The past makes fools of everyone, pushing and shoving us into irrational action. Does society want children starving to death, families living in slums, cities devastated by war, or food dumped in the sea? It’s not the way you or I would have designed it, yet today’s society needs mass starvation and slums and homelessness and war and waste.
The bosses blame the workers and the most stupid of the workers blame themselves. Society is in this mess because the workers . . . are greedy, lazy, militant, immoral, unpatriotic. The sinful wealth producers, afflicted with that incurable disease called Human Nature, exorcise themselves in the churches and the voting booths in the hope that one day they will be fit to enjoy their exploitation in a world of capitalist harmony.
The workers with one eye open blame the bosses. Thatcher, the Queen and a band of top-hatted robbers are the cause of the problems, they believe. The heartless villains whose privilege and affluence is the reverse side of the workers’ poverty and insecurity, must be removed from power. Indeed, they must, but the robbers are merely reflections of the legalised robbery system and there would be no point in evicting the parasites from the palaces and penthouses, only to put in their place a new team of compassionate exploiters. The reason is not to be found in the Big, Bad Capitalists — although plenty of them are big and bad — or the inherently anti-social workers: it is not the consciousness of men and women which determines social existence.
Why, then, is the suffering in the world today necessary? It is needed because the present social system is based on minority class ownership, whereby a small fraction of the earth’s population own and control the resources of the planet and the means of producing and distributing wealth. The system puts profits for the capitalist few before the needs of the wealth producing majority: the men and women who live by selling their ability to work in return for wages or salaries. Capitalism is a profit system, where the golden law of the market is that production only takes place with a view to sale for profit. Under capitalism, that which cannot be sold profitably is either not produced or is destroyed. That is why thirty million human beings starve to death each year while food is stockpiled in artificial mountains and farmers are given government subsidies to take land out of cultivation.
Capitalism is not the fault of the capitalists or the governments which preside over it. They are the victims of a system which needs poverty in order to ensure that the wage slaves have no alternative to employment. After all, anyone with a secure income would not waste their lives working to make an idle class richer.
We have not always had a profit system. It is a relatively new horror story in the long history of human existence. For approximately four hundred centuries human beings survived quite happily in non-property societies. Capitalism is a scratch on the surface of humanity’s collective experience. In the history books of the future the whole of property society may receive no more than a chapter — or even a footnote — as a perverse period in pre-civilised society (which capitalist writers arrogantly label as Civilisation). Looked at from the standpoint of the present, capitalism seems like it has always been with us and will always remain; but then the slaves of classical antiquity thought that and so did the serfs of feudalism.
What can we say about the present which can inspire us to construct a practical future? We know that the productive forces have now reached the point of development where they can be adapted to produce for use on the basis of free access. Socialism — a society where wealth is produced for need, not profit — is now an obtainable new system. We need not be stuck with the profit system. What is necessary within capitalism — poverty, war, malnutrition, death from hypothermia, pollution, slums — would not only be unnecessary within a society where production is for use, but would be looked upon as ugly relics of an insane past.
The choice before us is not whether to have Cruise missiles or to abolish the Greater London Council or lower the age of consent for homosexuals. These petty reform issues, which seem important within the context of capitalist necessities, are diversions from the real choice we face. Shall we unlock the door to a socialist future or stay here in our uncomfortable present, like dinosaurs defying the laws of evolution, hoping that Uncle History will bring us a better future? The future is made, not given, and any worker with any sense will be making it fast before the capitalist future destroys us.