It has become quite a fashion with capitalist speakers and writers on social subjects to wind up their perorations with demands or appeals for greater production. Now, if production, in any industry, or in all industries, has fallen off, it must be due to one of two causes. Either the individual worker produces less, or fewer workers are engaged in production. In either case it is quite clear that, from a purely material point of view, a lower production is due to reduced expenditure of energy by the workers.
The Cause of Confusion.
The working class is composed of people who work. The capitalist class do not work, therefore the workers doing less work is the cause of reduced output.
If this question were confined to the material point of view alone, everything would be clear, and those who do not work at all would be held responsible for the shortage, especially when it was noted that they consumed the largest share of the wealth produced.
In a colony of ants or a hive of bees there is nothing to confuse the material point of view. There the relations are between ants or bees and nature. Social relations are simple, and are not confused by questions of ownership, exchange, and so on. All the members of the colony, or hive, take part in the necessary labour and share according to their needs. In human society, however, things are not so simple—private or class ownership of wealth transforms relations that should be clear into a veritable pandemonium of conflicting interests.
Working a Stunt.
Every capitalist newspaper and magazine contains articles deploring the shortage of commodities and blaming the workers for it. When the workers in any industry determine to strike for higher wages because rising prices compel them to do so, a howl of protest goes up because output will be reduced. In short, the word has gone round for the reduced output stunt to be worked for all it is worth, with the result that one fine morning we read in every capitalist paper, side by side with the customary lecture on increased production, accounts of numbers of factories closing down and thousands of workers unemployed. Even then the prostitute writers and speakers of the capitalist Press make frantic efforts to blame the workers for the falling off in trade. Trade is bad, they say, because the capitalists cannot afford to pay the high wages prevailing, or because the workers deliberately work at a slower pace.
Now, the power of the workers to go slow or hold up production is almost negligible. Their need for wages, and the fact that there are always more workers than jobs, throws them into competition with one another and compels them to work at top speed. In any case they must work to live.
But not so the capitalists, who never work, and yet are the last to suffer when production is impeded. Moreover, it is often to the interest of capitalists that production should be slowed up and they never hesitate to use the power they possess in that direction—a power that is far greater than the workers possess, because they (the capitalists) own and control the means of wealth-production.
In the long and futile wrangle that preceded the coal strike, the miners, who evidently knew what they were talking about, in this respect at least, accused the companies of refraining from working the best seams, reserving them for the time when Government control was removed.
During the last few weeks newspapers have quoted numerous instances of factories in a large number of industries curtailing production by working shorter time. Not long ago we read about milk poured down drains and fish flung back into the sea or allowed to rot, to be then sold for manure.
The Proper Thing to do.
In all such cases it seems to be taken for granted that the stoppage of production, or the deliberate waste of wealth, is the only possible thing to do in the circumstances. No one questions, for instance, that in the case of tea anything other should be done than is done by the tea-growing associations, that is, circularising all growers to reduce their output 20 per cent. With a surplus stock of 120 million pounds it is absurd that anyone should go short of tea. It is absurd, too, that any other question than the satisfaction of human needs should be considered, yet in reality this question is not considered at all. The whole question whether production shall go on or not depends entirely on whether it is profitable to some capitalist or capitalist company.
A member of the Ceylon Tea Growers’ Association says that “their action (limiting output) is an attempt to save the companies from being wiped out, for it is obvious that production cannot be continued at a loss.” Carried to its logical conclusion this means that if production ceases to provide profits for the capitalist class the human race must perish.
Who Produce the Wealth?
Everybody knows that the cute business man pretends to be running his business at a loss. The industrial capitalists (especially the small fish) are often between the devil and the deep sea when they try to square accounts with the money-lender and the landlord. But this squaring process always takes place after the workers have produced the wealth. It could not possibly take place before, because there would be nothing to share. The companies do not produce the tea, neither do the moneylenders nor the landlords. Nor do they contribute anything, either in the shape of labour (mental or manual) or material toward its production. The things they own—land, money, machinery, etc.—are either nature-given, or the result of working class energy applied to what is nature-given.
