So far removed in the dim past is the period
of human development previous to the appearance of slavery that
it has left little historic trace beyond the scattered remains of
primitive handiwork that have been unearthed from time to time,
and any conception of that period would be almost impossible were
it not for its present day survivals – the races yet existing in
a state of primitive savagery.
By piecing together the information derived
from a study of these races, with what can be gathered or guessed
from the prehistoric remains, such knowledge as we have on the subject
has been attained.
The characteristic that marks the anti-slavery
period from ours is the non-existence of property in the true sense
of the word. Personal possessions the primitive savage has, such
as his weapons and his dwelling, but the resources of the earth,
being free of access to all, are the property of none. For property
is not so much the assertion of the claim of the individual as owner
as a denial of claim of all others to ownership.
The Economics of Savagery
The economics of this period are as simple and
crude as its tools, but is, nevertheless, worthy of attention, as,
owing to that very simplicity, it affords a clearer conception of
the fact that labor is the determining factor in comparing the values
of articles – a factor of supreme importance to the Socialist conception.
Production under savagery differs from that of today in
being hand production instead of machine, and individual instead
of social production. That is to say, each article produced is completed
by one individual instead of being, as it is today, the result of
the toil of a whole army of workers, each one doing a little to
it. Furthermore, under savagery, articles are produced for use;
under capitalism, for profit.
The elimination of these three factors – social
production, machinery, and profit – reduces economics to its simplest
Such exchange, or barter, of articles as would
take place under savagery would be carried on in the first place
at the whim and caprice of the parties to the exchange. Thus a savage
wishing to barter, say, ornaments for weapons, would exchange them
upon the basis of the labor it would cost him to produce either.
He would know how long it took him to make the ornaments, and he
would have a pretty good idea how many of the weapons he could make
in the same time, and would therefore insist on just so many in
exchange for his ornaments. To accept any less would be foolish,
as he would be better off to make them himself. And, be it noted
that this standard of value has endured through all the succeeding
changes in the methods of production and exchange.
The resources of the earth have no value, a
fact which is quite clear under savagery, but obscured under capitalism
by the fact that they are bought and sold on the strength of their
potentialities. It is only when the hand of labor is applied to
the natural resources to convert them into articles usable by man,
that anything of value is created.
The Passing of Savagery
The primitive savage’s method of life is predatory.
He lives by hunting and fishing, and upon wild fruits and roots.
Such a method of life is, at any time, precarious and becomes more
so with the increase of population and the consequent restriction
of the tribal hunting grounds. As time goes on the savage is driven
to domesticate animals and to cultivate the soil in order that his
means of life may be more certain. Once this becomes general, the
way to slavery is open.
The primitive savage kills his enemies on the
battlefield – perhaps eats them. He has no incentive to make them
captive, as it would only mean so many more mouths to feed. He cannot
even compel them to maintain themselves by sending them to hunt,
as obviously, they would escape.
But with the cultivation of the soil it becomes
at length possible for an individual to produce more than is necessary
for his own keep. It then becomes well worth while to make captives.
They can be compelled to toil in the fields and produce for their
masters; their escape can be prevented by armed guards. So property,
the slave and the soldier make their advent upon the scene of events
together, never to leave it till they leave it together – when the
slaves shall emancipate themselves.
Be it noted that the slave of old toiled in
his master’s fields and the fruits of his toil belonged to his master,
and that the worker of today toils in his master’s factory or farm,
and the fruits of his toil belong to the master. The slave of old
received for his toil enough for his own subsistence, just what
the latter today receives at the best. The slave was bought and
sold bodily and, being so much invested wealth, was more or less
well cared for whether he worked or not. The worker of today sells
himself from day to day, and being a "freeman" and nobody’s property,
nobody is under any obligation to care for him or to feed him when
there is no work for him to do. The slave was generally an unwilling
slave, but the worker votes for a continuance of his servitude.
His freedom lies in his own hands, but he refuses to be free. Which
is the baser slave?
To sum up: the savage came upon the scene endowed
with power to labor, which he applied to the natural resources,
and produced for himself wealth – articles of use to him. The chattel
slave was owned by a master, who compelled him to apply his labor
power to the natural resources, and took the wealth he produced.
The worker of today sells his labour-power to an employer, to whom
belongs the wealth produced by the application of that labor-power.
The Slave Empires
It is noticeable that those people among whom
slavery of one sort or another does not exist are not very far advanced
in the arts and sciences. This would point to the fact that slavery
is essential to human progress, and such is actually the case.
When man lived by fishing and hunting he had
little leisure for the pursuit of knowledge. All his time was taken
up with the economic problem, how to provide for his wants.
When, however, the agricultural stage was reached,
and it became possible for an individual to live upon the fruits
of another’s labor, society became divided into two classes, the
slaves and their masters, the working class and the leisured class.
This master class then had leisure to turn its attention to other
things besides its immediate necessities.
Upon this basis the civilizations of the ancient
world were built. Upon the labor of slaves Babylon upraised her
temples and gardens, Egypt her pyramids and tombs, Greece her colonnades
and statuary. The armies of Xerxes and Hannibal, the mighty empire
of Rome, were all maintained out of the surplus product of vast
armies of chattel slaves.
