First published: The Worker, 1November 1919
Transcription\HTML Markup: Revolutionary Communist GroupJuly 1998 and David Walters in 2003
Copyleft: John MacLean Internet Archive (www.marx.org)1999, 2003. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License
Now that thousands of working-class students are settling down to study marxian economics, or rather economic laws from the standpoint taken up by Marx, I may be pardoned obtruding this subject on your readers. However, it is an historic dictum that those only succeed who are impelled by a consuming conviction, a conviction that is based on a true interpretation of historic facts and historic tendencies.
The working class is developing into the conviction that it is robbed of by far the major portion of the wealth it plays the essential part in producing and distributing. That conviction takes deep root on a deep, broad, and solid foundation once the worker settles down to study economics as expounded by Marx, the kernel of whose teaching is the labour-time theory of value. That theory accepted, we can apply it to what the worker sells on the market—his labour-power—and find out that the worker is not and never will be paid “by results”; that is to say, by the total wealth or value-equivalent of what he produces. His wage is paid on “the cost of living”, and his cost of living is far less than the wealth or the value he contributes to the world’s stock.
Marx, then, and the working-class real conviction stand or fall with the labour-time theory of value. Is it true to fact, is it true to life? Young university prigs—and the majority are prigs—will in superior style assure you Marx was killed a generation ago; the professors said so!
Certainly, the professors have tried to kill him by every cunning sophisticated device at their command. They had to do it; they were paid to; and they are the types who are eager to come down to teach economics to the working class. The discussion with these gents was so useless and wasteful of time that many socialists, including the leaders of the ILP and BSPers such as Fairchild, pretty well avoided insistence on the study of economics, and depended mainly on capitalist-supplied statistics, sentiments based on the wrongs and injuries suffered by the mass of the people.
But although the professors are satisfied they buried Marx long ago, some of us all along have maintained that Marx buried the professors. During the war the big capitalists realised that the professors were wrong and Marx was right, and so we find that their whole attitude is now marxian, and that all their experiments are wrought out from the marxian basis.
The Yankees, having no fear of marxism in America, long ago adopted the marxian point of view, and hence it is by no accident that taylorism or scientific management sprang up across the Atlantic. The war compelled Britain to accept and adapt the first fruits of taylorism with the necessary result of a revolution in economic outlook and thinking.
The new view was typically expressed by that up-to-date capitalist, Lord Weir, who in an address to the businessmen of Glasgow insisted that the main factor in production is man-time. Man-time is just the marxian expression labour-time, so therefore labour-time is the main factor in production—the mighty fact refuted for a generation by university dons, but now preached by Scotland’s engineering capitalist top-notcher! Not only preached but practised as well, for at Weir’s, Cathcart, in September The Weir Bulletin was issued for the first time to the workers to explain the function of the new planning department. This function will be “the gradual revision of all shop processes and methods to ensure genuinely efficient methods of production”. “The (shop) stewards felt that better output would be obtained if the employees fully grasped the fact that the directors desired the men to make high earnings, and that high earnings would not result in any breaking of allowances.” New schemes of increased output will go from the planning department to tool drawing offices, then to the toolroom, and ultimately to the demonstration section to test the tools and jigs and to fix a satisfactory time allowance or piecework rate.
In settling the time in the demonstration department, there shall be present, if desired, a representative of the planning department, rate fixing department, an operative and his appropriate shop steward. The time analyses will be abstracted in the following divisions: actual machinery time; actual manipulative time; tool allowance, 5 per cent of machinery time, fatigue allowance, 20 per cent of manipulative time; contingency time allowance, 40 per cent of total machinery time plus manipulative time; allowance for 33 1/3 per cent bonus.
This practical application of the labour-time theory of value knocks the learned nonsense of the professors into smithereens—and the WEA too.
