What the Capitalist Wants. An Interpretation

In a short article to “Reynolds’s Newspaper” Sir Alfred Mond, Bart,, M P., First Commissioner of Works, pleads for three things : a higher wage, greater efficiency, and a reasonable manner of progressing from one social stage to another. Like all social reformers, he speedily comes up against the limitations of the system. There are things of a beneficial kind that can be done, but their doing invariably involves something that is not beneficial. If, for instance, higher wages are made general, then there must be greater efficiency. “Unless,” he says, “higher wages carry with them a higher degree of production and efficiency it is obvious that British industries will be placed in a very serious position.” And now mark where the capitalist system limits the power of the would-be reformer. “On the other hand,” says Sir Alfred, “higher wages ought to bring with them a greater consuming power.” Evidently he is of the opinion that the workers do not consume enough, that their standard of living is too low ; yet it cannot be raised except on condition that they produce more wealth. How much productivity must be increased he is undecided. But “wages cannot be increased above the produce which a man requiring the wage provides”—an admission that it is the worker, the wage worker, who produces all wealth, and in other words a gratuitous indication that wages cannot rise above the total value of the wealth produced by the workers. “Nor,” he says, “sink below an average subsistence level.”

Now an average wage is struck by adding together all the wages paid and dividing by the number of wage earners. It must be plain that in striking such an average there will be some below it. In pre-war days this average was somewhere about 24s. a week, but it was a well known fact that millions of workers did not receive that sum weekly. When Sir Alfred says that “a wage cannot sink below an average subsistence level,” he is either pitifully ignorant of what an average means, or he has something else in his mind which he has failed to make clear. In either case he is to be pitied.

When the chemical baronet comes to define capital and explain its function he plunges from one absurdity to another in reckless fashion. “People must clear their minds of the idea that a capitalist necessarily means a rich man, or that capital in itself is necessarily connected with any particular man whatever.” But he does not tell us where capital is to be found that does not belong to a capitalist, nor does he attempt to prove that a capitalist is not a man. “A workingman,” he says, “who has got £5 in the savings bank, or a carpenter who has a set of tools, is, in fact, as much a capitalist as a man who is regarded as rich.”

The first instance is obviously and palpably false. A man with £5 in the Post Office and drawing half a crown interest, it must be clear, is not as much a capitalist as a man with £100,000 invested in manufacture who draws £10,000. Obviously it is a question of degree, so much so that the workman remains a wage-slave and the man with the hundred thousand lives by the exploitation of such as he.

Capital is wealth that is used for exploitation, and the amount of wealth saved and used in this way by the whole working class is a mere drop in the ocean compared with the capital owned by the capitalist class ; not only so, but the possession of it by the workers does not free them for a day from capitalist exploitation.

Sir Alfred Mond and others only make such claims in order to hide the real definition and meaning of capital, and to cause confusion in the minds of the workers on a question that is quite simple and should be easily understood.

His second illustration is if anything more absurd than the first. A carpenter’s tools have to be bought out of his wages. Tools he must have in order to earn wages. He must use them himself, wearing them out in the service of the capitalist, and replacing them when necessary out of his wages. If they were capital the carpenter would rather be without such capital, and as a matter of fact the cost of tools is considered as equivalent to a reduction of wages. But of course a set of tools is in no sense capital, as they are not used to exploit with. Again, capital, unlike tools, does not wear out. £1,000 invested in manufacture remains £10,000, although a 10 per cent. dividend is paid on it indefinitely, and sufficient left over at each share-out to cover all depreciation. To earn his wages the carpenter must be present with and operate his tools. Not so the capitalist. When he has invested his capital it makes no difference whether he fusses about round the concern in correct morning dress or takes himself to the antipodes, his dividends are paid to his banking account just the same.

Sir Alfred Mond’s article is entitled “The Needs of Capital and Labour.” The “need ” of Labour is a higher wage, which the needs of industry—capital—will not permit unless the worker gives a higher degree of production and efficiency. If the worker wants higher wages he must give more energy, attention, and concentration to his task. But this means more surplus-value for the capitalist, and we may be sure that the higher profits resulting will more than cover the higher wages paid. But are higher wages actually paid ?

Every scheme for raising the standard of efficiency has for its object a reduction in the number of the workers employed in the production of a given quantity of wealth, the total wages paid to the reduced number of workers being less than was paid to the larger number. The need of the capitalist is, therefore, to pay less in wages and obtain more in profits.

