Sunday, January 31, 2016

What is the function of the Capitalist? (1906)

From the August 1906 issue of the Socialist Standard

THE amazing assertion is sometimes heard that under Socialism the community will assume the function of the capitalist! This, too, from the lips of men popularly supposed to be Socialists. It would at first glance appear that the worst accusations of the enemy are supported by this, and that the robbery of the workers which is now done by the capitalist will become the function of the “nation," and that Socialism is but state capitalism.

When, however, these alleged Socialists are taken to task upon this question, it is found that their grave error has its foundation in their ignorance of the real function of the capitalist: for it is by them asserted that his function is the organisation of industry! In the face of the gluts and crises, the unemployed and the overworked in capitalist society, it is difficult to take this last assertion seriously; whilst it is, at best, only remotely excusable by the fact that capitalism, in spite of itself, leads up to the organisation of industry, which is Socialism.

Under capitalism, in the race for profits, it is a fact that the production of wealth in the individual factory becomes better organised, and that these organised units of production grow in size until they reach the ‘'trust” stage. But although the community must seize these instruments which have matured in capitalist society in order that production and distribution may be organised; although, in fact, Socialism must stand on the economic foundations laid during capitalism, it is nevertheless no more true that the function of the capitalist is the organisation of industry than it is that the function of the criminal is to create houses of correction and a system of judicature because these follow from his presence.

Just as capital is that part of wealth which is used to obtain a profit, so the function of the capitalist, as such, is the obtaining of profit from the labour of others, in short, the robbery of the workers. This is quite obvious because the capitalist seeks his profit as readily in the disorganisation as in the organisation of production. Nevertheless, because the largest profits, on the whole, come from the better organised units of production; because in the evolution of industry “natural selection” in most cases favours organisation on a large scale, organised production has become a feature of modern industry; a feature that must be controlled, perfected and socially co-ordinated with distribution before industry can really be organised, and the terrible antagonisms of growing poverty against growing wealth, and of increasing unemployed against more intense toil for those in work, can at last be ended.

In another way, equally, the assertion that the organisation of industry is the function of the capitalist can be seen to be nonsense. What comprises the “activities" of a typical modern capitalist? He will be found most of his time on the shores of the Mediterranean or at some other equally desirable place—organising industry? Not a bit of it; he is enjoying himself with his profits. Occasionally, it is true, he glances at the quotations on 'Change with an eye to the purchase or sale of stock, and at certain intervals he receives his dividend warrants, which he sends to the banker and is credited with the dividends. He knows practically nothing but the names and share tallies of the various companies from which he draws his revenue. The whole of the organisation (or disorganisation as the case may be) is done by hired workers, and he, by the ownership of wealth, by the monopoly of the means whereby wealth is produced, is enabled to exact toll from those whose labour-power is their only property. He is master of the situation and all are eager to serve him; his manager in consideration of a promised increase in pay will endeavour to screw more profit for him from those beneath, and so soon through the whole gamut of his slaves.

The ownership of the mine, land, railway, factory or machinery thus enables the capitalist to exert an economic tyranny over the non-possessors of wealth, robbing them of the fruits of their labour. It is those who work who are organising industry, and they, in broadcloth or fustian, are distinct from the capitalist; his peculiar function it is to obtain profit somehow, for only while he ran obtain it is he a capitalist.

Notwithstanding, then, the asseverations of alleged Socialists, whose deficient knowledge makes the task of the scientific Socialist so much more difficult, it is obvious that the function of the capitalist is not the organisation of industry, but the robbery of the workers. It is also obvious that the community under Socialism will not assume the function of the capitalist, but will abolish both the capitalist, as such, and his function; whilst the organisation of industry will at last become an accomplished fact with his disappearance.
F. C. Watts

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