1920s >> 1921 >> no-203-july-1921

“Facing the Facts.”

“An Appeal To Experience.”

 

Nearly every exponent of new and old political and economic teachings now-a-days invariably commences his address with phrases similar to the above title and sub-title. But few of them really face facts, while for most of them experience is merely a superficial representation of accepted paradoxes.

 

“Truth and Freedom” !

 

An organisation calling itself “The League of Truth and Freedom” has recently issued a pamphlet entitled : “The Teaching of experience applied to Labour and Capital,” in which it is claimed that the truth is arrived at by facing facts and learning from experience. A bold display is made of this claim. On the cover we read in italics :

  “Now it is evident that, if this country is going to become a better and happier country in the future, when dealing with great social problems, we must face facts and give up advocating what disagrees with them. We cannot afford to adopt any teaching that does not agree with experience.”

After this bold declaration one would expect to find every statement, after careful elimination of non essentials, simple, direct, and in accordance with facts; the actual truth and nothing but the truth. But what do we find ?

 

On page 3 we read : “Nature makes classes, but does not make individual units alike, much less her greatest handiwork, MAN.”

 

Facts to Face.

 

But Nature does not make classes in the sense implied here. She does not even make a parasitic class in the sense that she makes parasites in general, because a parasitic class in human society assumes and maintains its dominant position consciously. Classes are the result of social relationships that appear in the historical development of society. Before there can be a dominant class there must be a general recognition of similar interests, and a conscious movement by those concerned to obtain power. The class thus coming to the top use their newly acquired power to complete their victory over their predecessors and take over complete control of the enslaved lower orders.

 

A Natural Corollary.

 

But if we accept the dictum that Nature makes classes it is necessary that we should at the same time recognise that Nature makes also revolutions to break down classes—a fact that the league would do well to face. It explains the so-called unrest and discontent among the workers. That discontent, with the growing knowledge and organisation of the working class, is a revolution in the making. History is a record of revolutions and will continue to be so while society is divided into classes.

 

“We are none of us alike” is a marvellous discovery, repeated again on pages 15 and 16 and amplified as follows :

 

“People have been blaming Capitalists and Employers for this Fact, and for the Inequalities in Life that result from it. They have not understood that Nature has created these inequalities; that they are even necessary for Existence. If an Idle Man is to have the same award as an Industrious Man, then the whole World would soon be Idle.”

 

God’s Emancipation.

 

In other words, it is Nature who makes some men rich and others poor, consequently the poor must not blame the rich for their poverty, even though they can prove that the rich obtain their riches by robbery. This is quite a simple way of dodging facts, while at the same time conveying the impression that one is going right down to the roots of the subject. Instead of blaming God—as the parson has always been afraid to do—they blame Nature for the inequalities and thank their lucky stars that they are on the right side of the hedge. The league makes a fetish of Nature, not because it comprises all things, but because, at the moment it favours their class. There would be just as much—and as little—sense in saying that luck makes rich and poor. Just as the parson and his followers have always attributed what they could not understand to God, so the league attribute to Nature what they dare not explain and leave the workers to imagine that in some vague way Nature makes men rich or poor in much the same way as it makes them tall or short, thin or fat. In this way the league, while admitting the existence of classes, make no attempt to explain, to excuse, or to justly them. They merely evade in the most transparent and cowardly manner one of the facts they make so much pretence of facing.

 

Who gets the Toffee-Apple ?

 

The last part of the above quotation, “If an idle man is to have the same award as an industrious man, the whole world would soon be idle,” is intended as a sneer of contempt at the average worker. In reality it vividly reveals the true nature of capitalist society by denying a fact that is obvious to everyone—that it is the idle shareholder who gets the award, the industrious worker providing it and getting nothing. Under capitalism those who live on rent, interest, and profits can, if they choose, remain idle all their lives. If they work at all they usually choose an occupation more or less in the nature of a hobby. They are not compelled to work for a living. The working class, however, as the name implies, must work, and as the capitalists among them own the raw materials and the tools, the workers must sell their labour-power to them.

 

Machine production tends to reduce the bulk of the workers to one dead level of skill and wages; nevertheless they are graded and priced according to their skill, or the service they can render. The most significant fact about this grading is that those who are lowest in the scale work the hardest, often mentally as well as physically, while receiving the lowest wages.

 

The Real Idlers.

 

Generally speaking, the capitalist class is an idle class. Here and there a big capitalist makes a brave show of directing and supervising—drawing a fat salary in addition to his dividend for it. His speciality is, of course, making a brave show rather than directing. The office boy could often do it equally well, as it largely consists of giving reports—prepared by managers and clerks—to shareholders’ meetings and to Press reporters. Where he has to exercise judgment his managers see that their reports convey directions that influence him without offending his dignity by anything that looks like advice.

 

Then there are the small capitalists who can not afford to pay managers. They look after their businesses themselves, until they are broken in competition with the big concerns. Then, rather than work as wage-slaves, they shoot themselves, so much do they love work. Outside the fancy reasoning of the league, in real life, facing the facts and learning from experience we find that those who work the hardest get the poorest award, while those who do nothing but chase pleasure find their wealth increasing faster than they can spend it.

 

And if they do—

 

Knowing the workers’ award, we can appreciate fully the league’s next statement: “some save money and become capitalists.” Before a man can save money, however, he must have it to save, and as the bulk of the workers only get sufficient in wages, per week, to replace the energy they use up and provide for their dependents, very few indeed can save enough to become capitalists, even in a small way. Usually, even these few, after a severe struggle against the competition of the big capitalists, lose what they have saved and are flung back into the ranks of the working class.

