1919 - Capitalist England - Socialist Russia

Published by the Executive Committee of the Communist International (1919)

Workers of the World Unite!

To British Soldiers.

[This document was not translated by me, but I have included it because it is rather interesting. It was issued by the Executive Committee of the newly-formed Communist International, in English, some time in 1919. This preceded the foundation of the CI's British affiliate, the Communist Party of Great Britain, in 1920. It is a short pamphlet which was aimed mainly at British troops on Russian soil during the Allied (imperialist) intervention, at a time when the fortunes of the Soviet republic in the civil war were at their lowest ebb. The author of the text is unknown, but its style clearly reflects the politics and language of pre-Bolshevik British radical socialism. Its almost idyllic depiction of the lives of Russian workers amidst the chaos and economic collapse of the civil war is in itself quite remarkable. - FK.]

Your Government says that it has invaded Russia to crush the menace of Bolshevism which threatens to destroy ordered society and civilisation. It would be laughable were it not so tragic to have these people, whose hands are dripping with the blood of over ten million men, and who are responsible for devastating half Europe, talking about preserving civilisation. But what is this precious civilisation that they so much desire to preserve? What is this Bolshevism that they so much desire to destroy?

Here is a description of "civilised" England and the part you working men play in it, and another of the social order we have started to build in Russia.

The economic and social system prevailing in England to-day is known as capitalism. The dominating features of capitalism are the private ownership of capital, the production of goods for profit and the division of society into two classes, namely, the capitalist class and the working class.

Whose Country?

Although Englishmen speak of England as "our" country, and millions of Englishmen have died or have been mutilated in defence of what they called "their" country, as a matter of fact England does not belong to the whole of the English people, but to a comparative few. How many Englishmen can point to a particular part of the map of England and say "this is mine"? Only a few thousands, and of these the greater number own small plots, the greatest portion of England being divided among a few great landlords.

England is spoken of as a wealthy country. Does that mean that the English people as a whole are well off? By no means. Some are immensely rich, most get a bare living, a large number are degradingly poor. Before the war one eighth of the population owned more than a half of the total wealth of England. On the other hand thirteen millions were always on the borderline of starvation. This discrepancy has been widened during the war owing to the greater concentration of capital into the hands of huge trusts, while many small businesses have been ruined. The war has been for the few a means of making colossal fortunes, while for the many it has meant death and ruin.

The land, factories, mines, railways and shipping, all the means of producing the nation's wealth are owned by the landlord and capitalist class. The great mass of the people own nothing except their muscles and brains, that is, their power to work.

In capitalist England, production is carried on not for the purpose of supplying the needs of the people but for the purpose of sale in order to realise a profit. Only those who have something to sell can get a living. Only those can obtain things who can afford to buy. This is the commercial system, and this is how it works out:- England manufactures enough cotton and woollen goods, for example, to supply all the requirements of the people. But the workers cannot afford to buy all that they require of these commodities. To use the language of commerce, "the home market cannot absorb the home production", and so the capitalist sends his goods where he can sell them. Two-thirds of the annual production of cotton and woollen goods are exported from England every year while the workers who have produced these have to go without them. The same thing applies to boots and many other necessary requirements. If things were produced for use, nobody would spend time in the manufacture of shoddy goods, jerry-built houses, or adulterated food. Commerce is the only purpose of British industry.

The Exploitation of Labour.

The workman has nothing to sell but his labour power. He sells his labour power to an employer for so many hours a day for a certain price, that is, wages. Since one cannot separate labour power from one's body it comes to this, that a workman actually sells himself like a slave. We socialists, call the workers of capitalist countries, "Wage slaves". Wages are determined by what it costs to keep a man and his family. How many working men do you know who can save out of their wages? They may be able to put something by in a good season, but bad seasons come and the savings we gone. It is a fact that in England on the average a working man is not more than two weeks removed from penury.

The capitalist will only buy labour if he can make profit out of it. Just compare the value of the goods you turned out in a day when you were in the factory, and what you received for your work. The difference between the two is the employer's profit. Profit is the result of the unpaid labour of the worker. In capitalist England, the workers are continually robbed of the results of their labour.

