Hodgskin Serial, continued

Apologies for the gap in the serial… We’ll get going again, and post a few more chunks over the next few days.

Labour Defended, &c., Episode Four

[Episode One was posted here, Two here and Three here.]

The claims of capital, are, I am aware, sanctioned by almost universal custom; and as long as the labourer did not feel himself aggrieved by them, it was of no use opposing them with arguments. But now, when the practice excites resistence, we are bound, if possible, to overthrow the theory on which it is founded and justified. It is accordingly against this theory that my arguments will be directed. When we have settled the question, however, as to the claims of capital or labour, we shall have proceeded only one step towards ascertaining what ought now to be the wages of labour. The other parts of the enquiry will, I trust, be entered into by some of my fellow-labourers, and I shall content myself at present with examining the claims of the capitalists, as supported by the theories of political economy.

I admit that the subject is somewhat abstruse, but there is a necessity for the labourers to comprehend and be able to refute the received notions of the nature and utility of capital. Wages vary inversely as profits; or wages rise when profits fall, and profits rise when wages fall; and it is therefore profits, or the capitalist’s share of the national produce, which is opposed to wages, or the share of the labourer. The theory on which profits are claimed, and which holds up capital, and accumulation of capital to our admiration as the mainspring of human improvement, is that which I say the labourers must, in their own interest, examine, and must, before they can have any hope of a permanent improvement in their own condition, be able to refute. They indeed are so satisfied, that by their exertions all the wealth of society is produced, that no doubt on the subject has ever entered their minds. This is not, however, the case with other people, and whenever the labourers claim larger wages, or combine to do themselves justice, they hear, both from the legislature and the Press, little or nothing about the necessity of rewarding labour, but much about the necessity of protecting capital. They must therefore be able to show the hollowness of the theory on which the claims of capital, and on which all the oppressive laws made for its protection are founded. This will, I hope, be a motive with them for endeavouring to comprehend the following observations, as it is my excuse for directing them, not so much to show what labour ought, as to what capital ought not to have.

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