 

Next the league’s pamphlet says: “Mankind in general has always specialised and divided the work, because by doing so it can be done much quicker and better.” This is easily seen to be a perversion of historical truth. Division of labour has only appeared and developed in the history of mankind with the recognition and development of new and more complicated methods of production, caused by the progressive discovery and application of fresh tools and materials.

 

A Sight for Sore Eyes.

 

Then follow a number of things done by capital, according to the league. “It takes capital to erect the work and supply the furnaces. . . . To build houses, the bricklayer has to get a capitalist to make and bring him bricks, and cement, and timber and slates.” To say that a bricklayer would be astonished if he saw a capitalist doing anything of the kind, is to put it mildly. Every worker knows perfectly well that it is other workers who fetch him materials and tools, make and prepare these things ready for the operation he performs, and erect buildings and machinery for the purpose. With the exception of the few instances already quoted the capitalist does nothing beyond drawing and enjoying the dividends that result from the sale of the workers’ product.

 

When all these workers understand that capital is an unnecessary factor in production, that capitalists are parasites living on the results of their industry, they will abolish the system and establish in its place one in which everyone participates in the labour necessary to satisfy social requirements, without the existence of a class who rule solely in their own interests. In this way they will be facing facts.

 

Brains a Working-Class Possession.

 

Another fact that trips the league is ”Brains.” The bricklayer, they say, is dependent on the architect, the man of brains, who has to design the houses. Of course, that is his job. Bricklaying is the bricklayer’s job, and if he did not build the houses would remain on paper. Designing is the form of labour-power the architect brings to the labour market. The difference between him and the bricklayer is not an essential one: the latter gets wages; the former commission. In both cases it is payment for service, unlike profit, which is the proceeds of robbery.

 

Next the league try to make us believe that labour saving methods and machinery create more employment. They speak of the “enormous benefit that a creator of industry like Ford of America has been to Labour. At the present time Ford claims to be producing and selling three thousand motor cars per day— Think of the labour given employment by such a huge industry.”

 

But this is only a part of the story, which is continued in the “Daily News,” April 25th, as follows:

 

“Conditions in America.”

“The verdict of employers is unanimous that output per person has increased. One illustration of this is furnished by Henry Ford. . . When manufacturing 100,000 cars a month last year, “Ford employed 52,000 persons. He now employs 32,000 to make 87,000 cars a month.”!

 

In the face of facts like this the league should either change its title or withdraw the statement quoted above. The figures from the “Daily News” speak for themselves, but the league’s figures, to put it politely, amount to suppression by selection. The figures that support their argument are taken, and those that smash their case are left.

 

Capitalism Creates Unemployment.

 

In its normal development, therefore, capitalism increases unemployment, because production is only carried on for markets. The workers can only satisfy their needs by wages earned in the production of commodities for these markets. It is apparent, therefore, that markets must be limited, consequently that the number of jobs is limited, and that, with the adoption of new machinery and methods, the number of workers unable to satisfy their needs must increase. These latter are not prevented from doing so by the lack of materials and machinery, but solely by virtue of the fact that the capitalist refuses to produce for anything but markets.

 

The Surest Thing.

 

The league see in all this not competition between capitalists for world markets, but competition between the working class of different countries for their capture. What they do see, however, is that the working class of any country, if they are not to be starved out of existence by unemployment, must be prepared to accept a standard of living as low as, or lower than, the present lowest. There is no denying this. The hunger of the capitalist for cheap labour is about the surest thing under capitalism. First women and then children were dragged into industry because they were cheaper than men. Wherever the capitalist has been able to do so he has dragged in cheap native labour to compete with his own countrymen, while at the same time mouthing patriotism. The hypocrisy of the capitalist is well expressed in the following paragraphs, which are typical of the general attitude:

 

  “It is perhaps fortunate for the labour of this country, that capital and brains are so hindered by officialism in China, that they cannot at present give effective help to Chinese manufacturing, agriculture, and mining industries. For the Chinaman lives almost entirely on rice, and if he had the capital and the brains to help him, which we possess, his low standard of life and consequent low prices would under sell us in every market in the world.”

 

It is quite evident from the above that the average capitalist has no objection to developing Chinese trade so long as his capital is in the business. It is not love of his country that hinders him, but Chinese officialdom.

 

The League’s “Truth.”

 

Perhaps the worst lie uttered by the League of Truth and Freedom is the statement that “although the cost of food and other necessaries has increased so greatly, the wages paid, except perhaps in isolated cases, have more than covered it.” Every worker knows that his standard of living is lower than it was in 1914. Many articles of food, such as butter, eggs, bacon, beef, and most kinds of fruit, that entered largely into his diet before the war, are looked upon as luxuries to-day by the average worker, while for many they we absolutely unobtainable.

 

Then we are told that “the best men among the capitalists and the employers are anxious to help labour to improve its position” (apparently by reducing wages all round and speeding up). “They recognise that this country has in the past been run far too much for the benefit of the indolent and the idle.”

 

And that is as much as we can expect from the league. Out for “truth and freedom,” they stand only for the freedom of the capitalist class to continue their exploitation of the workers. They admit the workers’ poverty, but their only remedy is, when translated, deeper poverty and more intensified labour. If the workers allow themselves to be led by such transparent hypocrisy and lies they deserve nothing better.

 

F. Foan