1920s >> 1921 >> no-204-august-1921

Book Review: “And Found Wanting.”

The Coming Revolution,” by Gerald Gould.


For the Socialist this book has little value, if one excludes certain statistics and information given in the appendix, which may be useful for reference, it is a jumble of sentiment and false economic conclusions, a book written to quiet the heated and affrighted imaginations of the “middle class,” and to relieve the conscience of its author. He has no realisation of the existence of the class war, although, in his search for moral justification for a revolution, he seems to have seen it “disappearing round a corner “; he lacks comprehension of the materialistic conception of history, and does not hesitate to contradict himself.


Let me go further into details:


Mr. Gould is convinced that there is going to be a working-class revolution. Here he seeks to show:


  1. Why it is inevitable.
  2. Why it is justified.
  3. How it will, or can be, accomplished.


For those who wish to know “it is to be about the simplest and most homely of all subjects— the cost of living,” and again, “the cause of any upheaval that happens will be the cost of living.”


In view of the fact that prices are now falling the prospects of revolution must be fading slowly and silently away !


But justification of and excuses for the Revolution are our author’s chief worry. Writing as he does for timid ”middle-class” sentimentalists he has to show that “Labour’s demands and requirements are natural” and “the issue a moral one.” This is an untenable position to take up, and, of course, Mr. Gould fails to maintain it. For one thing, the excuse that these demands are natural can cut both ways, as it is as natural for the capitalist to welcome unemployment and pay low wages as it is for the workers to seek to force wages up.


Now with regard to its accomplishing.


Our author thinks it possible that the high cost of living may force the workers into a bloody revolution. In case it does he has found a scapegoat, though why one should be needed, and who will demand excuses from the victorious workers after the Revolution he does not say and I do not know. It may be his friends of “the impoverished middle classes” will want justification for the slaughter of the innocents. Anyway, all demands of that sort have been anticipated and need not disturb the rest of any Direct Actionist, for “if ever a bloody revolution breaks out in this country a large share of the responsibility will have to be borne by Bonar Law and other Tory leaders, who made incendiary speeches on the Ulster Theme.”


But Mr. Gould does not think a bloody revolution at all likely, because “nobody is less revolutionary by temperament than the British Working Man,” than whom “nobody is saner and kinder.” (I think we have all met phrases like these before in such papers as the ”Daily Mail” and the “Daily Express.”) And, of course, we always have “the courage and statesmanship of Trade Unionists” which will save the country again if need be as they did at the time of the railway strike of 1919, and the Triple Alliance swindle of the present year. The settlement of the strikes in question would suggest that the statesmanship of Trade Union officials consists of a willingness to be bluffed by Lloyd George and an anxiety not to incur the latter’s displeasure by any hesitation in retailing the same bluff to their members.


The anticipated revolution, however, is to be peaceful. It will start with a general strike. Guild Socialists will prepare a new system in “intellectual readiness to take over on the collapse of the old.” Private capitalists will buy one another out, and incidentally reduce the National Debt. Nationalisation will be installed and a redistribution of national wealth will take place.


Now, in the first place can a general strike meet with success? Our author admits that, in the event of one taking place, “the poor would be the first to suffer, since, unlike the rich, they would not have reserves of material commodities,” but thinks that this could “be averted if no element of violence entered in at any stage of the struggle.” Poor, ingenuous Mr. Gould ! Does he really think that the Government would abstain from violence if that alone could save capitalism ?


But probably he does not recognise that the Government is but the tool of the capitalists, for he seems hurt and surprised to realise that “as with the employers so with the Government itself.”


Again, he does not show how sitting still with folded arms can provide loaves of bread.


