The war that will continue

“Business after the war” is, next to the war, the most fascinating subject for newspaper writers and amateur correspondents just at present. Unprincipled writers, tools of the ruling class, have at all times endeavoured to lead working class thought away from vital issues. Just now they are unusually busy. War inevitably forces fundamental questions and principles on the attention of the workers, which, if considered seriously by them, would undermine the prestige and power of the ruling class.

As in pre-war days, these leaders of working-class thought confine themselves to the manufacture of intangible ideas that cannot be reduced to clear-cut, definite terms. In the conduct of the war itself the same language—a loose idealism—is adopted. The Radical advocates of peace ask for some tangible declaration as to the Allies’ terms of peace, but get nothing beyond the current phrases that did duty in the recruiting campaign. “The war of democracy” is a phrase frequently met with, but its adoption has never been justified. “German militarism” is a common term, but no one has yet condescended to explain the difference between the German and other varieties of that article. Fighting forces are at the disposal of the ruling class to defend their interests. When capitalist interests are divided the group which controls the strongest forces becomes a military autocracy. Of what use is it to pull down one by means of another, which immediately takes its place ?

To strip all these phrases and ideals of their word drapery and reduce them to plain language would rob the situation of its romanticism, lay bare the sordid nature of the quarrel, and open the eyes of the workers to the duplicity of the master class the world over.

The discussions on post-war problems are freighted with the same high-sounding but useless and almost meaningless rhetoric. “Sweating and child-labour must be abolished, and every worker guaranteed a living wage” is astatement containing a promise of better times, unaccompanied by details as to its attainment. A “member of the peerage'” writes of “the vital importance of the re-organisation of industrial conditions, and its attainment by the general good-will which is the gauge of true patriotism.” The labour leader follows suit. “There are signs on every hand of a better understanding between the employing and the employed classes. We have to foster that spirit and see that it is based upon conditions of justice to the worker, fairness to the employer, and our duty to the nation of which we are citizens,” says Mr. G. H. Roberts, always ready to do his bit to stop the only war that, in the workers’ interests, should not cease till it is won by them. Justice to an exploited class might mean that they should enjoy the fruits of their labour, in which case the residue—nothing—would be “fairness” to the robber class. But that is not Mr. Roberts’s opinion.

How to prevent sweating and child-labour, how to abolish unemployment and poverty, without impairing the class ownership and power of the master class, are problems put forward by the leaders (!) of working-class thought for solution to their own satisfaction. When they have exhausted romanticism and punched out a string of frothy and illusive phrases, there is nothing left for the idealists of a regenerated capitalism to come but the stale, discredited fruit of their own withered system.

Thus higher education—suspended for the children to replace the adults in the factory and field—is resuscitated. Restriction of output by trade unions is condemned. Efficiency, in an ever-ascending order, is declared to be an imperative necessity. Without brains capable of inventing, directing, and organising, our commercial reinstatement is impossible. These, and all the rest of the capitalist dogmas we were so familiar with two years ago, are being revived to fill in the gaps of a “new system” which we are told will surely arise on the ruins of a world devastated by its last war.

Never again ! is the prophecy ; never again will the hideous industrial conditions of pre-war days be tolerated. “And the common sacrifices,” says Lord Sydenham, “which have drawn all classes together during the war, should smooth the way to fuller mutual understanding.” Others are not so sanguine. The “Daily Telegraph” (4.1.16). says:

“When the armies pile their arms and the navies resume their peace routine, the old competition of the factory, the mart, and the counting-house will be resumed with an intensity unknown before, because Europe will be poorer, and wealth, therefore, the more desirable. In mch a contest there can be no armistices, no surrenders with all the honours, and no peace treaties ; the industrial war must continue to the end, without respite and without mercy.”

In the anarchy of that contest the attitude of each capitalist group toward the exploited class will be determined by its competitors. Professor Francke emphasises the determination of German capitalists to increase their domination over the workers ; and Donald Ross says : “As we all know, the employer always buys commodities as cheaply as possible. That is ‘business.’ And it applies to labour as well as to any other commodity.”

The situation, as outlined by these capitalist authorities, stands thus : Intense competition between national groups of capitalists ; the determination of at least one group to carry exploitation to its highest pitch ; nest, the desire, and the opportunity (Mr. Ross says there will be about two people for every job), of every capitalist to obtain cheap labour-power. Are these the circumstances to “smooth the way to a fuller mutual understanding” between the exploiters and the exploited ?

Nearly all the writers concerned with postwar problems gravitate towards the question of artificial restriction of output by trade unions. Their denunciations are a prelude to broken promises and a general policy of hustle. The United States has, for years, led the way. The amount of wealth produced per worker in that country is between two and three times as much as that produced by the English worker. Since the commencement of the war the latter has, in many industries, made good this lead and even passed it. And it is unthinkable that English capitalists will allow the pace to be slackened, merely because a minister or two gave their word of honour that pre-war conditions should be restored.