Built thus upon the backs of toiling millions,
empire after empire arose, attained its zenith and crumbled to decay,
some of them leaving scarce a trace to mark their place in history.
The course of each one was in many respects similar, for the reason
that they were slave civilizations.
Commencing as an aggregation of rude husbandmen
conquering their neighbors until, becoming great and having overcome
all dangerous rivals, the masters degenerated into a mere horde
of parasites living upon the ever-increasing product of their slaves.
Wealth tends ever to accumulate into the hands of the most wealthy,
and, as the wealthy become fewer the slaves become more numerous,
until the disproportion becomes so great that the wealthy few, with
all their luxurious extravagance and wastefulness, are no longer
able to consume the volume of wealth, and there are more slaves
than employment can be found for. As the slave thus becomes of little
value his condition becomes more and more precarious and miserable.
Society is no longer able to provide for the wants of the useful
portion of it, and, there being no possibility, at the time, of
any new form of society to take its place, the slave civilization
perishes, its extinction as a general rule being hastened by the
inroads of some younger and more virile race.
The fall of the decadent Roman empire marked
the dawn of a new era. For thousands of years chattel slavery had
been the only form of slavery. In endless rotation civilizations
founded upon that basis had succeeded one another, but now, at last,
conditions were ripe for a change for which these cycles of chattel
slavery had been but a preparation.
The drying out of the uplands of Asia displaced
the population of that continent, and a great westward migration
commenced. Goth, Frank, Vandal and Hun swept wave on wave across
Europe. Before the inrush of these rude barbarians, Rome, already
tottering, could not stand. Gnawing at her vitals was the old disease
common to all slave civilizations – "where wealth accumulates and
men decay". The wealth of Rome had concentrated into the hands of
a very small percentage of her population; the number of slaves
was greatly out of proportion to the masters; their productivity
beyond even the wasting capacity of the dissolute Roman patricians.
Roman society had reached the brink of destruction. The barbarians
had but to push it over.
The Institution of Feudalism
Western Europe, formerly one great forest, had
now become populous. The incoming races amalgamated with the former
inhabitants who had, under Roman rule, been reduced to some semblance
of order. Conditions became so settled that it was no longer easy
for a slave to escape. It was no longer necessary to own and guard
him. Therefore, gradually, a new system of slavery evolved. The
slave was attached to the land; he became a serf. His master was
now the owner of the land – the lord. The serf toiled on his lord’s
land, producing wealth for him, in return for which he was permitted
to toil on his own behalf upon a piece of land set apart for that
purpose. The wealth he thus produced was just sufficient to meet
his necessities so that he might continue to live and produce more
wealth for his lord.
The difference between the chattel slave and
the serf is one of form rather than of reality. Each produced the
wealth that maintained both himself and his master. Each received
of that wealth only sufficient, at the best, to maintain him in
good working condition. While the chattel slave, being generally
bought, represented so much cash laid out, and was therefore worth
taking a certain amount of care of, the personal welfare of the
serf was a matter of little concern to the lord beyond that it was
to the lord’s interest to protect him from other robbers in order
that he himself might get the full benefit of the serf’s labor.
The reason serfdom displaced chattel slavery was that it was a more
economical and less troublesome method of exploiting the workers.
The point most worth remembering about the feudal system is that
the serf worked a part of the time for himself and the rest of his
time for his lord, much as the worker today works a part of his
working day producing his own wages and the rest of the time producing
profit for his employer.
The Passing of Feudalism
It had taken several thousands of years of chattel
slavery to prepare the way for serfdom. And it took several centuries
of feudalism to prepare the way for a new form of society – capitalism
– the kernel of which already existed in the feudal society. While
the agricultural districts were under the sway of the nobility,
the towns and cities of the Middle Ages were, to a certain extent,
free from their domination. Here were congregated the merchants,
artisans and handicraftsmen, whose interests were at all times more
or less antagonistic to those of the land-barons, who naturally
sought to place restrictions on the manufacture and marketing of
the city products. This antagonism was accentuated by the discovery
of America and of the southwest passage to the Orient, and the consequent
expansion of trade.
As the wealth and power of the townsmen increased,
that of the nobility decreased. The invention of gunpowder sealed
the fate of the mail clad knights and their chivalry. The nobleman
became a mere parasite upon society; feudalism ran its course as
other forms of society had done. It was dying when the steam engine
gave it its death blow.
That invention threw wide the doors of opportunity
to society’s new masters, the townsmen or bourgeoisie. Heretofore
the production of articles of commerce had been carried on by hand.
The town worker was a craftsman who learnt his trade by a long apprenticeship,
who, when he became a journeyman, worked by the side of his master,
and had reasonable hopes of becoming himself a master. The tools
of production were yet so primitive as to be within the purchasing
power of the thrifty workman. Land alone was the sacred property
of the ruling class.
The coming of the steam-driven engine changed
all this. The hand tool grew step by step into the gigantic set
of machines we know today. Ownership of the tools of production
became more and more an impossibility for the worker. The master
workman left the bench for the office; the foreman took his place.
The factory called for more labor – cheaper labor. The capitalist
turned profit-hungry eyes on the brawn of the agricultural districts.
