Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Marx quote. (1926)

From the March 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard
“With us it cannot be a mere matter of a change in the form of private property, but of destroying it as an institution; not in hushing up class antagonisms but in abolishing all classes; not in the improvement of present-day society but in the foundation of a new society.” (Karl Marx —The Address of the Communist League.)

Prosperity and “Dividing-up”. (1926)

From the February 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard

In spite of the testimonies, plain to the eye of the beholder who observes intelligently, most people do not really grasp the immensity of modern production. When the Socialist puts forward his plea for the common ownership of the means of wealth production he is sometimes greeted with the statement that if all the wealth produced was divided among the whole of the people, the workers would receive little more than they do at present owing to the small number of those who are very wealthy and the multitude of those who are poor. Quotations are given from economic “authorities” who assert that if the wealth of the rich, or the total income of the whole of the people were “divided up” the result would only amount to an extra pound or two each. The insignificance of the amount is then paraded as a demonstration of the unpractical and delusive nature of Socialist proposals.

Although “dividing up” has no place in the Socialist philosophy, and our case, from the point of view of wealth, is built upon modern productive capacity rather than the actual amount of wealth at present produced, yet it is still possible to build up a strong position even on the ground of what is actually produced. The great war furnished us with unanswerable evidence on this side.

Captain B. H. Liddell Hart, dealing with the cost of the war in his little book. “Paris—the Future of War,” makes the following statement : —
“For this country alone it reached a cost of £8,000,000 daily. Our total war expenditure was nearly ten thousand million pounds.” (page 10.)
There are roughly fifteen million families in this country. Taking this and the above figures, a little arithmetical calculation gives us an interesting result. Ten thousand millions for four years is two thousand five hundred millions a year; and this divided by fifteen millions is, roughly, a hundred and sixty-six pounds a year per family, or more than three pounds a week. Modern production, then, is so prolific that this country was able, literally, to throw down the drain for four years the equivalent of three pounds a week per family, and yet produce enough to feed, clothe and house the civil population during the whole of that time and even enable war profiteers to accumulate vast fortunes !

Unreflecting people may raise objections to the view here set forth on the ground that the war was financed, to a great extent, by credit, and brought in its wake a National Debt ten times the size of the prewar debt. In reply to this, it may be well to point out that credit will not fill empty stomachs or the cannon’s hungry mouth. Wealth to the full value was actually produced. An army of approximately four millions was fed, clothed and supplied with munitions of war; munition workers were fed, clothed and housed ; and the rest of the civil population were fed, clothed and housed, during those four years of comedy and tragedy.

The professional economist who claims to “prove” that modern production is incapable of meeting with ease the needs of the whole population, can only do so by playing tricks with figures, an old and oft-used method by the special pleaders for those who rule.

There is another type of special pleader who is constantly urging the worker to work hard, work long, and work cheaply in order that goods may be produced in greater abundance so that there will be more to “divide.” The theory being that cheap wares flooding the market will “stimulate” industry and bring work to the workless and more wages to those working. There has been a minor boom in this stuff lately (I learn that it has also invaded the columns of the “Daily Herald”), and America has been held up as a kind of El Dorado of hard work, peace and prosperity for workers and masters.

As the information is both interesting and conflicting, I will give some specimens.

The New York correspondent of the “Evening Standard” (16. 12. 25.) writes rapturously, “All classes in the country are saving money and making investments in stocks and bonds” ; Trade Unionism as a challenge to Capitalism is practically dead ; “the leaders of the American trade-union movement have long recognised that if they kill the golden goose of financial leadership, they must go without the advantages of high wages” ; class antagonism is breaking down and the United States is well on the way to demonstrating that “Capitalism is its own justification and is the most effective economic system to ensure general prosperity.” The New York Correspondent concludes with the remarks that, “The necessity for trade union threats to secure higher wages is disappearing fast from American industrial relationships. . . . So improved machinery finds no obstacles among the working men, who see in every time-saving device the possibility of more money to themselves, if not immediately, yet in the measureable future.”

So writes the New York Correspondent, and I must say I am “drawn” by his touching reference to the “golden goose of financial leadership.” A golden goose must be a dead thing, and utterly different from the American goose that lays the golden eggs.

