Saturday, February 20, 2021

Industrial Peace: The Capitalist Utopia. (1928)

From the February 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

Once again we are being regaled in the Press and from the platform with unctuous rubbish concerning the desirability of “peace” in industry. The overwhelming fascination which the topic appears to possess for capitalist representatives and labour leaders alike only speaks for their mental bankruptcy and the fatal readiness of the workers to be deceived by promises.

Fifteen to twenty years ago Sir Christopher Furness, with his co-partnership scheme, stood in the limelight of publicity much as Sir Alfred Mond does at the present day. The only novel feature of the situation is the fact that there is now in existence a body which is supposed to stand for the interests of the bulk of the trade unionists in the country, i.e., the General Council of the Trade Union Congress. The contempt which this body has for its supporters, and its utter disregard for their interests, was forcibly illustrated less than two years ago by its conduct of the so-called General Strike. Thanks to the treachery of this body, hundreds of thousands of the workers were victimised for their actions in response to their “leaders'” orders, without any serious attempt having been made to support the miners.

No wonder, then, that these champions of ignominious defeat and surrender, swollen-headed with all the self-importance of ignorance, should fall rapturously into the outspread arms of their class foes. What else can they do? They have neglected the great essential of working-class education, i.e., Socialist propaganda; and have thus climbed to office by exploiting the support of followers who lack the understanding necessary to the prosecution of an intelligent and courageous conflict with the exploiting class. They therefore enter into conference like whipped curs, hoping for conciliatory pats on their heads and a few bones to induce them to go quietly to their kennels.

What is to be the outcome of this hobnobbing of Trade Union officials with the representatives of capital? Can the workers expect to gain anything therefrom?

A few ideas in answer to these questions may be gathered from the “Manchester Guardian” supplement of November 30th, 1927, entitled “Industrial Relations.” It consists of a symposium of the views of a number of prominent members of the master class, such as Sir J. Stamp and Sir A. Mond, and notorious Labour “leaders,” such as MacDonald, Henderson, Clynes, Bevin, Citrine, Cramp, etc.

Sir Alfred Mond having taken the initiative in the recent conference, his views are of considerable interest. Dealing with what is termed the “rationalisation” of industry, he says :
  The growth of larger industrial units does, however, bring immense problems in its train. For instance, if complete economy is to be effected, it may entail the shutting down of obsolete or unprofitable plant, the scrapping of redundant agencies and departments. Obviously, unless there is an immediate expansion of production, temporary unemployment must follow from this.
Of course, he goes on to lay stress on the word “temporary.” Improved methods mean an increase in trade, we are told, and that in turn means more employment. The workers were told exactly the same tale over a century ago, when machinery was first introduced, but the nightmare of unemployment still haunts an ever-increasing proportion of workers.

It is obvious that, in order to smother the growing discontent of the workers under such conditions, some form of bluff is necessary, so Brunner, Mond & Co. instituted Works Councils, which have since been elaborated with the growth of the combine. This is supposed to secure the representation of the views and interests of the workers ; but another article in the supplement dealing with Works Councils in Germany throws an interesting light on what actually happens under this arrangement.

Theoretically, the Councils are supposed to be able to appeal to the courts to prevent dismissals “on the grounds of victimisation, injustice, or undue hardship,” but in practice, “the Councils cannot protect the employees against dismissal on the ground of trade depression or lack of work.”

Dealing with the question of improved security and higher status (things we hear a lot about nowadays), Sir A. Mond goes on to say,
  By inaugurating a Workers’ Staff Grade … up to 50 per cent. of all workers of over five years’ service will be eligible for election to the Staff, and once promoted they will enjoy rights similar to those enjoyed by the office staffs, including weekly instead of hourly rates of wages and the right to a month’s termination of employment. The healthy rivalry for promotion . . . should mean greater efficiency.
A typical capitalist dodge to intensify the competition between the workers, and thus wring more out of them.

Then, for the information of the workers, a monthly magazine is to be issued. In Germany, however, things are further advanced.
  The Councils are empowered by the Act to nominate one or two of their members with full voting rights, on to the control boards of all companies, and, in the larger firms, to have submitted to them a balance sheet and profit and loss account for the establishment for which they are elected. The Councils may also demand verbal explanations from the employer as to the significance and composition of any of the items so submitted.
  In practice these provisions of the Act have largely remained on paper. Even if the usual education and the experience of the Works Councillors were sufficiently good to enable them to understand the information which they are entitled to receive—they would have derived little benefit owing to the effective methods taken by most employers to prevent the Works Councils from using their rights to obtain any information that might be regarded as confidential. It is notorious that balance sheets are rarely self-explanatory, and it is usually impossible for the members of the Councils to check the accuracy of any additional data supplied.
The above is an illuminating reply to both Mond and the Trade Union officials who talk large about increased control of industry by the workers.

