The results of Rationalisation
Karl Marx, in the opening statement of his chapter on “Machinery and Modern Industry” (Capital, Vol. I), quotes John Stuart Mill as follows :—”It is questionable if all the mechanical inventions yet made have lightened the day’s toil of any human being.”
Marx’s retort in a footnote, apart from his scientific analysis of this aspect of Capitalism, is :—
“Mill should have said, ‘Of any human being not fed by other’s labour,’ for without doubt machinery has greatly increased the number of well-to-do idlers.”
Capitalist apologists are never tired of telling us to-day of the blessings and comforts that Capitalism has bestowed—but on whom?
Part of the work of Marx and Engels was devoted to showing that the main object of the introduction and use of machinery was to increase profits. Long before Capitalism it was possible for human labour power to produce more from nature’s materials in a given time than was required to maintain the producers during that time. This gave rise to the surplus wealth upon which all forms of slavery have been founded. These slave societies have varied according to the particular form under which the wealth was produced and appropriated (chattel slavery, serfdom and wage slavery). The latter form is the one with which we are at present concerned; it is one in which the means of production (land, machinery, railways, etc.} take the form of investments of Capital, owned by the Capitalist class. They are the section in society owning property in the means of life, and that possession enables them to buy the labour power of the large remaining propertyless section, the working class. This labour power, the workers’ only asset, when set in motion, produces, as in other slave systems, “a greater value” than it receives in return as wages. With the aid of power, machinery, science, etc., this greater or surplus value has been extended to proportions once undreamed of. The buyers of labour power, the Capitalists, are not concerned with production as such, their concern is primarily with the effective exploitation of the working class for profit.
This term, Capital, is unknown when applied to wealth prior to the present system. Problems that confront the Capitalist class to-day are not those which confronted other ruling-classes. Production cannot proceed uninterrupted unless markets can be found for the products, and, while these products are useless to the Capitalist personally, they contain the surplus or unpaid labour of his workers. The power to produce wealth grows by leaps and bounds, but the power of the workers to consume is limited to the fractional value of their output received as wages.
In this fact lies the secret of the epidemic of over-production, and, finally, of trade depression and stagnation which necessitates restricted output in most of the important industries to-day. Says Marx :—
“The consuming power of the labourers is handicapped partly by the laws of wages, and partly by the fact that it can be exerted only so long as the labourer can be employed at a profit for the Capitalist class. The last cause, of all real crises always remains the poverty and restricted consumption of the masses as compared to the tendency of Capitalist production to develop the productive forces in such a way that only the absolute power of consumption of the entire Society would be their limit.”—(“Capital.” Vol. III. Page 508.)
A favourite method, and one that used to be considered safe in refuting Marx’s teaching regarding the relative worsening of the workers’ conditions, was to look wise and repeat, “Look at America.” Now the Economic League and the I.L.P. will have to construct fresh apologetics with which to defend themselves and with which to meet Socialist arguments. From the very country where we were told that mass output and high wages had banished poverty we now learn from the “Daily News” (14/1/30) in bold headlines that there are “Millions of workers scrapped by machines.” Apparently not even the so-called high wages, nor the prodigal dissipation of wealth by thousands of millionaires, has prevented Capitalism taking the course predicted by Marx. The “Daily News” New York Correspondent says in the same issue :—
“Unemployment in fact, despite the greatest prosperity boom in history, has become as in Great Britain with 1,500,000 workless—the greatest of all national problems.”
This correspondent estimates the unemployed figures at about four millions, but confesses these figures are “merely shots in the dark.”
Previous reports from Capitalist sources (see SOCIALIST STANDARD, October, 1928) would appear to make it a reasonable assumption that they actually underestimate. The causes of this huge displacement of workers are now, strangely, claimed to be the very things that were previously hailed as the means of American prosperity. They are declared to be “Improvement in machinery; the invention of labour-saving devices; the extension of cheap electric power; the process described in Great Britain under the name of Rationalisation.” The latter is interesting news, especially as the day previous to this report Mr. Ben Tillett was reported in the “Daily Herald” as saying:
“Our textile magnates appear to be either too poor or too inept to realise the virtues of scientific rationalising of industry and the scrapping of all obsolete plants and processes for the greater efficiency which modern methods and equipment arc capable of providing” (“Daily Herald,” 13/1/30).
Practically the whole programme of “Labour and the Nation” aims at the same schemes of Rationalisation, or more efficient organisation of Capitalist production for profit. Without spending time and space on details of argument, any thinking and reasoning reader can see that if America is evidence, then it is not production that is at fault there or here. This fact also rules out such freakish reforms as Birth Control, Family Allowances, or a so-called Living Wage, as relief remedies within a system that reduces its producers to poverty and raises its parasites to millionaires. With a naive innocence that reeks of Nonconformist cant, the same “Daily News” Editorial, commenting on the American situation, says :—
“It is a kind of nonsense to say that a process which makes the world richer must inevitably make thousands of individuals poorer.”
Really ! is it ? Have they never heard of Henry George’s “Progress and Poverty,” Chiozza Money’s “Riches and Poverty,” Chas. Booth’s “Darkest England,” or the statements of Capitalist Prime Ministers like Gladstone, Campbell Bannerman, and Lloyd George? The Capitalist class cannot conceive of any other form of ownership of society’s means of life than the private property basis of modern society. To them, abolition of the present form of wealth, ownership, Capital, means abolition of the means of production themselves.
The “Daily News” unable to explain away the glaring contradictions of Capitalism, increasing poverty, side by side with increasing wealth, refuses to reason and takes refuge in the statement that “it is a kind of nonsense,” They even have to abandon the stock argument that these inconveniences are temporary, for their report says :
“The theory that the workers thrown out of one occupation can find employment in others is not sustained by observation . . . for the first time in history there are indications that this compensatory process may have come to an end and that the trend of modern invention may be to make less work for idle hands instead of more.”
Free-born Britons—note ! Even in the same issue of the paper that considers the co-existent condition of poverty and superabundance, “A kind of nonsense ” we read of 2,000,000 Chinese who have died of famine aggravated by the fuel and transport shortage. Millions of willing and able producers withdrawn from production, transport and transporters who could circle the earth with once undreamt-of rapidity, millions of unemployed willing to produce wealth and yet—famine and poverty. What stark madness ! Such is Capitalism ! No reform that could be introduced will prevent the present system from proceeding according to the laws of its own development. The effects of these laws we have briefly outlined. From the workers’ point of view Capitalism renders all reform futile to solve the main poverty problem. Their conditions worsen faster than the reforms can be introduced and take effect.
The very advocacy of Reform presupposes the continuance of the present system whether those reforms are presented as the sugar-coated pills of the I.L.P. or the frothy catch-phrases of the so-called Communist. It is the Capitalist system itself that enslaves the Worker. The remedy is the removal of the cause and no “meantime” patchwork can do that. Only a Socialist Working-Class will ever be able to undertake the removal of Capitalism and the establishment of common ownership of the means of life. Such ownership will place the powers and the results of production at the disposal of the whole of society; consequently leisure and comfort could be available for all if the Workers had the Knowledge and the desire to bring the change. Until then, through political ignorance, they will continue to keep in existence the present system.