By Daniel De Leon
What you now stand in need of, aye, more than of bread, is the knowledge of a few elemental principles of political economy and of sociology. Be not frightened at the words. It is only the capitalist professors who try to make them so difficult of understanding that the very mentioning of them is expected to throw the workingman into a palpitation of the heart. The subjects are easy of understanding.
The first point that a workingman should be clear upon is this: What is the source of the wages he receives; what is the source of the profits his employer lives on? The following dialogue is not uncommon:
Workingman: “Do I understand you rightly, that you Socialists want to abolish the capitalist class?”
Socialist: “That is what we are after.”
Workingman: “You are!? Then I don’t want any of you. Why, even now my wages are small; even now I can barely get along. If you abolish the capitalist I’ll have nothing; there will be nobody to support me.”
Who knows how many workingmen in this hall are typified by the workingman in this dialogue!
When, on payday, you reach out your horny, “unwashed” hand, it is empty. When you take it back again, your wages are on it. Hence the belief that the capitalist is the source of your living, that he is your bread-giver, your supporter. Now that is an error, an optic illusion.
If early in the morning you go on top of some house and look eastward, it will seem to you that the sun moves and that you are standing still. Indeed, that was at one time the general and accepted belief. But it was an error, based upon an optic illusion. So long as that error prevailed the sciences could hardly make any progress. Humanity virtually stood stock still. Not until the illusion was discovered, and the error overthrown, not until it was ascertained that things were just the other way, that the sun stood still, and that it was our planet that moved at a breakneck rate of speed, was any real progress possible.
So likewise with this illusion about the source of wages. You cannot budge, you cannot move one step forward unless you discover that, in this respect also, the fact is just the reverse of the appearance: that, not the capitalist, but the workingman, is the source of the worker’s living; that it is not the capitalist who supports the workingman, but the workingman who supports the capitalist; that it is not the capitalist who gives bread to the workingman, but the workingman who gives himself a dry crust, and sumptuously stocks the table of the capitalist.
This is a cardinal point in political economy; and this is the point I wish first of all to establish in your minds. Now, to the proof.
Say that I own $100,000. Don’t ask me where I got it. If you do, I would have to answer you in the language of all capitalists that such a question is un-American. You must not look into the source of this, my “original accumulation”. It is un-American to pry into such secrets. Presently I shall take you into my confidence. For the present I shall draw down the blinds, and keep out your un-American curiosity. I have $100,000, and am a capitalist.
Now I may not know much; no capitalist does; but know a few things, and among them is a little plain arithmetic. I take a pencil and put down on a sheet of paper, “$100,000.” Having determined that I shall need at least $5,000 a year to live with comfort, I divide the $100,000 by $5,000; the quotient is 20. My hair then begins to stand on end. The 20 tells me that, if I pull $5,000 annually out of $100,000, these are exhausted during that term. At the beginning of the 21st year I shall have nothing left.
“Heaven and earth, I would then have to go to work if I wanted to live!”
No capitalist relishes that thought. He will tell you, and pay his politicians, professors and political parsons, to tell you, that “labor is honorable.” He is perfectly willing to let you have that undivided honor, and will do all he can that you may not be deprived of any part of it; but, as to himself, he has for work a constitutional aversion. The capitalist runs away from work like the man bitten by a mad dog runs away from water.
I want to live without work on my $100,000 and yet keep my capital untouched. If you ask any farmer, he will tell you that if he invests in a Durham cow she will yield him a supply of 16 quarts a day, but, after some years, the supply goes down; she will run dry; and then a new cow must be got. But I, the capitalist, aim at making my capital a sort of $100,000 cow, which I shall annually be able to milk $5,000 out of, without her ever running dry.
I want, in short, to perform the proverbially impossible feat of eating my cake, and yet having it. The capitalist system performs that feat for me. How?
I go to a broker. I say, Mr. Broker, I have $100,000. I want you to invest that for me. I don’t tell him that I have a special liking for New Bedford mills’ stock; I don’t tell him I have a special fancy for railroad stock; I leave the choosing with him. The only direction I give him is to get the stock in such a corporation as will pay the highest dividend. Mr. Broker has a list of all of these corporations, your New Bedford corporations among them, to the extent that they may be listed. He makes the choice, say, of one of your mills right here in this town.
