Work and Want: An Old Farce with New Players
The Government is anxiously appealing to the working class to work harder. Hundreds of thousands of posters are being displayed bearing the inscription, “We’re up against it! We work or want.” Thousands of speeches are to be delivered in the workshops, and thirty films are to be shown up and down the country. It is an old farce revived.
It was put on in the autumn of 1919 under the Lloyd George government. The posters then bore the photographs of four prominent Labour leaders, Messrs. J. R. Clynes, J. H. Thomas, John Hodge and J. T. Brownlie, and the slogan was, “Produce more, earn more, get more.” Mr. J. R. Clynes, who backed that campaign, is still preaching the same doctrine, but some of the men in the present Government have changed their tune. They used to denounce Clynes and Thomas for their part in the old campaign, but are themselves in the new one. Mr. Strachey, Minister of Food, is one of them. As recently as 1944, when a revised edition of his Why You Should be a Socialist was issued, he condemned the 1919 increased production propaganda and wrote that “however hard the workers work, they will remain workers, and poor workers at that. Hard work will not make the workers any richer, but it will make their employers much richer.” Mr. Strachey also wrote, “You remember the old ‘produce more’ cry. I suppose we shall get it again.” He prophesied correctly; but he did not foresee that he would be backing that old cry himself.
In 1919 the S.P.G.B. attacked Mr. Clynes and showed the dangerous fallacy underlying his argument. The S.P.G.B. has not changed its view; increased production will bring the same dire consequences for the workers as it did a quarter of a century ago.
Mr. Clynes was not unaware of the case made against him. In a speech in the House of Commons on 20th April, 1920, he admitted that workers were not readily accepting the advice offered to them to produce more. He said “. . . the working man thinks in the terms of his former experience. He found the market overstocked because he worked overhard and long hours to produce, and he was thrown out of work because he produced in abundance.” (Hansard, 20/4/1920, Col. 279.) Mr. Clynes said that the Government ought to give some sort of guarantee that overproduction should never again be allowed to cause unemployment. Even if the Government had made that promise it would not have been effective because capitalism needs constant unemployment to keep down wages, and it periodically produces crises of “overproduction.” So Mr. Clynes gave his own assurance. Writing in Reynolds (30/11/1919) he said:
“If ever there was risk of overproduction, causing unemployment, there is none now. For at least a dozen years there must be conditions of shortage which, with the best energy and effort, cannot be removed. We are in arrears. We need have no fear of the supply exceeding the demand.”
In the columns of the Socialist Standard at the time Mr. Clynes’ economic fallacies were exposed. He thought and still thinks that if there are people in need of food, clothes, houses and so on, then there cannot be “overproduction.” He does not understand how capitalism operates. Capitalism has crises of “overproduction” not because too much is produced to satisfy the needs of the workers, but because too much is produced for the needs of the market. Capitalist production begins to be curtailed at the point where the articles cannot be sold at a profit, so “overproduction” for capitalism exists though millions are in desperate need. What matters is whether they have the money to buy what they need.
At the time Mr. Clynes wrote his article in the autumn of 1919 there were already 530,000 unemployed. At the beginning of 1947 the number was 400,000. About 18 months after Mr. Clynes’ prophecy of no unemployment for 12 years, there were over 2,000,000 unemployed. That was not under a Labour Government, and the defenders of Labour Government said things would be different when the Labour Party came to office. In 1931 they were in office and unemployment again soared in the crisis to over 2.500,000. History will repeat itself. Labour Government or no Labour Government capitalism in its next crisis will produce the same results as before. In 1919 another of the Labour propagandists for increased production, Mr. John Hodge, declared that if the workers did not increase output they would be “workless and wageless.” Members of the present Government talk in a similar strain. We said in 1919 that great numbers of workers would be workless and wageless under capitalism whatever they did. We were right then and we are right when we say now that it will all happen again.
In 1930, under Labour Government, another of the preachers of increased production, Mr. J. H. Thomas, admitted that “one of the great anomalies, at that moment was that the main cause of the world depression, as well as our own, was overproduction.” (Times, 22/3/1930.) A month earlier Mr. Clynes, faced with the overproduction that he said would not happen, was backing another capitalist cure-all, “rationalisation.” He confessed that it would, to begin with, actually increase unemployment, but he urged the workers to bear it with patience “because it was a kind of surgery that was being applied to industry, and after it industry would rise stronger and better able to compete with the world.” (Manchester Guardian, 10/2/1930.) Mr. Dalton, Chancellor of the Exchequer, is telling us about the good times we are going to have someday provided we quietly put up with hard times now; in 1930 his predecessor in that office under the Labour Government was Snowden, who was telling the same story. In a broadcast he spoke about the “vital improvements” that would be “only possible out of revived and prosperous industry from which our national revenue is derived.” (Daily Telegraph, 15/4/1930.)
Under capitalism there are no “good times” for the working class, but just so long as the working class does not see through the capitalist “work hard now and wait for reward” fairy story, there will always be Tories and Labourites, Churchills, Attlees, Clynes and Stracheys to tell it. Only the S.P.G.B. keeps to the sound working class position that the only remedy for the evils of Capitalism is Socialism, and that the time for it is now.