1920s >> 1922 >> no-210-february-1922
Our readers will be deeply grieved, I am sure, to learn that the year that has just ended has been the hardest that the propertied class has ever experienced, at least, so says a writer in the “Manchester Guardian” (6/1/22). It is a most harrowing story. It seems that more old families have parted with their territorial possessions and cut themselves away from places which have been theirs for generations and generations. More heirlooms have been sold, more houses have been deserted, than ever before in the history of the class. Most humiliating of all, champagne is no longer drunk, and they are obliged to fall back on the humble whisky and soda. I cannot verify this at the moment-—none of the things they have renounced have come my way, therefore I must be content to shed a tear. Poor devils !
And yet in the very same column in which this distressful state of affairs is described, we are regaled with an account of the costly New Year celebrations at the London hotels and restaurants, the lavish expenditure on set scenes and gifts for the guests. At one hotel alone 6,000 crackers were distributed to the guests. And they weren’t penny ones, either! Other accounts elsewhere described the carnivals as being the rendezvous of the most elite of London society. Beautiful scenery, orchestras playing glorious music, lovely ladies with dresses and jewels costing thousands of pounds, plenty of cigars, booze and—oh ! what’s the use !
But before I leave the subject, perhaps I ought to mention, by way of contrast, that in one district alone—Poplar—10,000 very poor children were provided with a dinner by means of charity. The fact that this number of working-class children, in one district alone, could be found who were in need of something to eat, while at the other end of the town thousands of idlers were gorging them selves to death, forms a very striking commentary, indeed.
At the time of writing there is some talk of postponing the General Election which was forecasted for February. Most political parties are preparing for the fray. The Right Hon. J. M. Robertson has written a pamphlet in the cause of the true Liberals. He calls it “Liberalism and Labour,” and makes the bold claim that Liberalism “has wrought for Britain an ever-increasing liberty of life with an ever advancing betterment.” Yes, we’ve noticed it! “It has steadily and successfully aimed at the betterment of the life conditions of the mass.” Maybe. They might have aimed at it, but they have certainly missed it, for they are notoriously bad shots. Lloyd George !
The Labour Party in particular is sanguine of success. They expect to run about 400 candidates in the hope of realising their ambition—a Labour Parliament. No programme has been decided on as yet. But judging by the pronouncements made already it will differ in no respect from that of the Liberals. Ireland, reconstruction in Europe, substantial and progressive disarmament, recognition of Germany and Russia—all these non-working class issues will be the main planks in the programme.
Workers have suffered untold miseries under capitalist domination; under a Labour Government they will continue. One can easily imagine the capitalists, in order to ease their own responsibilities, handing over the reins of government to the Labour Party with their best wishes for success. We have seen what has happened under “Labour’s rule” in Australia. Capitalism in this country has little to fear from the present form of industrial and political organisation of labour. Since their own existence as a class is not seriously threatened, they could rest assured that the Labour Party would do its best to clean up the rotten mess which between them they have made.
Proof of this was given by Mr. Clynes himself when speaking at a Labour Conference at Plymouth on December 10 last. He said that the Government, since the end of the war, had stumbled from one economic blunder to another, until now six or seven millions were existing under conditions of acute distress on the labour of other people instead of being at work and living on the results of their own labour. The bluff in this will be seen where he tries to make it appear that those who are out of work are living on those who are in work. Government doles and allowances and the like, are paid out of the surplus value possessed by the capitalists ; what the workers get in the form of wages represents their cost of subsistence.
Beyond that they have nothing to pay with. If the capitalists are obliged to feed their surplus slaves it is the fault of their own system. The implication in Clynes’ statement is that if all those who at present are unemployed were found work, those who are now at work would be better off by as much as it is costing to keep alive those who are out of work. This is not true.
Again : “If political relations with any other country will limit our freedom for economic recovery, freedom must be secured to avoid economic ruin. By separate action, or better still, by international conference and co-operation” (i.e., of capital and labour !) “we should speedily diminish the appalling list of our unemployed. Business men and financiers now see that they must take some step to solve this question, or it will submerge them in the privations which others now endure.”
You see the drift ! Worrying about what might happen to the capitalists if they don’t get busy and squeeze the worker some more !
It has been complained that the Labour Party never made Socialism the issue at an election. That’s true. It would be absurd to expect it. After what has been said it will be obvious that we have some justification for saying that the Labour Party is saturated with capitalist notions.
Permit me to inflict Clynes on you once more :—”The share of Labour in providing a remedy would be in increasing the national products by greater output, so as to reach those lower prices which are a guarantee for effective competition. A demand for output should, however, be preceded by a foreign and home policy which would not destroy markets, but make them certain, and output should be preached together with the doctrine that men doing their best shall not thereby incur the penalty of unemployment, and shall have their fair share of the increased product from increased energy.” Could anything be plainer than that ?
Increased production so as to reach lower prices ! Lower prices, in the present condition of the labour market, mean lower wages; in some cases to below the subsistence point.
Greater output means intenser exploitation. “There is immanent in capital an inclination and constant tendency to heighten the productiveness of labour, in order to cheapen commodities, and by such cheapening, to cheapen the labourer himself” (“Capital,” p. 309). It is being proved every day. Only recently a Sheffield inventor was reported to have sold to a well-known Birmingham concern for £5,000 a mass output machine which produces at 7d. per pair scissors which to-day cost Sheffield makers 3s. 6d. It is claimed that the machine, operated by one man and a boy, does the work of ten men employed on former processes.
This is what Clynes is in reality advocating, whether he realises its significance or not. And who will determine when a man is “doing his best” and what constitutes the “fair share” of the increased product from increased energy ?
If we are to believe reports from Russia, the conditions in some of the outlying districts must be terrible indeed. According to correspondents who claim to have witnessed the sufferings of the people, peasants have been reduced to the necessity of eating their horses, dogs and cats, out of sheer starvation. Even rats have been utilised as food. Whether our “smart society,” ever on the look-out for stunts, regards this as a novelty worthy of emulation, or not, I am unable to say. Anyway, they have made a start. We read that frogs and snails have been put on the bill of fare at one of the leading London hotels.
I looked again, thinking it might have been advanced as a measure of economy. But no—the explanation is that English and American officers have acquired a taste for them while serving in France (where others acquired a taste for something else) and are anxious to have them again.
There is no doubt that what one class would only resort to out of necessity, another class will adopt because it is “daring” and “quite the thing, you know.”
But seemingly it has another aspect. According to the “Manchester Guardian” (13/1/22) “the tremendous commercial fact is that 250 frogs and 200 snails are now facing brought to London daily by air from Paris.” What is more, the daily order is going to be doubled because the idea has caught on. No expense will be spared so that they shall live like storks. Anything, I suppose, to relieve the monotony of a satiated useless existence. And these are our rulers—our decadent ruling class !