I hire a vault in a safe deposit company, and I put my stock into it. I lock it up, put the key in my pocket, and I go and have a good time. If it is too cold in the north I go down to Florida. If it is too hot there I go to the Adirondack Mountains. Occasionally I take a spin across the Atlantic and run the gauntlet of all the gambling dens in Europe. I spend my time with fast horses and faster women. I never put my foot inside the factory that I hold stock in; I don’t even come to the town in which it is located, and yet, lo and behold, a miracle takes place!
Those of you versed in Bible lore surely have read or heard about the miracle that God performed when the Jews were in the desert and about to die of hunger. The Lord opened the skies and let manna come. But the Jews had to get up early in the morning, before the sun rose; if they overslept themselves the sun would melt the manna, and they would have nothing to eat. They had to get up early, and go out, and stoop down and pick up the manna and put it in baskets and take it to their tents and eat it.
With the appearance of the manna on earth the miracle ended. But the miracles that happen in this capitalist system of production are so wonderful that those recorded in the Bible don’t hold a candle to them. The Jews had to do some work, but I, stock-holding capitalist, need do no work at all. I can turn night into day, and day into night. I can lie flat on my back all day and all night; and every three months my manna comes down to me in the shape of dividends. Where does it come from? What does the dividend represent?
In the factory of which my broker bought stock, workmen, thousands of them, were at work; they have woven cloth that has been put upon the market to the value of $7,000; out of the $7,000 that the cloth is worth my wage workers receive $2,000 in wages, and I receive the $5,000 as profits or dividends. Did I, who never put my foot inside of the mill; did I, who never put my foot inside of New Bedford; did I, who don’t know how a loom looks; did I, who contributed nothing whatever toward the weaving of that cloth; did I do any work whatever toward producing those $5,000 that came to me? No man with brains in his head instead of sawdust can deny that those $7,000 are exclusively the product of the wage workers in that mill. Out of the wealth thus produced by them alone, they get $2,000 in wages, and I, who did nothing at all, I get the $5,000.
The wages these workers receive represent wealth that they have themselves produced; the profits that the capitalist pockets represent wealth that the wage workers produced, and that the capitalist, does what? — let us call things by their names — that the capitalist steals from them.
You may ask: But is that the rule, is not that illustration an exception? Yes, it is the rule; the exception is the other thing.
The leading industries of the United States are today stock concerns, and thither will all others worth mentioning move. An increasing volume of capital in money is held in stocks and shares. The individual capitalist holds stock in a score of concerns in different trades, located in different towns, too many and too varied for him even to attempt to run. By virtue of his stock, he draws his income from them; which is the same as saying that he lives on what the workingmen produce but are robbed of. Nor is the case at all essentially different with the concerns that have not yet developed into stock corporations.
Again, you may ask: The conclusion that what such stockholders live on is stolen wealth because they evidently perform no manner of work is irrefutable, but are all stockholders equally idle and superfluous? Are there not some who do perform some work? Are there not “directors”?
There are “directors,” but these gentlemen bear a title much like those “generals” and “majors” and “colonels” who now go about, and whose general ship, majorship and colonelship consisted in securing substitutes during the war.
These “directors” are simply the largest stockholders, which is the same as to say that they are the largest sponges; their directorship consists only in directing conspiracies against rival “directors,” in bribing legislatures, executives and judiciaries, in picking out and hiring men out of your midst to serve as bellwethers, that will lead you, like cattle, to the capitalist shambles, and tickle you into contentment and hopefulness while you are being fleeced. The court decisions removing responsibility from the “directors” are numerous and increasing; each such decision establishes, from the capitalist government’s own mouth, the idleness and superfluousness of the capitalist class.
These “directors,” and the capitalist class in general, may perform some “work,” they do perform some “work,” but that “work” is not of a sort that directly or indirectly aids production, any more than the intense mental strain and activity of the “work” done by the pickpocket is directly or indirectly productive.
Finally, you may ask: No doubt the stockholder does no work, and hence lives on the wealth we produce; no doubt these “directors” have a title that only emphasizes their idleness by a swindle, and, consequently, neither they are other than sponges on the working class; but did not your own illustration start with the supposition that the capitalist in question had $100,000, is not his original capital entitled to some returns?