Serfdom stood in the way, so serfdom was abolished. The serf was
freed from his bondage to the land that he might take on a heavier
yoke, that of the factory. The factory needed not brains, but "hands".
The hands of the country yokel, of his wife, and of his children,
would serve equally as well as those of the skilled craftsman. No
apprenticeship was needed, no training. Only "hands" with hungry
stomachs attached. The serf was not only freed from the land, he
was driven off it by the closing in of the commons and by other
measures. The freeing of the serfs was no humanitarian measure.
Greed – and greed alone – was its inspiring motive.
The New Slavery
The conditions of the new form of slavery that
took the place of serfdom, and now is the form prevailing throughout
the "civilized" world, are somewhat different from the old.
As has been pointed out before, the essence
of enslavement is that one man should be compelled to work for others,
and surrender to them the product of his toil. Wage-slavery, the
present form of servitude, fulfils this condition exactly as much
as did chattel slavery or serfdom. The workers of today have not
an atom of claim upon the wealth they produce. That is sufficiently
self-evident to call for no proof. And while they may not actually
be compelled to work for any given master, they must work for some
master. They are therefore slaves in the proper sense of the word.
And, indeed, the conditions of their servitude are in the main more
severe than under previous forms of slavery. They are exploited
for more wealth – that is to say, the masters obtain from their
labor greater returns than did the masters under any other form
of slavery. In fact, were it not so, the other forms would now be
in existence. But no feudal serf or chattel slave can compete with
the modern wage slave at slaving. Moreover, while in favored trades
and in favored localities, the modern worker may lead a more or
less tolerable existence, the misery and suffering prevailing in
populous centres today are undeniably worse than could have existed
under the old forms of slavery at their worst, for the reason that
the masters of old were, to a certain extent, interested in the
welfare of their slaves, having, directly or indirectly, a property
interest in them. The modern master, on the other hand, has no such
interest in his slaves. He neither purchases nor owns them. He merely
buys so much labor-power – physical energy – just as he buys electric
power for his plant. The worker represents to him merely a machine
capable of developing a given quantity of labor-power. When he does
not need labor-power he simply refrains from buying any.
Wage slavery is the most satisfactory form of
slavery that has ever come into existence, from the point of view
of the masters. It gives them all the slaves they require, and relieves
them of all responsibility in the matter of their housing, feeding
The capitalist class had humble enough beginnings.
Its progenitors were the bourgeois, literally townsmen, of the Middle
Ages. A part of the feudal society, they were yet, in a way, apart
from it. They were neither nobles nor serfs, but a species of lackeys
to the nobility. From them the noble obtained his clothing and the
gay trappings of his horse; they forged his weapons and his armour,
built his castles, loaned him money. He stood to them in the relation
of a consumer, and, as a consumer, he legislated, defining their
markets, prohibiting them from enhancing prices, enacting that wages
should not exceed certain figures, insisting that goods should be
of such and such a quality and texture, and be sold at certain fixed
From Serfdom to Wagedom
Naturally these restrictions were little to
the taste of the bourgeoisie. As trade and commerce increased they
found these conditions less and less tolerable. As they grew in
wealth and influence they became less and less inclined to tolerate
them. In England they had joined with the nobles to weaken the king,
and with the king to weaken the nobles. Finally they broke the power
of both. In the name of freedom they crushed feudalism. But the
freedom they sought was a freedom that would allow them to adulterate
goods, that would allow the workers to leave the land and move where
the factories needed them, their wives, and their children.
While in other lands the course of the bourgeois
revolution was somewhat different to that in England, the result
was the same. In France, for instance, the revolution was pent up
for so long a period that when it burst forth it deluged the land
in blood, through which the people waded, bearing banners inscribed
"Liberty, Equality, Fraternity", to a new order wherein Liberty,
Equality and Fraternity were the last things possible.
The Mission of Capitalism
Once freed from the fetters of feudalism the
onward march of capitalism became a mad, headlong rush. Everywhere
mills, factories, and furnaces sprang up. Their smoke and fumes
turned fields once fertile and populous into desolate, uninhabitable
wastes; their refuse poisoned and polluted the rivers until they
stank to Heaven. Earth’s bowels were riven for her mineral hoards.
Green flourishing forests became mere acres of charred and hideous
stumps. Commerce pierced all mountains, fathomed all seas, explored
all lands, disturbing the age-long sleep of hermit peoples that
they might buy her wares. Capital spread its tentacles over all
the world. Everywhere its voice was heard, crying "Work, work, work",
to all the workers; "Buy, buy, buy", to all the peoples.
The Achievements of Capitalism
Ages of chattel slavery were necessary to break
the ground for feudalism, centuries of feudalism to prepare the
way for capitalism. In a dozen decades capitalism has brought us
to the threshold of Socialism.
Capitalism has done a great work, and done it
thoroughly. It found the workers, for the most part, an ignorant,
voiceless peasant horde. It leaves them an organized proletarian
army, industrially intelligent, and becoming politically intelligent;
it found them working individually and with little co-ordination;
it has made them work collectively and scientifically. It has abolished
their individuality and reduced their labor to a social average,
levelling their differences, until today the humble ploughman is
a skilled laborer by comparison with the mere human automata that
weave cloths of intricate pattern and forge steel of fine temper.
