From the February 1922 issue of the Socialist Standard
Some people might argue that there is no such thing as common sense, or sense which is common to everybody, and that, consequently, the term common sense is a misnomer. They are both right and wrong, because two meanings can be read into the term. It is perfectly true that there is no sense common to everyone, but, if we regard the word "common" merely as a synonym for "ordinary" or "common-place" as distinguished from extraordinary, the term at once becomes intelligible, because it is a well-known fact that only a small minority of the people can lay claim to a wide general knowledge. The great majority are more or less ignorant of advanced knowledge and science, and are, therefore, compelled to think and reason on the facts in their immediate environment. The bulk of society are common people and possess only common sense. According to certain apostles of the great man theory, there are in any period of history supermen and men, leaders and followers, intellectual giants who unearth the secrets of nature and publish them to ordinary folk in order that they may know how to live
The most fitting reply to the apostles of such a creed is to ask them if the "great men" are responsible for the mess in which the human race finds itself to-day. Millions of people all over the world dying of starvation while corn is burnt as fuel and fish is spread over the land as manure, millions of workers forced to starve in idleness because the land and tools required by them to produce the necessaries of life for themselves are owned by a small class who will only allow them to be used when profits come to them as a result. In a word, unspeakable poverty in the presence of means and methods that could satisfy every need, could flood the world with a cornucopia of abundance.
It requires very little intelligence, combined with a practical knowledge of modern industrial methods, to see that unemployment, poverty and war are the results of a system of production and distribution based on the class ownership of the means of life, and production for profits; and that a system based on common ownership of the means of life with associated production for use, would not only abolish these evils but would entirely eliminate the competitive struggle for existence, or supremacy, as we know it under Capitalism.
Notwithstanding the simplicity and correctness of the Socialist position the "supermen," with all their knowledge are nearly always the apologists of the system of starvation and murder. They are with few exceptions to be found on the side of the ruling-class, declaring that the world is all right or that it will right itself if only the common herd will submit quietly to their toil and poverty and not attempt to interfere with the things they do not understand ; if they will only consent to be ruled by those who understand the business of ruling, instead of attempting to run or direct things for themselves.
No one could, with truth, deny that many professional men and scientists today are as widely separated from the average man in knowledge and intelligence, as the latter is from the savages ; yet every scientist who has approached the problem of poverty has failed to see the only solution—Socialism, or has purposely misrepresented it in order to mislead the workers and assist the ruling-class in suppressing it. Spencer wrote profusely on sociology, yet failed to observe facts and tendencies under his very nose. Haeckel, Lodge, Wallace, and many others could see no purpose in civilisation beyond the growing power and glory of the ruling-class and the continued servitude of the toiling millions.
Professor T. H. Huxley, in his essay, "Government: Anarchy or Regimentation," though failing to arrive at a solution, saw much more clearly than most scientists the nature of the poverty problem. He says, for instance : "What profits it to the human Prometheus that he has stolen the fire of heaven to be his servant and that the spirits of the earth and of the air obey him, if the vulture of pauperism is eternally to tear his very vitals and keep him on the brink of destruction?" And again : "No doubt, if out of a thousand men, one holds and can keep all the capital, the rest are bound to serve him or die." And yet again: "Individualism, on the other hand, admitting the inevitability of the struggle, is too apt to try to persuade us that it is all for our good, as an essential condition of progress to higher things. But this is not necessarily true, the creature that survives a free fight only demonstrates his superior fitness for coping with free fighters—not any other kind of superiority.''
But although Huxley saw clearly enough the evils of individualism, or Capitalism, like Spencer, he failed to see the remedy. Socialism, as he understood it, was State ownership, as the I.L.P. preaches it to-day; and he, quite rightly, judged this to be no solution. Where Huxley showed his inability to deal with, or understand social questions, was in attributing poverty to over-population. Obsessed with the Malthusian idea that, without competition and war, the human race would multiply until there was not standing room on the globe, he completely forgot that evolution is just as applicable to social science as physical science or biology. Huxley knew quite well that society had evolved from savagery, under different systems, up to the present. A scientific mind should not assume the end of systems when all social history is a succession of systems, but should endeavour to understand from the outstanding features and tendencies of the present system what forces are being generated by the prevailing conditions. Every system of the past is recognised by its class struggle ; feudal barons and serfs, slave owners and slaves, etc. ; to-day it is capitalists and wage-slaves. As all ruling-classes in the past have had to give way to the class below, who struggled against them, and as the working-class today is engaging ever more keenly in the struggle against the capitalist class, there is little doubt that the latter will share the same fate and that capitalism will give way to a new system more in harmony with the interests of the working-class.
Huxley failed to apply the scientific method, but what was even worse for so brilliant a scientist, he allowed himself to be confused by the Malthusian rubbish which had been exploded almost as soon as it was published by Godwin in his book "On Population," and later by Henry George in "Progress and Poverty."
Moreover, there is no doubt whatever that all the people at present living could, by their own labour, satisfy all their wants, if it were not for the fact that the ruling class own the land and machinery of production and will not permit them to be used for that purpose, but only to obtain surplus value for themselves. Even if it were true, however, that population would increase beyond the means of subsistence under Socialism, that would be no excuse for prolonging Capitalism with its wage-slavery, unemployment, starvation, war and many other evils. Capitalism is so obviously a system of robbery—robbery of the wealth producers by an idle class—that nothing could justify its continuance once it became generally understood that all these evils were due to the system and would cease to exist under a sane system where profits were no longer the only incentive to production.
It is often said of those who are scientifically trained that they are more easily imposed upon than ordinary folk, and it would almost appear as if years spent in scientific research left the mind simple and childlike towards mundane affairs. This may be the explanation in some cases, but many scientists are on the side of the ruling-class for the same reason as the professional politician and the parson— because it pays.
Whatever the reason, it is quite obvious that the workers must not allow themselves to be confused or guided by them. The evils of Capitalism are quite plain to every man who possesses average common sense. It needs no great scientific knowledge to see that these evils are due to the system ; nor does it require super men with giant intellects to tell the workers that they can achieve Socialism by first understanding it and then organising as a class to gain political control.
There is nothing in Socialist principles or objects beyond the comprehension of the average worker; but what there is must be understood by them before they can become organised to establish it.