From the September 1943 issue of the Socialist Standard
We are hearing a great deal about the promise of the future just now, and also a good deal about the murky past. We had a similar experience in the last war, and the brave new world of the future we were promised dissolved, like the mirage it was, into a new world with the evils of the old, like unemployment, pressing upon us with greater weight than ever before.
How often we were told .that capitalism could not give us better conditions because industry was not capable of more; that even the taking away of all the income of the capitalists would only produce a trifling increase for each worker. Now, in the feverish urge to produce a vision of a wonderful future, we learn from prelate and statesmen of the niggardliness of capitalists in pre-war days; of how schemes for bettering the workers' conditions were not put into operation owing to the selfish greed of capitalists. What is often overlooked is that the people who are now telling these things with disarming frankness were among those who formerly told us that production could not bear any greater social expenses than it was bearing at the time.
Of course, the war itself has compelled the admission that it was not lack of productive capacity that stood in the way of improvement. The enormous amount of labour now employed in the production of munitions of war, and the sustaining of all the people engaged directly and indirectly in pursuits connected with the war, reveal very clearly what a mass of productive capacity could be freed to make life comfortable for all of us instead of for a privileged few. In spite of this waste of effort, it is sometimes claimed that workers on the whole are better off now than they were in pre-war days!
That which has crippled efforts at improvement in the past will do the same in the future if allowed to continue unchanged, and that is the present social organisation based upon the private ownership of the means of production. Under this system workers produce wealth for the benefit of owners of the means of production instead of for the benefit of society at large. The work of all is governed by this fact. Social improvements, new inventions, scientific work and literary work of all kinds is crimped, scamped and degraded by the overwhelming influence of the private ownership basis of society. Scientists complain that they are unable to carry on their work with sufficient freedom and in sufficient volume because they do not get enough support and enough security. They must earn their wages by ministering to the needs of a system based upon profit instead of upon what ministers to the benefit of mankind as a whole.
The possibilities of enriching science or art are confined to a small number of fortunate individuals instead of being open to everyone in society. Quiller-Couch, in a lecture delivered many years ago under the title "On the Art of Writing,” made a statement that is true of every department of study as well as of literature when he said :
I have spent a great part of the last ten years in watching some 320 elementary schools—we may prate of democracy, but actually a poor child in England has little more hope than had the son of an Athenian slave to be emancipated into that intellectual freedom of which great writings are born (p. 33).
There is no question about it, capitalism as a social system is a failure, even as shown by the evidence of its own adherents, who, in painting a bright picture of the future, unwittingly paint in the shadows. Limited by their outlook they can do no more than promise some amelioration of the worst evils, but not the abolition of those evils. They foresee a scramble for markets after the war, and urge preparation to meet it now by such methods as developing aerial transport with large fast moving planes and far-flung air bases. They envisage a large permanent unemployed army (“two million men will be unemployed anyway"—Mr. S. Morrison Livingston, head of the National Economic unit of the U.S. Department of Commerce, Evening News, May 3, 1943), and a tightening of belts by the workers for many years to come.
Even in time of war, when everything favours a despotic supervision of everything, the newspapers are full of prosecutions for legal evasions connected with "black market" operations and the like. While food and other things are scarce, those who possess money can buy almost anything. At a time when posters and propagandists are pressing to the front the need to sacrifice every penny for the war effort, pictures are being auctioned for thousands of pounds apiece, as well as other indications that wealth abounds in the hands of a privileged section of society, who are determined to enjoy what they have—and let others die for it. There is no cure for this while the present organisation of society continues. The "glittering prizes" will always glitter in the hands of those who are in the position to control tho labour of others and reap the results of that control.
Thus, let its supporters promise what they may, no modification of capitalism can relieve the workers to any important extent of the evils that are bound up with the system— poverty, insecurity and oppression. But these evils will disappear once the source of them—the private ownership of the means of production—has been removed by substituting common ownership by the whole community.
In order that this change may come about, the workers, in whose interest it mainly is, must understand a few broad general principles, and desire and work for the change. It is not necessary that the workers must first of all become erudite students of Marx, or have a first-class knowledge of the sciences, though, of course, if it were possible it would be helpful. All that it is essential they should understand is that they run society to-day in the interests of a privileged and idle few, and that they could much more easily run it to-morrow in the interests of the whole of society; that capitalism is only one stage in social development, and it had a beginning and will have an end, just as other social systems had; that what they can get out of life to-day is determined by the fact that they must find a buyer for their physical energies because they exist in a system where everything is bought and sold; that at election times they present the capitalist class with the political power which enables that class to order society in its interest.
Armed with this understanding, the workers can build a new society that will be well worth while living in. Human labour is so productive and human brains are teeming with such knowledge that once given free play the mind is staggered by the vast possibilities that open up for the human race. There will be no religious bars, colour bars or social bars to stand across the path of anyone in the employment of his faculties for his own enjoyment and the benefit of society at large.
The building of this new society must and can only be the work of the workers themselves; they cannot expect help from above, for privilege will hang on until it is shaken from its perch. In this new society there will be no privileged idlers; unless they have physical disabilities, each will play his part according to his ability. The future belongs to the workers, and the capitalists are already trembling at the vision.