1940s >> 1944 >> no-482-october-1944

Capitalist Progress Leaves the Worker behind

When capitalism broke the chains with which feudalism bound it, a society whose stability depended on its power to resist change was overcome. The bourgeoisie, an oppressed class under feudalism, broke down by revolutionary methods the caste system where to be born a serf meant to die a serf.

New markets to sell goods were the incentive for intensively exploring the world. This brought about the change from handicraft to manufacture, and finally to large scale manufacture—i.e., production has been increasingly socialised, until to-day few can claim that any commodity is purely their work.

With the rising importance of these markets, knowledge, formerly the perquisite of the Catholic Church, had to be secularised. It was necessary for others besides the church to know about navigation and astronomy, so as to sail the seven seas. And this knowledge had to be based on material fact, which often conflicted with the “truth” of the Roman Church. This, although secondary to the economic dominance of the church, based on feudalism, sharpened the struggle of the bourgeoise against it.

All dominant nations try by all means in their power to exclude the rest of the world from sharing that which has made it powerful, and to use it to continue its domination. Many examples are known, but the forces capitalism sets free control the capitalist class, and not vice versa. During the war against Napoleon I., England blockaded France and cut off her sugar. This did not result in a quick peace, but in the commencement of the sugar-beet industry. The result was that the British interests in cane sugar suffered through her own blockade.

The production of nitrates from the air did not result from the plea by eminent scientists (due at the time to under-estimations of resources) that without a new source of fertilisers other than Chile saltpetre, mankind would at a close approaching period starve. It needed the prospects of a war (1914-1918), in which Germany had of necessity to try and overthrow Britain’s dominance on the world market, in order to find a place in the sun for her own capitalist class, to make this possible. Again the operating factor was fear of blockade. This alone, of course, did not make the process possible, but capital, and therefore effort was thrown into the task to speed the process. Now, instead of cries about lack of fertilisers, industry is worried by the excess that could be produced after this war in that partiular field.

Again, artificial rubber needed in war (cutting off natural rubber and its powerful interests) in which the initial experimental techniques could be transferred to large scale production. During the initial period of heavy capital outlay the artificial rubber industry could not normally have produced commodities capable of competing in the open market with natural rubber. The war, by cutting off the natural source, gave the artificial source the necessary impetus. It is now reported that the artificial source will be able to compete easily in the open market with the natural source, more especially as the latter is likely to be despoiled during the course of the present war. We will thus have at the end of the war two conflicting sources each capable of supplying the world, with its inevitable results.

The British Empire had for many years desired to become industrialised, but the English capitalist class did not desire that their empire, the only certain market for their manufactured products, should supply itself with these goods. So when representatives of the Dominions arrived iu England—e.g., Nash from New Zealand—loans were not forthcoming. Came a war, cutting off these Dominions and forcing them to industrialise themselves. Of course, after the war this means greater competition. The spectacle arises, as recently, when a jute manufacturer operating in England and India closed his English factory because the other source was more profitable.

Admiral Gould, “Brains Trust” visitor, chose as one of the three greatest services to humanity the production of a cheap synthetic nourishing food. Cheap here, of course, means for the working class. Well, we are now well on the way. As reported in the “Chemical Trade Journal and Chemical Engineer” June 4, 1943, a lunch was recently held at Lausanne. The meal consisted of hors d’oeuvres made of chemically treated cellulose, flavoured with coal-tar derivatives. After this came “meat
” made of treated wood pulp and synthetic gravy. The sweet was flavoured by artificial vanilla, and the cream came from the same cellulose as was present in the hors d’oeuvres. The only natural products present were vegetables. It was stated to be cheaper than the equivalent nutritional value in natural products. Again self-sufficiency in case of war was its attraction. Of course, for the working class it has obvious possibilities. The recent publicising of grass-eaters in the daily press points in the same direction. If only the capitalist class could put us out to graze on common land during meal-times! How much they would save !

All these great advances seem to have depended to a great extent on a blockade, real or threatened, for their full development. The lack of material thus artificially produced has, as seen, resulted not in, as intended, a deadly threat to those lacking the necessary material, but often ultimately in a deadly threat to the mode of production of that article, often leading to its replacement by a new process or source for that self-same article.

Under capitalism goods are produced for sale, and must therefore compete with the equivalent material on the market. Future possibilities, however bright, must be sacrificed to the market value of the article. The only mode of advancement is to erect a wall around this commodity and nurture it by subsidies from the State or from big combines. Often it is only by the catacylsms capitalism so surely, produces which enable them to gain their feet. Only under Socialism, where there will be no conflicting economic interests, will these substances be able to develop freely without fear of competition by the prevalent materials. There will the final arbitration depend only on its use-value.