Two days after reading the New York Correspondent’s article, I was brought up with a jerk by another article in the same paper, but in the columns headed “A Londoner’s Diary” (18. 12. 25.), and this is what “A Londoner” said :—
“It is too much our custom to believe that wage disputes are indigenous to this country, and that no other peoples are affected by Labour troubles.
“I am advised from New York that a first class industrial crisis is rapidly maturing in that city, as a consequence of a general increase in prosperity. Fifty trades, representing some 120,000 mechanics and labourers, are asking for new wage contracts for the coming year.
“Of these some thirty-seven trades demand increases varying from 50 cents, to four dollars a day, which would mean for the year a total increase of the wages bill of 80 million dollars) or 20 million pounds, in the industries affected.
”The employers, however, are disinclined to consider these demands. . . .
“A typical demand is that of the building trades, who ask for an average wage increase of 14 per cent. There is still, of course, plenty of time for negotiation, but the means for a settlement do not appear favourable.”
Here is contradictory information which suggests that the amicable relations praised by the New York Correspondent partakes, of the stuff of which dreams are made. But there is a point of agreement between the two which it would be wise to make a note of—there is prosperity in America whether the American workers have a part in it or not.

The Washington correspondent of the Sunday “Observer” (10. 1. 26.) also has something to say on this subject. He writes of American prosperity in even stronger terms. He says :
“There was never in any country in any time such a prodigal production of goods or such a wide diffusion of them.” . . .
“America has not only escaped the post-war debacle, but has gone on to unparalleled prosperity.” . . .
“In America, organised labour is so fully committed to the principle which looks with suspicion upon any limitation on individual output, and which favours the largest output by each man, on the theory that the more goods produced the more there will be to divide.”
The correspondent of the “Observer” explains American prosperity by the economies, mechanical short-cuts, standardisation, and other devices that have “made Henry Ford’s automobile factory a model for the maximum output with the greatest economy of labour,” and “America has just seen a combination of conditions that defies orthodox political economy : lowering costs and prices of goods, accompanied by higher wages for labour.”

The last quotation knocks the props away from the case built up by employers in this country who contend that England cannot compete in the international market on account of high prices due to relatively high wages. It is not the work of the low-paid coolie that is threatening English industry so much as the low-priced product of the high-priced American workman. The railwayman, the shipyard worker, and the coalminer would be wise to bear this in mind when fighting wage reductions because American high wages (whether true or false) is boosted by the papers that publish matter serving the interests of the employer.

The “Daily News” (22. 1. 26.) publishes extracts from a report by two young British engineers, who have recently toured America, on the conditions that have brought about American prosperity. They also support the high wages—low prices view as a lesson to European nations.

But to return to the main point—the suggestion that cheapening productive methods brings as a result a greater production of goods and consequently more to divide with greater prosperity for everybody.

It requires very little thought to dispel this pleasant phantasy.

The absolute ideal aimed at by industry is a future when one man can, by pressing a button, set in motion the machinery that will automatically perform all the functions necessary to produce what will meet the needs of the whole world without the help of another labourer. The greater the productivity of machinery and the economy of labour the nearer industry approaches to this ideal. That is to say, that fewer and fewer workers are required to attend to the needs of the world. Given the capitalist method of production, under which the means of production and the products are owned by the employers, it is surely obvious that, after a certain limit has been passed, the greater the productivity of machinery the more workers will be thrown out of work whose labour has been “saved.” How will they stand in the division of wealth? As they will not be receiving any wages they will have no means with which to buy—unless it be the unemployment dole ! So that the future of industry would appear to present a picture of growing prosperity in which wage earners tend to decline and dole receivers tend to increase. A beautiful picture of prosperity !

The Survival of the Fittest. (1926)

From the February 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard
“As many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive; and as consequently there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, it follows that any being, it vary however slightly, in any manner profitable to itself under the complex and sometimes varying conditions of life will have a higher chance of surviving and will thus be ‘naturally selected.'” Introduction to “The Origin of Species,” C. Darwin.
This generalization in Darwin’s epoch-making work, the result of a lifetime of study of the evolution of organic life, can with equal force be applied to the evolution of the organism known as Society. Modern capitalist society—the outcome of many thousands of years of development—depends upon the individual and collective effort of the workers. The sum total of all these efforts results in the production and distribution of all those things which provide the comforts and wants of modern civilization.