MacDonald opposes any application of what he calls book logic to capitalism. He criticises any attempt to apply the lessons of history to this notion of industrial peace.

He pays “unqualified tribute” to the railway companies’ conciliatory attitude; and is only worried about the coalfields because some of his political supporters have been boycotted by the managers.

Citrine is all for the unions
  actively participating in a concerted effort to raise industry to its highest efficiency by developing the most scientific methods of production, eliminating waste and harmful restrictions, removing causes of friction and avoidable conflict, and promoting the largest possible output so as to provide a rising standard of life and continuously improving conditions of employment.
His objection to such systems as “Taylorism” is not the effects of the system, but the fact that they are “automatically introduced without consultation with the workers’ representatives.” He is quite prepared to support the exploitation of labour-power so long as he and his ilk supervise the sale thereof.

The other workers’ (?) “representatives” follow in similar strain. So long as the trade unions officials are recognised and allowed to bold place and honour in the councils of the thieves, they are all in favour of peace. The testimonies of numerous capitalist apologists, statisticians and politicians, that the workers are relatively poorer than ever before, in spite of the accumulated powers of production, highly-developed efficiency, and all the rest of it, is simply ignored. Years ago, Seebohm Rowntree, Sir Charles Booth and others compiled the evidence showing the downward trend of the workers’ conditions of living. Political hacks like Lloyd George and Chamberlain broadcast it to gain votes for their policies of reform.

Yet these alleged leaders of labour, these misleaders, can think of nothing more original as a solution of the evils that afflict the class that carries them on their backs than to support the employers’ cry for “peace” and increased output.

The subject of the industrial conflict is the exact amount of blood, nerve and sinew that shall be sucked dry of energy in order that a small class of idlers may feast and frolic. The cause of the conflict is the fact that the idlers own the means by which alone the blood, nerve and sinew of the workers can be re-energised. Every increase in efficiency in the blood, nerve and sinew, every corresponding increase in its output, only heaps higher the wealth that the idlers waste. The sooner their maws are glutted, the sooner their wardrobes are crammed, the sooner their “ladies” are surfeited with cocktails and jewels — the sooner will the workers be “transferred” to the labour exchange or the Relieving Officer to feel the pinch of want.

Never has any capitalist, never has any labour leader produced a shred of evidence to conflict with this simple obvious fact. Similarly, not one of them dare deal with the only remedy. If the workers are to enjoy the fruits of their labour, they must own and control the means by which they produce them. The land, factories, railways, etc., must be made the common property of all to meet the needs of all.

That is what we mean by Socialism. It is to accomplish that which has led us to organise a Socialist Party. Forsake your masters and leaders and study the history and condition of your class for yourselves. You will then see that there has been no industrial peace since capitalism has existed—that your class has been compelled, from the day of its origin, to struggle for its existence, and that the struggle will go on until you discover the way to end it—by throwing the wealthy idlers from your backs—by using the political power which is yours whenever you choose to organise with us for Socialism.
Eric Boden

Correspondence: Socialism and “Supermen.” (1928)

Letter to the Editors from the February 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

A critic's rejoinder and our reply.

London, N.W.5.

To the Editor of the Socialist Standard.

Sir,—Your answer to my criticism of socialism in the December Socialist Standard was very interesting, and I thank you for printing my letter. But why say that to-day is beloved of myself if I point out that exploitation, war and appropriation are features of all life, and are bound up in the function of living things; and that capitalism is a manifestation of the life process. I shall be even more interested if you can show that this is not a fundamental fact of all history up to the present moment. Especially as you seem to regard yourselves as authorities on that subject, and accuse me of ignorance.

You say that civilisations proceed from the changes in the material conditions of existence. Perhaps the S.P. might study the characters of the men who played a prominent part in the English rebellion, and find out whether Cromwell and his colleagues were not far different men than Charles I in appearance, in habits, and in tastes. Also whether the civilisation proceeding from that rebellion was marked by the puritanical avaricious character of the men who ruled it. It is human beings who make history; and the breeding, tastes and racial characteristics of those human beings set their mark upon a civilisation and give it its meaning and its peculiar form and excellence. Thus we have the noticeable variety and diversity of such civilisations as Egypt, Greece, the East, etc. To say that civilisations proceed from material conditions is equivalent to saying that pictures proceed from paint and brushes and not from artists. Civilisations, which are works of art on a grand scale, proceed from the race, and more particularly from the higher and more gifted members of that race. Why are the terms higher and lower men the cant and humbug of a ruling class? They are tangible, existing realities.

