As it was in the beginning.
Fellow Workers, during the months that followed August 1914 you were the objects of persistent appeals from your rulers. Posters everywhere proclaimed that your king and country needed you. ”Your country is in danger,” “Every fit man wanted,” was placarded from end to end of the country. You responded to the call in your thousands. The thought of invading armies desecrating the sacred soil of “your country”; the thoughtfulness of your employers, who agreed to “set you free”; and the jeers of your shopmates who were ”too old to go,” were some of the reasons that constrained you.
As time passed and the danger that threatened “your country” increased, the call for more of you became more clamorous, and soon it ceased to be a call and you were peremptorily ordered to go. The passing of the Conscription Act proved to you that you were not “free citizens of a free country,” but slaves to a master class who owned all the wealth you produced, and the land with all its wealth-producing resources and materials they called “your country.”
“Millions of Bubbles Like You.”
That class harnessed your wives and children to the wheels of industry, and used you as a “providential fire screen” to protect them and their possessions from the onslaught of the German workers, driven, like you, to fight out the quarrels of these two sections of the same master class.
It was their quarrel, but you made up the bulk of the fighting forces. You suffered the hardships, the terrors, the wounds, and saw the open graves filled with the battered corpses of men and boys of your class, when they were not left to rot on the desolate fields between you and those who had no quarrel with you.
The Workers are Defeated.
It was not your quarrel, neither is the victory yours. True, you have driven “the enemy” from allied territory. True, you have forced him to capitulate, and your masters have dictated terms of peace. But the victory is theirs, not only over the Germans, but over your class. Your class, that by its industry and intelligence has built the mighty fabric of civilisation, suffered the shame and ignominy of defeat when it surrendered to the call of a false patriotism, and shared with the master class the responsibility for the world war.
True, capitalism breeds wars, but you support capitalism; you build empires for your masters when you might take possession of the earth and build a commonwealth for yourselves — a Socialist commonwealth, where profits no longer would be the object of production, and markets would cease to be a bone of contention for snarling groups of profit-hungry capitalists, but a system wherein free men and women produce wealth according to their needs.
You Swallow It.
But you, fellow workers, have turned away your heads from Socialism, because your masters and their agents, fearing it, have lied to you about its meaning. They lie from the Press, the platform, and the pulpit. They encourage labour misleaders to misconstrue, defame, and slander. They dare not meet its exponents in your presence. Hence you give your lives to the support of capitalism, and capitalism breeds war with its awful destruction and waste of the wealth which you produce, but do not own. Whether you return as victors or vanquished it is your lot to replace the wasted wealth and restore the credit of your masters. In their candid moments they told you that it was a business war, waged for markets, and that victory would mean success over Germany. Now they have to confess that victory has not done the trick, that the markets still have to be won by your efforts and sacrifice on the industrial field.
In 1914 your masters appealed to you as “patriots” to save “your country” from the fury of their enemies. To-day in flaring posters on the same hoardings they beg you to save “your country” from bankruptcy. Greater production, they tell you, is necessary, and that is where you come in. They call on you to put your backs into it because you are the only producing class. Without an increase in the aggregate wealth your class, they say, must suffer deeper extremes of poverty. But is it an increase in the aggregate wealth your masters want ? No, for if it were they would set the unemployed to work instead of increasing their numbers by wholsale dismissals weekly. Prices are high, they tell you, because there is a real shortage of wealth —of the necessaries of life. If this is true why are there unemployed ? Because your masters are not concerned with increasing the total quantity of wealth; their desire is for more surplus-value, i.e., the difference between the wealth you produce and the wages you receive. All the wealth you produce belongs to your masters. Your wages are paid out of that wealth, and are determined by what it costs you to live. What they ask from you is more work from the individual worker, in order that the total wages bill can be reduced, the very conditions that have always made for increased unemployment. All the lying agents of the master class are denying this obvious truth day after day, hoping, by constant repetition, to make you believe what they have not yet advanced a scrap of evidence to support, or a single reason on which to base their denial.