When the promise was made there was a general agreement. Before it is broken it is eminently desirable that the public should be educated—in this case the “public” should read “working-class slaves” : the capitalists are already agreed. Hence Lord Sydenham says that “the policy of restricting individual output by artificial rules is not only false economically, but dangerously demoralising to the manual workers.”

Under a sane system of society “individual output” would be restricted by consumption. It would be folly to produce beyond the requirements of society. Under capitalism—an insane system of society—individual output is forced to the highest possible pitch by pressure from above, by the capitalist, who, when the limit of market is reached, puts the brake on production irrespective of the needs of society or the growing unemployment of the workers.

Lord Sydenham feelingly deplores the demoralisation of the workers—all the more touching because possibly he feels it in the pocket—but he fails to show how they are false to themselves and their class when they endeavour to put a limit to capitalist exploitation. In the circumstances, and within the sphere of their limited knowledge, restriction of output is logical. The workers would be false to themselves if, understanding Socialism, they continued such petty practices, instead of ending capitalist exploitation forthwith.

What Sydenham has neglected Lord Wrenbury has attempted. He endeavours to show why restriction of output is harmful to the workers. He says :

“Of all the suicidal rules of trade unions that which seeks to limit production is the worst, and all because those who uphold it failed to learn in their youth that you cannot divide more than you have.”

And what was it that Lord Wrenbury failed to learn in his youth ? Why, that present-day poverty is not the result of insufficient wealth, or lack of means to produce sufficient, but is the result of a system of society where a relatively small class owns all the means of wealth production, and only allows the non-possessors to use them when the price of their labour-power is less than the value they add to the raw material.

“The dismal science,” says Lord Wrenbury, “is one of the most fascinating to me, and none the less so because it is so difficult in its problems to distinguish cause and effect.” Possibly he did not learn in his youth that every cause is an effect of a previous cause, itself an effect, and so on. Every cause being an effect and every effect a cause, his lordship could not be better employed than in trying to distinguish them. When he has completed this to his own satisfaction he might take a hand at squaring the circle, or some other harmless and useless achievement. His professional colleagues of the “dismal science” on practical work for the master class would no longer be compromised by his absurd mistakes.

Even the orthodox dogmas of politicians, when handled by this economic bravo, suffer a distortion harmful to the cause he champions. For instance, few defenders of capitalism would have used the words “every member of the community” in the following :

“That increase of production is increase of wealth, and that as wealth increases the comfort of every member of the community must in the long run increase.”

The statement itself, qualified or not, is a lie. There is abundant evidence to prove the exact opposite. The history of the nineteenth century, with its periodical crises and long years of stagnation intervening, gives it the lie. Throughout that period, and up to the outbreak of the war, the invention and introduction of labour-saving machinery had proceeded without intermission. Wealth was produced in superabundance, said Mr. Lloyd George. Every statesman and social reformer of note testified to the growing disparity between rich and poor. The accumulated evidence of the hopeless poverty and excessive toil of millions of the workers would fill volumes.

It is not without cause that the workers have regarded machine-production as the source of their troubles. Ever since the Luddites were murdered by capitalist authorities for machine-smashing, labour-saving machinery and unemployment have increased side by side, and they will continue to increase until the machines, together with all the means of wealth production, are owned in common and controlled democratically.

Lord Wrenbury’s elaborate system of argument tumbles in ruins about his ears with the lightest touch from those who wield the weapon of scientific economics. Because his fundamental principles are absurdly false. He says :

“The three factors for production are labour, abstinence, and risk—labour supplies the first, the capitalists the two last.”

—no doubt the reason for his taking two-thirds of the product. Most capitalist writers insist that capital is one of the factors. Lord Wrenbury differs from them. His inference is, of course, that capital comes by abstinence. He omits to mention, however, what is obvious to the merest tyro, that it is the working class that practices abstinence, and not the capitalist class.

We will not waste time in disproving the lie that the capitalist class risk anything at all. Everybody knows that the total revenue of that class is always on the increase, and proof against any disturbing elements with the single exception of a class-conscious, intelligent revolution, of the working class.

These errors, quite sufficient in themselves to undermine his house of cards, are trivial in comparison with what his lordship has omitted. “Labour, abstinence, and risk” would cut sorry figures exercising themselves on nothing. Without the land and means of wealth production, labour-power would become a death-rattle. Abstinence would be imposed on all, and risk would expire in a negative certainty.