The millions of unemployed workers throughout the world are perfectly conscious of a desire to use their energies, their manifold capabilities, to this end, but they are unable to find a suitable opportunity. It is obvious that, in order to live, mankind is forced to make such efforts as will wrest from mother earth those things which will satisfy his needs. The earth is ready to hand—but !—and there’s the rub—the unemployed worker finds himself obstructed by a code of laws and regulations which says, in effect, that the land belongs to various individuals—a distinct and separate class in society. It is the nature of this legal code, this property right in the private ownership and control of the source of the means of life which the workers have to enquire into. It comes to this, therefore, that by a generalization similar to the one made by Darwin quoted above, the organism known as society can be divided, in the main, into two classes :—
1. The class who possess but do not produce—the property-owning master class, and
2. Those who produce but do not possess—the propertyless working class.
The socialist, therefore, may be said to vary from the rest of the members of his class, as a result of a consciousness of this division of society into classes. Let us now examine in what way such variation makes for ultimate survival of himself and his class.

The socialist, being class-conscious, recognises that there is a constant struggle going on between the two classes referred to. He probes into the nature of this struggle, and as a result of his study of the economic conditions and the political history of capitalism, is forced to the conclusion that it is through their control of the political machinery of the state that the master class—the owners of the means of life—are able to subject the working class to their wage-slavery position.

The long history of the struggle which has taken place between these two classes is admirably expressed in the life-long labours of Karl Marx, in whose writings is revealed the nature of the struggle and the historical mission which confronts the working class, so far as the future reorganisation of society is concerned.

Inherent in the capitalist system is an antagonism, a conflict of interests—the class struggle. Leaving aside for the moment periods of trade depression, when such conflicts of interests between the workers and the masters is glaring and needs little illustration, let us examine the conditions when so-called peace prevails. Even then the struggle still goes on; the struggle on the part of the worker to obtain as much by the sale of his labour power as he can get, and the struggle on the part of the master to buy that labour power at the lowest possible rate. Employers of labour compete for the world’s markets. To do this successfully, up-to-date machinery, the very latest equipment and industrial organisation, efficient workers, are essential for this success.

Further, the workers also compete with one another for jobs. Non-unionists, blacklegs, the introduction of women and juveniles into industry, all tend to keep the workers’ wages, in the aggregate, down to the bare cost of subsistence.

Despite all these obvious facts, we have the Rt. Hon. J. H. Thomas, the railwaymen’s leader, making the following observations in a speech on the occasion of the opening of the Congress of Chambers of Commerce of the British Empire at the Guildhall. London :—
”Cheap labour is bad, but while we demand the best, we should be in a position to give the best in return. That can only be done by sweeping away that absurd and dangerous doctrine that the Empire belongs to one class or section of the community. Nothing is more dangerous than that doctrine of class hatred” (Daily Herald, 2nd July, 1924).
If the worker will compare the above with our brief analysis of the workers’ position, he can only come to one of two conclusions, either that Mr. J. H. Thomas is a fool or a deliberate distorter of the facts of every-day working-class experience.

Utterances like these are typical of modern labour leaders. They are attempts to blind the minds of a credulous working-class following, in the hope of reward from the ruling class, when the plums of office are being distributed. By such servile conduct do labour leaders endeavour to prove their fitness to survive—at the expense of the working class.

It would be interesting, however, to know why J. H. Thomas considers the doctrine of “class hatred” so dangerous. He and his kind conveniently forget to explain their reasons. On the other hand, is it likely that a recognition by the workers of their class position tends to make them love the system which crushes all their aspirations? Of course not. The more the workers become convinced of the nature of the class struggle, so will their respect and reverence for their “betters” dwindle, and to that extent will their worship of trade union and political leaders diminish.

In conclusion, therefore, we repeat that the fundamental principle of Socialism is based on the recognition of the class struggle. The workers will prove their fitness to survive by associating themselves with the work of the Socialist Party. That work consists in resolutely organising for the dethronement of Capitalism and the establishment of Socialism. Naturally this work falls upon those who will benefit therefrom, i.e., the working class.

Help to prove the fitness of your class to survive ! “Eat or be eaten” ; that is the issue.
O. C. I.