In short, it has unified the working class.
It found the means and methods of production
crude, scattered and ill-ordered, the private property of individuals,
very often of individuals who themselves took part in production;
it leaves them practically one gigantic machine of wealth production,
orderly, highly productive, economical of labor, closely inter-related
– the collective property of a class, and of a class wholly unnecessary
to production, a class whose sudden extinction would not affect
the speed of one wheel or the heat of one furnace.
It found the earth large, with communications
difficult, divided into nations knowing little or nothing of one
another, with prairies unpopulated, forests untrod, mountains unscaled;
it has brought the ends of the earth within speaking distances of
one another, has ploughed the prairies, hewed down the forests,
tunnelled the mountains, explored all regions, developed all resources;
it has largely broken down all boundaries, except on maps; it has
given us an international capitalist class with interests in all
lands on the one hand, and, on the other, an international working
class with a common interest the world over.
The Passing of Capitalism
Aristotle, with something akin to prophetic
vision, laid down the axiom that slavery was necessary until the
forces of Nature were harnessed to the uses of man. This has now
been accomplished and the necessity for slavery is past. Armed with
the modern machinery of production, with steam, electricity, and
water power at their command, the workers, a fraction of society,
can produce more than all society can use or waste – so much more,
that periodically the very wheels of production are clogged with
the super-abundance of wealth, and industrial stagnation prevails.
At the very heyday of prosperity, industry suddenly
becomes disjointed. The wheels of production come to a standstill.
Furnaces cool off; smoke ceases to belch forth to the skies; the
belts stay their eternal round over the pulleys. The workers, from
being worked to the limit of their endurance, find themselves unexpectedly
without work at all, and soon without means of subsistence.
Not here and there alone, but everywhere where
capitalism rules, from all quarters comes the same tale. Famine-stricken
where food is plenty; ill clad where clothing lacks not; shelterless
among empty houses; shivering by mountains of fuel; tramping where
carwheels rust. And ever the tale grows! There is no promise of
alleviation, but rather portents of worse to come.
Society can no longer feed itself. When the
societies of old could no longer feed themselves they perished.
And capitalist society is about to perish. A revolution is at hand!
Another leap in the process of evolution! Society has grown too
big for its shell. It must burst that shell and step forth a new
The means of wealth production are the collective
property of the capitalist class. The operation of these means of
wealth production is the collective function of the working class.
The working class, working together, produces all wealth. The capitalists,
owning the means of production, own all the product. They allow
the working class, when working, sufficient, on the average, for
their subsistence – just what the slave owner allowed his slaves;
what the feudal lord allowed his serfs. But when the worker of today
is not working he is allowed nothing except freedom to starve. He
is the worst kind of a slave.
What stands between him and his emancipation
is the collective ownership of the means of production by the capitalist
class. If the means of production were collectively administered
by the working class that now collectively operates them, the product
would also belong collectively to that class, and the workers would
be able to individually consume the wealth they collectively produced.
They would not need to be hungry, homeless, ragged, shivering outcasts.
The world is theirs for the taking. Presently they will be compelled
to take it. Man cannot be equalled in endurance by any animal, but
even his endurance has a limit. When that limit is reached capitalism
will be at an end; its mission will have been accomplished to the
The economic problem, whose solution lay in
the advent of slavery, will have been solved. Labor will step forth
free at last from its aeons of bondage. Man shall be the master
of his own destiny, able with little effort to produce all that
his mind desires, with ample leisure to enjoy the fruits of his
handiwork, and the legacies of time. The earth shall be his and
the fullness thereof. The forces of Nature his to command; the giant
machine his tireless servitor. Speed the day!
Wealth and Wages
Various erroneous ideas prevail regarding what
wealth is. We read and hear such expressions as "natural wealth",
"mineral wealth", "forest wealth", etc. But to the mass of humanity
the term wealth carries a suggestion of money. In reality, however,
wealth is none of these things.
The sum total of all that is produced by human
labor is the wealth of the world. Natural resources cannot be regarded
as wealth, for it would be impossible to conceive of the natural
resources of an undiscovered, uninhabited island having any value
whatever. It is only when natural resources are, by the hand of
Labor, worked up into things useful to man, that wealth comes into
Two factors, then, enter into the production
of wealth. Taking the first commodity that comes to hand, it can
be perceived at a glance that it is made by labor out of raw material.
Raw materials, in the final analysis, are the natural resources,
the forests, ores, etc. Given these raw materials, man, by the exercise
of his physical energy, his power to labor, produces wealth. This
power to labor is called for short, labor power. It should not be
confused with labor, though this is frequently done. Labor is a
condition of labor power. It is the act of applying labour power
to raw material in order to produce wealth. When labor power is
applied to raw material, labor is performed and wealth produced.
The wealth thus produced is the embodiment of the labor performed.
Its existence is the evidence that a certain quantity of labor has
been performed. The sum total of the world’s wealth, therefore,
represents the sum total of the labor performed in its production.
The Value of Wealth
We say that wealth has value – that it is worth
something. But what is it that gives it that value? We have seen
that it is composed of natural resources and labor. But raw material,
we have also seen, is valueless. Therefore, it must be labor.
