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V. Grey

Shop Talks on Socialism

Workers Produce All Wealth

(20 July 1946)

From The Militant, Vol. X No. 29, 20 July 1946, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The wealth of the rich is made up entirely of surplus values produced by the poor. All profits, rents, interest, dividends, etc., are produced by the working people. They all come from the surplus over and above their own food, clothing and shelter, which workers also produce.

For one rich man there are many poor. And so, the argument is often heard that none of us would be much better off if all the wealth in the world were divided “evenly.”

The Woolworth millions were made from billions of five- and ten-cent purchases. The labor of thousands of stock-girls and stock-handlers was necessary to transfer this fortune into the Woolworth hands. It does take many workers to make one capitalist, and many small contributors of surplus value to make one huge capital. Why all the fuss about the ten, twenty or thirty dollars a week that each worker gives his capitalist in profits? That ten, twenty or thirty dollars would not make the worker rich. Why should we socialists write books, organize parties, and spend our lives in the effort to abolish this system for just a matter of ten, twenty or thirty dollars a week more income?

Of course, even this small amount of extra money would make a tremendous difference in the worker’s life. Some of the people who got well-paid jobs during the war managed to get out of debt for the first time in their lives. That was something!

But it is still not living as human beings should – to ride flivvers when fine cars can be made, or to live in tumbledown houses when modern insulated, air-conditioned homes can be provided. If the rich can live in luxurious homes today, why should not the poor have comfortable homes tomorrow? But an extra few dollars a week would not accomplish this for the worker.

The whole point is that Socialism would not just divide up the wealth, but would increase the production in order to divide up the things that are produced.

There were 45 billion dollars in corporation profits during the war. This would go pretty far toward buying groceries if the working people had it. But it would still be only a drop in the bucket compared to the more than 300 billion dollars worth of war goods that was produced. The workers produced food, clothing and shelter – such as they were – for themselves, and instead of producing nice things and luxuries besides, they made 300 million dollars worth of smoke.

Profits alone do not reveal how great a surplus product is produced. The example of the war production proves that. And what is even more important, war production figures do not fully reveal how great a surplus can be produced. For the profit system has its slack times when things cannot be sold, and workers cannot be put to work creating surplus values – or any values at all.

Had there been no war, there could never have been all the production there was – under capitalism. Unemployment would have been tremendous. Only the war could put capitalism to work. And yet if peacetime goods could have been produced if only to the same extent as the goods of war, what a wonderful age we would all have said it was!

We produced 300 billion dollars worth of materials over and above our own necessities and the capitalists’ luxuries. Three hundred billion hours of working time were spent making things to go up in smoke.

Suppose now, that we could have spent those hours making the things to make life better instead of worse. Suppose the factory doors are flung open for the poor to enter and make what their hearts desire. Would anyone go ragged or hungry? Not in the whole world. In fact we all could live like human beings.

(Next week: How much is Three Hundred Billion?)

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