mighty

The god of capitalist soceity is Trade. Ac­cording to its prophets, when it flourishes there is more wealth for capitalists and more work for the workers. All men, with the excep­tion of the unemployed—who are always with us—sing its praises. When it declines there is weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth—with little between them to bite, in the case of the working class. There are plenty to sell and few to buy ; and while the capitalist fears for his profits, the worker trembles for his job, and one and all marvel at the mystery, not daring to seek an explanation for consequences so univer­sal and disastrous. Appalled by their magnitude, both classes shiver like savages in proximity to spheres they do not understand.

The capitalist god is nervous and fickle in the eyes of his worshippers ; he will follow a flimsy rag at one time, while at other times a carefully worded prayer, offered up simultaneously in all the churches of the land, has not power to rouse him from his lethargy.

Portraits of emperors and kings and theatrical stars, alongside grotesque caricatures of human beings and monkeys, are used as figure-heads to advertise pickles and soap, while poets and artists indulge their asthetic tastes and satisfy their material needs at one and the same time by eulogising in rhyme and colour—egg powder and sausages.

For years managing directors of large firms have been lecturing on business methods and efficiency. Business men, and even statesmen, have emphasised in long articles the need for colleges of science to serve trade.

Trade has been the centre of political controversy for years—the one all-absorbing theme of politicians inside and outside the House of Commons. Free Trade on the one side, Tariff Reform on the other, have enlisted armies of speakers and writers, whose continuous flow of language has dwarfed every other subject and made all things appear insignificant in com­parison.

The building of harbours and ships for com­merce was referred to as industrial rivalry between nations. With the outbreak of the European War commenced the long series of exhortations to capture the enemy’s trade, and the plea for equal trading rights for all nations, large or small, as a settlement. In short, trade is alleged to be of such vast importance that we live by it—that we could not live without it.

Yet, after all, what is trade ? Briefly, it is the exchange of wealth. Now wealth cannot be exchanged until it is produced. It follows, therefore, that exchange or trade is something which transpires after the production and before the consumption of wealth. Trade or exchange is altogether distinct from distribution. The latter is absolutely necessary in any form of society where there is division of labour. In primitive communities there existed a rudimen­tary division of labour and a consequent distri­bution of goods without exchange of equivalents in the modern sense.

Exchange could not exist under Socialism, because wealth would be owned in common and distribution only would be necessary. Because wealth is privately owned under capitalism exchange must take place, and because there is division of labour distribution must take place. The fact that the two processes frequently appear as one, as when the baker distributes bread which he exchanges for money, accounts for some of the confusion that exists with regard to the two terms.

The need for exchange can only arise when society regards wealth as the property of those who produce it. Even then, that is to say, in the early stages of the evolution of property, the means of production, chiefly the land, were owned in common and allotted periodically to the producers. Exchange under these conditions would not, therefore, press harshly upon anyone, seeing that each would possess the means for producing and consequently owning some of the wealth of the community. In fact, extreme po­verty in the midst of abundance did not appear until the tools of production evolved till only the wealthy could acquire them, the natural outcome of this being the hired worker or wage-slave.

This change once established and generally accepted by society, the foundations of modern trade were laid. It will be seen at once, however, that, before this change man lived and satisfied his wants, though his struggle with nature was far more severe than it is to-day.

Modern trade had its origin somewhere about the 10th century, when trade routes were dis­covered to different parts of the world, and markets were, consequently opened for the sale of the surplus wealth of the guilds. The latter soon proved incapable of supplying these mar­kets, and had therefore to give way to new social forms which would meet the expansion in trade. From that time onward enclosures of land and division of labour, together with the invention of machinery, proceeded with great rapidity until to-day the interests of the trading class are supreme, while the working class have reached depths of poverty and excessive toil to which history can show no parallel.

