Daniel De Leon - Fifteen Questions About Socialism - Question 3

Excerpt from the pamphlet
"Fifteen Questions About Socialism"
by Daniel De Leon (1914)

QUESTION NO. III.

"If all receive the same rate of compensation, will not such a system forever rob the superior workers of a part of their superior ability?"

ANSWER: --

The question is grammatically defective. Surely the questioner can not mean that there can be a system of compensation that could rob a superior worker "of a part of his superior ability." Not unless a worker suffers physical injury could his ability be impaired; "robbed" it could not be. A worker may be robbed of the whole fruit of his ability, yet his ability will remain intact. What the questioner means is "a part of the fruit of his superior ability." The question would then read:

"If all receive the same rate of compensation, will not such a system forever rob the superior worker of a part of the fruit of his superior ability?"

The grammatical defect being eliminated, the question will next have to be cleansed of an ethical defect. It is un-ethical to assume an important fact, without specifically asserting its correctness, and then to proceed as if the alleged fact were an established one. Such a method amounts to the surreptitious injection of premises. The method is a favorite one with the Jesuit and Ultramontane Fathers Escobar and Hurtado. Ethics condemns the method; science will none of it.

The premises which the question assumes as granted is that in the Co-operative Commonwealth all workers receive the same rate of compensation. The assumption is not weakened by being put conditionally. It amounts to the surreptitious injection of premises for which there is no warrant.

Cleansed of this ethical defect, and its grammatical error expunged, the question should be divided in two, and read:

"Are the rates of compensation in the Co-operative Commonwealth to be different for different workers, say, for workers of superior ability and of inferior ability? If the rates of compensation are to be different, what will determine them?

"If all receive the same rate of compensation, will not such a system forever rob the superior workers of a part of the fruit of their superior ability?"

Seeing that the Co-operative Commonwealth is not a mechanical contrivance, contrived to accomplish a certain result, but is an evolutionary social growth, the conditions, at any rate the rough outlines of conditions, in the Co-operative Commonwealth flow from sociologic and economic facts. These facts being ascertained and grasped, the conditions follow.

The sociologic and economic facts that bear upon the question whether the rates of compensation in the Cooperative Commonwealth will be different for workers of superior and inferior ability, and, if so, what will determine them, are these:

1st economic and sociologic fact. -- Useful work falls under two categories.

Useful work is either directly or indirectly productive of material objects, conducive to physical wellbeing.

-- For instance: --

The men at the bench, who turn out the several parts that finally combine in a shoe, are directly productive.

The men engaged in the clerical work, requisite for the operation of a boot and shoe plant, are indirectly productive. The two sets -- "manual" work, so-called, and "clerical" work, so-called, -- combine in producing a material object, necessary for physical wellbeing.

The second category under which useful work falls is that of work that is productive, neither directly nor indirectly, of material objects, but is conducive to mental or moral expansion.

-- For instance: --

The heart, which, pregnant with celestial fire, gives birth to a poem that thrills the mind with lofty emotion; the hand that to ecstacy wakes the living lyre; the scientist, whose combined imagination and trained powers discover a secret of Nature; -- the work of these and all such workers, tho' it produce no material object, is conducive to mental and moral elevation.

2nd economic and sociologic fact. -- Tho' "man doth not live by bread only," neither can he live without "bread." Inestimable tho' the useful work be that is neither directly nor indirectly productive of material objects, the usefulness of such work is conditioned upon material existence. "A living dog is better than a dead lion," sayeth The Preacher.

3rd economic and sociologic fact. -- As with the individual, so with society. Material existence, hence, material conditions, is the foundation of all else. Hence, society concerns itself, first of all, with useful work that either directly or indirectly ministers to physical well-being. That is the starting point for all else as ultimate results.

4th economic and sociologic fact. -- Useful work that is productive of material objects consumes unequal amounts of tissue in a given time. The amount of tissue thus consumed by the worker in useful production determines the rate of his toil, and that rate determines the rate of his contribution to the social store.

5th economic and sociologic fact. -- As set forth in the answer to Question No. I., under the present, or capitalist regimen, in which the necessaries for production are held privately, and are operated for the sake of sale and profit, the worker's "income" -- which means his total earnings -- is determined by the merchandise Law of Supply and Demand. Seeing that improved machinery and methods tend to throw labor out of work, they tend to raise the supply of labor, and thereby to lower the price of labor-power -- which is the worker's rate of compensation. Thus the factor, which determines the rate of the worker's toil, has, under the capitalist regimen, no regard for the factor which determines the rate of the same worker's contribution to the social store.

