Monday, April 15, 2024

Harry Barber and the Fortunate Thieves (1948)

A Short Story from the April 1948 issue of the Socialist Standard

Once upon a time there was a poor man named Harry Barber. Now although he could afford only the barest necessities of life Harry Barber could not understand the reason for his poverty. Men who were considered wise had told him that if he worked hard he would eventually scale the ladder of success and leave his poverty behind him.

But Harry Barber had worked hard for many years. Many things had he produced in that time— shoddy articles for the poor, specimens of exquisite workmanship for the rich. Yet, work as he may, he found that the money he received was hardly enough to buy his needs.

And looking around him he found that millions of others were in the same position as himself. With no earthly possessions these people could only sustain themselves by working for richer folk in return for sums of money just sufficient to provide food, clothing and shelter for them and their families.

And seeing these things Harry Barber was sorely troubled. Why was it that the people who produced the good things of life were the very people who could not afford to buy these things, whilst others who did no useful work lived in comfort and idleness? Why was it that although the poor produced things of great value they remained in poverty? Was it because they often experienced times in which their masters did not employ them, and during these times there was no payment for services rendered?

"No," thought Harry, "it cannot be that, for even when I am working regularly I am still poor."

Unable to find an answer to his questions Harry Barber determined to study the framework of his day- to-day existence. He listened to the words of those whom the world acclaimed as wise and knowledgable men. He read the works of economists who claimed a knowledge of the causes of poverty.

But, alas, much that he read and heard would not stand up to examination. Many of the wiseacres, for instance, told him that the workers brought poverty upon themselves by gambling, drinking, and refusing to work to their fullest Capacity. The hard-working Harry who neither drank nor gambled knew that this was not so. But from somewhere in the welter of information he discovered something that could not be dismissed from his mind as unsound—a small but insistent voice which told him of two classes in society, a master class and a wage-slave class; that the master class, although a mere handful compared with the slaves, bought the labour power of the other class; that this labour power produced a value far greater than the value and price of the labour power itself; that the master class appropriated this excess value and thus maintained for themselves a steady flow of profits.

And to Harry Barber came a glimmer of enlightenment “Now I see," he mused. “I have to sell my energy to my masters because they own the factories and workshops, and although my energy may produce mountains of wealth all that I will receive is the price of that energy—a wage. No wonder I am poor. I am robbed all the time I am producing.”

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You, readers, are the Harry Barbers of the world. If you have never before read the literature of the Socialist Party of Great Britain you are now getting your first introduction to Socialist principles. Continue to read our literature and listen to our speakers. In time you will increase your Socialist knowledge, and when sufficient numbers of you can truthfully call yourselves “Socialists” there will he in your hands the power to overthrow the present social system and establish an order of society wherein the means of production and distribution are commonly owned and used in the production of everybody's requirements. When you have established this system which we know as “Socialism” there will be no unfortunate Harry Barbers on the one hand, and fortunate thieves on the other. Then, and not till then, will you be able to live happily ever after.
F. W. Hawkins

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