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Ernest Lund

Why the Capitalist System Won’t Work

(August 1943)

From Labor Action, Vol. 7 No. 35, 30 August 1943, p. 3.
Extract from the pamphlet, Plenty For All, by Ernest Lund.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Following is a chapter taken from the pamphlet, Plenty For All, a popular presentation of the socialist program, by Ernest Lund. It was published by the Workers Party this month.


Why did the capitalists mess up this chance of plenty for all? Why did they bring about chaos instead of order? Why wealth piled up on one side and poverty on the other? Why “boom” years followed by “depression”? Why “depression” followed by war? Why the turmoil of strikes, strife, struggle; man against man, class against class, nation against nation?

Because the very root of capitalism is wrong.

Because the basic idea is unsound.

Because the foundation is illogical.

Because the capitalist system is founded on a CONTRADICTION.

What is this contradiction?

It is the system in which the man who owns the tools of production does not work them; and —

The man who works them does not own them.

This is, the basic contradiction of capitalism.

Before we had capitalism the owner of the tools and the worker of the tools WERE THE SAME MAN. In those days the tools were simple: saws, hammers, spinning wheels, weaving looms. The workman owned his tools. He bought his raw materials. The product he made was his own. He sold it for the best price. He was his own boss. True – he worked long hours and hard. He never lived well. Life was a drudgery. But he didn’t know wage cuts, lock-outs, unemployment, speed-ups, strikes and insecurity.

Then came the inventions. The tools of production became workshops, factories and, finally, gigantic industries. Only a rich man could set up a factory. Land owners, bankers, merchants had the capital. They became the capitalists.

Each machine now turned out as much as several workmen formerly did with hand tools. The owner of the machine could pay the worker to run it and still keep a good margin pf profit. The profit bought more machines. More workers were employed. More profit. More machines. On one hand, a handful of men who owned the tools of production. On the other hand, the mass of workers who could only make a living by working for the capitalists.

What happened now?

The product no longer belonged to the producer – the worker at the machine. It belonged to the capitalist owner of the machine. He sold it for the best price the market would pay. And he gave the worker the smallest wage he would work for.

The less the wage for the worker, the bigger the profit for the capitalist.

The bigger the wage for the worker, the less the profit for the capitalist.

The capitalist was interested in longer hours, speed-up, and low wages?

The worker was interested in shorter hours, easier work, and high wages.

Capitalism created a class of owners pitted against a class of workers – at war with each other – engaged in a CLASS STRUGGLE with each other.

The capitalist owner of industry has only one reason to run his factory – profit. Under capitalism, the needs of the people for various goods are not the PRIMARY purpose of production. The capitalist will just as soon make rifles as Bibles, medicine as poison gas, pre-fabricated houses as “block-buster” bombs, artistic reprints as pornography. All he asks is: “Which will pay more?”

The fact that the millions of people depend upon industry for food, clothing, housing, furniture, transportation, communications and amusement is of interest to the capitalist only as the “market” in which he can realize a profit.

He is the dictator over his plant. He can run it or shut it down to please himself. If there is profit in production he hires men, works overtime, night shifts. If profit falls off, he throws his workers into the street to shift for themselves.

He operates anarchistically. Without plan, without social purpose. His only god is the Almighty Dollar – his Holy Script is the magic word, “Dividends.”

That is why capitalism is more destructive than all the earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, cloudbursts, tidal waves and volcanic eruptions ever visited upon earth from the beginning of time.

Capitalism kills and cripples millions in its wars, in class strife and civil war, in hunger and freezing, in industrial accidents and disease, in malnutrition and child labor, in poverty and crime. It destroys the wealth of society and wastes the labor potential of millions of idle hands.

Capitalism pits worker against worker in bidding for a job. It pits Capitalist against capitalist in fighting for profits. It pits workers against capitalist in class struggle. It pits capitalist nation against capitalist nation in imperialist war. It pits producer against consumer, landlord against tenant, farmer against city dweller, white against Negro, Gentile against Jew. WHY?

All in the mad race for a crust of bread, for survival, for security. In an age when plenty is possible for all!

It is the system of COMPETITION – It is the system of dog eat dog, of each man for himself and the devil take the hindmost, of the law of the jungle.

And in the mad scramble of capitalism, the Age of Plenty – the New World within our power – is being trampled in the dust.

So that Mrs. McLean can throw a $50,000 party and parade her two million dollar diamond before her six hundred and fifty guests.

And ten million workers run bayonets into each other’s guts in an imperialist-war.

Capitalism stands before us indicted as a system of criminal madness, “dripping with blood and filth.”

And the capitalist class stands before us as mad overlords in control of a high-powered auto careening furiously to destruction.

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