Thursday, February 10, 2022

The Origin of Capital and the Rise of Wage Slavery. (1925)

From the December 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party proposes the abolition of capitalism; that is, of the private ownership of the means of social existence, land, machinery, etc. “But,” object our opponents, “that is unjust; you propose to rob a class of people of the savings of their forefathers.” Let us examine this objection.

Wealth, in any form (and capital is a form of wealth) is the product of human energy applied to nature; in other words, of work or labour. A little reflection will show that the draining, fencing and cultivation of land, the sinking of mine shafts, the construction of railways, docks, roads, etc., and the production of machinery such as exists at present could not possibly be the work of the small class which owns and controls these embodiments of capital, nor yet of their ancestors. These immense forces have been brought into being by the labour of the disinherited mass of society, the working class. Every day this class is busy maintaining, repairing and adding to these instruments, as well as using them for the production of every-day necessities, such as food and clothing, etc.

The owners of capital, as such, do not invent or discover, direct or manage, the process of production, but hand over to salaried experts (specialised members of the working class) these various essential functions. Any part that the ancestors of present-day capitalists may have played in production was as important, but not more so, than the part played by those whom they controlled and directed. One of the essential features of capitalist production is its social character, the element of co-operation involved in each factory, and expressed in the fact that no person can say that this or that article is the product of his or her undivided effort.

The savings which the capitalist class have accumulated have been derived then, not from their labour, but from that of society at large. From the sale of goods produced in their various establishments the owners derive money to pay wages, replace raw material and machinery, pay rent, interest and taxes, and then find a surplus to be divided into personal income for the capitalist-owner and revenue with which to increase the capital of the concern. The workers’ wages are based, not upon what they have produced, but upon the average cost of living of their class. The greater proportion of the produce of their cooperative labour is thus filched from them under cover of a legal contract by which they make over to their employers the use of their energy for certain periods, i.e., hour, day or w eek as the case may be.

It is thus obvious that the workers are unable to save up and become capitalists themselves, in spite of the fact that they spend their whole lives in toil. Here and there individuals climb from one class to the other, but their number is exceeded by that of capitalists who are ruined by competition.

The question inevitably arises how this division of society into capitalists and wage-slaves came about. How did the workers become separated from the means of production in the first place? For it is important to notice that capital cannot accumulate so long as the workers remain possession of an alternative mode of life to selling their power to labour. Where the workers, for instance, have sufficient land and tools with which to feed, clothe and house themselves, there capital howls in vain for a labour supply. It is restricted to the sphere of commerce.

This was, roughly speaking, the state of affairs in Britain in the fifteenth century. The peasants in the country and the craftsmen in the town, freed from the burden of feudalism to a considerable extent, tilled their land and plied their crafts as it suited themselves and enjoyed the greater proportion of the fruits of their labour. They were organised locally in guilds which supervised trade in the interests of their members.

With the spread of knowledge, the growth of inter-communication and the development of national and international markets, a new economic class arose, i.e., the merchants. In the circumstances of its origin this class had an important social function to perform. It broke down the isolation of the mediaeval cities, which was their principal weakness and limitation. It increased the articles of use available in different districts and countries by developing trade and stimulated the increase in social wants and the general standard of life ; but the ambition of this class was not to be satisfied with the comparatively limited returns with which purely commercial relations provided them.

The merchants saw that they had to live on the difference between what the workers could produce and what they were able to retain for themselves ; and they further saw that, so long as the workers remained in secure possession of their means of production, the share of the merchants would not be large.

The problem facing this enterprising class was thus : How to separate the worker from his tools and means of production, land, etc.

The solution of the problem was the result of the development of the elements of the problem itself. The growing demand for wool led to the big land enclosures and the forcible dispossession of a considerable portion of the peasantry, who had to resort to the towns in search for a livelihood. Thus was provided the labour market desired by the merchants, who set up small factories in competition with the craftsmen.

