Thomas Bell

Ten Minutes Talk With Workers

Economic Crises

Source: The Socialist, July 1919.
Transcription: Adam Buick
HTML Mark up: Brian Reid
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.

To most people it is a far cry from primitive savagery to modern civilisation. Yet an examination into the origins of either our social institutions, our tools and machines for production, or ways of thinking on many matters will show that after all we have not much to brag about. It is now established beyond dispute that the most delicate instruments we use, as well as our language, religion, morals, domestic institutions, etc., have their roots or beginnings away back in those primitive times, thousands of years ago. There is no break in the chain. Everything which you see around you to-day represents in a more or less complex way the efforts of the race towards social progress and evolution. To realise this is one of the most important discoveries of modern times.

Roots of Social Progress

You can readily understand that were we to simply live for the moment and take no heed for to-morrow, so far as ensuring our necessary supplies are concerned, and remembering that wage slavery is unable to give us security in our means of life, we should undoubtedly be reduced to the conditions of primitive savages.

How this principle or idea of “property,” of using tools instead of relying on bare finger-nails, in short, of preserving the results of previous efforts to enable us to “carry on” for a time, became established, forms the groundwork of a great many books and makes a most fascinating subject for the study of man, the study of anthropology.

Certainly, with the marvellous machines, implements and contrivances of all sorts at our disposal to-day there are great possibilities for leisure, luxury and social comfort. More, in fact than is enjoyed by you and me at the present time. Into that, however, we need not go for the moment.

What is worth noting, however, at present, is the arrogance, audacity and, need we say, impertinence of present-day rulers to claim all these social achievements, as theirs exclusively. Not only so, but to base their claim to mortgage future generations of our class, thereby making us helots, on the grounds, forsooth, that these achievements arc the products of their brains!

Claims of the Pharisees

It would be only necessary to state these claims to you for their absurdity to be revealed were it not that very clever writers—some of them unfortunately belonging to our class—are employed by our masters to teach such false doctrines that unsuspecting and unlettered workers may be confused or deceived.

Taking advantage of the workers’ weakness in the knowledge of economics, these pharisees and charlatans ascribe the marvels of modern productive methods to some inherent and magic power of “Capital.” And then having subtly associated the powers for producing wealth with these things which are the property of the rich capitalist class, they, with more subtility, credit the owners of capital with the powers of their property and in this way build up an excuse for profit-taking or exploitation.

Thus the principle of subdivision of labour, i.e., dividing a certain job into a great many parts and giving each worker a certain part to do, or some workers doing agricultural work while others do manufacturing work, and so on—a principle as old as the human race is held in these days by the literary and oratorical rogues I have just mentioned to be the fruits of capitalist brains applied to industry.

“Time” a Factor in Economics

They talk mysteriously about “time” as a factor in production. You, however, have only to reflect for a moment on the energy you have spent during the week or to take a look at the fruits of your industry and then the contents of your envelope on Saturdays to see by comparison that it would require more than “waiting” to make up the difference. It is a very nice theory which first robs the workers of any control over their own affairs by making them wage-slaves, then demands a toll on the grounds that he has to “wait” before he can get a job. That indeed is what the “waiting” or time idea comes to.

The Idea of Faith

Another of the economic crudities of our aforementioned charlatans is the idea of “faith.” As you know, things are produced for profit, i.e., to be sold. The business of our modern capitalists, and it is a fine art, is to find customers or buyers. But in the nature of things or the profit-making system, all buyers are not just prepared to pay. When a customer or buyer is found who is not in a position to pay he gets the commodities on “faith” or, as economists say, “credit.” This credit is extended over a longer or shorter period according either to the bone-fides of the buyer or to the general state of the market. Here in passing let it be noted one of the reasons for your newspaper containing so many bankrupt cases. embezzlement cases and cases of fraud generally. The idea of faith becomes readily translated into the idea of fraud, since by deceiving your neighbour appears the quickest road to get rich, which is the highest ideal of our materialistic capitalist.

Basis of Industrial Crises

Our penny-a-liner charlatans mistake the shadow for the substance and think that if only there is sufficient faith all will be well. He has not the slightest knowledge of the basis of industrial crises. He fails to see that crises are not produced because of lack of faith, but that there is no faith because the markets arc stagnant. Markets become stagnant whenever there are more sellers than buyers, a circumstance which periodically occurs. At such a period everyone seeks to realise their assets into hard cash. Accordingly demands are made all round for obligations to be fulfilled. These demands sometimes overtake banks, who are unable to pay over, with the result that a financial crisis ensues. It is to stabilise the banks and ensure confidence that the recent amalgamations have been taking place in the financial world.

Indeed such is the basis of combines and trusts, whether of industry or finance. But it is all in vain. So long as production is carried on for profit there is bound to periodically result a “glut” or “crises” on the markets of the world. The trusts may seek and in a measure be successful in regulating the supply and demand for given products. They cannot avoid the convulsion that accrues from time to time, because the markets, both home and foreign, become congested. Only when production is regulated and ordered upon a basis of social well-being instead of private aggrandisement can we escape the anarchy and jungle conditions of capitalism.