In fact, the misery of the working class has increased in proportion as the trading class has universalised trade and made itself supreme. Competition between capitalists, national and international, has made a cheapening of production imperative. Unemployment has in­creased and women and children have taken the places of men because they were cheaper. The competition for markets finds its echo among the workers in competition for jobs.

On the other hand, the class whose progeni­tors sent their ship to discover a western Eldo­rado, have stumbled across the richest source of wealth that has ever existed on this planet. The surplus-value that the worker leaves behind him in the factory, surpasses everything that has ever been written in “Grim’s Fairy Tales” or “Arabian Mights Entertainments.” The luxury of modern society will be a by-word for future generations, just as the luxury and decadence of the Roman Patricians has been a by-word for a thousand years. Yet all this luxury exists because trade sifts the surplus value from the total wealth produced by the working class, leaving that class with the bare necessaries for a life of continuous toil. The class that are interested in trade are the class that obtain this surplus value. The working class have no interest in anything but the sale of their labour-power and the quan­tity and quality of the necessaries of life which that sale will enable them to obtain.

The condition of the average worker is a veritable struggle for existence. He must submit to special forms of education, must increase his technical knowledge and efficiency, and in the workshop must increase his efforts to produce more and more wealth for his own undoing. The greater the mass of wealth that the workers discharge upon the world’s market, the sooner does the universal glut render them in millions superfluous and throw them into more violent competition in the struggle for existence.

Exchange came with private ownership of the products of labour ; it developed into modern trade with the private ownership of the menus of wealth production. The necessity of trade was the mother of endless inventions that gave to man’s labour-power a thousand-fold increased productivity. Wealth under the new processes seems to flow like water, but it lays cold and heavy as a glacier upon those who have produced it. They cannot use it to satisfy their wants, nor, because they have already choked the mar­ket with its products, can they sell their labour-power. Periodically they toil with nervous haste to produce a super-abundance of wealth, and starve in thousands while those who own it realise the surplus-value they—the workers—have produced ; the value, that is, of their pro­duct in excess of their wages. At every crisis the perverted, stricken workers become more of a menace to society. The make-shift reforms of governments, made often on the advice of so-called labour leaders, barely touch the evil ; the the efforts of politicians can only be compared with the administration of a pill to cure an earth­quake. They give no more than side-long glances at this absurd advice, because they are well aware of their futility. Each nations or group of capitalists is goaded onward along the same road—expansion. There is no other out­let for the surplus commodities of every nation. But, like the inhabitants of a mythical Chinese community, who earned a precarious living by taking m each other’s washing, each nation is cursed with the surplus, and can only unload on its rivals. The world’s market imprisons them. Within its limits they snarl at each other across boundaries and seas, arming their servile populations the while for the day when their clashing interests can no longer be hidden by hypocritical assurances of international friendship and peace. That day has come, and with it the final degrading tragedy of the working class of many lands murdering each other in the interest of the class that has robbed them—to win what ? The continuation of their slavery and poverty, both intensified by the fact that shift has been made to do without large num­bers of them by filling their places with women and children and labour-saving machinery.

What if this country has won in the bloody struggle ?—will the workers share in the lands that have been annexed ? Will they participate in the surplus-value realised on the markets that have been won ? No ! For they become once more the subjects of exploitation, and toil on, producing wealth that idlers may revel in luxury—toil on to produce again a plethora of wealth, another world-crisis, and the clash of interests that precedes yet another world-war with its accom­panying working-class outrage and misery.

How many times must the cycle be traversed before the workers of the world awake to the fact that they are mere pawns on the chess-board of life ; that they are moved from factory to battle­field at the instance of an international capitalist class that never looses its grip on the stakes and plays the game of trade rivalry or wholesale murder alternately, secure from the ghastly results that flow from it—the poverty, anxiety, and toil ; the murdering and maiming in factory and mine, and all the rest of the poisonous fruits that are the lot of the workers through the anarchy of capitalist trade and government.

F. F.

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