Economics at Central Labour College

When the Central Labour College was established in 1909, the working-class movement, according to its founders, was about to be placed on a sound educational basis. Young men from the trade unions were to be thoroughly equipped with the necessary knowledge to leaven the whole labour movement with revolutionary principles. Classes were to be formed all over the country, and the “Plebs’ Magazine” was to be published monthly, in order that the workers might be instructed in Politics, History, Sociology and Economics.


The founders of the college advertised their wares so effectually among the trade unions that they have reduced the debt they started out with almost to zero, and are now completely subsidised by the South Wales Miners’ Federation and the National Union of Railwaymen—the college being owned and controlled by these two unions. This fact accounts for the almost purely trade-union propaganda of the magazine: those who pay the piper call the tune, and the C.L.C. tune is trade unionism, industrial unionism, labourism, or any other ism where its pupils can find jobs after they have gained their “degree” at this “Clark’s College” of the labour world.


In its curriculum the college advertises economics according to Marx. But in the columns of the “Plebs” the readers are treated to the same economics they get from Municipal Reform candidates at County Counoil elections. In the current number, for instance, Mr. George Barker (Miners’ Agent, Abertillery), says: “There are about fifty millions of debt hanging round the necks of the workers of Europe. The worker cannot pay huge dividends to the capitalist class and pay the interest on this colossal debt.”


Of course not ! as wage slaves they can only pay away what they receive as wages, and wages —even according to the “Plebs”—being barely sufficient to supply the worker with necessaries, must be spent on necessaries. If they were able to do more there would be something wrong with the capitalist system, which, generally speaking, operates in favour of the ruling class by compelling the workers to accept wages that only provide them with the wherewithal to live and propagate their kind.


In the same number Mr. W. W. Craik, dealing with the Coal Commission, asks a simple question in economics : “What is capital ?” But although economics is an important subject at the college, and a correct definition of “capital” is very essential to that subject, the writer seems quite unable to give one. “What is capital ?” he asks. “Wealth used to produce more wealth,” he replies, quite ignoring the fact that, thousands of years before Capitalism evolved, men used weapons and tools to “produce more wealth,” and no one—either then or now—with the exception, perhaps, of avowed anti-socialists, would think of describing such things as capital.


Of course, the anti-socialist uses this more general definition to cover up or mask the true one. Capital is wealth used for exploitation. But Mr. Craik is not obliged to accept the anti-socialist definftion, and, to do him justice, he does not seem satisfied with it; and as there appears to be no limit to the number of guesses allowed, he tries again. “Capital is the ownership of labour, the ownership of the labour of yesterday and of to-day,” and further on still he refers to capital as “i.e., ownership.”
Now, it must be obvious that capital is something that is owned, and not the act of ownership, and Mr. Craik is only adding to the confusion that already prevails when he tells the “Plebs” readers that capital is the ownership of pit props, winding gear, machinery, etc. Adam Smith’s definition that capital is “wealth used for the production of profit” is a far more scientific one, and always good enough for the Socialist, because it can easily be shown that there are no profits without exploitation.


When the Central Labour College was established its object was stated as follows: “The Central Labour College is founded to train men and women for the industrial, political and social work of the organised Labour Movement, under the supreme control of the Labour organisations in the United Kingdom, and to assist in the establishment of similar institutions elsewhere.”


The founders declared for independence in the three fields—educational, industrial and political. The so called independence of the Labour Party is, therefore, the measure of Labour College independence—no more and no less. The mistaken notions of the South Wales miners, and the Liberal politics of the Labour Party, form the basis of the college instruction, which is carried back to the trade union and I.L.P. branches as independent and scientific knowledge of the working-class position. Thus neither the college nor the unions can get beyond the compromising and reform attitude of the Labour Party.


Notwithstandingall their frothy denunciations of Capitalism, and their continued affirmation that they are travelling the right road toward the emancipation of the working class, they are merely supporting and countenancing a movement that opposes the ruling class within the basis of its own system, and with no definite or settled principles for carrying through the revolution for which they admit the necessity.


They ruled themselves out of the revolutionary movement right from the first, when they said: “Just as the needs of the individual correspond to his environment, growing in complexity with his development, so the needs of the working class change and become more complex with industrial evolution. Industrial, Political and Educational organisation are each in their turn called into existence by the development of productive forces.”


Thus, instead of learning from Marx that the workers can achieve their emancipation as soon aa they acquire the knowledge of their class position, and see clearly that the source of capitalist power is the political machinery, the C.L.C. waits on industrial evolution—to instruct them in a new philosophy for each epoch—and marks time with the political and industrial labour leaders until the rank and file shall have marched past to achieve their own emancipation.


F. Foan