Society and Morals. Part VII. The Morals of Capitalism (continued)

We have seen that, under the wages system, the prime force used to subject the worker to exploitation is the economic pressure which bears upon him by reason of his propertyless condition. This condition, it is evident seeing the economic inferiority of the capitalists, depends for its perpetuation upon the recognition by the workers of the “rights” of capitalist property. The bourgeoisie are not a military class like the feudal nobility or the Roman freemen, but depend upon the working class even for the military force they command.

We can see, therefore, how extremely important it is to the capitalists that the proletariat should be contented with their social status, or, at least, see in capitalism a system of production at once necessary, inevitable, and just. Incidentally, it may be mentioned that these same conditions demand the continual readjustment of the institutions of the system in proportion as the workers as a class change their views regarding things social.

The very subtlety of the relation between himself and the capitalist is favourable to the fostering of the illusion in the workers’ mind that he is a “free agent.” The appearance of a contract “freely” entered into with an employer who, to a certain extent, he is free to choose, veils the real nature of the relation. The worker, as a rule, fails to see that economic necessity is a compelling force even more powerful and imperative than the whip and torture of the chattel-slave era. He does not see that they who monopolise those things by which alone he can live dictate, as a class, if, when, and where he shall live and under what conditions. On the contrary, he believes the doctrines assiduously taught him by the master class through their dupes and hirelings, the teachers, politicians, parsons, pressmen and “men of literature.” These, assisted by a whole series of institutions suited to the purpose, beset the worker from the cradle to the grave with influences which tend to mould his mind to the form most suitable to the needs the bourgeoisie.

Lest he should be indiligent and lazy in the production of profits he is taught that “toil ” is in itself a virtue (his teachers forget to mention that for him, like other virtues, it must be its own reward) and that the interests of both employer and employee being identical, a benefit to the former is, in the long run, beneficial to the latter also.

Lest the standard of comfort he aspires to lie unduly raised (leading to a demand ior increased wages) the worker is enjoined to be thrifty, frugal, and sober. Even poverty itself is glossed into a kind of goodness. He is told of the “peace of mind” which comes with practising the “virtue” of contentment. Discontent is branded as a vice and its preachers as “disturbers of the peace.” The very term “agitator” acquires a vicious and sinister significance.

History is perverted ; elaborately faked “histories” being written for use in the schools and out of them, which emphasise the “evils” of previous or contemporary non-capitalist forms of society, whilst showing in the most favourable light possible modern institutions and especially the capitalist class. The “historians” prove (!) that all revolutions have meant only anarchy, chaos, and bloodshed, with no beneficial results. “Reform,” is, however, allowed to be useful and good when judiciously applied by “wise statesmen.” Thus is the maxim driven home—never rebel, but trust the “great men” at the helm of State and industry.

“Patriotism,” so useful as an obscurant of class differences, a means of dividing the working class into national sections and of rallying them to fight their masters’ battles under the disguise of “national interests,” is cultivated and characterised as a cardinal virtue in these “histories.” National traditions, character, and achievements are, with this end in view, glorified and shown off in exaggerated contrast with those of foreign nationalities. Thus the working-class child in England is told of the glorious empire which is his “heritage,” but of which, in all probability, he will never possess more than the clay which clings to his boots.

The Press, owned by and used in the interests of the bourgeoisie, ably carries on the work begun in the schools by selecting, misrepresenting, and suppressing information regarding the events of the day. The religious organisations, by fostering ignorance and superstition, also do their share in the same mind-moulding process, though with decreasing efficiency as religion becomes more and more undermined by the growth of scientific knowledge.

Thus we see that the code of morality believed in by the bulk of the working class, is, to a very large extent, based not upon their own class interests, but upon the interests of their exploiters the capitalist class. It is a bourgeois, not a proletarian morality. It helps to preserve bourgeois society ; it serves as a support to exploitation and oppression.

We saw that this function of morality is also a phenomenon of feudal society, but that it was very largely bound up with religious belief. Under capitalism, however, not only does this form of morality play a very much larger part than under feudalism, but it is to an ever-increasing extent dissociated from religion and connected more and more to secular theories of social relations communicated to the working class through the so-called educational agencies under the control of the ruling class.

The Decay of Competition
Capitalist morality, since its first triumph, has not remained stationary, but has, on the contrary, been continually modified and adapted to the changing needs and interests of the bourgeoisie, which naturally flow from the evolution of the industrial system.

No previous form of society has witnessed such rapid economic changes during its existence as capitalism, and as a result, at no period in history have ideas been so completely and rapidly revolutionised as during the epoch of the bourgeoisie.

The most striking of these changes we will proceed to briefly outline.

In the first place commercial competition, so characteristic of capitalism in its prime, produces results which tend to bring about its own negation. Competing capitalists needs must, if they are to win success, be continually striving to sell cheaper than their competitors. This cheapening is obtained by the use of more and more efficient labour-saving machinery and ever more perfect means of sub-dividing the labour process, co-ordinating productive activity and eliminating waste of energy and material.