It is well known how many inventors die in poverty. and how many fortunes are made by people exploiting these inventions. Edison and Backeland were fortunate in that they had the capital to exploit their own ideas.

The first to register a patent owns it. Others working in the same direction, and having additional valuable information, withhold it until the patent expires. Thus is lost the full fruit of these men’s endeavours. Since these patents give as little information as they can, other firms wishing to engage in the same field, after expiration of the patent, must again cover much available but secret knowledge—a waste of time due to capitalism. Often, too, owing to a previous patent, an invention must utilise an inferior mechanism, as witness the steam engine, where the fly-wheel could not be utilised.

The 1907 Patents and Designs Act provided that a certain difficulty, in direct connection with the piston, troubling the master-class, should be overcome. It definitely allowed a patent to be granted jointly to the inventor and to another person—e.g., a capitalist or capitalist concern—to enable the latter to share the benefits derived. The law thus placed “old man capitalism” very firmly on the back of the inventor. This Act also attempted to rectify an abuse. A firm having profitable patents, which would be adversely affected by a new one, could buy the new one under licence and not use it. No new machinery would be necessary, and since there was no production by the new method, no royalties, due to the inventor, need be paid. In Monk’s “Inventions. Patents and Designs” it is stated significantly that the Act has been altered to protect the interest of the inventor.

Nowadays, in the same way as production has been made social, so has research. No longer can one man very effectively invent a whole process. Co-operation is here, too, becoming more and more necessary, due mainly to increasing specialisation. Hence the increasing tendency for research to come more and more under the aegis of large firms or the State. The inventor becomes definitely a worker, swelling the proletariat.

In the hey-day of capitalism, when markets were large enough to take all that was produced, capitalism continuously revolutionised its means of production and increased man’s power over nature, thus solving a necessity that only capitalism can solve, the problem of production of plenty for the future Socialist society. Competition demanded it by forcing the lowering of the cost of production. But now the increasing monopoly character of capitalism shows itself by the cutting out of competition. Cartels divide the world into regions of influence for its component companies. This is possible only because the cartel adherents can produce many times the world’s needs. Research, while still bent on reducing the cost of production, is increasingly being utilised to enable surplus capital to be profitably utilised in new industries. It is interesting, in this light, to notice that the papers are talking of special investment schemes of an international character, to utilise at a smaller rate ot profit what would otherwise be uninvested capital.

In spite of the restrictions of capitalism, great advances have been made, and when the capitalist class points to these as a justification for their further existences they believe they have a case. But the long-bow won the battle of Crecy, and the phalanx was of great use to Alexander, but the modern general does not accept their past success as a reason for using them to-day against tanks. Compared with feudalism, capitalism represents progress, but only compared with feudalism. Their exalted idea of private enterprise means the enforced lack of enterprise on the part of the working class.

And in any case, in whose advantage has this been? The lot of the working class has not appreciably improved. The advantages and the wealth accrued have gone into the pocket of the ruling class. All this, the work of the only useful class in society, has resulted in a further widening of the gulf between rich and poor. Once again we have the cycle—born a worker means dying a worker.

Holland and Denmark, producers of dairy produce for the world, consumes enormous quantities of margarine. Who eats this margarine ? Workers !

Modern production has caused great increases in mental and nervous disorders and industrial diseases. The village idiot disappears, and the proletarian victim of capitalism takes his place. Hence the increasing study of these disorders and the “kind” donations by our masters, who cannot bear that such sources of riches for them should prove useless. They look for cures, turning their eyes, however, away from the cause, fee increasing strain on the worker of his condition of wage-slavery, so aptly caricatured by Charles Chaplin in “Modern Times.”

The working class produces all wealth. Because there is too much food, therefore the worker must starve; because there are too many of the good things in life, therefore the worker may not enjoy one of them—even leisure means unemployment to him. That is the logic of capitalist anarchy. Lord Rutherford hoped that atomic energy would not be harnessed until the ethics and morals of the race were improved. This can only be when there are no more barriers of economic self-interest dividing people, but in their stead a common interest. This is only possible under Socialism. Only Socialism can effectively harness this progress for man’s benefit, not for his destruction.

Within our reach lies a world of peace and plenty. In Socialism we can unfetter progress that it may be used for the advancement of the welfare of mankind. Act then, members of the working class, for once in your own interest!

S. L.

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