Monday, April 17, 2023

The Labour Party and the Unemployed. (1908)

From the April 1908 issue of the Socialist Standard

Why are there Unemployed?
Unemployment is the workers’ constant scourge. It is the haunting fear of this that makes the toiler cringe before the tyranny of the master or brutal foreman; that compels him to accept low wages and degrading conditions of toil; that forces him to blackleg those on strike and become a tool to break the spirit of his fellows. Any attempt, therefore, to seriously grapple with this question must command our closest attention, for it is above all necessary for wage workers to have clear ideas upon this subject.

But what lies back of the unemployed question? Is it that the labour of the worker cannot provide his necessaries of life? No, it is because he is denied the opportunity to apply his labour. It is because the means of life—land, mines, factories and railways—are the monopoly of a distinct class who will only feed the wage-slave when the conditions of the market enable a profit to be realised on his labour. In his profit hunger the capitalist continually cuts down his labour bill, and the worker is squeezed out of the factory by new machines and other labour saving devices. The enormous increase in the productivity of labour is accompanied by a slackening demand for products. The growing army of unemployed and paupers, the continued crushing of middlemen by company and trust, all tend to seriously restrict purchasing power in the home market; while other nations inevitably take a larger share in the markets of the world, and so slacken demand there also. Supply permanently outstrips demand. Workers must starve because they have produced too much!

The great social means of production which have now developed, and which are worked by the compulsory co-operation of thousands of workers in factory, mine and railway, are in violent conflict with the anarchy of capitalist distribution, and cry out for the adjustment of Society to the social nature of the new economic conditions.

What must be done?
But to correct this contradiction what must be done? Is it “practical politics” to deny the class antagonism, as does the Labour Party, and to beg the capitalist to get off the worker’s back ? Is it to be expected the masters will themselves abolish the unemployed, the keystone of their social arch ?

The only hope for the workers, employed and unemployed, is in their organisation as a class against the class that is organised against them. They must realise that they will only get what they are able to take; that it is utterly stupid to expect their enemies to legislate or administer against their own interests. The profits of the capitalist class, their income, and even their continued existence as a class depend upon the existence or creation of a reserve labour army.

If there were no unemployed there would be no blacklegs, the “sack” would lose its terrors, wages would rise and profits vanish. Voltaire said if God did not exist it would be necessary to invent one. The modern capitalist can say with more truth that if the unemployed did not exist it would be necessary to create them. How stupid it is then to expect any but the workers themselves to deal seriously with that vital question.

Those who live upon the workers may provide workhouses, or penal colonies as in Belgium and elsewhere, but this means simply that the lash of hunger is partly replaced by the lash of conditions so bad that the victim is glad to accept the worst paid and most wretched toil in the competitive world outside rather than stay.

This is the principle of the workhouse stoneyard—it is also the principle of the Labour Party’s Bill.

The Bankruptcy of Labourism
Never was the bankruptcy of Labourism more evident than in its attempt at legislation on unemployment. 

Having by its flabbiness lost much of the confidence of of its supporters, and having before it the prospect of meeting its Waterloo at the next election, the Labour Party was at last to make a stand and to do something to regain the lost confidence and prepare for the battle to come. That something is the Unemployed Workmen Bill!

The Labour Party is indeed fortunate in its defeat. Had not the Liberal Party thought it profitable, in view of the great Tory campaign, to make a show of opposition to the falsely so-called “Socialist” Labour Party, and had it adopted the Bill, emphasising its penal clause; the game of the Labour group would have been up; the rottenness of the Bill could not have escaped exposure, and the hopelessness of peddling Labourism would have been driven home to the multitude.

For what does the Bill amount to ?

One of the great claims for the Bill was that it was a training Bill. J. R. MacDonald in seconding the second reading said it was not relief works that were wanted, but to impose a course of training on the unemployed man ; and that it was a mistake to assume “that the purpose of the promoters was to put the unemployed to their own work.” What does this mean ?

It means, since there are unemployed in every calling, that an unemployed navvy, for example, is to be trained for carpentering or bricklaying, while the bricklayer or carpenter is to be trained for navvying! To attempt to alleviate general unemployment by such means is on a par with the suggestion that men could earn their living by taking in one another’s washing.

A Snare and a Delusion
But the crux of the Bill, according to the Labour Party, is clause 3, and we agree. At first glance the clause and appears to provide employment at conditions not lower than those standard in the locality, as demanded by trade unionists; but a second glance reveals that this is a snare and a delusion. It is so worded as to give a false impression to the trade union worker, while in reality it places no limit, to the badness of conditions which the unemployed man must accept under pain of punishment.

In the House of Commons Mr MacDonald confessed that the clause “may be badly worded,” but that it only meant that the trade unionist was not to be victimised because he may formerly have declined work for an outside capitalist at less than current rates. “It did not mean that the local employment authority must provide work at trade union rate of wages.”

