Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Soul of Man under Socialism (1956)

From the October-December 1956 issue of Forum

Most people think of Oscar Wilde as the writer of The Picture of Dorian Grey, The Importance of Being Earnest or that great poem. The Ballad of Reading Gaol. Few think of him as a propagandist of socialism, or even a revolutionary thinker. Very few have taken seriously an essay written in 1891—The Soul of Man Under Socialism, and yet this short work has much to commend it.

Wilde was not a “professional revolutionary"; he had little understanding of economics, and had probably never read a word of Marx. He was a “Utopian.” Still, even to-day, The Soul of Man is worth reading—even by scientific socialists.

Socialism and Reformism.
Wilde was no reformer. Of the “very advanced” school of reformers he said: "They try to solve the problem of poverty,  for instance, by keeping the poor alive"; or, he added, by amusing the poor. But, he continued, this is not the solution to the problem of poverty—it is an aggravation. "Accordingly, with admirable, though redirected, intentions, they very seriously and very sentimentally set themselves the task of remedying the evils that they see. But their remedies do not cure the disease: they merely prolong it. Indeed, their remedies are part of the disease.”

Wilde also felt that the worst slave-owners were those who were most kind to their slaves, who were the most altruistic and charitable, as they prevented the horrors of me system being realized by those who suffered from them. “Charity,” he wrote, creates a multitude of sins.” The only real and lasting answer to poverty was to reconstruct society on such a basis that poverty would be impossible; to establish Socialism (or Communism) where “each member of the society will share in the general prosperity and happiness of the society . . . ”

Individualism and Authority.
By converting private property into common property and substituting co-operation for competition, society will become a healthy organism; it will give life its proper basis, its proper environment. Socialism, thought Oscar Wilde, will lead to Individualism, or what we would probably term “individuality”—the free expression and development of each individual in his society. Socialism would be, must be, a completely free society, a way of life free from authority and coercion. He saw authority and compulsion as the negation of a society of free individuals, as the enemy of “Individualism.” He writes: —
  “What is needed is Individualism. If the Socialism is Authoritarian; if there are governments armed with economic power as they are now with political power if, in a word, we are to have Industrial Tyrannies, then the last state of man will be worse than the first. At present, in consequence of the existence of private property, a great many people are enabled to develop a certain very limited amount of Individualism. They are either under no necessity to work for a living, or are enabled to choose the sphere of activity that is really congenial for them, and gives them pleasure. These are the poets, the philosophers, the men of science, the men of culture—in a word, the real men, the men who have realized themselves, and in whom all Humanity gains a partial realization.”
But the great majority, says Oscar Wilde, have no property; they are compelled to do uncongenial work, “and to which they are forced by the peremptory unreasonable, degrading tyranny of want. They are the poor . . . ” Later in the essay Wilde returns to this lack of Individualism in our present- day society and the dangers of authoritarianism in future society. For, he says: —
  “ It is clear . . .  that no Authoritarian Socialism will do. For while under the present system a very large number of people can lead lives of a certain amount of freedom and expression and happiness, under an industrial-barrack system, or a system of economic tyranny, nobody would be able to have any freedom at all . . .  Every man must be left quite free to choose his own work. No form of compulsion must be exercised over him. If there is, his work will not be good for him, will not be good in itself, and will not be good for others.”
Wilde thought that private property had crushed “Individualism ” and the creative spirit in general. But, with the abolition of private property, there would be a healthy and beautiful Individualism; for no one would waste his life accumulating things and symbols of things. Most people exist, but in a socialist world they would really live.

Here Wilde runs parallel with Engels when the latter says that with the seizing of the means of production by society, man for the first time emerges from mere animal conditions into really human ones—from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom. “Man, at last the master of his own form of social organization, becomes at the same time lord over Nature and his own master—free” (Socialism, Utopian and Scientific).

Engels and Wilde.
Engels was a “ scientific socialist.” He was in the main scientific, analytical, in his approach to social problems. Wilde was not. He saw poverty, degradation, a lack of freedom or “ Individualism,” and he did not like it. It revolted him. He looked upon Socialism not only as the solution to the problems thrown up by private property but as something desirable in itself, as something beautiful, ennobling. Engels saw it as the logical outcome of social processes.