The process by which merchant capital eventually captured the whole field was a protracted one lasting from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. The first means by which the merchants gained the advantage was by the introduction of division of labour in the workshop. The craft guilds laid down definite limits to the number of apprentices who might be employed by a master ; but these restrictions did not affect the new masters, and the larger number of their employees enabled them to split the work up into detail processes at which individual workers specialised, thus increasing the speed and quantity of work turned out.

The wealth produced no longer belonged to the workers; they were paid wages which by degrees were pushed down to subsistence level. The merchant sold the produce of his employees’ labour, whose share thus grew less as the total produced increased.

The handicraftsmen carried on the losing struggle in ever-worsening circumstances until the introduction of machinery finally terminated their misery along with their existence. The last obstacle to the industrial supremacy of capital was thus removed. Wealth grew by leaps and bounds, accumulating and concentrating in the hands of the few, while poverty spread over the lives of the many.

Those who wish to gather details of the change above described can hardly do better than read Thorold Rogers’ “Six Centuries of Work and Wages” and H. B. de Gibbins’ “Industrial History of England,” finally consulting “Capital,” by Marx, for a critical analysis of the whole process.
Eric Boden

Fifty Years of “Progress” ! (1925)

From the December 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Economic Position of the Workers.

(Concluded from last issue)

We have now seen how pauperism has grown over the last 50 years and how the workers have become poorer during the latter half of that period, and it is time to ask whether the capitalist class have shared that poverty. On the contrary we find that in respect of the wealth produced this country has grown continually richer up to 1914. Sir W. Beveridge (Econ. Journal, Dec., 1923) gives the following figures of Real Income per head of the population, after allowing for the movement of prices. The figures represent, therefore, a statement of the production of “real” wealth, not merely money prices :—
1860 £26.0
1870 £29.6
1880 £34.1
1890 £40.0
1900 £45.9
1910 £46.9
He clearly explains that while more wealth was being produced it was only the workers who suffered, their loss being the gain of the propertied class.
“From 1900-1913 we lived on a rising tide. This also is an element favouring capital as against labour, profits, rather than wages.”
And again :
“The smooth development of Victorian days was broken, but the characteristic of the time was inequality of fortune rather than general misfortune ; discontent rather than poverty; a gain by capital in relation to labour, by profits in relation to wages, by some classes of workmen at the expense of others, even more than a check to our progress as a nation.”
Least of all was the poverty of the workers due to natural causes:
“Europe on the eve of war was not threatened with a falling standard of life because nature’s response to further increase in population was diminishing. It was not diminishing; it was increasing. Europe on the eve of war was not threatened with hunger by a rising real cost of corn ; the real cost of corn was not rising ; it was falling.”
A. L. Bowley (“The Change in the Distribution of the National Income, 1880-1913”) estimates the division of the national income as between “Property” and “Wages” at 37½ per cent, and 62½ per cent, respectively; and, further, that this percentage was nearly constant over the period. In this he differs from Mulhall (“Dictionary of Statistics”), who considered that in 1881 the percentage going to property was only 21 per cent. Sir Josiah Stamp (Statistical Journal, July, 1919) estimated the then percentage of “Property” at 32 per cent.

It is, however, necessary to point out how misleading is the classification used by all the above. An enormous number of workers are not engaged in the production and distribution of wealth at all, but are simply employed as personal servants or as profit “snatchers” out of the field of production proper.

Thus the services of the cook and the gardener and the valet are obviously enjoyed only by their employer, the property owner.

Yet in the above classification their wages go to swell the proportion of the “workers.”

If we follow the more useful method adopted by Sir Leo Chiozza Money, the picture is presented in another light. He shows how much of the wealth produced actually goes to the workers who produce it.

