Does it come Before or After the Living Wage?
Socialization: Does It Come Before or After the Living Wage?
‘THE GREATEST SOCIALIST ARGUMENT IN THE WORLD.’
I have had lying by me for some time a deadly, detailed, pedestrian analysis and denunciation of the new I.L.P. policy of Rationalization and the Living Wage as the combined substitute for Socialization. ‘Socialism and the Living Wage’ (Communist Party, London. 2s.) is by Mr. R. Palme Dutt, the editor of The Labour Monthly, and I take no pleasure in writing that it is a devastating expose of the new attitude of a large section of the Labour Movement in Britain. I am sorry that the position here revealed should be so true. Mr. Palme Dutt is, I understand, a notable chess player. The patience required for that game has carried him through these 238 pages of citation and argument to the conclusion that the I.L.P.’s Living Wage policy, and admiration for Fordism and High Wages, have taken the place of nationalization and municipalization. The villains of the piece are numerous. They include Mr. Brailsford, Ben Turner, John Wheatley, and Tom Johnston. For once, Mr. Ramsay MacDonald’s name does not figure in the indictment. Because he does not even fall in with the Rationalising movement, he is represented as a mere conservative.
Wheatley and Johnston.
As usual, Mr. Wheatley’s clearness of statement causes him to be singled out as an exponent of the policy of desertion and substitution. Writing in Forward (3o/1o/26), he said:
The idea behind that proposal [the I.L.P, living wage proposal] is that the State should be the authority in fixing wages and incomes even while industries are privately owned . . , We should begin our Socialism by socialising . . the purchasing power of the workers before embarking on the nationalization of the means of production.
On this Tom Johnston makes the comment:-
Mr. Wheatley has come to the conclusion that nationalization of this or that industry might well wait until it has customers capable of purchasing the goods which the industry produces. And that means an assault upon poverty first.
When Mr. Palme Dutt characterises these statements as ‘cheap-jack electioneering’ rather than ‘serious economics’ one is bound to agree. For it has always been our claim, supported by the facts, that socialization is itself ‘an assault on poverty.’ In their own city of Glasgow, Messrs. Wheatley and Johnston will find tramcar drivers and conductors whose wages are much higher and their working day much shorter than those of the private-enterprise busmen, while the service was long since immensely cheapened to the public, and better and cleaner cars were at once provided by the municipality than those run by the old sweating private company. The margin of ‘profits’ remaining after all these improvements has been used (1) to pay off the capital cost of the service, and (2) in relief of local rates. Thus the workers, the users of the cars, and the general community all have their poverty ameliorated by the socialization.
Lack of Imagination - Cold Feet.
These simple facts are not worth stating so far as the Living-Wage stunt-mongers themselves are concerned. They know them perfectly well. But there are probably thousands of rank-and-filers- I have met a few in my propagandist travels - who have taken cold feet so far as both nationalization and municipalization are concerned. They envisage the spread of national and local ownership as a slow and tedious process in which the great mass of the electorate will take no particular interest. Their theory appears to be that, unless the worker’s own particular industry is being socialised he cannot get up enthusiasm for the extension of collectivist benefits to other people.
If this were true, if it were the case that the average wage-earner cared only for immediate benefits to himself, then we might very well ask: What hope would there be that we should ever see industries and services socialised on any fairly general scale? I grant at once, not very much.
Socialization Never Made an Election Issue.
Happily it is not true. The truth is that plain nationalization and municipalization have never been made election issues by any party in the State, not even by the Labour Party. Scores of industries and services have been socialized; there is hardly a business, from rabbit-raising at Torquay and oyster beds at Colchester to horse-racing at Doncaster, pyrotechnic displays at Bournemouth, and sports grounds everywhere, that has not been taken up even by Individualist corporations, simply as matters of good business. Every day sees some Collectivist departure somewhere, though we do not hear of them all. It has not been reported, for instance, in any ordinary newspaper that the Labour Councillors of Clydebank run a successful cinema, or that the corporation gas department of Huddersfield has long sold cheap coal to manufacturers there.
The striking success of Sheffield’s municipal printing office will not be starred by any ordinary newspaper. This concern was started on the footing that the various items of municipal printing would be charged at the prices that had been paid to the private firms for them. It was not required that the new establishment should show a profit all at once; but the report on the first eight months’ working shows a credit balance of over £3800, the work is better done, and the number of employees has been increased from seven to seventy-one. This is entirely what was to be expected, and but adds to the long tale of triumphs for Direct Labour.