But for all that, The Soul of Man Under Socialism does give us something. It warns us of the dangers of authority; and it gives us a vision of a future society where all can develop their individual capacities quite freely. Wilde was probably the last of the “Utopians”—and the most human. Let us also be a little “utopian” at times. “ Progress is the realization of Utopias.”
Peter E. Newell


More Hot Air About Banks (2017)

The Cooking the Books column from the December 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
'Shock data shows that most MPs do not know how money is created' Guardian columnist Zoe Williams began her article (29 October). She was publicising the results of a survey of MPs by the banking reform group Positive Money which claimed that it showed that '85% were unaware that new money was created every time a commercial bank extended a loan, while 70% thought that only the government had the power to create new money.'
This reflects not the assumed ignorance of MPs, who actually got it right, but the confused use of the word money. This is now used to describe two different monetary phenomena. First, what in America is called 'fiat money', money issued by administrative decision by the state as notes and coins and electronically. Second, what used to be called 'bank credit', loans banks make to businesses and individuals. This is now called 'bank money', so banks are regarded as 'creating money' every time they make a loan.
This confusion misleads some into thinking that banks can create money in the same way that the state can, by a mere 'stroke of the pen'. Williams herself wrote that 'all money comes from a magic tree, in the sense that money is spirited from thin air'. But not all money (in the contemporary usage of the word) does, only fiat money – and that doesn't create any new wealth, just more claims on wealth. What commercial banks lend is not 'spirited out of thin air'. It is already existing money that they lend on from what they themselves borrow from depositors and the money market.
Bank lending certainly has the economic effect of increasing spending. It is this that gives rise to the illusion that they are 'creating new money'. But what they are doing is making available, to those who want money to spend, the money of those who don't want to spend theirs for the time being. This is not creating new money, only activating existing money. That's precisely the economic role of banks and their usefulness to capitalism.
As the article (which currency cranks are always citing, though not this passage) in the March 2014 Bank of England Quarterly Bulletin puts it:
'Banks receive interest payments on their assets, such as loans, but they also generally have to pay interest on their liabilities, such as savings accounts. A bank’s business model relies on receiving a higher interest rate on the loans (or other assets) than the rate it pays out on its deposits (or other liabilities). (. . . ) The commercial bank uses the difference, or spread, between the expected return on their assets and liabilities to cover its operating costs and to make profits'.
Their business model is not based on spiriting money up from thin air and charging interest for the loan of it. That would be too good to be true. They have to have the money – or at least have to obtain it fairly quickly, as the German central bank, the Bundesbank explains:
'The banks also keep a constant eye on the costs that may incur by granting loans and creating book money. For example, if the customer uses the new credit balance to transfer money to an account at another bank, from the bank's point of view money will be flowing out. The bank then often has to recover this money, for example by taking out a loan from another bank, or by "refinancing" itself with a loan from the central bank. Alternatively, it can persuade savers to invest cash or credit balances at the bank in the form of savings or fixed-term deposits.' (Link)
In other words, in the end (if not immediately) they have to pay for what they pick from the ‘money tree’.

Progress in Peckham (1914)

Party News from the March 1914 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Peckham Brunch celebrated the first anniversary of its taking over the premises in Albert Road by holding a social on Sunday, Jan 10. This event, which was held at the branch premises, and was the first of its kind ever attempted by the branch, was a great success.

Although not marked by any events of outstanding importance, the past twelve months have witnessed sound and steady progress of Socialism in Peckham. The constant propaganda on Peckham Triangle; the opening up of new ground at Pepys Road, New Cross, at Hanover Park, Rye Lane, at Asylum Rd, New Cross, and at Father Red Cap, Camberwell, has resulted in a steady increase in membership and record sales of literature.

At one of our outdoor meetings a local Liberal challenged our comrade Joy to debate It appears, however, that this must have been done in the heat of the moment, for when we got into communication with him be declined to accept any title to the debate which would allow our representative to place the position of the Socialist Party before the audience. 'This, of course, made the debate impossible from our point of view.

With the advent of winter we recommenced our indoor meetings at our Albert Road Hall on Saturday evenings. An economic class is also being held— on Friday evenings. Friends and opponents in the district are cordially invited to these meetings, at which good discussions take place, while those agreeing with our principles and policy should at once join with us. In Peckham, as elsewhere, there is a mass of working class superstition, ignorance, and confusion to be cleared up. and to accomplish this needs the organised efforts of all who realise that the way to emancipation lies through Socialism.
Branch Scribe.