He estimates the wealth produced in 1913 at £2,150 millions, and says :—
“The manual workers, who, with their dependents, accounted for about two-thirds of the entire population, took about one-third of the entire national income, while the income-tax payers, with their dependents, forming only about 5,000,000 of the population, drew nearly as much as the remaining 41,000,000.” (Fifty Points about Capitalism, p. 13.)
The remaining portion went to the 4,000,000 clerks, shopkeepers and assistants, small farmers, etc. He considers that the division remained in 1924 approximately what it had been in 1913.

The exploitation of the workers is well illustrated from another angle by the statement made by Mr. Spencer. Liberal M.P. for Bradford, and quoted from the Daily News (New Leader, October 19th, 1923) : —
“If you look at the returns of the profits of this firm (Saltaire, Ltd.), you will find that by good management and skill they made a profit of £137 per head on each of their workpeople. Sir Isaac Holden,. Ltd., the woolcombers, made a profit of £140 per head of their workpeople last year. …”
Here we see how the workers’ wages could be doubled out of the wealth they produce.

We may notice here how the same process of declining real wages and increasing profits has gone on in America.
“In the period from 1897 to 1915, when real wages were falling in spite of an enormous increase in national production, business profits far outran the rise in the general price level. . . . From 1897- 1913 railroad and industrial stocks advanced about 100 per cent. . . . Moreover, this was a period in which huge corporate surpluses were being set aside out of profits.”—(American Economic Review, March, 1925.)
As for the distribution of capital (as distinct from that of annual income), Professor Henry Clay (Times, March 24th,1925) wrote : “It is probably safe to say that over two-thirds of the national capital is held by less than 2 per cent, of the people.” As he also pointed out, such inequality was unknown in eighteenth century England.

Last of all we come to the question of our wasted powers of production. While the workers grow poorer, it is becoming ever easier to produce the things they lack. Labour, land, machinery, etc., exist in excess of society’s needs, and only capitalism forbids the production of wealth for the use of those who do not possess legal rights to property in the means of life.

Sir Leo Chiozza Money estimates that 1923 production was from 15 per cent. to 20 per cent. less than that in 1913 (New Leader, January 4th, 1924), and shows (“Fifty Points,” p. 44) that in 1907
“counting as a man a male worker aged 18 years and upwards, there were only 4¼ million engaged in producing. . . . The remaining 10,000,000 workers were engaged in transport, or commerce, or professions. When allowance is made for the useful workers amongst these, it is clear that the nation has to support millions of persons condemned by the capitalist system to be non-producers.”
To this add the enormous increase in numbers of unemployed and the still greater increase in powers of potential production due to inventions, etc., and we can then realise how the workers’ actual position compares with what economic conditions would permit it to be under another system of society.

If we take a few typical industries we shall see how great the development is, and also what are the effects of greater efficiency under this system. Thus Mr. Coppock, giving evidence in March, 1925, before the Court of Inquiry presided over by Lord Bradbury, stated that whereas 3,000 million bricks were laid in 1914 by 73,671 bricklayers, in 1921 5,000 million bricks were laid by only 57,170 bricklayers. More efficiency and its accompanying less employment are threatened in still greater degree should a proposed bricklaying machine prove commercially profitable.
“The Triangular Construction Company, of Imber Court, Surrey, have given the first public trial to a simple piece of machinery, invented by Major W. H. Smith, its managing director, which, worked by one skilled bricklayer and a labourer, can erect the walling of houses at a rate equivalent to the laying of 15,000 bricks a day.”—(Daily News. October 21 si, 1925.)
In the agricultural industry of America, it is stated by T. G. Risley, Solicitor of the U.S. Department of Labour, that :—
“the American farm labourer produces an average of 12 tons of cereals per year, while the foreign farm labourer only produces 1½ tons of cereals per year. … In 1920 there were 1,500,000 fewer men on farms in America than in 1910, yet the crops produced were one-third greater in 1920.(O.B.U. Bulletin, Winnipeg, October 1st, 1925.)
In the automobile factories in the U.S.A. the following startling progress has occurred. The figures represent the average number of cars produced per worker per
annum in the various years : —
1899 1.66
1904 1.80
1909 2.47
1914 7.17
1919 8.97
1921 11.15
1923 16.11
They are taken from a report to the Department of Labour submitted by M. W. La Fever.

