Sunday, December 10, 2017

A New Year — Forty Years Later. (1945)

From the January 1945 issue of the Socialist Standard

In January, 1905, we printed our first New Year Message —a message of struggle and hope. In the intervening years we have slowly built up our organisation, spreading knowledge of Socialism as widely as our meagre finances would allow, burrowing like moles at the foundations of privilege and oppression. Of the small group of enthusiastic young people who delivered that early message some have passed out and some have passed over; a few are still with us.

What have we to show for those years of propaganda? As these lines are written the aeroplanes thunder overhead on their ghastly mission and an occasional bolt from the blue brings death and destruction to numerous homes. They are proof of the amazing ingenuity of the human brain and hand, but directed to ignoble and horrible ends— senseless destruction. Two great wars have destroyed the lives and homes of millions of people who could have made the world a happy place, flowing with milk and honey for all. Capitalism has indeed lived up to its ugly record, and the cynical and the heartsick would answer our question with one word—nothing! But they would be wrong, blindly wrong.

On the surface, it is true, there may seem little reason for optimism. From 1904 until to-day we have delivered the same message day after day, week after week, month after month, “while the hungry teeth of time devour, and the silent-footed years pursue,” and still the workers let themselves be led up the blind alleys of disappointment and despair, following leaders with pathetic trust on the painful march to a promised land that always remains over the hill.

Is our message so hard to understand? No! It is the very essence of simplicity. The workers produce the wealth of the world, the capitalists own it. Just as the workers hand over what they produce to-day to the capitalists, they could keep it for themselves if they wished to do so. The capitalists perform no useful task in wealth production, they are just drones. They take the fruits of the workers' labour because the workers let them; and the workers let them do so because they are bemused by the myth that drones are necessary. It is not remedies for particular social diseases that we need but the removal of the source of all social disease—the legal figment that enables the drone to live on our backs. The truth is that, intelligent though they are, the workers are frightened by the immensity of their own productions and, like the worshippers, make sacrifices to allay their fears.

The legal arrangement that because a man has money he therefore has the right to exploit his fellow men is a social agreement that has not always existed, and it can be abolished at any time that society decides to take this step. Society includes everybody, both workers and capitalists, and the workers are the great majority in society.

Although the sacrifices to capital are still made with punctual regularity, the doubts that were creeping in stealthily forty years ago have grown in volume and in expression, and the ingenuity of those whom the capitalist pays to dispel these doubts is stretched to breaking point. The money that is lavished by the parsimonious capitalist on schemes to keep the workers quiet is evidence of this. In the early days our message was received with laughter and derision, now it is discussed at length as something worthy of serious attention. We have burrowed well and truly and the toppling of the rotten edifice of capital is no longer far away. In the days that follow the end of this war the capitalists will have aching heads over the problem of meeting the demands of the workers and, at the same time, keeping a tight grip on the privileges of the parasite.

This year there is to be a General Election and all other political parties are at pains to impress the world with their altruistic intentions. Some spokesmen of the Labour Party have even carried their altruism so far as to forecast the necessity of the workers working hard to help the capitalist here to capture an important share of the world's markets after the war so that the export trade may flourish. We are not altruists, we are concerned with the interests of the working class in all countries. It is not the building up of trade so that their masters may amass wealth that they need, but the ownership of the wealth they produce.

Alleging that falling prices would hinder economic recovery, some capitalists have opposed a return to the gold standard. Perhaps they have more urgent reasons in mind. A fall in prices would mean that the workers' present wages would buy more goods, his standard of living would rise; whilst further inflation of prices would reduce the purchasing power of wages and might save the capitalist the embarrassment of reducing wages generally, assuming of course that the productiveness of labour remained the same as it is now.

The aim of the capitalists is to force or cajole the workers into the submissive attitude of willing slaves, heaping up wealth for others to enjoy, and flattery and promises, cant and hypocrisy will be instruments used to secure this end. They were successful after 1914, but the worker has learned a great deal since then, and, in spite of war weariness, he is not nearly so tractable now. But misdirected discontent leads to disaster. It is our task to show what lies behind this discontent, and to indicate the direction it should take.

So we deliver the same New Year message this year as of yore, but confident that its soundness will appeal to a rapidly growing body of our fellow workers. The workers of the world can control their destinies once they shed their delusions and cast off the useless burden of capitalist privilege that they have borne upon their backs for so long. But the work they have to do must be done by themselves. With leaders they drift, leaderless they progress.

Neither high sentiment nor low jeers will get us to the goal we seek. The only path is knowledge of what we are, wealth producing slaves of capital, and what we can be, freely associated workers owning in common our means of production and using them to supply the needs of all, without the intervention of privilege of any kind except youth, age or sickness

The tide will soon begin to surge. Who is there so utterly broken and cowed that he can remain deaf to the appeal of the greatest movement the world has ever known— the freeing of suffering humanity from the source of its sorrows! The movement to establish Socialism and banish privileged classes from the earth for ever.

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