When the average working man hears the word “slavery” a picture usually flashes across his mind of a black man working with a gang on a plantation in some far-distant land, with the cruel whip of the overseer continually applied to his dusky back to urge him on to greater efforts. Perhaps our “free” worker recalls having seen in childhood, the magic lantern pictures that tell the story of the famous “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Then he shrugs his shoulders and thanks God he was not born a nigger.
Slavery in various forms has existed from the remote past—since the origin of private property (during barbaric times). Has slavery ceased with the growth of the great “democratic” States of to-day? To answer this question it is necessary to enquire a little closer as to what slavery really is.
A slave is one who is compelled to work the whole or part of his time for another. The chattel-slave gives up all his time, the bond-slave a part.
Thus the Romans put foreigners captured in war to work in mines, in their houses, and on their lands. The pious pilgrim fathers of North America bought negroes for rum, and sold them to the Southern planters.
Although the Roman slave and the negro slave were acquired bodily and for life, they were not taken for the good of their health, nor out of charity ; they were taken to work for their respective masters, and their lives were only of worth to the masters as long as they could work, as the fearful annals of slavery show only too clearly.
The era of purchasing a slave bodily as a chattel, or binding him for definite a period, as a serf, has passed away, but has the era of slavery passed also ?
We are told by politicians of various shades of opinion that in the past people were wicked and enslaved their fellow beings, but that now things are very different—we are a free people. The writer of these lines, who is one of the “free” people, has a weakness for sunny slopes, shady trees, and cool, country breezes these warm days, but so soon as he commences to make plans for a trip to Arcadia his freedom has a disagreeable habit of vanishing. If he goes away (that is if he can raise the wind!) he will lose his job, for employers won’t allow workmen to play fast and loose with their jobs. There is always somebody outside the gate whom hunger will drive to forego holidays in order to keep the job.
If we can’t get jobs we must starve, and if we are caught starving we are likely to be jailed for not having “visible means of subsistence”—this appears to be rather a curious form of freedom !
All around us are vast factories, and workshops of various descriptions, in which we—who are called the working class—work. We are given a job at the will of somebody else, and sacked at his will. We depend for our existence on obtaining work, as we possess nothing with which to obtain the necessaries of life, and consequently depend upon the sale of our working power. We are, therefore, in a state of dependence upon those who give us work.
Those who give us work are the owners of the vast works already alluded to. We are the slaves of the employing class.
Through owning all the means of production the employers compel us to work under the conditions they lay down, and we must abide by these conditions or starve. The only way we can escape capitalism is by getting off the earth.
Our form of slavery, wage-slavery, is in some respects worse than previous forms. The buyer of a chattel slave generally found it to his advantage to feed and house the slave well: a well-fed slave was capable of working harder, and lived longer, than an ill-fed one. He was property, the same as a horse, and his death meant a fresh outlay to buy another. In the case of the wage-slave it is different. His power to work is purchased in many cases from hour to hour, in some instances from week to week, but in comparatively few cases for longer periods. If he is ill or dies it does not matter to the employer, as he has only bought certain amounts of labour power, which he never pays for until it has been expended in his factory, field, mine, workshop, office, or the like. Therefore he loses nothing by the death of his wage thrall, and the labour power of other men will do just as well to continue the work. There are always plenty to fill vacant jobs, as discharged and demobilised soldiers are learning to their cost.
Philantrophists and labour leaders put before you various propositions as means to ameliorate your lot, but very little examination will show you that anything short of the overthrow of capitalism leaves you as you are—a wage slave.
So long as capitalism lasts the laws governing it will last. Under capitalism the workers’ labour power is bought and sold on the market the same as any other commodity, and is therefore amenable to commodity laws. It is a matter of experience that there is always an over supply of workers, and consequently wages on an average rule at the lowest cost of subsistence —i.e., the lowest on which a worker can live, reproduce his kind, and do the particular class of work required.
No reforms can touch this position—the laws of capitalism nullify reforms.
We are slaves and will remain slaves as long as we allow the employing class to rob us of the products of our toil.
We, the working class, produce all the wealth of the world, but the capitalist or employing class own it, through their ownership of the powers of production. Therefore to obtain our freedom we must overthrow capitalism, i.e., modern private ownership, and substitute common ownership.
Capitalism only exists with your consent. You give this consent at election time by voting the capitalists into power. Withhold your consent, i.e., vote yourselves into power, and capitalism will give place to Socialism.
So long as you vote for capitalism you are unfit for Socialism—you are not class-conscious.
Confusionist bodies of various kinds may increase their following in various ways by compounding in various ways, but they cannot gain the support of class-conscious working men —fit subjects for Socialism. In other words, they do not get an inch nearer the ultimate goal by holding up the promise of immediate but delusive gains. Only the confused will support the confusionist.
The capitalist keeps his privileged position by controlling the machinery of government, which he uses to keep us in subjection. This is the citadel we must attack, and carry, to usher in the Socialist Commonwealth, and thereby abolish human slavery for ever.