1920s >> 1922 >> no-210-february-1922

More “Cheap and Nasty.”

In the “Fortnightly Review” for November appears an article entitled “Unemployment—its cause and its only remedy.” The alluring title might lead the unsuspecting to anticipate something in the nature of a new remedy, but upon a little examination, we find it is simply the old speeding up trick of increased production. Every mouthpiece of capital, be it Clynes on the stump, Lloyd George at the Guildhall Banquet, or even a capitalist apologist prostituting his pen in a four shilling periodical, each in their turn have denounced the workers and attempted to show that theirs is the responsibility for the present universal chaos.

The writer of the above article, Ellis J. Barker, says “Industrial unemployment is world-wide. and it is due principally to the unreasonableness of labour” (p. 870). “It is by far the greatest in England and the United States, in both countries industry has almost come to a standstill owing to the vast accumulation of manufactured goods which fill the warehouses and cannot be sold” (p. 869). This condition of world-wide super-abundance of goods co-existent with millions of workless men and women, is, we claim, the logical outcome of capitalist production, its effects are as wide as the system itself.

Just so long as production is primarily for the world’s markets with the object of profit, just so long must this absurdity, want amidst an overflowing supply of man’s requirements, persist. Many generations have passed away since man’s power over nature made slavery possible, that condition came into existence as soon as his product exceeded his individual needs. A meagre subsistence that barely sufficed for the needs of all, made idlers and thus slavery impossible. But to-day mankind has inherited all the age long discoveries and inventions that have culminated in the vast social productive powers of modern machine industry, which in comparison to all previous methods of wealth production, appear as mere button pressing.

Only a class ignorant of its own importance could operate and wield such forces, merely to live in want, wretchedness and degradation. And yet out of these conditions will arise the knowledge that will lead to the eventual determination to end this sordid existence and in its place establish a system of society that will mean life in the fullest sense. Writers of the type of Ellis J. Barker pretend to be innocent of the nature of capitalist exploitation.

They ignore causes and pretend that symptoms are only passing inconveniences that will fade away if only the workers will work harder and be more sweetly reasonable. He says : “There is a superabundance of work for all. The world has never been in more urgent need for goods of every kind” (p. 877). One would naturally ask why there are any unemployed, or why the goods “which fill the warehouses and cannot be sold.”

We have already answered these questions, when we pointed out that production is only carried on for sale; when that sale is impossible then the workers remain idle and in want. The wages they receive represent but a fraction of the total values they produce, and no matter how cheaply they produce, or how cheaply they live, they cannot buy back more than that portion equal in value to their wages which represent only a part of their output. Even the luxurious living of the idle class can only account for a portion of this surplus, still leaving an enormous quantity of wealth seeking a market.

Newly developed countries like Japan mean lost customers and new competitors for these markets. It isn’t by any wish of the capitalist that he groans under the depressing atmosphere of prolonged crises that apparently refuse to clear away. Unemployment is a necessity of capitalism at any time, both for the lowering of wages and to ensure as far as possible the continued docility and forbearance of its wage slaves. It exists where increased production has taken place ; it exists where low wages are paid, and where a relatively higher wage operates; it is as much an institution of capitalism as poverty, prostitution, or the Nonconformist conscience.

Only when the working-class understand the cause of unemployment and all the other vicious conditions which beset the workers’ existence; understand that the cause is capitalism itself can they harmonise social production with social ownership by the abolition of the private ownership of the means of life, and the establishment of the social ownership. This will bring the ownership of wealth in line with the social methods of production of to-day, whose benefits at present accrue only to the privileged few. Then only will such powers of wealth production beneficially serve the whole of society and bring happiness and plenty to all.

W. E. MacHaffie