Wednesday, August 26, 2020

That Which Matters. (1919)

From the December 1919 issue of the Socialist Standard

There is only one road that leads to Socialism: the workers have to learn, first, that they are slaves, second, how they are enslaved, third, the revolutionary changes necessary to achieve their freedom, and fourth, how to accomplish this revolution. A majority of the workers must understand these things, therefore the need of the day is for Socialists to spread the knowledge. If all the people who call themselves Socialists were so in reality the task of establishing Socialism would be well on the way. But unfortunately, there are many well-meaning people who, not understanding Socialism, do much to hinder the movement by stupid and ignorant misrepresentation. Usually, however, these are the dupes and victims of conscious frauds who are in the labour movement because it pays, and who call themselves Socialists for the same reason.

The Socialist is not much concerned with their reasons or their personal ambitions; before these frauds and their dupes can mislead the workers they must give utterance to some beliefs, ideas, or policies likely to influence them. The Socialist examines the proposals, and without troubling greatly to ascertain whether they emanate from the conscious fraud or the ignorant dupe, classifies them according to the degree of danger with which they threaten his movement. In his analysis of various manifestos he finds that the most dangerous are those bearing his label—Socialist—while fostering and proclaiming capitalist dogmas and and superstitions antagonistic to Socialism.

That parties built on such a contradiction should exist and flourish seems incredible, but it is only necessary to point to the attitude of the Labour Party in giving its support to the capitalist class during the war, and to their almost unanimous support of the demand for increased production. So far as the latter is concerned, the Labour Party has never given any evidence that they even understand it. The star turns of the I.L.P. have written columns of stuff on the question in the "Labour Leader," but in spite of unexampled opportunities for information, statistics, etc, the subject has never been handled from the Socialist point of view.

In the House of Commons the Premier has said "We must have greater production." The Labour Party have replied that they "will do their share," meaning that they will urge the workers to do it for them. No one would susspect that they were supposed to represent the workers if it were not for the plea they advance that "the slackening in production is not all the fault of the workers." Because they, the leaders, have neglected to master the elements of economics they are reduced to the position of defendants who can only plead that "it is not all their fault."

A knowledge of economics rightly used would give labour leaders the initiative, and the power to attack in the political arena; but, even if they possessed the knowledge, not being Socialists, elected by Socialists, they dare not use it. Labour leaders cannot move beyond the ideas of their supporters, who, educated along capitalist lines, think that it is in the administration of the system that their troubles lie. New administrators, sympathetic to them as workers, they think, will restore some of the balance to them. The leaders, recognising this ingrained dependence on capitalism, realise that they must help the workers as they want to be helped if they are to make their leadership pay. To attempt to put the workers right on their actual position as a slave class and to impress upon them the need for intelligent and organised action against the system, would only result in the alienation of capitalist support and their rejection at the polls. 

That the capitalist parties to-day can look—as they do—with equanimity on the possibility of a Labour Government, proves that there is nothing dangerous to capitalism in the movement, and therefore little, if anything, beneficial to the working class.

The general notion of Socialism as "State ownership of the means of wealth production," because it is a general notion, does not exonerate the leaders. Invented and disseminated by capitalist politicians and agents, this definition has been accepted by labour leaders and advocated as a sovereign remedy for working-class ills. Even the so-called extremists of the labour movement boost nationalisation as a step towards Socialism because under it, they say, the workers will have a measure of control. This is altogether false, as a glance at the Post Office and other State concerns will show—the workers in those concerns being more dependent and having less freedom, if anything, than those under private enterprise. Not only so, the the workers, instead of insisting on a measure of control, are more likely to be side-tracked, like all civil servants, into the belief that discipline and organisation is the necessary complement of State efficiency in the interests of the "general public."

To make of the workers State employees does not make them Socialists, and consequently does not help towards Socialism. On the contrary, it leads the workers up a blind alley, wasting their energies on something that does not materially change their conditions, and leaving them apathetic and ignorant as to the cause of their failure.

The first test of a Socialist party is does it make Socialists. Because the Labour Party advocates State ownership and either calls it Socialism or a step towards Socialism, they fail in the supreme test. Their failure to diagnose minor questions, therefore, becomes intelligible. When they engaged in recruiting during the war, taking up sides with one capitalist section, and persuading members of the working class to do likewise, they violated another great Socialist principle : that the working class of all lands, having no interests in common with any section of the master class, but all alike suffering under the same form of wage slavery, must unite internationally for the overthrow of capitalism.