Why, then, should the existence of companies be considered at all? If they perform no useful function they would not be missed if they were all wiped out, and the workers of the world produced the tea—and all the other things they need—in the quantities they require and according to a settled plan. It would, of course, be galling to the capitalists to be forced to realise that production goes on to-day without assistance from them, and that there is no excuse for their existence as a separate class ; but it would be still more galling to know that the workers had discovered it, and were organising to act upon the knowledge.
Besides being a useless class, the capitalist class consumes twice the quantity of wealth consumed by the working class. A writer in the “Sunday Pictorial,” Mr. Lovat Fraser, says that if the wealth taken by the capitalist class were shared among the workers it would be no more than a drop in a bucket. This is obviously untrue, because the workers would then share the whole product, which is three times greater than their total wages.
Capitalists MUST Curtail Production.
But the wealth taken by the capitalists, either as rent, interest, or profit, is produced by the workers. It is evident, therefore, that the capitalist system is a system whereby the workers are robbed of the major portion of the wealth they produce by an idle class ; but this is not all. The system which enables this robbery to take place is so arranged that production cannot go beyond a certain point without causing the rate of profit obtained by the capitalists to fall, so that they are forced to curtail production in their own interests.
What can be said in favour of such a system ?
An idle class takes two-thirds of the wealth produced by the workers, and then stops production, not only before the needs of the workers are satisfied, but by that very act of stoppage condemning the workers in ever-increasing numbers to unemployment and starvation.
The Crux of the Matter.
Meanwhile a swarm of mercenary intellectuals continue to shriek for greater output from those who remain in employment, exhorting them, all the time, to economise in order that wages can be reduced. These are the fruits of a system based on class ownership of the means of life. Unemployment side by side with a shortage of the necessaries of life ; millions of willing workers in all capitalist countries held back from the work of producing wealth, and starving meanwhile, because capitalist companies, that are not even necessary to production, will suffer a reduction in profits if the workers are allowed to carry on.
In the face of well-established and obvious facts like the foregoing Mr. Lovat Fraser has the hardihood to declare that high prices are the result of reduced output, in its turn the result of high wages, which induce leisure. It is, of course, unfortunate for this contention that capitalists everywhere should compel workers in increasing numbers to take more leisure in the shape of unemployment. Forced leisure and diminished output is the great contradiction within the capitalist system that, when fully revealed, becomes the motive for its abolition. When Mr. Fraser, in the midst of wholesale unemployment, whines “it is not a rich world,” he reveals this contradiction by the violence with which he brings the two material facts together.
A Pertinent Question.
With modern methods of production and a sane system of society, sufficient wealth could be produced to satisfy the needs of a population enormously greater than exists upon the earth at the present time. Then why stop production before those living on it to-day are satisfied ? Because the world’s markets can only be won by cheap commodities, says the capitalist.
Precisely; it is the capitalist need for cheap commodities with which to win markets that causes unemployment, low wages, and intensive toil. And the hardships and poverty of the workers increases as the struggle for markets becomes keener. Those who cannot keep up the pace are ruthlessly flung on one side to make room for younger men and women. Labour-saving machinery, which Mr. Robert Young, M.P., says (“Reynolds’s Newspaper,” 12.9.20) will solve the problem of diminished output, can only flood the markets and accelerate the process that is rapidly making the capitalist system impossible—because it will no longer satisfy the bare wants of the majority— while at the same time revealing unlimited possibilities in the direction of wealth production.
The Remedy Revealed.
To reconcile this great contradiction society must be established on a basis where the means of wealth production are owned in common and democratically controlled. Then the production and distribution of all kinds of wealth can be arranged according to the needs of the people themselves.
But these two systems are opposed to each other ; and the conflicting principles of the two systems are represented by the conflicting interests of the two classes in society to-day. The conflict is between the class that owns and controls and the class that is dispossessed. The antagonism is revealed in the continual struggle over wages.
Working-class interests conflict with capitalist interests at every point, and the bitterness between the two classes increases as the struggle becomes more severe and the workers recognise its nature. Manifesting itself on the industrial field, the class struggle can only be ended on the political field, by the organised workers gaining control of the political machine, and using the armed forces and the machinery of the State to clear the way for the establishment of Socialism.