1920s >> 1921 >> no-197-january-1921

Paradoxes of Capitalism: Some Startling Revelations

A Definition.
A paradox, as the writer understands it, is the relation of two or more dissimilar phenomena, which, taken by themselves and without a knowledge of the connecting links necessary for the elucidation of their relativity, apparently contradict each other in the absurdest fashion. When, however, the chain of reasoning between such phenomena is complete, it will be seen that the absurdity, although still existing, is what may be called a “logical absurdity,” that the contradiction is the inevitable outcome logically deduced from the original premise from which the phenomena in question spring.

Capitalist society abounds in paradoxes, which, to a mind unacquainted with the basis and workings of our modern industrial system, must appear monstrous in their insane and perverse effect both on the individual and on society as a whole.

Riches and Poverty.
Under capitalism wealth is produced in practically unlimited quantities, and yet the great majority of people live and die on the verge of starvation, sometimes slightly above the poverty line, more often below it, but always approximating, in any case, to the bare subsistence level. Direst poverty prevails in the midst of vast plenitude ; food and clothing are produced to excess, yet thousands of hungry and underfed men, women, and children are never able to obtain a satisfactory meal or a sufficiency of covering. There is more than enough housing accommodation to shelter everyone quite adequately, yet in numerous cases families of four, six, and even more, persons are compelled to live in one small, badly-ventilated and cheerless room.

A Concrete Illustration.
Let us take another paradox of capitalism.

A few years ago in Northampton—which, of course, is the centre of the boot industry—many children were walking about unshod because their fathers had produced more boots than the market required and were therefore obliged to “stand off” until some channel could be found through which the surplus stocks could pass and be absorbed. Being unemployed, the bootmakers of Northampton received no wages and were therefore without the necessary means of purchasing the boots urgently required by their children, although all the time the warehouses in their town were full to repletion of the articles wanted.

The above is a glaring instance of the way in which “over-production” means unemployment and privation, but the same thing is constantly occurring, either directly or indirectly, in every part of the world. The harder a man works the sooner is he out of a job. He is debarred from obtaining the commodities necessary for the well-being of himself and his dependents because he has produced more such commodities than his employer can sell.

Idleness and Industry.
Yet another paradox of capitalism is the spectacle of the idle rich and the industrious poor—what a picture of incongruity the words “idle rich” and “industrious poor” conjure up !

The men and women who do the work of the world, without whose efforts human life on this planet would cease to function, are the poorest, economically, physically, and mentally, while on the other hand the people who do nothing useful or necessary, who indeed are the drones living on the honey produced by the workers, are the people to whom all the good things of life accrue. The wonders of nature, of art and science and literature, are open to the latter people—the members of the capitalist class— whereas all the workers can look forward to is a life of hard and generally sordid work, their reward for which is just a sufficiency of food, clothing, and shelter necessary to enable them to exist and to breed and rear a progeny, who in their turn will supply the place of their parents when the latter are considered by their masters unfit for anything but, the industrial scrap-heap.

The Socialist, for his part—
To any man or woman who can escape from the orthodox point of view and survey the composition of present-day society with impartial eyes, the workings of capitalism must appear bewildering in their contradictions and absurdities. The Socialist, for his part, possessing an understanding of the fundamental factors underlying such phenomena, will see the inevitableness contained therein and will pour scorn and contumely on a system which begets results best compared to the fantastic visions of a diseased brain. He will analyse and adversely criticise every manifestation of such a system. He will point out that while you have the means of wealth production held by a comparatively small number of people ; while the industrious majority are kept in a condition of slavery by an idle minority ; while the whole of the wealth that is produced becomes the immediate property, not of those who produce it, but of those who have nothing at all to do with its actual production : in a word, while capitalism lasts, poverty in the midst of plenty, and all the other tragic absurdities that are now commonplace, must by the logical sequence of events, continue and multiply.

There are two factors in capitalism, one useful, one injurious, to the welfare of the people as a whole. The useful factor is social production; the injurious factor is the private (the unsocial) ownership of the means of production and distribution.

The Task.
It is the Socialist’s task, that is, the task of those who desire society to be placed on a physically and mentally healthy plane, to advocate a system wherein the means of production and distribution shall be socially owned and controlled. Wealth at the present time is only produced by the will of, and for the benefit of, the few who own the instruments whereby it is produced, and is naturally therefore, the sole property of those few. When the whole of the people have obtained control of the instruments of wealth production, of course, the wealth then produced will be the property of the whole of the people.

Nothing could be simpler or more logical. Yet such is the mental outlook of the majority of the members of the working class, so greatly are they saturated with capitalist teaching and ethics, that the fallacious arguments in favour of the present system still find ready adherents, while the nobler and healthier advocacy of the Socialist position obtains little hearing and small support.

As, however, capitalism develops and the paradoxes such as have been mentioned become more glaring and more ridiculous, as, moreover, the Socialist view-point continues to reach the
understanding of the people, our assurance is that the members of our class—the working 
class—will organise with us for the purpose of hastening the downfall of capitalism and of 
establishing in its stead the system of Socialism, the ramifications and workings of which, admittedly, are as yet but dimly perceived, even by those who have devoted almost a lifelong study to the subject, but which the youngest Socialist amongst us knows bears within it potentialities of life undreamt of in the insane and sordid system under the auspices of which we now live—or rather vegetate.

F. J. Webb