With the so-called peace, capitalist statesmen launched their reconstruction policy, mainly composed of increased production. Here again the Labour Party were caught and carried along in the flood of capitalist propaganda. Some of them, like Brownlie, outpacing their masters in their efforts to deceive the workers, while all of them, agreeing with the capitalist determination to extend their markets, and utterly failing to show how this could benefit the workers, took up the parrot cry and repeated it—in some cases with mild reservations—because they feared the denunciation of the capitalist Press. 

Whatever decreased production might mean for the workers —if it were possible,—it is certain that increased production, per individual, means falling prices for the workers' only commodity : labour-power. But no section of the Labour Party has ever viewed it in this light. Instead, they advise economies in working, which, so far as the workers are concerned, has the same result: increased unemployment and competition, and reduced wages. An instance of this, which illustrates the point and at the same time explodes State ownership, is supplied by Sir Leo Chiozza Money in the "Labour Leader," Nov. 6th. While endeavouring to point out "The true path to a maximum output of real wealth," through "national control," . . "workers brought into the management, and the prices of output determined by proper costings," he declares that "capitalism disorganises production and devours the nation's substance with its army of non-producers." The latter are not merely the capitalists; they include all those workers catering for their luxury, or engaged in trade without assisting in production or distribution. As an instance Sir Leo mentions the Lever combine. He says: "It has a capital of about £20,000,000, but I venture to think that a nationalised soap trade could make more soap, and cheaper soap, with much less capital."

Here we see another issue raised which has nothing to do with the question from the workers' view-point. The over-capitalisation, so-called, of any concern merely means that instead of a large dividend on a small number of shares there is a smaller dividend on a larger number of shares—unless by an extension of the business (which must be at the expense of other firms) the old rate of dividend is maintained. As the workers do not share in dividends, whether they go up or down, or whether they are divided among forty or four hundred capitalists, is a matter of indifference to them.

But Sir Leo thinks differently ; he writes as though the workers did share in dividends. "Look at the monopolist," be says, "spreading his tentacles over the units of the trade. . . . He has to give an extravagant price for businesses. . . . That price ranks as capital of the combine and subscribers are promised a high rate of dividend."

The only way to increase dividends is by reducing wages, speeding up, or raising prices. As the capitalist cannot influence prices, which are determined by the cost of production in the main, though subject to fluctuations through the vagaries of the market, he turns his attention to wages and the quantitative production per worker. But here again he finds no new source of profit, because speeding up has long ago reached the high water mark, and wages are so low that any reduction would at once be followed by a reduced output, due entirely to the physical impossibility of maintaining the pace on a lower standard of living.

In the "New Statesman" (27.9.19) a prominent capitalist writer says that the production of commodities, and services, is greater than in 1913 and greater than ever before ; and far from production having fallen, it has increased enormously in agriculture, shipping, wool, cotton, motor-cars, clothes, and in export trade generally. But Sir Leo, although recognised as one of the best statisticians on production, seems totally ignorant of these facts and, consequently, incapable of taking up the correct attitude in the interests of the workers. Instead of denying the calumnies of lying capitalist agents he feebly protests that : "Just before the war I published one or two works in which I endeavoured to point out to the nation at large that its material output, as revealed by the census of production, was miserably inadequate," and again he says: "I hope no word of this will be interpreted as deprecating the duty of producing as much as possible." Thus at the very outset he ranges himself alongside the agents of the master class by falsely admitting their charges.

Like all capitalist economists, Sir Leo has no conception of price apart from the fluctuations of the market due to supply and demand. In reply to the statement often made, that "if British workmen will only produce more, prices will come down," he claims that British prices are determined by world production, in other words, by competition. Instead of showing that the only result of increased production on the part of the worker is an earlier date for the sack, he dogmatises on the capitalist price list, a purely capitalist concern, which does not affect the workers because wages, approximating to the cost of living, always rise or fall in accordance with the prices of necessaries. Of course the adjustment of wages to the changing prices of necessaries causes friction; but friction is just as inevitable under the capitalist system as fluctuations of prices. Why, then, does Sir Leo complicate the issue by dragging in the question of prices at all ?