Socialist souvenirs (2009)

Book Review from the February 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard

'Les souvenirs de Charles Bonnier. Un intellectuel socialiste européen à la belle époque'. Ed. Gilles Candar. Septentrion, Paris.

In a footnote that Engels added to the 4th German edition in 1891 of his The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State he mentioned that “a French friend and admirer of Wagner” did not agree with a remark of Marx’s about the early family. The friend in question was Charles Bonnier, who at the time was a young man in his late 20s (he was born in 1863 and died in 1926).

Bonnier was a member of the French Workers Party and a personal friend of its leading figure, Jules Guesde. Because of his knowledge of German he represented the party at international congresses. He had originally planned to pursue an academic career, in linguistics, in Germany but was barred under Bismarck’s notorious Anti-Socialist Law. Instead, he went to England where he lived from 1890 to 1913, teaching in schools and to students in Oxford and, later, as a professor in French Literature at Liverpool University.

These memoirs (in French) are not all that political but he does have comments on the personalities of the leading lights of the Second International who he met, not just Engels but Wilhelm Liebknecht, Eduard Bernstein and Paul Lafargue. We learn that Eleanor Marx kept a number of black cats and that Engels had a nephew-in-law who was a Tory.
Adam Buick

A Walden Ponder (2017)

From the February 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
Henry David Thoreau, born two centuries ago in Massachusetts, rebelled against a treadmill existence of toil and tedium. What can we learn from his ‘experiment’ in simple living?
This year marks the bicentennial of the birth of Henry David Thoreau, best known as the author of Walden, a book that recounts lessons learned from two years of simple living in a cabin the author built on the banks of Walden Pond, not far from his home in Concord Massachusetts.
‘I went to the woods’, Thoreau explains in Walden, ‘because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach’. Convinced that ‘our life is frittered away by detail’, he took as his motto, ‘simplicity, simplicity, simplicity’, seeking to reduce his needs to what he saw as fundamental, and thereby limiting the time spent labouring to meet those needs and expanding his personal freedom. What Thoreau sought was not the ‘freedom to be lazy,’ however, but a way to ‘live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.’
His ideal of ‘Spartan simplicity of life and elevation of purpose’ amidst the ‘chopping sea of civilized life,’ with its ‘incessant influx of novelty,’ seems all the more attractive today when the ‘hurry and waste of life’ that he had railed against has reached a proportion that Thoreau could not have imagined.
Trivial Pursuits
Looking back, Thoreau’s age may seem quaint now and to have required hardly any further simplification, but that is really our illusion. The same sort of trivia and tedium that distracts and demoralizes us today was already widespread in mid-19th century America. The mania for news, for instance, afflicted the minds of most Americans, as Thoreau writes:
‘After a night's sleep the news is as indispensable as the breakfast. “Pray tell me anything new that has happened to a man anywhere on this globe!—and he reads it over his coffee and rolls, that a man has had his eyes gouged out this morning on the Wachito River; never dreaming the while that he lives in the dark unfathomed mammoth cave of this world, and has but the rudiment of an eye himself’.
With regards to a proposed trans-Atlantic telegraph cable, Thoreau remarks, ‘We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the old world some weeks nearer to the new; but perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad, flapping American ear will be that the Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough’.
These passages, which give a taste of the satirical streak that runs through Walden, bring to mind our own age which groans under the dead weight of celebrity chitchat and trivia. The difference between now and then is just a matter of degree. Tuning out most of the news, which he viewed as mere ‘gossip’, was one way that Thoreau hoped to leave his mind free to pursue worthier matters.
