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Jack Houston’s Editorials in the OBU Bulletin: 27 March 1920

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Out in the Open

The stage is set. The fight is on, and it is in the open. Lloyd George calls on the people to unite against labor. His master and colleague, Winston Spencer Churchill, takes up the challenge, first thrown to labor by Lloyd George, immediately accepted by Arthur Henderson and makes the first skirmish to straighten out the lines of battle.

Ever since the formation of civilized society the economic system, the means by which civilized people have been fed, and all the institutions of society have been based on privilege. There have been master and ruling classes on the one hand and slaves, serfs, free laborers—that is laborers freed from property in the means of life—on the other hand.

The coercion of slaves was frank and bold; the spear and the sword and the lash were ever in evidence. Then came the palaverer. He was cheaper than an army.

For many centuries the palaverer, in priestly institutionalized garb performed his work passing well. But of late, in ever increasing numbers, the subject class has been escaping from the spells of the magic which these four flushers had ever on tap.

The discipline of the machine had done its work so well that magic can no longer read into the relations of master and slave any other qualities than those of the actually existing relations. The master is master; the slave is slave; the owner of the means of production is master; the worker is slave. The master dictates; the slave obeys.

The historic struggle, the class struggle, comes out into the open with a definite stage setting. It is the day of democracy. The palaverer would long ago have been out of a job had democracy not been conceded, so democracy was conceded.

To carry on under the completive system the slave had to be educated in technology. It was the work of the palaverer—and it was his greatest achievement—to keep the technologically educated slave ignorant of his real position as the mudsill of human society.

It was done chiefly through appeals to loyalty. Loyalty to ones country was so preached that the slave imputed to himself a sharing of the glories and triumphs of his masters. Always the palaverer had to find moral justification for the aggressions of his national unity. Thus morality and loyalty under the guise of patriotism went hand in hand.

The war finally stripped the gauze from off the face of the picture. Under the camouflage of a fight on the democratic field the war is on. The historic rules of the game will be in evidence again as moral sanctions. The war is to the knife and the knife to the hilt.

Churchill first shows that the workers can’t win and then that if they do win civilization will go smash and that the workers could not make good anyhow, but still he is compelled to promise to play the game fair according to the rules. We quote:

“At the same time, let me make it perfectly clear to you that the matter is one which rests in the hands of the British electorate. The people have their own destiny in their hands. As they decide, so shall it be. The Socialist party have every right, under the constitution, to work night and day to win the confidence of the electorate and obtain a majority at the poll. That is their right and we do not grudge it them. We do not propose to interrupt their meetings; we do not propose to impede their discussions. (Laughter.) On the contrary, we desire them to have every fair and full opportunity of pursuing their campaign of trying to educate or instruct those of their fellow men who like their view. We also have our rights. And our rights are to take every legitimate step in fair and hard political controversy to warn the country against their unwise policies, and to defeat what we regard as their premature ambitions. (Cheers.)”

Meantime, in Winnipeg, the master class is playing the game on another field and the democratic rules are honored in the breach only and not in the observances. Here Churchill’s rules are declared to be without validity, authenticity or authority.

Prof. Leacock and the Working Class

Professor Leacock, who recently presided at a public meeting of McGill University Economic Club of Montreal, several times jokingly lamented the fact that a carpenter in New York makes more money than a university professor and repeatedly asked the Socialists present for a definition of their conception of the term: “Working class,” maintaining that university professors are workers, too, and underpaid ones.

According to working class economies: “Labor produces all wealth.”

That is to say, every commodity that goes on the market is produced by the combined efforts of the workers. The workmen in return for their labor get wages, while the articles they make belong to the man they work for and are sold on the market at their value. The difference between the wages the workers get and the price of the commodity which the owners of the industries get we call: “Surplus value.”

Part of this surplus is paid through the banks to other persons for the loan of their money for investment in industrial enterprises, or the bank lends out money for a certain return to people who wish to start new industries or businesses. This part of the surplus we call: “Interest”.

