The Conquest of Bread/Chapter 8
WAYS AND MEANS
If a society, a city, or a territory, were to guarantee the necessaries of life to its inhabitants (and we shall see how the conception of the necessaries of life can be so extended as to include luxuries), it would be compelled to take possession of what is absolutely needed for production; that is to say—land, machinery, factories, means of transport, etc. Capital in the hands of private owners would be expropriated and returned to the community.
The great harm done by bourgeois society, as we have already mentioned, is not only that capitalists seize a large share of the profits of each industrial and commercial enterprise, thus enabling them to live without working, but that all production has taken a wrong direction, as it is not carried on with a view to securing well-being to all. For this reason we condemn it.
Moreover, it is impossible to carry on mercantile production in everybody's interest. To wish it would be to expect the capitalist to go beyond his province and to fulfil duties that he cannot fulfil without ceasing to be what he is—a private manufacturer seeking his own enrichment. Capitalist organization, based on the personal interest of each individual trader, has given all that could be expected of it to society—it has increased the productive force of work. The capitalist, profiting by the revolution effected in industry by steam, by the sudden development of chemistry and machinery, and by other inventions of our century, has endeavoured in his own interest to increase the yield of work, and in a great measure he has succeeded. But to attribute other duties to him would be unreasonable. For example, to expect that he should use this superior yield of work in the interest of society as a whole, would be to ask philanthropy and charity of him, and a capitalist enterprise cannot be based on charity.
It now remains for society to extend this greater productivity, which is limited to certain industries, and to apply it to the general good. But it is evident that to guarantee well-being to all, society must take back possession of all means of production.
Economists, as is their wont, will not fail to remind us of the comparative well-being of a certain category of young robust workmen, skilled in certain special branches of industry. It is always this minority that is pointed out to us with pride. But is this well-being, which is the exclusive right of a few, secure? To-morrow, maybe, negligence, improvidence, or the greed of their employers, will deprive these privileged men of their work, and they will pay for the period of comfort they have enjoyed with months and years of poverty or destitution. How many important industries—woven goods, iron, sugar, etc.—without mentioning short-lived trades, have we not seen decline or come to a standstill alternately on account of speculations, or in consequence of natural displacement of work, and lastly from the effects of competition due to capitalists themselves! If the chief weaving and mechanical industries had to pass through such a crisis as they have passed through in 1886, we hardly need mention the small trades, all of which come periodically to a standstill.
What, too, shall we say to the price which is paid for the relative well-being of certain categories of workmen? Unfortunately, it is paid for by the ruin of agriculture, the shameless exploitation of the peasants, the misery of the masses. In comparison with the feeble minority of workers who enjoy a certain comfort, how many millions of human beings live from hand to mouth, without a secure wage, ready to go wherever they are wanted; how many peasants work fourteen hours a day for a poor pittance! Capital depopulates the country, exploits the colonies and the countries where industries are but little developed, dooms the immense majority of workmen to remain without technical education, to remain mediocre even in their own trade.
This is not merely accidental, it is a necessity of the capitalist system. In order to remunerate certain classes of workmen, peasants must become the beasts of burden of society; the country must be deserted for the town; small trades must agglomerate in the foul suburbs of large cities, and manufacture a thousand things of httle value for next to nothing, so as to bring the goods of the greater industries within reach of buyers with small salaries. That bad cloth may sell, garments are made for ill-paid workers by tailors who are satisfied with a starvation wage! Eastern lands in a backward state are exploited by the West, in order that, under the capitalist system, workers in a few privileged industries may obtain certain limited comforts of life.
The evil of the present system is therefore not that the "surplus-value" of production goes to the capitalist, as Rodbertus and Marx said, thus narrowing the Socialist conception and the general view of the capitalist system; the surplus-value itself is but a consequence of deeper causes. The evil lies in the possibility of a surplus-value existing, instead of a simple surplus not consumed by each generation; for, that a surplus-value should exist, means that men, women, and children are compelled by hunger to sell their labour for a small part of what this labour produces, and, above all, of what their labour is capable of producing. But this evil will last as long as the instruments of production belong to a few. As long as men are compelled to pay tribute to property holders for the right of cultivating land or putting machinery into action, and the property holder is free to produce what bids fair to bring him in the largest profits, rather than the greatest amount of useful commodities—well-being can only be temporarily guaranteed to a very few, and is only to be bought by the poverty of a section of society. It is not sufficient to distribute the profits realized by a trade in equal parts, if at the same time thousands of other workers are exploited. It is a case of producing the greatest amount of goods necessary to the well-being of all, with the least possible waste of human energy.
This cannot be the aim of a private owner; and this is why society as a whole, taking this view of production as its ideal, will be compelled to expropriate all that enhances well-being while producing wealth. It will have to take possession of land, factories, mines, means of communication, etc., and besides, it will have to study what products will promote general well-being, as well as the ways and means of production.
How many hours a day will man have to work to produce nourishing food, a comfortable home, and necessary clothing for his family? This question has often preoccupied Socialists, and they generally came to the conclusion that four or five hours a day would suffice, on condition, be it well understood, that all men work. At the end of last century, Benjamin Franklin fixed the limit at five hours; and if the need of comfort is greater now, the power of production has augmented too, and far more rapidly.
