Saturday, February 22, 2020

The Stage of the Wage-Slave Market. (1904)

From the September 1904 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Board of Trade returns show that employment in July was worse than in June. As compared with a year ago a general decline is shown. In the 270 trades unions, with an aggregate membership of 568,272 making returns, 34,494 (or 6.1 per cent.) were reported as unemployed at the end of July, as compared with 5.9 per cent, a month earlier, and 4.9 per cent in July, 1903. The mean percentage of unemployed returned at the end of June during the ten years 1894-1903 was 3.8.

The returns also show a net decrease in the average rate of wages of a limited number of workpeople for whom returns are available of about 6d. per week per head. This must mean a net loss to the workers of at least £200,000 per week, if the mass of the unorganised workers are in as bad a position as the Trade Union members making returns.

As Lord Stalbridge, presiding at the annual meeting of the London and North-Western Railway Company, estimated the loss of that one line as about £21,000 during the Easter and Whitsuntide holidays alone—”principally owing to the decreased spending power of the workers“—this rough calculation seems not unlikely to be near the mark. This is the loss of the “lucky” workers, who remain in work. Add to this the total loss of wages of, at least, half-a-million unemployed wage-slaves—and then, hurrah (!) for the senseless ”system” of Capitalism, which involves all this unnecessary waste and misery.


The real wage of the worker as measured by its purchasing power has, since 1900, been reduced by 10 per cent.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain. (1904)

From the September 1904 issue of the Socialist Standard

The greatest problem awaiting solution in the world to-day is the existence in every commercial country of extreme poverty side by side with extreme wealth. In every land where, in the natural development of society, the capitalist method of producing and distributing wealth has been introduced, this problem presses itself upon us. Not only so but the greater the grip which capitalism has on industry the more intense is the poverty of the many and the more marked are the riches of the few.

In observing the conditions of this problem, the fact is quickly forced under our notice that it is the producer of wealth who is poor, the non-producer who is rich. How comes it that the men and women who till the soil, who dig the mine, who manipulate the machine, who build the factory and the home, and, in a word, who create the whole of the wealth, receive only sufficient to maintain themselves and their families on the border line of bare physical efficiency, while those who do not aid in production – the employing class – obtain more than is enough to supply their every necessity, comfort, and luxury?

To find a solution to this problem is the task to which the Socialist applies himself. He sees clearly that only by studying the economics of wealth-production and distribution can he understand the anomalies of present-day society. He sees, further, that having gained a knowledge of the economic causes of social inequality, he must apply this knowledge through political action – through the building up of a Socialist organisation for the capture of Parliament and the conquest of the powers of government.

To every sober observer of social facts it is patent that the life condition of the workers is one of penury and of misery. The only saleable commodity they possess  – their power of working – they are compelled to take to the labour market and sell for a bare subsistence wage. The food they eat, the clothing they wear, the houses in which they live are of the shoddiest kind, and these together with the mockery of an education which their children receive, primarily determine the purchasing price of their labour-power. By organising in their various trades they may force their wage a little above this normal value, but taken on the average they are bound to sell their activity – physical, mental and moral – for the bare cost of their subsistence.

In return for this wage they create, by the conversion of raw material into manufactured products or by other means, a value far in excess of the value paid them as wages. The difference between these two values is taken by the employing class, and constitutes the source of profit, interest, and rent. These three forms of exploitation are the result of the unpaid labour of the working-class.

So long as this lasts – and it will last as long as the capitalist system of society – it will not be possible for the workers by any Trades Union organisation to more than slightly modify their condition, and their power in this direction is becoming every day more limited by the combinations among employers to defeat the aims of the working class.

Then, too, the magnitude of industrial operations, ever tending to increase by the inherent tendency under free competition of the large producer to crush out his smaller trade rivals – the joint stock company takes the place of the large individual, capitalist, the trust the place of the joint stock company. The worker is thus brought face to face with an ever greater foe.

The Socialist can calmly view this struggle, knowing that ultimately the victory is with him. In the meantime, however, he has to show the workers that while their organisation in trades will  prove an invaluable aid in the transformation of society by facilitating industrial reorganisation, yet at present they can best help to emancipate themselves from the thraldom of wage-slavery by recognising that in their class struggle with their exploiters they can be most certain of success in the political sphere of action.