When it came to his reading material, Thoreau guarded the entrance to his mind with an extreme vigilance, only granting entry to the classics, by his own account. But anyone who has entered a zombie state after succumbing to too much click-bait can appreciate the benefits of consuming news in smaller portions.
Working Now, Living Later?
In Walden, Thoreau bemoans how people put off living their lives in favour of ‘earning a living’. He writes: ‘But men labor under a mistake . . . By a seeming fate, commonly called necessity, they are employed, as it says in an old book, laying up treasures which moth and rust will corrupt and thieves break through and steal. It is a fool's life, as they will find when they get to the end of it, if not before’. Thoreau derides people who are ‘Spending of the best part of one's life earning money in order to enjoy questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it.’
This tragic waste of time is all the worse, Thoreau argued, because the labour that must be performed to earn that living usually brings little if any personal fulfilment and satisfaction to the labourer, who ‘has no time to be anything but a machine’.
The late 1840s, when Thoreau was living at Walden Pond, was the beginning of industrialization in the northeast of the country. Forests were being rapidly felled, railroad lines built, and factories were popping up all over the place. Thoreau observes the working conditions of textile factory ‘operatives’ at the time were nearly as bad as those in England, and not surprisingly, since ‘the principle object is . . . unquestionably that corporations may be enriched’.
He was horrified by the tedious, one-dimensionality of work, arising from the increasing division of labour, and wondered: ‘Where is this division of labor to end? And what object does it finally serve? No doubt another may also think for me; but it is not therefore desirable that he should do so to the exclusion of my thinking for myself’.
Toward what end?– That is the question Thoreau is always posing. The benefits in increased production from a system that turns the worker into a mere labouring machine seemed very dubious to him.
Meaningful Work, Useless Toil
In focusing his attention on the quality of the work, rather than the quantity of the outcome, Thoreau views are similar in some important respects to those of William Morris expressed in his talk ‘Useful Work Versus Useless Toil’. There Morris writes, ‘To compel a man to do day after day the same task, without any hope of escape or change, means nothing short of turning his life into a prison-torment. Nothing but the tyranny of profit-grinding makes this necessary’.
Thoreau would have agreed heartily with that view of Morris, as well as his contention that no work can be meaningful unless the worker has some hope of occasional rest and of pleasure in the work itself, as well as some tangible outcome from the effort made. 
Both Morris and Thoreau held the same strong aversion to the separation of physical and mental labour that prevailed in their time as in ours. And the mechanically skilled Thoreau, like the artist Morris, preferred to earn a living through work that engaged his body and his mind, working as a land surveyor or manufacturing pencils for his father’s business, while setting aside his nights to keep the journal that served as the raw material for Walden and other books and essays.
Thoreau thought that engaging in physical labour and outdoor activity had a salutary effect on one’s writing as well. He recommends in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers that ‘steady labor with the hands, which engrosses the attention also, is the unquestionably the best method of removing palaver and sentimentality out of one’s style, both writing and speaking’, adding that, ‘We are often struck by the force and precision of style to which hard-working men, unpractised in writing, easily attain when required to make the effort’.
But of course there is a limit to the benefits of physical labour, and in the case of the exhausted worker, he writes in Walden, ‘Their fingers, from excessive toil, are too clumsy and tremble too much” to be able to pluck the “finer fruits” of that labour.
Thoreau sought to steer clear of the extremes of the idle scholar or over-worked labourer, believing that ‘The finest qualities of our nature, like the bloom on fruits, can be preserved only by the most delicate handling. Yet we do not treat ourselves nor one another thus tenderly’.
