From the February 1959 issue of the Socialist Standard
It has always been fashionable for the champions of so-called Western Democracy to describe in horrifying detail the horrors perpetrated by Big Brother Stalin, Big Brother Khruschev and the other dictators, in order that we might be comforted by the thought that circumstances here might be a lot worse. When one looks around, though, the differences aren't as great as they are made out to be. Everywhere one looks there are myriads of little brothers—the petty bureaucrats and officials that are apparently indispensable to modem society. So vast and impersonal has the State machine become, that the sum total of all the little brothers appears to make a very big brother indeed.
One of the most disturbing features about this is the way in which little-brotherdom has been taken for granted, few now questioning the supervisory rights exercised by the multitudes of little brothers.
Practically every moment of our waking life is spent under the observation and control of these watchdogs, who themselves are oblivious to the nature of their task, that is to be the ruling class's minions who ensure that every dot and comma of the laws of property society are observed.
Let us take a look at our lives and see how far we are dominated by little-brotherdom. We open our eyes in the morning, lift our heads from the pillow (Purchase Tax (Domestic Pillowslips) Order 1947, S.R. & O., 1876); and gaze around our cosy Council flat ("Tenants shall not keep cats, dogs, chickens, livestock or any animal whatsoever"). We lower our feet gently to the floor, careful not to wake the baby downstairs ("No musical instruments, radio, record-player or noisy instrument whatsoever shall be played or used between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7.30 a.m."). We pull on our cotton socks (Customs and Excise (Import Licences for Foreign Cotton Goods) Order 1954. S.T. No. 6764).
The carpet we tread on is subject to Purchase Tax, Hire Purchase restrictions, Customs and Excise duty if it is imported, Police investigation if it is stolen, and some thousands of officials in various Ministries and Departments are concerned with all these qualities of the carpet. The only quality that they are not interested in is the one that concerns the owner, that is, its usefulness. Similarly the tea that we pop into the teapot is haggled over by harassed merchants, discussed by diplomats, preserved by security police, checked by Customs officials, weighed by weights and measures men, and litigated over by lawyers, all without reference or relevance to the need that it satisfies.
And so the morning goes on; everything we do, everything we use, and even our conversations are affected in some way or other by regulations, statutes, restrictions, official decrees, taxes, tithes, fines, penalties, and the rest.
Perhaps the postman has brought us some mail? Ah, yes, a kind letter from our obedient servant, the Inspector of Taxes, requesting us to complete and return Form A.63 forthwith or have our code number reduced to zero (almost a fate worse than death). What else—perhaps a billet-doux from the Postmaster-General reminding us that our television licence expires on the 31st proximo? Or a figure-studded form from the Town Clerk telling us that each pound of rates was divided up into such fascinating items as 3¾d. for roads: 4¼d. for schools; 9d. for himself as watcher-in-chief and for his myrmidons; and so on. In fact, one could hazard the guess that three-quarters of the average man's mail comes from the little brothers.
And so it goes on—one is always subject to the restrictions, petty tyranny and feeling of soul-destroying impotence produced by constant surveillance—"Good morning, madam; may I see your wireless and television licences?"; and the rest of it.
Even the forms of little-brotherdom that we take completely for granted -"Fares, please"; "May I see your ticket?"; "One and nines at the far paybox" — all these are the product of an irrational society which substitutes profit for human needs, money for human feelings, and cash registers for human lives.
A whole army of people exists, whose only purpose is to restrict us, regulate our lives, keep us submissive, and preserve the sanctity of private property. This is not a criticism of the watchdogs themselves—the clerk in the tax office or the bus conductor is only carrying out a job, although the job itself is one that stultifies and inhibits. Millions of able-bodied men and women carry out these socially useless tasks for the purpose of keeping capitalism running efficiently and keeping the others in order.
Capitalism requires an army, navy, air force, police force and judiciary to defend the rights of employers to exploit their propertyless employees. In order to do this efficiently in the modern world, an immense and complicated State machine grows up, which irons out the differences between individual capitalists and combines all their interests in what is complacently described as the "national interest." To maintain this top-heavy institution, hundreds of thousands of workers are required to staff the end less Ministries and Departments. The Inland Revenue Department rakes in the State's share of the profits exacted from workers, and the various Ministries spend it in the ways deemed best by the ruling class's administrators.
And yet, a large proportion of the tasks performed by this vast army of people are, from a rational point of view, socially worthless. The Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance keeps infirm and aged workers alive at the minimum expense; the Customs and Excise Department preserves the State monopolies of tobacco and alcohol and keeps the rapacious foreign capitalist from the door; the Defence Ministry and Foreign Office ensure that the British capitalist can hang on to what he has captured; and so on. No doubt this is all very desirable from the ruling class's point of view, but has little to do with the interests of the majority of people.
People's acceptance of these social fungi implies an acceptance of capitalism, with all the evils that go with it. Conversely, once one has rejected capitalism, it can be seen that this implies the rejection of all of its stupid paraphernalia - of which little brothers are a part. Little brothers are only a facet of a harmful social system which has long outlived its purpose; a facet which itself emphasises and demonstrates the irrational and undesirable nature of capitalist society.
A society which turns in on itself in this way, which dominates and regiments humans instead of serving their interests—this is a world which is unworthy of human beings. The fact that people find life unthinkable without the little brothers proves just how unthinkable it has become with them.