June 1914 issue of the Socialist Standard
At Socialist meetings one may very often hear the interjection: “You have said a great deal about Socialism and what a good thing it will be, but tell us how it will come about."
Maybe the request is a reasonable one, but oh! if those who prefer it were only as reasonable. However, they are not: they seem always to expect to receive a curt, cut-and-dried answer.
Before the Socialist has had time to answer the first question the second arrives : "How long will it be before Socialism is here?"
Now, before we can commence to discuss these questions it is of the utmost importance that we understand what Socialism really means. To-day, under capitalism, we are allowed to live (!) under hellish and murderous conditions. Let me deal with that system—the system wherein men, women, and children starve in the midst of plenty.
The whole production of wealth to-day is organised purely with a view to making a profit. It may seem strange to those who have not thought this question out, but the clothes we wear, the food we eat, are not made for us to wear and eat, but are produced in order that a profit may be obtained by the manufacturer.
Do you suppose that the master baker or the master builder, in having bread made or houses constructed, would ask if the bread was pure and wholesome or the houses dry and healthy ? No, they would simply ask : “ Shall I be able to I make a profit out of it?"
This was clearly shown at the enquiry held into a fatal accident that occurred during the erection of a building in High Holborn some time last year. A chain broke and a worker was done to death. The coroner ask the representative of the firm who made the chain whether, after testing a chain, they went over it to see if there were any cracks, and the answer was:
"No, the profits will not allow of it."
The master class do not care if the chains break and you are killed; they do not care if you eat bad food or live in death-dealing, insanitary houses: You can perish and rot so long as their profits come rolling in.
You, the workers, produce all economic wealth. All such wealth is produced for profit, and that profit, that wealth which is made but which is filched from you, goes to overstock the markets, and then you are shown the door. You produce all wealth, and then you starve.
All we ask you to do is to look round at all the good things of life that you have created, and then ask yourselves why you are poor. We only ask you to sit down and seriously try to find out the cause of your poverty. For when you have discovered this the only remedy, obviously, is to abolish that cause.
Now we Socialists claim that the cause of poverty and of all the evils which arise from it lies in the fact that all the means whereby you live are owned and controlled by a section of society. These people not only own the factories, ships, mines, etc., but, by virtue of this fact, own your very lives. You are slaves—aye, worse! For you are doomed to watch your wives and children starve.
You are allowed, not to live, but merely to exist as profit making machines, because all the methods of getting a living are taken from you except that of placing yourself on the labour market. You are forced to sell your energies. So you go to the factory gate, the pit-head, or the office door in order to sell your labour power to the owner.
You ask for work, and when "hands'' are wanted you are informed that you can go inside, you can use the machinery, and you can produce wealth—all on the condition that the wealth you produce belongs to the owners of the means and instruments by which you produce it. This is where the robbery takes place; this is the cause of poverty.
You receive only a fraction—from one-eighth to one third of what you yourselves have produced, which, generally speaking, is a bare sufficiency to keep you in a condition to continue to work.
Now it should be very plain that the cause of poverty is that you do not own the means and instruments of wealth production and distribution and are denied free access to them. Your masters, the owners, do not allow you to work except when they can make a profit out of you.
The cause of your poverty being the robbery by the master class of the wealth produced by the workers, the only remedy is to abolish that property condition which gives the master class the power to rob you—the private ownership of the means of living —and to introduce ownership by the whole people; to establish Socialism and produce wealth, not for the profit of a few useless "ladies and gentlemen” who would probably drop down dead if you were to tell them that to morrow they must start work, but for use—bread to feed you, houses to shelter you, and clothes to cover your bodies.
As to the second question—"How long will it be before Socialism is here?"—that rests with the working class themselves. They are the obstacle. When they have come to realise the need for Socialism, and to see that the road lies through the capture of the political machinery by an organised and class-conscious working class, when they have organised themselves in the political party of the workers—the Socialist Party—for the capture of this political machinery, then Socialism will be at hand.
N. E. Gwynn.