The Voice of Industry (Vol. 1 No. 15 - 4 September 1845)

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The 4 September 1845 issue of the Voice of Industry (Vol. 1 No. 15).

Submitted by adri on December 21, 2023

Gradual Abasement of the Producing Classes.1

We have explained in the two preceding numbers of the Phalanx two of the great social evils with which we believe this country is threatened: first, violence, sectional dissension, and revolutionary ferment growing out of the question of slavery in the South; and second, a commercial feudalism and the subjection of the producing classes to the absolute control and tyranny of capital—to a vast financial and commercial oligarchy—and the indirect slavery of the mass; and we pointed out some of the elements at work in society to bring about these great social calamities.

We will point out in the present article the third great evil which menaces this country; it is the gradual sinking of the great body of the people into poverty and a state of degrading dependence—a result of the present false system of industry, based upon competitive strife, conflict of interest and an inequitable division of profits. To a great extent the laboring classes are already poor and the serfs of capital, but when we speak of the poverty and degradation which the future has in store for the laboring or producing classes, we mean a far more extended state of poverty and servile dependence than that which now exists; we mean that the great majority of the people, the producing classes, the farmers, the mechanics and the laborers, will all be gradually despoiled of the property they now possess and become the poor dependents of a small minority who will absorb and concentrate in their own hands the wealth of the country. The producing classes, the great body of the people in this country, are tending—slowly it may be, but surely—towards that poverty, pecuniary dependence, and industrial bondage, which exists in Europe, and which will necessarily bring with it that degradation of the masses, and that industrial oppression, which characterize the older countries, where the pernicious influence of the false system of society, called civilization, under which we live, has been more fully realized in practice. The causes which are to produce the result are clearly to be seen in action, the principles at work in society to produce it are evident, and although the practical effects are not so numerous and striking as to attract general attention or gain credence when pointed out, yet the discerning mind cannot but perceive [the] tendency of things, nor fail to note the great and all-important fact of a gradual abasement of the laboring classes in this country.

We might cite many facts in proof of this, but our object at present is more to illustrate from principles, which are universal and uniform in their action and effects, than to point out facts of a fragmental nature and bearing.

We will speak in the present article of four principal influences which are operating to produce the gradual abasement of the working or producing classes of this country and their subjection to a state of poverty and abject industrial servitude.

1st. The power of capital and its control over labor.

2nd. Free competition or hostile strife among the working classes to obtain the work which capitalists and employers require, the effect of which is a constant reduction of wages, or a decrease in the price of labor, which is the poor man's only property.

3rd. Machinery owned by the few, which works against the laboring classes instead of for them.

4th. Isolation; want of combination and concert of action among the working classes and consequent weakness and helplessness, which make them an easy prey to the combined and more intelligent action of those who have the capital and credit of society in their hands.

1st. The power of capital and its control over labor.

The power of capital is almost boundless and absolute, and as it controls labor, it controls indirectly as a consequence the classes who live by labor. Now the question is to what end will this power of capital and its control over the labor classes be exercised? The answer is simple; the owners of capital will aim to obtain complete and absolute supremacy. By every means that have the least coloring of legitimacy, direct and indirect, by legislation of which the moneyed interests are now the masters, monopoly, usury and extortion, by every device of cunning and legalized fraud and hidden injustice and oppression, capital will seek to obtain the largest portion possible of the fruits of labor, and to reduce the producing classes to that state of dependence and subservience, which will render it undisputed sovereign of industry, and the classes, the small minority who possess it, the rulers of society. And it will succeed, for its power is as inherently irresistible as it is selfishly unscrupulous. As society is now constituted, with "individualism" for its basis and the right of every man to take care of himself at the expense of his neighbor acknowledged and acted upon universally, the class of persons who are benefited by the usurpation of capital will neither be blamed nor blameable—the wealth and power which accident of birth or good fortune confer are possessions which all desire and all would obtain if possible.

The aim of capital is to amass, to accumulate; and ambition and cupidity combine to give intensity to the desire of accumulation. In this modern age, riches confer respectability and standing, as did in former days military skill and exploits, and men now combat fortune, especially in this country where hereditary rank does not exist and the glory of war has departed, as they did formerly for the bloody laurels of carnage. Wealth is now the main standard of distinction in society, and as a consequence the desire to possess it is strong and the struggle to obtain it fierce and unrelenting.

Whence do riches come? from what source does capital draw its income? From labor, from productive, creative labor, which is the sole and only source of wealth. From labor must be drawn the riches which are to satisfy the cupidity or the ambition of the men of this age—an age of financial and industrial war, in which the laurels are money bags, and the victims the poor toilers of industry.