For the same reason that all the self-styled labour leaders fail to present the true working-class position in opposition to avowed capitalist defenders—because it would not pay—Sir Leo, like the rest of the labour gang, advocates reform of the capitalist system in various ways. His chief palliative is "national control," but, "even then," he says, "our own wealth and our own prices would largely depend upon world causation," thus showing that his "national control" means capitalist control, and the retention of wage-slavery. To talk of "our own wealth and our own prices," therefore, is mockery so far as the workers are concerned. Like the rest of the labour gang, too, he demands a share in the management for the workers, but while the capitalists own— whether through the company, the combine, or the State—they will never allow the workers to interfere in this way unless their participation in management makes for greater individual production. The labour leaders all know that it is only along this line that workshop representation willl be encouraged, and it will then only mean increased efficiency with its inevitable results, more unemployment and reduced wages.

Ownership of the means of wealth production alone gives control; that is why the Socialist Party declares that until the workers organise politically to gain possession of the means of wealth production all the schemes of labour leaders to give them a share of control are impossibilist dreams.

The capitalist class own the means of life, to-day, and consequently, all the wealth produced by the working class. What the workers can buy back with their wages just enables them to maintain themselves as a slave class. As they must have this minimum quantity of wealth, wages have to be adjusted to prices. It is in this adjustment process that the antagonism of interests between the two classes manifests itself. The workers have yet to learn that this antagonism is not only destructive of schemes of share in control, but is the germ of a conscious antagonism that can never be abolished until the means of life are the common property of society—not the common property of the capitalist class through State ownership, nationalisation, or national control—controlled by the people through a democratic administration of production and distribution for use instead of for profit.

It is to obscure these facts that the labour gang actively propagate their absurd nostrums. The enlightenment of the workers would lose them their jobs; they could then no longer strut across the stage of life puffed up with exaggerated notions of their own importance, because no one would look at them, except with scorn. The ignorance of the workers makes them leaders. The acquirement of the knowledge of Socialism by the workers will unmake them. Our message is to the worker, and exposes the labour fraud at the same time that it declares the real enemy of the worker to be the capitalist class.
F. Foan

Wages and Prices. The Socialist View. (1919)

From the November 1919 issue of the Socialist Standard

Ever since the armistice gave the signal for the reopening of industrial warfare we have been met on all hands with the cry "High wages mean high prices."

The Tale they Tell Us. 
Editors and politicians have they tried to outdo one another in the attempt to convince the workers that they have reached the limit in "bettering" their financial position. To listen to their arguments one would imagine that profits had ceased to exist, that wages were the only charge on industry, and that the capitalist employers' only aim in life was to find work for the workless.

The facts—that prices soared mountains high before wages commenced to move, that wages have not generally managed to catch up with prices, and that an excess profits tax has been good business for the State—are carefully kept in the background. The workers fail to make both ends meet and are told that they themselves are responsible for the failure.

Put Them to the Test. 
We are further warned of the loss of foreign trade, just as though no other country had labour troubles, and as though the workers were responsible for the war which gave America and Japan their opportunity for filching Europe's markets. But the best joke of the lot is the way in which our teachers deplore the workers' ignorance of economics ! Every fragment of the truth which the latter get into their heads is ferociously assaulted as a fallacy. Let the workers, however, do a little more thinking and then see what becomes of newspaper economics.

The first thing that strikes one about the wages question is that if the employers can so easily pass on any rise to the consumer in the form of an increased price why their strenuous opposition to these rises ? The obvious answer is that the thing cannot be done; that if it is possible to raise prices in a given state of the market the capitalist takes advantage of the fact quite independently of any advance in wages. On the other hand, no rise in wages can enable a seller of commodities to get higher prices out of an unfavourable market. He has to put up with less profits ! There's the rub ! And since profits, like wages, have to come out of prices, we might as well argue that high profits are the cause of high prices.

Where the Shoe Pinches.
As a matter of fact, however, neither wages nor profits nor both together form the basis of prices. Prices express value, a state of equality between two commodities; thus £2 = 1 pair of boots or two chairs, etc. Before we can understand value or prices, wages or profits we have to know in what sense money is equal to the things it buys, and further, in what sense these things, being equal to money, are, therefore, equal to one another.

What is value?—that is the question which knocks the stuffing out of any newspaper economist who has the pluck to tackle it—and there are not many that have, despite their desire to teach others.

