J. T. Murphy

Viscount Milner’s Dilema

Source: The Communist, January 20, 1923
Publisher: The Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). 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.

WE do not know whether Viscount Milner intends joining the Labour Party. But, in the middle of last year Mr. Henderson pathetically renewed the plea for Whitley Councils and industrial peace. For eighteen months the capitalist offensive had been raging. Labour had been mocked, scourged and robbed. Its misery was appalling Mr. Henderson said—Let there be peace, Whitley Councils, stabilisation of this misery and progress by mutual agreement.

In January, 1923, Viscount Milner, without reference to Mr. Henderson, boldly confesses the calamity that has befallen us and propounds the Philosophy of Mr. Henderson. Two articles have appeared from his pen in the Sunday Observer. More are to follow. I propose to follow these week by week and to critically examine them. These are not isolated articles, but part of a counter-revolutionary campaign raging throughout the daily and week-end press.

The campaign is taking on a three-fold character. First to encourage the belief in a permanent trade revival. Second, to smooth down the bitterness arising from the capitalist offensive in order to prevent violent reaction. Third, to create elaborate negotiating machinery to prevent rapid action on the part of the workers and ensure full preparation by the employers in case of action by the workers.

Viscount Milner’s articles are a part of this campaign, hopeless as a positive contribution to social progress, but dangerous to the workers in their apparent frankness and plausibility.

It is always dangerous when the high members of the ruling class begin to plagiarise the socialists and imitate the Labour leaders. So let us examine his admissions, his questions, and his proposals.

First, listen to his admission concerning capitalism in this country and then go and read Jack London’s novel—“The Iron Heel.”

“The capacity of man to make use of the forces of nature has increased a hundred-fold during the last century. Yet, compared with this rapid growth, the prosperity among the mass of the people has been lamentably slow.”

“A few years before the war it was stated on high authority that there were 11,000,000 people in this country living on the verge of starvation . . . There is no lack of the actual things—they exist or are procurable in abundance—and no lack of hands to convert them into articles for human use."

“The mass of the people are not better but worse off than before the war.”

Yet, dear me this doesn’t worry him so much after all.

He says: “The real gravamen of the charges against our present industrial system is not that it involves an unfair distribution of the product, but that it mismanages, misdirects, and therefore unduly limits production itself.”

So begins that plea for higher forms of production, i.e., cheaper forms of production.

With this proposal as away out of the present mess I will deal later. For the moment ponder on the gravity of the admissions. They read as if culled from a Communist indictment of capitalism.

But let the apologist of capitalism proceed with his confessions: “We have mismanaged . . . misdirected . . . A huge waste of potential wealth undoubtedly exists; second only to our waste of land is the waste of our mineral resources.”

“The annual loss involved in our present methods of mining, distributing and using coal is appalling. It has been estimated by a competent authority at not less than 100,000,000.”

“Unemployment is a chronic disease of the industrial organism at all times—a constant burden and a constant enigma.”

For thousands are, owing to the lack of proper organisation, doing work that could be done by as many hundreds.”

The directive ability, that prime virtue of the capitalist class, doesn’t shine very much in these confessions.

Like Mr. Henderson, Viscount Milner is perturbed: “The atmosphere has completely changed . . . We are back again in the old feuds, the old misunderstandings and recriminations.”

“What has become of all the good resolutions we formed during the war about the better social order which was to arise after it?”

They are vanished into thin air, Milner, into thin air, and only the grim realities of your confessions remain. But, running through your first two articles, there are indications of some proposals to “mend” matters. (1), a greater centralisation of the industrial apparatus of the country; (2), greater efficiency in the organisation of commerce; (3), settlement of disputes by mutual consent, with the Government as mediator; (4), machinery of class conciliation in the form of Whitley Councils.

In contemplating these proposals a few questions immediately arise. Did the employers begin the attack on the working-class conditions because they were compelled so to do by forces outside their control, or because they were all filled with a mortal hatred of the working-class? You would deny the latter, but in either case, what is the value of machinery of conciliation to the working-class when the net effect is to get them to quietly agree to the transference of the employers’ difficulties on to the backs of the workers? Can the conciliatory spirit thrive and ought it to thrive with those millions on the brink of starvation?

Then again, if the employers were driven and are being driven by forces outside their control, would it not be advisable to examine these forces as a pre-requisite to sound proposals? Up to now your articles are at one moment the articles of a parochial Englishman who has forgotten that the world has ceased to be a reservoir for British goods only; at another, you write as an Englishman who believes that more efficient British capitalism can beat the world.

Both notions are fit only for simpletons.

You propose greater efficiency in production. But listen. Who will buy your goods when they are produced? There are 8,200,000 tons of shipping laid up throughout the world. The British Empire and the United States are the largest shipbuilding entities of the world. Together they are producing only 29 per cent. of their possible productivity now. And in the iron and steel industries of the world, trade registers only 44 per cent. of present capacity for production. To increase the capacity for production obviously does mean that we correspondingly increase production. The question is still flung back by your idiotic system—who will buy?

The unemployed, who are increased in volume by your efficiency? or the workers whose wages are cut to still lower levels by the intensified competition?

You have asked us to get to the roots of our difficulties. Very well, the above root questions will do for this week.