Two factors only are necessary to production, the earth with its manifold substances and properties on the one side, and man with his energies and faculties on the other. By abstinence, excess production is preserved for future use. Abstinence produces nothing. Neither is risk responsible for the production of a single ounce of wealth. What Lord Wrenbury implies by risk is merely the attempt of the capitalist to overreach his competitors. Ten thousand capitalist failures affect the working class nothing. The markets they endeavoured to obtain have been gained by their competitors, by whom their wealth has been absorbed. However much capitalist prudes may prate of “honest and legitimate capital,” they belie themselves when they brag of what they risk. Investment, for the capitalist, is a gamble, but a game of hazard played among themselves, with securities and and vouchers for counters, and the total wealth produced by the workers for the stakes. What can it matter to the working class who wins or loses ? Their portion is that of the slave ; their lot is to produce the wealth that forms the subject of capitalist gambling. No matter how the wealth is distributed among the gamblers, in its entirety it sticks to them. Then why does Lord Wrenbury prattle of “risk” to the workers, who constantly risk their only possession—life itself—to provide the wealth that he and his class share and enjoy ?

“That there are two classes, capitalists and labourers, which are distinct and have interests antagonistic the one to the other is a complete fallacy,” says the noodle lord. His elaborate and fantastical theory that the capitalist supplies “abstinence and risk” and the labourer “labour” has quite slipped his fickle memory. He writes to smooth away the real antagonism between “capital and labour”—first separating them according to what he supposes to be their functions, and proving, to his own satisfaction, that they are distinct, and then emphatically declaring that : “For every relevant purpose every labourer is a capitalist and every capitalist is a labourer.” His absurd functional division is repugnant to common sense ; his reconciliation of classes is antagonistic to it ; and both are contrary to facts.

Lord Wrenbury, unlike the United States Senate, that legally declared that “labour” was not a commodity, would arrive at the same result by persuading every labourer that he is a capitalist, because he brings a commodity to the labour market for sale. In this he succeeds in firmly establishing the exact opposite of what he intends. He proves, unintentionally, it is true, that society is divided into capitalists with “funds,” and labourers with nothing but their energy, which they must sell in order to live. His one class is, after all, two—and two classes with a fundamental relation itself antagonistic, that of buyer and seller.

The class antagonism that Lord Wrenbury tries to explain away is now easily understood. Labour-power is the one commodity his class must buy and the working class must sell. Strikes, lock-outs, trade union rules for the restriction of output, are the form that this antagonism between buyer and seller takes in capitalist society to-day. These evidences of fundamental opposition between the two classes are the bugbear of the ruling class. The intellectual literature of our period is coloured with its record and its plans for mitigation. Parliament, Press, and Church are concerned with nothing else. But class antagonism will not be stifled or explained away ; ever, as capitalism develops, it becomes more acute, insistently demanding attention, and continually emphasising the basic errors of the capitalist system.

Lord Wrenbury writes as though he were giving to the world a chain of sociological paradoxes ; but he omits to show the scientific truths that have undermined the previous hallucination and declared them to be paradoxical. His contribution to the “Business after the War” discussion is pitiful. I pity and leave him.

In this discussion there are few others worthy of notice. Repetition is common because the subject is barren ; contradictions are numerous because class interest is the motive and scientific truth is ruled out at the commencement. All the writers claim that by abolishing rules for the restriction of output commodities would become cheaper and as a consequence the demand would increase, but they do not say whether or not the new demand would absorb the doubled or trebled production of commodities. Sir Trevor Dawson denounces these rules and says : “Each man should be allowed to do his [ ] himself,” yet in the same paragraph he mentions that “There is too great a tendency on the part of works management to cutting of rates.” Edwin Oliver (“Outlook,” 23.9.16) says : “The only result of abolishing the regulations, therefore, would be to provide employment for fewer hands and to benefit none of them,” while Dr. Gamett says : “There need be no fear of shortage of work, for the cheaper the product become the easier would it be to find a market. Along that road lies ability to expand our trade.” Along all sorts of tortuous roads the would be economists plod searching for one ray of blessed light, one sound doctrine that can sanction their bestial and tottering system of class ownership of the means of life and enslavement of the working class.

The possessing class are just that because they possess the earth. Wherever there is a working class they are exploited and the results of their labour are transported across sea and land over the habitable globe. Every nation has its capitalist group seeking to expand their trade. They reached the boundaries and plunged into war, hoping to expand them at the expense of their competitors. The expansion of one means the contraction for others. The world’s markets are sized up and catered for. Cheaper production can only have one meaning—less wages in return for a greater production of wealth, and a consequent shrinkage of demand and a world market glutted with wealth that everybody wants and nobody can buy.

Thus co-partnership, one suggested remedy, is self-condemned because it rests on cheaper production. State ownership of industrial concerns, because it does not change the relationship of classes, is equally futile. “Business after the War” means the anarchy of peace—a return to the problems the workers have shirked. In the struggle for existence that lies before them, intensified a hundredfold, those problems must be faced. The establishment of a sane snd healthy system of society must be their “business [now and] after the war.”

F. F.

Leave a Reply