This question opens an important one; and now I shall, as I promised you, take you into my confidence; I shall raise the curtain which I pulled down before the question, Where did I get it? I shall now let you pry into my secret.
Whence does this original capital, or “original accumulation,” come? Does it grow on the capitalist like hair on his face, or nails on his fingers and toes? Does he secrete it as he secretes sweat from his body? Let me take one illustration of many.
Before our present Governor, the Governor of New York was Levi Parsons Morton. The gentleman must be known to all of you. Besides having been Governor of the Empire State, he was once Vice President of the nation, and also at one time our Minister to France. Mr Morton is a leading “gentleman”; he wears the best of broadcloth; his shirt bosom is of spotless white; his nails are trimmed by manicurists; he uses the elitest language; he has front pews in a number of churches; he is a pattern of morality, law and order; and he is a multimillionaire capitalist. How did he get his start millionaire-ward? Mr. Morton being a Republican, I shall refer you to a Republican journal, the New York Tribune, for the answer of this interesting question. The Tribune of the day after Mr. Morton’s nomination for Governor in 1894 gave his biography.
There we are informed that Mr. Morton was born in New Hampshire of poor parents; he was industrious, he was clever, he was pushing, and he settled, a poor young man, in New York City, where in 1860, mark the date, he started a clothing establishment; then, in rapid succession, we are informed that he failed, and started a bank!
A man may start almost any kind of a shop without a cent. If the landlord gave him credit for the rent, and the brewer, the shoe manufacturer, the cigar manufacturer, etc., etc., give him credit for the truck, he may start a saloon, a shoe shop, a cigar shop, etc., etc., without any cash, do business and pay off his debt with the proceeds of his sales. But there is one shop that he cannot start in that way. That shop is the banking shop. For that he must have cash on hand. He can no more shave notes without money than he can shave whiskers without razors.
Now, then, the man who just previously stood up before a notary public and swore “So help him, God,” he had no money to pay his creditors, immediately after, without having in the meantime married an heiress, has money enough to start a bank on! Where did he get it?
Read the biographies of any of our founders of capitalist concerns by the torchlight of this biography, and you will find them all to be essentially the same, or suggestively silent upon the doings of our man during the period that he gathers his “original accumulation.” You will find that “original capital” to be the child of fraudulent failures and fires, of high-handed crime of some sort or other, or of the sneaking crime of appropriating trust funds, etc. With such “original capital” — gotten by dint of such “cleverness,” “push” and “industry” as a weapon, the “original” capitalist proceeds to fleece the working class that has been less “industrious,” “pushing” and “clever” than he. If he consumes all his fleecings, his capital remains of its original size in his hands, unless some other gentleman of the road, gifted with greater “industry,” “push” and “cleverness” than he, comes around and relieves him of it; if he consume not the whole of his fleecings, his capital moves upward, million-ward.
The case is proved. Labor alone produces all wealth. Wages are that part of labor’s own product that the workingman is allowed to keep. Profits are the present and running stealings perpetrated by the capitalist upon the workingman from day to day, from week to week, from month to month, from year to year. Capital is the accumulated past stealings of the capitalist, cornerstoned upon his “original accumulation.”
Who of you before me fails now to understand, or would still deny that, not the capitalist supports the workingman, but the workingman supports the capitalist; or still holds that the workingman could not exist without the capitalist? If any there be, let him raise his hand and speak up now. None? Then I may consider this point settled, and shall move on.
The class struggle
The second point, on which it is absolutely necessary that you be clear, is the nature of your relation, as working people, to the capitalist in this capitalist system of production. This point is an inevitable consequence of the first.
You have seen that the wages you live on and the profits the capitalist riots in are the two parts into which is divided the wealth that you produce. The workingman wants a larger and larger share. So does the capitalist. A thing cannot be divided into two shares so as to increase the share of each.
If the workingman produces, say, $4 worth of wealth a day, and the capitalist keeps 2, there are only 2 left for the workingman. If the capitalist keeps 3, there is only 1 left for the workingman. If the capitalist keeps three and a half, there is only half left for the workingman. Inversely, if the workingman pushes up his share from one-half to 1, there are only 3 left to the capitalist. If the workingman secures 2, the capitalist will be reduced to 2. If the workingman push still onward and keep 3, the capitalist will have to put up with 1.