But this is not all the capitalist needs, according to Sir Alfred. It is not sufficient that he should, pose as a benefactor to his workers, pretending to give them something while in reality taking more from them. His needs go further. Not only must exploitation become more intense, it must be made more secure. He says : “Let us hasten forward on that great path of progress which reformers have followed for generations. . . . But let us not be induced to scrap a well-ordered state which has produced the happiness and prosperity of millions in the past. . . . Our centuries of well-ordered and disciplined progress and our democratic institutions should, at any rate, proceed from one stage to another in a reasonable manner, and our country must not be allowed to be thrown into anarchy by those who seem to imagine that the overturning of everything that has been created is the real method of human progress.”

No one can deny that the capitalist system is well ordered in the interest of the capitalist class, or that it has produced the happiness and prosperity of millions who belong to that class. But the great bulk of Society, the working class, have no share in that prosperity whatever, though it is by their labour it is made possible. The working class live from hand to mouth ; even in the most prosperous times wages on the average barely cover the cost of living. Always there are millions (13 millions the late Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman said) who live on or below the poverty line.

It is easy for the sleek and slimy capitalist to talk of “hastening forward on that great path of progress which reformers have followed for generations,” but if his lot had been cast among those 13 millions he might have possessed sufficient intelligence to see and declare that generations of reform had proved its utter futility. The poverty of the working class has grown more widespread and intense ; toil has become more arduous end concentrated, while the reformers have been tinkering with reforms, and still the capitalist wants more—more generations to patch up his tottering system, more labour-power in return for a reduced wages bill, that he may not be left behind in the race for markets—his only concern.

The capitalist system is well-ordered and disciplined so long as the working class are quiescent and docile, submitting to exploitation and adapting themselves to ever-deepening poverty. So long as the political trickster and confusionist is effective, and the desperation of the workers only breaks out into violence in small numbers that can be easily suppressed with armed force—which his class controls— the capitalist will consider his system well-ordered.

No matter how unemployment and poverty may increase, or how many victims are broken on the wheel of industry, the anarchy of world trade, with its conflicting interests, its mad race for markets, and its universal crises, is well-ordered, only because the capitalist class always remain on top in full enjoyment of the surplus wealth produced by the workers.

Even when the anarchy of trade results in universal chaos and stagnation, when millions in every land clamour for the necessaries of life, and small concerns go bankrupt in thousands because factories are choked up with necessaries for which there is no market ; even when the capitalists of one or more countries determine to monopolise a larger share of the market by armed force, and the capitalists of other nations, taking up the challenge, plunge the whole world into the madness of war, there is still order— capitalist order—the will of the capitalist class to sacrifice the working class of the world on the counters of international trade.

It is the height of hypocrisy to claim that Society is well ordered in the midst of the present anarchy. It is sheer humbug to pretend that peace time means anything else for the bulk of Society but degrading poverty and incessant struggle. If progress is well ordered, why the universal discontent of the working class ? Why the increasing antagonism on the industrial field ? Why the need for armaments on an ever-increasing scale ? And why the slaughter of millions to settle differences between soap kings and pork magnates ?

These are questions that Sir Alfred cannot answer, whose validity even he cannot admit and retain his main contention—yet they are obvious.

Every stage in the evolution of capitalism brings deeper degrees of anarchy. The only order that exists is that obtained by suppression. The millions who toil, receiving only the barest necessaries of life, provide the wealth with which the capitalist class gamble on the stock exchanges and markets of the world. The day of the individual capitalist superintending his own concern, and playing his own hand in the competitive struggle has gone by. Trusts, combines, and national groups struggle for supremacy, crushing out their smaller competitors, dictating national politics and international relations. But the control of industry falling into fewer hands brings only greater chaos, because the system is based on competition, which means antagonism and struggle. A system that is grounded in competition bears within itself the seed of anarchy, and there is no escape from its consequences as the system developes.

The doctrine of Neitsche is, therefore, the crown and apex of capitalist philosophy. Brute force alone can triumph. The capitalist groups of every nation arm for war, and whether a nation throws down the gauntlet or takes it up the doctrine of force is accepted and subscribed to by all. It is the wildest folly for those who rely on brute force to rail at Neitsche, Darwin, and Malthus, for these have merely indicated the consequences of their own system.

If the capitalist class, while denouncing the doctrine of force, are driven, willy nilly, to act on it, and are unable to save Society from chaos and ruin, it is up to the working class to overturn their rule, by organising to capture the political machine, and establishing Society on a co-operative basis. The means of wealth production, owned and controlled democratically by the people, would put an end to competition and struggle, because wealth would be produced for use instead of for profit.

F. F.

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