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Ernest Bevin and G.D.H.Cole



We are living, we think, on the very eve of one of those great world upheavals which are the turning-points of history. For a long while up to now the civilized world has been ordering its affairs on the basis of a system which is commonly called Capitalism. This system is open to many objections, and has aroused growing criticism, especially from the working classes, on whose exploitation it is mainly based. But it has at least worked hitherto after a fashion, and provided those who live under it with the common necessities of life. Through its centuries of growth, it has become increasingly complicated, with the development of international trade in necessaries as well as luxuries, the specialization of this or that area in certain branches of manufacture or production, and the evolution of a complex system of banking and credit for the financing of the huge volume of transactions involved in the exchange of goods and services both within each country and between one country and another.

From time to time, in the history of the capitalist system, things have gone seriously wrong, and there have been great commercial crises which have caused widespread unemployment and distress. But hitherto world capitalism has always recovered from these crises, and been able to advance from them to fresh economic conquests. When the present world crisis began, most people were inclined to say that it was only another of these periodic depressions of world trade, and that before long there would come a revival leading to greater prosperity than the world has yet enjoyed.

There seemed, indeed, to be good warrant for this view. For it was plain enough that, thanks to the progress of science, the world’s power to produce all the material necessities of life was advancing faster than ever before. In industry and agriculture alike, productivity was increasing at a wondrous rate; and there seemed to be every reason why the growing ease with which goods could be produced should result for the whole world in a higher standard of life. For the poverty of the many has always been attributed to the toil and trouble of production; and, if men can produce more than before, that seems to assure that there will be more for them to consume.

This should obviously follow as a matter of course; but of late years it has not followed in fact. The result of increased productive power has been instead a great mass of unemployment in the manufacturing countries, and a fall in the prices of foodstuffs and raw materials which has more and more impoverished the producers of these classes of goods. These impoverished producers cannot afford to buy as many manufactures as before, with the consequence that many businesses have gone bankrupt and many millions of industrial workers been thrown out of work.

Still for a long time most people went on saying that the depression, serious as it was, would pass away speedily, and prosperity return. But latterly a great many who were optimists a year ago have become more doubtful of the outcome; for they have to confess that there is no sign at all of the depression passing, and every indication that it is deepening into a crisis which threatens the very structure of the capitalist world. They are coming to see that the causes of the present trouble go far deeper than any temporary loss of equilibrium in the world economic system, and that the system itself is rotten at the core.

The signs of this inward rotting away of capitalism are many. They appear most plainly on the surface in the working of the world financial system, and in the relations between debtor and creditor nations. To these two questions accordingly this booklet is mainly devoted. It is an attempt to explain in simple terms the immediate causes and the essential character of the present crisis, in relation both to Great Britain and to the world as a whole, and to propose minimum remedies. It may well prove that these proposals, drastic as they will seem to many readers, are less than the situation requires; for it is hardly possible to exaggerate its gravity. But we have written on the assumption that an attempt should still be made to avert collapse, and that it is still possible, if we use our wits, to make a transition to a better system without an intervening period of sheer chaos and disaster. This view may be too optimistic; for events are rushing forward at an appalling pace. But we have no doubt that the attempt should be made, or that the first step towards making it is to diffuse as widely as possible an understanding of what is wrong and needs putting right in the world’s affairs. Hence the booklet— inadequate and sketchy at many points—but at any rate an honest attempt to state simply the essentials of a desperately tangled situation.