Such political action will, however, be quite futile unless carried on by a class-conscious party with definite aims. Such a party must recognise that in the class-war they are waging there must be no truce. They must adopt as their basis of action the Socialist position, for in no other way can their ills be redressed.

To neither of the two historic parties can we look with any hope. The Liberal Party, like the Conservative Party, is interested in maintaining the present class society, and cannot, therefore, be expected to help in its transformation from capitalism to Socialism.

The National Democratic League and the Labour Representation Committee are also to be avoided. The former has a programme of purely political measures, each of which is found in the constitutions of France and the United States of America without the working-class being in any way benefited. The latter organisation has no programme whatsoever, and its members possess no principles in common save the name “Labour.” As soon as any question of constructive legislation is brought before it its component elements will break part, being unable to agree among themselves. Unity is only possible among those who possess common principles. Unity can not, therefore, be secured for any length of time by the members of the Labour Representation Committee, but even if it could, the body is not based upon Socialist principles and should not receive the adhesion of working men.

We, as Socialists, venture to assert that the party which is ultimately to secure the support of the rank and file of the working-class must be a Socialist party. Such a party must be ever prepared to further the realisation of a Socialist Society. It must proclaim the fact that this realisation can be achieved by the members of the working-class using their political power to return to Parliament and other public bodies only those who are members of The Socialist Party.

In the past two bodies of men have put forward the claim to be Socialist parties, viz., the Independent Labour Party and Social Democratic Federation. We who have for many years taken a share in the work of the latter organisation and who have watched the progress of the former from its initiation, have been forced to the conclusion that through neither of them can the Social Revolution at which we aim be achieved, and that from neither of them can the working-class secure redress from the ills they suffer.

The Independent Labour Party, founded for the ostensible reason of forming a half-way house to Socialism, was fated to meet with the reward of every party founded upon a compromise. With a membership of those who were sympathetic with Socialism, but who were not Socialists, they were bound to drift nearer and nearer to the Liberal Party. Having neither the courage to proclaim themselves Socialists nor to disavow Socialism, they are to-day coquetting with that working-class wing of the Liberal Party – the Labour Representation Committee. When the question of Socialism was raised on the committee, their chief representative declared that was neither the time nor the place for such discussion. With a party of this kind, which, in the words of their president, “is independent to support, independent to oppose” the two historic political parties, the working-class should have nothing to do.

The Social Democratic Federation formed to further the cause of Socialism in Great Britain, has, during the last few years, been steadily following the compromising policy adopted from the first by the Independent Labour Party. So much is this the case that to-day, for all purposes of effective Socialist propaganda they have ceased to exist, and are surely developing into a mere reform party, seeking to obtain the provision of Free Maintenance for school children.

Those Socialists who, within its ranks, sought to withstand this policy, have found the task to be an impossible one, and have consequently seceded and formed themselves into the Socialist Party of Great Britain – a party determined to use its every effort in the furtherance of Socialist ideas and Socialist principles.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain is convinced that by laying down a clearly defined body of principles in accord with essential economic truths, and by consistently advocating them, swerving neither to the right nor to the left, but marching uncompromisingly on toward their goal, they will ultimately gain the confidence and the support of the working-class of this country. once this is secured it is a small step to the organisation of a Socialist Parliamentary party. When this is accomplished all is gained.

The first duty of The Socialist Party is the teaching of its principles and the organisation of a political party on a Socialist basis. The party becoming strong will capture parliamentary and other governmental powers. When these powers – legislative, administrative, and judicial, are wrested from their present class holders, they way is clear for the building up of the industries of the country upon the principle of collective production and collective distribution, and for the establishment of the Socialist Republic.

Men and women of the working-class, it is to you we appeal! To-day we are a small party, strong only in the truth of our principles, the sincerity of our motives, and the determination and enthusiasm of our members. To-morrow we shall be strong in our numbers, for the economic development of capitalist society fights for us, and as, through the merging of free competition in monopoly and the simplification of industry, the personal capitalist gives place to the impersonal trust as your employer, you will be forced to see that the welfare of the people can best be guaranteed by the holding of all material wealth in common.