No, indeed, the only conditions are such as capitalists may consider “reasonable,” and we know what that means. Under the Bill a man might be offered the wretchedest conditions of both work and pay, and what would be the result if he refused ? The local authority is then empowered under clause 7 to obtain an order “to enforce control over the person named in the order for a period not exceeding six mouths, which period must he passed in the performance of reasonable work under the control of the local employment authority.”

That is to say, if you will not accept the most degrading conditions that may be offered, they may inflict penal servitude upon you for a period not exceeding six months. Thus is the “Right to Work"!

And what is there to prevent the local authorities, as of yore, putting men to work at exceedingly low rates (under pretence of unemployed relief) at work which must otherwise have been done at full rates by men now transformed into “unemployed” ?

So long as there is a capitalist Parliament the LocaI Government Board will be its tool, while there is no more bitter enemy of the workers than its president. Yet the Labour Party in their Bill place enormous powers of control and in the framing of rules for carrying out the Act, in the hands of the L.G.B. Even were the Bill otherwise of any use, this would suffice to damn it.

The Only Hope.
Unemployment is the big stick that the master class use to break strikes, to beat down wages, and to make the employed “get a hustle” on them. The ruling class is not going to burn that stick. For the abolition of unemployment there is only one way, and that is not to follow the Will-o’-the-wisp of Labourism, but for the workers to organise as a class for Socialism. The workers must therefore organise to themselves capture political power in order that they may cease to be the despised beasts of burden of the propertied class, and become freely associated producers in a cooperative commonwealth.

Socialism is your only hope.

A Sketch of the Life of Marx. (1908)

From the April 1908 issue of the Socialist Standard

May 5th, 1818. – March 14th, 1883.
At the ancient German town of Treves, Heinrich Karl Marx, the founder of scientific Socialism, was born of Jewish parents on May 5th, 1818. The father of Marx was a prominent lawyer, and a man of considerable talent, saturated with the ideas of the French Encyclopedists of the 18th century regarding religion, science, and art. After going through the ordinary school course, Marx entered the university of Bonn and later that of Berlin, studying “law to please his father and history and philosophy to please himself” At the conclusion of his university studies, Marx intended to take a lectureship in philosophy at the Bonn University, but the treatment meted out to his friend Bruno Bauer, who was a lecturer there, caused him to relinquish this plan.

Though Marx was at this time but 24, his remarkable talent already attracted the attention ot the Rhemish bourgeoisie, and at the founding of the “Rheinische Zeitung” in the Autumn of 1842, he was placed at its direction. The life of this journal was a continual struggle with the censorship. A double censorship not sufficing to curb this dangerous daily paper it was suppressed by the government in 1843.

With his young wife, Jenny Von Westphalen, Marx now settled in Paris. Here he made the acquaintance of Engels and Proudhon, and collaborated with Arnold Ruge in the production of the “Deutsch-Franzoesischen Jahrbuecher.” In these annals he published his long essay on Hegel’s “Philosophy of Law” and another on the Hebrew question, which show that he had by this time emancipated himself from his earlier Hegelianism, and had wedded the dialectic to experience.

After the cessation of the Franco-German Annals, Marx and Engels—for the two become henceforth inseparable, the one supplementing the other—wrote the “Holy Family,” a satirical critique of German idealistic philosophy; and collaborated with Heine and Ewerbeck on the Paris “Vorwaerts.”

Marx having, as he himself said, been led by his studies to the conclusion that legal relations, as well as the forms of state, could neither be understood by themselves nor explained by the so-called general progress of the human mind, but are rooted in the material conditions of social life; now took up seriously the study of economics as the anatomy of society. These studies were continued in Brussels, where Marx nevertheless found time to write articles and pamphlets, and to reply to Proudhon’s bombastic Utopianism by the “Poverty of Philosophy.” The Communist Alliance had been founded by German refugees in Paris, and while in Brussels Marx and Engels joined this semi-secret society, which henceforth became simply an organisation for Communist propaganda. In 1847 the Alliance was transformed by the adoption of the famous Communist Manifesto.

In the stormy times which followed the events of February, 1848, Marx was expelled from Brussels, went to Paris and thence after a time to Cologne, where he collaborated with Engels, Wilhelm and Ferdinand Wolf, Ernest Dronke, and the poets Freiligrath and Georg Weerth, on the brilliant editorial staff of the “Neue Rheinische Zeitung.” The defence of the Parisian insurgents by this intrepid daily paper, together with its outspoken policy in general, brought about a continuous struggle with the reaction and finally led to the suppression of the journal in May, 1849.

Marx now went to Paris, and having participated in the movement culminating in the fiasco of “June 13th, 1849” was expelled from Paris and came to London, then truly the hub of the world. Here he found the material for the work of his life, for, as Liebknecht says, “Capital” could have been created in London only.