The history of capitalism is a continuous record of increasing unemployment, due to the fact that you, by improved means and methods, and by greater effort and efficiency, have periodically produced more wealth than the world’s markets could absorb. For the last hundred years industry has been made up of recurring periods of prosperity, crisis and stagnation. But even during the most prosperous times, from one period to another, the unemployed have steadily increased ; while each recurring period of crisis has brought the world nearer to an utter collapse of the system by reason of the wholesale bankruptcies and the enormous increase in unemployment.
During all that period your insecurity and poverty have increased, and the story of your wretchedness is plainly told in the struggles of you and your forebears to snatch from your oppressors the right to enjoy a little more of the wealth you produce. Why in the past have you suffered poverty and starvation while your masters have vainly tried to unload the wealth you have produced on a glutted market ? Why, to-day, do the prices of necessaries leave no margin to your wages in spite of the increases advertised by the lying capitalist Press ? These are questions you may well ask yourselves at the present moment, when your hypocritical masters tell you—the only wealth producers— that unless you work harder and faster there are hungry times ahead for you. Capitalism has never meant anything else for you.
Whether you work harder or try to slack your lot will be poverty in ever deeper shades. If you strike you bring down fresh hardships on your fellow workers, but if you do not strike your masters will reward your cowardice or patriotism, whichever you choose to call it—with reduced wages and a harsher tyranny of supervision, in their greed for more surplus-value. If you consent to be wooed by their profit-sharing and piecework promises, you will discover, too late, that their promises are the bait concealing a new bondage, more exacting and pitiless than any in the history of slave systems.
If you rely on the Government’s schemes of reconstruction, in your simplicity believing in their fair promises, they will strengthen the position of their class, and correspondingly weaken the position of your class. If you support the Labour Party, they will sell your support for fat jobs. If you dream that nationalisation will save you you will, when you awake, find yourselves under the rule of the bureaucrat and expert—still wage slaves, exploited in the interest of all capitalists instead of that of a company or trust.
There is not a reform within your reach that can save you from worse degrees of exploitation. The unemployment dole is being reduced and the conditions for obtaining made more stringent. There is do need to pass conscription Acts to forcibly enlist you in the industrial army. You are already there by virtue of your poverty, and must sell your labour-power in order to live.
The means of wealth production are owned by the capitalist or master class, and you are only permitted to produce wealth for them while they can sell at a profit. With modern machinery and methods every nation can produce more wealth than it can dispose of within its own boundaries, and it must find markets for the surplus elsewhere. It was this need for markets that led to the war. But war could not solve the insoluble problem. The world’s markets are for those who can sell the cheapest. In order that your masters may sell cheaply you must produce cheaply. The capitalists of other countries, realising this, are telling their workers the same fairy tales that your masters are telling you. They are inciting their workers—in the name of the Fatherland and the shades of the nation’s heroes—to engage in a new war: the war of factories and markets, in which the cheapest workers will win for their masters commercial supremacy, for themselves increasing unemployment and falling wages.
And this is the fulfilment of their promises— the “land fit for heroes to live in.” Your masters tell you that this must always be your lot, that your share of the wealth you produce can never be more than the slave’s portion, and that you must work ever more strenuously even for that. They tell you that industry will not bear the burden of higher wages and improved conditions for you. There is only one answer you can return them: they take two thirds of the wealth you produce and perform no useful function in society; it is, therefore, they that are a burden on society—on you—and you have no further use for them or their system.
Capitalism fails to give you, who produce all wealth, a secure and comfortable existence, then capitalism must go. With modern means and methods of production wealth can be produced to satisfy the needs of all; but capitalism, with is class ownership of the means of life, and the merchandise character which it imposes upon our labour power, stands in the way.
You must first understand the nature of the obstacle, and then organise politically to remove it. The longer you delay the worse does your condition become. The sooner you commence the task—which can only be performed by you, because you are the class that suffers—the sooner will you enjoy the fruits of your labour under a system where the means of wealth production are the common property of all, used and controlled by all, in the interests of all.