The capitalist will compel the worker to work as hard and as long as he can, for as little money as possible. In spite of Factory Acts, inhuman sweating still flourishes in England. The chemical industry in St. Helens and Widnes, Lancashire, the pottery industry of Staffordshire, the clothing industry, nailmaking, slippermaking, artificial flower-making; whole industries in which absolutely inhuman conditions of work and pay exist.

Even in non-sweated trades and through the efforts of the best-organised Trade Unions wages never rise higher than the cost of living. And even this is not secured. In the endeavour to produce as cheaply as possible, the capitalist continually introduces labour-dispensing machinery, which enables him to produce more goods in less time and reduces the standard of skill required. As a result unemployment is continually on the increase, and the places of men are being taken by women and boys. During the war, the engineering industry has been flooded with unskilled labour, and the skilled man now stands the risk of losing his trade.

Capitalism and War.

The immense quantity of goods produced in England which cannot be sold because the workers do not earn enough compels the capitalists to seek markets abroad. They are compelled to seek for undeveloped countries in which to re-invest the profits they have wrung out of the workers at home. Furthermore, the enormous strides which industry has made during the last few decades has created a greater and greater demand for raw materials; like iron ore, cotton, and fuel and lubricating oil. For that reason the government which exists solely to serve the interests of the capitalists, strive to acquire possession or control of territories awaiting development, and rich in raw materials. The capitalists of other countries are in the same position, and the rivalry between the capitalists for the possession of these territories leads to conflicts and war. This war is the direct outcome of this rivalry. It is a war for the possession and control of the rich undeveloped territories like Russia, Mesopotamia, Africa, for the better disposal of the wealth wrung out of the labour of the workers. This can be seen now from the peace terms which are being imposed on Germany.

The Workers' Outlook under Capitalism.

What does capitalism offer the workmen? A life of toil, a bare subsistence. Always the dread fear of the sack. A drab, colourless existence in the slum districts of the towns and, when unable to work any longer, to be thrown on the muck-heap like a sucked lemon. In the army, as well as at home even among capitalists they say "there must be a change". "Things will be different after the war". But with all the plans of reconstruction in the world, if capitalism remains in existence, the worker will still remain subject to the capitalist. There will still be riches and leisure for the few, toil, and poverty for the many. Palaces for the idlers, slums for the workers. Capitalist England can offer its workers nothing but wage slavery.

Bolshevik Russia.

Do you know how the Russian workingman lives? Do you know what sort of society is being slowly created in Russia?

You are told that anarchy is raging in this country. You are told that the Bolshevik government has brought nothing but chaos and disorder to the working population of Russia, who is going to be set free by the allies. What are the facts?

Russia before the Revolution.

In Russia before the Revolution the same system of capitalist exploitation existed as in the rest of Europe. The same hopeless outlook for toil for another person's profit lay before the Russian worker from the cradle to the grave. But the propertied classes in Russia were so corrupted by their parasitical existence, so demoralised by the influence of a semi-Asiatic autocracy and feudalism by which they were surrounded, that they were the first to fall before the united efforts of the working classes. Therefore the collapse of the system of exploitation came in Russia before it came in other lands, and by the Revolution, the Russian working classes were able to acquire complete control over the wealth of the country. Under Tsarism, a few rich manufacturers controlled the production of iron, cotton goods, clothing, etc. In order to make greater profits, they starved their home markets and exported all they could to Asiatic markets. That was why the Tsar wanted to conquer Constantinople; that was why he signed with the Allies secret treaties to partition Turkey and Persia, and carried on plans of conquest, just as the Kaiser did.

Social Ownership in Russia.

Now since the Revolution the Russian working classes have done the only thing that will prevent Imperialist war; the only thing that will free them from wage-slavery, They have made themselves the owners of the industries of the country. Landlordism and capitalism are abolished. The land, factories, mines and railways, all the great means of production are now collectively owned by the whole Russian people and are managed and controlled by and in the interest of the whole people. The general direction of industry in Russia is vested in a body called the Supreme Council of Public Economy. This body is composed of delegates, two thirds of whom are elected by the Trade Unions, and the other third appointed by the government. It is divided into departments for working the mines, the metal industries, the cotton industry, etc. The duties of these departments are to allow raw materials for the factories, distribute orders, fix consumers prices, arrange for transport to markets and so on. Goods are now exported from Russia in exchange for other goods which the Russian people require. The whole population reap the benefit of the exchange because they get what they require. Formerly a clique of capitalists exported goods abroad and sweated their workers at home. Now the workers satisfy the home market first and only export what is really needed for exchange. Everything which the industries produce goes now not to enrich a small parasitical section of the community but the whole community. In each town and district, there are local councils of Public Economy linked up with the supreme body. This system of public management does away with a whole host of middlemen who, in capitalist countries, make huge profits at the expense of the consumers. The whole country is becoming a huge cooperative society, and the working man, instead of slaving to enrich the idle capitalist, creates wealth for the whole community. The worker enjoys the results of his labour, without having to pay tribute to speculators and profiteers. For the first time in history Russia really belongs to the Russian workers.

