The present and future outlook of the working class is extremely gloomy—as gloomy as the murky London fog outside the writer’s window this Sunday afternoon.
Prices are still in cloudland, whilst wages are falling rapidly. Unemployment engulfs a vast mass of the working class, whilst the movement for increased production (which in effect means both a lowering of wages and a lowering in the number of wage receivers) promises to further increase the workless army.
One country after another has reached the point where it can tackle its own market and compete in foreign markets. The economic signs and portents point to increasing difficulties and increasing misery for the workers of this country. England is no longer the predominant manufacturing and transportation country. In any case, so much have the one time backward countries developed that the predominance of one of them would help such a one but little. The “Good Old Times have fled, never to return.
Backward countries have stepped into the van of production and can meet, to a great extent, their own requirements; this limits the available world’s markets. But such countries also step in as competitors, in foreign markets; this further curtails the available markets. This all-round competition intensifies the struggle for markets and brings about a greater concentration upon the question of lowering the cost of production of articles.
Looking at the matter casually, to-day it would appear that the main objective of the capitalists is increased production. A closer examination of the matter will easily dispose of this false idea.
What are the elements required in order to produce wealth to-day ? Raw material, machinery, and labour-power of various degrees of skill. Is there any shortage of raw material ? The earth is teeming with raw material, and the untapped resources are as relatively unlimited as the development of human ingenuity. Is there a shortage of machinery ? There are numerous first-class manufactories of all classes of machinery working short time for want of orders to execute. Is there a shortage of labour-power ? The hundreds of thousands of unemployed of all degrees of skill searching anxiously, and so often unavailingly, for work can provide a complete answer to this question. Finally, the slowing down of production owing to overstocked markets is the overwhelming’ contradiction to the claims of the increased productionists.
The mere increase of production is not the objective of the capitalist; his main objective is the lowering of the cost of production. This point merits a little examination.
The cost of production of an article is determined by the amount of labour-power required, under certain definite conditions, to produce (to be more accurate—reproduce) it. Labour-power itself is subject to the same condition, under capitalism. The worker receives, as a rule, the equivalent of his cost of production, but not the equivalent of what he produces. The difference between what the worker receives and what he produces is surplus value—or that portion of the value of an article which the worker produces for nothing.
The capitalist in competing for markets endeavours to undersell competitors by reducing the labour time spent upon articles to a minimum (reducing the value of an article) and at the same time to obtain the maximum of surplus value by increasing the difference between what the worker receives and what he produces—increasing the amount of wealth a worker can produce and reducing the amount he receives. In other words, increasing the exploitation of the worker.
The wealth the capitalist waxes fat upon comes out of surplus value, hence what the capitalist is after is not the supplying of the world with as great a multitude and variety of goods as possible, but the expansion of surplus value to the greatest possible extent. That he appears to do the former is not due to his philanthropy or good intentions, but because of his thirst for surplus value.
The capitalist is out to relieve the workers as much as possible of the burden of producing (not by shouldering it himself !). This is a very laudable object—very laudable indeed—but unfortunately it is only by shouldering the burden of producing that the worker can get his living under capitalism. Consequently by reducing the cost of production the capitalist relieves more and more workers of the burden of producing, the unemployed army grows, and in due time the graves get more and more burdens. Of course this increases employment in the coffin trade—perhaps this is the real meaning of “increased production” ?
We are continually reading the inky wails of the English capitalists over the loss of trade, and the reason they put forward as causing this loss is the alleged relatively high working costs, endeavouring to impress upon us that high working costs are due to relatively high wages. We have seen above the idea lying behind their agitation, but there is another counter to their move, and that is this: The capitalists in every advanced country in the world are putting exactly the same position to their particular workers—they can’t all be right ! Unfortunately, however, the argument, backed up by “trusted labour leaders,” serves its purpose to some extent. The workers give credence to this view and submit to wage reductions in a more or less docile manner.
In view of the obvious facts above mentioned in relation to the increase in unemployment, it is remarkable to find what a considerable number of workers base their hopes upon an improvement in their industrial outlook. They accept, without examination, the contention that they are suffering one of the usual periods of “bad times” which will shortly blow over and work will become plentiful. They forget that with the development of capitalism the, “bad times” period has tended more and more to become the normal position; the intensified production spur applied during the war exaggerated the position beyond the normal growth.
So satisfactory, from the outlook of the capitalist, is the present attitude of the workers that a leading capitalist paper can say:
“The patience which in these circumstances, the masses of unemployed have maintained in the face of hardship and official apathy, is remarkable enough to have excited the astonishment of visitors from abroad as well as writers in other countries” (Daily News, 13/10/21).
And the Communist, the closet philosophers (!) have the blindness or the brazen impudence to assert that this country is on the verge of revolution !
Hope may “spring eternal in the human breast,” but when directed into certain channels it is not only as delusive as the desert mirage, but it is also apt to bring harmful results — in the case in question the hope of “Better Times” breeds the attitude of political apathy.
Outside of Socialism there are no “Better Times ” ahead for the working class. Consequently the workers must abandon their present apathetic attitude and take a lively interest in their present social position — they must study Socialism and find out what it means to them.