The object of capital, therefore, is to draw all it can from labor, to amass, to absorb as much as possible of the wealth created by human industry. We find, consequently, capital arrayed against labor, and labor in its despair endeavoring to react against capital, and opposition, or a regularly organized warfare is waged between them. On the one hand, capital seeks to oppress and spoilate labor, and on the other hand, labor strives to resist the encroachments of capital. Capital is represented in this country by the merchants, bankers, financiers and master-manufacturers; in Europe, by these classes and the nobility. Labor is represented by the agricultural, manufacturing and mechanical classes. This relation of the two classes of capitalist and laborers renders them opponents and enemies of each other, and while the first class is prosecuting extensive speculations, securing privileges and planning monopolies, the second class by feeble and impotent shifts are endeavoring to increase slightly the price of wages or maintain the pitiful modicum which they receive. But capital is all-powerful, and as it accumulates, labor must be impoverished, and the result must inevitably be that capital will absorb and monopolize the wealth of society, whilst the immense majority who perform the labor will be deprived of everything and sunk into dependence and destitution.

How can it be otherwise? Labor cannot maintain its ground against the encroachments of powerful capital. The only property of the working classes is their labor, which they must sell day by day in order to obtain the means of existence. Employment and life are one with the laboring classes; the laboring classes cannot wait and force capital to buy their labor at a fair price; they must have work, and the labor of their hands must be realized at once in a shape which will give them the means of subsistence. Not so with the class of capitalists; they can afford to wait, having ample means of living, and thus while half-starved labor is urged by want to sell itself at any price, capital at its leisure can plan schemes and dictate terms, which suit its own interests. Labor must accept the terms which capital lays down; the producing classes must either take the wages which capital will give if they are its hirelings, or they must sell the products of their industry at the prices which capital establishes and will pay, and buy what they consume at the prices it asks. In either case the effect is the same, to impoverish the producing classes. In regard to the effect upon wages, where capital operates upon masses of hired laborers, the result is well known, but in all the ramifications of business, agricultural and manufacturing, the process of spoilation is constantly in operation. The producer everywhere is forced to sell the products of his industry cheap, and to buy what he consumes dear. Thus he pays a tribute to capital, whether employed in finance or commerce, which in time enables it to eat up his substance. Do not mechanics and small manufacturers see and know this when they take their wares to a market to sell? Do not farmers see and feel it when they take their products to the country merchants to dispose of? to say nothing of the extensive and powerful leagues among millers, drovers and butchers, which fleece them upon a large scale out of their heavier products, their corn and their cattle, by taking every advantage which circumstances offer?

They who have the active capital and wield the credit of society—the bankers, merchants and master-manufacturers—buy and sell the products of labor; and they are thus enabled to levy a tax upon both producer and consumer, and in time to become the possessors of the means of production and distribution, the whole capital of society—the soil, workshops, &c., the means of transportation, ships, steamboats, canals and railroads—besides controlling and directing the money-power through the agency of banks and other moneyed institutions, which they also own. Thus they have completely in their power labor or production, and those who are engaged in it.

With this power and these advantages, possessed by capital, and the weakness and the dependence of labor, it is evident that the producing or laboring classes who compose the great body of the people must in time be impoverished, reduced to dependence and become the lowly hirelings and serfs—the "living machines" of capital.

Our remarks upon the other three divisions of this subject are postponed to the next number.—Phalanx

Our Manufacturing System.

Much has been said and written upon the present system of manufacturing in America and England, and much still remains to be written and spoken before the American people will awake to [a] true and rational sense of its enormity and paralyzing effects upon the health, virtue, national and individual prosperity of our people.

