Is Socialism necessary? This question can only be answered by considering the nature of the forces at work in present-day society. In a previous article it was shown that history has been the record of class-struggles based upon the development of the means of production and of various forms of property.
The present-day means of production are capital, the modern form of property; that is to say, they are used by their owners, a small class in society, for the purpose of obtaining profit.
The capitalist, owning a certain sum of money, uses it to purchase machinery and raw material with a' view to selling the product at a profit. For this purpose he needs to buy a special commodity, labour-power, which, applied to the raw material and machinery, produces useful articles of a value greater than that of the combined, value of the original factors. The value of the labour-power used is determined by the time socially necessary to reproduce it. This applies to all commodities. Labour-power, however, plays the active part in the creation of value, and consequently of surplus value, which is that part of the value created which is kept by the employers. Surplus value is that part of the product left over after paying for labour-power and the cost of raw materials, wear and tear, etc.
Now, how comes it that the capitalist finds this extremely useful commodity, labour-power, to hand? The labourers have no means of living except by the wages they can earn. The land, factories, railways, etc., are owned by the capitalist class. The majority of members of society to-day are propertyless. In order to live, therefore, they must sell the only commodity they possess, their own energy.
The separation of the labouring class from their means of life was a prolonged process in history. The enclosure of common lands, the forcible ejection of the peasantry, the introduction of large-scale workshops, and later on of machine-factories, all played their part in making the workers dependent upon their present-day masters. At the same time, all other classes but these two have vanished from social life. Of the aristocracy and middle-classes of the mediaeval world, nothing is left but their titles and prejudices. The capitalist class preserve both as a means of displaying their power and duping the workers.
To-day, therefore, the social stage is set for the struggle between the last two classes to emerge in.the course of social evolution. The patricians and the plebs (of Rome) alike went down before the barbarians of the North of Europe. The feudal nobility were vanquished by the upstart burghers of the towns. Beneath them lay the slaves and serfs, occasionally rebellious but doomed to defeat by the undeveloped state of the economic conditions of their life. The isolation of the peasant groups based upon the backward character of their mode of life prevented them rising to the level of a ruling class.
To-day, however, the means of production unite the workers-in vast world-wide organisations. In the effort to cope with the effects of the capitalist system the workers develop a measure of solidarity undreamt of under the systems of former ages. Railways, post, printing press and platform enable ideas to spread with greater rapidity than ever.
The struggle between the capitalists and their wage-slaves over the wealth produced by the latter results in ever-worsening conditions for them. Every improvement in machinery or methods strengthens the owning class by increasing the number of unemployed and the competition for jobs. This competition enables the capitalists to push wages down ever nearer to the physical limit, the bare subsistence level.
Investigators such as Charles Booth and Seebohm Rowntree long ago showed that the wages of roughly one-third of the workers left them with insufficient to maintain normal health and vigour.
Since their works were published the standard of life of the workers generally has been reduced still further. The acceleration in the pace of machine development during the war resulted in an unheard-of level of unemployment, and wholesale cuts in wages which had already failed to rise to the same extent as the cost of living.
After a century of Trade Union effort the workers find themselves grappling with the same problems in an aggravated and chronic form with less success than ever before. All the victories of the past are rapidly losing their value in face of the modern organisation of capital, and the share of the workers in the product of their labour grows constantly less. The very process by which the workers create a mass of wealth much greater than they are allowed to consume heaps up in the hands of their masters one of the means by which the workers are beaten.
For the workers, therefore, there can be but one hope—a complete change in the ownership of the means of production and in the motive for which industry is carried on. The interests of the capitalist class lead that class to fortify their position by every means in their power. The interests of the workers demand that they shall attack that position.
The very nature of the means of production at the present time renders any form of individual ownership by the producers out of the question. In order to produce wealth to-day each worker must co-operate with his fellows; he cannot act alone. Social effort is the very essence of modern industry. Private ownership is, therefore, out of harmony with the means and methods of production in their present stage of development. Common ownership must take its place. The antiquated legal form must yield to economic progress.
The mature social character of modern industry has rendered poverty unnecessary and a drag upon further development. The capitalist class own and control forces which they cannot fully utilise, forces which flood the markets with goods that the workers cannot buy.
In order to solve their problems the master class can think of two alternatives : either to lower wages still further and thus render still more goods unsaleable, or to I introduce more machinery and by intensifying production increase still further the amount of commodities seeking purchasers.
These solutions ran only help individual capitalists against their competitors. They cannot help the capitalist class as a whole. They cannot prevent the thinning of the ranks of that class. They can only hasten the concentration in the hands of the few of the total capital and the reduction of the many to bankruptcy. The scramble for profit can have no other result than to prepare industry for its transfer to the workers. Concentration paves the way for socialisation.
With the abolition of private ownership the profit-seeking motive will cease to operate. This is what our capitalist opponents mean when they say that there will be no incentive under Socialism. They can conceive of no other incentive. The workers, however, will still need food, clothing and shelter, and, having in their hands the necessary means, will go on producing these things in greater abundance than ever. The productive forces, freed from control by competing interests, will be utilised by society as a whole in accordance with a common plan, democratically determined in the interest of all.
If this brief summary has carried with it the reader’s conviction, he will agree with the first three clauses of our Declaration. Consideration of the others will form the subject of further articles.
Link to Part 3
Link to Part 3