A Labour Leader’s Defence of Capitalism
The essence of the industrial problem is to realise that business is a collective enterprise, that the divisions between capital and labour should not exist; that workers should be capitalists, and capitalists workers; and that there should be equality in status, if not in function, among all who are necessarily engaged in the common enterprise of carrying on an industry.
It is sheer nonsense to say that an improvement in conditions could not be secured without the overthrow of the capitalistic system. I advocate the setting up of wages boards and industrial courts, but that would be of little use unless the procedure upon which they were to work was laid down and was generally applied.
The above is from the John Clifford lecture delivered by Philip Snowden at Hastings and reported in the Daily News (21.6.27).
In these two short paragraphs Mr. Snowden, who has professed himself a Socialist throughout his political career, openly denies the fundamental principles of Socialism, and declares the establishment of Socialism to be unnecessary.
The quotation is an instance of the truth of our assertion that the “Labour” Party is all things to all men. That Labour leaders are concerned chiefly with obtaining working-class support as a means to their own personal advancement. They frame their utterances to suit the views of their audience.
Mr. Snowden’s first statement is obviously false. It is only capitalists who engage collectively in business; and that for the purpose of exploitation of the workers. So far, moreover, as they are concerned, as a class, there is no enterprise without exploitation. .They own the means of wealth-production and the wealth of society as it is produced. The working-class produces much greater value than is returned to it in the shape of wages, salaries, etc. It is true that here and there a capitalist shows enterprise in an effort to obtain a larger share of the market by pushing some other capitalist out; but in general it is as true as that night follows day that capital is multiplied enormously by being used in the capitalist way for the production of commodities.
The worker is not collectively engaged with the capitalist in the production of wealth. He is paid a price for his labour-power, and there the matter ends so far as he is concerned. He has no claim on the capitalist with regard to the disposal of the wealth he has produced; nor any guarantee that the capitalist will continue’ to employ him.
To say, as Mr. Snowden does, “that the divisions between capital and labour should not exist,” is merely a pious expression of opinion. The workers know from experience that without organised struggle against the master-class their standard of living would rapidly fall. Mr. Snowden cannot deny this obvious fact; would he suggest that the workers should cease to struggle? If not, then within the present system nothing can wipe out the “divisions between capital and labour” unless it is the conversion of the master-class to the wageworker’s point of view.
Possibly Mr. Snowden had such a conversion in mind when he said “that workers should be capitalists and capitalists workers.” If capitalists became workers, however, always assuming their ability to do some form of useful work, they would only squeeze workers out of employment to that extent. On the other hand, the usual capitalist idea of making workers capitalists is by co-partnership, which is merely a more efficient method of exploitation. The directors of those concerns where profit-sharing and co-partnership have been practised have repeatedly asserted that it is a business proposition from their point of view, and gives greater returns to capitalists.
Mr. Snowden might well be asked how it is possible to arrange for equality of status between capitalist and wage-slave. No matter how essential a worker may be to a concern, he must always be subservient to the owners of that concern. “Equality in function” is nonsense under capitalism. The function of the worker is production. If the capitalist has a function at all, it is possession and enjoyment. “Equality in function” is, therefore, a negation of capitalism; it cannot exist without the overthrow of the present system and the establishment of one where every able member of society shares in the work of production and has free access to the proceeds of the combined labour. The only system that could attain to such freedom is Socialism, which can only be established with the overthrow of capitalism. Yet Mr. Snowden says “it is sheer nonsense to say that improvement in conditions could not be secured without the overthrow of the capitalist system.”
It is for him to show the workers how. The reference to industrial courts and wages boards is his only contribution in this direction. Who is to lay down the procedure upon which they are to work, and who is to see that it is generally applied? Obviously the workers have not the power either way. If they had they would not proceed in such a roundabout way to improve their conditions.
In short, all the suggestions raised by Mr. Snowden: workers to be capitalists, equality in status and function, and improvement in conditions, would still leave the workers at the mercy of the capitalist class, because the latter own the means of life and control the real forces in society. While they have that power the workers will remain slaves. Their conditions and standard of living may vary with time and place, but in the main their slavery will become more oppressive and exacting as the system develops.
The only real hope of improvement for the workers lies in their speedy discovery of the source of capitalist power, and their conscious and organised effort to control that power in their own class interests. They must realise that it is futile to dream of making capitalists workers and workers capitalists. The only solution is the abolition of private or class ownership in the means of wealth production and the substitution of common ownership with democratic control.