The plain case for Socialism

“Eight Million People on Poverty Line”—so runs the headline of a column in the Daily News for July 12th. An unemployed army that is steadily growing and is now nearly a million and a half; a coalmining industry that is declining and turning its workers out to starve; a railway industry that is alleged to be on the down grade and has drawn from the Rt. Hon. J. H. Thomas the remark :

The railway situation to-day is worse than ever it was before, and I am gravely apprehensive about it. (Daily News, 2/7/28.)

Which remarks he backed up by recommending the railway workers to accept a 2½ per cent. reduction off their wages.

Ten thousand harvesters required for Canada (sixteen hours a day of real hard work) and tens of thousands apply for the jobs—some walking hundreds of miles, some getting out of sick beds, old men weakly pretending they are young, weaklings laying claim to lustihood, and all just for the chance of bread and butter.

But, we are told, we can’t do without capital, and evils such as these are necessary in order that society shall continue to “progress.”

How the capitalist looks at the situation is suggested by the remarks of Mr. William Wallace, at the Conference of Quaker Employers last April, where he said :

Capital should have a minimum wage, and in addition, a premium for the risk run. The worker should have a statutory minimum wage and the management a sufficient remuneration to secure the kind of management required. The surplus should then be used, firstly, to raise the minimum wage to the human needs basis, and, after that, it might be desirable to go on to profit-sharing or other means of distribution, such as pensions, superannuation, etc. (Italics ours)—Daily News, 14/4/28.

It will be seen that in the eyes of the Quaker the first essential is an adequate return for capital. He is willing to allow, as a secondary question, a minimum wage to the workers—but less than required to meet human needs. If, however, there is any surplus he is agreeable that a portion of it shall be used to raise the minimum wage to meet human needs !

If we take the above as a representative example of the Capitalist outlook (and remember the Quaker has a name as a “good” employer !) then all the bulk of the workers can hope for when in work is a wage less than what will meet human needs. As employment is a fluctuating quantity and the machine steadily encroaches upon the available jobs, each worker risks increasing periods of unemployment. How is he to get over these periods with no chance of savings to fall back upon? The answer, of course, is semi-starvation on the dole—for those that can qualify !

In the days when human society was young no such troubles beset the people— starvation through unemployment was not known. It is a product of Capitalism and Capitalism cannot cure the disease without risking its continued existence. There is really only one cure and that cure involves the extinction of capitalism as such, for it strikes at the root of both unemployment and capitalism—the private ownership of the means of production.

The solution to the unemployment problem is so simple that once grasped it seems extraordinary that one has not seen it before. At the outset one may ask, “How can people be workless when the earth abounds in fruitfulness and there are hungry mouths to fill”? Surely the situation is ridiculous and forces one to see that there must be something fundamentally wrong with the method of production and distribution that is now in use. No amount of deep economic argument or highflown philosophical phrases can get over or explain away facts so simple as this.

If the bulk of a nation must endure poverty and know little of the pleasures of life in order that “Science, progress and Capitalism” shall flourish, then surely the sufferers must, sometime, put the question, “Why not shatter the whole thing to bits and relapse into barbarism” where conditions of this kind were unknown. The essence of the argument in favour of carrying on as at present simply signifies the providing of leisure, enjoyment, “progress” and the rest for a privileged few at the expense of the many.

Fortunately, however, there is no need either to shatter society to bits, or to relapse into barbarism, in order to remove the evils that exist.

The hungry man looks into the baker’s shop but durst not take his fill.—Why? Because somebody else owns the goods. The unemployed man looks wistfully through the window at the whirring machinery, but durst not take his place at a machine.—Why? Because somebody else owns the factory and all that is in it. This brings us down at once to the root of the problem.

Taking the whole of society broadly, in almost every country the situation is as follows : The great bulk of the wealth in existence is produced by working people receiving wages in return for the energies they expend. This wealth and the workshops, raw material, and land involved in its production, are owned by vast companies representing’ mainly a relatively small group of shareholders who do not obtain their living by working, but live on the dividends they get from the companies. These companies naturally aim at providing as much dividends as possible and to this end only keep their factories running as fully and as long as profit (in the long run, of course) comes to them. They, therefore, take advantage of the aid of science in the way of providing machinery and organisation that reduces the staff that need be employed for producing a given quantity of goods. The net result is a steady decrease in the relative number of work people employed and consequent increase of unemployment.


Hundreds of years ago slavery came into existence because man’s power to produce reached a point where one man was able to produce in a day of labour a quantity of goods (or services) greater in value than what was needed to keep him for the day— he produced more than his keep. At that time this robbery was plain for every eye to see because the oppression was direct and open. In later times, for instance in Rome at the time of its imperial greatness, it was plain that the vast mass of slaves produced, not only all that kept them, but also a huge extra quantity that enabled the Patrician slave-holders to live luxuriously and distribute gratuitous feasts for the angry but poor freemen when they became restive. Since those days the means to produce a given quantity of goods with a less and less expenditure of human energy have made mighty strides, until we have reached a time when millions can be kept well nourished for employment in the work of destroying wealth, in a quantity and at a rapidity that is astounding-—as in the war that finished, ten years ago. Just pause for a moment and ponder over the fact that every single shell that burst over any front represented in value hundreds of square meals. Multiply the number that burst by the value of the guns, the equiping of the armies, and the value of the fortifications, buildings and the like destroyed and you will get some vague idea what present society, with its crippling methods of wasteful production, can afford to waste in the matter of wealth and still live. During the last month armies of soldiers, fleets of warships, and armies of aeroplanes have been engaged in costly manoeuvres—all waste of wealth and human energy. Ponder a little more and you will realise how easy it would be to fill every empty stomach, clothe every ragged body and house every starveling, if all the energy employed wastefully were spent on work connected with the production of what is necessary to meet the needs of all. Socialism implies this.


(To be continued).

(Socialist Standard, September 1928)

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