The Blindness of the Workers
In one of the world’s great novels, Dickens’s “David Copperfield,” occurs the following passage, the poignant significance of which appears to have been overlooked by the majority of even the most assiduous Dickensian students: “There was a beggar in the street, when I went down: and as I turned my head towards the window, thinking of her calm seraphic eyes, he made me start by muttering, as if he were an echo of the morning : ‘ Blind ! Blind ! Blind !”
Whether Dickens realised the almost universal application of what he had written is a matter of conjecture. Probably all he had in mind was its application to the particular set of characters with which he happened at the moment to be dealing. But to the Socialist, looking around at the world as it is to-day, seeing the foolishness, the illusions, the ignorance, which go to make up the mentality of so many men and women, it would seem as though a film had fallen across the eyes of his fellow-workers, causing either what amounts to total mental blindness or to so distorted a vision as to preclude any possibility of the realities of life being seen in their true perspective.
We could adduce many facts to show how mentally blind the working-class people of the world are. At the outbreak of the late war, for example, the people of this country (and of all other billigerent countries) who up to that date had, and desired, no quarrel with their reputed enemies, were so blinded by the wave of patriotism that swept over them,originated as it had been by the training and teaching they had received in childhood and youth, encouraged as it was by the insidious propaganda instigated from press, platform, and pulpit, that thousands, hundreds of thousands, of them clamoured for permission to kill and be killed in what they thought was the interest of their country, by which they meant, one presumes, their own interest.
Needless to say, permission to so kill and be killed was graciously conceded by their masters and accepted by the poor, deluded fools who, not understanding their class position as wage-slaves, not knowing what was at the bottom of of the whole bloody business, thought in their blind folly that they were doing something noble and heroic, thought that they were fighting and dying to save for themselves and their descendants what they considered their freedom, to save their “national heritage,” their “share in the Empire,” their womenfolk and children from the bestiality and oppression which they were quite convinced would be their fate were the forces against which they were fighting to prove successful.
They could not see that the war was simply a struggle generated by rival groups of capitalists for the possession of certain favourable (from the commercial point of view) portions of the earth’s surface. They could not all see that the only freedom they, as members of the working class, possessed was the freedom either to starve or allow themselves to be exploited for profit by their employers. They could not see that their only heritage, national or otherwise, was the lifelong heritage of hard and sordid work (when they were not unemployed) nor that their “share in the Empire” had no substance in fact, but was only a magniloquent phrase very useful to politicians at election times for purposes of vote-catching. They could not see that their womenfolk and children were, and always had been, the drudges, the toys, the slaves of a system whose bestiality and oppression had never been equalled since the dawn of the world’s history. They fought, and died, and were maimed, for —what? For an illusion which had been given a semblance of reality by the vicious teaching and smart word-spinning of innumerable capitalist agents. The people fought and died in their millions and the nett result is that, from a materialist standpoint, they are still struggling to rise to the very poor level at which they stood prior to the war.
Again, when we come to examine the attitude of the workers in regard to their political representation, we find how in a similar way the blindness of the people operates. At the last General Election they were, in the main, carried away by what they considered was the need for stabilising the “fruits of victory”—one of the pet phrases of the war rhetoricians—and voted practically solid for the Coalitionists. They have since tasted some of the “fruits of victory,” and fcund the taste not altogether to their liking; so at the subsequent bye-elections they have largely voted in even a worse and more foolish way; that is, they have voted for the “Labour” candidates.
Doubtless exception will be taken, in some cases, to the statement that it is more foolish to vote for a Labour man than for a Coalitionist. But when one considers the confusion caused by these Labour misleaders, these advocates of reforms which they must know are useless and worse than useless to the workers, these mouthers of phrases full of the most fatuous cant and sentimentality, the writer is justified, he thinks, in his antagonism towards them and his statement as to the enormous harm they do.
All these men seem to consider is how best to get into Parliament so that by virtue of the magic letters “M.P.” after their names they may be able to draw their salaries of £400 a year, to serve (for a monetary consideration) on Committees and Commissions ; to obtain well-paid jobs on capitalist newspapers and magazines. How these activities benefit their working-class constituents it is impossible to fathom.
As a matter of fact, neither they nor anyone else can benefit the working class. The working class, as we continually reiterate, must work out its own emancipation. The veil of illusion must be torn away from before the eyes of the workers, and this will only come about as the facts of life bite deeper and still deeper into their mentality, and as the unwearied propagandist work of the Socialist Party comes more and more to fruition.
We do not blame the workers for their blindness to their own interests. Indeed, the question of blaming or praising anyone or anything does not enter into the Socialist philosophy. What we endeavour to do is to open their eyes to the facts appertaining to capitalism and the logical deductions to be drawn from such facts.
The Socialist may claim to be the oculist of the working class. His aim is to give sight to those of his fellow-workers who are wandering in the darkness of capitalist orthodoxy. So the work the Socialist Party has in hand—the work of making Socialists—must go on until a majority of the people see eye to eye with us and organise themselves with us in one united political party. Then, and not till then, we shall know that the dawn of the Socialist day is near, wherein the potentialities of life will, at last, have an opportunity of developing on sane and healthy lines instead of being forced into a groove of insane and unhealthy activities which are all the present system of capitalism can afford to its wage-slaves.
F. J. WEBB
(Socialist Standard, June 1920)