The remedies which were propounded as a solution for the slump in trade which has prevailed are now well known. First it was “increased production,” “reduced wages,” “longer hours,” and “Governmental Economy.”
A year or more is surely a reasonable period in which to test the efficacy of these remedies. Without doubt they have all been given a fair trial. The workers have increased their output, not so much as a result of the exhortations of Clynes, Brownlie, etc., as from economic necessity. Every worker knows that the enormous number of unemployed is used as a means to compel him to work harder. In almost every factory the workers have to compete with each other in order to retain their jobs; the slowest are the first to be put off. Wages have been reduced wholesale, and hours, in many cases, have been extended. Also some attempt has been made by the Government to curtail its expenditure.
That these expedients have failed to cure the slump is unquestionable. And no wonder !
The slump is brought about by the excess of supply of commodities over the demand for them ; therefore to increase production is but to worsen the situation. Every reduction in wages, in general, reduces the purchasing power of the working class, who constitute the enormous majority of the population. A great cause of the lack of demand in relation to the supply of commodities is the fact that the workers receive in the form of wages only a small portion of the total wealth they produce. To take a step, then, which must lead to a further reduction in the demand for commodities is a peculiar way of solving a problem, which, from the point of view of the capitalist, requires an increase in demand for its solution.
The latest nostrum trotted out by the capitalists through their press was “reduce income tax!”
“This humble petition sheweth that whereas grave distress is being caused by the existing high taxation, which prevents the revival of trade and the return of prosperity to the nation, thereby also keeping in a state of unemployment a large number of people.”
This solemn nonsense is part of a petition to Parliament which the workers were called upon by the “Daily Mail” to sign. I have copied it from the “Weekly Dispatch” (30.4.22) and have searched the paper through for any proof, or argument in support of, the assertions made in the petition.
How the spending of the shilling in the pound by the capitalist income tax payers on champagne, etc., instead of by the Government on salaries to civil servants, etc., can have any effect in relieving unemployment is nowhere explained. The usual argument urged in favour of lightening the capitalists “burden” of taxation is that by so doing more money would be at their disposal thus enabling them to provide more employment for the working class. It is only necessary to point to the capital lying idle or being but partly used at the present time in order to show the fallacy of this argument. If capital already existing in the form of means of production, raw material, etc., cannot be used, obviously there is little room for the investment of new capital.
But even if the argument were sound, the workers, by supporting the agitation and signing the petition are acquiescing in their own exploitation. When the capitalist “provides employment,” he does so only in order to exploit, to rob those whom he employs.
This depression is a world wide phenomenon. Capitalists are compelled to reduce the prices of their commodities and curtail production. This means to them a considerably reduced income; to the smaller capitalists it spells imminent bankruptcy. Each capitalist, then, is compelled to seek for means to compensate himself for these losses. The methods he adopts to this end are, urging the workers to work harder, thereby increasing their output, and therefore the surplus value appropriated by the capitalist. Reductions in wages have the same effect; less for the worker, more for the capitalist. The desire of the capitalist to reduce his expenses has given rise to the demand for Government economy and reduced taxation.
The support of the workers for these measures has been gained by telling them that only by these means, reducing the cost of production and so enabling the capitalist to compete more successfully with foreign rivals could any improvement in their (the workers) position be brought about. This fallacy has been exposed frequently in the columns of the Socialist Standard; it is, now exposed in the most convincing way by experience. Two years have gone by during which the various remedies have been tried and the situation is now, if anything, worse than ever.
The process of recovery from a trade crisis is, we know from past experience, a slow and gradual one. But even if the most extravagant forecasts of those who, from time to time shout “Trade is reviving,” were realised, it would be but the prelude to another period of depression. The history of capitalism has been an alternation of prosperity and stagnation, of boom and slump. The worker, forced to sell his labour power for an existence wage, is buffeted about by the varying winds of supply and demand; overworked at one period, unemployed at another; his existence becoming ever more insecure, a slave to the capitalist class, he is the victim of the present system of society. This has been the lot of the worker under capitalism and his position must become worse as the system develops.
There is but one remedy for the poverty, unemployment and overwork suffered by the working class. It is the socialisation of the means of production and distribution, which are now owned by the capitalist class (a small minority in society) and used exclusively for their benefit.
The initial step towards the realisation of this object, fellow workers, is, once understanding your slave position in society and desiring your emancipation, to organise yourself along with us in the Socialist Party and help to bring to a close this system of slavery.