1920s >> 1928 >> no-290-october-1928

Rationalisation or Socialism

The capitalist system of society is based upon the private ownership of the means of wealth production and distribution, by a minority of the population. The majority of the population, being property-less, are compelled to offer their services for sale to the capitalists, and receive in return sufficient to enable them to live and keep on working. Only the working class engage in the work necessary to production, but the wealth that results from the workers’ labour-power belongs to the capitalists, and therefore the system is an excellent one—for the capitalists.

This being so, any proposals which have for their object the smoother working of the present system should be welcomed— by the capitalists.

The system is essentially a competitive one, and though the capitalists’ interests are identical as against working-class interests, they are not identical in the struggle to secure the greater proportion of the profit accruing from the workers’ labour-power. This results in a tremendous waste. In most industries there is more plant and machinery in being than is necessary to produce sufficient to supply the markets; consequently many works are on short time, not working to their full capacity, or are actually closed down.

Thoroughly up-to-date and efficient methods of production exist side by side with inefficient, almost obsolete, methods.

These facts are fairly obvious, and attempts are being made to meet the problem, but we are concerned about it being clearly understood whose problem it is.

To increase the difference between the total wealth the workers produce and the amount they receive in the form of wages has always been the object of the capitalists, and what is referred to as rationalisation is only a phase of that estimable object.

In an article in the Daily Herald (August 24th), Mr. Citrine attempts to justify the actioti of the T.U.C. in acting in conjunction with a group of employers to secure “the maximum efficiency of labour with the minimum of effort,” to avoid “waste of raw materials and power” and “unnecessary transport, burdensome financial charges, and the useless interposition of middlemen.” As the General Council of the T.U.C. is supposed to represent the interests of the wage workers, it was up to Mr. Citrine to demonstrate that the object of these proposals is not to increase the difference between total wages and total profits.

Instead of doing this he proceeds to ignore the class division in society and indulge in vague talk about the “community,” and increasing the standard of living of the “people.”

As the article was a reply to a previous one by Mr. Hicks, he brings forward evidence to show that his attitude is quite in accordance with Trade Union policy both here and abroad, instancing a report published by the T.U.C. and the Labour Party in 1924 on the Waste of Capitalism, which, as he says, “was, in effect, a demand for the rational organisation of industry.” He also points out that the German Trade Union movement took the initiative in demanding the institution of Rationalisation in 1926.

To be able to give evidence of other suicidal policies is regarded as sufficient justification of the present one. We have some indication of how Rationalisation works in Germany in an article in the Manchester Guardian Industrial Relations Supplement (30/11/27), by C. W. Guillebaud. One of the “concessions” to the workers is the institution of Works Councils, on which both workers and employers sit; and the writer points out that

“One most significant feature of the development of the Works Councils has been the great decline in the number of those willing to submit themselves for election or re-election. . . . The chief causes of this tendency are, first, the power of employers to get rid of Works Councillors, . . . despite the protective provisions of the Act.”

It should be obvious that a worker with orthodox views will be a useful man for the employers, but one who realises the direct cleavage of interests between the two sides, and says so, will be given his cards and shown the gate.

Although the Trade Unions arose from the antagonism of interests between the property-owning employers and the property-less wage workers, they frequently function in the interests of the capitalists. The railway workers’ unions have recently successfully negotiated a 2½ per cent, reduction in their members’ wages, without the trouble and expense of a lock-out. While having a clear idea of the purpose of “rationalisation,” it is necessary to point out to the self-styled “left-wingers” that it is not something to be fought separately. At the annual conference of the National Minority Movement, Mr. Harry Pollitt moved a resolution which declared that “the chief issue before the working class was to fight Rationalisation” (Daily Herald, August 27).

Certain phrases seem to knock these shallow pates off their balance; “Mondism” and “Imperialism” are manifestations of capitalism. One is reminded of 1914, when the counterparts of the present left-wingers considered it “progressive” to fight against Prussianism.

The opening paragraph of this article being correct, the only problem the workers need concern themselves about is their non-possession of the means of wealth production, the solution of which is in their own hands, by organising as a class, politically, to take possession of them. The Socialist Party is the only organisation which concentrates the workers’ attention on that problem. Labour right-wingers, who urge the workers to take an interest in their masters’ problems, and left-wingers, who urge them to attack separate features of capitalism, are equally side-tracking them from the thing that matters.

J. L.

(Socialist Standard, October 1928)

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