Monday, September 18, 2023

Can the Capitalist Class Protect its own Interests? (1905)

From the November 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is a common assertion that the profit, rent, and interest forming the income of the ruling-class is a natural remuneration for its superior intellectual power and for its greater responsibilities. The idea put forth is that profit forms the “wage of management,” the “rent of ability” of the capitalist class.

The Problem stated
The working-class are warned against the agitator who talks against the capitalist class and the capitalist system of production. The worker is not to be led into opposition to the capitalist whose interests so runs the tale are in no way opposed to his own. There is a harmony existing between them. The worker must not in any way be led into disturbing that harmony. Capitalism must not be abolished, it must be “moralised.” The capitalist must not be treated as an enemy but as a friend. He must not be coerced but must be won over to a recognition of the true position of the workers and he will immediately seek to alleviate it.

A pretty story, forsooth ! One which, fortunately for themselves, the working-class are little likely to believe. They know full well that the position of the capitalist-class is opposed to theirs inasmuch as the wealth of the capitalist depends upon the poverty of the worker—the poverty of the worker exists only through the wealth of the capitalist. Profits and dividends are raised when wages are lowered, and any increase of wages under given, conditions must necessarily be at the expense of profits and dividends.

This is a very obvious conclusion. The worker creates a certain supply of wealth in a given time. The greater the quantity of that wealth the capitalist takes as profits or dividends the smaller is the quantity remaining for the wealth producers. The endeavour of each class to raise his share as against the other is a necessary result of this state of things and constitutes one of the features of the economic warfare which Socialists have named the class struggle.

The impotency of Capitalism to touch it
Even were it not the case that the ideas of the capitalist-class qua capitalist-class are the reflex of their economic position and that they are thereby precluded from understanding the ideas, the longings, the feelings, and the aspirations of the working-class there would be no reason for trusting them. If they knew the sufferings of the worker and wished to redress them is there anything to show for a belief that they would transform those wishes into realities ?

We fancy not. To judge from the general ineptitude and inefficiency which they display in dealing with the interests of their own class—the inadequacy of their methods of securing their own class benefits it is at all events conceivable that an even greater degree of ineptitude and inefficiency would arise in dealing with the welfare of an alien class.

In every sphere of life they have monopolised the advantages but have been unable to make the best of them. The fact that their class is based upon a system of virtual slavery seems to stultify their ideals, dwarf their efforts, and belittle their every aim. The canker-worm is at the core of their civilisation, and the greed of gain, the motive power of their civilisation, has forced from their brains and hearts all pure thoughts and lofty ideals. The art, the literature, the drama, the science, the religion, and the politics of the age are purely commercial—the natural products of a commercial age. “Getting and spending they lay waste their powers.”

In nothing is this incapacity of our ruling class more manifest than in their foreign politics—a euphemism for the exploitation of the weaker races and for the prevention of such exploitation by races equally strong. Arising from the productive system and its ramifications in the credit system is the necessity of monopolising markets. From this springs the jealousies between nations, the necessity of protecting commercial spheres of influence. The resultant friction tends to end in the breaking off of diplomatic relations followed by war.

Inevitable products of it
Every civilised country prepares for this. The national politics have more interest in war than in peace and efforts are made to maintain a permanent fighting force for offensive and defensive purposes. To maintain a standing army and navy with a further auxiliary force huge sums are annually expended. Plans are everlastingly being devised for the improvement of our war organisation—plans which receive the authorisation and support of the Executive and are thereupon shelved. Time and again it has been declared to be absolutely imperative to fortify and protect London by a line of forts—and time and again the capitalist-class has done nothing. Another feature and one of some importance to the ruling class is the fact that that Britain does not grow her own food supplies. Every year a larger percentage of our wheat is derived from foreign countries, the actual stock of wheat varying from three to fourteen weeks’ supply.

In case of a war between the ruling class of this country and some important Continental power, or even between two Continental powers, this fact might have the effect of raising wheat prices to starvation point. Even during the Civil War in America the cost of insurance of goods from America was raised enormously and much more would this be the case in a war in which the British Government was itself engaged. Insurances and freights would be raised, trade and commerce would be hampered, the market would be restricted, prices would rise, and the misery of the worker would be accentuated while the luxury of the capitalist would be diminished.

Much more dangerous would the position be if the country with which this country was at war was one which controlled the source of any considerable section of our wheat supply—say Russia or the United States. The flow of wheat would be stopped at its source and the supply would prove inadequate. To the capitalist this would be of less concern than to the worker, for he who has the longest purse can secure the first draft of an inadequate food supply.

The Food Question considered
Now to anyone who has studied the food problem it is well known that this country could supply not only sufficient wheat, but also sufficient of every other kind of agricultural and dairy produce to comfortably feed a much larger population than the forty millions who at present inhabit Great Britain.

The annual wheat requirement of the people of this country is at present 6 bushels per head, making a total requirement of 240,000,000 bushels per annum. Of this 60,000,000 bushels are grown at home while the remainder is imported.

Taking this country we find that it possesses the finest wheat growing land in the world. Its productivity per acre—29 bushels—is higher than that of any country which cultivates the cereal upon an equally large scale. Allowing that the present methods of farming are continued and that the average of 29 bushels to the acre could be maintained over a sufficiently large area it would require 13,000 square miles in grow the whole quantity needed for consumption in this country. The area of the United Kingdom—121,000 square miles should surely allow of this placing of 13,000 square, miles under wheat culture. Kropotkin gives the cultivablc area as 50,000 square miles.

At present we have in the United Kingdom under cultivation :
Wheat  .  .  . 3,000 square miles.
Barley  .  .  . 3,400 „
Oats     .   .  . 6,500 „
making a total of 12,900 square miles devoted to the cultivation of mixed cereals.

Again, we are informed by scientific agriculturists that by intensive agriculture—that is by a system under which the soil is specially prepared, where deep ploughing is resorted to, where the seeds are selected by the progressive eliminating of the unfit, an immense increase of productivity is to be secured.

The attitude of the Socialist
To the Socialist who has neither country nor patriotism it matters little whether England feeds herself or not. With true international sympathy he wishes to obtain the means of satisfying the material requirements of himself and his fellows with as little expenditure of social effort as possible. But from the point of view of the patriot it is very singular that, possessing the power of producing sufficient for home requirements, we continue importing the greater portion of our food supplies.

Every year a large portion of the land is allowed to go out of cultivation and the problem becomes intensified. Men give place to deer in many parts of the country. Now it would be easy to show that there are limitations—individual and economic—preventing the British farmer from holding his own with his competitor in other countries. On another occasion I may be permitted to discuss them at length.

It seems strange that the ruling class of this country holding the power of entirely solving this problem of food production should do nothing to solve it. The solution, however, involves the resumption of ownership of the land by the people, and it has been written, on the scrolls of fate that in the transformation of individual private property into collectivist common property the land must come last.

The answer in the negative
We have then to consider that the ruling class cannot rule, cannot administer the country—they can only drift upon the current of progress. They are an effete and impotent class, ruling by the power of the status quo. With them the working-class has no interest in common and the worker must learn that it is only by consciously organising himself in a political party for the purpose of getting rid of this capitalist class that he can in any way help forward the emancipation of his class.
Robert Elrick

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