It may be objected that, as natural resources,
such as coal-beds, mineral veins and timber limits, are bought and
sold, they must have a value. However, natural resources with which
human labor has entered into the slightest relations cannot be regarded
as properly being raw materials. And, furthermore, such natural
resources are bought and sold on the strength of their potential
value, that is, the value it is expected they will have when converted
to human use by labor. Without labor no value can be possible.
The use value of wealth is in its utility to
man, that is, the measure of the want it will fulfill. Thus the
use value of a sack of flour is the length of time it will keep
a man alive. It is only mentioned here because capitalist economists
have attempted to show that the use value of an article had some
influence on its price, on the ground that a man, when starving,
would be willing to pay more for a loaf of bread than he would if
he were full, the fallacy of which can easily be seen when it is
considered that a loaf will keep a man alive just so long, whatever
the price he pays for it, its utility being determined not by the
strength of his desire, but by the length of time it will keep him
alive. No matter how the price of a commodity varies, its use value
remains about the same.
Exchange value is necessarily comparative. It
cannot be used except in comparing the relative values of two or
more articles. An article by itself can have no exchange value.
Thus a loaf of bread cannot be said to have any exchange value until
it is compared with something with which it is proposed to exchange
it. Furthermore, that with which it is proposed to exchange must
be something else than a loaf of bread, it being self-evident that
there would be no advantage in exchanging loaves for similar loaves.
We find, therefore, that exchange value comes
into play only when it is proposed to exchange two or more dissimilar
The two commodities being thus dissimilar, their
concrete components are necessarily also dissimilar. While the one
may be made of flour, the other may be of steel, wood or wool. There
arises, therefore, the difficulty of comparing them, as there appears
to be nothing contained in either by which may be ascertained how
much of the one should be given in exchange for a certain quantity
of the other. Nor will weights and measures serve for the purpose
of this comparison. The one may be measured by the pound, the other
by the yard or gallon.
We have seen however, that there is one factor
that is embodied in all commodities – labor. And it is the only
factor common to all commodities, however dissimilar may be the
materials of which they are composed, or the means by which they
are weighed or measured. Therefore it stands to reason that dissimilar
commodities can be compared one with another only on the basis of
the labor contained in each. It is on that basis, then, that commodities
must be exchanged.
However, be it noted that the labor contained
in exactly similar shoes may be produced in two different factories,
but in the one factory, owing to improved methods and machinery,
less labor is involved in the production of a pair of shoes than
in the other factory under less efficient methods. While the labor
contained in these shoes would be different, their exchange value
in the open market would be the same. No more could be obtained
for the shoes in which more labor is embodied than for the pair
in which there is less, because no more labor is actually necessary
to the production of shoes of that quality. This brings us a
step further in our examination into exchange value. We now have
the axiom that commodities exchange one with another according
to the necessary labor involved in the production of each.
Another aspect of exchange value has yet to
be considered. The labor involved in the production of a pair of
shoes is no longer the labor of one individual, but of many. Primitive
man made things, for his own use himself. From the materials to
hand, he laboriously and painstakingly fashioned all the things
he required. Not only did he complete each article himself, but
he made the crude tools wherewith he worked. This was individual
production in its purest form. today, however, things are different.
Individual production has disappeared; social production has taken
its place. No individual produces any article in its entirety. It
takes a multitude to make a box of matches. Not only are the leather,
nails, thread, etc., of which shoes are made the products of many
hands, but in the factory itself the shoe passes through the hands
of a large number of operatives, each of whom does a little to it
until it is finished. Then it has yet to be transported and handled
by the labor of others again before it reaches the consumer. So
that, from the ox to the consumer, there is embodied in each pair
of shoes a fraction of the labor of each of many individuals. All
these transmigrations are a part of the process of production. The
production of a commodity ends only where its consumption begins.
Its exchange value is therefore incomplete until it reaches the
consumer. The labor that is embodied in any commodity is not
individual but social labor – the collective labor of a large number
of individuals. This completes our definition of exchange value.
Thus: the exchange value of a commodity is determined by the
socially necessary labor embodied therein.
This socially necessary labor is the cost of
production of each commodity. Each commodity being the embodiment
of a certain amount of labor, it costs just that much labor to produce
it. Commodities, therefore, exchange one with another at cost. Which
brings us face to face with the following problem: If everything
is sold at cost, where does profit come in? For buying and selling,
be it observed, is, in the final analysis, nothing more than the
exchange of one commodity for another with money as the medium through
which that exchange is made.
The generally accepted idea of profit is that
it is made by buying cheap and selling dear. But, unless our reasoning
up to this point can be proved fallacious, buying cheap and selling
dear are out of the question, as the relative values of commodities
are predetermined by the socially necessary labor involved in their
It is true, that a certain amount of fluctuation
in the price of commodities, above and below their exchange value,
actually takes place according to the supply and demand for them
in the market. But these fluctuations are almost negligible, as
will be seen later, and cancel one another in the average. Moreover,
they offer no solution of our problem as to the source of profit.
The solution to this mystery is that buying
and selling have nothing whatever to do with the making of profit.
It is not in the process of exchange, but in that of production
that profit comes in. Profit is acquired, not by paying less for
a commodity than it is worth, nor by selling it for more than it
is worth, but simply by not paying for it at all.