Every engineer and every student of economics ought occasionally at least to read Engineering Industrial Management, the new name for Cassier’s Magazine. Every issue teems with proof that up-to-date capitalists accept and apply the man-time theory. The issue of 16 October 1919 is especially fruitful. In an article entitled “Eliminating the Stopwatch from Industry”, we learn that the greatest part of industrial inefficiency is due to shortcomings of management. (That knocks on the head Mallock, who insisted that capitalists had special directive ability, entitling them to call part of their earnings rent of ability.) Better than the stopwatch is proper organisation, reliable records, production properly controlled and good working conditions.
The importance of the labour hour as the unit in measuring value is brought out more sharply than ever I have heard of or read before, and two economic terms are used as a necessary evolution of applied marxism—equivalency and equivalent.
Equivalency is “determining a fair hour’s work for different operations in industry that men and equipment can turn out without injury to health or well-being or detriment to the equipment":
“This is an economic fundamental, for if we can secure increased hourly production we need not concern ourselves so much about the matter of wages or the hours of labour. It is altogether a matter of securing production by utilising every facility that can be invented and every method that can be devised towards getting out a maximum or quantity of production. The greater the hourly production the less the cost. The less the cost the greater the demand, and the greater the demand the more business there will be. The more business there is the more demand there will be for labour.”
Settling the equivalent—the output per hour in a particular case—must be a matter of “give and take” between the employer and the workers involved: “In determining hourly equivalents the idea is to arrange for an average performance by an average man over an average period of time”. That is almost precisely what Lord Weir intends to do in his demonstration department. This reiteration of the word “average” reminds us of what Marx says on page 6 of Capital: “The labour-time socially necessary is that required to produce an article under the normal conditions of production. and with the average degree of skill and intensity prevalent at the time.” The definition of the “equivalent” is obviously a deduction from Marx’s definition of the “labour-time socially necessary”.
"The use to which these hourly equivalents are put is in planning and running and routing work through the plant so that in despatching shop operations, like despatching trains, we may know the length of time between points and arrange accordingly”. A workshop time diary or schedule is quite the thing as scientific management.
Let every shop stewards’ committee buy this magazine and use it to teach the rank and file. I think in every workshop there ought to be a “breather” during every spell of work when one or other of the shop stewards ought to give a little address of ten minutes on some phase of “workshop economics”. This ought to be part of the technical training of every workman, and as ideas and methods are always evolving, every man ought every day to be an apprentice, or rather a student. The clerking department ought to provide a typed summary of every address. To accomplish this efficiently the scope of the Scottish Labour College will have to be extended, so that the leaders in the workshop obtain an approprlate grounding in the broader and deeper issues involved in social evolution and revolution, to adequately fit them to guide their comrades along the most accurate lines. This is necessary to balance the contents of the magazines issued by the employers.
To revert again to Cassier’s. We are told that Dr Vernon in his report issued by the Industrial Fatigue Research Board concludes that after several experiments the hourly output during a six-hour shift is 10 per cent greater than during an eight-hour shift. If the equivalent is of more importance than hours or wages to the capitalists, it looks as if it were time for the workers to make a bid for a six-hour day.
Frank Graham in an article, “A Means of Harmonising Capital and Labour”, states that he learns from Lord Leverhulme, the pioneer of welfare work at Port Sunlight, amongst other things, that the object of profit-sharing must be increased efficiency of the undertaking, implying an increase in the equivalent, a goal more vital to the capitalist than increased wages to the worker; and that in any profit-sharing scheme the control must remain with those who find the cash capital. Capitalist tyranny, forsooth!
Major E.A. Pells in an article, “The Basis of Comparison for all kinds of Work”, shows the importance of the equivalent in comparing the value of commodities by admitting that “the usual basis to consider the labour method upon, is that of the output per worker hour”. That is, Lord Weir’s man-time converted into man-hour and Marx’s labour-hour.
An article urges the need for a National Institute of Psychology and Physiology applied to industry and commerce. The object is, of course, to so care for the body and mind of the worker under scientific conditions that the highest equivalent possible may be attained.
With the marvellous growth of trusts and the brilliant detail work evolving inside the best plant only an arrant knave would deny the truth of Marx’s teachings in economics, and would stand in the way of the mighty work of the Scottish Labour College.