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

What The Workers Do Understand

The average working man obviously does not understand two vital factors of the system of society prevailing to-day. His conversation proclaims this; his replies, in debating on economic and political matters, prove this beyond dispute. Adamantine facts daily stare him in the face, yet he does not perceive them.

The two all-important realities he is unaware of are : (1) The slave-condition of the working class the world over, and (2) the way the wages system robs them of the greater part of the wealth they produce.

Let us deal with things as we find them. We will consider the first of the above statements.

The working class constitute the vast majority of the community. They
MUST WORK to provide themselves and their dependents with the means necessary to sustain life. The only alternatives are existing on charity, stealing, or starving.

They are propertyless—they own no land nor any means by which wealth can be made by the application of their socially-useful labour-power. The only thing they do own is their labour-power—the ability, strength, and faculties to work. That labour-power has a value, for it has the magic quality of producing wealth when usefully exercised.

The capitalist class, owning all the natural sources of wealth and the means and instruments for its production, are thus intensely powerful through that ownership, and through their appropriation of the wealth as it is daily produced by those who toil for them.

The capitalists are an idle class. The workers’ labour-power they make use of for themselves, and appropriate the fruits of labour for one purpose only—their own enrichment. Thus the sole function of the workers under the present system is to PRODUCE PROFIT for the capitalist class.

From the time when they “go out to work” till the time when they can no longer toil they must continue to function as mere producers of capitalist wealth. They may change masters; they may suffer want and misery through enforced unemployment and consequent poverty; but they will always have to sell their labour-power (whenever and wherever they can) to a capitalist in order to exist at all. It is impossible, in practically every case, to get away from that dire necessity. It is impossible to avoid their dependence on being employed by some member of the capitalist class. The latter own the very means of life; they control the conditions of getting a livelihood ; the whole economic and political power exerted by them secures their position and maintains their privileged status. As a class they completely control the lives of the indispensable working class the world over. Thus working-class will and desires are completely subjected to capitalist-class will, interest and dominance. What else is this but the SLAVERY OF THE WORKERS ?

You have to-day, on one hand, aristocratic and plutocratic dominance and privilege, combined with idleness and exploitation, class-rule and social inequality. On the other hand you have a huge class of toilers who are propertyless and exploited wage slaves who produce the wealth of the world and yet are robbed of the greater part of it in order that their masters may realise a profit out of it.

Now, secondly, it is observable that the average worker does not see how he, or his class, are robbed by capitalist exploitation through the wages system.

“Robbed ! How robbed ?” he will say when told of the fact. ”I get my wages. I suppose the employer is entitled to make his bit out of it! How am I robbed ? ”

Possibly he recalls many kinds of robbery. Brigandage, piracy, burglary, and Dick Turpinism suggest themselves to him. There is no parallel that can be cited he thinks to prove the contention. Well, let us consider wealth-production from its very basis.

A worker tries for a job at a firm. He is willing to sell his labour-power—his skill and strength—to be used in the production of wealth by applying it to nature-given material. The employer agrees to purchase that labour-power for a given period under specified conditions, and for a stipulated sum —termed “wages.”

Ascertained facts prove that, on the average, the worker is paid no more for his services than is barely sufficient to reproduce his labour power daily.

This labour power has cost certain necessaries to produce in the first instance. It has been developed ; it must be sustained in a given degree of efficiency. But, in spite of this, the human machine will and does WEAR OUT just as the one of iron and steel does, and when no longer useful it will have to be replaced.

So not only is an amount of necessaries required to maintain him, but an added amount is imperative to bring up children to serve in his stead as wage-workers, and who, in their turn, will perpetuate the supply of labour power.

Labour power is really a commodity—bought and sold in the labour market like margarine, and with as little sentiment.

The value of every commodity is determined by the average quantity of labour required under the general conditions prevailing at any given time to produce it. Thus the value, in the form of wages, that is paid to the worker for his labour-power, represents the value of the necessaries needed for its reproduction, and therefore is determined by the amount of labour required for that purpose.

Being engaged to work for a stipulated wage the worker has also to labour for an agreed number of hours per day or per week, and under certain other restrictions. He thus sells his labour-power for the whole of that time. In fact, the employer has bought it all for that period.

All the wealth the worker produces in that time is appropriated by the employer, and every means is used to extract the UTMOST VALUE
from the worker in the period during which he has sold his labour-power.

When the capitalist buys the worker’s labour-power he buys it for one special purpose—to get out of the toiler a greater total value than is represented by the worker’s wages. If the worker did not produce this surplus value, the capitalist would make nothing by employing him, and would therefore have no inducement to do so.

This value produced by the worker in excess of that contained in his wages, this surplus value as we call it, is value for which the capitalist pays nothing whatever.

The worker thinks he has been paid for his labour. He has not: he has only been repaid the value of his labour-power. He has been paid what his labour-power cost to produce ; but the value which that labour-power produces —a far greater quantity—belongs to the capitalist. This increase, this surplus value, which the exploiter pays nothing for, represents the ROBBERY OF THE WORKER.

Thus the robbery of the worker is veiled by the wages system. The paid and the unpaid portions of the labour are indistinguishable, and the worker appears to have been paid for the whole.

This process of exchange between capitalists and labourers, resulting in a systematic robbery of the working class, simply continues to keep the workers a wage-slave class in a chronic state of poverty, and tends just as surely to enrich the idle capitalists, who exploit them.

We have seen from the first portion of the article that the working class are enslaved under capitalism; we see that labour alone of human factors produces social wealth, but that the greater part of the fruits of the workers’ labour is stolen from them.

The only hope of the toilers, the only remedy for all the disastrous results of the slavery of their class, lies in Socialism. While the pernicious capitalist system continues their poverty and misery also will continue.

When the workers understand the real operations and effects of the wages system, and their own class slavery, they will see that no reforms OR PALLIATIVES can effect their emancipation.

When they understand Marxian economics and Socialism they will realise that only by their own class-conscious efforts will they free themselves and establish a new and sane social system.

Educated in these things, and organised on the industrial and political fields, they will seize political power and wield it and its forces for the paramount purpose—the establishment of the Socialist Commonwealth.

Graham May