1910s >> 1919 >> no-184-december-1919

Clynes in the ring. He defends sweating

In the October number of the “S.S.” appeared an article which contained the following:

 

What We Said.

 

  “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 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.”

In a subsequent article mention was made of the eagerness with which labour leaders had rushed to the assistance of the master class in their efforts to intensify exploitation. Now we find one of these labour leaders so zealous in the defence of capitalist interests, so eager to persuade the workers to give more energy for less wages, that he reveals himself as an opponent of Socialism by openly attacking the Socialist truths quoted above, but, like all the other agents, without a scrap of evidence, reason, or argument to support his case.

 

That Awkward Question.

 

Mr. J. R, Clynes heads his article (“Reynolds’s Newspaper,” Nov. 30) : “Who Would Gain Most From Increased Output?” At the foot of our article which he attempts to criticise appears the following :

 

“The productiveness of labour has increased a thousandfold in the last 500 years, yet those who labour are in constant penury and want. Why is it?”

 

When Mr. Clynes can answer that question he will have answered his own.

 

The Real Point.

 

His attempts to show that the workers need more boots, clothing, houses, etc., and they will get them by increasing output, were all beside the point. The questions that concern the worker are, how much wages ? how many hours of labour ? how fast or how heavy is the labour ? Meeting the capitalist on the labour market, the worker endeavours to sell his only commodity, labour-power, to the best advantage. The shortage of houses, boots or clothing has nothing to do with the bargain each side is driving. If it had, then the capitalists in times of “over-production” should have preached the opposite doctrine—but did they ? Let Mr. Clynes ask the building trades workers how they fared during the seven years before the war, when there were thousands of empty houses and small demand for their labour-power. Or let him ask the boot and shoe operatives who were kept on in the factories while their unemployed comrades tramped to London to demand work, if these unemployed were not used as a lever to extract more surplus value from those at work.

 

“He Knows About it All”

 

It is needless to cite further examples. Mr. Clynes knows quite well that capitalists demand—and obtain—the maximum quantity of energy for the lowest wage they can get the workers to accept, and that they do this whether there is a shortage or a glut. In the latter case they are more easily successful, that is the only difference.

 

But even when there is scarcity the capitalists do not suffer from it. “Their exceptional purchasing power comes to the rescue.” Mr. Clynes says so. It is only the workers who suffer, and, what is more, their suffering is greater when there is plenty than when there is scarcity.

 

In his attempt to answer his own question, who would benefit most by increased output, Mr. Cilynes says “greater production can be brought about without any benefit to the master class.” He does not say how; nor does he attempt to show that statisticians like Sir Leo Chiozza Money are wrong when they assert that two-thirds of the wealth produced is taken by the employing class. The power of the capitalist class is due to their possession of the means of wealth production and control of the political machine. Their ever-increasing share of the wealth produced is due to the development of the means and methods of production and the greater efficiency of the workers. Mr. Clynes’ assertion that greater production can be brought about without any benefit to the master class is, therefore, an empty assertion. Production does not go on at all unless the employing class can see markets for the commodities. Mr. Clynes might do worse than search for a cause of the housing shortage along these lines. If wages are too low to allow of the payment of an economic rent, capitalists—in spite of the ”human nature” and “real regrets” with which he credits them—will certainly refuse to risk their capital.

 

Greater production without benefit to the capitalists can only be attained when there are no capitalists, and when production is carried on for use instead of for profits. This solution, however, is ruled out by Mr Clynes, who says that “all Socialists should have the sense to agree that pending the Socialist State we must make the most of what we have got.” What have we got ? Poverty, toil that grows more strenuous daily, and long periods of unemployment while factories and stores are packed with goods we cannot use because they belong to our masters. Apart from these the Socialists have got the knowledge that poverty is due to the capitalist system and will end with its abolition and the establishment of Socialism. Mr. Clynes objects to this knowledge becoming the common possession of the workers. Why ? Because his particular job, making excuses for the failure of capitalism, will be ended.

