Who are the Working Class?
These words are addressed to the members of the working class. Let us, then, explain whom we mean when we speak of the working class.
In political economy, a class is a body of people united by what are called economic interests, or, to put it another way. material interests, or wealth interests, or bread-and-butter interests — the interest makes the class.
The economic or wealth interests of a class, though they may clash as far as individuals are concerned, are, as against, the interests of another class, a united and solid whole.
We do not intend, at this early stage, to go into the matter of what causes the division of society into classes. Suffice it that society to-day is divided into classes — into two classes, one of which is called the working class, because its members have to work for their living, and the other of which is called the capitalist class, because those who compose it, owning the land, mines, factories, machiuery, railways, raw material and the like, use them for the purpose of making a profit.
Now the line between those who work and those who do not is not sufficiently clear for us to explain by it the class position of every individual — neither is the line between those who possess and those who do not possess. Many capitalists work in some capacity or other without becoming thereby members of the working class, while many a working man has a share or two in some industrial concern, but this does not make him a capitalist.
Nevertheless, the fact of possession or non-possession at bottom determines which class a man belongs to, and sets up those distinctions bv which we shall show who are the members of the working class.
It is clear that since people can only live by the wealth which is produced, and since all the means of producing that wealth (the land, mines, factories, machinery and so on) are in the possession of some of the people, to the exclusion of the others, those who possess, and those who do not possess are placed in very different circumstances.
Those who possess have in their hands the means of living, and more than this, they are able to deny to those who do not possess, all access to the means of life. To draw upon our common knowledge, the only terms upon which the non-possessors are allowed access to the means of living are that they must become the employees of the owners. In other words, they must sell the working power which is contained within their bodies.
This is the distinction which marks off the member of the working class from the capitalist. The former is compelled to sell his bodily powers in order to live. What else matters? What does it matter whether these bodily powers are skilled or unskilled? or whether that for which they are sold is called wages or salary? What does it matter whether the labour upon which those bodily powers are expended is performed with a pen or a pickaxe, or in an office, a workshop, a factory, a mine, or the street? What does it matter whether the worker is well paid or ill paid, or whether be wears a black coat or corduroy, the clean linen of light duties, the grimy linen of office toil, or no linen at all?
The essential thing is that the member of the working class has to sell his labour-power in order to live. Beside this salient fact all else pales into insignificance. The differences of dress, pay, education, habits, work, and so on that are to be observed among those who have to sell their working power in order to live are as nothing compared with the differences which mark them off from the capitalists. No matter how well paid the former is, or how many have to obey his commands, he himself has a master. He has to render obedience to another, to someone who can send him adrift to endure the torments of unemployment. Because he has to sell his labour-power, his whole life must be lived within prescribed limits. His release, from labour is short and seldom; he has no security of livelihood; he has always to fear that a rival may displace him.
On the other hand, the capitalist, because he is able to deny others access to the means of living, and is, therefore, able to compel them to surrender their labour-power to him, is altogether relieved from the necessity of working. His life conditions are entirely different from those of the worker — different, not in one or two particulars, but in practically every particular. The ease and luxury in which he basks, are only the most obvious features of a life which has nothing in common with that of the working class.
For him are leisure and freedom — for the others the fetters of constant toil; for him are the Riviera and the Alps — for the others, the office prison, the weary workshop, the choking town, or the drab country labour-yard. And yet the whole tale is not told: it cannot be told in these inadequate comparisons. The whole world is the capitalist's, and the workers live their hard round simply to enable the capitalist to enjoy his world.
These words, then, are addressed to all those who, in order to live, have to sell their labour-power, whether " mental '' or " manual," " skilled " or " unskilled," high-paid or low-paid, for wages or salary.
Why all Workers should Read this Book.
Those who address these pages to the reader are working class men and women. Among their number are clerks and cabbies, artists and accountants, shopmen and sweeps, carpenters, bricklayers, masons, excavators, plumbers, painters, journalists, printers, weavers, porters, and men of many other trades — but all working class people; all folk who depend for their livelihood upon the sale of their own labour-power, or the sale of the labour-power of those who are their breadwinners.