Another part of the surplus goes to owners of land where the factories and the shops are located wither as a yearly payment or once and for all as a purchase or it is through the banks for “interest” lent to people to build houses for other people to pay to live in. This second part of the surplus we call: “Rent.”

The remaining part of the surplus goes to the owners of the industries “pro persona” and this third part we call: “Profit.”

Part of this profit the industrial capitalist again invests in raw materials, new and improved machinery and wages. This “money invested in industries to make more money” we call: “Capital”

Of the remaining part of his profit the capitalist pays his office staff for helping to keep track of the commodities thereby preventing waste and theft. He also pays the people who take part in the selling of the commodities in order to have distribution on the competitive market efficient and without delay. While the office staff is paid a monthly or semi-monthly salary, those who help in the distribution are generally working on a percentage basis, or in the case of the traveling salesman both.

After the industrial capitalist has paid his office staff and his salesmen has laid off enough capital for the improvement and continued running of his industry, he divides the remaining part between his stockholders, that is, those people who from the start helped to furnish “capital” for the industry, in short, those who laid out money for buying machinery, raw materials and labor power.

On these three, the personifications of “rent,” “interest,” and “profit,” are levied the taxes of the community for schools the upkeep of law and order and the whole political and military machinery of our day.

These three always stick together when there is any danger for the surplus to be diminished, namely when the workers who produce the surplus want more wages. If a raise in wages is brought about, it necessarily has to be paid out of the surplus—there is nowhere else to take it from. In such troubled times they lean on the sympathy of the teachers, the middlemen, the office staff, the university students, the officials of all descriptions, in short, the “public,” that is the whole respectable crowd who in an industrial community live on the surplus produced by the workers.

But when it does happen that we workers, through organization and through scarcity of labor get ahead in the game and a New York bricklayer gets more money than a university professor, the gentlemen representing “rent,” “interest,” and “profit” in order to suffer as little as possible themselves, try to economize on those who next to the workers are right under their control, namely, the salaried people, from the professor to the bank clerks and the civic employees.

Another feature of the capitalist society that directly influences the pay envelope of the educators is that capitalist society is no longer advancing, but declining. The ordinary school teacher’s education is based on the fact that they are to train slaves; their sole function is to prepare the children of the workers with just enough knowledge and patriotic duty to carry on the work and the wars of the nation.

When the Bourgeoisie were advancing, it** depended for its advancement on the diffusion of a certain kind of knowledge, particularly the natural sciences, historical researches and political economy, and it produced men like Newton, Helvetius, Linnaeus, Cuvier, Voltaire, Kant, and a host of others, whose names will always stand like sparkling stars over the long, long night of capitalist exploitation.

Capitalist society today depends only on technological knowledge for its existence, and therefore we see that the modern countries have a tendency for cutting down on Latin and the higher mathematics and introduce living languages and a more practical business education.

The universities are becoming mere ornaments, whose professors are kept to diffuse the knowledge of the past and not to draw new conclusions that inevitably would be detrimental to the capitalist state of affairs, and those men inside the universities who have done this soon have found themselves ousted.

The working class today is the advancing class and therefore, the class that is looking towards and acquiring advanced knowledge and advanced conclusions but they do not look to the Bourgeoisie universities for their enlightenment, but are building their own schools and their own press to spread those modern sciences that are essential in the forward movement of the working class.

As far as the definition “working class” goes, let us point out that at the time of Marx it embraced all that performed useful functions in society, but that today when the job is about to be done, the definition “working class” in a revolutionary sense is narrowing down to mean only those that do the essential work that goes to feed, clothe and shelter the nation, in other words those that produce the surplus.

In the final analysis it is this element upon whom the historical mission rests of bringing about an industrial democracy.

Unless Professor Leacock possesses specific knowledge which is essential under any circumstances to keep the wheels of industry moving we cannot see that his claim to belong to the working class holds good.

