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

What shall we do to save capitalism?

A Great Statistician.

The “Labour Leader” of June 26th contains an article by Sir Leo Chiozza Money entitled: “The National Industrial Crisis. How should Labour Face It?” Those who realise the seriousness of working-class conditions at the present moment will see the importance of the question contained in this title. As a statistician Sir Leo is unequalled in this country. On more than one occasion his figures, compiled from official documents, have been used by Socialists with telling effect against capitalism. From the arrangement of his figures in tables that enables one to see at a glance how wealth is divided, or draw comparisons on the fluctuations in trade, etc., it is evident that he understands the significance of his figures so far as they show the failure of the capitalist system to give the bulk of the population a decent standard of living. But neither he nor the other writers of the “Labour Leader” have ever expressed in clear terms the absolute necessity for the workers to abolish the system and establish Socialism as the only remedy for this failure.

Where He Fails.

In the article referred to Sir Leo shows the enormous fall in the export trade of this country since March of the present year, and insists on the necessity of co-operation between capitalists and workers to recover it. He refers to the sufferings of the workers, but he fails to point out to them that there is always a measure of unemployment, and that, in or out of work, they live in poverty all their lives. Further, he does not tell the workers that the only means which can assure success to the capitalists of this country as against their foreign competitors, are in the long run bound to increase unemployment and poverty, and that the only escape for the workers from these twin evils is not by increased or more efficient production, but by the establishment of a system where all the means of wealth production will be owned in common, controlled democratically, and consequently only used to satisfy the requirements of the people according to their own arranged plans. We shall see by an examination of his article that Sir Leo’s answer to the question “How should Labour face it” entirely ignores the Socialist attitude, and consists in the main of the very methods that spell increased unemployment, assists the capitalists of this country in their competition against foreign capitalists, and increases the extent of capitalist exploitation of the workers generally.

No Taste in Nothing.

At the very outset Money gives us the key to all his subsequent errors. He says: “We have 47 millions of people and not enough work to feed a fourth of them.” It must be obvious to anyone that people are not fed with work, how ever much the workers may be “fed up” with it.

Sir Leo takes for granted the capitalist assumption that people can only be fed, clothed, and housed on the capitalist basis of production, i.e., ownership by the capitalist class of the means of wealth production and all non-owners unable to obtain the necessaries of life unless they can sell their energy, in one form or an other, to the possessing class. Now this assumes the chief point at issue between the capitalist and the Socialist, and Sir Leo’s arguments are henceforth built up on the assumption that human wants can only be satisfied by the wages or capitalist system.

No Matter for Surprise.

At first sight it seems strange that a journal which is the organ of a party calling itself Socialist, the I.L.P., should accept articles for publication so obviously anti-Socialist. When we come to read the columns of the “Labour Leader,” however, we find a general agreement with Sir Leo’s attitude. Here and there, it is true, a writer declares that only Socialism can remove unemployment and poverty. But such writers are always careful to point out that Socialism as they understand it is State ownership with no modification of the wages system, as in the postal service.

A Logical Sequence.

From the acceptance of the capitalist method of production as the only possible method, to its active support is quite a logical step, and Sir Leo is justified in taking it. Having assumed that trade feeds the workers, it necessarily follows that the workers should interest themselves in. the extension of trade. Sir Leo declares, therefore, that—

  “If anyone says ‘what do I care for overseas trade or what you call national trade ?’ let him be reminded that it is his business to care. We are all responsible beings, and the lives and happiness of 47 millions of people is no light matter. They form a closely woven working community, and there is no possibility of suddenly emigrating them. Here in this year of grace, it is theirs to work or be idle, to be happy or to suffer. We needs must care about the oversea trade by virtue of which alone can they get food for their bodies and material for their factories, workshops, and houses.”

This writer in a so-called Socialist journal can only see for the workers the choice between starvation and prosecuting capitalist trade as though their lives depended upon it and they were directly interested in it. Because there is no possibility of suddenly emigrating them. Why the “suddenly”? Eight lines further down he says: “We have to recover trade in time of general and world-wide bad trade.” There can be no question of emigration as a solution, therefore, at any time, either suddenly or as a gradual process.

