Wednesday, April 19, 2023

To be or not to be. (1911)

From the April 1911 issue of the Socialist Standard

Objections to Socialism may be roughly grouped into two divisions—those which arise through ignorance, and those which are prompted by self-interest. The objections of the working man usually belong to the first category, either from lack of information or weakness in reasoning power. If he were prompted by self-interest in his efforts, he would reach for Socialism with both hands. It is the Socialists’ task to show him that his true self-interest lies in bringing Socialism into being, at once. There is no excuse for delay. You, the working men and working women of the country, are living in poverty surrounded by wealth—the wealth you have made. You have to obtain permission to live. You are slaves. Why don’t you revolt ?

You will revolt, some day. Ah ! some day. We want you to revolt, not some day, but now, at once. But stay. How are you going to do it ? Are you going to quit work one summer afternoon and march through the West End smashing windows ? or “demonstrate” in Trafalgar Square and throw bottles at the police? or erect barricades across Oxford Street and Piccadilly and await the arrival of the Maxim guns ? Are you going to do any of these or similarly silly things ? I hope not. Let me tell you the Socialist way.

First you must convince yourself that Socialism is supremely desirable. Then you must reason thusly : the great majority of my fellow men are workers like myself, similarly poor, equally slaves. Socialism must be equally desirable to them. I will convey the good tidings to them. If they hearken not the first time, I will tell them a second time, and yet a third. And when there is a greater number of us all convinced that Socialism is the only thing worth while, we will ignore the shrieking of Tariff fools and Free Trade fatheads, the blandishments of Labour salary-hunters and “some-day Slowcialists,” and we will select from our midst good men and true, and send them into Parliament to take hold of the political machinery in our name. The elected members of the working class shall then say unto the capitalists in the Riviera or the South Pacific, on the pleasure yachts or visiting Venice : “Stay where you are, we have no use for you.” And to the capitalists who tarry within the city gate : “Go and join the others or stay and work.” The latter part of the sentence will do the trick. Exit the undesirables. And those who have worked for the enrichment of their masters up till that time, will work for the good of themselves. And those for whom the masters had no use in their day, they also shall contribute to the great store of wealth. And those who toiled in the old days foolishly, in the digging of holes to fill up again, in advertising, canvassing, and unprofitable toil generally, they also shall add their quota to the nation’s store.

There is nothing so very unreasonable in all this. Perhaps its very simplicity tells against it. Briefly we may put it thus : The masters own your means of livelihood, they therefore own you. This ownership is safeguarded by the control of the political machinery of the country, which, in the last analysis, means that they possess a variety of big sticks to whack you into submission when you get obstreperous. But from historical causes they have to let you elect them into possession of the big sticks. Well, you should decline to do it. Take possession of them yourselves. Now comes an important point. With no one to keep in subjection, the need for big sticks vanishes, so that the State is no longer necessary, a central administrative body taking its place for the administration of affairs. Other details you can work out for yourselves.

As a working man, objections you can have none. Your opinions as a capitalist (if that be your social standing) are of no interest to Socialists. The latter are working men, looking at things from a working-class standpoint, and nothing else matters. The capitalists have always provided a splendid object lesson in raising objections on the one hand and ignoring them on the other. The history of the railway provides some striking examples of the types of people who oppose anything like progress, and also of the manner in which those who found it to their interest to introduce the new factor obtained their way in spite of opposition.

In “Francis’ History of Railways” it is recorded that on presentation to Parliament of the Bill authorising the first Liverpool and Manchester railway, antagonistic petitions poured in from all classes. To quote the authority named : “Country gentlemen objected that the smoke would kill the birds as they passed over the locomotives ; manufacturers cried out that the sparks from the funnel would sat fire to their stock; ladies were certain that their horses would take fright and overturn them into ditches ; horse-breeders lamented the extinction of the noble quadruped ; while farmers were convinced that oats and hay would no longer be marketable commodities.”