Almost every capitalist country and every industry could furnish evidence of like developments, and were the achievements of the most advanced countries applied all round, the task of producing all the reasonable requirements of the world’s peoples would be incredibly simple. Our powers of production are, in fact, as Sir Leo Chiozza Money puts it:—
“Our working power is not less, but far greater than our needs.”—(Triumph of Nationalisation, p. 18.)

But these powers cannot be used to the full and freed from the hindrance of periodic crisis and depression, and the unemployed cannot be allowed to produce because the machinery of production is in the hands of the capitalist class or Governments and Municipalities controlled by them. Only the abolition of private ownership can remedy the evil for the workers. Failure to take this necessary step, and every year’s delay in doing so, leaves the workers faced with certain increase of unemployment, certain increase of insecurity, and certain worsening of their condition relative to that of the employing class, because of the inevitable growth of society’s powers of producing wealth. Although for a time, during the early expansion of capitalism, the workers were able to secure a rising standard of living, the tendency in all the leading capitalist nations, including the Colonies of the British Empire, has been for “real” wages to fall since the opening years of this century. While the level in this country may still be higher than that of 1870 (The L.R.D. figures would place it at about the level of 1880), there is no prospect of an improvement in any but the most backward areas of the capitalist world. Furthermore, unemployment and pauperism, “speeding up” and insecurity, have definitely operated to worsen the workers’ condition in relation to what it was fifty years ago. Lastly, and most important of all, while the workers have been getting worse off, the means of producing wealth have developed by leaps and bounds. If poverty in 1870 was a phenomenon which many well-meaning observers found incomprehensible, its existence in 1925 is a crime absolutely indefensible, and if only the workers realised, absolutely unnecessary.
Edgar Hardcastle

Editorial: Why Socialists Oppose Leadership. (1925)

Editorial from the December 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

If we are without knowledge, as, for instance, in social affairs, we are at the mercy of those who say that they know, and who are endeavouring to persuade or drive us to follow out a course of action that they say is for our good.

There is a group of people who propagate the view that the working class are an ignorant lot, incapable of deciding what form of society is best for them, or, in the event of a new form of society coming into existence, running such a society in a proper businesslike manner. This group of people proclaim that it is necessary for a few intellectuals to apply their cultured brains to social problems, tell the workers what must be done, prepare the framework of a new society, and occupy all the important posts under any new arrangement of social affairs. To such people leadership is an essential idea, as democracy is supposed to be incapable of managing its own affairs.

Now, democratic methods may result in slow motion, may have many faults, but they are as nothing against the waste of effort, the sickening failures, and the empty achievements obtained by methods of autocratic rule, or rule by faction or clique.

The case for the capable man in the right job sounds plausible until we look at the results before our eyes. The temptation to stay in a good job, prolonging its lease of life, and blind the eyes of the trusting followers has, so far, been irresistible to the majority of the cultured that have sought a career in labour affairs. Once having got ahead of the crowd, they do their best to stay there and make the job as comfortable and lucrative as possible.

The weakness of the intellectuals’ position is apparent once we look at the matter, with a little attention. Let us take the case of a man we are entrusting with the carrying out of certain work. How can we judge of the capabilities of such a man unless we ourselves have a fair knowledge of the work he is to do and the results he is to achieve?

Knowledge is the only safeguard for the workers against trickery and false advocates, and it is also the only doorway through which society can pass to a society based upon common ownership. If the mass of those who are seeking a new arrangement of social affairs do not possess knowledge of what they want and how it is to be attained, then a new society can only be a new chaos, be the leaders of the people as cultured as they may.

