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Fourth International, January 1949


C. Curtis

The Position of the American Working Class

100 Years After the Communist Manifesto


From Fourth International, Vol.10 No.1, pp.10-16.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


“Other classes decay and finally disappear in the face of modern industry; the proletariat is its special and essential product.”

In our previous article, Decline of the American Middle Class (Fourth International, Feb.-March 1948) we demonstrated how decisively American economic development has corroborated this prognosis of the authors of the Communist Manifesto, a century ago.

In this article we will investigate the living and working conditions of the proletariat, the class of wage-earners, the preponderant majority of the US population. It will be necessary to glance briefly at the conditions of wage-earners on a world scale, but our main attention will be devoted to the US.

The modern laborer, says the Communist Manifesto, “instead of rising with the progress of industry, sinks deeper and deeper below the conditions of existence of his own class.” This statement is the germinal form of Marx’s “theory of increasing misery” as it was later elaborated, amplified, and in certain details corrected in Capital, the first volume of which was published in 1867. In Capital, Marx writes: “Along with the constantly diminishing number of magnates of capital ... grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation ...”

Capitalist economists of all schools, along with the revisionists within the labor movement, have made the refutation of this declaration the burden of countless treatises and tomes. Let us test Marx’s analysis in the light of historical evidence.

The worker gains his livelihood by the sale of his labor-power to the capitalist class. Labor-power “like every other article of commerce” is “exposed to all vicissitudes of competition, to all fluctuations of the markets.” Workers fare best when capital is expanding, profits are made and labor is needed. This is the prosperity phase of the capitalist cycle. In periods of depression, the reverse is true: capital stagnates or contracts, the labor market is glutted, the capitalist holds the whip hand and the position of the workers deteriorates.

These recurrent boom-depression cycles of capitalism occur within the framework of a larger historical cycle. Originating in England, industrial capitalism, in the course of a century and a half, expanded over Europe, the United States, parts of Asia and other sectors of the world. Although this era was marked by the recurrent boom-depression cycles, it was generally a period of expansion of capital and each succeeding stage saw the conditions of the workers relatively improved.

With World War I this upward phase of the larger historical cycle came definitely to an end. In the 35 years since 1914 the workers of Europe and Asia have known only continuous and growing agony with only moments of respite. World War I with its tens of millions of casualties and its vast material destruction ended in a period of inflation after which came depression and unprecedented mass unemployment; this was followed by fascism and World War II and the present postwar period.

In the light of these developments can there be any doubt that capitalism has brought agonising misery to the great majority of the world’s toilers? There are those who blame the plight of the overwhelming majority of the world’s population on the two wars. They represent matters as though these wars were some extraneous factor, a kind of natural catastrophe like epidemics, floods or earthquakes, or contrived by some deranged individual ot group of individuals!

By no means. Wars are an inextricable part of capitalism, as much so as the decline of the middle class, or the increasing employment of women in industry, or the introduction of new techniques, or the eruption of economic crises. Modern capitalist war is the attempt by one dominant capitalist nation or group of nations to escape doom at the expense of its rivals; to escape from “over-production” and other consequences of economic crises; to wrest from another markets, sources of raw material, cheap labor and so on.

To the economic enslavement of the workers, to the misery of unemployment, speed-up, pauperism, modern capitalism has added all the miseries of a decadent social order with its military agonies – masses of soldier and civilian corpses and casualties, millions gassed and atom-bombed, on top of race extermination, death chambers and other refinements of fascism.

Marx and Engels did not foresee modern war and fascism. But they bequeathed their scientific method to thinkers who came after them and who examined and analyzed modern capitalism and showed how war and fascism spring from its very nature. Outstanding among those who applied Marxism in the study of present-day society were Lenin and Trotsky.

Against this world background let us now center our attention on the United States. How fared the wage-workers of this land – the majority of the population in a country which has escaped the physical destruction of two wars? Is America immune to the general laws of capitalism, or at least their worst aspects? To what degree are the main propositions of the Communist Manifesto applicable to the United States?

