1910s >> 1919 >> no-178-june-1919

Pamphlet Review: Capitalism’s Saviours

The Drift To Revolution.” Issued for the Cities Committee of the Sociological Society by Headley Bros., Oxford St.

 

Coming from a committee within a society advertising itself in such dignined and ambitious terms, we naturally expect to find in “The Drift to Revolution” a work of at least some little scientific pretension. But those who read it in this expectation will be disappointed. For throughout its fifty pages of discussion and lofty idealism there is not one scientific or essential fact worth recording. The authors view the drama of life as spectators, free from bias, and only concerned with their science. Nevertheless this does not prevent them, after emphasising the “drift to revolution,” from offering advice to the ruling class on the best means to stem or turn it.

 

This action at once places them in their true category. Their title implies that they are out for scientific research ; their conclusions prove them to be just one more instrument to falsify a science that in its development and progress threatens the social order in which the capitalist class have wealth and power.

 

The real interest of the working class is the possession of that knowledge in sociology, economics, and politics that will enable them to apply the revolutionary principle and establish society on a basis of production for use. All such knowledge points to this as the conclusion of the class struggle. But this involves the elimination from society of the class that lives by exploitation ; hence sociological societies that interpret the science on their behalf.

 

Sociology was revolutionised by Karl Marx. His twin discoveries, the ”Materialistic Conception of History” and the surplus value contained in commodities, gave to the working class the basis of a critical analysis of the capitalist system. He developed this basis till the system was laid bare and exposed to the full as a ruthless system of intensive slavery and exploitation. His chief works, together with those of Engels and L. H. Morgan, are the highest expression of sociological knowledge, and because of their conclusions, that point to the necessity for the working-class to triumph over capitalism, should have been made the target of every defender of the capitalist system. But the champions of capitalism, although possessing the will and the wish, have yet failed to discover anything that is not in accordance with science.

 

The “Cities Committee” provides a good illustration of the usual methods of Marx’s critics. After describing the manner in which they imagined he worked out and arrived at his conclusions (which, by the way, they never once pass under review), they first eulogise him as a German prophet of the Bolshevik regime. Next they picture him as a contemporary and compatriot of Bismarck, remarking, without producing a shred of evidence, that both, Marx and Bismarck, had a common faith in the cult of the State. They conclude by relegating him to a position somewhere beneath themselves in the realms of understanding. “He saw, but not with complete understanding,” they say. “His mind was too severely handicapped. The embitterment of poverty does not conduce to clarity of insight. . . . The abstractions of Richardo and the metaphysics of Hegel, reared in the British Museum library . . . ensures a progeny of fallacies.” Not one of which fallacies, again by the way, do the committee place on record.

 

This bumptious committee with the fraudulent name does not approach a single question scientifically or even seriously. There are whole pages devoted to what they term sabotage. Because the bricklayer proclaims 500 bricks a day’s work in opposition to the master’s demand for 1,000, that is sabotage; and the bricklayer is in the same galley with the trusts that restrict output in a falling market to keep up prices, or buy and suppress inventions and processes that would scrap their plants.

 

Whether he is or not matters nothing. The essential fact is ignored. The worker sells his labour power. The capitalist buys it and claims the right to work it to its fullest capacity. The question for the worker is, what is the extent of his power to do so ?

 

The committee failed to detect the antagonism between the buyer and the seller of labour power, and consequently failed to see the impossibility of reconciliation. Instead, they followed up the reasoning of the bricklayer to the point where this attempt to put a limit to the extent of exploitation resulted in a reduction of the work per day by one half, and a rise in wages of 100 per cent.

 

Had they taken the trouble to investigate the facts they would have found that their theorising never reached that far, and could not have ended there if it had. They would have discovered, if they had investigated, that the bricklayer never even reached the first stage in their journey, that of successfully limiting the output for a working day. Long before they reached that far the masters showed that they had full control of the situation. Bricklayers were made in shoals: American methods of building were introduced that simplified and cheapened, and in a few years the bricklayers were forced to submit to a bondage more tyrannical and exacting than anything in the annals of the trade. The war gave them a brief respite because they were in demand for the building of munition factories and aerodromes. But that work having ceased, they are once more at the mercy of the masters, who demand everywhere, as they do in all trades, that the day’s output shall only be limited by the physical powers of the worker.

 

The committee reach the climax of absurdity when they describe “bearing” or “selling short” on the Stock Exchange as sabotage. It surely needs but little knowledge in economics to see that all such operations are merely gambling moves, whereby wealth changes hands. They have no effect whatever on actual production—or even on prices, when the average of a cycle of fluctuations is taken.