But as the machinery in use grows decade by decade more and more elaborate and intricate, it increases in costliness. Moreover, large-scale production embracing much invested capital is less wasteful than numerous concerns on a small scale. Consequently in the evolution of capitalism larger and larger aggregations of capital are requisite for “success in business.” The “big” capitalists survive the competitive struggle while their many small competitors eke out an ever more precarious existence until they are “crushed out” out and join the proletariat.

Then the few remaining “big men,” seeing that further strife means less profits, draw together either openly or in secret ; combines, trusts, and kartels become the order of the day. This stage is best illustrated in the United States, where in many lines of industry competition is practically extinct ; but in England and Germany this process is almost as advanced.

All this, of course, brings about a change in the outlook of the capitalist class. By their most advanced theorists “competition” is now discredited and looked upon as wasteful, inefficient, and obsolete. The wealthy magnates, now reduced to a comparatively small sect absolutely divorced from productive activity, look upon labour as a degrading thing. They ape the manners of the “old aristocracy” whom their forefathers hated, and covet nothing so-much as a title (which, of course, they are prepared to pay for). Still they must make a pretence of being socially useful, and so they give it out, and perhaps actually believe, that they are the “brain ot industry,” upon which the welfare of civilisation rests. The working class are declared to be mere “brainless automata useless without the guiding genius of the ‘captains of industry.'”

The small capitalists, too, have their outlook modified in the face of their approaching disaster. They become “super-democrats,” and appeal to the workers for support, urging them to join in an agitation against the trusts “who are robbing the people.” They strike out in the political field for “clean government”—the abolition of bribery and corruption—when they see the long purses of the plutocrats working wonders in the executive, the legislature, and the law courts. They still retain the old “individualism,” invigorated by their hatred of of the new monopolies which are strangling them, but, in some cases, in favour of State ownership as the only practical alternative to the oligarchy of the trusts.

Capital’s “World Politics”
We are now to deal with the most important series of changes, social and intellectual, which have flowed with the evolution of capitalist production.

For several reasons, chiefly perhaps, freedom from the ravages of war, English industry in the 18th century had outstripped that of all other countries. Capitalist production first successfully flourished in England and it was here that machine industry was first adopted. The productivity of the English labourer leaped forward amazingly. The enormous mass of commodities turned out with the new machinery was far beyond the meagre consuming powers of the poverty-steeped proletariat of England and had to be sold abroad. A flood of cheap factory products was poured upon the world-markets. England became the “Workshop of the World.” It was the “golden age” of English capitslists, who revelled in unequalled prosperity.

The foreign policy of the statesman during this period was a peaceful one. International complications which would hamper the steady running of the industrial forces and thus disturb the continuous stream of profits pouring into the coffers of the British, bourgeoisie, were studiously avoided. Militarism and war were discredited : they were expensive. Thev brought, moreover, no compensations at all to be compared with the objectionable features they presented, for as nothing could withstand the competition ol the British factory product, the military conquest of markets was, generally speaking, quite unnecessary : they were automatically monopolised.

But despite all the Utopian dreams of British capitalism, this state of things could not last for ever. The effect of English trade was to stimulate and quicken capitaliBt development in the next most industrially advanced countries, whose bourgeoisie hastened to organise their resources and to introduce machinery. At first slowly, but none the less surely, America, Germany, and France, with others close to heel began to threaten Britain’s trade supremacy, first in their own “home market” under the shelter of protective tariffs, and even to compete with growing success with British goods in the open markets of the world. The world monopoly of England was gone. Even her “first place” among commercial nations was being seriously challenged. Now that their long era of uncontested triumph was drawing to a close a change began to make itself manifest in the outlook of the English capitalists. An influential section of the British bourgeoisie, who, so long as they had no competitors were staunch believers in “free trade,” began now to cry out for “protection” against “foreign goods.” The “tariff reform” campaign was started.

Now began that furious struggle between the capitalist classes of the great bourgeois nations for commercial supremacy. Each rival group is striving to dispose of a huge surplus of commodities, a surplus which grows ever larger as more and more efficient machinery is used to cheapen production. It must be got rid of, for to fail would mean disaster—bankruptcy for the exporters, the bulk of the bourgeoisie, and industrial stagnation. Consequently while the old foreign markets are as far as possible more thoroughly exploited, new, unexplored ones are constantly sought.

But the inevitable result of the export of goods produced in industrially developed areas to countries where capitalism is non-existent or but feebly developed is to break down all communal and feudal conditions and to force these countries upon the path of capitalist evolution. As Marx and Engels said in the “Communist Manifesto,” capitalism creates a world after its own image. The “Dark Continent,” the “Celestial Empire,” and “Holy Russia,” are all transformed with astonishing rapidity at the magic touch of capitalist commerce. Everywhere new capitalist nations are sprouting into life and entering into the maelstrom of international competition. But this means that one-time markets are now becoming competitors in need of a market themselves to dispose of their own ever-growing surplus. While the markets are thus tending to diminish or will soon do so, the competitors for them are on the increase. Thus the tension grows : production within the bounds of capitalism is approaching the end of its tether ; when will the breaking point be reached ?