The Great Discoveries and their economic effects. (1926)

From the February 1926 issue of the Socialist Standard

When civilisation was concentrated round the Eastern end of the Mediterranean, Phoenician ships from Syria pushed further and further westward, trading; and colonising as they went, and preventing the too credulous Greeks from intruding by spreading tales of the quite mythical sea monsters they had met on the voyage. They eventually reached the Atlantic and coasted south-west round Africa, and tradition has it that their ships made call at Britain for supplies of Cornish tin. Of this we are not sure and we know still less about the Scandinavian voyager, Leif, son of Eric the Red, who it is said reached America in the year 1,000.

But in 1492 Christopher Columbus, fortified by nothing more definite than his inability to believe “that the sun shines upon nothing, and that the nightly watches of the stars are wasted on trackless seas and desert lands,” sailed westward across the Atlantic to look for a route round the world to India and the East, and hit upon the West Indian Islands. This was the era of the Great Discoveries.

Five years later, after half a century of persistent Portuguese exploration of the West African coast, Vasco de Gama succeeded in passing the Cape of Good Hope and in opening direct sea communication with India. By 1500 the Portuguese were settled in Brazil and there followed innumerable explorations from end to end of the Atlantic shores of North and South America. In 1520 Magellan had rounded the southern tip of South America and found a sea route to Eastern Asia, although the voyage of over two years cost the lives of Magellan and half his crew. We read of repeated attempts during the succeeding centuries to find sea passages to the North of America and Asia.

To understand the effects of this era of expansion, we must consider the economic condition of Europe in the preceding centuries, and its relations with the East.

Over the greater part of Europe “natural economy” as distinct from “money economy” still prevailed. That is to say, food and clothing were in the main produced for use in the immediate neighbourhood ; trade, and the use of money, were comparatively rare, and limited to luxury goods. The exceptions were the great trading and manufacturing towns which had sprung up at convenient centres for the collection and distribution of commodities, and on the most important land or sea trade routes.

The sea trade was in the hands of merchants of Genoa and Venice and other Italian towns, and of the Hanse towns in the Baltic. The Hanse traders dealt chiefly with Russia, Scandinavia, and the Baltic lands, and were interested in raw materials such as wool, which they obtained from England, corn which they supplied to many Mediterranean nations, and fish.

The Genoese had a monopoly of the South Russian trade which came overland round the Black Sea bringing silks and spices from India and China. The spices were valued highly because it was only by their liberal use that the meat of those times could be made really palatable.

The Venetians, too, dealt in spices, drugs and other Eastern products transported by caravans which entered Egypt from the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. These spices were grown in the East Indian Islands and reached the termini of the caravan routes in the ships of Arab traders who held undisputed sway over the Indian Ocean.

Both Genoa and Venice brought their luxury wares to depots such as Antwerp, where exchange took place with the Hanse merchants. Overland routes ran up the Rhone to Paris; over the Alps and down the Rhine ; and from Venice via Augsburg and Nurembourg to Hamburg and other Baltic centres.

Both groups of merchants made regular calls at English Ports, and the bulk of European trade was in their hands. It was this trade which gave political importance to the cities and was the cause of their rivalries. The chief source of the merchant’s wealth and the goal of every adventurer’s ambition was the East, which up to that time had not been directly and easily accessible to Europe.

During the 15th century, owing to the advance of the Turks into Europe, the whole of this trade was endangered. In 1453 Constantinople fell to them and the Genoese routes were altogether barred; while the Turkish approach to Egypt threatened also the activities of the Venetians. It was the Turkish invasion which was the immediate cause of the desire to reach India by sea, and consequently of the great expansion during the 16th century.

The marked increase of exploration had the effect, which was of great importance afterwards, of giving rise to a new tradition of more daring and skilful seamanship in Portugal and Spain and later in Holland and England. The discoveries caused the shifting of the centres of commerce from the Mediterranean to those countries with an Atlantic coast; the drying up of the overland routes to the Baltic and the consequent decline of the Mid-European cities ; the abandoning of much of the caravan communication with Asia; and the sapping of the vitality of Venice and Genoa. Spain, Portugal and England were thus encouraged to build their own mercantile fleets.