Next I come to your explanation of philanthropy. That it “has its roots either in a fear of a hereafter, the belief in a heaven or hell, or else a desire to achieve notoriety.” But why precisely should a reward in the hereafter be expected to be earned by bestowing sums of money upon asylums for cripples, the insane, and the diseased—why should people fear not to do so, and why should such bestowals achieve fame on this earth? You say that this is no different from any other philanthropy—ancient or modern. But whenever did entry to Valhalla or Olympus depend upon exactly such terms? One had to possess far different qualifications to earn a place among the heroes. The reason that modern philanthropy takes the form it largely does, and the fame it obtains in so doing, is to be found in Christian morality. There everything weak, exhausted, declining and ailing is declared holy. The healthy, the vigorous, the triumphant are looked upon with suspicion. “The Lord has chosen the things that are not, to bring to naught the things that are, that no flesh shall glory in his presence,” says Paul. The lowly were declared to be holy. This train of thought has become uppermost. It has paved the way for the conception that evolution results in revolution; therefore it has paved the way for Socialism with its belief in the working-class as introducers of the next step in social evolution.

No wonder you distil from history the theory that it is a series of emancipations; and that the working-class, which is the bottom class, can establish a society in which there will be no privilege, no slavery, no poverty; instead, comfort, equality and freedom for all. But first, my dear fellows, you will have to discover a new sort of life, for none existing can be made to fit that nihilistic dream.

However, I regard it as quite possible so to weaken and suppress living beings that for long periods they will acquiesce in a tame and castrated society whose level is determined by the majority vote of its members. Your assurance that there is nothing in Socialism to prevent ideas being furthered, with the stipulation that this furtherance is not to the injury of the community, is a revelation of the sort of freedom permissible under Socialism. Everyone as agent of the community watching everyone else. What a community ! What a conception of freedom ! To offset this you say that to-day ideas that do not suit the ruling class are crushed at birth. Then how is it that the Socialist Standard appears every month? And is quite old, I believe. Perhaps, after all, it was crushed at birth by somebody, as its ideas are very strange. But the Socialist seems unable to comprehend the simple explanation that life is a multifarious, changing, conflicting phenomena, wherein none are consulted as to whether they want it, and in which it is impossible to live, breathe, eat and breed without violating some other form of life.

Your accusation of robbery against the capitalist smacks of that pious fraud whereby existence was made to appear as a struggle of good against evil. And, as I pointed out in my criticism, it is an emanation from the vanquished and resentful, who thus find a way to get back at the victors. This cannot change the essential nature of life. But by misunderstanding life you can come to believe that it is possible to establish that simpleton’s paradise “that poverty may give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom.” How little you know of life if you believe that. But I doubt if you do believe it. It is a bait with which you hope to draw the unhappy over to your side. A hollow fraud for dupes; a wretched self-deception; the heir of Christianity. The most tremendous falsehood that has ever existed.
—I am, Yours, etc.,
Robert Hart.

Reply to Mr. Hart. 
In our previous reply to Mr. Hart we pointed out that his first letter consisted almost entirely of unsupported assertions, and we challenged him to give any evidence to support his defence of the claims of capitalists.

His second letter makes not the slightest attempt to meet this challenge, and supplies no evidence in support of his statements.

Instead of doing this he repeats his baseless assertions, and then calls upon us to prove a negative. This cheap, ancient, but badly-worn trick of the dodger in controversy, is useless when it is attempted to be played on any who have some acquaintance with the elements of logic and sense. Unless Mr. Hart is prepared to give something beyond mere assertion for his stale and exploded views, it is no business of ours to fall into his obvious trap by setting out to establish the contrary.

When Mr. Hart attempts to meet some of our points in the answer to his previous letter the results are childish. Thus he thinks he is refuting the fact that material conditions determine the form of society when he says this “is equivalent to saying that pictures proceed from paints and brushes and not from artists” ! He is evidently mentally unable to distinguish betweeen the tools one may use from the material conditions under which one must live.

This mental incapacity is further illustrated when he fails to see that his question on English philanthropy : “Why precisely should a reward in the hereafter be expected to be earned by bestowing sums of money upon asylums,” etc., has already been answered by our pointing out that it is based upon a belief in a heaven and a hell. It is to seek the approbation or goodwill of the “God” believed in that such acts are taken. The Valhalla is not comparable with a heaven or a hell, as Mr. Hart would know if he had the slightest acquaintance with the facts of history.

To say that we will have “to discover a new sort of life “to live under Socialism is merely to say that Socialism has not existed before, which is one of the things we state ourselves.

Mr. Hart’s last sentence certainly clears the air. Socialism is “a hollow fraud for dupes,” “a wretched self-deception,” “the most tremendous falsehood that has ever existed,” etc. Here is the shriek of the apologist for Capitalism, who, unable to meet the facts and arguments of the Socialists, starts out with false assertions and ends up with a scream.
Editorial Committee.