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

That Which Matters

There is only one road that leads to Socialism: the workers have to learn, first, that they are slaves, second, how they are enslaved, third, the revolutionary changes necessary to achieve their freedom, and fourth, how to accomplish this revolution. A majority of the workers must understand these things, therefore the need of the day is for Socialists to spread the knowledge. If all the people who call themselves Socialists were so in reality the task of establishing Socialism would be well on the way. But unfortunately, there are many well-meaning people who, not understanding Socialism, do much to hinder the movement by stupid and ignorant misrepresentation. Usually, however, these are the dupes and victims of conscious frauds who are in the labour movement because it pays, and who call themselves Socialists for the same reason.

 

The Socialist is not much concerned with their reasons or their personal ambitions; before these frauds and their dupes can mislead the workers they must give utterance to some beliefs, ideas, or policies likely to influence them. The Socialist examines the proposals, and without troubling greatly to ascertain whether they emanate from the conscious fraud or the ignorant dupe, classifies them according to the degree of danger with which they threaten his movement. In his analysis of various manifestos he finds that the most dangerous are those bearing his label—Socialist—while fostering and proclaiming capitalist dogmas and and superstitions antagonistic to Socialism.

 

That parties built on such a contradiction should exist and flourish seems incredible, but it is only necessary to point to the attitude of the Labour Party in giving its support to the capitalist class during the war, and to their almost unanimous support of the demand for increased production. So far as the latter is concerned, the Labour Party has never given any evidence that they even understand it. The star turns of the I.L.P. have written columns of stuff on the question in the “Labour Leader,” but in spite of unexampled opportunities for information, statistics, etc, the subject has never been handled from the Socialist point of view.

 

In the House of Commons the Premier has said “We must have greater production.” The Labour Party have replied that they “will do their share,” meaning that they will urge the workers to do it for them. No one would suspect that they were supposed to represent the workers if it were not for the plea they advance that “the slackening in production is not all the fault of the workers.” Because they, the leaders, have neglected to master the elements of economics they are reduced to the position of defendants who can only plead that “it is not all their fault.”

 

A knowledge of economics rightly used would give labour leaders the initiative, and the power to attack in the political arena; but, even if they possessed the knowledge, not being Socialists, elected by Socialists, they dare not use it. Labour leaders cannot move beyond the ideas of their supporters, who, educated along capitalist lines, think that it is in the administration of the system that their troubles lie. New administrators, sympathetic to them as workers, they think, will restore some of the balance to them. The leaders, recognising this ingrained dependence on capitalism, realise that they must help the workers as they want to be helped if they are to make their leadership pay. To attempt to put the workers right on their actual position as a slave class and to impress upon them the need for intelligent and organised action against the system, would only result in the alienation of capitalist support and their rejection at the polls.

 

That the capitalist parties to-day can look—as they do—with equanimity on the possibility of a Labour Government, proves that there is nothing dangerous to capitalism in the movement, and therefore little, if anything, beneficial to the working class.

 

The general notion of Socialism as “State ownership of the means of wealth production,” because it is a general notion, does not exonerate the leaders. Invented and disseminated by capitalist politicians and agents, this definition has been accepted by labour leaders and advocated as a sovereign remedy for working-class ills. Even the so-called extremists of the labour movement boost nationalisation as a step towards Socialism because under it, they say, the workers will have a measure of control. This is altogether false, as a glance at the Post Office and other State concerns will show—the workers in those concerns being more dependent and having less freedom, if anything, than those under private enterprise. Not only so, the the workers, instead of insisting on a measure of control, are more likely to be side-tracked, like all civil servants, into the belief that discipline and organisation is the necessary complement of State efficiency in the interests of the “general public.”

 

To make of the workers State employees does not make them Socialists, and consequently does not help towards Socialism. On the contrary, it leads the workers up a blind alley, wasting their energies on something that does not materially change their conditions, and leaving them apathetic and ignorant as to the cause of their failure.

 

The first test of a Socialist party is does it make Socialists. Because the Labour Party advocates State ownership and either calls it Socialism or a step towards Socialism, they fail in the supreme test. Their failure to diagnose minor questions, therefore, becomes intelligible. When they engaged in recruiting during the war, taking up sides with one capitalist section, and persuading members of the working class to do likewise, they violated another great Socialist principle : that the working class of all lands, having no interests in common with any section of the master class, but all alike suffering under the same form of wage slavery, must unite internationally for the overthrow of capitalism.

 

With the so-called peace, capitalist statesmen launched their reconstruction policy, mainly composed of increased production. Here again the Labour Party were caught and carried along in the flood of capitalist propaganda. Some of them, like Brownlie, outpacing their masters in their efforts to deceive the workers, while all of them, agreeing with the capitalist determination to extend their markets, and utterly failing to show how this could benefit the workers, took up the parrot cry and repeated it—in some cases with mild reservations—because they feared the denunciation of the capitalist Press.

