1920s >> 1929 >> no-295-march-1929

Editorial: Capitalism and Christianity

The Truths of Quakerism

When the Socialist points to the continual struggle between employers and workers, and to the accompanying strife and ill-will as evils which are inseparable from a social system in which property is owned by one class and wealth is produced by another, he is often met with the answer that the discord, the strikes and lock-outs, are the result not of the economic organisation, but of the defects of the human beings concerned.

Thus the Christian will tell us that if only we would all show a spirit of brotherhood, the spirit of Christ, and exercise forbearance, and be unselfish, all our industrial troubles would vanish. For the most part employers and workers, even those who are nominally Christian, make no special effort to apply their Christian principles to their relationships with each other. If a certain trade union appoints an official chaplain, and if other unions habitually open their meetings with prayer, most of the people concerned do not treat these conventional practices as having any useful bearing on the business of the organisation. There are, however, religious persons — the Quakers, for example—who do profess that their religion can and does have a very intimate bearing on their everyday activities, including the running of a business. Thus the Cadbury family claim that the application of Quaker principles to industry has made Bournville something of a model for the industrial world, containing the hope of a solution for the problems of modern industry.

We have always contested that view. Bournville embodies no feature which is essentially Quaker; it solves no problems except certain problems of the Cadburys as employers of labour; and it offers no hope for the working class. The idea that the granting of certain health-promoting facilities to the staff brings a return in the shape of greater productivity which exceeds the outlay is not new, and is not confined to Quakers. Nor is the practice of paying wages above the average to a picked staff of more than average skill and fitness. Its motive in general is the securing of greater profits. Its application comes from a more than usually acute perception of the conditions of capitalist production. It is limited in scope by the nature of the work performed in the particular concern, and it is obviously only of special service to the Fords and Cadburys so long as it has not been applied throughout industry. If all employers were to bid against each other for the pick of the workers it would cease to be any more profitable than paying a lower wage for workers of average efficiency, and if all employers offer the same facilities to their staff, each particular firm loses the advantage it formerly obtained in having employees who would remain in the same employment for a long period, thus eliminating the cost of training new employees.

The question has been raised in an acute form by the application of “rationalisation” to the Cadbury cocoa business, the subject of an article in the “New Leader” (Feb. 22) by a Quaker member of the I.L.P., Mr. W. J. Chamberlain. Mr. Chamberlain, it may be added, is editor of a Labour journal, the Birmingham “Town Crier,” and has been an active member of the I.L.P. for many years.

He confirms our view that the Cadbury welfare schemes have been a very successful form of advertising, and in this respect alone have been worth many thousands of pounds to the firm in creating a demand for their goods. Now, however, with the application of new methods and the installation of new machinery,

Many hundreds of men and women have been sacked by the firm during the past twelve months—men and women who have spent the best years of their life in the service of the firm.

Three weeks ago, he says, there were distressing scenes when another 400 women, some of them over 40 years of age, who had been with the firm since early girlhood, were added to Birmingham’s 30,000 unemployed. They have little chance of finding fresh employment, and their specialised skill is useless outside the chocolate and cocoa industry. The firm “admitted that there has been no falling off in trade,” but the dismissals were necessary “in order to reduce the staff to an economic level.” Mr. Chamberlain denies that the grant of a few pounds to some of the dismissed can be regarded as generous treatment to men and women who have given a life of service. Mr. Chamberlain concludes that “even Quakers cannot combine Christianity with capitalism.” and that this “is the greatest indictment of Capitalism that we have had in our time.” No doubt Mr. Chamberlain would define “Christianity” differently from us, but the first of these two statements appears to be the reverse of true. Surely the truth is that the Cadburys have combined Christianity and Capitalism very successfully indeed. They have made very large profits—the proof of success in a capitalist world—and at the same time they have succeeded in earning and retaining a reputation for Christian principle and brotherliness which has been so effective that among its numerous devotees was to be numbered Mr. W. J. Chamberlain.

“I confess,” says Mr. Chamberlain, “that as members of the Society of Friends, I had hoped for great things from Quaker employers. I had hoped that they might have given a bold lead to ether employers. But with the action of the Cadbury family my hope has vanished.”

One striking thing about the article is the extraordinary lack of knowledge and thought it indicates in its author. Mr. Chamberlain knew that of the directors of Cadbury’s all but one “are Liberals or Tories, and therefore upholders of capitalism.” He has been in the I.L.P. since 1904. That is to say he has been engaged in preaching to others that (in the words of the I.L.P. slogan) “Socialism is the only hope.” Yet for all these years he has retained a belief that far from Socialism being the only hope, there was a much easier and nearer one, i.e., the application of Quaker principles by Quaker capitalists to capitalist industry. Not until 25 years have passed does he discover that “my hope has vanished, and I know now that we shall have to wait for a Socialist Government to rescue for the workers not benevolence, but justice.”

It has taken twenty-five years for an I.L.P. speaker and writer to learn that capitalism is a system of society organised not for the satisfaction of human needs directly, but in the first place for profit-making.

When next members of the I.L.P. tell us that it is useless preaching “pure” Socialistic doctrine to the poor, benighted workers because they don’t understand, we shall be tempted to reply that the really big problem before the Socialist propagandist is the conversion of the leading lights of the I.L.P.