Our Courageous Masters
The Press is an organ of capitalist propaganda and attempts to mould working-class ideas to suit the interests of the capitalist class. Yet this Press often contains the antidote to this propaganda. If members of the working class were to read the reports of company meetings, for instance, the work of the Socialist would be rendered easier ; for in these reports we often get the real point of view of the capitalist.
“Labour leaders,” stump orators of the “Economic Study Club,” and other anti-Socialist organisations, all are assuring the worker of the identity of his interests with those of his employer; they exhort the worker to pull together with his employer in a spirit of brotherly co-operation for the solution of the difficulties which adversely affect them both, depriving the employer of the “fair” return on his capital and the worker of his wages.
The reading by workers of such reports as that of the London County Westminster and Parr’s Bank, published in “Sunday Times” (5/2/22), would do much to counteract this sort of twaddle.
The Chairman (Mr. Leaf), in his opening remarks, said: “And we have won some peace, for the moment at least, in those labour disputes which, to the mind of the social philosopher twelve months ago, presented the gloomiest point of a gloomy horizon.” This “peace” upon which Mr. Leaf is congratulating himself and his colleagues, has been brought about, as many workers know from personal experience, by the wholesale defeats of the working class in industry after industry. Moulders, miners, and ship-joiners have been forced, after months of struggle, to submit to sweeping wage reductions. Others, foreseeing defeat, have submitted to reductions in wages and extension of hours without a struggle.
Then Mr. Leaf goes on to remark upon the miners’ lock-out. “The outstanding event of the year in our internal economy has been the great coal stoppage. That happily (italic mine) ended, not in a complete victory for either side, but in an agreement to set on foot a system of profit-sharing which constitutes, I suppose, the greatest experiment in partnership between capital and labour that the world has yet seen.” Representatives of the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain and representatives of the Mining Association recently met and after discussion issued an official statement, (“Daily Herald,” 9/2/22), in which we read: “It was found that the wages of the workmen are unprecedentedly low in many districts, more particularly in the exporting areas. In seven out of the thirteen areas scheduled in the agreement, wages have been brought down to the minimum. . . .” The “Daily Herald” quotes the Executive of the Miners’ Federation to the effect that “the men have suffered drastic reductions in wages, that have brought them far below the pre-war standard of living. . . .” When Mr. Leaf speaks of the happy ending of the conflict he is evidently not looking at it from the point of view of the miner.
We have seen how the workers have fared. How have the masters weathered the storm of the past year ? Mr. Leaf remarked at the opening of his speech, and repeated later on, that “the past year had been one of courage in facing losses.” . . . “Finally agriculture, our most important industry, though it has had a very bad year, seems also to have touched bottom. The farmers have borne their losses very well out of accumulated profits in the past; and, with large reductions of wages, are probably able to make both ends meet.”
Brave fellows! The losses that they have so courageously borne have only been relative losses after all. The losses of last year are offset against the profits of previous years, part of which had been reserved against the contingency of loss, the balance being very much on the profit side, for the losses have “been borne very well.” The bank, whose shareholders Mr. Leaf is addressing, has put aside half a million pounds against future contingencies. Certainly not a bad foundation for future courage. The miners do not seem to have done quite so well out of their share of the profits under the system mentioned by Mr. Leaf. Thriftless chaps, no doubt !
In this speech of Mr. Leaf’s we have the real point of view of the capitalist. The end of a conflict which plunged the miners into deeper poverty is described as happy. “Large reductions in wages” enable the capitalist to “make ends meet” and are therefore a subject for congratulation. The workers’ loss is the capitalists’ gain.
In the last quotation Mr. Leaf also shows how little the capitalist believes in the economic fallacies propagated by his agents and apologists. The workers have been told that if they accept reductions in wages the capitalist will be able to lower the price of his commodities, thus enabling him to compete more successfully with his foreign rivals and so lead to increased employment. This view is widely accepted among the working class, and has been, I believe, to some extent responsible for the tame manner in which wage reductions have been accepted. Mr. Leaf certainly only speaks of farmers, but what he says of them is true of practically the whole capitalist class, for hardly a section of the working class have not suffered reductions of wages during the past year.
The truth of the matter is that the market conditions had already compelled the capitalists to either reduce prices or curtail production. They then take advantage of the excessive supply of labour-power to beat down wages and thus recoup their losses.
The workers, by applying their energy to nature-given material, produce the wealth of the world. But as the means of production are the private property of capitalists, the products are also theirs. The workers receive in return for their labour-power, on the average, but sufficient to maintain themselves in the state of efficiency required and to reproduce the next generation of wage-labourers. The surplus, and with the continued application of science to industry this is constantly growing, is divided among the master class in the shape of rent, interest, and profit. Increases in wages, other things remaining the same, mean decreases in the surplus appropriated by the capitalist, and, vice versa, decreases in wages mean increases in the surplus appropriated by the capitalists.
The remarks quoted from Mr. Leaf’s speech bear out this contention. Therefore, when Mr. Leaf praises a co-partnership or “profit-sharing” scheme, we can form an idea whom the scheme will benefit. And, as a matter of fact, all profit-sharing and copartnership schemes, are but devices for extracting more surplus value from the workers. The invitations of the capitalists and their agents to the workers to recognise an identity of interests and to co-operate with their employers are invitations to the workers to permit themselves quietly, and therefore more effectively, to be fleeced.
Not by a false friendship and co-operation with the capitalists will the workers emancipate themselves from the necessity of toiling for long hours in order to secure a miserable existence, but by recognising the fundamental antagonism between their masters’ interests and their own and organising politically to overthrow the master class by capturing the weapon by means of which the master class enslave the workers, viz., political power. Then will the way be clear to inaugurate, not a cooperation wherein one of the participants can live in luxury on the proceeds, while the other is forced to eke out his share of the “profits” with doles from the Guardians, but a co-operative commonwealth in which the principle of production and distribution shall be “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.”