The men and women, then, who address you through these pages, are in the same boat with you. They work side by side with you in the office, workshop or factory; they face death and disablement with you in the mine; they fight shoulder to shoulder with you in the strike; they know what it is to walk the streets day after day in vain search for employment. The experience of poverty and humiliation which has seared your minds has burnt also into theirs.
We ask your earnest consideration of the pages that follow, because, being of the same class that you are, suffering the same ills that you suffer, we know that only with your deliverance can we be delivered.
The wealth which you produce provides for the whole race. It is divided between the working class, who produce it, and the master class, who do not. It is plain that the more the masters take, the less there is for you, and the more you secure the less there remains for the masters.
What does this mean? Can it mean anything else than opposing interests? Of course it cannot. It is the interest of each class to obtain more of the wealth produced, and since the more either class gets the less there is left for the other, their interests must clash.
The masters admit that the more they get of the wealth produced the less is left for the workers, but they deny that this means opposing interests. They claim that the interest of both classes is to combine to produce more wealth. We shall show presently that to produce more wealth by no means increases either the absolute amount or the relative portion of the producers; indeed, we shall show that the more the workers produce the worse off they are. But even if it were true that the interest of both classes is to combine to produce more wealth, it would remain as true as ever that it would be to their interest to obtain the largest possible share of the wealth produced, and hence the class interests would still clash.
As a matter of fact, the classes do combine, willingly or unwillingly, but very effectually, to produce ever greater wealth, but the more they succeed in this, the more severe grow those signs of opposing interests, strikes and lock-outs.
It is because it is so plainly the interest of the master class to do all they can to prevent the workers obtaining more of the wealth they produce, and, therefore, above al!, to keep them from learning why they are poor, and how to throw off their poverty, that the latter must look only to their own class for help, must examine closely every message that is reviled and opposed by the masters and their instruments and hirelings — their Press, parsons, and politicians.
And that is why all workers should read this book.
Is there Wealth Enough ?
We workers are, unfortunately, not in a position to undertake elaborate scientific researches for ourselves. We have to base our conclusions largely on the work of the scientific retainers of the master class. This, however, relieves the statistics from all suspicion of bias in our own favour.
When we say that the poverty and hardship which exist among the working class of every country to-day are unnecessary, the rich men and their agents tell us that we are wrong. They tell us that there always have been poor people and that, therefore, there always must be. And they tell us, further, that although some people are very rich, if the wealth produced was equally distributed, there really is not sufficient of it to abolish poverty.
The absurdity of this, however, is easily shown. The iate Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, speaking at Perth in June, 1903, said : " In this country we know, thanks to the patience and accurate scientific investigations of Mr. Rowntree and Mr. Charles Booth, that there is about 30 per cent of our population underfed, on the verge of hunger . . . about 30 per cent, of the population is living in the grip of perpetual poverty. . . ."
The term " Poverty " is, of course, a relative one. But Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman had something very definite in his mind when he said " about 30 per cent, of the population is living in the grip of perpetual poverty." He avowed Mr. Rowntree and Mr. Charles Booth as his informants.
Mr. Rowntree carried out his investigations in York, a typical provincial city. For the purpose of providing a basis for his statistics, he drew an imaginary poverty line, which, he calculated would provide the primary necessaries for a family of five persons, at lowest co-operative store prices. Here is Mr. Rowntree's " Primary Poverty Line " : —
Food 12 9
Ront and Rates 4 0
Clothing, including boots 2 3
Fuel 1 10
Lighting, washing materials, furniture, crockery, etc. -/10
total 21 8
[nb the prices are in the old, undecimalised British system of pounds, shillings and pence so -/10 denotes 10d or ten pence while 21 8 denotes 21 shillings and 8 pence. - Gray]
The dietary in this estimate was so stringent that no butcher's meat is allowed, and tea but once a week, while nothing is reckoned for drink and tobacco. Newspapers are not provided for, nor postage, nor bus, tram, or railway fares, nor theatres, nor any form of recreation, while medicines, medical attendance, insurance, and all the amenities of our boasted civilisation, have to be paid for with what is left out of 10d. a week, after lighting, washing materials, furniture, and crockery have been purchased lor a family of five !