Influx of Women Into Industry

A basic trait of capitalism is the tendency to bring under its exploitation not only successive layers of the middle class, but the entire adult worker-family and to replace male workers with women. The Communist Manifesto states:

“The less the skill and exertion and strength implied in manual labor, in other words, the more modern industry becomes developed, the more is the labor of men superseded by that of women. Differences of age and sex have no longer any distinctive social validity for the working class. All are the instruments of labor, more or less expensive to use, according to their age and sex.”

Data from Statistical Abstract of the US (1946) confirm this completely. From the tables below, we can sec the sharp growth of women workers in the US.


1870 — 14.8


1930 — 21.9

1890 — 17.2

1940 — 24.4

1910 — 19.9

1945 — 33.6
(last quarter)


1900 — 20.4


1930 — 24.3

1910 — 25.2

1940 — 25.4


1945 — 33.6

With the return of men mobilized in the armed forces to civilian employment, the high 1945 percentage of employed women may he somewhat reduced, but the tendency remains as foreseen by the Communist Manifesto.

Many “new” industries, such as telephone and electrical goods, employ a heavy proportion of women, while the increase in “paper work” and the expansion of merchandising that has characterised economic life in the last half century has depended to a large extent on women workers.

Woman labor is cheap labor. Mary E. Pidgeon in her book, Women in the Economy of the United States (1937) shows that the median average wage of all employees in important industries employing women was about $20 a week; in important man-employing industries at the time it averaged $26 a week. She then goes on to show that women are paid less than 75 percent of men’s wages for doing exactly the same work, except in cases where unions resist these practices of the capitalists.

After growing steadily up to 1900, child labor has since declined, as successive waves of reform and union activity to forbid employment of children have reduced this blight. Even so, in 1940, more than 5 percent of all 14-15 year olds were employed.

Typical Product of Capitalism

American statistics concerning skills are poor and scanty. Nevertheless the sketchy available data confirm generally the correctness of the Communist Manifesto to the effect that the more modern industry becomes developed “the less the skill and exertion required.”

(Source: Statistical Abstract of the US (1946)







Skilled Workers
















From the abeve figures we see that “semi-skilled” workers, factory operatives, are the typical product of American capitalism. (By far the greater part of “clerical work” likewise falls into this category. With its factory-like routine and its methods – machines, speed-up, division of labor – clerical work is by and large white collar factory work.) Although the machines operated are of great complexity, the manner of operation can be learned in a few weeks, days and even hours, a fraction of the time required for mastering the skilled crafts. Dexterity, rather than skill, is the prime qualification. Both the skill of the artisan and the physical strength of the field-hand diminish as qualifications for industry; the semi-skilled grow at the expense of both.

If attainment of a semi-skilled category marks economically a rise for the unskilled laborer, the tendency to eliminate skills means a deteriorated status for the former craftsman. As a result – to use the words of the Communist Manifesto – “The various interests and conditions of life within the ranks of the proletariat are more and more equalized, in proportion as machinery obliterates all distinctions of labor.”

An Appendage of the Machine

An artisan owned his own tools, dealt directly with his customers, bought his own raw materials, fixed his own hours and pace of work, planned that work. Work was a many-sided expression of the individual. In modern industry the worker’s tools and raw materials belong to a thing called a corporation, or to employers he seldom, if ever, sees; the article – of which he produces only a part – is sold to unknown customers; hours of work and intensity of labor are set for him; his labor is laid out and scheduled by specialists and he is closely supervised by a corps of oppressive bosses and straw bosses. The “instinct of workmanship” is suppressed and work becomes a daily stint of torture.

The worker’s independence and initiative arc drained as the machine and the assembly line are perfected. His physical strength, his nervous energy and his mental effort are at the command of the machine or the assembly line Often, hour after hour, he merely feeds this machine or removes the finished product. He is exhausted physically and blighted mentally. Skill is replaced by an “easily acquired knack”; craft knowledge, experience and judgment are negligible requirements, sometimes – in the eyes of the employers – even drawbacks.

Is this an exaggerated or biased picture? Here then is the testimony of two staunch defenders of capitalism and equally steadfast opponents of Marxism (who, to be sure, are critical of capitalism’s “excesses”). In their book, Labor Problems (1940), Professors Gordon Watkins and Paul A. Dodd state that “machine processes and large scale production imply minute specialization of tasks, repetitious and monotonous operations, physical strain, excessive speeding up of work, rigid discipline and close supervision, and dehumanized, impersonal relations.”

