The Economic Determinant.
In his masterly essay, "Causes of Belief in God," Paul Lafargue shows how the capitalist method of production divides society into superstitious capitalists and materialist workers. The buying and selling of stocks and shares are to the average capitalist a gamble. He knows little or nothing of the actual concerns. He often has friends who have lost heavily in dealings on the Stock Exchange. He receives rude shocks occasionally through rumours affecting his own investments, and not being able to control the conditions that bring success or failure, regards the whole question as one of chance.
The Worker's Earthly Wisdom.
The worker, on the other hand, is concerned with the material processes of production and distribution. He sees in these processes nothing marvellous because they are the result of the combined efforts of his fellow workers, and he himself takes a hand. Powerful engines, and the terrific force generated by them, have no terrors for the worker, because he controls them. His share of the industrial process, wages, is not subject to chance. They do not fluctuate from a standard of exquisite luxury to one of poverty; he remains always poor, not expecting, or even dreaming of, obtaining a fancy price for his labour-power. When the prices of necessaries are raised to him, he blames those who raise them. When his wages are reduced, his hours of labour prolonged, or the speed of the machine increased against him, he does not whine that it is the will of God. Neither does he try to explain such misfortunes by economic law. To him it is a personal matter and the capitalist is the person responsible; he therefore takes organised action against him.
The Chance for Dinkey-Doo.
The worker does not look for abstruse explanations of the economic disturbances that hurt him : he blames the capitalist. But the latter, sometimes hit by the same disturbances, blames his luck and tries to ward off disaster with mascots. He believes in lucky days, fortune tellers, and spiritualist revelations. When some mad professor of physical science predicts the end of the world because one side of the solar system seems overweighted with planets, the big luminaries of the scientific world rush into print to re-assure the wealthy idlers, who are in the main, just as void of scientific knowledge as the workers. The professors who ridiculed the idea knew they were safe in this case, because they alone would have been able to say "we told you so."
The Propheteers' Harvest.
When financial or trade crises ruin many capitalists, economic and social quacks get busy explaining causes; prophesying rapid recovery, and generally offering advice and administering comfort to those who are threatened with disaster. But it is when industrial disputes develop and spread from one occupation to another, when waves of discontent surge backwards and forwards, and the structure of civilisation seems threatened, when Bolshevism is triumphant in Russia and all middle Europe seems affected by it, then it is that the experts get busy explaining, warning, and advising their capitalist masters. Revolution is hinted at, prophesied for the near future, already here, and utterly discredited by politicians, economists, and social reformers with equally plausible arguments.
The Prime Minister says that "a revolutionary spirit in the air." In his usual self-advertising style he proclaims his ability to turn it. "It is simply the flood," he goes on, "the spade in the stream. What it wants is direction." Mr. Bonar Law said : "I am not afraid of the revolutionary spirit; revolution and the danger of it will come only if the social and economic conditions become intolerable." And of course they are not intolerable for these two gentlemen and the class they represent.
After them comes Mr. McCurdy, M.P., who says : "Not one man in a hundred of our strikers knows anything, or cares to know anything, about the philosophy of anarchism or syndicalism. He is looking for a way out of his own personal troubles—high prices, the irritation of profiteering, the limited share he gets of the comforts of life."
This is pleasant reading for the average capitalist, who wants to believe that the workers still lack the knowledge and intelligence necessary for combination against him on sound lines. But in his further remarks Mr. McCurdy goes far to prove that conditions are forcing the workers to become revolutionary.
"Higher wages," he says,"lead to higher prices, unless there is increased production." But, like all the advocates of greater production, he means greater production per worker, who cannot, therefore, get his better conditions, because prices will not fall until demand has contracted, which means increased unemployment and lower wages to correspond with the reduced prices.
The worker is never in a position ta take advantage of the redactions in price. Whether his wages are high or low, prices always soar at a level that prevents him attaining to a comfortable standard of living. Resolutions demanding drastic government action against the "profiteer" have no effect because profiteers are capitalists just the same as other capitalists not "lucky" enough to be profiteers, but hoping to be so shortly. The workers are baffled whatever action they take along the lines they have so far been accustomed to follow. But Socialism is at their elbows—will they pause and examine it ?