Sheffield City Council has a Collectivist majority; but the services indicated have mostly been socialised by administrators who think they do not believe in Socialism. Is it not reasonable to suppose that if socialising were a declared policy in elections, specific businesses or services being selected for the application of the principle, the electorate would not become much more habituated and converted to the idea of public ownership?
Yet one sees elections turn on anything rather than the idea of making the community master in its own house.
Elections are fought over a Red Letter, Reparations and the hanging of the Kaiser, Chinese Labour in a remote colony, free robbery as against protected robbery, a shortage of cordite, or William O’Brien’s trousers.
The Living Wage an Electioneering Stunt.
The Living Wage is not really much better. As Mr. Palme Dutt shows, even its own protagonists do not believe in it. Mr. Brailsford, writing in The New Leader (8/1/26) said:
If we talked of a living wage of £8 or £12 for every worker, the agricultural worker would most justly laugh at us. Nor would it be much more honest at this stage to talk of a wage of £4 for every worker. The whole of the wealth produced in this country to-day, however ruthlessly you divided it, would not yield such a wage all round. Ours is a poor country under the present management. UNTIL INDUSTRY HAS BEEN DRASTICALLY RE-ORGANISED, IT CANNOT PAY A GENUINE LIVING WAGE. Any figure which we could honestly promise at once would mean a big gain in the basic wage only to men and women in the more depressed trades.
Not much enthusiasm for the one and only slogan here. Surely agriculture is ‘a depressed trade.’ Even with wages as low as they are, land is put under grass to reduce working expenses, and the number of employees steadily falls. For British grain and British beef have to contend with grain grown on prairie land and with beef fed on ranches where the labour employed is peon (that is, serf) labour. Even so, the grain and the beef are brought to the British market at freight rates which help still further to lower prices, while the British railways impose rates for inland transport which cripple the British agriculture and pamper the foreign importer. To nationalise the railways and help the British farmer instead of penalising him would be a benefit as obvious and feasible as the Living Wage is cumbrous and impossible. Where, under capitalism, is a living wage to be found for the miner? Export coal has to compete with coal from Poland, where the miner’s wage is just about a third of even the present wage paid to the British miner, while the French miner’s wage is little more than half the British wage. Again the remedy is nationalization, with consolidation and the stoppage of waste in both the getting and the marketing of coal.
But when all would be done, there would not be much of a revival for coal, which has, happily, seen its best days.
That the remedy is nationalization Tom Johnston is equally well aware. In the Forward of October 27 he writes of ‘The Greatest Socialist Argument in the World.’ It is an account of the publicly-controlled electricity supply provided by the harnessing of Niagara. The Commission which manages it for the State, with the municipalities as share-holders on the Canadian side, supplies current at one-third the price charged by private enterprise on the American side. The American official investigator, Mr. Judson King, in a report issued by the American Government Printing Office, Washington, said in 1924:-
As I started out to see the great Chippewa Canal, and went around the famous falls, I passed the International Railway Bridge over the Niagara River. The cost of lighting the bridge is another study in efficiency. The west, or Canadian side, is lighted by the Hydro people; the east, American half, by a New York Company. The same number of lights, the same bridge, the same river, the same method of production; average monthly cost for 1921 on the Canadian side 8.43 dollars, and on American side 43.10 dollars.
The private-enterprise price there is five times the Collectivist price; but the ratio does not hold throughout. Mr. Johnston quotes a published statement by Sentor Morris that the Canadian publicly-owned system ‘serves more than a million customers at less than one-third the rate charged by private companies on the American side.’
Even so, the Commission and the Municipalities make good profits. Last year the Commission’s surplus, after providing for interest and reserve fund, was over £100,000 while the municipalities had net surpluses amounting 1,291,086 dollars. The Canadian public-enterprise price is 2d. per kilo hour as against the American private-enterprise charge of 6d. We are not surprised to learn that the American hundred dollar-shares are quoted at 1700, thanks to several waterings and the usual gambling.
These are the bovrilised facts of Mr. Johnston’s seven-column article. I thank him for having the candour to say that the Canadian scheme was floated by Tory politicians. Quite so. And it was Coalition (mostly Tory) politicians who built Gretna, and it was Labour politicians who threw it away to help Philip Snowden’s Budget (though it did not help much.) During the railway strike of 1911 I sent a long telegram to Mr. Winston Churchill and to Mr. Ramsay MacDonald suggesting that the Board of Trade should take over the service and run it till the companies came to an agreement with the men, and if they did not come to a satisfactory agreement, for the public as well as the men, that the Board of Trade should go on running the service. Mr. Churchill’s reply was formal, but rather encouraging. Mr. MacDonald’s reply was that a time of strike was not the time to nationalise. I was not suggesting nationalization, but a temporary expedient on governmental lines which might pave the way for nationalization. But it is never the time to nationalise if you don’t want to do it.
