The Socialist Attitude Towards Machinery 1908
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Machinery, so Mr. Belfort Bax asserts, "has proved the greatest curse mankind has ever suffered under. . . ."
Mr. Belfort Bax again assures us that "the action of the 'Luddites' in destroying machinery, so far from being a mere irrational outburst, the result of popular misapprehension, as the orthodox economists assert, was perfectly reasonable and justifiable."
"But machinery not only," writes Karl Marx in his Capital, "acts as a competitor who gets the better of the workman, and is constantly on the point of making him superfluous. It is also a power inimical to him. . . ."
Again, according to Marx, "In agriculture as in industry the machine employs and enslaves the producer." "In manufacture, he (the workman) is part of a living mechanism. In machinery he is the living appendage of a lifeless mechanism."
The Socialist habitually denounces, as do Mr. Bax, Marx, and others, the use of machinery under the present system, though with Socialist consistency he predicts a vast extension of its use in the Socialist State.
In Industry under Socialism Mrs. Annie Besant foretells a greatly extended use of machinery by the Socialist State. "What we shall probably do will be to instruct all our youth in the principles of mechanics and the handling of machines . . . the skilled workman will be the skilled mechanic, not the skilled printer or bootmaker."
By another Socialist writer, Mr. John Spargo, we are informed: "In the first place, much of this kind of work that is now performed by human labour could be more efficiently done by mechanical means."
The same policy is propounded by innumerable Socialist writers.
The Socialist position in this matter is grotesque indeed. The existing system of society is inveighed against for the reason, amongst others, that it does not provide work for all who need it. Strangely enough, the Socialist State offers as one of its main attractions a diminution in "the tragedy of toil." And machinery, which we are assured by Socialists is a baneful factor at present, is to be the blessed means of securing greater leisure under Socialism.
The Socialist estimate of the effect of machinery upon the labour market is yet another of their false conclusions. Machinery does not diminish employment, but, on the contrary, it actually increases it. It is true, we grant, that in the earlier stages when a new form of machine is laid down it does supersede the manual labour which was previously employed. Experience, however, proves that before long, as the result of the cheaper production, there follows an increased demand for the manufactured article. In this way machinery, so far from permanently displacing labour, has repeatedly proved itself to be the means of providing additional employment.
With regard to machinery we must deal with our point in stages. The first stage is that machinery cheapens the cost of production, and, in the vast majority of cases, consequently increases the demand for the goods.
Mr. A. Maurice Low, in an exceedingly able chapter dealing with the condition of the industrial classes in the United States of America, writes: "One explanation of the greater productivity of the American working-man ... is the greater use of machinery, and it has been shown that only in a country where the rate of wages is high, is it economical to use machinery"
"... The history of American industry affords convincing proof that the use of the most improved types of machinery, and the most highly specialised and best paid labour, results not in increasing the cost, but, on the contrary, in decreasing it."
Again, writes Mr. Maurice Low, "The more extensively machinery enters into manufacturing processes the lower the cost to the consumer. Therefore, machinery increases wages and cheapens production, so that the labourer obtains a double benefit by receiving a greater reward for his labour and having to spend less for the necessaries of life. . . ."
We now reach the next stage. "Cheap goods!" cry the Socialists; "what do they mean but cheap labour?" And into this pitfall Mr. Blatchford tumbles headlong.
"Now cheap goods mean cheap labour, and cheap labour means low wages."
Let us imagine an industry. Manual labour is employed and the question of the introduction of machinery is under consideration. The machinery and its installation is, however, a costly business. Unless, then, the wages that are paid are high, it will, in all probability, not pay the employer to introduce that machinery. Having done so, however, he finds that his output is enormously increased, and the cost pro rata decreased. How is he to create an equivalent, increase in the demand? He arrives at that by cheapening the sale price of his product, which the lower relative cost permits of his doing. Very quickly he finds that a large increase must be made in the numbers he employs for the purpose of meeting the increased demand on the part of the consumer. Had, indeed, such not been the almost universal result of the use of machinery during the last fifty years, what, we wonder, would have been the state of employment when regard is had to the great increase in the population of Great Britain?
An ounce of fact is, we submit, worth a ton of Socialist assertion. The following evidence, given before the American Industrial Commission, shows that cheap labour means high wages.
Owing to American imports of gunny cloth cutting out the Indian manufacturer in his own home market, the manager of a large Calcutta factory travelled to the United States in order to ascertain, if possible, the reason.
On going over a great factory in Brooklyn, U.S.A., the Calcutta manager saw the great looms working with one man to the loom. "How much," he asked, "does that man earn?" "$1.50 a day," was the reply. "Why, the weavers in Calcutta only earn 12.5 cents a day." I do not understand it. How do you explain it?" The American manager replied, "What is the cost of weaving in Calcutta a yard of gunny cloth at 12.5 cents a day?" "2.5 cents a yard", replied the Calcutta manager. The answer of the American manager was: "The cost of weaving on that loom is 1/2 cent a yard." "Well," said the Calcutta manager, suddenly enlightened, "I have come half-way around the world to find out what a d---d fool I have been."
The matter is in no sense one of fiscal controversy. That cheap labour means cheap production is accepted as a fallacy now by both Protectionists and Free Traders in the States. "The cheapest labour is the labour which is the most productive, irrespective of first cost," that is, irrespective of the amount which the artisan receives as wages.
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