But then, even if a general strike were successful and the workers followed the plans set forth in this book, they would still be wage slaves. Nationalisation is but intensified capitalism and holds out no remedy to the worker. Mr. Gould’s method of attaining it is, however, rather amusing. He first makes it clear that you must “not simply expropriate the owners of an industry without compensation.” You must make a grant to the shareholders “to prevent actual hardship,” else what becomes of the “philoprogenitive vicar in his poverty-stricken country vicarage” if you rob him of his shares in the Great Eastern Railway ? Here you have a frank admission of failure, for even after Nationalisation there will be it seems, “actual hardship” and “poverty-stricken country vicarages.” This by the way. The method of obtaining the money for this grant is novel indeed. Assume you nationalise the railways first, and the cost of buying out the shareholders is 500 millions, you make a levy on capital sufficient to yield this amount. By this means the rich railowners provide part of the money necessary for their own expropriation, and as the Government, whilst paying out 500 millions only, receives 500 millions rail stock and 500 millions from the levy, the National Debt is reduced by 500 millions. Repeat this with every industry in turn, and then “Hail the Revolution!” It reminds one of the problem of the two snakes who started eating each other from the tail !


Having seen that wages, at present, are the workers’ chief concern, and not wishing that his Utopia should offend by their non-existence, Mr. Gould makes it clear that payment for labour power will not cease. That is what he means when he talks of a redistribution of wealth. Having persuaded the capitalists to buy one another out, the statesmen of the trade unions, under the tutorship of Guild Socialists, would run industry for the nation, “treat the workers like men and brothers,” and pay a family, on the basis of present production, about £400 per annum.


The examples Mr. Gould gives to show the increase in production that will result from the kindly treatment of the workers is instructive:


A Mr. S. J. L. Vincent, A.M.I.C.E., borough surveyor at Newbury, builds houses. He guarantees a 48 hour week, and treats his workmen like brothers, so that they, “feeling that they are not working to build up profits but to build houses,” respond in the same spirit. Of course, Mr. S. J. L. Vincent, A.M.I.C.E.’s object is to sow the seeds of love among his workmen, and so it must be quite an unforeseen accident that he can build houses at £650 each while contractors, at a period of dearer materials, asked £875. As the cost of bricks, etc., to Mr. Vincent was more than to the contractors, and as his income was probably not much lees, the difference in price must be in his wages expenditure. Yet Mr. Gould quotes this and says to the workers “see what benefits will result from nationalisation, under which you will be treated like brothers.” All I can see is increased unemployment, and nowhere in this book are we told, what provision is to be made for those who, owing to increased production, have nothing to do. Also we are not told who is going to condescend to treat their workers like brothers.


Will their exploiters do so then any more than now, or is this an invitation to the ”middle class” to reap the reward of their imagined intellectual superiority on the backs of the workers ?


But our chief quarrel with Mr. Gould is over his citation of Marx as an authority for his conclusions. He does not understand Marxian economics and philosophy, and should confine himself to Sidney Webb and Fabianism. Marxism and Fabianism are quite incompatible, and it is therefore ignorance of one or both which makes him support his tottering ideas with selections from the two of them.


See how he misinterprets Marx. He summarises Marx’s description of the transformation from capitalism to Socialism as the taking over by the workers “in one solid lump, of the capital which private capitalism itself has in accordance with the laws of its own development, coagulated into that lump.” Marx taught that capital, i.e., wealth used to exploit labour, will cease to exist with the passing of capitalism, since the workers cannot exploit themselves. To talk about “taking over capital,” therefore, is nonsense ; anyway, it isn’t Marx.


In passing, one should notice the phrase “private capitalism” here. Its insertion shows that when our author speaks of Nationalisation he has State capitalism in mind.


Did he understand the primary theory in Marx, that of value, which states that the value of a commodity is measured by the amount of labour socially necessary for its reproduction, he would not be puzzled by the fact that fertile ground on which little labour is spent produces greater value than less productive ground on which a greater amount of labour is expended. Also he would never be so foolish as to write : “The workers insist on higher wages so that they may cope with the higher prices. The capitalist often has no objection. He simply raises his prices again, so as to get back the extra amount he has to pay in the cost of labour.”


The capitalist, like the worker, is bound by the laws of the system and cannot raise prices at will. But then, Mr. Gould does not realise that the system controls man, he thinks man controls the system, and has but to will a new world in order to produce it, ignoring social development.


Yet we can agree with the last sentence in the book, “there is no third way” (i.e., to attain Socialism). There is not even a second. The only way is for the workers to study and understand their position, and the laws governing the society of which they are a part, for then they can and will become possessed of the machinery of government, and under the protecion of the power then at their disposal, work with the economic forces to mould the new classless society, the Socialist Republic.


W. J. R.