 

On the war their logic is a curiosity. On page 35 they say that “sabotage practised covertly by men of business, advocated openly by extremists of labour, applied deliberately by suffragettes, was one the major forces that made for war,” and that “The popular verdict fixes the guilt on tbe Central Empires for the preparation and proximate causes.” On page 37 we are told that “the hell’s broth on which the world has lately been supping had many cooks to prepare it. . . . The culprits are the conventional parties and their insurgent counter-parties. These are the Liberals, Imperialists and Financiers on the one side, and the Radicals, Socialists and Anarchists on the other.” And on page 42 they say, “On one side the party of order sees a way of escape through a ‘good’ war, capable of uniting the whole nation against the common foe.”

 

It is scarcely necessary to point out the disparity between these statements. First of all it is sabotage and the Central Powers ; next it is the conflict between the so-called progressive forces and the party of Order; and lastly it (the war) was the only means of escape from revolution open to the party of Order, i.e., the capitalist class.

 

But with all their talk of sabotage they are totally blind to the fact that it is a natural fruit of the capitalist system. Profit being the motive for production, restriction of output to force up prices, and the excessive waste entailed in extensive advertising are explained. The wholesale destruction of wealth in the world war is explained likewise, as a conflict between capitalist groups over markets in which to realise their profits.

 

Having expressed their detestation of pre-war conditions and postulated the futility of social reform, the committee proceed to outline the remedy, or alternatives with which society-—or, to speak more correctly, the capitalist class— were, and are still, faced.

 

“To escape alike the Scylla of War and the Charybdis of Revolution by boldly steering for a peace which contains within itself the ‘moral equivalents of war.’ We have to find the formula of a peace that is not the negative thing, the mere war-peace of the Victorian era, but is, something positive, charged to complete the process of conversion begun in war, by carrying the ferment of idealism on into a peace war, a ‘holy’ war, constructive, evocatory, militant, yet also campaigning ruthlessly against diseases, poverties, ignorances, follies, vices, crimes.”

 

The “process of conversion,” etc., refers to the co-ordination of Liberals, Imperialists, and Financiers for the purpose of “organising the nation for war,” who, the committee claim, “given the opportunity of high public endeavour, compose into a workman-like trio of real political efficiency.” Then high purpose must be carried over to win the peace, says the committee, and further :

 

“During the war there was an impulse to place the energies of the warring societies at the disposal of their chemists, physicists, engineers, and chartered accountants. These, together with rural and town planners, educationists, economists, experts in health, intellectuals and administrators, should be entrusted with the conduct of the campaign against poverty. While poets, singers, musicians, artists and writers should work up the necessary enthusiasm.”

 

Briefly, the Liberals, Imperialists, and Financiers, i.e.. the active section of the ruling class, will hand over to, and assist the sociological experts in a holy war against poverty. The aesthetics, intellectuals, and the clergy will work up the enthusiasm and “evoke a spiritual activity,” and the result is to be Eutopia— which is the opposite of Utopia because it is “here and now.”

 

These are the new materials and forces in the scheme that is seriously put forward as an alternative to “another ‘good’ war” on the one hand, or revolution the other.

 

The committee’s observations and reasoning are false from the very outset. The various sections of the ruling class in all the belligerent countries, it is now apparent, far from co-ordinating in the common interest, only entered the war to safeguard or extend their commerce and territory, and only pooled their energies and resources because their class—or group— interests were assailed. They placed their class interests, for the time being, above individual interests, as they invariably do when those interests are threatened, either by rival groups of capitalists or by the workers,

 

As the working class have no share or interest in commerce or territory, whatever happened, they stood neither to gain or lose, but remained wage-slaves as before. All that the ruling class did toward winning the war—and the chief thing they did was to force the workers into the conflict—they did with the sole object of achieving and consolidating their position as the dominant group among the capitalists of the world. They acted during the war as they acted during the peace, in their class interest, but, if possible, with the exercise of greater brutality and hypocrisy.

 

The three groups, Liberals, Imperialists, and Financiers, constitute the old gang we knew in pre-war days. They still have the power— through the control of the political machinery —and still rely on poverty to drive the workers into their workshops. Consequently to abolish poverty would be to undermine their own position as a dominant class.

 

The committee have already shown how the “aesthetics, educationists,” etc., are dependent on and under the control of the ruling class, either by convention or through the State. We may, therefore, leave them out of consideration. All the professions are too busy—like the rest of the workers—earning salaries and fees to start an independent movement of their own, unless it is in their own interest along the lines suggested by Bernard Shaw.

 

The committee’s alternative, consequently, resolves itself into a flimsy idealism with no substance. It simply camouflages the fact that the old gang retains supreme power over the working class, and the basis of the system is left untouched.

 

If the Sociological Society were what they pretend to be—coldly analytical and unprejudiced—instead of collecting all the confusing details and non-essentials that appear on the surface, to fling in the eyes of the workers as dust to blind them, they would have brushed them aside, and laying bare the fundamental basis of existing society, the class ownership of the means of wealth production and the merchandise nature of human labour power, would have discovered in that basis the real cause of poverty. The remedy, to establish society on a basis of common ownership and democratic control, would then be apparent.

 

F. Foan