The way of the intellectual is a curious one. He points out that the mass of the people are ignorant, but, instead of showing how they can obtain knowledge, he contends for the improvement in affairs according to his own plan, so that the people will, unconsciously, come into the new Jerusalem. Instead of seeing that it is possible for the people to be educated, he sets out with the assumption that such a thing is absurd.

The leadership group is composed of two elements; the one lays stress upon the “capable man” side, and the other lays stress upon the “trusted leader” of spectacular movements.

That modern society is a complex affair is a fact that should hardly need labouring, yet there are many who think that, like the prophet, they can blow down the walls of Jericho with a trumpet. This false idea leads to the enthusiastic and futile strike demonstrations and the like, that are much favoured by the Communists, although Russian example ought to have knocked such rubbish out of most people’s heads. However, it has not done so. It is still necessary to point out that the running of society requires a vast amount of technical and administrative knowledge. This knowledge the worker can obtain by study and taking active part in the work of a political organisation having for its object the establishment of Socialism and for its methods democratic principles.

It will not be by mob rule, nor yet by the rule of intellectuals, but the rule of educated democracy that the new society will be ushered in and its needs met. Educated democracy would adopt means to select the most fitting people for given occupations, and, having the knowledge themselves as to the general course to be followed, would see that those selected carried out their duties properly.

There is a tendency to confuse the appointment of capable men for a job with the appointment of leaders, and this confusing of the two is done by the intellectual type above mentioned.

Take a leaf out of the book of an ordinary capitalist business organisation. When a company is formed a Board of Directors takes charge of affairs and appoints managers and the like. Now, the Directors are, themselves, by no means necessarily capable managers and so forth, but they know quite well what they want and have a general idea how it is to be obtained. We are, of course, referring to the Directors who really act as such, and not to the ornamental figureheads who frequently figure on Boards. Above all, they want the business to pay, and, therefore, before the managers can embark on any enterprise they must first of all convince the Board that such an enterprise is a paying proposition. This analogy will serve to illustrate the point. The educated worker will have to be convinced by reason, and not emotion, before he gives his support to any proposition.

A man who can speak well and move an audience by emotional outbursts is usually lacking in the accomplishments necessary to perform work of any administrative nature, and yet, under the influence of the leadership idea, this is just the type of man who generally falls into the administrative vacancy.

Let us leave the intellectual and emotional leaders to take care of themselves, and conclude this brief article with a question and an answer.

How would society have to organise in the future, assuming te workers were in the seat of power?

The first consideration of society, in such circumstances, would be to provide a living equally for all its members and the second consideration would be that the living should be a comfortable one. First the hunger problem would have to be settled and the housing and clothing ; and then the aesthetic side of life could receive attention.

It is argued that if we were all comfortably placed, that life would be dull and drab, and that it is the ups and downs that make life interesting. It would be difficult to prove this point to the sleeper on the Thames Embankment, the dweller in the slum, the sufferer from lead poisoning, or the prostitute. It is small comfort to such as these, whose lives are made up of “downs,” to appreciate the delight of the alternating phases. It will usually be noticed that those who preach the gospel of the alternating phases are they who have been favoured with the “ups” ! It is equivalent to the moral sermon preached by the rich to the man who steals a loaf because he is hungry.

Most of us lead dull, drab lives from our earliest to our latest days, and yet we can end this state of affairs if we wish. The chief consideration is that the majority of us must do the wishing. The father to this wish is the acquirement of the knowledge of why we are poor, and how to end our poverty.

New Publications Fund. (1925)

Party News from the December 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

Safety and Profits. (1925)

From the December 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

The summoning of a motor-bus driver at Marylebone Police Court recently, for driving in excess of the speed-limit, gives one more illustration of the dangers that attend the running of industries for the profit of shareholders, instead of for the use of everybody.

The case was reported in the Observer (22/11/25) as follow’s :—

George John Hickling, when summoned at Marylebone Police Court yesterday for driving a motor-omnibus in the Bayswater Road at twenty-seven miles an hour—fifteen in excess of the speed limit—told the magistrate he was trying to make up lost time. He had since been dismissed, he said, for not going fast enough.

