The Freedom of Slavery

The following is from the “Daily Mirror.” It snows how even the capitalist Press will speak the truth sometimes :—

Slaves cannot breathe in England; if their lungs receive our air, that moment they are free
So wrote the poet Cowper, and his lines summed up the feeling which Englishmen had about slavery in the days when the agitation for its abolition was going on.
Even now the very talk of slavery arouses indignation. Yet what humbug it is! How many of us have thought out for ourselves the question whether it would not be better for thousands of people in Britain to-day to be slaves rather than free men ?
What is the ‘freedom’ of the man who depends upon his labour and cannot find employment ? He is ‘free’ to tramp about all day looking for work; ‘free’ to see others warm and well-fed while he shivers and gnaws a crust; ‘free’ to grow weaker and weaker as cold and hunger tell upon his frame; ‘free’ to sink down beaten, ‘free’ to starve slowly, ‘free’ to die.
Slaves, at any rate, are looked after; fed and clothed sufficiently ; given a roof over their heads. In the old slavery days it was as rare to find a man who neglected or ill-treated his human possessions as it is nowadays to come across cruel or careless owners of horses and cattle.
Britons regard slavery with horror, but at the same time many of them treat their free workpeople far worse than they would treat slaves. If a slave dies it is a loss to his owner. If a ‘free’ worker dies there are dozens of others eager for his job. His death makes no difference to an employer at all.
A man in the depths of despair, starving, shoeless, shattered by the misery he had gone through, wrote to us for help. At the end of his letter was a sentence which arrested our attention. Even slavery, he said, would be infinitely preferable to such a life as his.
We have bought this man in order to show to what depths it is possible to sink in this ‘free’ country of ours, where the name of slavery is abhorred, but where enormous numbers of ‘free’ men and women fall into a state compared to which slavery would be a pleasant and easy condition of life.”

The man (whose name and address was published) was told by the “Daily Mirror” to show himself.

“A short man came, a man with a face that had once been full of intelligence and keenness, but which was now pulled out of its proper shape by misery. A man who walked with a heart-broken walk—with a walk that walks hopeless creatures to self-destruction. A hopeless man.
‘I am the man who wants to be a slave,’ he said.
The bitterness of his tone was that terrible bitterness that is an amalgam of despair and nonchalance.
‘But are you worth buying ? What is your price ?’ he was asked.
His square chin thrust itself out and for a moment looked like the sturdy, independent chin nature had meant it to be.
‘I will sell myself for £10,’ he said, ‘and victuals and shelter.’
‘But you are not worth £10 ; at least, why should you be worth £10 ? What can you do ?’
‘I don’t know anything,’ was the miserable answer.
‘Will you sell yourself for £2 ? ‘
‘That was how we got our slave.

Two pounds ! Less than the price of a horse. Less than the price of an ass. Is the Socialist so very wrong when he asserts that hundreds of thousands of the working-class of free England would be better off, materially, in a state of chattel slavery ? Under such a condition they would at least have food and clothing and shelter, where to-day they have little of either, and can be bought as an act of charity for two pounds!

And yet the transaction of the “Daily Mirror” is not exceptional. Quite the contrary. Every member of the working-class sells himself or, which is the same thing, his power to labour, every time he can find an employer to buy him. He sells himself, generally speaking for just the amount that will keep him in working condition and enable him to reproduce his kind. He sells himself for his keep without even receiving, as in the case of the man purchased by the “Daily Mirror,” a bonus of £2. Indeed, he can sometimes be found offering a bonus of £2 to anyone who will give him information that will enable him to sell himself !

That he receives wages wherewith to buy the things necessary to the maintenance of life does not alter the fact of the sale ; does not alter the fact that he is the property, the slave, of the man who buys him.

And yet because, when he is fortunate enough to find a buyer for his labour power (himself), he receives a sum that enables him to buy what he likes within the limits of that sum, he thinks himself free— a delusion most sedulously fostered by the parsons and politicians and apologists for the present system.

He is free because he can choose how he shall spend his pitiable earnings — whether in scrag-of-mutton or corned beef ! Free because he can leave one master when he likes, although to get another—for a master he must have under present conditions if he is to live— is a task he may find it no easy matter to compass as the “Daily Mirror” slave seems to have discovered to his sorrow. Freedom ! Was ever such a travesty on words ?

Little as it was expected the “Daily Mirror” has spoken sober truth as to the advantages of chattel slavery over present-day “freedom,” for the worker’s freedom has brought him nothing but a more precarious dependency. But when this Harmsworth journal says it has bought a man and implies thereby that such a transaction is unusual, it is simply blurring the indisputable fact that every worker sells himself ; that every employer buys a slave.

When the working-class have accepted that truth, and have accepted the further truth which The Socialist Party of Great Britain exists to propagate, viz., that their condition with all its concomitant misery is directly due to the fact that the workers are separated from the means by which they live —have no control over the land and the machinery by which wealth is produced from the land and distributed, because these means are held and controlled by the employing or capitalist-class, they will be ready to appreciate the force of the contention of the Socialist Party that in the substitution of common ownership and control of the means of life for the present individual ownership, and in that alteration alone lies the remedy, a remedy that can be applied when the workers have appreciated, but not until then


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