Labour Leaders Disprove Sir Leo.

We can pass over the suggestion that the difference between happiness and suffering is the difference between being idle and working for a capitalist. The latter is not rendered unhappy by his idleness. The impossibility of happiness for those compelled to work for capitalists is sufficiently evidenced by Labour leaders themselves, who will stoop to almost any treachery if they can only escape from such an existence.

Sir Leo’s statement that “only by virtue of the overseas trade can they get food for their bodies,” and so on, is a definite and direct renunciation of Socialism on his part. It is only the capitalist who gets anything out of trade. Trade is the capitalist method of robbing those who produce the world’s wealth. Socialism is the logical method of production by which those who produce the world’s wealth would use and enjoy it. It is therefore the business of a Socialist organisation to explain and teach Socialism as the only alternative to capitalism. Until the workers understand Socialism they cannot take the shortest step towards its establishment.

It is only fair to say that Sir Leo does not side altogether with the capitalists in their wholesale reduction of wages. He thinks that “the wage earner has the right to ask that profits and salaries shall also make sacrifice.” Of course, wage-earners, and even salary-earners, can ask the profit-takers, or capitalists, for all sorts of things, and “capital” will certainly concede them the right to ask—that costs nothing.

Wasted Breath.

The same applies to Sir Leo’s most important suggestion as to how Labour should face the crisis, i.e., “And Labour has the right to demand industrial efficiency. Too many of our industrial plants are out of date and wasteful. Productivity depends increasingly upon scientific methods.”

But the workers have no need to demand this. Competition compels the capitalist to adopt the cheapest methods of production. If he fails to do so, well, that’s his funeral. For the workers to demand it is to demand what must inevitably result in more unemployment and lower wages. This is a most foolhardy manner in which to face the crisis, seeing that, in Sir Leo’s own words, “We have 47 millions of people and not enough work to feed a fourth of them.”

Such advice is sufficiently harmful, but the greatest harm is done by arousing in the workers that competitive spirit and hatred against their fellow wage-slaves abroad. A Socialist organisation should endeavour to show that the real antagonism in modern society is between the working class and the capitalist class, and that the workers must come together in an international organisation to overthrow capitalism and establish Socialism.

A Pertinent Question,

How is it possible to convince the workers of this while at the same time urging them to fight each other by competitive methods that can only have the effect of worsening conditions for themselves all round ? Either the workers of all lands must join hands for the establishment of Socialism, or they must submit to the competitive madness advocated by Sir Leo. There is no middle course.

The Socialist does not offer advice or assistance to the capitalist class. They rule in their own interest; if difficulties arise for them it is for them to surmount them—in doing so they strengthen their hold over the workers. If the capitalists cannot surmount the difficulties and obstacles that confront them, they are all the weaker to resist the attacks of the Socialists. In either case they run the show and are responsible, consequently the workers must sit in judgment on them. When they do they must reach the following verdict:

“Production for profit fails to satisfy the needs of the working class, who produce all wealth. The class that live by profits stop production when buyers are scarce and drive the workers out on to the streets to starve. With increasing facilities for producing wealth the working class become poorer as time goes on, while the capitalist class become ever more wealthy. The workers suffer most when wealth in all forms is most plentiful. They can only live by selling their labour power, their energy —becoming slaves—to the class that own the means of life.”

When the Workers Understand.

When the workers are agreed on that verdict, being in the majority, they will take the shortest cut to power—organise politically for control of the machinery of government. Once having control they will no longer have to ask, without being heard; to demand, only to be contemptuously ignored. The power over nature that has been won by generations of struggle will be used to satisfy the needs of mankind in a direct manner. With no parasitic class to intervene, the workers will use land and machinery by arrangement among themselves, for themselves alone. That is the only way for the workers to face this or any industrial crisis. Those who tell them differently are playing the capitalist game, spreading confusion and breeding hatred and division in the ranks of the workers.

F. Foan