Let us now cite the relevant remarks made in the Communist Manifesto a hundred years before these two professors:

“Owing to the extensive use of machinery and to division oT labor, the work of the proletarians has lost all individual character, and consequently, all charm for the workman. He becomes an appendage of the machines, and it is only the most simple, most monotonous, and most easily acquired knack that is required of him.”


“Masses of laborers, crowded into the factories, are organized like soldiers. As privates of the industrial army they are placed under the command of a perfect hierarchy of officers and sergeants. Not only are they the slaves of the bourgeois class, and of the bourgeois state, they are daily and hourly enslaved by the machine, by the over-looker, and above all, by the individual bourgeois manufacturer himself. The more openly this despotism proclaims gain to be its end and aim, the more petty, the more hateful and the more embittering it is.”

Anyone with a slight measure of impartiality will concede that our two professors merely say “amen” to the Communist Manifesto.

It may be added that these same professors quote the remark made by Arthur Pound in his book, The Iron Men in Industry, to the effect that modern industry makes possible the productive employment of the mentally retarded. This writer, who confuses large-scale mechanized industries with their specific capitalist characteristics, declares: “The less mind one has, the less it resents that invasion of personality which is inseparable from large scale and mechanized industries.” Or, to put it plainly, ‘’morons make the best machine tenders.” After a diligent research, this is the most favorable thing we have been able to find concerning capitalism’s effect on the workers. But there is nothing philanthropical about the capitalists employing the mentally retarded. The added advantage to the capitalists is that they are less prone to organize.

“As the repulsiveness of the work increases, the wage decreases,” the Communist Manifesto points out. “Nay more, in the same proportion the burden of toil increases, whether by prolongation of the working hours, by increase of work enacted in a given time, or by increased speed of machinery, etc.”


“Speed-up” is the American term for what the authors of the Manifesto described as the increase of “the burden of toil ... by increase of work enacted in a given time or by increased speed of the machinery.” Reduction of hours in American industry is inversely proportional to the increase in the speed-up. Given the physical and nervous intensity of American labor, it would be impossible to sustain long periods of employment at 10 or 12 hours a day. From a profit standpoint it pays to employ labor on the basis of an intense 8-hour day rather than a more leisurely 9-hour day.

Let us note in passing that this does not mean to say that American capitalism willingly decreases the workday as it speeds up the worker. No, it desires both the prevailing workday and an ever-increasing speed-up. That it means the quick sapping of the worker is no concern of the capitalists.

From its earliest days capitalism has resisted attempts by the workers to shorten the workday. A variety of weapons has been employed to fight the workers’ demand for more leisure: blacklists, strikebreakers, company thugs and gunmen, spies, fascistic mobs, compliant city, state and Federal government bodies and officials, injunctions and frameups.

On the other hand, whenever the capitalists have taken up the weapon of discussion and debate, the results have keen weird, to put it mildly. Thus, during the struggle over the 10-hour day in 1870 one employer stated before the Massachusetts Bureau of Statistics of Labor that he had “invariably noticed that when men are kept at work until 10 p.m. they live in better health, as they keep indoors instead of sitting around doors smoking.” (The dissolute wretches!)

No less a personage than the president of the National Association of Manufacturers opposed an 8-hour bill in 1902 as socialistic and controverting the inalienable right of the individual to use his time as he saw fit.

Some twenty years later, the president of the same NAM belatedly enrolled the Deity in his organization as its founder and invoking the Holy Script in opposition to the five-day week, he said:

“Six days shall thou labor and do all thy work! So reads the fifth of the great commandments and for sixty centuries it has been accepted as the divinely prescribed standard of economic effort. It is the perfectly fixed basis of human achievement and social contentment ... These constant attempts to amend the decalogue and to adapt by alterations the moral law to the appetites developed by easy and loose living constitute the outstanding peril of our unprecedented prosperity.”

