1910s >> 1919 >> no-178-june-1919
Two Basic Ideas
The ruling idea in society to-day is accumulation. Production for the sake of further production.
Everything is subordinated to this great end. New machines are invented, new methods devised and introduced so that wealth may be produced in still greater abundance. Brains, muscles, lives and honours (!) are all thrown into the melting-pot in the feverish rush to produce and accumulate.
The scientist spends his life enquiring into and systematising the laws of nature, and the fruits of his industry is applied to the stimulation of commercial development. All discoveries of the laws of nature become levers to increase wealth production.
With the introduction of the machine came the almost complete extinction of a workman’s pride in his work. The machine did everything and man became only the feeder, the slave, that jumped here and there according to the requirements of the colossus.
Instead of lightening the labour of the worker, machinery has intensified his toil. It has brought him to work at all hours, and kept him working at full pressure all the time. For it has provided the unemployed.
In times gone by men produced the vast bulk of the wealth, but the coming of the machine harnessed the whole family—men, wives, and children—in the process of wealth production. The oft-repeated phrase, “the sanctity of the family hearth,” is a myth circulated by the scribblers and henchmen of our masters.
At all costs the rush and hurry of production must be kept up. A breakdown in machinery is the only thing that permits a suspension of the process, from the point of view of our employers. When an accident occurs in a mill or factory, involving the injury or death of workmen, do the works close down temporarily for consideration of the catastrophe that extinguished for ever the trials and troubles of certain workpeople? The injured are (sometimes!) taken away to the infirmary, but the work goes ahead as before — machinery must not be idle for a single moment longer than is absolutely essential, as idle machines lessen the amount of wealth produced, and hence the amount of profit. In modern production workers’ lives are of no account. The death of one workman but leaves a vacancy for another to fill, and there are always plenty at the factory gate to fill any vacancy that occurs.
Now what is the reason for this fever to produce and accumulate? What is the reason at the bottom that gives the stimulus to the industrial rush ?
The answer is given in the reports in the Press relating to dividends. Here you find so much per cent. dividend distributed by various concerns. These dividends are titles to certain proportions of the wealth produced. These dividends go into the pockets of a certain class. Broadly speaking, the greater the amount of wealth produced, the greater is the quantity available for distribution to the dividend holders.
The people entitled to dividends are those who invest money in a concern. Do the workers invest ? Of course not. The worker receives in the form of wages only what will keep him in varying degrees of comfort—or poverty, to enable him to continue working and reproduce his kind.
The people who draw the dividends are those who by ownership and control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth reap the fruit of the workers’ toil, viz., the capitalists.
In spite of the profusion of wealth resulting from the application of machinery to production, there is, as a notorious Welshman once said, “a greater poverty in the aggregate in the land to-day than there has ever been.” The rich grow richer and the poor poorer. The greater the wealth the greater and more widespread the poverty. The poor are the wealth-producers— the working class. The rich are the wealth owners and idlers—the capitalist class. The workers are poor because the capitalists own the wealth produced.
We read in reports of the business at the Coal Enquiry that certain individuals draw hundreds of thousands a year in Royalties—for what? For working? No ! They haven’t soiled their hands in that vulgar pursuit all their lives. They drew the royalties because they chanced to be the offspring of certain landowners. In other words, because they were born into the charmed circle of the capitalist class.
As wealth is privately owned to-day, then the greater the accumulation of wealth the more luxury and splendour there will be for the private owners—the capitalists. This is the cause of the ceaseless whirr of the machine; this is the reason accumulation is the prevailing idea or aim throughout Capitalism.
The ruling idea of the system advocated by the Socialist is production for the sake of consumptioun; production organised to satisfy the requirements of all the members of society. Instead of aiming at “an immense accumulation of commodities,” the Socialist aims at an immense accumulation of comfort and happiness distributed over the whole of society.
In the existing state of things there is social production but individual appropriation. The Socialist would abolish this contradiction and substitute Social appropriation of the Social products.
Under Capitalism the laws of nature have been harnessed to industry. Steam, gas, and electricity have shown their capacities as prime movers. The transmitting mechanism and the tool have been developed to a marvellous pitch of perfection. The development in the co-operation and division of labour have reached a point where each need only perform a simple function in the vast and complicated mechanism of production.
Capitalism has shown us that wealth can be produced in abundance with a comparatively small expenditure of time and energy on the part of each of us. It has, therefore, performed its historic mission and signed its death warrant. It remains for us to profit by the lesson it has taught.
An organism must adapt itself to its environment or perish; the same is true of a given state of Society. Capitalism cannot control the forces it has brought into being, therefore it must perish, and a new society will arise out of its ruins. The various commercial crises that occur at intervals due to the breakdown of the gigantic system of credit; the increasing vastness of each succeeding war; the multitude of varying devices that fail to assuage the seething mass of (largely blind) discontent; and the many other incidents of common knowledge, all show that Capitalism is steadily staggering to the breaking-point.
So long as the vast capacities of modern production are under the control of one class, and are used for the aggrandisement of that class alone, we will have the strange spectacle of poverty ia the midst of plenty—a society of wealthy idlers and poverty-stricken workers.
We must, therefore, take advantage of the lesson Capitalism teaches, organise for its overthrow and the introduction of Socialism if we would abolish poverty for ever. The means lie ready to our hand provided by the capitalists themselves — the capture of the political machinery which sustains the capitalists in their privileged position.