Not Political but Radical
Thoreau was living at a time when, at least in the United States, there was no movement on the horizon that sought to end the alienation of labour and class conflict that prevented both ruler and ruler from easily exercising body and brain; and not surprisingly since capitalism was only beginning to take root in certain parts of the country. Even if there had been such a movement, it seems doubtful that Thoreau would have been among its first converts, since politics was something he largely shunned along with the news.
He did support the abolitionist movement, as many of his friends and family members did, and rose to defend John Brown’s attack on Harper’s Ferry at a moment when that was not an unpopular opinion in the north. But Thoreau was never an activist in the movement.
To his credit, though, Thoreau was not the sort of abolitionist who naively assumed that the body politic would have a clean bill of health once chattel slavery was uprooted. He recognizes in Walden that ‘there are so many keen and subtle masters that enslave both north and south’ and that perhaps the worst of all forms of slavery is when ‘you are the slave-driver of yourself’. 
Thoreau thus points out that chattel slavery is only the most obvious and obnoxious form of enslavement, and that the more subtle forms are in fact the harder to drive out because hidden.
On top of this recognition of the reality of wage slavery and the like, Thoreau also frequently rails against the money economy and the personal dead-end of commerce and trade. In Walden he bluntly writes that, ‘trade curses every thing it handles; and though you trade in messages from heaven, the whole curse of trade attaches to the business.’ Similarly, in his essay ‘Life without Principle’, he writes that, ‘The ways by which you may get mon­ey al­most with­out ex­cep­tion lead down­ward. To have done an­y­thing by which you earned mon­ey merely is to have been tru­ly idle or worse’.
Toward What End?
His disdain for slavery in all its forms and for the worship of money might seem sufficient grounds to claim Thoreau as a sort of proto-socialist. But I’m not sure if there is much point in drafting him to our cause. And there are many other political tendencies who seem to have him by the beard already. His essay ‘On Civil Disobedience’ alone has been seen as sufficient ground to fashion him the patron saint of non-violent resistance (despite his defence of the über-violent John Brown) or as a sort of anarchist or anarcho-capitalist.
If Thoreau isn’t really a socialist or even a conscious anti-capitalist, what particular value might his works have for workers today? It seems to me that Walden can, first of all, foster and sustain a proud, rebellious spirit. It has an almost immediate spine-stiffening, morale-boosting effect, I find.
And as workers—facing the present age of austerity, precarious employment, and debt—we have almost no choice but to simplify our lives to some extent. We may not want to raise this effort to the level of a movement, since the capitalist class would embrace an ideology that makes a virtue out of the limited possibilities their system offers us. But nonetheless, as individual workers, we face the challenge of figuring out how to limit the amount of time we have to piss away in wage slavery. Thoreau encourages us to think about what is necessary and what is superfluous, freeing us at times from the purchasing mania that advertisers do their best to stimulate.
But the pursuit of a simpler and freer life brings us up against the ridiculous complexity and waste that characterizes capitalism. This system constitutes the very real limitation to our ability to achieve a genuine freedom. Thoreau poses many fruitful questions regarding what constitutes a meaningful life and labour, but the answers cannot be truly found until we have overcome an absurd social system supported by meaningless toil. That does not mean that it is pointless to simplify our life here and now; only that we have to set our sights on a higher goal as well to be truly realistic.
In other words, this bring us back to Thoreau’s fundamental question: Toward what end? And socialists would say clearly in response: Beyond the dead-end of production for profit and toward a new society of meaningful activity to fulfil our human needs.
Michael Schauerte