 

Whatever decreased production might mean for the workers —if it were possible,—it is certain that increased production, per individual, means falling prices for the workers’ only commodity : labour-power. But no section of the Labour Party has ever viewed it in this light. Instead, they advise economies in working, which, so far as the workers are concerned, has the same result: increased unemployment and competition, and reduced wages. An instance of this, which illustrates the point and at the same time explodes State ownership, is supplied by Sir Leo Chiozza Money in the “Labour Leader,” Nov. 6th. While endeavouring to point out “The true path to a maximum output of real wealth,” through “national control,” . . “workers brought into the management, and the prices of output determined by proper costings,” he declares that “capitalism disorganises production and devours the nation’s substance with its army of non-producers.” The latter are not merely the capitalists; they include all those workers catering for their luxury, or engaged in trade without assisting in production or distribution. As an instance Sir Leo mentions the Lever combine. He says: “It has a capital of about £20,000,000, but I venture to think that a nationalised soap trade could make more soap, and cheaper soap, with much less capital.”

 

Here we see another issue raised which has nothing to do with the question from the workers’ view-point. The over-capitalisation, so-called, of any concern merely means that instead of a large dividend on a small number of shares there is a smaller dividend on a larger number of shares—unless by an extension of the business (which must be at the expense of other firms) the old rate of dividend is maintained. As the workers do not share in dividends, whether they go up or down, or whether they are divided among forty or four hundred capitalists, is a matter of indifference to them.

 

But Sir Leo thinks differently ; he writes as though the workers did share in dividends. “Look at the monopolist,” be says, “spreading his tentacles over the units of the trade. . . . He has to give an extravagant price for businesses. . . . That price ranks as capital of the combine and subscribers are promised a high rate of dividend.”

 

The only way to increase dividends is by reducing wages, speeding up, or raising prices. As the capitalist cannot influence prices, which are determined by the cost of production in the main, though subject to fluctuations through the vagaries of the market, he turns his attention to wages and the quantitative production per worker. But here again he finds no new source of profit, because speeding up has long ago reached the high water mark, and wages are so low that any reduction would at once be followed by a reduced output, due entirely to the physical impossibility of maintaining the pace on a lower standard of living.

 

In the “New Statesman” (27.9.19) a prominent capitalist writer says that the production of commodities, and services, is greater than in 1913 and greater than ever before ; and far from production having fallen, it has increased enormously in agriculture, shipping, wool, cotton, motor-cars, clothes, and in export trade generally. But Sir Leo, although recognised as one of the best statisticians on production, seems totally ignorant of these facts and, consequently, incapable of taking up the correct attitude in the interests of the workers. Instead of denying the calumnies of lying capitalist agents he feebly protests that : “Just before the war I published one or two works in which I endeavoured to point out to the nation at large that its material output, as revealed by the census of production, was miserably inadequate,” and again he says: “I hope no word of this will be interpreted as deprecating the duty of producing as much as possible.” Thus at the very outset he ranges himself alongside the agents of the master class by falsely admitting their charges.

 

Like all capitalist economists, Sir Leo has no conception of price apart from the fluctuations of the market due to supply and demand. In reply to the statement often made, that “if British workmen will only produce more, prices will come down,” he claims that British prices are determined by world production, in other words, by competition. Instead of showing that the only result of increased production on the part of the worker is an earlier date for the sack, he dogmatises on the capitalist price list, a purely capitalist concern, which does not affect the workers because wages, approximating to the cost of living, always rise or fall in accordance with the prices of necessaries. Of course the adjustment of wages to the changing prices of necessaries causes friction; but friction is just as inevitable under the capitalist system as fluctuations of prices. Why, then, does Sir Leo complicate the issue by dragging in the question of prices at all ?

 

For the same reason that all the self-styled labour leaders fail to present the true working-class position in opposition to avowed capitalist defenders—because it would not pay—Sir Leo, like the rest of the labour gang, advocates reform of the capitalist system in various ways. His chief palliative is “national control,” but, “even then,” he says, “our own wealth and our own prices would largely depend upon world causation,” thus showing that his “national control” means capitalist control, and the retention of wage-slavery. To talk of “our own wealth and our own prices,” therefore, is mockery so far as the workers are concerned. Like the rest of the labour gang, too, he demands a share in the management for the workers, but while the capitalists own— whether through the company, the combine, or the State—they will never allow the workers to interfere in this way unless their participation in management makes for greater individual production. The labour leaders all know that it is only along this line that workshop representation willl be encouraged, and it will then only mean increased efficiency with its inevitable results, more unemployment and reduced wages.

 

Ownership of the means of wealth production alone gives control; that is why the Socialist Party declares that until the workers organise politically to gain possession of the means of wealth production all the schemes of labour leaders to give them a share of control are impossibilist dreams.

 

The capitalist class own the means of life, to-day, and consequently, all the wealth produced by the working class. What the workers can buy back with their wages just enables them to maintain themselves as a slave class. As they must have this minimum quantity of wealth, wages have to be adjusted to prices. It is in this adjustment process that the antagonism of interests between the two classes manifests itself. The workers have yet to learn that this antagonism is not only destructive of schemes of share in control, but is the germ of a conscious antagonism that can never be abolished until the means of life are the common property of society—not the common property of the capitalist class through State ownership, nationalisation, or national control—controlled by the people through a democratic administration of production and distribution for use instead of for profit.

 

It is to obscure these facts that the labour gang actively propagate their absurd nostrums. The enlightenment of the workers would lose them their jobs; they could then no longer strut across the stage of life puffed up with exaggerated notions of their own importance, because no one would look at them, except with scorn. The ignorance of the workers makes them leaders. The acquirement of the knowledge of Socialism by the workers will unmake them. Our message is to the worker, and exposes the labour fraud at the same time that it declares the real enemy of the worker to be the capitalist class.

 

F. Foan

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