Ideals and realities
No doubt the upholders of this best of all worlds—the present Capitalist system—would like everything to appear coloured in the satisfaction of their own being. From the Duke of Northumberland to Mr. Ramsay Macdonald, all are intensely satisfied, because they want for nothing. A rosy world it is for them, coloured in the light of their own satisfied needs. What matter that hunger and poverty stalk abroad unhampered among the working class ; the class that produces the necessities, as well as the luxuries of life upon which these people fatten. “Be reconciled to the present state of things,” they say to the working class “for fear worse thingsbefall you.” “Look at Russia,” and they hold their breath at this spectre, not long enough, unfortunately, to cause internal disruption.
“How silly to strike for better conditions, look at the loss in terms of pounds, and the harm you do to the community by so doing,” they inform the workers. How quickly these people can change their names.
Societies for the reconciliation of capitalists and workers have sprung up like mushrooms and have as quickly disappeared.
The attempts to reconcile the irreconcilable are more than they or their arch priest, Mr. Ramsay Macdonald, with all his astuteness, can manage.
They may turn aside for the moment the efforts of the workers to raise their standard of life; an effort which can only be attained at first at thê expense of the Capitalist class, but with irresistable force the dam of platitudes is broken down under the pressure of economic forces. The inherent contradictions in the present social system are such as to play havoc with all absolute ideals.
On the one hand the Capitalist desires as much profit as possible. To obtain this he must pay as little as possible for the worker’s commodity, “labour power.” It is always the Capitalist’s desire to keep the price of labour ppwer at a minimum, compatible with its efficiency. On the other hand the worker desires to obtain as high a price as possible for his commodity, labour power. The result is an antagonism between the two, which is impossible in the present social system to prevent. The workers in Trade and Industrial Unions are so organised because they realise that by this method they can more effectively struggle for a better price for their labour power, which price they obtain in the form of wages.
In spite of the nebulous sitting on the fence attitude of many Trade Union officials they are forced to act in this struggle, for otherwise the workers would repudiate them.
During the last few months this conflict of interests has been shown by the Railmen and the Dockers, and now the Miners are proving the truth that this class antagonism cannot be prevented under this system.
The platitudes of Reconciliation. Pacifism, No More War, etc., are like feathers blown about in a gale. Not long ago we had the spectacle of professed pacifist Members of Parliament, including J. H. Hudson and A W. Haycock, Parliamentary Members for Huddersfield and West Salford respectively, both of whom had served long terms of imprisonment during the war in their stand against militarism, voting credits for five cruisers, while jingo liberal M.P.’s voted against the bill.
Thus we get the difference between pacifist platitudes and practice. War, and therefore the means for waging war, are almost inevitable in a system in which countries like Great Britain, America, France, Japan, etc., producing an enormous surplus of commodities, and desiring markets for these commodities, get in each other’s way in that desire. The main cause of the last war lies in this fact.
Very few now deny that the competition for markets between Germany, and Great Britain was a big factor in bringing about the last war. The camouflage phrases of the “ Rights of Small Nations,” the “crushing of Prussian Militarism,” were but the poison gas behind which the real cause was concealed.
Thè working class by applying their energy to Nature’s materials produce all wealth, yet they do not own it. A small non-producing class owns the greater portion.
In the Manifesto of the S.P.G.B., page 22, a calculation of thé wealth produced in this country from a Capitalist source gave the workers share of this wealth in Great Britain as one-third. On page 23 a computation by Carol D. Wright, one-time Commissioner of Labour to the U.S.A. Government, gave the workers’ share in U.S.A. as an eighth of his product. What does the Capitalist Class do with the remaining portion?
However lavishly it expands this superfluity it is impossible for this class to rid itself of all this abundance very quickly by ordinary channels. Markets must be found to realise the profit on the goods produced. Otherwise these goods lie in the warehouses and become a burden instead of an asset. The fact that people need these goods does not form an effective demand. Workers may go about without boots, clothing, and starve, while the warehouses and shops will be overflowing with these essentials of life. This, simply because the worker has not the wherewithal to purchase them. The more overstocked with goods the warehouses are the greater generally is the misery and poverty of the working class. Such is the paradox of this social system. War is one method of finding an effective market for these goods. There was no unemployed during the war, when commodities produced were quickly destroyed. If only the Capitalist Class could find such an effective method now of ridding themselves of their superfluous goods, what a happy world it would be for them. Unfortunately for them war does not last for ever.
So we have a million and a-half unemployed workers living trom hand to mouth in the hope that their labour power may be required some time or other when the good god or some other divinity of chance helps the Capitalist Class to rid itself of this superfluous wealth which the workers have produced to their own detriment.
If the working class would only realise that there is no way out of this rut in the present system. If pacifists and other sentimentalists would realise that the cause of war, unemployment, poverty, lies in the Capitalist system, and that the only way to deal effectively with these problems is to abolish this system of the private ownership of the means of production and establish Socialism ; if instead of plaintively attacking the evil results of this system by means of shallow platitudes which, on coming up against reality, they find necessary to throw overboard ; if, in short, they would attack the root instead of the branches, then, and then only, would they have some hope of realising a new and better world.
(Socialist Standard, April 1924)