R. Page Arnot
Source: The Communist, December 9, 1920.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: David Tate
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
The men that worked for England,
They have their graves at home;
And bees and birds of England,
About the cross can roam.
But they that fought for England,
Followed a falling star,
Alas, alas, for England,
They have their graves afar.
And they that rule in England,
In stately conclave met.
Alas, alas, for England,
They have no grave as yet.
—G. K. Chesterton.
Last week and the week before were full of surface excitements. British soldiers were ambushed in Ireland, well-known Irishmen were thrown into gaol, warehouses were fired in Liverpool, the Houses of Parliament were closed to the public, and barricades were put up in Downing Street. The newspapers are alternately depressed and excited. Ministers of the Crown are reported to be full of activity, and everything is done to frighten the good inhabitants of Kensington into a wholehearted support of the Government. But beneath all this there is a good reason for Cabinet Ministers to display the anxious activity with which they are credited by the newspapers. From behind the barricades they are peering out at something more dreadful than their Sinn Fein adversaries, something before which their political witchcraft and their armed forces are to no avail. They do not face it or understand what it is: they refer to it as “bad trade,” or “period of depression,” or “heavy unemployment figures.” They dare not realise what is actually upon them, even to themselves they dare not say: “Capitalist production is ceasing to produce.”
Meantime, they are busied with hasty attempts to mitigate the crisis. Out-of-work benefit is being paid at the miserable rate of 15s. a week. Arterial roads are to be constructed. Schemes of relief are to be encouraged. But the Government is well aware that whatever they may do now will only have a surface effect. To go deeper they dare not; for the only remedy for this mortal sickness of society would mean the destruction of all they are trying to preserve.
The employers, for their part, speaking through their mouthpiece, the Federation of British Industries, have issued their pronouncement. For two years now they have been calling for “More production.” And now, by this winter, every worker knows that by “more production” is meant, not production for use, not for cheapening of goods, but such a greater output per man as will reduce the “labour cost” of every job and gain for the employer a greater profit or wider markets. The worker knows now that though the employer may call it “production” in his speeches, he writes it down as “profit” in his books. Yet the F.B.I., having learnt nothing, is still calling for “More Production.”
Faced by this, and remembering the calls that were made on him during the war; remembering, too, his relatives and his friends who were killed to make the world safe for democracy, the worker is beginning to awaken to the nature of capitalism. For too long he has been drugged. It is now with him as it was in the maritime empire of Carthage. We read that the Carthaginians used to feed their god Moloch with human sacrifices. But the victims were drugged before their bodies were thrust into the furnaces, so that the men and women who were passing their children through the fire to Moloch heard no cries that might disturb their besotted adoration of their god. But now the victims are undrugged; their shrieks are heard and the listening crowd of worshippers of capitalist efficiency and sufficiency are beginning to wonder. The masses of workers are beginning in their minds already to make an end of the cruel deity.
While the workers are thus awakening, the employing class and its Government behind all their concern for reconstruction, for mitigations, for “solutions of the problem of unemployment” are deeply roused to defend themselves. In Parliament we have Bills, and at banquets we have speeches; throughout the country we have the apparatus for doling out the fifteen shillings. All over Europe we have the same ostensible concern. In Germany, in France, in Italy, this crisis is found and for it these sticking-plasters are made. But beneath all this something impels the capitalists to work for their own ruin. Those that are doomed go mad before their end. And so the successful robbers of Versailles and the penitent thieves of the Wilhelmstrasse alike are prepared to use the crisis for a desperate attack on the working class.
In this country the cry is “economy.” Everything is to be “cut down.” What is everything? Is it to be the Navy, the armies of Mesopotamia and India, the garrison of Ireland, the luxuries of the rich, their mansions and motor cars, their fashionable and expensive doctors, their Public Schools and private tutors? No. No. What is to be “cut down” is the worker’s education, the worker’s housing, the hospitals for the workers. Of all these aids to his standard of life the worker is to be deprived; the working women and children are to work double shift in the factories, and “above all, wages are to be cut down. And should a Communist make a speech which might be dangerous to these “economists,” then that man too must be cut down.
It is the same as it was a hundred years ago, after Waterloo. Again we have a world shattered by war, markets impoverished abroad and misery and oppression at home. And every month the capitalists are proving themselves essentially the same as they were in the time of Sidmouth and Castlereagh. Only this time the working class are organised to protect themselves against capitalism, and, it may be, soon to overthrow it.
The situation is, therefore, this: The after war crisis of which unemployment is a part, is finding no solution in the measures of the Government. On the contrary, the crisis is awakening the workers to the nature of capitalism, and at the same time is rousing the capitalist forces to deliver an attack on the working class. The counter-attack of the workers is not the seizing of town halls and libraries by the men out-of-work. Not even if they go further and seize factories will it be the counter-attack. The real counter to the onslaught of the capitalist’s lies in the feeling of the workers that they have a moral right to do things that are “illegal” and “criminal.” The spirit of the workers is rising superior to the morality imposed on them by capitalism. The man lacking bread to give to his wife and children is a terrible figure which towers above the puny morality and legality of capitalism, and demands in a voice of thunder the reason for capitalism’s existence. To that annihilating question capitalism has no reply. It has sunk into moral disrepute. It is rejected and despised, and its end is near. Capitalist production is ceasing to produce.
What is the immediate task for the worker? The measure of defence afforded him by his trade unions will not last for many months. The trade union funds accumulated during the full employment period of the war will be drained away more rapidly than in 1908-9, when the cost of administration was a bagatelle compared to what it is now. In many industries at present the capitalists would welcome the prospect of a strike, and the current demands for reduction in wages are not trade by them in any forgetfulness of this fact. If then at the end of some months the worker finds himself with his back to the wall, what is he to do? There is nothing but to fight in an ever sterner mood; to recast organisation of his trade unions into a more effective formation; to base the unit of organisation on the unit of production, and, snatching courage from despair, to join together with his fellow workers in industrial unions. The mood of despair does not last. It passes from despair into desperation, and when that point is reached nothing can hold from massing together for the overthrow of a civilisation that is decayed and rotting