1920s >> 1923 >> no-221-january-1923

The Capital Sentence

In the period of the late European carnage, when the world’s youth was engaged in making the world safe for hypocrisy, the manufacture of death-dealing instruments proceeded apace at the Government Arsenal at Woolwich. Mechanics were drafted from all parts of the country to this arsenal in order to provide the “Tommies” the means wherewith to disembowel the “Fritzes.” Sufficient accommodation not being available in the district, the Government perforce had to erect shelters—one could not truthfully term them houses—in which the munition workers and their families could live.

When the capitalists deemed it advisable to call a halt to the slaughter, the demand for armaments became less urgent, and the Arsenal workers, like Othello, found their occupation gone. For various reasons, chief among these perhaps was the shortage of working class dwellings, the munition makers were unable to return to the districts in which they formerly resided. In many cases these workers were unable to pay the rent demanded (for it must not be supposed that a munificent Government had allowed them to live in these houses rent free), and arrears accrued in amounts ranging from £15 to £70. Then did the Government, through H.M. Office of Works, apply to the Woolwich County Court for possession of the “houses.” Before the Court, the tenants were represented by a solicitor. The Star (4/10/22) states:—

Mr. I. H. Macdonald, defending, said that many of these men had been induced to come to Woolwich to work for the Government, and now, being out of work, were unable to leave owing to the housing difficulty. Lewisham Guardians. . . . unlike other boards, had not given relief in cash to pay the rent.

However, these facts did not influence the Court, and so, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not, ejectment orders were granted to the landlords, suspended as long as the current rent was paid, and a certain amount of the arrears paid off. But the action did not end before the worthy Judge, Sir T. Grainger, had unburdened himself of a masterly example of capitalist jurisprudence. Listen to the band :—

When one defendant said he was not responsible for being out of work. Judge Sir Thomas Grainger said, “I cannot hear you on that. Until Labour can regard Capital as its greatest benefactor there will always be unemployment.—Star, 4/10/22.

Until Labour can regard”—kind regards, Sir Thomas!

The halo of “impartiality” with which the capitalist scribes so dearly love to adorn the court judges, has many times been the subject of comment in these columns, and although this incident serves to show just how much, or how little, favour the worker may expect in the Courts, we may leave this point aside, and, for the sake of the credulous, once more focus the searchlight of Socialist analysis on the cause of unemployment, and see just how long unemployment need last.

The principle cause of unemployment is the fact that, by virtue of their monopoly of the instruments for producing the necessities of life, the capitalists are able to rob the workers of the wealth they (the workers) produce—the capitalists returning, on the average, just sufficient of that wealth to enable the workers to keep physically fit to go on producing, and to reproduce their species. The difference between the total amount produced by the workers and that portion returned to them still leaves a vast surplus of commodities unconsumed. It should be borne in mind that this difference increases as machinery develops and the productivity of labour increases. Now, in spite of all the riots of luxury indulged in by the capitalists, the Royal weddings, and what not, a surfeit of goods still remains. The workers obviously cannot buy back these goods, however much they may be in need of them. Thus the markets of the world become overstocked. As, under the present system, goods are only produced for profit, when the capitalist is not sure of a market for the goods, production is slackened, and the unemployed army increases. And this unemployed army will last just as long as the present system of producing for profit lasts. All talk therefore of capital being a “benefactor” is so much moonshine, intended to mislead the unthinking. “Malefactor” is the right word, and while we find judges ready to mouth such platitudes as quoted above, we can realise how earnest was Bumble’s dictum : “If the law supposes that, the law is an ass—an idiot.”

Bestir yourselves then workers! Study Socialism, and make yourselves proof against the dope issued by the masters daily from pulpit, Press, and platform. Having done that, make yourselves judges of the motives of the master class, and organise in the Socialist Party in order to pronounce the capital sentence on the present system, with its unemployment and the attendant evils — poverty, misery, and disease.

H. W. M