Seven years later Mr, Churchill said the policy of the Government was to nationalise. But A. M. Thompson, the late Frank Rose, and other professed Socialists long since wrote against Nationalization on the ground that a better system of transport could be devised. Sir Eric Geddes, in the worst of the post-war slump years, said publicly-controlled transport was the ‘one bright spot’ in the business horizon; and here in the same Forward in which the benefits of socialised electricity are praised by Tom Johnston as ‘The Greatest Socialist Argument in the World,’ official figures are also given by the Acting Editor of Forward showing the immense success of the nationalised railways of Canada, whose net surplus after paying interest on capital had risen rapidly from three millions in 1922 (first year under public enterprise) to 48 millions in 1926, while rates had been reduced. Under private enterprise there was a loss of 36,000,000 dols. in 1920.
Fordism Creates Unemployment.
Surely there would be more money for a living wage where the revenue was increased twelve-fold. As a matter of fact, operating expenses were reduced, though not by wage cuts. Very obviously the way to enable a business to pay better wages is to make the business more of a success from the revenue-earning point of view, and nationalization and municipalization always do that.
I have dealt with Fordism on previous occasions. The figures showing that America had 10 per cent. of unemployment (four millions out of 40 million workers) have appeared since Mr. Palme Dutt wrote his book. This increase of unemployment is confessedly due to ‘prosperity’ and mechanization. If high wages were the outcome of low profits - if Labour were securing a larger share of the cake - it would be possible to regard them as representing progress. But there is abundant evidence that the high wages of the United States (and high wages are by no me universal there) have the usual capitalistic complement of high profits, with re-investment of the profits and gambling with shares, so that, as we have seen, a hundred dollar share sells at 17oo dollars, and electricity which is sold in Canada at twopence costs sixpence on the American side of the river. Labour is advancing in status when it is able to buy back a bigger share of the goods it has produced; but with 11,000 millionaires in the States how can it be pretended that Labour is any nearer getting its own there than here?
Are not nationalization and municipalization infinitely better than any of the strange gods to which the reformists of capitalism have ostensibly transferred their allegiance? Or is the transference conscious humbug, dust for the eyes of the electorate, or, in Mr. Dutt’s phrase, ‘Cheap-Jack electioneering’?
No Communist Remedy Offered.
Probably Mr. Dutt believes no more in piecemeal socialising than the I.L.P. does. His exposure offers no alternative to the Living-Wage humbug. As a chess-player he is content to play a game which has no results, except that he probably finds both the chess and the exposure amusing. He may answer that Capitalism is breaking down, that the Revolution is inevitable, and that it is not necessary to advocate constructive Socialism by instalments. The answer is to be found in the present state of Russia, which is falling back upon capitalism, as Stalin complains, because of a lack of constructive genius, plus the determined opposition of the peasants not to give the Revolution more of a chance.
I am very sorry that the first Collectivist State should not be a striking success for all the world to see and imitate. I am no more in love with slow Gradualism than is Mr. Palme Dutt, and would like to believe that Gradualism could be made rapid. But Russia is a peasant State, and the peasant is a fierce Individualist. In Russia as in Britain the peasant has been neglected by the propagandists of the Collective way of life. Concentration on rural propaganda, and the re-peopling of depopulated areas with men from the towns having truly social instincts, seems to be the moral deducible from our failure in the Sleepy Hollows. In the prologue to ‘The Earthly Paradise’ Morris asks us to
Forget six counties overhung with smoke,
Forget the snorting steam and piston stroke,
Forget the spreading of the hideous town.
Yes; it is just six counties of England and one in Scotland that we have to forget. We have to forget Lanarkshire, Durham, Lancashire, Yorkshire, Stafford, Warwick, and Middlesex, and remember that the 40 counties of England, the 12 of Wales, and the 34 of Scotland are fundamentally agricultural and pastoral, with crafts and callings galore that are not yet essentially altered by the advent of the machine industry. Our entire approach to the Social Revolution must be conditioned by that pleasant fact. Coal, cotton, metallurgy, and engineering are going, and as export trades will more and more continue to go, our one-time customers catering for themselves, and even competing with us. The new adjustment will be based upon agriculture, forestry, fishing, and crafts, producing for a home market vastly increased by a more widely diffused purchasing power; for the population will no longer be exploited in furtherance of the nightmare chimera of commercialism. Capitalism is busy writing off its millionfold losses. The end is not yet. The final loss of capitalism itself will be the nation’s gain.
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