50 Years Ago: The Growing Unemployment

The present and future outlook of the working class is extremely gloomy—as gloomy as the murky London fog outside the writer’s window this Sunday afternoon. Prices are still in cloudland, whilst wages are falling rapidly. Unemployment engulfs a vast mass of the working class, whilst the movement for increased production (which in effect means both a lowering of wages and a lowering in the number of wage receivers) promises to further increase the workless army.

Looking at the matter casually, today it would appear that the main objective of the capitalist is increased production. A closer examination of the matter will easily dispose of this false idea.

What are the elements required to produce wealth today? Raw materials, machinery and labour-power of various degrees of skill. Is there any shortage of raw material? The earth is teeming with raw material, and the untapped resources are as relatively unlimited as the development of human ingenuity. Is there a shortage of machinery? There are numerous first-class manufactures of all classes of machinery working short-time for want of orders to execute. Is there a shortage of labour-power? The hundreds of thousands of unemployed of all degrees of skill searching anxiously, and so often, unavailingly for work can provide a complete answer to this question. Finally, the slowing down of production owing to overstocked markets is the overwhelming contradiction to the claims of the increased productionists.

The mere increase of production is not the objective of the capitalist; his main objective is the lowering of the cost of production.

The capitalist in competing for markets endeavours to undersell competitors by reducing the labour-time spent upon articles to a minimum (reducing the value of an article) and at the same time to obtain the maximum of surplus value by increasing the difference between what the worker receives and what he produces—increasing the amount of wealth a worker can produce and reducing the amount he receives, in other words, increasing the exploitation of the worker.

(From an unsigned article, “Hope Springs Infernal in the Workers Breast,” in the Socialist Standard February 1922.)