It follows from the synthesis of these sociologic and economic facts: --

1st. That in the Co-operative Commonwealth, where the necessaries for production are collective property, operated for use, the worker's rate of compensation will not be the same, but will depend upon that which determines the individual worker's rate of contribution to the social store, to wit, the amount or rate of tissue that he expends in a given time.

2nd. That the method to ascertain the individual worker's rate of tissue expended in production must be substantially that which fatedly works human degradation under the capitalist regimen, but under the Socialist regimen must, as inevitably, have a contrary effect.

A simple illustration will make the point clear.

Say conductors and motormen are wanted on a new traction line. Say that there are 200 cars to be equipped. There will be wanted an equal number of each -- 200 motormen and 200 conductors.

What is the practical working of the economic and sociologic facts under the capitalist regimen? The large supply of undifferentiated labor will cause an excess of applicants for both jobs, with the consequence that the price of the applicants' labor-power will be depressed. Another effect will be that, in the very nature of things, many more will apply for the function of conductor than for that of motorman, with the further consequence that the price of the conductors' labor-power will suffer an even severer depression. Craft Unionism, "labor laws" requiring a certain length of residence from applicants, together with other such makeshifts and patchwork, may temporarily counteract these effects; they can neither permanently check them, nor yet prevent their aggravation.

Starting, on the contrary, under the regimen of the Co-operative Commonwealth, the same economic and sociologic laws work differently. Given the instance of 200 conductors and 200 motormen being needed, the supply of conductors, which will be indicated by the number of applicants for conductors' function, and the supply of motormen, which will be indicated by the number of applicants for motormen's function, will be an exact index of the amount of tissue expended in each function. Temperamental and other exceptional causes being left aside, it will be found that the preference will be generally given by the applicants to the pleasanter, or easier, function, that is, to the function that consumes less tissue. Say that, in the instance under consideration, 400 workers apply for the function of conductor, while only 50 apply for the function of motorman, it would follow that 1 hour of a motorman's function consumes as much tissue as do 8 hours of a conductor's. The rate of tissue consumption being the index of the contribution to the social store, and the rate of contribution to the social store being the index for the rate of compensation, the motorman's 1 hour would receive a compensation equal to the conductor's 8 hours. The huge advantage of leisure that the motorman's function would thus be found to enjoy, and the conductor's function to be deprived of, would have the effect of counterbalancing the discrepancy in the consumption of tissue. A deflection of applicants from the conductors' to the motormen's function would set in. The effect of this effect would be the equilibration of the relative hours of the two. The action and re-action upon one another of these effects and counter-effects will ultimately and unerringly adjust the number of hours of the motorman's function which, all told, would be equivalent to the number of hours of the conductor's function. If, say, in the final adjustment 2 hours of the motorman's function are equal to 4 of the conductor's, then the voucher for labor performed, -- that is, for contribution made to the social store, -- paid out to the motorman for 2 hours' work will enable him to draw from the social store as much wealth as the voucher paid out to the conductor for 4 hours' work; and the voucher paid out to either will enable them to draw from the social store as much of the wealth produced by the other workers as they, motormen and conductors, respectively, contributed to the same store.

It will escape none but those whose powers of perception are clouded by bourgeois class interests; or by habits of thought; or by some other hindrance to rectitude of reasoning; -- it will escape none other that the process for determining the worker's rate of compensation in the Co-operative Commonwealth follows, as has been indicated, the identical lines that are followed under Capitalism, to wit, the line of supply and demand, with, however, the difference that, whereas under Capitalism the process works evil, hence, injustice to the worker, under Socialism the process works good, hence, justice, -- a justice that the abundance of wealth for all, producible today, underscores the injustice that obtains under Capitalism.

This latter and further feature of the subject, tho' entitled to incidental mention at this place, belongs for fuller consideration under Question No. XI.

It having been shown that the rate of compensation in the Co-operative Commonwealth will not be the same for all workers, and the method for determining the rate of compensation that the workers are entitled to in their several functions having been set forth, the last portion of the question under consideration -- whether, if all receive the same rate of compensation, the superior worker would not be robbed of a part of the fruit of his superior ability -- has nothing left to be answered, -- except in so far as the fact is undeniable that hardly any two workers, in the identical function, work with equal efficiency, a fact the consideration of which belongs in the answer to the next question.