A Rattle of Blockchains (2017)

The Pathfinders Column from the December 2017 issue of the Socialist Standard
"Blockchains could change our world as much over the next two decades as the internet has over the last two" -  source: zdnet.com - https://tinyurl.com/mp372v5
The thing about revolutions is that it's not always obvious when you're in one. They only reveal themselves in hindsight. Now some are saying there's a new revolution on the horizon that will be as huge as the internet. They claim it will change capitalism, see banks disappear, even abolish global poverty. When we last mentioned this development (Pathfinders, October 2015) investment in it stood at around $360 million. Today it's close to $2 billion, and this may be only the trickle before the torrent (ft.com - tinyurl.com/yb5zpdeh).
This is the world of the blockchain, and it has implications for socialists too. To understand it though, it's worth understanding something about networks.
Computer networks have in the past followed a centralised model where clients are individual computers communicating via a central server. This client-server structure dates from the early days when computers were the size of basements and operated via 'dumb' terminals capable only of basic input and screen display. Even when terminals got smarter and became PCs, this structure was inherited, and many businesses still use server systems today.
But there are problems with cost and scalability. The network can only be as big and as multitasking as the server can handle. The bigger the network, the bigger the server, the bigger the costs, and the bigger the risks of catastrophic breakdown if something goes wrong. And while the server does the heavy lifting, today's smart PCs are still behaving essentially like dumb terminals.
Consider for a moment an obvious analogy with the state, and centralised state institutions, or any centralised organisational structure. If one applies a top-down exploded view, every hierarchy looks like this. Such client-server structures are historical legacies which remain universal in the capitalist mindset, yet many of the same problems of cost, scalability and risk apply. In addition, these structures are monolithic and unadaptable, and despite massive social and educational advances, smart workers are still required to behave essentially like dumb terminals.
In computing, a new kind of structure, the peer-to-peer (P2P) network, harnesses the power of modern PCs by taking the central server out of the equation. Instead files or bits of files are held on multiple distributed computers, or nodes, and can be disseminated directly to any other node independently of other network operations. Having multiple nodes means parallel processing with no bottlenecks, and it's harder to break, because if a node fails alternative routes exist. P2P is therefore faster, cheaper, more scalable and more robust than client-server systems. But is it more error-prone?
In P2P file-sharing networks, multiple copies of the same data are an advantage. But P2P is now running crypto-currencies like Bitcoin, increasingly popular because unlike bank-mediated digital money the transactions are untrackable. Clearly, multiple copies of the same money cannot be allowed (the so-called 'double-spend' problem), so with no central control or validation, and in an anonymous public network where trust cannot be assumed, what prevents Bitcoin inflating and collapsing in chaos?
Enter the blockchain. Strictly speaking, 'blockchain' is the specific Bitcoin application of a thing called Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT), but as Hoover came to mean 'vacuum cleaner', blockchain is now being used to describe any DLT application.
When you make a Bitcoin transaction, the details are distributed across the entire network. To be sure the transaction is unique (ie not a 'double spend') it must be validated. To do this, the system triggers a competition in which freelance 'miners', acting somewhat like accountants, race to validate the transaction in return for a diminishing new-issue Bitcoin payment, which also helps to grow the currency at a controlled rate. Once validated, the transaction is then written into an encrypted public ledger as a permanent record or 'block'. This block is linked to previous blocks and in turn becomes the anchor or link to the next created block, forming an unbroken chain. Any subsequent attempt to tamper with an individual block disturbs the whole chain and results in a network-wide alert. 51 percent of the network, acting in concert, is enough to prevent interference. In plain terms, you can't buy product X on Wednesday and then pretend you didn't buy it on Thursday, at least not unless a network majority allows you to. System integrity is thus maintained, not by central state or bank control but by what could be called a distributed democracy. Barring a direct and unprecedented hack of the block-creating code itself, it's hard to see a weak point in the system. The strong point is that it offers to cut out all the financial middlemen in capitalist commerce. Business gains would be spectacular, which is why investors are throwing money at this.
DLT can in theory be applied to any field where data validation, transparency and integrity are important. Think big and local government, supply lines, transport systems, food quality and provenance, voting procedures, carbon trading, maybe even accreditation of news stories to prevent fake news.
The truth is, nobody is really sure what it can do, and this has provoked some reckless hyperbole. For example, the claim about abolishing global poverty is patently ridiculous. As tends to happen with emergent technologies, DLT is at the centre of a hype storm while still barely developed and little understood even by its investors. Aside from Bitcoin, no blockchain system has progressed beyond pilots and beta tests, although there are more than 400 start-ups. Small wonder some pundits are now saying that it has already reached the peak of expectations and is about to freefall into the 'trough of disillusionment' with its investment bubble bursting.
Yet there remain implications for socialists. DLT suggests a mechanism for a dynamic and decentralised model of socialist democracy and production which avoids the 'double-give' problem in distribution while offering a flexibility and adaptability not associated with traditional centre-periphery structures. More immediately, it could change how workers today understand the word 'organisation'. In the same way that a future subscription-based capitalism could alter mindsets over the need for money (Pathfinders, October), DLT shows how you can decouple regulatory oversight from centralised authority. If you don't need a state to ensure that things work properly, but can utilise the 'power of crowds', then an important prop in capitalist ideology is kicked away. Leaders and centralised elite structures engender cronyism, corruption and monolithic thinking yet many workers remain wedded to the supposed need for them, convinced that anything else would result in chaos. DLT may make them think again by showing them the power and flexibility of distributed democracy in action, and not just in socialist theory.
PJS

The Slavery of To-Day. (1914)