And again our old friend the “Quarterly Review” said in 1825 : “The gross exaggeration of the powers of the locomotive steam engine may delude for a time, but must end in the mortification of those concerned. It is certainly some consolation to those who are to be whirled at the rate of eighteen or twenty miles an hour by means of the high-pressure engine, to be told that they are in no danger of being sea-sick, that they are not to be scalded to death or drowned by the bursting of the boiler, and that they need not mind being shot by the scattered fragments, or dashed to pieces by the flying off or breaking of a wheel. But with all these assurances we should as soon expect the people of Woolwich to suffer themselves to be fired off by one of Congreves’ Ricochet Rockets, as to trust themselves to the mercy of such a machine going at such a rate. We will back old Father Thames against the Woolwich Railway for any sum.”

Sir Astley Cooper, the eminent surgeon, said : “Your scheme is preposterous in the extreme ; it is of so extravagant a character as to be positively absurd.”

And that is what people say of Socialism now. But observe, where they are not people totally uninformed, they are of those who are making a fat living out of capitalism. As such their opinion doesn’t matter. But if you are not of their number, if you are sick of the bestial horror of capitalism and all its ways, if you are one of those who realise that a dog’s life is not good enough for human beings, join with us in ending it. Behind you there stretches a long history of oppression and servitude ; you are slaves in the midst of stupendous plenty at this present moment. The future, at least, is yours, if you take it. With nothing to lose but your chains, you have a world to win.

Do you see what Cecil, K.C., sees? (1911)

From the April 1911 issue of the Socialist Standard

Among the many “topics of the moment” may well be included the question of co-partnership, or profit-sharing. The matter has been dealt with in these columns on several occasions, but the appearance of the following paragraph in the Evening News of 12.11.10 makes it opportune to again direct attention to the tricky purpose behind the specious wording of the phrase co-partnership.
“The West London Parliament will meet to-night in the Council Chamber of Marylebone Hall, when Lord Robert Cecil, K.C., will move : 
‘That in the opinion of this House, the fair division of the profits of industry, as between capital and labour, is of supreme importance, and can only be secured by the adoption of co-partnership ; that being the only effective alternative form of industrial organisation to Socialism.'”
I do not know the result of the debate, but anyway, that is unimportant. The discerning reader will draw quite a number of conclusions from the paragraph as it stands, but I would ask him more particularly to consider the last few words. The only alternative to Socialism is co-partnership, according to Lord Robert Cecil. Good ! I hope the toilers can see it equally clearly.

Observe there is no hypocritical reference to Socialism destroying family life, religion, initiative, etc.; to it being the “end of all,” the creed of the chronic grumbler, or piffle of that description. With refreshing candour the fact is specifically admitted that Socialism is a form of industrial organisation. Grant that and you have the unique spectacle of one of the Cecils, with a pedigree as long as a poker, inferentially preaching Socialism.

Prove it ? Set your thinking apparatus in motion. Look here, if co-partnership be the only alternative to Socialism, logically the bankruptcy of the former leaves you but one course. In that the noble lord concurs. Co-partnership has been proved in these columns to be a fraud. It has proved to be a failure wherever it has been inflicted upon the workers—notably quite recently in the shipbuilding industry, where it was installed with a nourish of drums and sounding of brasses, but only to demonstrate that the wealth producers would still obtain but a mere fraction of their product.

Out of capitalism nothing but its effect can be expected. The method of wealth making that we call capitalism depends and rests upon the fact that the class that makes all wealth gets only a small portion returned to it in the shape of wages. Any juggling with the proportions of the total product of labour, and calling the process the profit-sharing or bonus system, does not alter the central and fundamental fact that the people who make it do not get it. They only receive a portion of it. And yet there are people who talk of a fair division of wealth between those who make it and those who don’t. K.C.s may be able to see it, but workers cannot —there is a difference.

S.P.G.B. Lecture List For April. (1911)

Party News from the April 1911 issue of the Socialist Standard