 

Like all the labour leaders who have thought it worth while to publish their antagonism to Socialism, Mr. Clynes only raises issues that are irrelevant or not essential, or dodges the real issues at stake with sentimental clap-trap. Not once does he attempt to answer the main question in the article he pretends to criticise. If there is a real shortage of necessaries and the capitalists want an increase in the total wealth, why are there unemployed ? But this is not the only point on which he is silent. He uses four quotations from the article in question without acknowledging their source. Bearing in mind his silence on the previous question, one can only conclude that he feared some of his readers might read the article for themselves.

 

But all the advocates of increased production are up against the question of increasing unemployment. They have to explain away an accumulating mass of evidence proving that many thousands of workers have been unemployed for months. The official statement is “over 400,00 men and women on the unemployment list.” Meanwhile the “Daily News,” Dec. 2nd, reported that “at a meeting of ex-service men at Shepherd’s Bush yesterday Mr. G. Banks said there were in that district over 14,000 unemployed ex-service men,” and in another column of the same issue, that

 

“The National Union of Dock Workers in Liverpool now requires every new member to pay an entrance fee of £5.
“It is stated that the supply of labour at the docks considerably exceeds the demand, and this fee has been made in order to check the influx. The dockers have decided not to work with non-unionists.”

 

Mr, Clynes dodges the bugbear of unemployment in the following manner :

 

“Nor is there any sense in failing to distinguish between the functions of a State and the position and duties of individual employers of labour. It is true that the State since the end of the war has dismissed many workpeople, and has failed in its duty in not preparing to turn these workers from war pursuits to creative and useful services in some sphere of peacetime production.”

 

Having been a member of a capitalist government Mr. Clynes should know its functions and its relations with the “individual employers of labour.” As an executive of the employing class the governments’ chief function is to facilitate and regulate the exploitation of the working class. The Government makes provision for the safeguarding of the capitalist State against enemies internal and external. It provides for the education of the workers according to capitalist requirements It collects taxes from the capitalists for these and other purposes, all directed to the same object—the maintenance of the conditions that permit exploitation of the workers. Anything that hinders the process of exploitation is bad for the capitalist and becomes the subject of State interference. Hence the unemployed dole to civilians was stopped to force them into more strenuous competition on the labour market, and to economise in the interest of the taxpayer, or capitalist. At present the capitalist State is largely concerned with legislation and measures for preventing the workers from striking, at the only time when a strike is effective—when it jeopardises markets and thus hurts the capitalist.

 

No capitalist government has ever considered it one of its duties to find work for the unemployed and it is only when the number of the unemployed becomes a danger that anything is done for them. An unemployed army is necessary to the capitalists in order to keep down wages and be available in times of brisk trade. If the State absorbs these unemployed in the ordinary channels of production they interfere with the opportunities of the capitalist. If the Government takes over mines, railways, and economises in the working, that again means increased unemployment. Expenditure on roads, bridges, and public buildings comes out of taxes paid by the capitalists, hence their opposition to all forms of extravagance. These facts explain the failure of the Government to set the unemployed to work, and show the futility of all the appeals and demands of the labour leaders, either for nationalisation, the right to work, or the continuation of the unemployment dole.

 

Bat Mr. Clynes says that “the failure of the State to do this work is not explained by alleging that masters are not concerned with increasing the total quantity of wealth.” This sentence, torn from its context, becomes intelligible when read in the full paragraph as quoted at the head of this article : but standing alone, it is beyond Mr. Clynes’ power to refute it. Only profits will draw capital, yet capital is so abundant that new concerns, or extensions of old ones have had their shares taken up as soon as advertised, in many cases applications for shares being double the amount offered. Rings of capitalists are buying up cotton mills and other concerns at prices regarded as far above their actual value, while Government flotations have become unpopular because of the ever-increasing opportunities for profitable investment elsewhere. But these are not all the facts which go to prove that capitalists are concerned only with profits, and not at all with increasing the total quantity of wealth. Perhaps Mr. Clynes can find excuses for the capitalists who waste thousands of gallons of milk daily” (“Daily News” 4.19.1919) or for those other capitalists who neglect to put their capital into housing schemes when there are thousands of building workers unemployed and a real shortage of jerry built houses. On this point I may quote the “Daily Chronicle,” Nov. 26 :

