Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Unemployed (1904)

Editorial from the November 1904 issue of the Socialist Standard

Fontenelle has said that mankind must exhaust the possibilities of error before he can reach the true path. This maxim seems to be fully borne out by the events which have transpired in the political world during the past month. It is true that the capitalist machine at Westminster has for the present completed its “deliberations." The talking shop with its mockery of democratic legislation hiding the rule of the non-producer has closed. But the great organised hypocrisy of which Parliament and Parliamentary government is the chief political symbol is ever with us. Outside Parliament the agents of the great capitalist class are ever at work and of these agents the most powerful workers in the capitalist interest are those who, consciously or unconsciously, seek to lead the workers along non-Socialist lines. Socialism, which is the organisation of the industry of the country on a basis of common ownership and equitable distribution of industrial products, is the only remedy for the evils of present-day Society and therefore any man or section of men who pretend to show .that something short of Socialism would prove a remedy thereby constitutes himself, consciously or unconsciously, an enemy of the working class.

The main question which has come prominently before the public during the past month has been the question of the unemployed. Now anyone who was unaccustomed to the practical politician and his powers of exhausting the possibilities of error would imagine that as a necessary preliminary to solving the problem of the unemployed must come an enquiry into the causes of unemployment. But not so the practical politician. He does not like exhaustive enquiries into causes. He likes to be practical, and being practical cannot search below the surface of the social phenomena immediately before his eyes. For him those causes which are obvious and on the surface are given forth as the real causes of unemployment. Our practical man knows someone who was discharged for his drinking habits, hence drunkenness must be the cause of unemployment. Another politician of the practical school sees cases of thriftlessness, of laziness among the working-class and knowing that the rich are never extravagant and never idle, predicates these characteristics also as causes of unemployment.

The political economist, the apologetic theorician of the capitalist regime rejecting those as true causes of unemployment, seeks them in the fact that we possess  a gold standard of circulation, or that we have a system of free imports under which we pay 15s. per head of the population in import duties as opposed to an average of 8s. per head in countries with protective tariffs, or, like Mr. William Stanley Jevons, he sees in the periodicity of sunspots a relation to the periodicity of magnetic storms in the earth and through this to the periodicity of bad harvests and trade depressions. We have a maximum of sunspots every eleven years, a recurrence of magnetic storms about every eleven years, and trade depressions every decade. Hence sunspots are the cause of unemployment!

The Socialist opposes both the practical politician and the orthodox political economist and seeks for the causes of unemployment, not among the moral characteristics of man nor among the physical configurations of the Solar System, but among the economic conditions of production and distribution. The Socialist first looks to the earth as the primal repository of all potential wealth and asks if the earth can furnish sufficient raw material to satisfy all the material needs of man. The answer of the Socialist may be given in the words of Kropotkin in the July “Nineteenth Century and After":
   “Mankind has reached a point where the means of satisfying its needs are in excess of the needs themselves. To impose, therefore, as has hitherto been done, the curse of misery and degradation upon vast divisions of mankind, in order to secure wellbeing for the few, is needed no more; well- . being can be secured for all, without overwork for any."
Nature with the aid of man’s labour is prolific in the supply of raw material which can be wrought into the means of satisfying man’s wants. Men there are in abundance capable of turning this raw material into finished products. Labour there is in plenty to produce sufficient to supply the “effective demand.” If this ‘‘effective demand" meant the sum total of the things required by human kind, existence of the unemployed would simply mean that man had limited demands and it only required the work of a limited number of people to produce the food, clothing, houses, &c. of all, and this could be dealt with by a reorganisation of industry, but the existence of the working-class unemployed means, however, under present conditions, the existence of hunger, of semi-starvation, of lack of the means of livelihood of the unemployed. In the midst of plenty they are devoid of the means of sustenance because they can find none to employ them.

We have then to seek in the process of converting raw material into manufactured products for the cause of the “industrial reserve army of the unemployed.’’ In some phase of this conversion, in some period of manufacture, we must find the main cause of the throwing of men out of work; and to the Socialist this main cause is the introduction of the machine as the dominant factor in production. We who are Socialists are, of course, fully aware that the introduction of machinery with its potentialities of reduced labour time for those employed is an important stage in Social and industrial evolution. Under the control of those who use it, who work with its aid, it would have been followed by a continually diminishing working day, but owned and controlled by a few, by a small section of the community, it has been used as a factor in the oppressing and enslaving of men and has proved a curse.

The machine, produced by machinery, is ever producing a greater and greater output with the aid of fewer and fewer men and, therefore, as we find has been the case in the textile industries, there is at the end off every decade a smaller number of workers employed, and the number displaced is greatly augmented by the displacement of men’s labour by that of women and children. We contend then, that so long as the machinery of production is owned by a class which uses the growing power, of the machine to throw men out of work rather than to reduce the duration of the day’s work, so long shall we have an unemployed problem.

It is true that many off those who have been displaced have been reabsorbed in the creation of luxuries and the satisfaction of the needs of the capitalist few. The production of luxuries has grown to an enormous extent during the last few decades, while the number of those who are engaged as domestic servants or who find a living in other ways, all having for their end the pleasures of the rich, has grown greatly. This process of the multiplication of workers performing comparatively useless functions has its limitations and when these limits have been reached there will exist no means of absorbing those thrown out of work by the development and speeding up of better machinery. We must, then, look forward in the near future to a constant increase in the number of the permanent unemployed.

What are we to think, then, of those who, knowing these things, are yet to .be found in brotherly harmony with the capitalistic sections of the community seeking for means for dealing adequately with the unemployed problem and yet afraid to say that they think the only solution of the unemployed problem is to be found in the establishment of a Socialist system of society. This is what we find at the present moment. Men styling themselves Socialists, the members of a body claiming to be Socialist are found to-day hobnobbing with men whose interests are essentially bound up in the maintenance of the present system of society which produces the unemployed, and putting forward as means for solving the unemployed problem, farm colonies and such like nostrums.

We refuse utterly to accept these men as true exponents of Socialist principles. Prating of the class-war, in which they say they believe, they yet are found in alliances with middle-class parties, thus placing themselves in opposition to the class-war. Bound by the Dresden Resolution, for which they voted at the last International Socialist Congress at Amsterdam, and which protests against
  “the substitution, for the conquest of political power by an unceasing attack on the bourgeoisie, of a policy of concession to the established order of society," 
they are among the first to make concessions to the established order of society by virtually admitting the non-Socialist, non-class-war principle that the unemployed problem can be solved within that capitalist system of society of which it is really the outcome.

We of the Socialist Party of Great Britain remain firm in our conviction that nothing but uncompromising propaganda of our principles and the political organisation of the masses upon a basis of uncompromising Socialism can do aught to solve the unemployed problem, or any other of the Social problems, engendered by the capitalist system. End the capitalist system. Establish a Socialist system in its stead, and we shall have once and for all laid the foundation of a regime in which the labour of all men and all women can be usefully employed during such limited time as may be determined by our needs, and then having no unemployed problem, we shall not have any of the evils, the miseries, and the degradation which spring from unemployment.

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