January 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard
Socialists are far from conventional in their attitude towards accepted traditions. If we referred in these columns to the various religious and seasonal festivals, it would, most likely, be in order to emphasise some aspect of the Socialist conception of life. If we went so far as to wish our readers “The compliments of the season," we should temper our good wishes with not a little cold factual reasoning. It is an embarrassing habit that Socialists have. Like other workers, most of us can appreciate a good meal on any one day in the year, not excepting Christmas Day; nor are we lacking in the qualities which promote convivial social gatherings. That workers should eat and drink of the good things of life, for example, on Christmas Day, is good. What is bad is that on 364 days of the year a great proportion of the workers are not in a position to partake of the good things. In fact, according to the authorities, whose job it is to know about such things, about half the population suffer from malnutrition. That is to say, they have a standard of living below that required to keep them in a state of physical fitness. Socialists are among those awkward people whose minds are not blurred by the maudlin sentiment appropriate on such festal occasions.
Modern productive forces are capable of producing more than sufficient to give every worker access to good food and clothing, and other amenities of life, not only on one day of the year, but every day. That they are not used for this purpose is because the means and instruments of production are privately owned and because, production is for sale and profit, and not to provide useful things for the well-being of all. It is private ownership which denies the worker access to the things which would remove his poverty. Workers are not denied these things because the capitalist is privileged to own by some divine or natural right. In fact, the capitalist class emerged from obscure historical beginnings and itself had to clear the way of a previous ruling class before it became dominant. Nor is working-class poverty attributable to lack of ability, for workers organise and carry out production on behalf of the capitalists. The capitalist class, as a class, is outside the process of production. Whilst the social means of production continue to be the private property of a class who are a small minority, social contradictions are inevitable; that is to say, the majority will be poor whilst there is plenty, and wars will arise through the clash of interests between capitalist states. "Progress" will be governed by what is in the interests of the minority who own the means of production, and not by what is in the interests of the whole of society. Even with all the goodwill in the world to solve social problems, by the very nature of them, the capitalist class can only apply such remedies as will leave unchallenged its privileged position as an owning class.
Only the working class is free to take the step which will remove social contradictions and the obstacles to the progress of human society.
These are truths which are topical for us at all seasons.
The year which has just drawn to a close has not been a particularly happy one for the workers. The year 1939 saw unemployment increase ominously to the point which threatened another severe industrial crisis, with its intensification of working-class problems. The outbreak of war swallowed it. Now millions of workers, who would otherwise have been unemployed, are engaged in producing, and being trained in the use of, instruments of warfare in order to maim, blind and kill their fellow workers who live in other countries, who, in their turn, are similarly engaged. There is, however, one inescapable fact the capitalists will have to face. This war, like the last, must inevitably help on the recognition of social contradictions and bring the working class nearer to a true understanding of the solution.
If we have a New Year’s message for the workers, it is that the progress of humanity does not require the loss of millions of lives in war.
Work and live for Socialism!