1920s >> 1922 >> no-220-december-1922

Christmas Shops

In England Christmas is our one surviving festival. Others have fallen into neglect as we have left behind the manner of social life in which they flourished. Christmas lives, despite the passing of its religious significance, because humanly it is as dear to men of the twentieth century as to those who, five hundred years ago, brought ia the boar’s head with ceremony and rejoicing. While people love to play as well as work, to practise hospitality, to remember and be remembered of friends, so long will Christmas or something like it be set in our calendar.


When November was scarcely half spent, the shops began to make their special display. Now as I write the wares of the world are heaped behind the shining windows. Like so many Aladdin’s caves, they will yield their store to him who has the golden key: to all others the frail glass pane is a barrier impassable.


And who are they that can command the best and largest share? Those who took no part in producing it. Is there not something strange, comrades, in this? Alaskan furs, Chinese silks, ivories of Japan, Sheffield cutlery, Spanish, Arabian and Tasmanian fruits, do not create and convey themselves, even at Christmas time. That which shaped, transported and arranged them was your work, and that of your fellows in all corners of the earth.


These goods and the pesters that advertise them, the factories where they were made and the machines within the factories, the engines and ships that carried them here —you made them all. Yet your part in the season’s celebrations is to watch more fortunate folks enjoy them, and feel your own needs more bitterly in the face of inaccessible plenty. You who have distant friends and families—why cannot you visit them? You fathers and mothers of children, do not even their small delights mean the sacrifice of something necessary to yourselves? There are young men and girls among you who dreamed of homes of your own; and this winter finds you further off than ever from your desire. Was there ever a situation so topsy-turvy? Would you credit, if you did not know by grim experience, that having done so much, you should stand outside the windows, and those who made nothing in their lives should go in and buy? Wouldn’t it sound like a crazy tale? In a sane order of life, would not the very contrary be the reality—the idle without and the workers within? Add to this that the idle are maided and valeted, driven about, entertained and guarded by you, and surely you and they appear as characters in a tragic farce! If a crowning absurdity were lacking, it is supplied by the presence of multitudes who are not even allowed to work. The strength and skill that could provide anew, even after the spoilers had helped themselves, must remain locked in their shoulders and fingers, wasted and wanting.


What is the explanation of it all? You know before I tell you. It is that this wealth of good things is not here for the purpose of satisfying human needs. It is here because its production and sale pays someone. The very toys, naive and roguish things as they are, were born to serve this all-important end of profit. That is the way you allow the business of production to be arranged. What does it matter to the corn broker and the wool dealer that you need food and clothes? The question is, Have you the means to buy? And if your wife would look lovely in a silken dress, how does that concern the silk importer or the modiste? Your whole livelihood is what you can get by selling your strength and skill. And since the corn, wool, or silk merchant (or whichever other of their class employs you) purchases them for just as much as will keep you alive and moderately fit, you never will enjoy more than a mean living—so long as you serve a master.


Are you satisfied? Perhaps you would have matters no otherwise I said you allow the present arrangement. Do you know, comrades, that is absolutely true? That you can change matters whenever you determine? Look boldly and searchingly at the men who exploit you. It is they who depend on you, not you on them. Without your lifelong service they would cut sorrier figures than you, waiting your turn at the Labour Exchange. What has bewitched you, that you allow yourselves to be shorn? I think I know the lie that keeps you hopeless. It is as old as the relation between oppressor and oppressed, and it runs: “Thus things have always been.” And your lifetime is too short and too full of care for you to learn that it is a lie. Have done with it now. Lift your heads and take a look back—and forward. There was a time when this class that now sits on your shoulders was fighting to throw off its own Old Man of the Sea, and was denounced by the Old Man—the nobility— just as it denounces your spasmodic struggles. It was resisted, as it means to resist you, but it won, and its victory was not accidental. It won because it commanded and could develop something which the feudal land-owners could not: the labour power of a proletariat—people like you and me, who have no property and must find employment in order to live. This new productive force, our labour, was an infant then; to-day a giant, too big for our masters to manage. We can produce far more than they can sell. Now we arise and resolve that capitalists with their “private enterprise” must give way in their turn to us. We do not fight at hazard either. Our victory also is sure, because we control a new force. We can develop what the lords of capital cannot: our own labour power, the labour power of co-operatively associated men and women. Isn’t this a destiny worth fulfilling? Determine that next Christmas shall not find you spreading the feast for others and stealing humbly into the shadows to famish and grieve. Thirty years ago William Morris demanded:


  Why, then, and for what are we waiting? There are three words to speak ; we will it; and what is the foeman, but the dream-strong wakened and weak ?


Now our masters no longer even dream that they are secure. You have shaken their rest by the noise of your discontent, never yet articulate nor united enough to be very dangerous, but loud enough to prevent their ever sleeping again. They listen for the word you will presently say: “We have no more use for masters. We declare the land on which we labour and the instruments we use, to be ours; and every man who would share the common wealth must also share the necessary work, were he fifty times an Inchcape or a Coats!”

Then, when Christmas morning brightens on a world possessed by the workers, the day will be a festival indeed.