Part II of the abridged version of our pamphlet, Why Capitalism Will Not Collapse, originally published in February 1932.
The depression shows itself, every few years, in the accumulation of stocks of goods in the hands of retail stores, wholesalers and manufacturers, farmers and others. While trade is relatively good each concern tries to produce as much as possible in order to make a large profit. It is nobody’s business under Capitalism to find out how much of each article is required, so that industries quickly expand to the point at which their total output is far larger than can be sold at a profit. Quite young industries, like artificial silk, soon reach the degree of over-development shown by the older industries. Goods such as farm crops, that are ordinarily not produced to order, but with the expectation of finding a buyer eventually, naturally tend to accumulate to a greater extent than those produced only to order— such as railway engines.
As traders find it more difficult to sell, they reduce their orders to the wholesalers, who in turn stop buying from the manufacturers. Plans for extending production by constructing new buildings, plant, ships, etc., are cancelled and the workers are laid off.
Here is a situation that always arouses grave discontent. It is from this discontent that the believers in the theory of the collapse of Capitalism think that they can draw the force which will overthrow the capitalist system. But it does not work out like that. In spite of riots and agitations, Capitalism still continues. The actual events show why this is and why it must be so.
IV. What happens in practice
In Great Britain two outstanding events may be considered. First, there was the great depression of 1921 and 1922, when, as now, unemployment was between 2,000,000 and 2,500,000. Then, in 1926, there was the spontaneous demonstration of sympathy with the miners in their resistance to wage reductions, that resulted in what is known as the “General Strike.” Since the communists have been the most persistent advocates of the doctrine we are attacking, let us see what came of their efforts to take advantage of these two crises.
Round about 1921 and 1922 the communists claimed that they had the leadership of the hundreds of thousands of members of the unemployed organisations. They organised marches and demonstrations, deputations to Cabinet Ministers and local authorities, and attempted to seize public buildings. They did everything they could to force the authorities to grant their demands for better treatment. By winning the confidence of the workers in this way the communists then hoped to be able to lead them on to an attack on Capitalism.
What was the result? A writer in their official organ tells us: —
The unemployed have done all they can and the Government know it. They have tramped through the rain in endless processions. They have gone in mass deputations to the Guardians. They have attended innumerable meetings and have been told to be “solid”. They have marched to London, enduring terrible hardships . . . All this has led nowhere. None of the marchers believe that seeing Bonar Law in the flesh will make any difference. Willing for any sacrifice, there seems no outlet, no next step. In weariness and bitter disillusionment the unemployed movement is turning in upon itself. There is sporadic action, local rioting, but not central direction. The Government has signified its exact appreciation of the confusion by arresting Hannington.
The plain truth is that the unemployed can only be organised for agitation, not for action. Effective action is the job of the working class as a whole. The Government is not afraid of starving men so long as the mass of workers look on and keep the ring (Workers’ Weekly, 10th February 1923.)
In 1926 the communists had an excellent opportunity to try out their theory on the millions who workers who were involved in the strike or were sympathetic towards it. The result was just what we have said it must be. Strikes can serve a useful purpose in resisting wage reductions or securing increases, but they cannot overthrow Capitalism. To begin with, the workers themselves have not that purpose in mind, and even when they become socialists they will still need political organisation in order to capture the real centre of power — the machinery of government and the armed forces controlled by it. This no strike can do.
In a large strike, as in a small one, starvation fights on the side of the propertied class against the wage earners. We know from the General Strike, and from revolts of workers attempted in many countries at different times, that desperate men and women will take desperate action when goaded to it by the hardships of their life under Capitalism. But we have seen in the General Strike of 1926 how such spontaneous outbursts are always crushed by the forces at the disposal of the ruling class through their control of the machinery of Government. How much easier it is, and how much less costly in human suffering, to convert a majority to Socialism than to engage in these blind revolts!
There is, too, another factor of great importance. The ruling class usually and in the long run are not blind to their own interests, and do not drive the working class as a whole into revolt. They are not so foolish as to leave only that alternative. By means of charity, doles, and unemployment insurance, and, if need be, the grant of higher wages and other concessions, the capitalists can always take the edge of the workers’ bitterness and misery, and thus tide over the difficult periods of the more acute industrial depressions.
V. The only road to socialism
The lesson to be learned is that there is no simple way out of Capitalism by leaving the system to collapse of its own accord. Until a sufficient number of workers are prepared to organise politically for the conscious purpose of ending Capitalism, that system will stagger on indefinitely from one crisis to another.
So long as the workers are prepared to resign themselves to the evils of Capitalism, and so long as they are prepared to place in control of Parliament parties that will use their power for the purpose of maintaining Capitalism, there is no escape from the effects of Capitalism. The workers will continue to suffer from the normal hardships of the capitalist system when trade is relatively good, and from the aggravated hardships which are the workers’ lot during trade depressions.
That is the prospect before the workers of all the world unless they actively interest themselves in understanding socialist principles and assisting in socialist organisation.