 

  “At a meeting of the Property Owners’ Protection Association at Winchester House yesterday Mr. A. G. Sheering dealing with the enormous cost of repairs, said the builders’ merchants seemed determined to do what they liked.
They had formed a schedule of prices, binding themselves under a penalty of £1,000 to charge these prices. Everything seemed pointing to success when the manufacturers stepped in and said, “Where do we come in ? Unless you admit us to this ring you will get no materials.”
The result was that the builders’ merchants combined with the manufacturers to introduce a price list—(a voice: “It is a cod piracy’!)—which meant 800 to 1,200 per cent. over pre-war prices. Owners and builders were held up by this ring.”

 

Or, as one who was lately a government official, perhaps he will attempt to explain away the Government Committee’s Report on Trusts, where it is shown that in certain industries controlled by rings or trusts, employers are fined £1 for every ton they produce above the allotted quantity, and receive a “dole” of 10s. for each ton that their output falls below the allotted amount. There are firms in these combines that have not produced a single ton since the ring was formed, and yet draw 10s. per ton on the quantity originally allotted to them from the pool.

 

These are the real controllers of “output,” and if the whole working class were starving these capitalists would be quite prepared to restrict the food supply still further if they saw a chance to increase their profits by such action. During the war, when food was short and every ton of shipping was urgently needed to bring necessaries here, a wealthy capitalist—Solly Joel—could take a whole ship from this important work to bring home his race-horses from South Africa. During the same period fish was being sent to dust destructors to prevent the increased supply from bringing down prices. The fishermen had increased “output,” but neither they nor the other workers gained the least benefit thereby.

 

Mr. Clynes quotes as follows from our article:

 

“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.”

 

On this he comments :

 

  “Now I do not claim to know what every other nation can do, but I do know that even with modern machinery it is impossible for this nation to produce for itself the quantity of cotton, iron-ore, timber, rubber, wool, and many other articles which we require for manufacturing purposes.”

 

What Mr. Clynes does know is what everybody has known for ages: we do not produce these things, and many others besides, but we produce their equivalents in other forms of wealth. What he does not claim to know Sir Auckland Geddes does know, and his statement, reported in the “Daily Chronicle,” 19.10.19, confirms ours. He says:

 

  “To-day we are employing in industry some 300,000 more men and women than we were employing in trade before the war ; but, so far as he could judge, it would be necessary for us to employ 1,000,000 persons more in industry than we did before the war.
In order to increase production it was necessary to look for new markets in the future to absorb the produce of more people in industry.
The area for new markets was not to be found in Europe. In other parts of the world the picture was different. There the markets were hungering for goods and were able to pay for them.”

 

“Our social system is a bad one,” says Mr. Clynes. That is what we say, and point out exactly why it is bad, and how to establish a sane system of society. We denounce labour leaders because they advocate reforms to prolong the system, and because, like Mr. Clynes, they tell the workers to “make the most of what they have got,” and that “we ought not to make the system worse by aggravating the evils which are incidental to it”—an impossibility, because the workers, while capitalism lasts, have not the power either to aggravate or allay those evils, which grow worse with the growth of the system. Above all we oppose these “leaders” because they urge the workers to place political power in the hands of the masters.

 

The Socialist Party of Great Britain, alone in this country adopts the correct attitude in this respect. We expose the evils and point the only way to remove them.

 

F. Foan

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