Mr. Lloyd George, addressing a religious assembly in Park Hall, Cardiff, on December 29th, 1911, not only endorsed the findings of Booth and Rowntree, but also drew attention to the fact that capitalism has brought into existence a degree and kind of poverty unknown in an earlier age not nearly so well equipped as our own for the production of wealth.
To-day you have greater poverty in the aggregate in the land than you have ever had. You have oppression of the weak by the strong. You have a more severe economic bondage than you probably ever had ; for grinding labour to-day does not always guarantee sustenance or security. At any rate that condition of things was foreign to the barbaric regime of the darker ages. — Supplement to Christian Commonwealth, 17th January, 1912.
That was the testimony of the rich man's representatives concerning the conditions prevailing in the twentieth century. Five hundred years ago people lived, and Professor Thorold Rogers says that they lived in comfort. Be this as it may, it is evident that they could not have been much worse off than are the working class of to-day, on the confession of two Prime Ministers of England.
Yet by what crude instruments and laborious methods was wealth produced in those days !
Then, the average yield of wheat per acre was six to eight bushels; to-day, the average per acre for the whole country is about thirty-two bushels, or from four to five times as much. Then the ground had to be ploughed with rude ploughs and slow ox-teams, the seed had to be scattered by hand, the grain had to be cut with the sickle and knocked out with the flail, and ground in the mill that would grind only when the wind blew. But now we have steam ploughs that will turn ten furrows at once, and drilling machines that sow a strip eight feet wide, burying the seed beneath the soil out of the way of the birds, and harvesters which cut the standing corn and tie it into sheaves, and threshing machines which knock the grain out of the ear, and sift and winnow and sack it, and steam or electric mills that grind at a furious pace, night and day, wind or no wind.
When Malthus, 130 years ago, feared it was fast becoming impossible to produce enough food for the population of the world :
the labour of a peasant sufficed to raise the food for 10 persons ; at present in the U.S.A. a male adult can raise food for 120 persons.—Mulhall, North American Review, February, 1896.
Since Mulhall made that estimate, still further advances have been made in the agricultural industry.
The progress of the last few years in the baking trade has increased the possible capacity per man from 10 sacks per week to 200. By modern methods, one man and two boys can spin 4,000 lbs of yarn in the same time that took a spinner to produce 1 lb. on the spinning wheel in 1750.
Sir Leo Chiozza Money says : " In many trades, a man working with the aid of power can do more than 1,000 times the work he could have done 150 years ago . . . Our working power is not less, but far greater than our needs."—Triumph of Nationalisation, page 18.
fn transport, an even more astounding progress has been made in the development from the pack-horse to the goods train, and indeed, over the entire field of produclion and distribution a like advance has been witnessed.
If then, people could live in comparative comfort — if, even, people could live at all — when the means of wealth winning were so crude and man's labour met with so little reward, what folly it is to say that with all the devices of the last few centuries, man now is not able to produce sufficient wealth to banish poverty.
Sir Leo Chiozza Money, a Liberal M.P., estimated the National Income in 1904 at £1,710,000,000, and he says: — " If the income of the nation were equally divided amongst its inhabitants a family of five persons would enjoy an income of about £200 per annum." (Riches and Poverty, page 29.)
Yet so unequally was that wealth distributed that—
one-third of the entire income of the United Kingdom is enjoyed by less than one thirtieth of its people — Riches and Poverty, page 42.
By 1913, the National Income had increased to £2,150,000,000, which, for a population of 46,000,000, was equal to more than £230 per annum per family of five persons (Money. Fifty Points about Capitalism, 1919. Page 13). Yet while the amount of wealth produced by the workers had increased during those years, the amount received by them as " real " wages had actually fallen. From 1905 to 1912, prices rose by 13.7 per cent, but wages rose by between 2 and 5.5 per cent only. The workers were thus able to buy appreciably less in 1912 than in 1905. (Board of Trade Report on changes in Rates of Wages, etc., 1913. Command 7080.)
It must, too, be remembered, that prices now are much higher than they were before the war, and the higher money wages now paid do not represent a corresponding increase in purchasing power.
Sir Leo Money, whose figures we quoted above, states that:
in the middle of 1923 it is probably true that a considerable proportion of wage earners are earning less, money's worth for money's worth, than they did in 1913.— The People's Year Book, 1924.