“More leisure,” he continued, “is sought, it is said, to provide larger opportunities for cultural processes. Let it not be forgotten in this connection that there is quite as close a relationship between leisure and crime as between leisure and culture ... Should we not conclude that it would be well for us to curtail some of the opportunities for culture already perverted to criminal use?”

Again, in 1929, another spokesman for this same Association expressed satisfaction that the workers’ time was fully taken up with their jobs:

“They have for the most part been so busy at their jobs that they have not had time to saturate themselves with false theories of economics, social reform and of life. They have been protected in their natural growth by the absence of excessive leisure.”

A few months later, the crash with its mass unemployment took place.

Some readers’ credulity may perhaps be strained by these citations. We can hardly blame them, but they may rest assured concerning the authenticity of these statements. As was once said in a different connection, “You can’t make up things like that.”

* * *

To resume. Speed-up almost borders on science. Motion pictures and stop watches are used to study and to time the movements of workers on the job to see if it is not possible to eliminate some movement or other and thus permit raising the speed of the machine still further, or increasing the number of machines attended by each worker, or forcing greater production out of the workers on the bench or at the belt.

Crowning glory of the speed-up is the belt, or assembly line. This device brings the article being manufactured to the worker’s station, where he performs his minute detail task in a given time and then the article is carried on to the next operation. And woe to the worker, if he hasn’t finished his task! No sooner is he finished with one piece than the next stands before him, requiring a repeat performance. This goes on for the entire workday. The speed of the belt, like the speed of each machine, is geared to the desire of capitalism for more profit; the needs and rhythms of the human organism are obstacles that have to be repressed and violated.

Incentives Under Capitalism

For work which is not suitable to the assembly line, diverse individual and group incentive wage plans have been devised. Simplest of these is, of course, ordinary piece work; but there are many elaborations. In some of these plans the main incentive is a punitive one: If the worker doesn’t meet the set norm, his wages are cut. In others, in return for a large additional expenditure of energy he receives a small bonus.

“Efficiency” experts advertise their wares to employers in “management” journals. Here are a few samples: “Labor costs reduced 75 percent.” “Reduced force from 94 to 19.” “In every group there are two or three men who keep the foreman informed about other workers.”

The employer is assured of a brim-full measure of the worker’s physical and nervous energy by careful stop watch and motion picture studies. In fact, all of the worker’s energy is exhausted in the shop. He has to utilize most, if not all, of his non-working time for recuperating and preparing for the next day. The gains of the shorter work-week thus tend to be nullified.

Under different names – Taylor Plan, Bedeaux Plan and the like – incentive pay has met with resistance by the workers. The periodical of the Carpenters Union, August 1943, carried the following:

“... By adopting the incentive payment plan, American labor will be driving its own people out of jobs. The great benefits of unionization will be discarded and destroyed. The speed at which men are asked to work properly falls within the sphere of collective bargaining ... Very often the lure of higher wages is hollow. Incentive payments encourage a reckless speeding up of the workers ... All too often we have found that after production per worker has been increased through the speed-up, the employers have cut the rate per piece of work turned out. Here is a vicious circle. Either the worker must suffer a loss of earnings, or he must speed up still more ... The ‘incentive’ system is a spring board for further efforts at lengthening hours, speeding up production and putting over other, devious wage reduction schemes.”

As a result of job standards and incentive wages based on time and motion studies, increases in productivity from 20 to 100 percent have been obtained. What Marxists oppose is not at all time and motion study and other applications of science and technology to the labor process, but rather the aims pursued thereby. In a society under the control of the producers, such studies would be a welcome means of saving toil and nervous energy, instead of being a means of extracting every last ounce of energy from workers’ muscles and nerves for the sake of swelling the profits of the capitalists.

The Scrap Heap of Industry

Medical science has found many ways of prolonging life but the economic system operates to convert these added years into years of poverty. The speed-up prevalent in modern industry forces the aged out of work. And by “aged” we do not at all mean feeble or senile individuals. It is difficult for an industrial worker above 40 and even 35 to secure a job. It is impossible for those who are 60 and 65. Unlike the family farm or the skilled crafts there is less and less room for the older worker. In normal times, an elderly worker who loses his job in production has open only menial tasks (janitor, porter, elevator operator, watchman, caretaker and so on). The 60 and 70 year old messenger “boys” have caused smiles and misplaced jests, but they are grim realities. An indication of this trend is given in the following table of those over 63 years of age gainfully employed, either as wage workers or self-employed (source, Statistical Abstract, 1946):















(war year)

American industrial accidents rates are double those of any other country. Between 1928 and 1942, 191,000 workers paid with their lives in largely preventable accidents, attributable in good measure to the speed-up.