The chattel slaves, we have seen, produced wealth,
which belonged, of course, to their masters. In this wealth was
embodied the labor of the slaves. That was its value. A certain
amount of this wealth went to feed, clothe and house the slaves,
the surplus accrued to the masters at no cost to themselves. The
value of the surplus wealth would be surplus value.
The modern worker – the wage slave – is in much
the same position. The wealth of the world is produced by the workers
of the world. Its value is determined by the labor they have put
into it. It belongs to their masters, the owners of the means of
wealth production, the natural resources, mines, mills, factories,
etc. A portion of this wealth goes to feed, clothe and house the
workers through the medium of wages. The remainder accrues to the
masters, the capitalist class. Its value is surplus value. It costs
them absolutely nothing. The workers have received all that is coming
to them. Having produced all the wealth, they have actually paid
their own wages. The capitalists have done nothing except own the
means of production. The wealth they thus obtain by virtue of ownership
is clear gain – profit.
Wealth being a social product, the individual
produces nothing, but only fractions of things. The collective labor
of the workers is necessary to produce wealth. The individual is
a mere cog in the social machine of production. Being thus unable
to produce things for himself, he can procure them only by buying
them – unless he begs or steals them. To buy them he must first
sell something. In other words, in order to procure the things we
need we must give something in exchange for them.
The capitalists can very well do this because
to them belongs all the wealth that is produced, by virtue of their
ownership of the means of production. The workers, however, have
no property in the means of production, and therefore own none of
that wealth. The vast majority of them have absolutely nothing to
give in exchange for their necessities – that is nothing tangible.
They have, however, the power to labor. In order to procure food,
clothing and shelter they must, then, sell their labor power. This
is what working for wages amounts to. The worker is not paid for
what he does. He is paid for so much labor power, just as he in
turn pays the grocer for so much flour and potatoes. He is paid,
not for the wealth he produces, but merely for the exertion of producing
it. To the wealth he produces, therefore, he has not a vestige or
right or title. It belongs by right to those who bought his labor
power, by means of which it was produced. Movements, therefore,
that aim at "a greater share of the product for the producer" are
illogical in the extreme, because when a man sells his labor power
he is entitled only to the price of that labor power, and by no
means to any share of the wealth produced by the exertion of that
labor power. The labor power is not his, for he has sold it. It
belongs to whosoever bought it, to whom also belongs all the wealth
this produced. To admit the capitalists’ claim to the ownership
of the means of production is to admit their right to the whole
of the product of labor.
Labor Power as a Commodity
Labor power, being bought and sold, ranks, therefore,
as a commodity, and is subject to the law governing the exchange
The law governing the exchange of commodities
is that they shall exchange, on the average, at their cost of production,
as has been shown. The cost of production of any commodity is the
social labor necessary for its production. Labor power is the physical
energy of the individual. The labor necessary to produce this is
the labor that is involved in producing the individual’s living.
The exchange value of labor power then, is determined by the
socially necessary labor involved in the production of those things
that go to make up the laborer’s living from day to day. And
that is exactly what the workers get on average – their living according
to the prevailing standard. It is true that some of them get a little
more than is actually necessary for them to exist on, but, on the
other hand, millions get less and are actually dying of slow starvation
at their work.
Wages are generally regarded as so much money.
Two dollars a day or sixty a month. A closer examination shows two
other aspects before which the mere money wage dwindles into insignificance.
These are the "relative wage", and the "real wage".
The relative wage is that which the worker
receives in comparison with what he produces. Owing to the improvements
in the machinery of production, the relative wage has fallen
greatly during the last century, and is continually becoming
less. Under handicraft production the worker could not produce very
much more than he consumed. Under modern machine production the
worker produces far more than he consumes, even if the standard
of living has risen. Statistics show that the workers of the United
States produce five times as much as they receive in wages on the
average. That is to say that their relative wage is only 20 per
cent of their product, which means that the surplus value, the profits
of the master class, are now 80 per cent of the wealth produced.
The Real Wage
The real wage is what is bought with the
money wage, the food, clothing, housing, etc., of the worker.
It is what the workers actually receive in exchange for their labor
power. While the money wage, the price of labor power may rise,
the real wage may at the same time be falling. Thus during the last
decade, United States statistics show a rise in wages of some 20
per cent, and a rise in the cost of living of some 30 per cent.
Here the money wage would be raised 20 per cent, but the real wage
would have fallen 10 per cent, so that in place of receiving 20
per cent more, the workers are actually receiving 10 per cent less
in exchange for their labor power. A rise in prices, therefore,
means to the worker, not so much a rise in his cost of living as
a fall in his real wage, that is, a reduction in his standard of
As the money wage has been referred to as the
price of labour power, a consideration of price itself would not
be out of place. Price is the approximate monetary expression of
the exchange value of a commodity. Money itself arises out of the
inconveniences attendant upon the direct exchange, or barter, of
one commodity for another. To overcome these inconveniences one
commodity is employed to which all other commodities are compared,
and their exchange values are expressed in terms of this commodity.
