Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The Wrong Way (1947)

From the January 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard

The first day on which the daily newspapers were able to increase their size—September 23rd, 1946— the Daily Herald saw fit to commence publication of a series of articles by J. B. Priestley, entitled “The Mood of the People.” It seemed strange to read on the same page, first the Editorial, which said that the advancement of the Labour cause was the task which the Daily Herald wanted to perform and, second, the article by Mr. Priestley, which was a bitter attack on the present behaviour of the workers.

"Too many people are going the wrong way,” he said, by which he meant that there is “a dwindling interest in the job. A cynical indifference as to what value is given for money received. An undisguised contempt for the customer. And too much downright dishonesty.” He was careful to safeguard himself by saying that most people are doing their decent best, and he had noticed in his own special fields of interest that the people to-day are livelier and more intelligent but, says he, the fact still remains that too many people, including a high proportion of the young, are going the ‘‘wrong way.” He claims they are losing their community sense, all pride and interest in the job—they are “rapidly becoming bad mannered, lazy and cheaply cynical.”

He points out that the workers no longer feel the threat of unemployment and poverty—that the world has been improved, otherwise such people would not feel at liberty to behave so badly in it. Whilst giving him credit for not wishing to see conditions which produce unemployment and poverty we cannot but take exception to his effort to get the workers to work harder simply for the reason that we think, and apparently we are not alone, that the world has not been improved, nor the threat of unemployment and poverty removed by the advent of a Labour Government. If workers find themselves in ‘‘an emotional and spiritual vacuum” now it must be because all the hot air exuded by Labour Party candidates to gain votes at the General Election has too rapidly risen to the skies and left a void behind.

According to Mr. Priestley we are now taking part in a gradual slow-motion revolution, and new incentives must be found to get the workers to give the wheel a shove instead of applying the brake.

All of this might be good if it were true; if Socialism were here—but, unfortunately, it is false.

Where is this revolution that is “transforming our whole society’’?

Is it a revolution to have caused the Bank of England stockholders and the owners of a few other large concerns to exchange their stock for Government securities—their stake in a corporation for a stake (of greater security) in the National Treasury. Is it a revolution to have introduced the payment of family allowances—which will have a depressing influence on wages? Is it a revolution to introduce social ” security ” schemes, which with their niggardly increases merely bring pre-war pensions and doles approximately in line with the present cost of living?

These are the sort of things for which the voters voted. For reforms—not revolution; for patching up the old society—not for transforming it; for capitalism —not for Socialism.

Mr. Priestley, flirting with Russian “stakanovisin.” says that in order to get the best out of men and women a system of ‘‘functional privilege” should be introduced—different baits in different jobs—until there is plenty of everything for everybody and everybody can buy what they like! Here we have the crux of the matter and find that these articles are only another form of apology for present-day capitalism. Simply the old argument dressed up in fine phrases—the workers should work harder to put the country on a sound profit-making basis, rebuild its export trade, then, when a surplus has been produced, sit back and enjoy it to the full.

No wonder Mr. Priestley cries, ” Away with dry and dreary economists—we want a psychological approach” !

"Give us a carrot or two!”, he pleads.

The capitalist class has been dangling carrots of all shapes, sizes and descriptions in front of the workers’ noses for a century or more! Yet Mr. Priestley wants a carrot!

For the past seven years the workers have been exhorted by all means of propaganda to eat carrots instead of oranges—yet Mr. Priestley wants more carrots.

Now we have a Labour Government promising all sorts of goodies in the misty future—yet Mr. Priestley still wants more carrots!

As workers we can’t understand the man. ”A little elementary psychology,” indeed—for whom?

Look around you, Mr. Priestley—there is no need to go to Russia to use your powers as a “trained observer.” Is the economic position of the working class in our society basically different from what it has been since the birth of capitalism? Has the Labour Government expropriated the wealth which the capitalist class call their “private” property, but which is the accumulated labour of millions of workers extracted from them during tens of decades of vicious exploitation? Have they taken it, and are they administering it as the common property of the whole of society? And, in doing so, have they thereby removed the necessity for all workers to find a buyer for their ability to work before they can acquire the wherewithal to eat, drink, clothe, and sleep? Is it no longer necessary to find a market for and to sell at a profit the things which are produced?

The answer to all these questions is- NO!

How, then, can there ever be plenty of everything for everybody under such conditions?

It is common ground for all economists that a "sellers" market exists to-day—almost anything that can be produced will find a willing and eager buyer anywhere in the world. As a consequence, all nations are producing as much as they can in order to sell as much as possible in the markets available before they become saturated with goods. When the markets become saturated, and there are signs of it already, prices and profits will tend to fall as a result of competition which will become keener and keener as supply exceeds demand. As a result of the imminent fall in prices the capitalist class will he driven to cutting costs, and this will be done by decreasing wages and staffs and getting more work out of each worker left employed. Thus when there is plenty of everything will he precisely the time when the majority of the people—the working class—will have less money to spend, and a greater inability to buy the goods they have produced.

It is no good Labour spokesmen prating about full employment and social security—they can provide neither so long as profit-making is the aim of production, whether this latter be State controlled or privately controlled. The whole mentality of the Labour Party clearly shows that there is no intention of producing goods solely for the use of the community, and the fact must therefore he faced that in carrying on production for profit they are acting as the agents of capitalism, and against the interests of the workers.

The Labour Party, with roseate phrases, has taken its stand as an allegedly working-class party, and now that it has obtained power it is faced with the insoluble problem of running capitalism and yet trying to satisfy working-class demands. It cannot do this, and must not be surprised, therefore, if the workers’ instinctive revulsion to increased exploitation becomes apparent.

Although some of the tendencies of the modern working class ay he obnoxious to those whose minds can conceive of no better world than one in which goods are produced for sale, it seems to us very questionable whether they are going the wrong way. Perhaps they are instinctively going the right way, and when instinct gives place to knowledge, we have no doubt they will sweep away every vestige of capitalism, including all its intellectual apologists, and set up a society in their own interests based on the common ownership of the means of wealth production.

Then, there will be plenty of everything we need and no need to buy anything.
N. S.

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