From Whence Came Capital?

Once we were often told at our propaganda meetings that the capitalists obtained their wealth by hard work and saving. We are pleased to say that this is not told us so often now, which is an indication of the increase in the knowledge of politics and economics on the part of the working-class. It is the workers and not the capitalists who work hard and the only thing it will bring them is to an early grave. The workers are also the savers. They save for a holiday, or against sickness, or unemployment and some other unexpected expenditure. But however much they save it can never be enough to enable them to start out as capitalists. Capitalists don’t work hard. They needn’t. They have others to work hard for them. They may, and probably do save, but many of them have such large incomes that spend as they will they cannot use them all, and there is a balance left over for reinvestment.


And now let us talk about capital. What is it? It is wealth used for the production of more wealth by the exploitation of human labour power, or in a short way, money invested for the purpose of profit. This is the one thing that all capitalists must possess, and the thing that workers must possess if they aim at becoming capitalists. Need more be said? Is it not obvious that born members of the working-class, we shall remain members of the working-class until we die. We are sometimes asked how a worker can become a capitalist. The answer is ridiculously simple. Choose the right parents! With parents members of the capitalist class, you can be a capitalist before you can gurgle “Da-Da.” But we committed the cardinal error of choosing working-class parents, and so we shall live and die members of the working-class.


We think it might be of interest now to examine the foundations of the wealth of the capitalist class of this country. It is a story of horror, blood and slaughter. For example, large amounts of wealth were obtained by piracy. Raleigh, Drake and other noted sea-captains of their day were nothing but pirates who preyed on Spanish ships coming from South America laden with gold and treasure. It is true that this treasure had been stolen by the Spaniards from the Incas of Peru and the aristocracy of Mexico, and that the mass of the population of Peru and Mexico have lived in direst poverty while their masters were in luxury. But where is the legal genius who can justify theft on the grounds that the things stolen had already been the subject of theft?


Another source of early capital was the Lombards. These were Italians who settled in London from the 12th to the 17th centuries. Hence Lombard Street in the heart of the financial centre of the world. These Lombards were, of course, strict Roman Catholics, and lending money at interest was anathema to Catholicism. But the Lombards did not allow religious scruples to interfere with business, so they lent large sums of money to English merchants and traders. The Dutch, too, when their commercial supremacy was ended, lent large sums to the English.


India, too, played its part in providing capital for early English capitalism. The main channel for this was the East India company, and its higher employees. The Indian peasants suffered severely from the activities of these people. They cornered essential foodstuffs and sent the price sky-rocketing. They cornered rice, an essential part of the Indian peasants’ diet and those peasants who could not pay the very high prices were permitted to starve.


But the blackest page in English mercantile history is undoubtedly the slave trade. For three hundred years English merchants carried on this foul trade. It is computed that in all 5,000,000 Africans who went into slavery in America and millions more either died on the voyage or in the slave raids. But it was a source of considerable wealth to those operating it. It is said that large numbers of churches and chapels in Bristol, Southampton and Liverpool were built with money made in the slave trade.


And then after 300 years it was abolished. But those loudest in their denunciation of it were stalwart defenders of child slavery in England, when children of eight years of age were working in mill and mine.


And so we have given you a short history of where capital came from in the first instance. It is a story of blood and horror.


True these sort of things don’t happen now. But now in order to defend their system the capitalists are prepared to sacrifice the lives of millions of workers in their wars. Do you not think it is time you ended it?


Clifford Groves