A Cruel Absurdity

Cruel as the shop, factory or mine is to the worker, he or she lives in dread of an even greater cruelty – unemployment. For the worker, unemployment is a grievous torment of body and spirit.

Seldom is the worker’s income large enough to tide him over a long period without work. Meager unemployment insurance is soon exhausted. Failing the income of the male head of the household, the woman and mother and adolescent children seek work – any work, thus undermining the standards of employed workers. There is recourse to public or private charity – the worker becomes a pauper. Families are broken up. Crime increases. Difficulties are encountered in keeping up even the usual standards – none too high – of medical and dental care.

Of economic crises, Marx and Engels have the following to say:

“In these crises there breaks out an epidemic that, in all earlier epochs, would have seemed an absurdity – the epidemic of over-production. Society suddenly finds itself put back into a state of momentary barbarism; it appears as if a famine, a universal war of devastation, had cut off the supply of every means of subsistence; industry and commerce seem to be destroyed; and why? Because there is too much civilization, too much means of subsistence, too much industry, too much commerce ... And how does the bourgeoisie get over these crises? On the one hand by enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces; on the other, by the conquest of new markets, and by more thorough exploitation of the old ones. That is to say, by paving the way for more extensive and more destructive crises, and by diminishing the means whereby crises are prevented.”

Capitalist economists have ever day-dreamed of a crisis-less capitalist economy. But it has remained a dream. When trusts and monopolies first replaced competitive capital, the capitalist economists assured the world that at least production and consumption would be placed in harmony and the cycles of capitalism would be abolished. It is precisely in this period, and in the most trustified countries that the economic crises have been most devastating.

From the following table taken from League of Nations and American sources we see that generally in the industrial countries and in those countries most under the domination of monopoly capital, the crisis was most profound.















































































Increasing Unemployment

The immediate effect of a crisis on the workers is, of course, unemployment. Before dealing with the effects of unemployment on the working class, let us examine the incidence and duration of unemployment in the United States for the last 57 years (unemployment statistics prior to 1890 are sheer guesswork).

Basing himself on the widely accepted book Real Wages in the United States by Paul Douglas, Stanley J. Lebergott (Money and Real Earnings of Non-Farm Employees, Journal of American Statistical Association, March 1948) gives the following figures (in percentages) of non-agricultural unemployment [1] in the US.

FROM 1890 TO 1919

  1890 —   6.2%

  1900 —   7.5%

  1910 —   5.0% 

1891 —   6.7   

1901 —   5.5   

1911 —   7.0    

1892 —   4.6   

1902 —   4.7   

1912 —   4.8    

1893 — 10.6   

1903 —   4.9   

1913 —   6.0    

1894 — 18.1   

1904 —   8.0   

1914 — 14.1    

1895 — 13.3   

1905 —   4.6   

1915 —   13.3    

1896 — 16.6   

1906 —   3.7   

1916 —   4.2    

1897 — 15.8   

1907 —   4.8   

1917 —   3.8    

1898 — 14.8   

1908 — 14.2   

1918 —   4.3    

1899 —   8.4   

1909 —   6.8   

1919 —   6.9    

10-Yr. Aver. — 11.5   

—   6.5   

—   6.9    

FROM 1920 TO 1947 [2]

1920 —   5.0%

1930 — 13.4%

  1940 — 20.1% 

  1921 — 21.0   

  1931 — 24.1   

1941 — 13.6    

1922 — 14.4   

1932 — 35.2   

1942 —   6.4    

1923 —   6.1   

1933 — 36.5   

1943 —   2.6    

1924 — 10.6   

1934 — 31.2   

1944 —   1.6    

1925 —   8.5   

1935 — 28.5   

1945 —   2.6    

1926 —   5.9   

1936 — 24.0   

  1946 —   5.3*  

1927 —   8.4   

1937 — 20.1   

    1947 —   5.3**

1928 —   8.6   

1938 — 26.7   


1929 —   4.9   

1939 — 23.6   

10-Yr. Aver. — 9.34 

— 26.4   

(8-Yr. Aver.) —   7.2    

* Figure for 1946 is Lebergott’s.
** Figure for 1947 is my estimate.