And if the workingman makes up his mind to enjoy all that he produces, and keep all the 4, the capitalist will have to go to work.
These plain figures upset the theory about the workingman and the capitalist being brothers.
Capital — meaning the capitalist class — and labour have been portrayed by capitalist illustrated papers as Chang and Eng. The Siamese Twins were held together by a piece of flesh. Wherever Chang went, Eng was sure to go. If Chang was happy, Eng’s pulse throbbed harder. If Chang caught cold, Eng sneezed in chorus with him. When Chang died, Eng followed suit within five minutes.
Do we find that to be the relation of the workingman and the capitalist? Do you find that the fatter the capitalist, the fatter also grows the workingmen? Is not your experience rather that the wealthier the capitalist, the poorer are the workingmen? That the more magnificent and prouder the residences of the capitalist, the dingier and humbler become those of the workingmen? That the happier the life of the capitalist’s wife, the greater the opportunities of his children for enjoyment and education, the heavier becomes the cross borne by the workingmen’s wives, while their children are crowded more and more from the schools and deprived of the pleasures of childhood? Is that your experience, or is it not?
The pregnant point that underlies these pregnant facts is that:
Between the working class and the capitalist class, there is an irrepressible conflict, a class struggle for life. No glib-tongued politician can vault over it, no capitalist professor or official statistician can argue it away; no capitalist parson can veil it; no labour fakir can straddle it; no “reform” architect can bridge it over. It crops up in all manner of ways, like in this strike, in ways that disconcert all the plans and all the schemes of those who would deny or ignore it. It is a struggle that will not down, and must be ended, only by either the total subjugation of the working class, or the abolition of the capitalist class.
Thus you perceive that the theory on which your “pure and simple” trade organizations are grounded, and on which you went into this strike, is false. There being no “common interests,” but only hostile interests, between the capitalist class and the working class, the battle you are waging to establish “safe relations” between the two is a hopeless one.
Put to the touchstone of these undeniable principles the theory upon which your “pure and simple” trade organizations are built, and you will find it to be false; examined by the light of these undeniable principles the road that your false theory makes you travel and the failures that have marked your career must strike you as its inevitable result. How are we to organize and proceed? you may ask. Before answering the question, let me take up another branch of the subject. Its presentation will sweep aside another series of illusions that beset the mind of the working class, and will, with what has been said, give us a sufficient sweep over the ground to lead us to the right answer.
Let us take a condensed page of the country’s history. For the sake of plainness, and forced to it by the exigency of condensation, I shall assume small figures.
Place yourselves back a sufficient number of years with but 10 competing weaving concerns in the community. How the individual 10 owners came by the “original accumulations” that enabled them to start as capitalists you now know. Say that each of the 10 capitalists employs 10 men; that each man receives $2 a day, and that the product of each of the 10 sets of men in each of the 10 establishments is worth $40 a day. You know now also that it is out of these $40 worth of wealth, produced by the men, that each of the 10 competing capitalists takes the $20 that he pays the 10 men in wages, and that out of that same $40 worth of wealth he takes the $20 that he pockets as profits. Each of these 10 capitalists makes, accordingly, $120 a week.
This amount of profits, one should think, should satisfy our 10 capitalists. It is a goodly sum to pocket without work. Indeed, it may satisfy some, say most of them. But if for any of many reasons it does not satisfy any one of them, the whole string of them is set in commotion.
“Individuality” is a deity at whose shrine the capitalist worships, or affects to worship. In point of fact, capitalism robs of individuality, not only the working class, but capitalists themselves. The action of any one of the lot compels action by all; like a row of bricks, the dropping of one makes all the others drop successively.
Let us take No. 1. He is not satisfied with $120 a week. Of the many reasons he may have for that, let’s take this: He has a little daughter; eventually, she will be of marriageable age; whom is he planning to marry her to? Before the public, particularly before the workers, he will declaim on the “sovereignty” of our citizens, and declare the country is stocked with nothing but “peers.” In his heart, though, he feels otherwise. He looks even upon his fellow capitalists as plebeians; he aspires at a prince, a duke, or at least a count for a son-in-law; and in visions truly reflecting the vulgarity of his mind he beholds himself the grandfather of prince, duke or count grandbrats. To realize this dream he must have money; princes, etc., are expensive luxuries. His present income, $120 a week, will not buy the luxury. He must have some more.
