The Western Socialist
Vol. 28 - No. 223
No. 5, 1961
The wage-worker is, indeed, a patient creature. Throughout his life those who own the means by which he lives — the capitalists — heap insult and indignity upon him yet he continues to support the system of society which makes possible such a state of affairs. He is urged, even pressured, to work harder, to produce more, even though the more the intensity of his labor the nearer is the day of his deeper impoverishment. Producing as he must for a market economy, his increased production leads inevitably to glutted markets and greater unemployment.
In the meantime, the employer insists that the worker be honest — even while the capitalists are legally robbing him of the product of his toil. He is expected to be diligent though he receives for this zeal only sufficient in wages or salary to keep himself and family from week to week. He must have a pleasing personality — despite his poverty and insecurity — and above all he must give unqualified support to the lies, the cheating and the chicanery which his employer must use in order to compete with his rivals.
Upon growing old on the job, the worker is rewarded for his life of toil, by a meagre pension — private or through governmental insurance plans — or he may even be permitted to remain on the job, usually at a reduced wage. It is taken for granted that he needs less.
Certainly there is no end to the insults which he suffers, yet he seems to see no alternative, no escape from the drabness of his life, short of acquiring money. He does not understand that he is but a slave to the capitalist class, that his reason for existence is but to provide the owners of industry with a life of ease — indeed such a disclosure frequently causes him to react violently against the "rabble-rouser" who would impart such "slander." Regardless of his income, the worker will generally denounce as "Communist lies" the worker-capitalist relationship in modern society. Hasn't it been stated by our "greatest minds" that we are all workers because we all — even the wealthy — work, and we are all capitalists because we own life insurance (even if barely sufficient to bury us) and have money to jingle in our pockets even if not very much? So reasons the average worker.
There are, however, a minority — a small minority as yet — among the working class who are not taken in by this brand of economics and who prefer to delve more deeply. These are the Socialists. These students of society know that it is difficult for the workers to recognize their slave status because wage-slavery is cloaked with many disguises. National constitutions, on paper, grant equal rights to all citizens even to the extent in state capitalist Russia of "granting" ownership of all the means of wealth production to the entire population. The absence of legal forms of slavery and serfdom serve to hide the true nature of MODERN slavery. And because the capitalist class or the capitalist state owns the media of propaganda, it is indeed difficult to air the. truth. This is why the worker usually believes that he lives in a free society where he can assert his natural abilities and have the same opportunity as anyone to succeed. There are divergences from this theme, but the tune is oft repeated.
In this regard there is nothing which gives a more vicarious thrill than a Cinderella story. The successful man, we are told, often started at the bottom of the ladder by selling newspapers on the street. There is nothing more conducive to ultimate success than the "purifying" fires of adversity. Were it not for poverty there could be no incentive . . . etc. Yet it is the rare exception who is able to climb this ladder and when he does he must trample under foot the vast multitude that never seems to keep its head fully above water-level. But does this vast base of impoverished fellow workers deter our average wage-slave from dreaming? It would seem that it doesn't and his faith is so constant that he even has a ready answer for his failure. If only he had studied harder; if only he had the brains; if, if, if . . . The excuses are legion but the real cause eludes him.
And so he goes on through life, scheming on how to reach the top. He imitates to the utmost of his means his "superiors" in their dress fashions and in their hair styles, as though ashamed of his limited opportunities for ostentation. He buys a car on the "never, never" system. He may "own" a home with a small yard and a large mortgage — often a second mortgage as well. He sometimes adds to his encumbrances a summer home, and, surrounded by these symbols of status he groans under his debt load, his chains of servitude tightened all the more by "easy" bank or finance company budget plans.
But, he is free, he continues to believe. He is free to give in his notice and seek other employment. And if his employer is equally free to fire him, this is only right, he will argue. Hasn't the employer invested his money in the firm, and would he not like to be sitting in the employer's place right now? If he could only have the chance, if he only had the required brains, if he only could be lucky enough to win that sweepstakes, if, if, if. And in the meantime the reality of his debts, his insecurity and his coming dependent old age remain with him in his waking and in his sleeping hours, haunting him, frightening him, taking years off his life.
If the worker would but peep beneath the cloak of superficialities he would glimpse the real nature of society. He would discover the two economic classes in modern society and he would understand that as long as society is organized on such a basis his chances of living like a human being are negligible. He would see that there is no future in struggling alone against the tide of capitalism, that it is difficult indeed to stay afloat, let alone rise to the top. He would see that the only sound future for him and his loved ones is to join a movement, the Socialist movement, and work to overthrow the system that keeps him in poverty, to introduce a sane system — Socialism. Eventually, the very forces which now grind him down will compel him to awaken, to arise, and to take such action.