We are well aware that much has been said and written for selfish party purposes; much has been done to inflame the community against "corporation monopoly" and "chartered monsters," merely to gain party ends, and for this reason every honest effort to show the true state of the system as it really exists has encountered the prejudices and political understanding of a portion of our citizens and been denounced as "humbugs" and their advocates as "petty reformers" and "addle-pated exciters." Thus people suffer themselves to be chained to their sectarian notions and selfish and party interests, blinding their understanding and rejecting everything that conflicts with their circumscribed bounds and dogmatical opinions. There is nothing that so stifles and perverts the truth and hinders the mental, physical and moral progression of the race as modern sectarianism and party allegiance. A young man through some influence or other comes upon the stage of action a full-rigged Whig, he of course, must be in favor of the present system of manufacturing, a "national bank," "distribution of the public lands," and many other great and vital "Whig principles" and opposed to "annexation," and why? for the very sound and cogent reason that "our party" is. Another young man takes his stand upon the political platform a thorough Democrat, he (certainly) must be opposed to the "factory system," a "national bank," "distribution" and all other Whig measures and in favor of "annexation," because "our party" is. Every subject must be measured by "our party" or "our sect" and if they agree, they are adopted and defended, right or wrong, if not they are discarded and rejected. So it is; ambition—misguided philosophy and blinded theology have concerted certain great system; society has gradually adopted—embraced them, until they are interwoven into her texture and have become the very filling of the sacred fabric which so miserably supplies the wants and covers the bare necessities of mankind, and he that steps forwards to introduce some new material that shall clothe humanity in her own beautiful garments is assailed as an infidel, fanatic and a mad man. We have no sympathy with parties, sects and creeds, which tend to trammel the free legitimate action of the natural understanding, causing a man to do violence to his own being and disregarding the rights of others—we are as free as the winds that fan our hills—free to believe truth from whatever source it may come—free to believe all truths, because they are truths. Therefore we believe the present factory system is wrong—wrong in principle and injurious in its results, subverting the natural rights of man, dooming one class of our fellows to wretched, degraded servitude, while another lives in ill-gotten affluence and vicious excess. We do not speak against the factory system because we are a Whig, or a Democrat, a tariff or anti-tariff advocate, but because we are a man and wish to see truth prevail, the doctrines of Christ made practical and mankind universally enjoy heaven's natural blessings. That much disquietude exists among the advocates and votaries of the factory system, as now organized, is very apparent. The great revolution that is now gathering among the laboring people speaks in portentous accents, that unfeeling capital shall not always rule; rioting and fattening upon the bones and sinews and life blood of the indigent working people; that a brighter day will dawn before long when man—his immortal soul and body's best good shall be primary and capital—the dust of the earth, woods and bounding streams, shall become secondary—governed by his enlightened will and administering to his rational wants—a day when human flesh and blood shall not be sold in the market or put in material competition with the mechanical devices of men. A great effort is now being made by the various friends and advocates of manufacturing monopoly to forestall public opinion in its favor, to ingratiate it into the good will of the American people by holding up its most beautiful features and extolling the factories above every institution in the country for moral, physical and intellectual improvement. But what seems to us quite strange and inconsistent is that these same eulogists should send their sons and daughters to other institutions for cultivation and improvement, while these are so far superior. Why are not the daughters of the manufacturers, agents and superintendents to be found over the loom, the spindling frame, in the carding or dressing rooms, beside "these fresh spirits, gathered down from the green mountains and peaceful valleys," gaining an education, "improving their health" and laying up their "two thousand dollars," after buying a farm worth eleven hundred? Why are not the factory girls to be found in the parlors and at the social gatherings of these same individuals, if they hold their characters and accomplishments in such high esteem? It requires no extraordinary amount of discernment to develop the true cause of the present effort, on the part of the community, to render our manufacturing system popular—the working people have taken this matter into their own hands, and avarice fears the result. Consequently the "free, contented and well-paid operatives" are loaded with heartless praises and fulsome flattery (which reminds us very much of the fable about the spider and the fly); the press is bought up to do the bidding of capital, and sounds forth its high panegyrics upon the superior excellencies of factory life, and is ready to brand all as "deluded and fanatical fools" who stand out, and show by sound philosophy and from Christian principles, that the tendency of the system is wrong and pernicious to the prosperity of a large class of our people. Political scribblers, to accomplish some dastardly party purpose, are lavish with their false and high-colored encomiums upon the "free spirits and glittering temples of happy industry"—men in "high places" are ready to throw their influence and clerical weight in favor of oppression and soul-corrupting power, and a horde of underlings, expectants and crumb-catchers are all quite anxious, lest the workingmen's movement and the spirit of investigation and reform which now prevails to a great extent among the laboring people, shall disrobe the factory system of its false garb when it shall be seen and known as it really is—a manufacturing feudalism, building up a throne of lordly wealth and luxurious superabundance for the few, at the physical, mental and moral sacrifice of the mass. The great hobby of the advocates of the system at this time is to hold up the superior condition of the American operatives compared with the miserable, half-starved slaves and serfs of the Old World, as a quietus to our workingmen and women, who may entertain the apprehension at times, that all is not so republican and Christian as many would have them believe; and they are insultingly asked to be thankful for their high privileges and "free institutions" and advised to be contended, industrious, economical and let "well enough alone." Now all this is very fine talk for those persons who are living in splendor, upon the hard earnings of others, but the free-thinking, industrious operatives and working men are sick of such hollow-hearted good will—they are not content with the privilege of working twelve or thirteen hours per day, making slaves of their bodies and minds, that a gang of capitalists and speculators may live in elegant mansions, ride in splendid coaches, build rail roads, rear cities, construct costly sanctuaries, support a popular and gold-serving clergy and "fare sumptuously every day"; while a portion of them receive a bare subsistence, and perhaps a few of life's dispensables and others live in constant want, anxiety and privation. The American workingmen and women will not long suffer this gradual system of republican encroachment, which is fast reducing them to dependence, vassalage and slavery, because the English, Irish or French operatives are greater slaves, their condition more deplorable, or English capitalists and task masters have the power to be more tyrannical and oppressive. They will not have their rights thus measured—they are men and women—the children of humanity, and claim the rights that God has given to all of earth's offspring—"the right to life, liberty and the pursuits of happiness," and they will be content with nothing short of this. The condition of the working classes, of many of the old countries is sad and distressing in the extreme, and they should have the sympathy and commiseration of every working man and woman in America, but while we feel for them, we should not become blind to our own true condition and suffer the same system which has thus degraded them, to steal gradually upon our people, and the same wide-spreading Upas tree of oppression to overshadow our fair land. This is not fanciful—it is no hot-headed undeliberate assertion of ours, that the same evil is already rooted in our soil which has made them nations of luxurious lords and starving beggars—'tis too true and we are not alone in the belief. In view of these things we call upon the operatives and working classes of New England to organize and investigate the present state of society and see why it is that our country is growing in wealth and opulence, its cities and manufactories rising, its capital reaping vast dividends, while its laboring, producing sons and daughters are constantly becoming more dependent and want, poverty, crime and misery are daily increasing. Operatives and workingmen of America!—it is by your industry that these cities and manufactories are reared, by your toil, the nation grows in wealth, by your bones and sinews that columns of brick and stone tower towards the heavens, by you this vast complication of machinery is kept in daily motion, and the beautiful production is displayed to the world; you clothe the idle and feed the indolent and unproducing; then consider that, by your will, they can subserve the true interests of mankind and become a blessing to humanity, by your united and intelligent action and vigilance a valuable heritage will be transmitted to posterity; but by your apathy and neglect, slavery and oppression will inevitably follow.