Your Eye Skinned.
If we take a sovereign and any commodity it will buy (say a looking glass) and compare the two we are at first baffled to find any similarity between them. Size, shape, smell, colour, taste, weight —in every physical or chemical quality they differ. Yet men will exchange the one for the other. Their equality, therefore, must have something to do with their relationship to mankind. It is, in other words, a social relationship. Something that human society does with, money and mirrors gives them value before the exchange takes place. What does society do ? It produces them ! All commodities are the products of social labour. It is the act of labouring which puts value into them, and the quantity of labour, measured by the necessary time it takes, is the substance of value and the basis of prices.

The enormous increase in prices since the commencement of the war is therefore due in the main to the upheaval in the conditions of production. Millions of producers cannot, it is obvious, be pitch-forked into the arena of destruction without upsetting the established ease and rapidity with which wealth is produced.

To the workers, at any rate, it should be clear that their demands for higher wages are based upon this same preceding rise in prices, and that unless these demands are conceded it will be impossible for them to retain their efficiency as producers. That is to say that, unless the price of their commodity keeps pace with the prices of other commodities, of which it is a product, there will be less of that commodity available.

At the same time they must further realise that on the average nothing more than the value of their commodity can be obtained. The capitalists can and will successfully resist any encroachments upon their profits. Wage-saving machinery on the one hand, and the unemployed on the other, exist to keep in check any efforts after a wage which represents more than the cost of producing labour-power.

Is the position of the workers without remedy, then ? By no means. Let us invert the logic of our masters. If high wages mean high prices, then no wages should mean no prices. In other words, if the workers agreed to work for nothing they should be able to receive the fruits of their labour for nothing likewise. Oar newspaper editors have probably never thought of this outcome of their reasoning. If the workers took them and their ideas in deadly earnest a curious situation would arise Who or what would decide which belonged to the workers and which to the capitalists ? Only the naked force of the State ! The truth would then be revealed that the capitalists are robbers, that the wages system is a blind, and that might is right. The workers might then listen to the Socialist Party, and, spurred on by the knowledge they would thus acquire, commence to organise in real earnest for Socialism.
Eric Boden

"If Only — !" (1919)

From the November 1919 issue of the Socialist Standard

That organ of capitalist interests, "The Star," in a recent editorial (14.10.19) sheds its rays on some of the bestial products of our vaunted civilisation. It shows some of the streams from the overflowing cesspool of capitalism, but, being what it is, it takes care not to reveal the source—the actual cesspool!

The most characteristic feature of capitalistic journalism, it seems, is its supremely cunning evasion of basic truths. All kinds of fine phrases, lies, half-truths, pathos, and camouflage are good material wherewith to erect buttresses to prop up a decrepit, damned, and doomed system of society.

The "Star" heads its editorial "If Only––."

It pronounces its benedictions on the League of Nations Union and refers to it as ''the greatest hope of mankind." It says: "The King's message pleases us. He says that 'millions of British men and women, poignantly conscious of all the ruin and suffering caused by the brutal havoc of war, stand ready to help if only they be shown the way.'" (Italics mine.)

The "Star" takes its cue from the King's Message. It deplores the bitter results of the war with as much fervour as it aided and abetted its prosecution when the "Honour and Liberty" of capitalist thieves was at stake.

Speaking of war it says : "We all hate it. We all passionately desire to make it impossible in our time or in our children's time. Why, then, is the universal will of mankind defied or evaded? " And it querously asks: "Why can't we get on with the building of the League of Nations."

It proceeds : 
  "Mr. Asquith in his lucid and laconic speech says that all is not going well with the League. Old and new wars are being waged. Men are being slaughtered. Wealth is being wasted. From Riga to Fiume there are baleful omens. A pallid impotence paralyses statesmen. A year has slipped away since the Armistice, and with every month the chance of wiping out war is ebbing. Mr. Asquith tells the doomed world that if the nations for another generation go on cherishing animosities, hatching rival ambitions, manoeuvring by some new system of groups and alliances for international positions, and in the meantime husbanding their resources for that purpose, there is an end—a tragic and decisive end—to all the the best hopes of humanity. War as we have endured it is horrible, but war in the future will be immeasurably more horrible."
Ay ! Millions of men and women were deluded by the capitalist battle-cry of "A War to End War." Millions of workers doubtless cherished hopes that the Great War would mark the beginning of a warless future when it was brought to a ''glorious conclusion." But it has not.