The Portuguese established an Indian Empire and gained control of the East Indian spice islands and a monopoly of the traffic in the Indian Ocean. The amount of trade increased enormously, but the distribution of the wares in Europe was conducted and financed by the Dutch, who obtained the bulk of the profits and laid the foundations of their own later financial supremacy. It was the Portuguese monopoly of the Indian Ocean and the endorsement of their claim which they obtained from the Pope, that induced the Spaniards to finance Columbus in his attempt to reach India by sailing westwards. The discovery of America was, however, not used by Spain to develop commerce. The finding of gold and silver and the extensive mining of the latter which began in 1530 enabled Spain to prosper for a while on a different basis. She attempted to make the new world merely a source of bullion monopolised by her, and to keep this bullion inside the mother country. The result of the monopoly and exclusion of foreign traders was to incite Dutch and English freebooters to attack the bullion ships, and the bullionist policy at home was equally disastrous in the long run. There was a world rise in prices as a result of the inflow of gold and silver, but instead of allowing the food and other industries to profit and grow by satisfying the big demand from the new colonies, the sheep-owning families who were the ruling class deliberately hampered them.

Then, owing to an anti-foreign agitation, due to a mistaken notion that the presence of foreigners in the country had caused the rise in prices, the Government expelled those who had been their best artisans and merchants and without whom industry declined. Spain then became largely dependent on supplies of fish, corn, and manufactured goods from Holland and England, this again stimulating the economic development of the latter.

The rise in prices had a generally quickening effect on trade outside of Spain, and not only did this affect the trading nations and their industries, but it materially speeded up the introduction of money in place of “natural economy.” This was the immediate cause of the peasant war in Germany in 1525, owing to bitter disputes about the money value of labour services. The war set Germany back economically, and the other advanced nations benefited by the removal of a rival. The working out and decline of her mining industries also affected Germany adversely. Accumulation of capital, which was rendered easier by the abundance of gold and silver, led to the opening of new commercial and industrial enterprises in the East and the New World as well as in Europe.

This growth of capital, the consequent greater power of the merchants, and the new contact with the non-Christian East were also the causes of a revival of slavery and had a depressing effect on the condition of the peasants and wage earners in Europe itself.

England rapidly changed from a wool exporting to a wool manufacturing nation and before the end of the 16th century her commerce was largely carried on in English ships; both the Venetian and Hanse fleets having ceased to call.

The high prices which ruled universally, and the particularly high price of wool due to the demand from Flanders and from home manufacturers were the chief causes of the great decrease of arable and increase of pasture farming in England, a process assisted by the suppression of the Monasteries and the dispersal of their lands in 1536. This agricultural revolution which was in progress up to 1600 had the effect of driving many thousands of tenants and labourers off the land into the towns, where for a long time there was no demand for their services. In the meantime vagrancy grew to be a serious problem and the Poor Law became a permanent national institution.

Great trading companies to East and West were formed and out of the strife of the early buccaneers an English merchant fleet was built which eventually surpassed that of the Dutch, and was to be the foundation of England’s future commercial and naval power.

The development of shipping and the demand for timber from Russia opened up communications with that country and materially hastened its internal political and economic growth.

New East coast towns like Boston and Hull grew up for the Baltic trade, while Bristol flourished on the trade across the Atlantic. England now became the centre of the Christian world, owing to her admirable position as a depot. There was a corresponding decline in the commercial monopoly previously exercised by Jews in the Eastern Mediterranean.

With the rise of her commerce and banking, Holland also carefully developed her agriculture, and her success in the use of root crops and grasses which for the first time made it possible to keep stock alive during the winter, was of great importance to England and other countries which later learned from her example.

For Europe as a whole the results were important and lasting. The need for big accumulations of capital to join in the new commercial enterprises, which were of an unprecedented size and expense, and the need for adequate protection against attack in distant waters, gave an urge towards national instead of city organisation. This was the economic basis of the new nations and Empires, Portugal, Spain, Holland and England.

The great increase in sea voyages, the new experiences and the new knowledge of navigation obtained from the Arabs gave an added importance to overseas trade and, as has been seen, destroyed the old Mediterranean and overland trade routes.

In its turn commercial activity created bigger markets and a steadier demand for raw materials and industrial products, which reacted immediately on the hitherto small and unprogressive industries. Local isolation tended to be broken down as bigger areas were drawn into the sphere of commerce either as sources of supply or as consumers of Colonial and Eastern goods. The use of money became everywhere more general with its disintegrating effect on the old Manorial relationships, and banking began to be of new importance as a support of industry.

In short, the discoveries began the era of industrial and commercial activity which continued without essential change till the Industrial Revolution.
Edgar Hardcastle