1920s >> 1920 >> no-192-august-1920

Soft Soap for Leverhulme

There is much confusion in the minds not only of the rank and file of the organised workers, but also among their most prominent leaders with regard to the forces that make for Socialism. Those forces may be divided under two heads. First, the discovery and general dispersion of Socialist knowledge, and second, the general development of the capitalist system, which constantly tends to place the social organism out of harmony with its surroundings. The first is by far the more important at the moment, because the second has already reached a stage where its results are seen on every hand : poverty in the midst of plenty, and endless disputes over the distribution of wealth that threaten to plunge all human society into chaos and anarchy.

A system of society in which wealth does not belong to those who produce it may for a long time be borne with patience by the producers, if it does not impose any great hardships on the majority. The fact that with increased powers of production and a greater expenditure of energy poverty becomes more acute, is excused and partly hidden by the current belief that wealth cannot be produced except for markets. The imperative necessity—from the capitalist standpoint—for ever cheaper methods of production, coupled with the insatiable greed of the master class, breeds antagonism everywhere between the two classes in society. The competition between combines and groups of capitalists wipes out large numbers of smaller capitalists and leaves the bulk of wealth-producing concerns in the possession of a dwindling number of financiers.

Whether the means of wealth-production are owned and controlled by a capitalist class large or small in numbers, the interests of that class are always opposed to Socialism. It is even possible that, as the capitalist class grows smaller in numbers they may be able to combat Socialism more successfully because of the greater ease with which they could agree upon, and set in motion, antagonistic forces.

The growing antagonism between capitalists and workers centres largely around the question of wages and conditions of employment. The workers in the main are thus expending their energy in the struggle over hand to mouth conditions, and neglecting any study of the root causes of their poverty. The longer they pursue this short-sighted policy, which at the best can only slightly retard their downward progress into depths of poverty, the more permanent and fixed does the capitalist system appear to them, and the more hopeless does their struggle seem.

It does not follow that their hopelessness will cause them to accept Socialism, which has to be understood first, and which therefore requires a certain amount of study. Until the workers are prepared to give the necessary time to its study the question of economic development is a secondary matter, and small progress is being made toward Socialism. Those who pretend that anything else but the propaganda of Socialist knowledge makes for Socialism are only spreading confusion among the workers and encouraging them in the belief that economic forces of themselves will work out their emancipation for them. Philip Snowden, writing in the “Labour Leader” (17.6.1920), is guilty of this kind of confusion. He says :

Disciples of Marx must be following with sympathy the frequent public appeals by Lever Brothers, Limited, for new capital. The function of the capitalists which Socialists can regard with approval is that of eliminating competition and concentrating capital into huge combines. If this process be a preliminary to Socialism, then no man of this generation is more entitled to the gratitude of Socialists than Lord Leverhulme. It is a pity that he is getting into advanced years, for if he could be spared to live and continue his activities for another generation, he would probably succeed in amalgamating all the commercial enterprises of the world. Then we should be ready for complete International Socialism.

The Socialist does not regard with approval the elimination of competition—that is only one of the contradictions of capitalism he calls attention to. Up to twenty years ago the economists all boasted that competition protected the consumer, while the economist of to-day tries to prove that the big concern—a result of the eliminating process—makes for economy in production and lower prices. It is no satisfaction to the Socialist that the development of capitalism causes greater suffering for the workers. Suffering alone does not make Socialists : it is more likely to result in desperate actions or futile attempts at reform, generally followed by apathy and inaction.

Mr. Snowden. after enumerating these items of economic development, says “Then we should be ready for complete International Socialism.” But Socialism must be established by the working class, therefore, until the working class perceives in these economic factors the necessity for revolution and understand how to carry it through, we are not ready for Socialism. The economic factors wait on the knowledge of the workers. Without Socialist knowledge, no matter how these factors intensify, Socialism cannot be established. With Socialist knowledge the workers can take possession and control at any stage in capitalist development.

It is only the sentimental labour leader, always professing sympathy and friendship for the workers, that can see in their increasing poverty and hardship something to be thankful for, and can even express gratitude to the enemies of the workers for their callous methods. Thus |Mr. Snowden says:

“Men like Lord Leverhulme are undoubtedly instruments in the evolution of capitalism, and the services they have rendered in preparing the way for Socialism will probably be gratefully acknowledged, by the erection of marble monuments perhaps, by the Socialist Commonwealth.”

Such monuments would be incomplete without the effigies of labour leaders supporting the entablature, to signify their willingness to support them under capitalism.

But even while Mr. Snowden is lavishing praise on Lord Leverhulme and calling him comrade (extremely apt, by the way, as both are in one camp—the capitalist camp) Lord Leverhulme, in a dispute with his wage-slaves, beats them to their knees and forces them to accept his terms, thereby proving his antagonism to them and to the working class as a whole. In addition he cancels the co-partnership arrangement made with the strikers, who thus find in that arrangement another weapon that can be used against them when they threaten to strike.

But the discovery by the workers that one reform is useless, or even harmful to them does not help them to see that all reforms are equally helpless to release them from the results of capitalist domination. Because one reform has failed them, they do not necessarily examine other reforms critically ; on the contrary, they either swing back to the methods that captivated them before, or follow new will-o’-the-wisps invented by labour mis-leaders.

Profit-sharing was going to do wonderful things. Among others it was going to make the interests of capitalists and wage slaves identical. It did if the workers submitted — a chief condition of all capitalist experiments. The inevitable rupture having occurred, and Lever being the sole judge as to who is responsible for it—he being in possession—the workers lose their co-partnership holdings, and another bubble they have been chasing bursts, and leaves them wondering at their own childish credulity.

This has evidently convinced them, not that the interests of employers and employed are always opposed, but that “improvement in wages would have more permanent value to the whole of the workers.” Thus they swing backwards and forwards like the pendulum, first putting their faith in the promises of their masters, and then just as blindly following the lead of labour confusionists. Every capitalist party deceives them in turn, and after each experiment, or reform, they find themselves no better off. With strikes, however, the workers have the satisfaction of knowing that they have at least put up a fight, tried to do something but simply to wait on economic development, calling the capitalist “comrade” the while, is mere senseless optimism.

Economic conditions are ripe now for the establishment of Socialism, without any further amalgamation of capital or nationalisation of industries. The only thing now wanting is the acquisition of Socialist knowledge by the working class, and the organisation of the toilers for the accomplishment of their mission. The bigger the organisation spreading this knowledge, and the more rapidly and perfectly this other condition is achieved, the sooner shall we be ready. The obvious course for every worker, therefore, is to study Socialism, push Socialism, organise for Socialism.

F. F.

(Socialist Standard, August 1920)