We ask you, therefore, to study the principles upon which our party is based, to find out for yourselves what Socialism is and how Socialism and Socialism alone can abolish class society and establish in its stead a society based upon social equality. When you have done this we know that you will come with us and, by enrolling yourself a member of The Socialist Party of Great Britain, help to speed the time when we shall herald in for ourselves and for our children, a brighter, a happier and a nobler society than any the world has yet witnessed.

Physical Deterioration (1904)

From the September 1904 issue of the Socialist Standard

 It is a necessary deduction from the principles held by Socialists of the Marxist school of thought that the physique and the mental capacity of the working-class in every capitalist country are deteriorating. If the Socialist view of social development is, as we believe, a correct one, this deterioration is due to temporary economic causes which are remediable by combined human effort.

To the Socialist the question is fundamentally economic, and is to be answered only by an elimination into our modes of satisfying material human needs. One of the first things discovered on making such an examination is that the methods of producing and distributing the various means of living are different to-day from what they were yesterday, and that there is reason to assume that they will be yet again different to-morrow. The capitalist method of production by the wage-labourer under the control of the machine for the purpose of furnishing profit for the employer came into existence only in the last third of the eighteenth century.

The immediate result of the introduction of machine industry was the displacement of labourers. The old handicraftsmen were unable to compete with the new machine industry, and were consequently forced out of employment. At first the machine by cheapening commodities and extending the demand for them was able to absorb nearly as many men as it displaced. That day has, however, gone by. Machines are themselves produced by machinery and the markets for manufactured products are practically conterminous with the world’s surface. Hence, each improved machine introduced, every conquest over Nature made by the inventive genius of man, throws more of the workers out of employment, and renders more irregular the employment of those in employment.

Again, the machine necessitates the co-operation of many men in the carrying on of any manufacture. This combination of effort allows the specialisation of the various detail operations intervening between the raw material and the finished product, and distributes these operations in such a manner that each worker employed in the industry is bound throughout the whole of his life to the monotony of a single routine occupation. The harder work is also differentiated from the easier, and women and children become a feature in the industrial life of the capitalist era.

Another cause for the displacement of men’s labour besides the introduction of improved machinery and of women and child labour, is the speeding up of the machine whereby each individual worker is required to tend a larger number of spindles or looms or to work the same machine at an increased speed. Thus labour is generally intensified and tends to rack the nervous system of the worker.

In return for this expenditure of his activity the worker is paid a wage which is fixed on the labour market and is determined by the cost of his subsistence as measured by the standard of comfort of the workers in his trade. This standard of comfort is kept down to the limits of bare physical efficiency by the existence of the unemployed industrial reserve population created, as we have seen, by the extension of the sphere of the machine in industry. The men out of work are prepared to accept a lower wage than that given to those in employment and thus palliate their own miserable condition. This competition for employment presents itself as an unceasing tendency towards lower wages. The final result of this competition between the workers is, that the wage of their labour power fluctuates on either side of the line of “bare physical efficiency.”

Looking at industry again, but this time from another point of view, we find that in the distribution of the commodities produced there is free competition between the various manufacturers in the markets of the world. Each manufacturer seeks to secure for himself as large a share of those markets as possible. Hence in periods of commercial prosperity he produces as rapidly as he can, and places his goods for sale, his rivals in trade do likewise. A glut of the markets follows upon this anarchic method of distribution. The manufacturer, finding the market suffering from glut and finding it necessary to transform his commodities into money, to be able to discharge his liabilities, endeavours to find a customer at reduced prices. His goods are usually purchased by one of his trade rivals who is possessed of more capital and longer staying power, and who thus augments his business. Thus we see as a result of free competition that large capitalists are crushing out small capitalists, and as this progresses monopoly ultimately results.

In America we see monopoly reaching its final and most logical form in the trust. When the trust is formed, it immediately discharges its commercial travellers, because, having a monopoly of the industry, the trust is the only available source of supply to the retail trader ; the small factories and the factories equipped with inefficient machinery are closed and the workers in them discharged ; the price of the products as well as the wages of those employed, are within the entire control of the all-conquering trust.

We have not as yet, however, reached the stage of the trust in every industry, and have, therefore, to consider the effect of the individual-capitalistic and the joint stock company industrial conditions upon the health of those employed.

