What Is and What Could Be
At school and in the books and papers that we read we are always being told of the wonderful technical developments of the age we live in. The politicians who oppose Socialism give the theme a propaganda twist by arguing that it is capitalism that gives us these things and we would be foolish to give up the social system that does so much for us. The worker of a century ago, they say, did not have the benefit of all the marvels that the worker in 1956 is free to enjoy. But this is the heart of the matter: is the worker of today free to enjoy them? Let us examine two of the fields in which invention has been most spectacular—transport and communications.
Certain facts are beyond dispute. A hundred years ago there were no motor cars, no high-speed luxury liners, no supersonic air-travel; no telegraphs, no telephones or wireless, no radio or television. Messages can now be flashed round the globe in a few seconds, you can travel far and fast in comfort, news and opinions can be radioed anywhere and picked up by all who have sets, though this means only a smallish minority of the world’s population.
What then is wrong with the argument of defenders of Capitalism? They leave two things out of account. One is that under Capitalism you can only have what you can afford to pay for. The other is that the savage class struggles and international conflicts that Capitalism incites prevent most of these freedoms from being used for the good of mankind. Under Socialism the use of all these technical developments would be freely available to all; under Capitalism they are used, for the most part, as appendages to profit-making industry and commerce, and subject all the time—even for the rich who could afford them—to the demands and restrictions imposed by the greatest of all industries, preparation for war.
Is this an overstatement? Let us see. Let us take first the postal, telegraph, telephone and cable networks. The great bulk of all their traffic is for business and State purposes not for the enjoyment of the private lives of the mass of the population; it is mostly business traffic and would disappear under Socialism. This is even true of the least expensive of them, the postal services. Apart from Pool entries and Xmas cards workers rarely use the posts, and more rarely still the telegraph and cable services. Most of the telephones are business lines or the residential lines of the well to do. A small minority of working class homes have unshared lines but for most workers, using the telephone for personal calls means using the “communal" telephone in apartment houses or the street kiosk, with of course a considerable volume of calls made on the firm’s lines in office hours. Even in U.S.A., where telephone development has gone farthest, large numbers of subscribers put up with the inconveniences of shared lines because they are cheaper. In Russia, telephonically most backward of the Powers, the number of workers who have their own lines is a tiny minority of the working class.
And the chief cause of this everywhere is that the workers' wages do not extend to meeting the cost of an unshared telephone except at the expense of some other comfort or convenience.
The Workers’ Choice
It is the same with motor cars, television sets and travel. Workers are free to choose from all the rich variety spread before them but only within the narrow limits of their wage packets. For many it is only by living in a slum or cramped and dilapidated houses that they can afford their television set, or their old crock of a car that endangers their own and other people's lives on the roads. Why are there 1,500,000 pre-war cars still in use except chiefly because of cheapness? Have a car and a T.V. set and cut down on holidays, clothes and other expenditure: that is the common choice. A News Chronicle reporter, inquiring of five London dealers about people buying new cars found the dealers surprised that money was forthcoming in spite of the raising of the deposit to 50 per cent. He asked some of the purchasers how they did it. “I spoke to four who had, between them, cut smoking, sold the T.V.. sold furniture and economised on food. Two of their wives had gone out to work.” (News Chronicle 2/4/56).
The brewers even complain of falling sales of beer that have accompanied the buying of T.V. sets and travel abroad. Go away on holiday and take the rest of the year to save the money by going to work on cheap early morning tickets packed like half-alive sardines.
You can travel by luxury air-liner all over the world if you have the money: but most workers have never travelled by air, and most of those who have do so only in the Armed Forces when Capitalism is at war. You can holiday abroad, if you have long enough holidays, and if, as a worker, you resign yourself for the rest of the year to going without other things in order to save up the money. The great majority of British workers have never been abroad except for war, and have no passports.
And what of the freedom of movement and communication as progressively narrowed by governments for military and other reasons? Freedom to settle in other countries is more restricted now than for many decades. Trains, cars, ships and planes can easily carry you across frontiers, subject, however, to the restrictions and immigration quotas and entry permits imposed by governments. Hence the widespread and often cosily activities to secure illegal entry, and the dangerous traffic of human beings fleeing across barbed and mined and guarded frontiers of the iron curtain and other countries.
The Marvels of Communication
You can communicate with people living all over the world, provided that, for many countries, you pass the censorship on foreign mails and telegraph calls. The air is free to broadcast—except that a very large port of the world’s radio equipment is now devoted solely to the jamming of foreign broadcasts.
After a century of technical development of communications the flow of information and propaganda over many frontiers is now limited to balloons! (It will probably rise to still higher efficiency and employ the pigeon post).
It may be objected that at least “free" Britain does not engage in these retrograde practices. This objection overlooks the restrictions of entry to this country and the censorship in some colonies; and the new development of British jamming of broadcasts in Cyprus and the Middle East
And here at home the S.P.G.B. has for 20 years been steadfastly refused any opportunity to put the Socialist case on the air by the B.B.C.
This is how Capitalism works in all fields. Under Capitalism the working class have invented, discovered, and produced, all the technical marvels, but Capitalism fetters and distorts them all for the profit-making and military needs of the Capitalist groups of the world.