An Individualist’s Defence of Capital.

The Daily Mirror (28/10/27) introduces an article by Sir Ernest Benn with the following-headlines :—

“Why Capitalism is “Ruthless.” Economic law as old as Adam—not a system but a great natural force.

There are a few socialists who still imagine that capitalism is a system invented by the rich to exploit the poor.”

No man can truthfully call himself a Socialist who says, or thinks, that the Capitalist system was invented. Whatever he may call himself, or whatever the Daily Mirror may call him, however, it is plain from a perusal of Sir Ernest Benn’s article that the charge against Capitalism of exploitation is unanswerable.

Had it been possible to show that the working class is not exploited by the capitalist class, Sir Ernest would have done so, instead of stringing together a number of statements that can only be described as what he and other Capitalists wish or would like to think. He says :—

“The future of capitalism will be exactly like its past. Capitalism is not something which alters or varies or changes.

A great deal of confused thinking is caused by people who imagine that capitalism is something to do with the industrial revolution; something which can be altered by Act of Parliament ; or something which we can put off or put on or adopt or reject at our pleasure.”

For the Capitalist, of course, Capitalism is perfect. The Capitalist hates to hear his system attacked. It suits him admirably. He hates to think of the possibility of change. The snag in evolution, for him, is that he cannot apply it to the universe at large, and rule it out where his material interests are concerned. His particular method of exploitation, wage slavery, is quite recent in its general application, when compared with the system of exploitation that preceded it. Feudalism and chattel slavery, other forms of exploitation, though more enduring than Capitalism has shown itself up to the present, were short periods compared with the early Communism that preceded it.

To speak to a Capitalist of the industrial revolution is like reminding a decrepit octagenarian of his youth. That period of Capitalist history when the means of wealth production changed from tools operated by muscular energy, plus wind and water, to machines driven by steam, is generally spoken of as the industrial revolution. That period was the youth of Capitalism. Its childhood was passed side by side with Feudalism in the Middle Ages. The change —termed progress by the Capitalist—that has taken place since the industrial revolution even, is so great, so important, that it forms part of every child’s education. Sir Ernest must eradicate this teaching from the minds of the workers before he can frighten them away from Socialism by flatly asserting that Capitalism is something which does not change.

“A great deal of confused thinking is caused by people who imagine that Capitalism is something to do with the industrial revolution,” says Sir Ernest; but is it merely confused thinking on his part to say that Capitalism is the same now as then, or is it merely lying?

“Capitalism is the unhappy word invented, I think, by the Socialists to express the way we live and the economic forces that govern our lives.

The two predominant features of Capitalism are work and saving, and we cannot live without both.”

In this last sentence Sir Ernest acknowledges the debt owed by the capitalist class to the working class ; the latter being the only class that works and the only class that denies itself the satisfaction of its desires, with the result that wealth is accumulated in the hands of the capitalist class.

The working class does, in fact, deny itself the satisfaction of its desires. The workers are in a huge majority over the Capitalists. When they understand Socialism, they can, in spite of everything Sir Ernest says to the contrary, change the system. They can take over the means of wealth production, making them common property. They can arrange for the continued production of all necessary wealth and the manner of its individual appropriation and consumption.

The predominant features of Capitalism are not “work and saving,” but class ownership of the means of life and wage-slavery. Even the “Socialists” put up by Sir Ernest Benn know that the system means exploitation of the working class. Whether they think the system was invented or whether they think it merely grew, matters little. They have grasped the essential fact—exploitation. It is but a short step to discover the manner of this exploitation : the class ownership of the means of life and the merchandise character of human labour-power.


(Socialist Standard, January 1928)

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