We have seen the worker divorced from his tools by the introduction of machinery ; the introduction of women labour and child labour; the building up of the machine industry manifested to us in the modern factory ; the throwing men out of employment: let us see what is the effect upon the condition of the working-class of the present industrial system.

We see that in England the development of modern industry was at first in advance of its development on the Continent. From a number of well understood causes into which we need not now enquire, England obtained for a period the monopoly of the markets of the world. The produce of her manufactures were sent to every country, and had to be exchanged against the raw produce of those countries. At the same time, the agricultural workers of this country thought that it would be to their advantage to engage in the new industries that were everywhere springing up. They, therefore, began to flock into the towns, and thus commenced that rural immigration towards the great cities which has not yet ceased.

As detail operations in trades were specialised within the factories, so were the various industries of the country specialised and localised within the nation — Lancashire becoming the principal seat of the cotton, Yorkshire of the woollen industry. Round these specialised industries great cities sprung. Built upon no settled plan, the individual greed of the possessor of building land rather than the health and needs of the community being the determining factor, problems were created which remain still without solution.

Crowded together in insanitary areas, the air befouled by the smoke from the many factory chimneys, disease and vice and crime were germinated to an unprecedented extent. We find that the general condition cf the life of the wage-worker is one of extreme poverty and misery. Receiving a low wage, he can maintain only a low standard of comfort — maintaining a low standard of comfort, his competition with his fellows provides him with a low wage. Thus runs the vicious circle.

His food is of the cheapest description, usually adulterated ; his clothing is shoddy ; he lives in overcrowded and insanitary areas ; the air of the factory in which he works is befouled ; the atmosphere of the rooms in which he lives is vitiated ; his wife in many trades has to find employment and the family wage is little higher than when he was the sole breadwinner ; his children are neglected and go breakfastless to school ; the mother of the family is often employed to the time of child-birth ; alcoholism is engendered by unhealthy surroundings : these are but a few of the conditions of working-class life directly due to the class ownership of his means of livelihood. These being the facts is it to be wondered at if we assume that their result must be a lowering of the stamina and the physique of the working-class section of the community?

I do not think that any will gainsay that nutrition is the first essential to the building up of a healthy physique. Without the provision of a sufficient supply of good, wholesome food any attempt at arresting deterioration will be futile. We are told that over 100,000 school children in London alone go breakfastless to school. For them there is little hope for a sturdy manhood. Arrest the progress of physical deterioration amongst the children through the provision of meals by the State to all school children and you will do much to strengthen the physique and stamina of the race.

I have before me the Report issued by the Inter-Departmental Committee on Physical Deterioration, and I have looked through its pages to see whether my a priori views on physical deterioration are borne out by the investigations of the Committee.

It is to be observed that it was not from any desire on the part of the governing class to improve the lot of the working-class because they were physically deteriorating that this Committee was appointed, but because of the difficulty of obtaining a sufficient supply of recruits for the army. The government of every country is founded upon force and depends upon the organised force of the army for the maintenance of its stability, and any falling off in the efficiency of the worker viewed as raw material for the army is, therefore, a matter which they deplore. When, therefore, they find that in spite of repeated reductions in the physical standard for recruits there is maintained a percentage of rejections ranging from 40 to 60 ; when the worker presenting himself for enlistment is designated as “rubbish” by General Borrett, the late Inspector-General of Recruiting; when of those accepted nearly two-thirds have to be subsequently weeded out: then the governing class considers it high time to make enquiries into the physical condition of the people.

I do not propose to quarrel with the Committee because of this, neither am I in any way sanguine that the recommendations of the Committee so far as they would tend to benefit the workers, will be carried into practical effect. Even it Parliament carries through legislative reform, there is no reason to believe that the class that has control of the administrative machinery will let it be other than a dead letter. Indeed, in this very Report instance after instance is given where the very people against whom the Acts are ostensibly directed are to be found administering them on the judicial bench. Let one instance suffice. The evidence given before the Committee by a Miss Garnett is to the effect that—
“The local authority in the Potteries was as inefficient as you could find anywhere. Most of the bad houses are owned by members of the local bodies and the sanitary inspectors are too much in awe of their employers to carry out their duty.”
The general finding of the Committee is that there is not sufficient data from which to determine whether there is going on continuous physical deterioration among any section of the community. It may be mentioned in this connection that in the discussion on the subject by the Anthropological Section of the British Association, the existence of such deterioration was taken for granted by many of those who discussed the subject. It was not, of course, to be expected that the Committee would search too deeply into the economic conditions of production to find whether there they might discover a sufficient cause in the very basis of present day capitalist production itself tor the deterioration. Their enquiry only scratched the surface of the subject.