To his employees he will recommend reliance on heaven; he himself knows that if he wants more money it will not come from heaven, but must come from the sweat of his employees’ brows.
As all the wealth produced in his shop is $40 a day, he knows that, if he increases his share of $20 to $30, there will be only $10 left for wages. He tries this. He announces a wage reduction of 50 per cent.
His men spontaneously draw themselves together and refuse to work; they go on strike.
What is the situation? In those days it needed skill, acquired by long training, to do the work; there may have been corner loafers out of work, but not weavers; possibly at some great distance there may have been weavers actually obtainable, but in those days there was neither telegraph nor railroad to communicate with them; finally, the nine competitors of No. 1, having no strike on hand, continued to produce, and thus threatened to crowd No. 1 out of the market. Thus circumstanced, No. 1 caves in. He withdraws his order of wage reduction.
“Come in,” he says to his striking workmen, “let’s make up; labour and capital are brothers; the most loving of brothers sometimes fall out; we have had such a falling out; it was a slip; you have organized yourselves in a union with a $2 a day wage scale; I shall never fight the union; Il love it, come back to work.” And the men did. Thus ended the first strike.
The victory won by the men made many of them feel bold. At their first next meeting they argued: “The employer wanted to reduce our wages and got left; why may not we take the hint and reduce his profits by demanding higher wages; why should we not lick him in an attempt to resist our demand for more pay?”
But the labour movement is democratic. No one man can run things. At that union meeting the motion to demand higher pay is made by one member, another must second it; amendments, and amendments to the amendments, are put with the requisite seconders; debate follows; points of order are raised, ruled on, appealed from and settled; in the meantime it grows late, the men must be at work early the next morning, the hour to adjourn arrives, and the whole matter is left pending. Thus much for the men.
Now for the employer. He locks himself up in his closet. With clenched fists and scowl on brow, he gnashes his teeth at the victory of his “brother” labor, its union and its union regulations. And he ponders. More money he must have and is determined to have. This resolution is arrived at with the swiftness and directness which capitalists are capable of.
Differently from his men, he is not many, but one. He makes the motion, seconds it himself, puts it, and carries it unanimously. More profits he shall have. But how? Aid comes to him through the mail. The letter carrier brings him a circular from a machine shop. Such circulars are frequent even today. It reads like this:
“Mr. No. 1, you are employing 10 men. I have in my machine shop a beautiful machine with which you can produce, with five men, twice as much as now with 10. This machine does not chew tobacco. it does not smoke.” Some of these circulars are cruel and add: “This machine has no wife who gets sick and keeps it home to attend to her. It has no children who die, and whom to bury it must stay away from work. It never goes on strike. It works and grumbles not. Come and see it.”
Right here let me lock a switch at which not a few people are apt to switch off and be banked. Some may think, “Well, at least that machine capitalist is entitled to his profits; he surely is an inventor.”
A grave error. Look into the history of our inventors, and you will see that those who really profited by their genius are so few that you can count them on the fingers of your hands, and have fingers to spare.
The capitalists either take advantage of the inventor’s stress and buy his invention for a song; the inventor believes he can make his haul with his next invention; but before that is perfected, he is as poor as before, and the same advantage is again taken of him; until finally, his brain power being exhausted, he sinks into a pauper’s grave, leaving the fruit of his genius for private capitalists to grow rich on; or the capitalist simply steals the invention and gets his courts to decide against the inventor.
From Eli Whitney down, that is the treatment the inventor, as a rule, receives from the capitalist class.
Such a case, illustrative of the whole situation, happened recently. The Bonsack Machine Co. discovered that its employees made numerous inventions, and it decided to appropriate them wholesale. To this end, it locked out its men, and demanded of all applicants for work that they sign a contract whereby, in “consideration of employment” they assign to the company all their rights in whatever invention they may make during the term of their employment.
One of these employees, who had signed such a contract, informed the company one day that he thought he could invent a machine by which cigarettes could be held closed by crimping at the ends, instead of pasting. This was a valuable idea; and he was told to go ahead. For six months he worked at this invention and perfected it; and, having during all that time received not a cent in wages or otherwise from the company, he patented his invention himself.
