Jack Fitzgerald


Source: Socialist Standard, June 1906.
Transcription: Socialist Party of Great Britain.
HTML Markup: Adam Buick
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2016). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit "Marxists Internet Archive" as your source.

The March issue of THE SOCIALIST STANDARD contained a letter sent to one of our comrades by a friend who had gone to Canada to "escape poverty" in the Land of the West, describing the conditions he found existing there for the working class. These facts, which could have been supplemented by the communications received by others of our members, were timely in face of the long depression that has existed in the trade and commerce of this country for the last five years, and which has led to the booming of the theory of emigration as a cure for the poverty and misery existing here. Railway Companies, Shipping Companies and "Free Labour" providers like Mr. Graeme Hunter, have turned many a penny—if not honest, at least useful—by the rush of the workless, and those afraid of being workless, across the sea. Glowing accounts of the country and its prosperity are widely advertised by these interested persons, and the brilliant prospects for the "industrious" worker are dangled before the eyes of the unwary or unthinking like the bunch of carrots before the donkey. When these efforts are not sufficiently successful, then a prominent "Labour Leader" like Mr. Ben Tillett is engaged to travel this country lecturing upon the glorious conditions for the working-class existing in Australia, and it is the truth that these various agencies reach a much larger number of the people than the occasional accounts of the real situation can, under the circumstances, possibly do.

Still the seed sometimes reaches good ground and in response to an enquiry, a few remarks on the general question of emigration may be useful.

The question may be viewed from three different points. Firstly, that of analogy; secondly, the economic conditions in the countries emigrated to; and, thirdly, the reasons for emigrating.

Under the first heading we may say that if emigration as such were a cure, or even a palliation, to any extent worth considering of the poverty of the working class, then Ireland should be the most prosperous country on the planet. For over fifty years her sons and daughters have streamed across the oceans to the continent of the West or to the land down under the Southern Cross, until to-day the population numbers about four and a half millions, while four millions of people have left her shores in that period. With what result ? The working class of Ireland, particularly the agricultural labourers, are even worse off than the workers here ! With such an example at our very doors, we are asked by the smooth-tongued agents of the ruling class to believe that if some of our fellow-workers cross the ocean all will be well with those remaining !

"But," it may be objected "those who went away benefited by so doing." Let us see. The countries usually emigrated to are America, Australia and New Zealand. Although South Africa is sometimes counted, the unsettled conditions still prevailing there—to say nothing of the large number of Chinese—renders it advisable for us to leave this territory out of the present consideration. What are the general conditions prevailing in the countries named ? In essentials, similar to those we have here, that is, capitalism rules there with all its consequences as we know them here. While the standard of living—and wages—are slightly higher in America than here, they are more than counterbalanced by the speeding up and greater driving that exist there and which result in throwing the worker on the scrap heap at an earlier age than occurs here. "Too old at 35" is an intensely real cry in that go-ahead land, and this, coupled with the increasing use of machinery in all industries, thereby dispensing with men or filling their places with women and children, creates an ever increasing army of relatively redundant and, therefore, unemployed workers ; so much so, that America can shew as large a number unemployed, comparatively, as any old country; while the march of Coxey's Army to Washington will still be fresh in the memories of many here. The emigrant thus finds that he has left one set of capitalist conditions to go into a similar set elsewhere.

Australia, as far as its industrial sections are concerned, which are the only sections the mass of the emigrants can exist in, has for years been troubled with the question of poverty and unemployment. At the very moment Mr. Ben Tillett was endeavouring to persuade tbe workers to go to Australia, all the large cities and towns there were discussing "what to do with the unemployed," while the various reports, including both the "Labour" papers and emigrants who have returned, show that the struggle for existence and the prospects thereof, differ in no essential from the same struggle undergone here. "General" Booth's wily scheme to deport some of our unemployed to the region known as "Piliga Scrub," where, as was shown at the time, water scarcely exists and the soil is all sand, totally incapable of producing anything to support life, seems to have been dropped for the present, but may well be borne in mind when the firm of Booth and Sons move again in the matter.

Thus, Australia offers no escape from the conditions of poverty and lack of employment that the emigrant thinks to flee from, but simply alters his position geographically while leaving it economically just as it was.

In New Zealand we have a country about twice the area of Great Britain with a population of just under 800,000. Certain reforms clamoured for here by several parties are in existence there, such as State ownership of the land, Labour Colonies, etc. Yet, with all these "advantages," they are not more successful in dealing with the problem of unemployment and poverty than those in charge of affairs at home. Tom Mann, after spending some time in the colony and travelling in various parts, came to the conclusion that New Zealand was as much in need of Socialism as the Mother Country.

No matter then, in which direction we turn, we find the arguments in favour of emigration fall to the ground when confronted with the facts of the circumstances existing in the countries where the emigrant is urged to go. And this brings us to the third heading—the cause for emigration. The answer of course is poverty or dread of unemployment.

But this is only a surface answer, and in itself asks another question—Why are the workers poor ? The answer to this latter question will contain the solution, of the problem.

It will be admitted, generally, that if a person has a right to stay on any portion of this globe, he has the right to stay in the country where he was born, and before being driven out of that country, it should, at least, be shown that the country is unable to support him—or, rather, allow him to support himself. Can this be shown of England ? Take first the raw material in the shape of land. Is it all occupied, or cultivated, or being worked ? So little so, that millions of acres are uncultivated and large areas are kept for non-productive purposes, siich as game preserves, deer parks, etc. The warehouses and stores are filled with machines and tools ready to be used for the conversion of this raw material into articles for man's use and enjoyment, while large numbers of mechanics are available, nay, anxious to be employed in producing more machines and tools if those existent are not sufficient. Are the means of transport inadequate ? According to the statements of those favouring Railway Nationalisation half the trains run empty now, and while the goods trucks are obsolete and clumsy, they could, even as they are, transport far larger quanties than they do at present.

Many miles of canals have been bought up by the Railway Companies for the purpose of stifling competition and are almost unused,while those still operating are by no means overburdened with traffic. Evidently then, the means of transport, if not ideal, are at least adequate, and here, as with the machines, we have a large supply of workers at hand ready to extend or improve these means of transport should it be decided to act in that direction.

We thus see that there is an abundance of raw material (land), of instruments of production (machines, mills, etc.), of means of transport and of workers to operate all these things, yet we have poverty and misery. Why ? Because all these means of life are owned and controlled by a comparatively small section of Society—the capitalist class.

The workers have no means of living, except by selling their abilities—or power to work, which means themselves—to such members of the ruling class as care to employ them. As the capitalists are only concerned with wringing profits out of the labour of those they employ, which again depends upon their selling the articles produced, it follows that the capitalist will only employ the workers in accordance with the demands of the markets for commodities.

To-day wealth is produced in much larger quantities with relatively fewer workers than at any previous period of the world's history. Every increase in the speeding up of the workers, every improvement in the present or introduction of new machinery, and every further application of science to industry, results in a still smaller number of workers being required to produce the same, or even a larger, amount of wealth than before. This, of course, applies wherever capitalism exists, and the attempts to escape results by flying to similar conditions in another clime necessarily fail in every case.

The solution of the difficulty stands out clear from the answer given above. As the workers produce all the wealth and are the only useful class in modern Society, they must take the means of life, in all its branches, into their own hands, to be under their own control, for their own benefit. In other words, only by establishing a Socialist Commonwealth can they abolish the poverty, misery and unemployment which the masters' agents to-day tell them can be avoided by emigration.