How the Russian Workers control Industry.

The Russian worker takes a direct part in the management of his industry, He is no longer a slave of another man, but a member of a great community of labour, The workers are organised in Industrial Unions. These are a great improvement on the English Trade Unions in this important respect. Instead of having separate unions for each craft like engineers, patternmakers, steelsmelters, etc., there is one Union for a whole industry as the Metal Workers Union, Textile Workers, etc. All these Industrial Unions are united in the All-Russian Federation of Industrial Unions. This Federation sends representatives to the Supreme Council of Public Economy. There are local Federations of Unions, like the English Trades Councils which are represented on the local Councils of public economy. The workers through this means share in the general management of industry. Two million workers are now organised in Russia in these great Industrial Unions. All this has taken place since the Revolution under the auspices of the Bolsheviks. In every factory the workers elect committees similar to the Shop Stewards Committees in England. These Committees, in conjunction with experts working under their control, actually manage the factory. They take the place of high salaried and dividend-taking managing-directors of capitalist owned industries. There are still some factories which are not yet nationalised. In these there are also Factory Committees which exercise a strict control; and fix the rate of the owners' profit. In Russia we have in fact what in England is only being talked about - control of industry by Labour.

Workers fix the Conditions of Labour.

The Industrial Unions do not have to organise strikes to improve the conditions of labour. Eight hours a day is established by law throughout all industries. The workers themselves through their unions fix the conditions of labour as advantageous as the state of industry can afford. Every factory sends delegates to a general conference of all the factories of that particular industry. This conference, on which also sit technical experts, work out a common rate of wages for each department of the industry. Through these committees the Russian workmen now have the power to decide the conditions under which they will live, the rate of pay, the amount of finished product the labourer can turn out each day without injuring his own health or overstraining himself, under what conditions a man can be discharged and for what offences. A special tribunal, elected by the workers themselves, sit to judge any of their comrades who have been guilty of any misdemeanour against the common welfare. The Russian workman has thus absolute power over the internal affairs of the industry he works in.

Then the conference of the workers of a given industry form special committees for dealing with the workers' general welfare. There is the committee for insurance against accident, sickness and old age. The workman pays a certain percentage of his wages into a general insurance fund, the Soviet government guarantees the rest, and his family is thus safeguarded against all misfortunes. There is the committee for providing the workman with literature, lectures theatres and amusements. The newspapers he reads are not edited b the servants of the capitalists who teach him to look up to rich people and cringe before them. The Russian workman learns to claim his rights from society rather than asking charity from the rich, and he comes to understand that he has duties to society as well as rights and privileges.

Conditions of life in Russia are not yet ideal. We have to undo the work of centuries of Tsarist oppression. That cannot be done in a day. But we have already laid the foundations of a great Industrial Commonwealth. We shall develop the vast wealth of Russia for the whole people. Is this anarchy and chaos? Is the government, which makes this form of society possible, a government against which the English and American workingmen ought to fight? Here is the first attempt in the history of the world to liberate mankind for the full and free exercise of all his natural capacities. Of course it is disquieting to the rich men of England and America, who fear that the workers of their own lands will want to do the same. Therefore they want to wage war upon the Russian Republic to restore their capitalist "law and order". But under their "law and order" the workingman slaves to enrich the idle few for long hours and for sweated wages and his food and clothing are sold to him by speculators who live at his expense.

No! The law and order is here in Russia. The anarchy and chaos is in the capitalist lands of Europe and America.

Comrades, do not be the means of restoring capitalism and landlordism in Russia. Go home and establish Industrial Republics in your own country, and, together we shall form a world wide Co-operative Commonwealth.