I may have occasion, in a future number of THE SOCIALIST STANDARD, to return to this matter. By then Vol. II of the Committee’s proceedings, containing the detailed evidence, and Vol. Ill, containing several important appendices, will probably be available. Meanwhile I content myself with selecting a few pertinent passages and trust that all Socialists will read through the Report, which contains, in spite of all its limitations, much valuable propagandist material. Dr. Neston, ot Newcastle, says:
  “There is undoubtedly great deterioration in the physique of our City population, and that is attributable to two chief causes; first, a decadence in home life, which entails improper food and clothing, irregular habits (drinking and gambling), absence of order and thrift; second, the miserable housiug and high rents which prevail; overcrowding with its consequences, is, an important factor in physical and mental deterioration.”
Dr. Eichholz, who draws a distinction between physical degeneracy on the one hand and inherited retrogressive deterioration on the other, says:
  “There is every reason to anticipate rapid amelioration of physique so soon an improvement occurs in external conditions. particularly as regards food, clothing, overcrowding, cleanliness, drunkenness, and the spread of common, practical knowledge of home management. In fact, all evidence points to active, rapid improvement, bodily and mental, in the worst districts, so soon as they are exposed to better circumstances, even the weaker children recovering at a later age from the evil effects of infant life.”
The Committee says:
 “There is reason to fear that the urbanization of the population cannot have been unattended by consequences prejudicial to the health of the people, and these have been considered under the three heads of (I) Overcrowding, (II) Pollution of the Atmosphere, and (III) The conditions of employment.
 “The general death-rate in these tenements (one room) in Glasgow is nearly twice that of the whole city, and the death-rate from pulmonary tuberculosis is 2.4 per thousand in one-roomed tenements, 1.8 in two-roomed tenements, and .7 in all the other houses.

In Finsbury, again, where the population of one-roomed tenements is 14,516, the death-rate per thousand in 1903 was 38.9, yet the rate among occupants of four or more rooms was only 5.6, and for the whole borough 19.6.”
”I should trace much of the anaemia (in Manchester) to the deprivation of sunlight and to the lessening of the vivifying properties of the air.”
“Factory labour is mentioned as a predisposing cause ” (to alcoholism among women of the working-class).”
Describing the life of a boy of fourteen in a textile district, who has probably been bred in unwholesome environment and nourished on unnatural food, Mr. Wilson, H.M. Inspector of Factories, said :—
  “The hours will be long, fifty-five per week, and the atmosphere he breathes very confined, perchance also dusty. Employment of this character, especially if carried on in high temperatures, rarely fosters growth or development; the stunted child elongates slightly in time, but remains very thin, loses colour, the muscles remain small, especially those of the upper limbs, the legs are inclined to become bowed, more particularly if heavy weights have to be habitually carried, the arch of the foot flattens, and the teeth decay rapidly.” 
He continues :
  “The girls exhibit the same shortness of stature, the same miserable development, and they possess the same sallow cheeks and carious teeth. I have also observed that at an age when girls brought up under wholesome conditions usually possess a luxuriant growth of hair, these factory girls have a scanty crop which, when tied back, is simply a wisp or rat’s tail.”
I think, then, that the Socialist is justified in his belief that there exists sufficient evidence to verify his conclusion obtained by deduction from Socialist principles. Man is a creature of his environment, susceptible to its every change. In present day society the multiplicity of wealth which he creates keeps him in poverty, and the conditions of poverty are conditions of an inferior standard of comfort. An inferior standard of comfort engenders an inferior physique. Improve the standard of life of the people and you remove every tendency to deterioration. Such an improved standard of living is prevented only by the maintenance of a class-owned method of wealth production and can be secured by the working-class using its voting power to the end that all the things necessary to the welfare of the people shall be owned and democratically controlled by the people in their own interests.