In speaking of agriculture further on, we shall see what the earth can be made to yield to man when he cultivates it scientifically, instead of throwing seed haphazard in a badly ploughed soil as he mostly does to-day. In the great farms of Western America, some of which cover 30 square miles, but have a poorer soil than the manured soil of civilized countries, only 10 to 15 English bushels per English acre are obtained; that is to say, half the yield of European farms or of American farms in Eastern States. And nevertheless, thanks to machines which enable 2 men to plough 4 English acres a day, 100 men can produce in a year all that is necessary to deliver the bread of 10,000 people at their homes during a whole year.
Thus it would suffice for a man to work under the same conditions for 30 hours, say 6 half-days of five hours each, to have bread for a whole year; and to work 30 half-days to guarantee the same to a family of 5 people.
We shall also prove by results obtained nowadays that if we had recourse to intensive agriculture, less than 6 half-days' work could procure bread, meat, vegetables, and even luxurious fruit for a whole family.
And again, if we study the cost of workmen's dwellings, built in large towns to-day, we can ascertain that to obtain, in a large English city, a detached little house, as they are built for workmen, from 1400 to 1800 half-days' work of 5 hours would be sufficient. As a house of that kind lasts 50 years at least, it follows that 28 to 36 half-days' work a year would provide well-furnished, healthy quarters, with all necessary comfort for a family. Whereas when hiring the same apartment from an employer, a workman pays 75 to 100 days' work per year.
Mark that these figures represent the maximum of what a house costs in England to-day, being given the defective organization of our societies. In Belgium, workmen's cities have been built far cheaper. Taking everything into consideration, we are justified in affirming that in a well-organized society 30 or 40 half-days' work a year will suffice to guarantee a perfectly comfortable home.
There now remains clothing, the exact value of which is almost impossible to fix, because the profits realized by a swarm of middlemen cannot be estimated. Let us take cloth, for example, and add up all the deductions made by landowners, sheep owners, wool merchants, and all their intermediate agents, then by railway companies, mill-owners, weavers, dealers in ready-made clothes, sellers and commission agents, and you will get an idea of what is paid to a whole swarm of capitalists for each article of clothing. That is why it is perfectly impossible to say how many days' work an overcoat that you pay £3 or £4 in a large London shop represents.
What is certain is that with present machinery they no doubt manage to manufacture an incredible amount of goods.
A few examples will suffice. Thus in the United States, in 751 cotton mills (for spinning and weaving), 175,000 men and women produce 2,033,000,000 yards of cotton goods, besides a great quantity of thread. On the average, more than 12,000 yards of cotton goods alone are obtained by a 300 days' work of 91 hours each, say 40 yards of cotton in 10 hours. Admitting that a family needs 200 yards a year at most, this would be equivalent to 50 hours' work, say 10 half-days of 5 hours each. And we should have thread besides; that is to say, cotton to sew with, and thread to weave cloth with, so as to manufacture woollen stuffs mixed with cotton.
As to the results obtained by weaving alone, the official statistics of the United States teach us that in 1870 if workmen worked 13 to 14 hours a day, they made 10,000 yards of white cotton goods in a year; thirteen years later (1886) they wove 30,000 yards by working only 55 hours a week.
Even in printed cotton goods they obtained, weaving and printing included, 32,000 yards in 2670 hours of work a year—say about 12 yards an hour. Thus to have your 200 yards of white and printed cotton goods 17 hours' work a year would suffice. It is necessary to remark that raw material reaches these factories in about the same state as it comes from the fields, and that the transformations gone through by the piece before it is converted into goods are completed in the course of these 17 hours. But to buy these 200 yards from the tradesman, a well-paid workman must give at the very least 10 to 15 days' work of 10 hours each, say 100 to 150 hours. And as to the English peasant, he would have to toil for a month, or a little more, to obtain this luxury.
By this example we already see that by working 50 half-days per year in a well-organized society we could dress better than the lower middle classes do to-day.
But with all this we have only required 60 half-days' work of 5 hours each to obtain the fruits of the earth, 40 for housing, and 50 for clothing, which only makes half a year's work, as the year consists of 300 working-days if we deduct holidays.
There remain still 150 half-days' work which could be made use of for other necessaries of life—wine, sugar, coffee, tea, furniture, transport, etc. etc.
It is evident that these calculations are only approximative, but they can also be proved in another way. When we take into account how many, in the so-called civilized nations, produce nothing, how many work at harmful trades, doomed to disappear, and lastly, how many are only useless middlemen, we see that in each nation the number of real producers could be doubled. And if, instead of every 10 men, 20 were occupied in producing useful commodities, and if society took the trouble to economize human energy, those 20 people would only have to work 5 hours a day without production decreasing. And it would suffice to reduce the waste of human energy at the service of wealthy families, or of those administrations that have one official to every ten inhabitants, and to utilize those forces, to augment the productivity of the nation, to limit work to four or even to three hours, on condition that we should be satisfied with present production.
After studying all these facts together, we may arrive, then, at the following conclusion: Imagine a society, comprising a few million inhabitants, engaged in agriculture and a great variety of industries—Paris, for example, with the Department of Seine-et-Oise. Suppose that in this society all children learn to work with their hands as well as with their brains. Admit that all adults, save women, engaged in the education of their children, bind themselves to work 5 hours a day from the age of twenty or twenty-two to forty-five or fifty, and that they follow occupations they have chosen in any one branch of human work considered necessary. Such a society could in return guarantee well-being to all its members; that is to say, a more substantial well-being than that enjoyed to-day by the middle classes. And, moreover, each worker belonging to this society would have at his disposal at least 5 hours a day which he could devote to science, art, and individual needs which do not come under the category of necessities, but will probably do so later on, when man's productivity will have augmented, and those objects will no longer appear luxurious or inaccessible.