January 1964 issue of the Socialist Standard
If there is one idea which is firmly held by the majority of people in this country it is that they are now better off than ever before. In this, they are supported on all sides, by newspapers, television, and so on. The result of this, to take one example, is that the years between the wars are remembered as a time of hardship, unemployment and, in many countries, of political dictatorship. There is now a spate of books with the theme that the First World War was a futile, bloody business which cleverer, less avaricious leaders could have avoided. The obvious corollary of this concept of the past as a time of dark misfortune is that of the present as a time of bright opportunity. And this is now a very popular idea.
The first thing to be said about this idea is that it has always been popular. Whatever their conditions, people have always been convinced that they were a sight better off than in the past. The Twenties and Thirties were supposed to be years of enlightenment, in which the hardships and prejudices of Victorian England had been finally cast aside. Victorian England was itself supposed to be a place in which the benefits of the Industrial Revolution were coming to fruition. Society at large has always regarded itself as lucky to be living in its present and has been glad not to have been living in its past
The years since the war have been devoted to this idea. The commonest picture—the adman’s picture, perhaps—of a member of the working class, in England in the Sixties, is of a bright, smooth young man who lives in a gracious house in a leafy suburb, has a charming, intelligent wife and a couple of children who will obviously one day make a name for themselves at University. This young man has a smart car, the latest furniture and clothes. His tastes are impeccably up to date. He has a well-paid job, and one with prospects. He is a man with a background—and with a future. Every line on his face, every hair on his head, shrieks of a comfortable, secure, modern living free from the disabilities of a discredited past.
Well, what is the truth of this?
This issue of the Socialist Standard sets out to take a look, at the beginning of another year, at the working class. It examines their working conditions, their education, their health, the pace at which they live. It takes a look at the way in which they spend their time off and are entertained. It poses some facts and some questions on problems like crime, which are as much a part of the Sixties as the adman’s smooth talk. And it puts the question to the working class: Where Are You Going?
This question can be stated in many ways. Are working conditions really improving? What is happening to our health? Is modern education any good, and is it freely available to all of us? Can crime be eliminated, and if so, how? These questions, and many others, can be summarised into one enormous, overriding issue. Can capitalism give us the sort of life, the health, the abundance, the security, which all human beings should have? Can it offer the prospects of future security which a humane social system would take as a matter of course?
The so-called social surveys can never answer these questions, which probe into the very roots of private property society. Only a Socialist can ask whether the class ownership of society's means of wealth production is the best way of running human affairs, or whether it is wasteful and vicious and inhumane. It is by examining the lives of the people who work and suffer and, tragically, vote for capitalism that this question can be answered. This, within its limits, is what this month’s Socialist Standard offers. And behind the articles we publish is the biggest issue now facing the world working class.
Capitalism or Socialism? Where Are You Going?