From the April 1914 issue of the Socialist Standard

Glaring Facts So Often Unobserved.
There is, apparently, no greater insult one can offer a man than to assert or insinuate that he is a slave. Strangely enough, also, it often happens that the more vehemently he scorns such a suggestion the stronger rises in him an uncomfortable feeling that there is an element of truth in the charge. A man will deny, almost with oaths and curses, that he is dependent upon any one other than himself, while all the time he knows that he lives and moves and has his being only by the will of some person, or persons, stronger than he is. It may, however, be taken that, generally speaking, the majority of working class men and women are quite honest in their conviction that the application of the word “ slave” to them is altogether inconceivable. “What!” a man will say, “I a slave. Why I can change my job to morrow. I need not stay on where I am but can clear out whenever I choose.” True enough, a man can change his particular job, but only for another under the same conditions. True, he may leave his place of employment when be chooses, but unless he is then able to find someone else willing to employ him, the chances are that be will find his sense of freedom considerably curtailed by starvation, or possibly by a police court prosecution for vagrancy. Those members of the working class who repudiate so indignantly the very thought of their being slaves, might ask themselves how much freedom over their own lives they really possess; whether, for instance, they can choose their hours of employment, their rates of wages, the conditions under which they work; whether they can make the same enquiries into the personal character of their master as their master can make into theirs. They would do well to ask themselves whether their boasted freedom extends so far as to enable them to exist without using their mental and physical ability in order to make profit for their employer. As a matter of fact, the habit of slavery, the ethical standard of slavery, has become so ingrained in most people that they are quite incapable of realising how subservient they really are. They meekly accept their conditions of existence as being quite in the natural order of things and resent, often quite fiercely, the very idea that their existence is not all that it might be. They hug their chains, fondle the hand that smites them, fawn about the feet that spurn them. The only freedom they desire is the freedom to continue in slavery. The self abasement of some men and women is appalling in its worm-like grovelling. In the Roman Catholic Cathedral at Westminster is a statue of St. Peter, the “rock” on which the Christian Church is founded. The big toe of this statue has been worn smooth and shiny by the continual kisses impressed upon it by Roman Catholic adherents. Think of the degraded mentality of the men and women (most of them working-class men and women) who are content, are eager, to give such slavish adoration to the memory of a man, who—if be ever lived—is known chiefly as a liar and traitor, fit figurehead, indeed, of an institution that, ever since its inception, has done its very best to degrade and cheat and betray its misguided followers.

This slavish attitude of mind is to be found in relation to every phase of society. “Be humble, be meek, be docile,” is the motto given to the workers from press and pulpit and platform. It is, of course, all to the advantage of the capitalists to keep obscure the fact that the working class live in a condition comparable only to that of the negroes as described in such books as "Uncle Tom's Cabin," the difference being that the whip of Legree, instead of being of plaited cords, is now the threat of starvation. The position after all is very simple. While the members of the employing class hold in their hands the means of wealth production, that is, while they control the means whereby the necessaries of existence are produced, then it follows inevitably that they possess the power to give or withhold, just as it may so suit them, the actual necessaries of existence. This really means that all outside the employing class only exist by sufferance. “This man is useful to us,” say the employers. “We will therefore give him sufficient to live on, so that he may continue to be useful to us.” Or they will say: "This man is no good for our purpose. He is too weak, or too stupid, or too independent. We can make nothing out of him. Therefore be can live if he is able, die if he must. In any case it doesn’t matter a damn to us which he does as long as we are not bothered with him.” And so the men and women of the working class live or die just as it suits the capitalists They are not slaves—no, perish the thought! Why, they have a vote—some of them. They have freedom of choice to cast that vote in favour of Mr. A.. Conservative, or Mr. B. Liberal! Rule Britannia, Britons never shall be slaves!

Strange, is it not, and pitiful, that men and women who are intelligent enough in their employers’ business should, when it comes to a question of their own particular concerns, become so hopelessly befogged and befuddled as to preclude any possibility of correct reasoning or logical sequence. Though such a state of affairs is perhaps hardly to be wondered at. The malnutrition of their bodies and minds, their early training in capitalist ethics, the nonsensical superstition designated as religion which is forced down their throats when they are children, all have gone to make the workers, not only dependent upon the capitalists for their scanty means of life, but dependent on them as well for their way of thinking. The majority of the working class think in terms of Capitalism, instead of from the point of view of working-class interests. It is alleged that Socialists are endeavouring to bring about a revolution. At any rate they are trying to revolutionise the ideas of their fellow workers, to make them realise their present ridiculous and degrading position. That is the first object of the Socialist written and spoken propaganda. The slave must first understand that he is a slave and why he is a slave before he can make any attempt to break his fetters. Economic freedom can only be won through intellectual freedom, and intellectual freedom is altogether incompatible with the slave-morality with which most of us have been permeated. To bring his fellow-workers  to a perception of things from the standpoint of the Socialist philosophy must be the great aim of the Socialist.
 “Keep on—Liberty is to the subserved whatever occurs;
That is nothing that is quelled by one or two failures, or any number of failures,
Or by the indifference or ingratitude of the people, or by unfaithfulness,
Or the show of the tushes of power, soldiers, cannon, penal statutes.”
F. J. Webb