Their hopes have been torn from them, and trampled on in this "period ot reconstruction." The "beautiful new world" spoken of by that arch-deceiver of the working class, Mr. Lloyd George, is as sordid and hellish a world as ever the old one was.

Having successfully essayed the inequitous task of starving the German people into supine surrender and smashing them militarily, the Allies are now engaged in the biggest political crime against a whole race ever engineered. Russia, with its teeming millions of inhabitants, is being slowly but surely starved to death by a blockade of the most infamous character, in order to make it safe for—CAPITALISM I

All and every naval and military means in conjunction are being employed in a sanguinary struggle ostensibly to crush out Bolshevism—a purely working-class movement. Seemingly no sacrifice of workers' has been too great to seat Capitalism firmly in the Russian saddle and possibly to re-establish Czardom. The present writer remembers having seen the cover of a magazine on which appeared in glaring letters, "Russia—England's opportunity." Exploiters, thieves, and all the plutocratic scoundrels of the world have feasted their greedy eyes in imagination on the vast virgin wealth of the Russia they desire to exploit.

"The chance of wiping out war is ebbing," wails the "Star." And if that paper spoke the truth that it knows so well it would admit that there never has been a "chance of wiping out war." Under capitalism war is a "cert." Sooner or later, whenever capitalist interests in conflict cannot be adjusted in the political field, they are fought out on the battlefield by masses of the working class pitted against each other in groups by their callous masters, and compelled to commit wholesale fratricide for the sake of financial interests and sordid commerce.

The capitalist spokesman, Asquith, in his "lucid and laconic speech," practically admits the menace of a great eruption of the war volcano in the not distant future. None knows better than he that it is capitalism alone that caused the Great War, and that will again set the war machines in motion whenever and wherever is pursued a relentless search for markets and control of trade routes.

None knows better than he that a league of nations is no preventative of future wars. Under capitalism war is the final method of settling the claims of opposing interests: "Victory" its arbitrament—for which the workers pay in agony and death.

The social atmosphere is electrical with discontent, suspicion, and mistrust: the deluded people are beginning to see the inability of their rulers and exploiters to make of Earth anything other than Inferno. The failure of the present system is apparent. Its inevitable turmoil is snaking the whole structure of society; its bankruptcy is palpable. Even in "peace" time its civilisation is a piggery gaudily painted to camouflage its essential slime and filth.

To continue the quotations from the "Star":
 "Mr. Asquith says that the world is still bristling with the machinery of destruction. The mills of murder are still working full time. The war budgets of all the Powers are still on an appalling scale. We are worse than the worst. We set the pace for our allies. It is a hot and hellish pace. Why are we wasting hundreds of millions on armaments that cannot possibly be used if we mean what we say? Is it to fill the pockets of the armaments firms? Is it to support parasites in khaki ? Is it to supply an instrument for insensate ambition? Or is it sheer pure stupidity?"
Is not this an admission of the inability of our masters to create a "beautiful new world" ? And what of this ?—
  "The chemists are only lisping the "alphabet of destruction." In a few years they may invent horrors, that will torture and slay us in our beds, not by tens but by hundreds of thousands.
  We all know this. We all foresee the inevitable agony that is being prepared. And yet we are helpless. We cannot coerce the fools or chain the lunatics. We are the victims of a nameless evil. . . . We lack the courage to impose our will upon the pygmies who mismanage our affairs. The bitter truth is that the people in every land are giants who are caught in the toils of cunning and crafty miscreants who are coldly cruel in their selfishness, pitiless in their arrogance, merciless in their vanity."
The bemoaning fatalism evinced in the above reflects the fact that the capitalist class are unable to check the mighty forces they make use of. The proletariat the world over are learning by bitter experience that Capitalism alone is their enemy, and that if the world is to be free they themselves must set it free. The anarchy and chaos caused by the present system is such that we are rapidly approaching the time when it will become unworkable. Crisis will follow crisis, and the world's wage slaves will have the truth of their position forced upon them as their misery increases.

Workers, for your own sakes and for humanity's sake study Socialism ! Then, when yon understand it, you will organise to establish it and so emancipate yourselves from the shackles of wage-slavery on the one hand, and rid yourselves for ever from that awful and doubtless true menace of war which butcher Asquith, for sordid ends of his own, so vividly depicts but can find no reasonable remedy for.
Graham May