1910s >> 1919 >> no-179-july-1919

The Art of Getting On

There are two comments on the present economic system, by H. de Vere Stacpoole in his book “The Children of the Sea” which deserve consideration and criticism from a Socialist’s point of view. Let us see what he says.

On page 106 we read that he “has noticed that the men who get on in life are not the men who work, but the men who make others work for them.”

Exactly ! Under the present system of production—which is simply production for profit —the one idea of the profit-mongers is to amass wealth by using the workers as their wealth producers, at the same time abstaining from labour themselves. The lot of the workers is to toil for the class that own the essential means of life. The working class, being landless and propertyless, are dispossessed of the basic means of wealth production, therefore they are completely at the mercy of the master class, and are compelled to accept the conditions imposed on them by their exploiters.

All the wealth in the world has been, and is, made by the workers, and all the marvellous wealth-producing machinery also. Yet the capitalist class appropriate all that is produced by their wage slaves, paying them back in wages only sufficient in the long run to maintain themselves and their families as efficient wealth-producers, and to reproduce their own class as potential wage slaves for the future benefit of the capitalist class.

This fact is abundantly proved by the fact that the workers as a class live and die in poverty.

“The men who work,” as a general rule, do not “get on in life.” They are so occupied with their enforced task of getting on with the work that produces their masters’ profits that they do not live, in the real sense, at all: they only exist as profit-making machines. They sell their labour-power, their very vitality, daily; men and women and children, under the present system, have to sell themselves as commodities in the labour market in the same way as other commodities, like matches or margarine, are sold in the commercial market.

And the capitalists live only by their robbery of the working class. Vampire-like, they are sustained only by sapping the energy and life of their wage slaves.

In consequence dire misfortune is the toilers’ lot, e.g., unemployment, care and anxiety, want, overwork, disease, and premature death—all arising from the wages system.

The functions of the master class—”the men who get on in life”—are to rob the workers of the greater part of the wealth alone produced by the latter, to devise all kinds of cunning schemes to increase the exploitation of the workers, and at the same time to delude them as to their real interests, and make them docile, contented, and industrious.

The political machine being completely controlled by the capitalist class, all legislation is, naturally, for their interests alone, and directed toward their continued dominance. As a class they thus get stronger and stronger, possessing the twin powers of political supremacy and the fundamental means of life.

The rich thus grow richer and the poor ever poorer in relation.

Yes, the art of “getting on” is that of making others work for one, and to use wealth for the purpose of further robbing the only class producing it: the working class.

Now for a consideration of Mr. Stacpoole’s other comment. On page 198 we read—

  “In this little, tiny industry you might have observed the fact, ignored by trade unions and labour leaders the world over, that success in business is not born of men, but of a man, that the outcome of the fight between business and business, like the fight between battleship and battleship, rests on the tactics developed by a single mind.”

What is success in business but a victory in “the fight between business and business”—the driving of competitors from the market; buying labour-power as cheaply as possible with the one idea of extracting from its activities as much surplus-value, or profit, as one can ?

“Success in business” is often the result of utter unscrupulousness, cunning, and astute “twisting.” Fraud, misrepresentation, and the quintessence of greed and exploitation are frequently the allies of “sound business methods.” Underselling, “rigging” the markets, raising false mercantile reports, and “cornering”— these are some of the “tactics developed by a single mind” as phrased by Mr. Stacpoole.

But surely he does not consider that the successful business man is so perfectly self-sufficing and “brainy” that he is independent of the contributory help of others ?

Let us deal with actuality. As a class the capitalists do nothing at all toward actual production. The great capitalists generally employ men to be organisers and overseers, exploiting their initiativs, push, directive ability, and hustle in order to obtain the utmost amount of productivity from the labour-power embodied in the bodies and minds of the exploited wage slaves.

The capitalist and “big business man” is not the great god Mr. Stacpoole supposes him to be. If predatory instincts and a fully-developed avaricious and scheming nature are prime virtues, then the capitalists, as a class, are the embodiment of sterling worth.

The truth is that no man stands alone ; no man is absolutely independent of society, or not indebted to the accumulated advantages and knowledge long since derived— the result of the historical development of society. Heredity and environment, experience and the utilisation of ideas and suggestions from all kinds of sources, all these things go to secure a superior position in the fight for business supremacy. The gifts and their development are the outcome of social environment.

The invention of a labour-saving device often results in the actual inventor having to sell his invention because he cannot afford to patent it. Or it may be infringed upon, or perhaps his idea may be brazenly stolen. The workers (usually considered by their exploiters as mere mechanical “hands”), being practical men, do the inventing, and generally speaking, the capitalist class reap the fruits of the former’s creative ability and industry.

Instances innumerable can be cited to prove the parasitic and thievish nature of our exploiters. These “merchant princes,” these ‘captains of industry,” of what social use are they ? What is their function but to exploit ? Generally they have not brains enough to do that efficiently, but depend on their hirelings to superintend and organise, while they themselves are immune from the necessity of working even for a single day’s bread. Their thieves’ opulence enables them to waste untold wealth, in every way.

Shameless vampires ! they have yet the effrontery to claim that “success in business” is the outcome of their own “directive ability.”

If Mr. Stacpoole harbours any hazy economic opinions and pro-capitalist ideas, let him rid himself of them by studying the facts of capitalist production and its results, and understanding the fundamental truths of Marxian economics. Part truth and part falsity, like oil and water, will not mix. When half-truths go the truth arrives.

In conclusion, let me ask Mr. Stacpoole one question. He is a successful author. Let him think deeply. Does he understand the debt he owes to the writers of the past and present, and what he owes to favourable circumstances that have made him what he is, and also the advantages that are his through his position in contemporary society ?

Let Mr. Stacpoole think over this, and he will begin to understand that, in a very real sense, the term “a self-made man” is a misnomer. As regards Commerce and Industry, he will also understand that, under a ruthless, sordid system like the present, one man’s gain is often achieved at the price of many men’s loss ! and that the “tactics developed by a single mind” are often sought, bought, and paid for by the very worst enemies of society as we know it to day—the unscrupulous, plundering capitalist class—who do not hesitate to plunge the world into a colossal war when their interests demand it.

To them, in “peace” or in war, no sacrifice (of the workers’ lives) is too great when capitalist interests are at stake.

Graham May

Leave a Reply