As the sphere of economic interests of the bourgeoisie of each nation expands with the pressing need for new markets, so also do their political interests. Their political ideal is no longer merely national ; it is imperialistic. They each strive lo secure and monopolise as many markets and potential markets as possible. They obtain trade “concessions” from the governments of “backward countries,” often by pressure. Over areas where they export and establish means of production and transport—machinery, railways, etc. (practically synonymous with their foreign investments of capital)—they form or attempt to form “spheres of interest” and protectorates, or pursue a policy of annexation. Wherever possible they strive to monopolise for their own use areas rich in raw materials—mineral deposits, etc. Thus in recent years the bourgeoisie in Germany have elaborated their Mid Europe-Mesopotamia scheme ; in Britain the policy of “economic unity of the Empire” and of expansion in Persia and Mesopotamia, and the capitalists of the U.S.A. stand as “protectors” of Central and and Southern America ; France, Italy, and Japan all have their schemes of imperial expansion.

Competition is no longer between individuals or even corporations, but between groups of capitalists having the whole force of the respective armed States behind their ambitions and demands. Imperialism, especially in competition with rival imperialisms, means militarism and war.

Of course the old “Liberal-pacifist-free-trade” theory still finds a number of supporters among the less intelligent capitalists and theorists, or among those whose interests are not, as yet, menaced by foreign competitiors, but who, nevertheless, are compelled to stand part of the colossal expense incurred by a vigorous military system. The struggle between the old idea and policy and the new has at length reached its climax in the titanic war, and most of the erstwhile free-traders have abandoned the old position for the new. Liberalism has now become a thing of the past, for the economic conditions which engendered it have passed away for ever.

Imperialism, especially under the impulse of its exacting offspring, the war, has revolutionised the capitalist mind. The old “individualism” is dead as a working philosophy. Whilst, in the “Liberal” period, the capitalist class largely achieved its prosperity through each capitalist seeking independently his own welfare without much regard for, or need of, the support of his class, now that competition between its national sections has become intense, class solidarity’s within the nation has become imperative. The great expense of militarism and the need for efficiency demand concessions and sacrifices from the individual members of the bourgeoisie. The capitalist who disregards the interests of his class is despised.

Organisation for war having become an economic necessity, military service is now considered an imperative obligation. The military spirit is glorified ; military traditions are revived. The State is no longer regarded, as in the individualist period, a necessary nuisance, useful to keep the workers down (maintaining “order,” it is called) but otherwise the less in evidence the better. Now, on the contrary, it has become the “saviour of society” (i.e., of the bourgeoisie). Only by its powerful aid can the needs of the capitalist class be satisfied. The State, in addition to securing military efficiency, now organises and presides over the industries of the nation, striving to co-ordinate national production, eliminate waste, and otherwise promote that efficiency required for the intense competition in the world market. To do this the State takes complete control over many of the most vital branches of production and communication—the railways, shipping, munitions of war factories, agriculture, etc.

Of course, the working class must be attracted to the imperialist philosophy to make its aspirations successful. The “sons of toil” harken to the imperialist politicians and intellectuals who, with flowery phrases, describe and glorify the race for supremacy in the world market which takes to the unsophisticated “savage” of other lands the “triumphs” of modern capitalism, laces the deserts with railways and telegraph wires, and conjures up like mushroom growths everywhere, the crowded city and the whirring, smoke-belching factory. This process, the workers are told, is part of a mission—a mission to carry civilisation and culture to the barbarian. But the national sections of the bourgeoisie are each striving to be, if possible, the sole bearers of this culture, that is, in plain language, to obtain a monopoly of the new markets. Therefore they conduct their business, their overseas profit-seeking, to the cry of “national culture,” be it other variety—a culture which in each case is supposed to possess a “superior essence,” a superfine quality surpassing every other brand of culture. Following from this is formulated the “superior race” or nation doctrine. Thus whilst Joseph Chamberlain, a spokesman of British Imperialism, declared that “the Anglo-Saxon race is infallibly destined to be the predominant force in the history and civilisation of the world,” and Lord Rosebery proclaimed the British Empire to be the “greatest secular agency for good the world has ever seen,” Von Bernhardi and Triechski rave over the “world mission of Germanic civilisation.”

Patriotism assumes under the impulse of imperialism a new and virile significance. From the school, the pulpit, and the Press its dogmas and falsifications are preached with redoubled energy to a deluded proletariat. Efficiency in production and communication being not only a factor in military power, but, more important still, the prerequisite for success in the international market, ths economic relations of the worker, once considered a private matter, are now magnified into affairs of “national interest,” and the concept of patriotism is broadened to include them.

The worker who fails to concentrate all his energy in his work, on securing the maximum of output, who, for instance, “goes on strike,” is dubbed unpatriotic. The hard-won regulations of the labour unions, hitherto receiving a tardy recognition from the bourgeoisie as necessary evils, are now discredited and partly repudiated, being attacked as hindrances to output liable to lead to “national eclipse and disaster”—as unpatriotic.

(To be Continued.)


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