The company immediately brought suit against him in the federal courts, claiming that the invention was its property; and the federal court decided in favour of the company, thus robbing the inventor of his time, his money, of the fruit of his genius, and of his unquestionable rights.
“Shame?” Say not “Shame!” He who himself applies the torch to his own house has no cause to cry “Shame!” when the flames consume it. Say rather, “Natural!”, and smiting your own breasts, say, “Ours the fault!” Having elected into power the Democratic, Republican, Free Trade, Protection, Silver or Gold platforms of the capitalist class, the working class has none but itself to blame if the official lackeys of that class turn against the working class the public powers put into their hands.
The capitalist owner of the machine shop that sends the circular did not make the invention.
To return to No. 1. He goes and sees the machine; finds it to be as represented; buys it; puts it up in his shop; picks out of his 10 men the five least active in the late strike; sets them to work at $2 a day as before; and full of bows and smirks, addresses the other five thus: “I am sorry I have no places for you; I believe in union principles and am paying the union scale to the five men I need; I don’t need you now; good bye. I hope I’ll see you again.” And he means this last as you will presently perceive.
What is the situation now? No. 1 pays, as before, $2 a day, but to only five men; these, with the aid of the machine, now produce twice as much as the 10 did before; their product is now $80 worth of wealth; as only $10 of this goes in wages, the capitalist has a profit of $70 a day, or 250 per cent more. He is moving fast toward his prince, duke or count son-in-law.
Now watch the men whom his machine displaced; their career throws quite some light on the whole question. Are they not “American citizens”? Is not this a “Republic with a Constitution”? Is anything else wanted to get a living? Watch them!
They go to No. 2 for a job; before they quite reach the place, the doors open and five of that concern are likewise thrown out upon the street. What happened there? The “individuality” of No. 2 yielded to the pressure of capitalist development. The purchase of the machine by No. 1 enabled him to produce so much more plentifully and cheaply; if No. 2 did not do likewise, he would be crowded out of the market by No. 1. No. 2, accordingly, also invested in a machine, with the result that five of his men are also thrown out.
These 10 unemployed proceed to No. 3, hoping for better luck there. But what sight is that that meets their astonished eyes? Not five men, as walked out of Nos. 1 and 2, but all No. 3’s 10 have landed on the street; and, what is more surprising yet to them, No. 3 himself is on the street, now reduced to the condition of a workingman along with his former employees. What is it that happened there? In this instance the “individuality” of No. 3 was crushed by capitalist development. The same reason that drove No. 2 to procure the machine rendered the machine indispensable to No. 3. But having, differently from his competitors Nos. 1 and 2, spent all his stealings from the workingmen, instead of saving up some, he is now unable to make the purchase; is, consequently, unable to produce as cheaply as they; is, consequently, driven into bankruptcy, and lands in the class of the proletariat, whose ranks are thus increased.
The now 21 unemployed proceed in their hunt for work, and make the round of the other mills. The previous experiences are repeated. Not only are there no jobs to be had, but everywhere workers are thrown out, if the employer got the machine; and if he did not, workers with their former employers, now ruined, join the army of the unemployed.
What happened in that industry happened in all others. Thus the ranks of the capitalist class are thinned out, and the class is made more powerful, while the ranks of the working class are swelled, and the class is made weaker. This is the process that explains how, on the one hand, your New Bedford mills become the property of ever fewer men; how, according to the census, their aggregate capital runs up to over $14,000,000; how, despite “bad times,” their profits run up to upwards of $1,300,000; how, on the other hand, your position becomes steadily more precarious.
No. 1’s men return to where they started from. Scab they will not. Uninformed upon the mechanism of capitalism, they know not what struck them; and they expect “better times,” just as so many equally uninformed workingmen are expecting today; in the meantime, thinking thereby to hasten the advent of the good times, No. 1’s men turn out the Republican party and turn in the Democratic, turn out the Democratic and turn in the Republican, just as our misled workingmen are now doing, not understanding that, whether they put in or out Republicans, Democrats, Protectionists or Free Traders, Goldbugs or Silverbugs, they are every time putting in the capitalist platform, upholding the social principle that throws them out of work or reduces their wages.
