Producing and Paying: A Grim Fairy Tale

When discussing with the average member of the working class, or at meetings that bring forward their opinions, as soon as the Socialist attempts to show the futility of concern with this or that expenditure of the master class, he is invariably asked, “But don’t we pay for everything ?” and this to the questioner appears an obvious truth.

Indignation is often aroused and shown when it is pointed out that the working class cannot have any part in the paying or contributing towards the colossal expense of running the capitalist system of society. True, some may feel the injustice of a system which on all sides presents itself as a glaring contrast between stupendous wealth and sheer stark naked poverty. True, others may dimly perceive that the existence of this wealth is due to the efforts of the working class. That at the docks, on the railways, in the mine or the office, the activities of the master class are unknown—from the highest to the lowest, skilled or unskilled, all are workers.

If, however, those who think thus, do not carry their observations and enquiries farther, such knowledge remains superficial, and will lead to wrong conclusions. They must go deeper and seek to understand what portion of the wealth that is produced accrues to the working class. They will then know that they CANNOT PAY either directly or indirectly towards the upkeep of the very system that exploits them; though it is quite desirable from the master class point of view to foster the belief that they can and do.

When we speak of the working class, we mean the class that works as the name implies. This presupposes a non-working class. The former are without any property in the means of life, and have only their bodily activities to sell in order to live. The latter own the earth and all upon it (machinery, mines, raw material, railways, etc.).

Wealth used to exploit labour power for profit is capital and its owners are capitalists. Capital is therefore merely wealth used for a particular purpose and is itself the product of wage labour.

Now the working class have only three methods of existing, either begging, stealing or working. Obviously the first two methods cannot become general, and to a small section, begging, unless upon a large scale (such as the Salvation Army and various charitable organisations) is a rather poor occupation; while to steal, after everything worth stealing has been stolen, with politically controlled force to maintain its ownership, is also a foolish proceeding.

There is, therefore, only that enervating pastime left to the workers, to work—for somebody else. And what does work give when obtainable? Wages. And what are they? Marx and Engels wrote in 1848 :

“The average price of wage labour is the minimum wage, i.e., the sum of the necessaries of life, absolutely needful to keep the worker in life as a worker. Thus what the wage earner appropriates by his labour is just as much as is necessary to assure him a bare existence” (Communist manifesto.)

But the worker is paid in money, and it is this fact that disguises from him the exploiting nature of the transaction, the buying of his labour power. What the master really buys is the full use of that energy, but when it is expended in the production of wealth, the worker produces much more in value than the value of his own necessaries of life expressed in price as wages. Six hundred years ago a man could produce in twelve weeks labour sufficient to sustain himself and family for a whole year (Thorold Rogers.)

How much greater must be his productivity to-day with the aid of steam, electricity, machinery, and every labour saving device science has placed at his disposal. What the worker produces over and above the value of what he receives as wages the Socialist calls “SURPLUS VALUE.” And it is from this source, whether it takes the form of Rent, Interest, or Profit that the masters MUST PAY.

The worker is robbed of the major portion of the wealth he alone produces and is left relatively poorer year by year as that wealth increases. All improvements in the means and methods of wealth production must benefit the comparatively few owners of those means, for to them belong the results. While the workers remain labour power sellers they cannot command more than the price resulting from that sale (wages).

If the master class can persuade the workers to continue in the belief that the latter have a part in the paying of national or local expenditure, they can help to disguise the exploiting nature of their system. The worker cannot pay out of what he NEVER RECEIVES, though at times he argues that he pays indirectly by consuming such things as tobacco, beer, etc.

Even here again it is a question of wages. Whatever the sum total of the prices of the necessaries required to reproduce the worker (including some sort of entertainment and small luxuries) must be given to him first in his wage, otherwise his labour power deteriorates. When prices rose during the war, bonuses had to be given to cover the increased cost of living; when they fell to any extent bonuses disappeared, or in other words, wages came down. The sliding scale is another example of the adjustment of wages to the cost of living.

Capitalist agents often tell the workers that it is the employed that must support the unemployed. Their object is twofold, to delude the workers, and endeavour to keep as low as possible their masters expenditure. At times they give the game away by stating that it pays better to receive “Guardians relief” than work for wages, and that’s saying something.

How little the reduction of such expenditure concerns the workers was evidenced recently at Poplar, when certain Labour members of the Council went to prison, avowedly in the interests of the workers, but we find the truth in strange places, thus ! “We have in our possession a return showing that the ‘large ratepayers’ actually saved in rates £300,000, as a result of the ‘Poplar Labour Borough Council.’ One firm in Millwall saved over £3,000, and another in Bow £1,222.” (Ed., “East London Pioneer,” April, 1922). Certainly good for the “large” ratepayers.

No, fellow workers, if the paying were yours the masters would trouble little about the expense much less spend large sums in propaganda upon matters which didn’t concern them. What concerns you is how long you intend to be the victims of profits and production for sale. Understand your importance in society and your historic mission as real men and women and then organise for Socialism. Social ownership of the means of producing wealth for use and not profit. That will destroy the power of the few to dominate the lives of the masses. The working “class” will then be abolished because all but the child and the feeble will take part in the useful necessary work of society and all will enjoy the benefits such social life will give.


(Socialist Standard, September 1922)

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