Under a society in which individual private property is replaced by social property, when each unit of society shall aid in the production of social necessaries, there will be laid the physical conditions which shall ensure a healthy subsistencr under healthy conditions for each man, woman, and child in the community, and by guaranteeing to each a healthy physical organism will present those conditions most necessary for the mental and moral development of the race.
Robert Elrick

* * *

“As a preliminary to any further legislation on the subject of hours of employment, particularly employment of women and children, it is, in the view of the Committee, (on Physical Deterioration), highly desirable that there should be a strictly scientific enquiry into the physiological causation and effects of over-fatigue.” Meanwhile, the women and children are crushed down by over-work!

* * *

“Poor in physique as they all are, and poor in mental capacity and power of application as many of them must be, what becomes of them? Many of them probably marry girls as weak as themselves, and have children, some of whom go to swell the lists of infant mortality, some to join the criminal classes, while others grow up more weak and incompetent than their parents.” —Sir Lauder Brunton, on certain setions of the working-class.

Coventry Cycle Trade: Female Wage-Slaves Oust Males. (1904)

From the September 1904 issue of the Socialist Standard

Those who know Marx’s assertion that improved machinery leads to the employment of an ever lower strata of labour, will read the following from a Capitalist paper of Aug. 31, with interest :
  “More men are out of work in Coventry at present than for many years past, having been displaced by female employees, who have even been set to work upon small capstan lathes and wheel building. The greatly extended use of automatic machinery and the standardisation of patterns has simplified much of the detail of cycle manufacturing, and the prices cf piecework have fallen accordingly. The amount of unskilled male labour in the cycle trade has been reduced to a few hands. The skilled mechanics are now feeling the pinch, many having been out of work all this year.
  “The price-cutting war has made it absolutely necessary to reduce the cost of production.
  “Girl’s average wage is 15s., and as the watch and silk trades have greatly fallen off, girls are plentiful.
  "A local manager says extended female employment gives satisfactory results and will be further developed, there being a number of parts upon which they can be profitably engaged. For male labour the outlook is very gloomy.”

Capitalist Morality and Cheap Labour (1904)

From the September 1904 issue of the Socialist Standard

Is has been sometimes alleged by ignorant or interested persons that Socialism would promote immorality, and particularly that it would “break up the family !” Certain admissions made by the learned upholders of Capitalism at the recent meeting of the Economic Section of the British Association throw a really brilliant light upon the canting hypocrisy of these contentions. The fact is Capitalism promotes and forces what is termed “immorality” upon large sections of the people, and breaks up the family –even destroying the most natural and common human affections.

Mrs. Bosanquet (author of ”The Strength of the People“) has had the impudence more than once to attack, without comprehending, Socialist science. In the course of a paper read by her at this meeting, she asserted that—
  “The disintegration of family life in town resulted in an alarming increase of unstable families, who quickly lost due sense of home affections and responsibilities, and did not earn so much where families were stable.”
So here is a plain admission from a defender more of capitalistic robbery of the workers, that CAPITALISM destroys the family. How anxious this goody-goody capitalist is to preserve the family! And notice what good capitalist reason she has for it! The sting of this quotation is, scorpion-like, in the tail: stable families earn less than unstable disintegrated families. So the capitalist professes anxiety to preserve the family—in the hope of cheaper labour!

Another speaker asserted that “where family life is preserved, morality is very high.” And he continued :
  “Our infant mortality is now greater than in India and Japan, and the employment of married women in factories is an appreciable cause.”
What a condemnation of the infamous capitalist system. The employment of married women in factories certainly tends to break up the family, and this capitalist advocate admits that it is responsible for the wholesale slaughter of innocent infants. But the labour of married women is cheap, and men, women, and children alike must be sacrificed in order that Capital— “that monster without a heart “—may be satisfied. Only by the Social Revolution can this system be ended. Palliation is impossible and absurd. Leave it to capitalists to cant about morality, which they neither understand nor care for, and to tinker with the effects of their villainous system. It is for the wording-class to organise for its complete overthrow.
H. J. Hawkins.