We take the liberty...

We take the liberty of publishing the following extract from a private letter of a friend written from the West:

I have taken pleasure in perusing the Voice of Industry; the theory there laid down and defended is for the benefit of nine-tenths of the community,* if they but reflect, and are guided by reason. But I fear the mass of mankind will be led along by the few until they find themselves bound, both body and mind. We have here in this part of the country men who stand high in popular favor, who scruple not at robbing the widow and fatherless of their mite, to fill their already overflowing coffers obtained by robbery. Now if such things continue to progress, the workingmen will soon find themselves on a level with the slaves of the South. I am right glad that the wise men of the East (pardon the expression) have independence of mind enough to come out in their own defense, at least some of them, and proclaim themselves free. I as one who toils for his bread wish them God speed in their noble undertaking, and hope their labors will not cease until they have opened the prison doors and set the captives free.

* Yes ten-tenths—humanity and the true principles of right and justice are universal, "the greatest good of the greatest number" is a bad maxim—the greatest good of ALL.

For the Voice of Industry.

Mr. Editor: I noticed in the Voice, not long since, a short article on the work just published, entitled "Lowell as it was and as it is." It would seem as though the author of that work would make the public believe that he is perfectly acquainted with the laws of health, when he very coolly tells us that factory labor is conducive to health. If lamp smoke, cotton dust, the nausea of miserable oil, and wet walls from the effects of steam, are congenial elements of life and health, then will the author of that work be abundantly sustained in the position he has chosen. But are these really what he claims for them; is half-masticated food and badly ventilated rooms in addition to all the unwholesome materials with which they are in constant contact, in reality, elements of life; if so we shall see the reverend author of that little work, on the first indication of ill health, place his own children within the walls of one of these hospitals where they may have their health perfected without any fears of the morals or intellects in any way being injured, placing them at the same time in the care of the "moral police" of the corporations.

So far as the health of the operatives is concerned, anyone blessed with common observation cannot be ignorant of the fact that the operatives are obliged to go into the country almost universally to improve their health, and that with a few weeks' stay, they return much better than when they leave. If they are improved by working in the mills, it is strange that they should be under the necessity of going into the country for such a purpose. Can the health of the operatives as stated by the work alluded to be harmonized with the physical laws? we think not; are not these laws immutable? Can they be violated at the bidding of the corporations without the penalty being inflicted? Is not God their author? If so "let God be true though every man be a liar." More anon. - Olivia

The papers are full...

The papers are full of "War with Mexico." The slave republic of the United States, going to war with the anti-slavery republic of Mexico, and calling it a contest for liberty! Our government had better take care of what territory she already possesses instead of fighting for more.

If there is anything disagreeable...

If there is anything disagreeable in the social circle, really loathsome in any kind of society, it is to hear a poverty-stricken aristocrat, too lazy to work, and ashamed to beg, talk of what he once was; of rich uncles, aunts and cousins; of the splendor of his father's mansion, and his mother's first society.

Note: spelling and punctuation have been slightly modified.

  • 1The Voice reprinted this article from the Phalanx.