Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER II.: SERVILE LABOUR AND FREE LABOUR. - The Tyranny of Socialism
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
CHAPTER II.: SERVILE LABOUR AND FREE LABOUR. - Yves Guyot, The Tyranny of Socialism 
The Tyranny of Socialism, ed. J.H. Levy (London: Swan Sonnenschein and Co., 1894).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
SERVILE LABOUR AND FREE LABOUR.
Piece-Work—Disgrace—Contradiction — Day-Work—Apology for Apathy — Productive Malthusianism — Destructive Union—The Right to Rob—Robbery at the Expense of the Employer is “Restitution,”
As a curious symptom of Socialistic psychology, we must also clearly point out their demands in favour of labour by the day as against piece-work, which reveals a depraved preference for servile labour.
The Brussels Congress, in its sitting of August 22nd, 1891, reflected upon piece-work in the following terms:—The Congress is of opinion that this abominable sweating system is the result of the capitalistic system, and will disappear simultaneously with it. It is the duty of workmen’s societies in all countries to oppose the development of the system.” The resolution was passed unanimously. It was repeated at the Tours Congress in 1892; and the horror of sub-contracting, or work by the job, is of sufficient antiquity to have been prohibited by the law of September 9th, 1848.
If we were not accustomed to Socialistic contradictions, this demand might surprise us, because it is in contradiction to the final end which the same Congresses pursued: “The abolition of employers and of wage-earners.” What is sub-contracting, if not a first step towards the substitution of job-contracts for wages?
The workmen who undertake work by the job become the masters of the work they accomplish. They earn more or less, according to the accuracy of their calculations. They are contractors, and are no longer workmen subjected to the superintendence of a master. They are only dependent upon one single thing: that of handing over their work in the condition stipulated for. It is the same, in a less degree, with piece-work.
In day-labour, the workman is subjected to the constant supervision of his employer. It is in this that the employer really is a master. He has the right to see if the workman is lounging or working. He has the right to remind him that he cannot stand gaping about, as he is paid to work. The labourer by the day is therefore under the personal and inconsiderate control of him under whose orders he chances to find himself. The slave does not work at piecework, he works by the day; and the lash and the cane of his master descend on his shoulders if he loiters. Nowadays, it is abusive reproach that touches the workman, and as a final sanction—dismissal.
With sub-contracting and piece-work, the workmen acquire that independence which, for man, always flows from the substitution of an objective contract, in which the agreement centres on a thing, for a subjective or personal contract, in which the agreement centres on a human being. Hence our amazement when we see Socialists, men who pretend to feel the greatest concern for the dignity of the working man, proscribing the form of labour which best insures it, and demanding the form which retains a remnant of servility, and this at the very moment when they are demanding the abolition of the wage system!
By these inconsistencies they prove how little they have cared to formulate their demands properly, and how much they sacrifice to sentiments which do not reflect much credit on those who pretend to defend them.
Amongst workmen, those who protest against subcontracting and piece-work, and consider, as a rule, that they are to do as little as possible, and are not to “strain themselves,” are, in point of skill and energy, mediocre workmen, and prefer wages earned quietly, easily, and with as little effort as possible, to work by the job or piece-work, which always mean contingent rewards. They know that the wages of day-labour are of necessity lower than those of piece-work, because the yield is less,1 the workman having no interest in pushing forward; but they prefer this mediocre salary to higher wages. This condemnation of piece-work is an apology for industrial apathy. The Socialists who make this claim, by doing so, make preference of more subordination and smaller earnings to greater independence and more work; but are they well advised in afterwards calling themselves by the title of workers? Besides, where have they put their dignity?
In this demand for day work there lurks the natural human tendency to laziness, man’s obedience to the Law of Least Effort; but there is something more besides, which I pointed out in the following words, in the Chamber of Deputies, on November 19th, 1891, in connection with the Miners’ Strike in the Pas-de-Calais:—
You know that a rise of 20 per cent. in wages has been granted, of which 10 per cent. was given by the companies as a result of the strike of 1889, and 10 per cent. was spontaneously given by them. But it seems that the miners complain that, in spite of this increase, there is a certain decrease of wages.
I will only touch upon this question very lightly; but I believe that we here come to a clear understanding upon all these points. Allow me, then, to quote from a document which is none other than the official statistics of Belgium for 1890.
“We think,” said M. Harzé, who was a delegate to the Berlin Conference, and whose knowledge in these matters is so well known—” we think that the rise in wages has increased the tendency amongst workmen to take days off, and to curtail the length of their daily task, in those cases where they have the option; and the same is true as regards the effort he puts forth. . . . ”
In Belgium, in 1890, the output by the underground workmen was only 229 tons, per man, instead of 242 tons in 1889.
The same phenomena have been pointed out in the official statistics of Germany. Wages have in three years risen 38 per cent., while the output, per miner, has fallen 12 per cent.
“In France, for the northern basin (Pas-de-Calais and Nord included), the annual output, per underground workman, has fallen from 338 tons, in 1889, to 325 tons, in 1890, while the annual wage has risen from 1215 francs (£48 10s.) to 1378 (£55) accessories not included.”
Here we have a general symptom, which is not peculiar to France, but which is of a nature to impress us. As regards the proportion of wages, you must ask yourselves if there is not amongst those who work in mines a certain wilful restriction of the utility of their work, which might be called a Malthusianism of production. (Loud exclamations.)1
Gentlemen, the expression of which I have made use, corresponds exactly to my thought (renewed exclamations), and characterises a phenomenon which we have to take into consideration.
I made use of the words “Malthusianism of production,” because, for two reasons, there is none more expressive for the indication of intentional and voluntary “self-restraint” of labour. In acting, thus, not only do workmen obey the tendency to laziness, natural to man, but they are also convinced that they are very clever by thereby preventing over-production, that bugbear of Karl Marx and his disciples.
Socialistic theories have so corrupted the intellects of certain workmen that we have seen, during the month of May, 1893, the men working for M. Clément, a bicycle manufacturer, going out on strike so as to make themselves jointly responsible with thieves. In a letter addressed by them to the journal l’Eclair, they had the condescension to announce that they would not proclaim the right to steal, but that they considered that to take trifles was quite legitimate. They added that this theory had been ratified at a meeting of, not 30, but 200 workmen; and, before recommencing work, they stipulated for the liberation of 19 workmen who had been arrested. They also said, “We have not here stated that the employer is more of a thief than we are; but, in carefully considering the matter, this may, perhaps, prove true. It is quite certain that if M. Clément had not traded on his work-people, he would not have attained to his present position in so short a time.”
Here we have the application of Marxian theories. The employer enriches himself only by the injury of his workmen, and the theft committed to his injury is but an act of restitution.
STRIKES AND SOCIAL WAR.
I am afraid they do not. Their whole conduct shows that they no not realise the connection between wages and the produce of labour. At a lecture of mine at Bristol, on 8th February, 1894, on “Economics and the Remuneration of Labour,” the Socialists present energetically denied the connection between wages and the produce of labour, and urged workmen to produce little in order to get much.—Ed.
It is one of the oddest things I know that the name of Malthus should be thus unpopular in France. M. Guyot’s phrase is surely quite harmless, especially if it be borne in mind that the same effect is not produced by restricting the “output” of mouths and of meat. Both kinds of restriction may, however, be called Malthusian without any implied libel on the author of the epoch-making Essay on the Principle of Population, as Malthus, strange to say, was so apprehensive of a general glut of commodities that he regarded a body of unproductive consumers as an economic desideratum.—Ed.