The wealth, then, is produced, and the only question with regard to it is whether it is beyond the capacity of the human mind to discover some way of assuring the distribution of that wealth in such a manner that poverty shall be no more.
The Possibility of Leisure.
And now with regard to leisure; think what an enormous margin of labour-power exists to-day.
In the first place, the Statistical Memoranda (Cd. 4671) published by the Local Government Board, tell us that the " percentage of members of Trade Unions making returns who were out of employment, not including members on strike, on sick pay, or on superannuation benefit," in the year 1904, when the amount of wealth mentioned by Sir Leo Money was produced, was 6.8."
It is generally admitted that these returns understate the full extent of unemployment; but if we accept them as indicative of the whole, we had among the 15 million workers of the country about a million in enforced idleness.
After the war, the army of unemployed passed the two million mark, and at that time (1921) more than one million workers were on short time. Dr. Macnamara, writing to The Times (September 11th, 1923), expressed the opinion that:
even if the unsettlement of Europe were ended, and normal trade returned, the permanent unemployment in this country would be three or four times as big as in pre-war times.
and this after he had put the normal amount of pre-war unemployment at 200,000 even in "prosperous" years.
The five million persons belonging to the master class produce nothing. If these contributed workers in the same ratio as the rest of the population, there would be another 2,000,000 workers available for production.
The numbers of men removed from useful labour by the coercive forces are roughly: the army, 250,000; the navy and air force, 130,000; police and prison staffs, 70,000; while there are more than 60,000 clergymen chasing the shadow instead of wrestling with the substance.
These groups of people frittering away their energies either from choice or compulsion, total over 2 1/2 millions in addition to the unemployed.
But this is not all. According to the census returns for 1921, 81,347 commercial travellers were scouring the country in England and Wales alone, with no better object than to snatch trade from rivals; and 539,686 male and 426,475 female clerks and typists were toiling, to a great extent uselessly, in stuffy business offices. The streets teem with canvassers and agents and door-to-door distributors. A dozen bakers' carts chase each other over the same ground; a dozen butchers' carts and milk carts do the same. Myriads of petty shopkeepers wait at a myriad counters for customers who do not come.
Over 1 1/2 million persona (excluding clerks) are employed in Commerce, Finance and Insurance.
Still the tale of them is not told. The millions who neither toil nor spin, are waited upon by thousands upon thousands of servants and flunkeys, who add nothing to the national wealth. The railways call for numerous booking-clerks to serve out tickets, and collectors to punch them and collect them. The buses and trams are overrun with spying inspectors.
The number of people in England and Wales engaged in 1921 in the building and allied trades; mining and quarrying; metal, engineering and shipbuilding; textile, tailoring, boot and shoe trades, food, drink and tobacco, electrical apparatus making and fitting, etc.; wood and furniture trades; and agriculture, was only 7,615,198 — and these figures included all persons over 12, and employers as well as the unemployed in those industries.
Nearly the whole of the wealth of the country is produced by the people, engaged in these trades, whose numbers equalled about half the male population of the country between the ages of 16 and 60, at the time the figures were taken. So, after balancing the wealth producers in other trades, and those engaged in transport, against the unemployed and employers in these, it seems reasonable to claim that the whole of the nation's wealth can be produced by the male population between 16 and 60 years of age working half the time they do now.
Another striking illustration of the productive powers of the working class is offered by the experience of the war. In 1917 and 1918, no less than four million fit men were in the forces. Only 1,000,000 additional women workers were employed in industry, yet it was possible to maintain the supply of essential goods and services, and at the same time produce in colossal quantities the weapons of destruction for British and Allied armies. Our " productive
powers actually increased." (Triumph of Nationalisation. page 137.)
In order, then, that plenty and leisure may be the portion of all, no advance in the means of production is necessary, nor any widening of the resources of nature. Every requisite is already in the hands of society, and it only remains for human intelligence so to organise the existing powers of production, and so to arrange the distribution of wealth already being produced, as to make the best use of both. Then poverty and miseries born of poverty, and drudgery and the joylessness born of drudgery, will be banished for ever.
The human intelligence which accomplishes this, since it can do it only by dislodging the rich from their position of idle luxury and privilege, must necessarily come from the working class.