Another mistake that Mr. McCurdy makes is in thinking that Syndicalism or Anarchism are really dangers to the stability of capitalist society. Their real danger is to the working class, which, in so far as it heeds these things, neglects the obvious course of gaining control of the political machine, and lays itself open to militant suppression by the Government—a form of suppression the ruling class have proved themselves only too ready to adopt, many of them, without doubt, considering it necessary that society should be periodically purged of its revolutionary elements. And what more favourable opportunity could present itself than large numbers of workers imbued with the belief that they can carry through the Revolution by means of strikes or looting, or by physical force ?
It was this belief on the part of the Parisian workers that gave Theirs and the French capitalists the opportunity to massacre the communards; and that massacre will no doubt be repeated on a more colossal scale in Russia unless the Bolshevik leaders are wise enough to effect a compromise before the full weight of surrounding capitalist forces is hurled against them and their premature revolution.
The economist is an adjunct of the political party and manufactures arguments, principles, and even economic "laws" according to the needs of his party. When he speaks of revolution as the outcome of present working-class discontent he refers to it as a convulsion of society, with nothing to follow but brutal dictatorships or universal chaos. It would not suit capitalist ideas and interests to even admit the possibility of an alternative system of society. Capitalism, in the opinion of capitalists, is the highest expression of social organisation. Consequently the Russian movement and the general unrest, if it means revolution, is the beginning of the end: the annihilation of the human race through the absence of law and order.
In the "Review of Reviews" (Aug. 1919) Mr. J. A. Hobson says that the "scientific Socialist hails this intestinal warfare with a sombre satisfaction as the fulfilment of his law of economic determination." It is far easier to hazard sneering guesses about the emotions of Socialist opponents than it is to pulverise the "law of economic determination." though it matters nothing what the Socialist, or even Hobson, feels about it. if it is a law. Grudgingly he admits that the Socialist is right when he says that the development of capitalist society means the growing antagonism of the working class towards capitalism and all those who seek to maintain it. But his admission matters very little; the fact remains that "human society is out of harmony with its surroundings and must re-adapt itself in order to continue its existence." But to re-adapt itself means, not superficial, but fundamental changes, and Socialism alone contains such fundamental changes.
Mr. Hobson concedes to the Socialist the correctness of his diagnosis, and, therefore, admits the inevitability of the class war. But he asks, "need we succumb to this terrible philosophy ? I think not." And then he tries to comfort his friends the capitalists by assuring them that "the vast majority of the workers mistrusts all conscious formulation of aims and policy except for short range and concrete objects." These "concrete objects are, a voice in workshop control, security of tenure, a reasonable standard of comfort and leisure. "
But capitalism has always refused these to the workers, except in rare instances when labour-power has been in great demand. Wages must be kept down while industry is carried on for profits, consequently there must be an unemployed army which imposes on the work the competitive struggle for jobs and a reasonable standard of comfort and leisure is an impossibility under the system for all those who sell their energy for wages
Then Mr. Hobson shows how "short range" are capitalist "politics and economics." He is confident "that the great mass of the workers would accept these substantial gains and would not clamour for the destruction of the wage system" But he realises that "no present settlement on these, or any, lines would have permanency"—another admission that must give "sombre satisfaction to the scientific Socialist."
Politicians and economists alike, with all efforts to bring comfort and assurance to their friends the capitalists, cannot conceal the pessimism they feel. They rack their brains for rough and ready arguments that will deceive the workers and bolster up a rotten system, carrying it on from day to day. They declare that revolutionary Socialists are small in number and that the mass of the workers are not affected. They indulge in cheap sneers at the founders of modern Socialism, and denounce the workers as the enemies of society when, driven by actual want, they strike for some slight improvement in their conditions. But they cannot explain, scientifically, the growing universal antagonism of the workers towards the ruling class.
There is an element of uncertainty about the growth of the Socialist movement. Not even the Socialist can tell how far the minds of the workers are turned to receive the principles of Socialism, or how many, already understanding them, are only waiting a popular movement basis on Socialism. The working-class mind, trained to materialism in industry, quite easily grasps the principles of Socialism when clearly presented. The avowed numbers to-day may be small but it is the soundness of the principles, and the ease with which they can be understood, and the growing realisation by the workers that their accustomed methods achieve nothing, that is driving them to Socialism. The capitalists' fear of the future is a convincing answer upon this point, while no Socialist has any doubt as to the future.