What D’ ye Lack
It was the cry of the ’prentice of three and four hundred years ago, selling his master’s wares from the shop doorway. I am reminded of it when I pass you, fellow worker, mornings and evenings. In my thoughts I echo the question, and answer it in your name. What do you lack ?
Food, plentiful and pure; yet it is you who grow, carry and prepare the delicate meal for the rich man’s table. Clothing, adequate and beautiful: though by your toil your master’s person is protected and adorned. A dwelling fair and well provided: yet your hands raise palaces and fill them with comfort. Leisure you have not, though your service makes other lives one holiday. Nor travel, though you build planes and ships. Nor peace for your mind to roam and your limbs to rest.
All these you lack, without knowing that you do. Your life wants breadth and depth and height, and you hardly dream that it might be different. Toil is your heritage, you think, and all else your master’s.
You are a funny fellow, worker. You take a man and feed him choicely, dress him with splendour, build him a temple, surround him with perfumes and music—and then fall down before him! When he is established above you, complete, you forget that you made the golden image. Subtract all the attributes and ornaments with which you furnished him, and what remains but a shivering and hungry man? I hear you called rapacious, self-seeking; and I see you more generous than Saint Martin, bestowing your whole cloak on the beggar, and content to receive a tattered remnant back again.
Martin Nexø wrote a tale of a Danish workman, Pelle. Did you ever read what he said of us all when he looked at his newborn son? Men, he said, are born naked; the beasts are born clothed. That is because mankind has come to the point where it can provide clothes for itself. Pelle’s wife thought Nature might well neglect the rich, but remembering how workers suffer in the bitter weather, she wondered that their children should still come unclothed into the world. For the best of reasons, Pelle thought. It is no longer Nature’s business. She has given man the powers; it is for him fitly to employ them. Therefore the cobbler’s son, just as the prince, arrives without a wardrobe : “as if,” Pelle said, “Nature were forever holding up to us the stamp of our nobility.”
And there he was right. Having learned to produce all things for human sustenance and delight, we have now to see that who produces enjoys. To be robbed is not noble. To be a slave is not noble. The next step, comrade in labour, is clear: and it is we who must take it. The earth, and all means which we have produced for drawing wealth from it, must be ours in common. Why that, you say, is revolution! So it is. Man’s advance from the tribal communes has been a succession of revolutions; and each one, by fulfilling the aspirations of a single class, brings mankind farther on its upward way. All classes but ours have won to freedom; the Socialist revolution will be our own. Thereafter, to live one must perform one’s share of social effort, and shall lack nothing that human wit can devise and labour produce.