The commodity employed becomes in time segregated
from all others and is looked upon as having a fixed value. Nevertheless
it should be remembered that in reality it remains a commodity,
and is subject to such fluctuations in exchange value as are other
At present, gold is the chosen commodity. In
terms of gold the exchange value of other commodities are expressed.
Actually this is equivalent to comparing the exchange values of
other commodities with that of gold. Thus if we say a pair of shoes
is worth five dollars, we assert that the same quantity of necessary
social labor is embodied in a pair of shoes as in five dollars of
gold. The coinage of gold merely signifies that the government certifies
the coin to contain so much gold of such and such a fineness. The
gold itself being the product of labor, its exchange value is determined
by the labor it embodies.
Fluctuations in Value and Price
Fluctuations in the exchange value of a commodity
can only take place when changes take place in the quantity of labor
involved in its production. Thus, with the development of labor-saving
machinery, the production of commodities involves less labor, and
their exchange value decreases. Price, being the approximate monetary
expression of exchange value, necessarily follows these fluctuations.
It is, however, subject to fluctuations from other causes, one of
the most important being the fluctuations in the exchange value
of gold itself. So enormous has been the recent production of gold,
and so great has been the saving of labor recently in the production
of gold, that its exchange value has decreased more than has been
the case in other commodities, which accounts largely for the so-called
rise in prices of recent years.
The minor fluctuations in prices that are continually
taking place are due mainly to supply and demand. In a stable market,
wherein the supply of, and demand for, all commodities exactly balanced
one another, prices and exchange values would be equivalent. But,
as such is not the case, as supply and demand do not balance, prices
of commodities continually fluctuate above and below their exchange
values. When the demand for a commodity is greater than the supply,
its price rises. When the supply is greater than the demand, the
price falls. But, whenever prices rise anywhere, a flow of commodities
takes place in that direction and the price is brought down to its
normal level, and wherever the price falls, production is retarded
until the normal level is resumed. So that these fluctuations in
process of time cancel one another, and commodities exchange, on
the average, at their cost of production, that is, according
to the socially necessary labor involved in their production.
Fluctuations in Wages
The money wage, being the price of the commodity
labor power, is subject to the same fluctuations as in the price
of any other commodity. That the supply of labor power exceeds the
demand at most times, and often to such an extent as to produce
a veritable glut, is so patent that it may be taken as proved. This
excess of supply over demand naturally gives the price of labor
power a constantly downward trend.
Apparently, however, wages have risen. This
apparent rise is due to the decrease in the value of gold. As has
been shown, the real wage has fallen 10 per cent, even in a period
of capitalist prosperity. And now that that period is over and the
industrial depression following it has immeasurably swelled the
ranks of the unemployed, thus increasing the disproportion between
supply and demand in the labor market, the money wage has come tumbling
In the case of a fall in the prices of other
commodities this would be remedied by a restriction of production,
but no such restriction of the production of labour power is possible.
The worker’s labor power being his physical energy, his very life
force, he must continue producing it while he lives, and he will
not continue to live very long if he does not find a buyer for it.
The inevitable result of the downward trend
of wages is an ever-increasing portion of misery and privation for
the workers, in spite of the constant struggle which they are compelled
to carry on in the industrial field to obtain a better price for
their labor power, etc. Strikes have been fought with the greatest
determination; privation and suffering have been endured with a
heroism of which the working class alone is capable; millions of
dollars have been spent; the unions were never so strong as during
the last decade, and yet, in spite of it all, the wage has fallen.
Here and there, in favored trades, they have attained some success
but it is but a passing success. Capitalism is the great leveller
of the working class, the great abolisher of individuality. All
trades are being reduced to a common level. In one line after another
the skilled worker has been replaced by a machine and a "hand".
And locality after locality is being brought more and more within
the full dominance of Capitalism.
It should be evident to the workers that they
are fighting a losing fight – attempting the impossible. At one
time, when they fought against individual capitalists with no great
capital, some measure of success was possible. But now the odds
are against them. Monster Capitalism sits enthroned! Their employers
are now grown to giant corporations, with millions at their command.
Out of the very rise and fall in stocks consequent upon strikes
and lockouts, the masters may reap a richer harvest than what they
lose by stoppage of industries. And all the powers of government
are theirs to do their bidding, the policeman with his club, the
thug with his revolver, the soldier with his rifle, the court with
its injunctions, and the legislature with its law. Weapon after
weapon has been wrested from the hands of the workers until today,
in the words of a Western labor union official, "the only remaining
usefulness of the labor unions is in resisting the petty tyrannies
of the masters".
It is indeed a losing fight for they are fighting
not only against the man-made laws of Capitalism, but also against
all the laws of economics. So long as their labour power remains
a commodity they cannot essentially better their condition. So long
as they allow the capitalists’ claim to the resources of the earth
and the machinery of production, slaves they must remain, and as
slaves they must expect to be treated. Their only hope lies in their
emancipation from slavery – and they alone can achieve that emancipation.
The Class Struggle
While, on the industrial field, the workers
have been steadily losing ground, a new alignment of the forces
has been taking place. The battle is shifting from the industrial
field to the political field. Here it becomes a class struggle.
No longer a struggle between sellers and buyers of the commodity
labor power, but between slaves and their masters, between those
who produce wealth and those who own the means of production.
