Socialism and Work

When surveying the sordid and miserable life of the toiler, and the conditions under which he is compelled to live to-day, one thinks of what those conditions might be, what they should be, and wonders why it is that so many of the working class have even the smallest interest in anything outside and apart from the all absorbing struggle for bread.

A slight examination of the product of the mediaeval craftsman reveals the individuality of the worker embodied in his production, and shows that the workman of old had knowledge of his craft, taste and living interest in his work apart from the idea of wages.

To-day all such interest is crushed : pleasure in work is impossible. The modern factory—usually a modern hell—has no place for art or for pleasure : its object being, not the production of beautiful things or of useful articles, but the wringing of profit from the exertions of the flesh and blood machines—the wage-workers—through the monopoly of the machines of iron and steel.

In the “golden age of labour” the craftsman owned his tools and used them for the production of beautiful and useful objects, which were his when made. It was to his credit to put the best that was in him into the things he produced, and all things combined, not only to give him opportunity, but to encourage him to exercise thoroughness in the construction, and to give his work that expression of his individuality which is the very essence of art.

He was his own master, free to embody his own ideas in his own product in his own time, not dogged at every step by some impatient holder of a stop-watch, and forced to inscribe on a time-sheet the moments of each stage of production.

How different is the position of the modern toiler (craftsman he cannot be called). Labour to-day is divorced from art. The labourer has neither right nor interest in the object upon which he labours. It matters not to him whether the article produced be ugly or beautiful, useless or useful. He is an automaton hired to do a certain task ; the slave of a machine speeding at a pace he can scarcely travel. He finds no art, no pleasure, in his work, and outside his work—what ? Sordid surroundings from which he cannot dissociate himself if he would, with neither leisure to cultivate the science of his craft, education to understand it, or cash to obtain the necessary instruction.

All along we find that modern commerce and the turmoil of the market has been the deadly foe of pleasure in production. We produce to capture the markets of the world. Nation competes with nation to manufacture, not the best, but the the cheapest—the shoddy and the most deceptive. Thousands of us are engaged in the production of useless and harmful things, pandering to the insipid taste of the luxurious idler, applying our energy, not to create things of joy and comfort for ourselves and our fellows, but in order to obtain the food necessary to maintain the spark of life within our wan and pallid skins.

Can art flourish in such an environment ? Can one expect anything from such bestial conditions except the weakly grotesque in design and ornament, the puerile in fiction, poetry, and the drama ?

To make really beautiful things the worker must be interested in his craft, must throw himself into his work and labour for the delight of that labour itself. He must have leisure to study his craft and the education lo understand it. His life and surroundings must be pleasant, and conditions must obtain such as are impossible under a system of wage-slavery, where men are mere profit-grin ding machines—cogs in the mechanism of industry and commerce.

We are forced to recognise that capitalism in every part of its system is rapidly killing all idea of art, crushing out every desire but that of gain. To make profit becomes its sole aim, and none but the thoughtless and the ignorant, apart from the few who sponge up the wealth that contains the blood of the toilers, can longer defend it.

To raise the workers from the level of the machine and to place them in the position of men is the object of Socialism.

We who are Socialists are not satisfied with our condition, bound, as we are, slaves to a merciless machine. It is our desire, not to return to the method of production of the Middle Ages, but to obtain the happiness and comfort, and the security of life enjoyed by the craftsman of that day, by making ourselves masters, collectively, of our tools, material and time, shapers of our own destiny.

Society is divided into two opposing camps. The one for the retention of the capitalist system of class domination, with a proletariat without joy in labour, without comfort in rest. The other the camp of the Socialists, who desire nothing but the abolition of that system, knowing that with its overthrow the one restraining force is removed that prevents the onward movement towards that society wherein work will be a comfort and not a curse, and all shall be united in a communion of hopeful and pleasurable labour.


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