Keeping aloof during this time from the dregs of the February and March movements, Marx now wrote his history of the coup d'etat of December 2nd, 1852, under the title of the “18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte,” a work which, to those familiar with the chief personages and events of the time, is an illuminating application of the economic interpretation of history.

After the dastardly trial and conviction of the Communists at Cologne, and the consequent crushing of propaganda, the Communist Alliance was dissolved ; Marx writing his “Disclosures regarding the Cologne Communist Trial” in 1853. The time that followed was for Marx an entire devotion to scientific study and literary work. He became a regular contributor to the “New York Tribune,” then under the famous editorship of Horace Greely and C. A. Dana ; and became acquainted with David Urquhart, the talented explorer and student of Oriental questions.

From this period date the articles on “Revolution and Counter Revolution,” while the materials were now gathered for the “Life of Lord Palmerston,” “The Secret Diplomatic History of the 18th Century” and “The Eastern Question.”

In 1859 the “Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy” was published, and in it were laid down the foundations of the work afterwards developed in “Capital.”

Marx again entered politics in 1859, and came into conflict with Herr Vogt, a German ex-regent then at the court of Napoleon III. Carl Vogt’s abuse of the “Sulphur Gang” drew from Marx the classic pamphlet “Herr Vogt.”

A revival of the labour movement was now taking place almost throughout Europe. Meetings of sympathy with Poland led to the suggestion of an International Association of Working-men, and in September, 1864, at a meeting in the old St. Martin’s Hall, London, the International was formed. Its history is that of continued struggle with enemies within and without, and its dissolution was precipitated, not alone by the superior force of organised repression, but also by the internal struggle between the Communists, and the Utopians and Anarchists. It nevertheless served its purpose in laying the foundation of international working-class organisation.

In 1867 the first volume of “Capital” appeared, and its influence has steadily grown year by year. Even the acutest critics pay tributes to the value of the book and the genius of its author. Marx stands out as the protagonist of the economic interpretation of history ; a method of investigation and theory of social growth developed independently as regards ancient society by the great American, Lewis H. Morgan. “Capital” is, indeed, the demonstration of this method and theory, and even opponents are compelled to admit, as does E. A. Seligman of Columbian University, N.Y., Professor of political economy and finance, that “whether or no we agree with Marx’s analysis of industrial society, and without attempting as yet to pass judgment upon the validity of his philosophical doctrine, it is safe to say that no one can study Marx as he deserves to be studied—and let us add, as he has hitherto not been studied in England or America—without recognising the fact that, perhaps with the exception of Ricardo, there has been no more original, no more powerful, and no more acute intellect in the entire history of economic science.” [“The Economic Interpretation of History,” P. 56. The Macmillan Co.]

The war of 1870 and the Commune which followed it proved trying times for the International. To this period we owe the manifestoes by Marx on the war and the Commune. The International having become a terror to the rulers of Europe was now outlawed in all countries. The headquarters were transferred to New York by the Congress of La Hague in 1873, and this meant practically its dissolution.

Sickness, brought on by overwork, undermined the strong constitution of Marx and forced him to seek the South of France. The death of Jenny, his wife, dealt him a terrible blow, to be followed soon after by another in the death of Jenny Longuet, his favourite daughter. With sorrow thus heaped upon his head the scientist of the proletariat languished a few months longer and died peacefully in London on the 14th March, 1883.
* * *

It has not been attempted to deal with the touching family life of Marx; that may be glimpsed in Liebknecht’s “Biographical Memoirs” to which indeed we are indebted for many of the facts already set forth.

We are here concerned above all with the scientific method, the economics and philosophy of Marx, and its supreme utility to the working-class movement.

The enormous, continued, and yet ineffective literature of Marxian criticism is the highest testimony to the importance of what is called Marxism, and to the impregnability of its position. The dialectic of events daily confirms the dialectic of Marx, and now the duty devolves upon those with whom science is not subordinate to the buttressing of exploitation to cease their damnable faces and get to business. The instrument of investigation forged by Marx—and already so fruitful of results—has wide fields yet virgin before it in the domain of ideology, in the evolution of philosophy, art, and religion. To use the method of Marx, however, it is above all necessary to comprehend it. There are members of the working class, who, having studied and mastered the historic method of Marx, lament silently the lack of leisure and lack of means that condemn them to sterility. Adequate study is rendered impossible to them, and they are denied the opportunity of using the splendid instrument the genius of Marx has prepared, in increasing our knowledge along any of the wide vistas of scientific investigation that open out before them.

But the Socialist worker knows that this cannot always be, and though his intellect is despised by the would-be intellectuals of the bourgeoisie from behind their shallow learning and superficial polish, yet he, at least, sees clearly the trend o! evolution and holds the key of the future; while bourgeois social science has to declare itself bankrupt where it does not adopt the method of Marx.
F. Charles