Into the industrial field the workers cannot
enter as a class. Being all sellers of the one commodity, labor
power, they are rivals, rather than allies. As with the sellers
of any commodity, competition forces combination to a certain extent,
so with the workers. As sellers of labor power they combine in trades
unions, making an effort to support one another in enhancing the
price of their commodity. Were they all welded into one organization
there would yet remain the unemployed to whom hunger would dictate
the necessity of competing with, rather than aiding, the employed
workers in their struggle. To form the workers, employed and unemployed,
all into one union would be but to transfer the competition from
without to within the organization. And were such an organization
ever to achieve success it could achieve nothing but failure, for
the rise in wages would be counterbalanced by the consequent rise
in prices. The money wage might be increased but the real wage would
remain the same.
In the industrial field defeat is inevitable.
The workers are crushed, not only in spite of their numbers, but
because of them. They must compete as job-hunters – sellers seeking
a buyer. They are not a class thus apart from their employers, for
they, too, are sellers of wares. They, too, must war with one another
as well as with the workers.
The class line can only be drawn between the
possessors and the dispossessed. Here the interests of all the members
of each class are identical. It is to the interest of all the dispossessed
to regain possession; of all the possessors to retain it. Between
them alone is the class struggle, and political power is the weapon.
The class that has not that weapon is absolutely at the mercy of
the class that has. By means of the state they are held in subjection,
and by means of the state they can alone be emancipated. The state
it is that guarantees to the master class ownership in the means
of production. Not a title deed but is issued under the aegis of
the government, and it is the government that must protect and defend
the owners in the enjoyment and possession of their property. The
government it is also that can revoke all these titles. The state
is the sword of the master class. It lives by the sword and by this
sword it shall perish. The class struggle must, therefore, be a
political struggle. A struggle on the part of the workers to wrest
from the hands of their masters that sword – the state – and use
it against them. To such a struggle there can eventually be but
one outcome. The very numbers of the workers which, on the industrial
field spelled defeat, on the political field make victory certain.
The Two Classes
The two classes between which this struggle
is to be fought have existed in one form or another since the beginning
of slavery, and ever the antagonism between them has increased.
As each slave system has drawn to a close the antagonism has been
brought to a head in despairing revolts on the part of the slaves
and bloody reprisals on the part of the masters. In these conflicts
the workers have attained nothing, as conditions were not yet ripe.
To perfect the economic organization of society capitalism was necessary.
This organization perfected, the working class organized into a
disciplined army of production, the utility of slavery is past.
The time for freedom is ripe! The final struggle is at hand.
Today the classification of society is clearer
than ever before. On the one hand the capitalist class, on the other
the working class; between them, nothing. The individuals of each
class have become completely merged into the class. The individual
master no longer exploits individual workers by means of his private
property in the means of production. The capitalist class collectively
exploits the working class by means of its collective property in
the means of production. To speak of Socialism seeking to abolish
such private property is truly ridiculous, for capitalism has already
abolished it. Not even the small capitalist can say today, "This
factory is my private property". His landlord or his bankers may
have more real claim upon it than he has, though his name may be
over the door. Capitalist property is collective and international,
just as is the process of production. As a class the workers produce
the world’s wealth by their collective labor. As a class the capitalists
own collectively the means of production and collectively exploit
the workers of the wealth they produce. Profits, the proceeds of
that exploitation, flow into the hands of the capitalist class to
be divided among its members according to the extent of their holdings.
The two classes alone stand out supreme. In the one, all the workers,
in the other, all the capitalists; the international proletariat
against international capitalism, massing their forces for the final
A War of Restitution
The coming struggle is not one so much of expropriation
as of restitution. All the wealth the capitalist class possess has
been produced by the working class. In taking it the working class
would but be taking it back. Wealth is not a fixed and indestructible
quantity. It is being constantly destroyed and renewed. Even the
most stable portions are being constantly worn out and replaced.
The workers of one generation may be said to produce with their
own hands practically all the wealth in existence at the end of
their generation, so that in taking it they would actually be taking
the very things they themselves produced, things taken from them
without any compensation. They would therefore owe compensation
for them to none. And, indeed, there can be no question of compensating
the capitalists. The class struggle is not an affair of purchase
and sale. We do not propose to buy our freedom, but to take it.
The outcome of this struggle between the capitalist
class and the working class will be the Social Revolution. By political
force the working class must wrest from the capitalist class the
reins of government and must use the powers of the state to legislate
in its own interests. The means of wealth production, now the collective
property of the capitalist class, will be made the collective property
of the whole people. By that stroke classes will be abolished and
all shall be workers; wage slavery will be overthrown and labor
power cease to be a commodity; production will be for use and not
for profit; government of persons will die out and be replaced by
an administration of things. The workers, being the owners of the
means of production, will also be the owners of the wealth produced,
individually enjoying what they collectively produce.
The Socialist Party of Canada
Out of these conditions has arisen the Socialist
Party of Canada, the nucleus of the revolt of the slaves of Canada
against capitalism. Its policy is to educate the slaves of Canada
to an understanding of their position and organize them for concerted
political action, to the end that they may wrest the powers of State
from the hands of capital, and use them to strip the master class
of its property rights in the means of production and to make these
the collective property of the producers.