From these annual figures we can see that since 1890, even apart from the severe crash of the late Nineties, it has been the tendency for the incidence and duration of unemployment to become greater, reaching a climax in the Thirties. For 12 years, from 1929 to 1941, mass unemployment stalked the land, a seemingly insoluble enigma. Neither Hoover’s word-magic of “prosperity around the corner” nor Roosevelt’s New Deal could banish the depression and restore prosperity. In truth, the contention of the Communist Manifesto had been borne out completely. America had gotten out of each previous crisis only in order to prepare the ground for a more devastating one, until the country seemed to be in the midst of a permanent depression.

So long as the national frontier existed, each crisis would end with the opening of more land for homesteaders and the accompanying expansion in the demand for industrial goods. With the end of the frontier era, America became an exporter of capital, in competition with other capitalist nations. World War I rescued the US from an oncoming depression. First the belligerents abroad and then its own war machine had to be supplied.

But the rapid expansion of American industry during World War I created the conditions for the depression of 1921-22. Latin-American, Asiatic and European markets coupled with new industries at home supplied the basis for another boom. However, the very course of this industrial prosperity prepared the ground for the second depression after World War I that struck with unequaled ferocity and duration.

Crisis or War

Capitalism emerges out of its crises by conquering new markets or destroying goods (capital). No method is more efficacious for destruction than war. Wallace, with his “plowing under” program is a blunderer compared with the destructive capacities of war. Only when World War II broke out and the American preparedness program got under way was unemployment decreased.

But war prosperity is false prosperity. There is great industrial activity, but not economic well-being for the masses. Besides having to supply the soldiers and create the means of warfare, the mass of the people see the lion’s share of their effort go to feeding the insatiable demands of the war machine and the profiteers, and not for their own necessities or comforts. War production is production for death, not life.

The same causes, so clearly delineated by Marx and Engels that produced the depression of the Thirties, are still with us. What is more, with the hot-house wartime growth of the productive potential, the specter of overproduction can become a material reality in a fraction of the time required in previous cycles. Without a war, a crisis is inescapable. But either war or crisis spells misery for the masses.

We have examined in broad outline the extent of unemployment; let us now investigate the effects of unemployment on the working class.

Increase of Pauperism

“Pauperism develops more rapidly than population and wealth,” says the Manifesto. And here it becomes evident that the bourgeoisie is unfit to rule, because it is incompetent to assure an existence to its slave within slavery, because it cannot help letting him sink into such a state that it has to feed him, instead of being fed by him.

The defenders of capitalism take issue with this indictment of the system by Marx and Engels. Thus, Professors Watkins and Dodd declare flatly, “Pauperism is decreasing.” A truly astonishing declaration, all the more so because it was made around 1940. In the 12 years from 1930-41 pauperism engulfed an unparalleled number, not only of workers but also of the lower sections of the middle class.

Prior to the depression years there is only inadequate data regarding pauperism. In 1891, Robert T. Ely estimated that there were in the United States about 3,000,000 paupers (persons dependent on public or private charity), or approximately 4.4 percent of the population. Robert Hunter in his book, Poverty, estimated that in 1905 there were 4,000,000 paupers, or 4.8 percent of the population.

Skipping the intervening years, let us take the period of the depression. From 1930 to 1941 there were, according to Department of Labor statistics, on the average 8,768,000 workers unemployed. Figuring 2½ dependents for each economically active individual, this means that involved were an average of 22,870,000 people, or 18 percent of the entire population. This number varied from about 25 percent of the entire population in 1933 to 11 percent in 1941, the most favorable year in this 12-year period. The great majority of unemployed were able to survive only by public or private relief, that is, pauperism.