“What is to be done?” asked the magistrate. “The safety of the public makes it necessary that buses should go at a reasonable speed.” The magistrate then read the notice of dismissal, which stated, “I have tried you with two conductors of experience, and they both complain that they cannot earn money with you in the way you work the road, leaving us no option but to make a change.” ”I suppose,” said the magistrate, ”that means that you are not going fast enough?”

The Defendant: That is so.

The magistrate said it was “very hard,” and, instead of fining the defendant 20s., he ordered him to pay 10s., saying he must fine him something to protect the public.

It is curious that a case like this should come before the courts at a time when a certain amount of feeling is being stirred up by the frequency of road accidents. It suggests, to those who care to give the subject proper consideration, the real cause of many of the street accidents that occur in London, and other towns, where there is a good deal of road traffic, leaving aside for the moment the accidents caused by the rich pleasure seekers, who smash each other up as well as other unfortunate people, using the public roads as if they were private racing tracks.

When men are employed as drivers of this commercial motor vehicles, whether passenger or goods carriers, the job goes to, and generally stays with, the driver who is the most profitable to employ. Such a driver is the one who can get over the ground the fastest. Consequently, haunted by the fear of losing a job, the drivers tear through the congested streets as fast as they dare. If there is an accident, it is not the employers who are hauled before the courts, but the drivers, and consequently the outcry against increasing accidents is directed at the drivers, and not those who spur the drivers on to excessive speed. Here and there, to avoid responsibility, employers point out that they distribute certificates and good conduct stripes to the drivers who have the record that is clearest of accidents, but they omit to add that the drivers who cannot get through an average day’s work that is steadily increasing are sacked as incompetent drivers.

Motor drivers are in the same boat as other workers ; they must work at the very top of their capacity in order to compete successfully for jobs. The difference between them is only this, that when a driver has gone past the point at which bis capacities allow him to work properly, or when the strain has reached breaking- point, there is frequently an accident. Here as in other spheres of employment the cause of things going wrong must be sought in the same place. It is not the man who should be blamed when an accident occurs, but the system which compels men to endanger their own lives, as well as the lives of others,in order to gain a livelihood.

Socialism and Local Government. (1925)

From the December 1925 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Reply to a Correspondent. 

Mr. Rimington, of Leicester, in writing to us on various matters, takes exception to the passage in the sixth clause of our Declaration of Principles, that states the working class must organise for “the conquest of the powers of Government, National and Local,” etc

He argues that while this passage is quite correct when applied to the Legislature, it is inconsistent and illogical where it refers to the local bodies, as he cannot understand ”a Socialist administering a Capitalist institution.”

Although this clause was drawn up thirteen years before-the upheaval in Russia in 1917, the latter event furnished a useful illustration of the necessity for a new party taking power being in control of “Local” as well as ”National” Governments. The confusion, delays, and. in many cases, acute sufferings caused to the workers by the deliberate wrecking and sabotage policy of those in charge of local administration, showed how important—if secondary—such control is to the new rulers.

Moreover, so far from leading to “Reformism,” as Mr. Rimington contends, the contesting of local elections, on the policy of the S.P.G.B., allows us to show up the absurdity of the claims of the Reformers. Our literature and speakers point out clearly the limitations of the local bodies, and when our candidates are returned they will use the wider platform of the Council to carry on the propaganda of Socialism and take the various instances as they arise to demonstrate the restrictions imposed by the Government. This propaganda will help to show more clearly the essential need of capturing the Governmental powers. Such “administrative” work as may be carried out would no more be illogical than is the acceptance and obeying of the regulations under which we carry on public meetings and sales of literature.

In brief, the capture of the Local bodies is necessary to render as smooth as possible the passage of the revolution, and in the meantime it is useful as a wider means of propaganda.​
Ed. Com.