1910s >> 1919 >> no-177-may-1919

The Position

The Old Tale Retold. 

 

The major portion of the population of the earth have to put up with lives of slavery and the never-ending struggle against starvation, yet a life of ease and freedom is within their reach if they will stretch oat their hands and grasp it.

 

Here are food, clothing, and shelter in abundance, and yet poverty, misery, and destitution are here in super-abundance. Here are people who spend their lives working or looking for work—these are members of the working class. Here are other who spend their lives in one long round of pleasure— these are the Capitalist Class.

 

Broadly Speaking, the inhabitants of the civilised parts of the earth belong to one or other of these two classes.

 

All wealth that is produced, no matter what form it takes, is the result of the application of human labour power to nature-given material. This material and the finished product are owned by one group of the people—the international capitalists—those people whom we are told advance the money to carry on industry. The labour power is supplied by the miner, bricklayer, carpenter, manager, dustman, office boy, and other members of the working class. The brains and manual powers of the workers are utilised to produce articles that belong to the capitalists.

 

The statement that the capitalists, by advancing the money, have a right to the result, collapses as soon as the case is investigated. The particular function of the money as means of exchange has a tendency to confuse and cover the process of production with a mystical cloud. It is a matter of fact that it does not require money to dig for coal. It requires food, clothes, shelter, and the other things necessary to the maintenance of the miner while getting the coal. The capitalists have the monopoly of the necessaries of life, and they advance these necessaries of life to the workers with a view of obtaining a profit. The fact that these necessaries take the form of a sum of money in the first place is due to an historic development which lack of space prevents us describing in this article.

 

In these circumstances, therefore, the capitalists are the employing class and the workers the employed class. The interests of these two classes are directly opposite.

 

It is the interest of the employers to get work done as quickly and as cheaply as possible, for the cheaper the production the greater the profit— other things remaining equal.

 

But the interest of the workers as workers is the provision of work: the more work there is the fewer will there be in the unemployed army. Consequently it is to the interest of the workers to produce in as wasteful a manner as possible —digging holes and filling them up again is the ideal condition.

 

The energies of the employers are centred upon obtaining up-to-date machinery and institituting improved methods ; but this means less work for the employees— a greater number of unemployed to fight for the jobs that are going.

 

Now why does this state of affairs exist ? Why is work the all absorbing interest of the working class? It is because the workers do not own the product of their labour power. Yet all wealth is produced by the working class—even the very gold and paper that function as money are obtained by the workers.

 

The more the capitalists take from the total wealth produced the less there is left for the workers, and conversely, the more the workers take from it the less there is for the capitalists. This is the centre of the whole business. The interests of the capitalists are opposed to the interests of the workers, and consequently a struggle is always going on as to who shall get most out of the pile. This is what the Socialist calls the class war.

 

Who gains most in this struggle is obvious. As the years roll on the wealth of the masters grows into colossal proportions, although vast quantities are recklessly expended. On the other hand, the lot of the workers grows worse from year to year. The toil and anxiety of making ends meet brings grey hairs sooner than formerly. Rarely is a member of the working class to be found hale and hearty at an advanced age. The saying, “Only the good die young,” could almost be converted into “Only the workers die young.”

 

Improved machinery and improved organisation displaces more workers and the competition for jobs keeps wages at the level of subsistence. Even the draughtsman, the mathematician, the chemist, the doctor, and similar “professional” men, who need long and careful training to render them efficient, can only command a wage that means toil from the earliest days of manhood to the end. The capitalist buys abilities as he buys potatoes and other merchandise. Numberless are the instances where those employed in these professions have chosen the suicide’s grave in preference to the grim and forbidding prospect ahead of them.

 

To swell their self-esteem these workers, together with the struggling small shopkeeper (who is but a salesman for the capitalist), are given the honorary title of “Middle Class.” Though exploited by the capitalist the same as other workers, they are too swelled out by a sense of their own importance to allow themselves to be classed as workers. In actual fact, however, the are, in the last analysis, but wage workers like the rest of us.

 

Workers attempt to alleviate their lot by combining in unions to keep up wages and improve their conditions. By this act they recognise in a subconscious way the opposition of their interests to those of their masteis. Unfortunately the recognition is only subconscious, and the masters take every opportunity of blinding workers to their real interests and dangle before them illusive reforms on which workers employ their time and waste their energy.

 

For years the workers have attempted to alleviate their lot by trade union action, but at the end of it all the sorry truth must be faced that to-day their position is more insecure and their poverty greater than ever. The claim that they might have been worse off had they not been organised is beside the point, and cannot explain away the fact that trade union action has been a failure as far as improving conditions is concerned. The general condition of the workers is growing steadily worse. At the best trade union action but slows the worsening process—it cannot stop it.

 

The fight between the possessing class and the working class has always resulted in the advantage going to the former. So long as one class owns the means and instruments for producing wealth,, the other class must in the long run be beaten by the pistol of starvation. This being the position of affairs, reform is useless—revolution is the only remedy.

 

Those who deny the class war and seek to harmonise master and worker are the enemies of the working class, whether their intentions be good or evil. By their attempt to cloud the issue they take sides with the masters and must be treated as enemies, no matter what particular garments they dress their arguments in.

 

The capitalist class keeps its position as the owner of all wealth by its control of the political machinery. This is the impassable barrier between it and the working class ; and yet the workers themselves put the capitalists behind the barrier by voting them into power at election time.

 

The workers must first realise their identity of interests as wage workers, and the opposition of their interests as a class to those of the capitalists—the owners of wealth. In other words they must become class conscious.

 

Having arrived at that knowledge they must understand that the capitalists keep their position through their control of the political machinery, and that in order to overthrow the capitalist class they must vote themselves, and not their masters, into power. They must organise into a political party which has for its sole object the conquest of political power in order to usher in the Socialist Commonwealth. That party is the Socialist Party of Great Britain.

 

Graham May