Harry Hopkins stated in March 1935 that about one out of every six persons was on relief at that time. In the book The WPA and Federal Relief Policy, published by the Russell Sage Foundation, the unduplicated number of households receiving public assistance or emergency work (for which one had to be on the relief rolls) is given as follows:



















One-Eighth of a Nation

From 1930 to 1941, the average number of those dependent on public relief in its various forms was about 16,300,000, or approximately one person out of every eight. This figure includes only those on city, county, state or Federal relief and does not take into account those receiving aid from private charitable agencies. Nor does it generally include inmates of institutions. It is, therefore, an understatement.

The author of the above-cited book states:

“During 1939, the last, year before ‘defense prosperity’ actually set in, the average number of families benefiting from public relief or ‘employment programs each month included more than 19,000,000 ... one out of every six or seven people in the country.”

This means that between 14 and 16 percent of the population were paupers.

During the war years the number of relief recipients dropped sharply. Unemployment reached the vanishing point as older workers and those partially disabled found jobs and families’ found themselves able to support their aged. But since the end of the war, with greater difficulty in finding work, with the exhaustion of wartime savings, dependency is again on the increase. It is nowhere commensurate with the depression years, but the fact remains it is continually growing. Individuals on state programs partially subsidized by the Federal government, increased from 3,000,000 in 1944 to 4,000,000 in 1947. President Truman in his Economic Report of January 1948 said that “about 4,000,000 now depend on public assistance.” He referred to recipients of Federally aided relief programs, and not to those benefiting from social insurance.

If to this figure of 4,000,000 were added those supported by private charities, inmates of institutions for the aged or physically infirm, residents of Veterans Administration institutions, then even today at the height of the boom, we would find a substantial increase of figures cited by Ely toward the end of the Nineteenth Century. And this “relief load” is not declining but mounting – in the very midst of the boom.

Between 1890 and 1939, the year that marked the end of the depression, there was an increase of about 70 percent in per capita income. Pauperism had meanwhile increased from 4.4 percent to at least 15 percent of the population, or an increase of 340 percent. The authors of the Communist Manifesto were not mistaken. Pauperism does develop “more rapidly than population and wealth.”

”One’s own home” represents an aspiration of millions of workers. Guaranteed shelter is the goal of many years of hard work and bitter sacrifice. During the depression, homes were foreclosed by the hundreds of thousands. For the home owners this was a tragedy. Here it is in cold figures of the US Statistical Abstract, 1946:


1928 .......... 116,000


1936 .......... 185,000

1930 .......... 150,000

1937 .......... 118,000

1932 .......... 248,700

1939 .......... 100,000

1935 .......... 230,350

1945 ..........   14,436

Crime and Unemployment

There is a close connection between crime and unemployment. This is illustrated by the following table of felony prisoners received by state and Federal prisons and reformatories. (Table based on US Statistical Abstract, 1946)


(In Percentages
of Working Class)


Rate per





























These figures speak for themselves.

Another Product of Capitalism

Along with the atom bomb, the jet propelled plane, the 12-year depression, the assembly line, the incentive wage plan, a special product of modern capitalism is the increase in the number of mentally sick. From Poverty and Dependence by J.L. Gilling and the US Census Bureau, we gather the following data as to the number of insane per 100,000 persons in the United States:

1880 ..........   63.7


1930 .......... 229.0

1910 .......... 173.0

1935 .......... 364.2

1922 .......... 203.7

1944 .......... 366.7

In the last 60 years the incidence of insanity has grown almost sixfold.

In a paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, August 30, 1947, Joseph T. Wearn, M.D. states that “... of some 15,000,000 men examined by selective service, 1,875,000 were rejected on the ground of neuropsychiatric disorders.” More than 12 percent of the nation’s youth were found mentally disordered. Well, what else could one expect from an insane social order?

Footnotes by ETOL

1. The version originally printed had “employment” instead of “unemployment” here (see Correction, Fourth International, Vol.10 No.2, February 1949, p.52).

2. In the version originally printed the average for the years 1920-1929 was given as “0.9” instead of “9.34” (see Correction, Fourth International, Vol.10 No.2, February 1949, p.52).

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Last updated on 2.3.2009