But endurance has its limits. The superintendent of the Pennsylvania Railroad for the Indiana Division, speaking, of course, from the capitalist standpoint, recently said: “Many solutions are being offered for the labor question; but there is just one and no more. It is this: Lay a silver dollar on the shelf, and at the end of a year you have a silver dollar left; lay a workingman on the shelf, and at the end of a month you have a skeleton left.”
“This,” said he, “is the solution of the labor problem.” In short, starve out the workers.
No. 1’s men finally reach that point. Finally that happens that few if any can resist. A man may stand starvation and resist the sight of starving wife and children; but if he has nor wherewith to buy medicine to save the life of a sick wife or child, he loses all control. On the heels of starvation, sickness follow, and No. 1’s men throw to the wind all union principles. They are now ready to do anything to save their dear ones. Cap in hand, they appear before No. 1, the starch taken clean out of them during the period they “lay on the shelf.” They ask for work. They themselves offer to work for $1 a day.
And No. 1, the brother of labor, who but recently expressed devotion to the union, what of him? His eyes sparkle at “seeing again” the men he had thrown out, at their offer to work for less than the men now employed. His chest expands, and, grabbing them by the hand in a delirium of patriotic ecstasy, he says: “Welcome, my noble American citizens. I am proud to see you ready to work and earn an honest penny for your dear wives and darling children. I am delighted to notice that you are not, like so many others, too lazy to work. Let the American eagle screech in honor of your emancipation from the slavery of a rascally union. Let the American eagle wag his tail an extra wag in honor of your freedom from a dictatorial walking delegate. You are my long lost brothers. Go in, my $1-a-day brothers!” and he throws his former $2-a-day brothers heels over head upon the sidewalk.
When the late $2-a-day men have recovered from their surprise, they determine on war. But what sort of war? Watch them closely, and you may detect many a feature of your own in that mirror. “Have we not struck,” argue they, “and beaten this employer once before? If we strike again, we shall again beat him.” But the conditions have wholly changed.
In the first place, there were no unemployed skilled workers during that first strike; now there are; plenty of them, dumped upon the country, not out of the steerage of vessels from Europe, but by the native-born machine.
In the second place, that very machine has to such an extent eliminated skill that, while formerly only the unemployed in a certain trade could endanger the jobs of those at work in that trade, now the unemployed of all trades, virtually the whole army of the unemployed, bear down upon the employed in each. We know of quondam shoemakers taking the jobs of hatters, quondam hatters tailing the jobs of weavers, quondam weavers taking the jobs of cigarmakers, quondam cigarmakers taking the jobs of machinists, quondam farmhands taking the jobs of factory hands, etc., etc., so easy has it become to learn what now needs to be known of a trade.
In the third place, telegraph and railroad have made all of the unemployed easily accessible to the employer.
Finally, different from former days, the competitors have to a great extent consolidated. Here in New Bedford, for instance, the false appearance of competition between the mill owners is punctured by the fact that to a great extent seemingly “independent” mills are owned by one family, as is the case with the Pierce family.
Not, as at the first strike, with their flanks protected, but now wholly exposed through the existence of a vast army of hungry unemployed; not, as before, facing a divided enemy, but now faced by a consolidated mass of capitalist concerns, how different is now the situation of the strikers! The changed conditions brought about changed results; instead of victory, there is defeat; and we have had a long series of them. Either hunger drove the men back to work; or the unemployed took their places; or, if the capitalist was in a hurry, he fetched in the help of the strong arm of the government, now his government.
Principles of sound organisation
We now have a sufficient survey of the field to enable us to answer the question, How shall we organize so as not to fight the same old hopeless battle?
Proceeding from the knowledge that labor alone produces all wealth; that less and less of this, wealth comes to the working class. and more and more of it is plundered by the idle class or capitalist; that this is the result of the working class being stripped of the tool, machine, without which it cannot earn a living; and, finally, that the machine or tool has reached such a state of development that it can no longer be operated by the individual but needs the collective effort of many; proceeding from this knowledge, it is clear that the aim of all intelligent class conscious workingmen must be the overthrow of the system of private ownership in the tools of production because that system keeps them in wage slavery.
Proceeding from the further knowledge of the use made of the government by the capitalist class, and of the necessity that class is under to own the government, so as to enable it to uphold and prop up the capitalist system; proceeding from that knowledge, it is clear that the aim of all intelligent, class conscious workingmen must be to bring the government under the control of their own class.