The Obligation to Ratify

The Hon. J. C. Doherty says in the House of Commons that there are no obligations to ratify the convention on labor adopted by the Peace Treaty and the League of Nations. The Hon. Doherty is jake. Also, so far as labor in concerned, it doesn’t matter a hang whether the convention is ratified or is not ratified. There is no obligation on greedy bosses to accept its provisions.

The Free Press, smearing the whole subject with its usual slime of hypocrisy, says: “The mere fact that there is no express stipulation in the Labor Clauses demanding ratification of the convention does not mean that there is no obligation, it merely conveys it from the legal to the moral sphere of conduct.”

Sammy Gompers, Paddy Draper, Gus Francke, and a whole bunch of government cooperators were in on this convention. They had no mandate from labor as to what labor demanded. Labor nowhere was consulted as to what labor wanted and the ruthless suppression of labor in every country by the capitalist governments gives us a lead as to what to expect from these governments in the future.

Labor never obtained anything from the ruling, governing classes except what it won by fighting for it on the industrial field. Being ruling and governing classes, the industrial capitalists are using the powers of the state to sit on the lid. The workers therefore must be wise as serpents and harmless as doves, so long as the capitalist state has the militant power to coerce labor and the determination to attend to the job.

German Counter-Revolution

The counter revolution which has taken place in Germany does not bear any earmarks of being a lasting one. The only feasible way in which the military party could ‘com back’ and make good would be to do as the military class has done in Soviet Russia. Recognize the working class as the future dominant class and unreservedly place itself at their disposition. There appears to be no likelihood that this is the case in Germany.

Rather it seems as if the counter revolutionary forces have taken advantage of the weakness of the Ebert government, the prestige of which was never great among the German people on account of the sad mess that government had to clean up left as a heritage by the former militarists. Now that the Social-Demokrati has signed a humiliating peace the military parties try to get back into power on the plea that the Social Demokrati signed upon.

The position of the Social-Demokrati in Germany has been weak due to a multitude of causes of long standing and over which the party had no immediate control.

Chief of these has been the enormous political power which the Social Demodrati possessed. This power was a blessing before the revolution, after the revolution it proved a hindrance.

According to Engels, the political state “dies out.” It did not “die out” in Germany during the revolution for the simple reason that the Social Demokrati with its great political representation had invigorated it. The Social Demokrati possessed so much property, had so many political representatives, were so would up in and with the political state, that the last suggestion they would entertain would be to let it “die out.” The political movement of the working class in Germany prevented the state from “dying out” during the revolution; it will now die hard.

When the Spartacans and Communists tried to organize the German workers on a Soviet system they found out that their bitterest enemies were Ebert and Noske, who wanted this transformation done by parliamentary means. Ebert and Noske had their day. Now the counter revolutionaries have theirs. After them either hopeless confusion or else the Soviet.

The German workers had built up a great Socialist movement. Its strength consisted in that it was not Marxian; it could not, as the land lay, be Marxian and be great at the same time. It catered to the middle classes and like the working class movement in all countries when it commences was as much for reforms as for the overthrow of the capitalist system. With the success of this movement its political character was enlarged and its revolutionary trimmed. The workers were drilled in capturing the state. They did. With Ebert and Noske as leaders, the German workers succeeded in capturing the capitalist political state, but after they got hold of the instrument they could not play it. Now the counter revolutionaries have got hold of the state, and they most likely will not be able to play it either.

All of which gives the revolutionary worker an idea that Engels was right, profoundly right, in his observation about the political state.

It dies out, because it is no longer in contact with the existing forms of wealth production. Those who should have been interested in seeing it die out have by the vicissitudes of events been made the prolongers of its life. And a new hard internal struggle is at hand for the German workers until they learn that the capture of the political state is not the whole aim and object of working class emancipation.

Page revised: 3 August 2013

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