Paul Lafargue

Simple Socialist Truths


From The Socialist, September 1903.
Transcribed by Adam Buick.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Worker. But if there were no masters, who would give me work?

Socialist. That’s a question I am often asked; let us examine it. In order to work, three things are required: a workshop, machines, and raw material.

W. Right.

S. Who builds the workshop?

W. Masons.

S. Who made the machines?

W. Engineers.

S. Who grew the cotton you weave, who sheared the wool your wife spins, who dug the mineral your son forges?

W. Husbandmen, shepherds, miners – workers like myself.

S. Consequently, you, your wife, and your son can only work because these various other workers have already supplied you with buildings, machinery, and raw material.

W. That’s so; I could not weave calico without cotton and without a loom.

S. Well then, it is not the capitalist or master who gives you work, but the mason, the engineer, the ploughman. Do you know how your master has procured all that is necessary for your work?

W. He bought it.

S. Who gave him the money?

W. How do I know. His father had left him a little; to-day he is a millionaire.

S. Has he earned his million by working his machines and weaving his cotton?

W. Not very likely; it is by making us work that he gained his million.

S. Then he has grown rich by loafing; that is the only way to make a fortune. Those who work get just enough to live on. But, tell me, if you and your fellow workers did not work, would not your master’s machines rust, and his cotton be eaten by insects?

W. Everything in the workshop would got to wreck and ruin if we did not work.

S. Consequently, by working you are preserving the machines and raw material necessary for your labour.

W. That is true; I had never thought of that.

S. Does your master look after what goes on in his works?

W. Not much; he makes a daily round to see us at our work, but he keeps his hands in his pockets for fear of dirtying them. In the spinning-mill, where my wife and daughter work, the masters are never seen, although there are four of them; still less so in the foundry, where my son works; the masters are never seen nor ever known; not even their shadow is seen¾ it is a Limited Liability Company that owns the works. Suppose you and I had five hundred francs saved up, we could buy a share, and become one of the masters, without ever having put, or without putting, a foot in the place.

S. Who, then, directs and superintends the work in this place belonging to the shareholding masters, and in your own shop of one master, seeing the masters are never there, or so seldom that it doesn’t count?

W. Managers and foremen.

S. But if it is workers who have built the workshop, made the machines, and produced the raw materials; if it is workers who keep the machines going, and managers and foremen who direct the work,¾ what does the master do, then?

W. Nothing but twiddle his thumbs.

S. If there were a railway from here to the moon, we could send the masters there, without a return ticket, and your weaving, your wife’s spinning, your son’s moulding, would go on as before.. Do you know what the profit was realised by your master last year?

W. We calculate that he must have got a hundred thousand francs.

S. How many workers does he employ¾ men, women and children, all included?

W. A hundred.

S. What wages do they get?

W. On an average, about a thousand francs, counting in the salaries of managers and foremen.

S. So that the hundred workers in the work receive altogether a hundred thousand francs in wages, just enough to keep them from dying of hunger, while your master pocketed a hundred thousand francs¾ for doing nothing. Where did these two hundred thousand francs come from?

W. Not from the sky; I never saw it rain francs.

S. It is the workers in his works who have produced the hundred thousand francs they received in wages, and, besides, the hundred thousand francs profit of the master, who has employed part of that in buying new machines.

W. There is no denying that.

S. Then it is the workers who produce the money which the master devotes to buying new machines to make them work; it is the managers and foremen, wage slaves like yourself, who direct the production; where, then, does the master come in? What’s he good for?

W. For exploiting labour.

S. Say rather, for robbing the labourer; that is clearer and more exact.


Last updated on 5.1.2004