A Thousand Years Hence
“Your party will be all right about a thousand years hence. What the people want is something now, something practical.” Thus was I advised by a Labour friend of mine, when discussing the Watford Municipal Election. So that I felt the very least I could do was to suspend my thousand year effort for an evening and go and listen to the people who were “going the same road as myself, but doing something practical on the way.” I am glad I went. I will tell you, as nearly as I can recollect, what they said.
The first speaker informed us he was not much good at the “speechifying business,” but he hoped to improve in time. We could see by referring to their Election Address that Labour stood for more houses. The housing shortage was a scandal as well as a disgrace. And they wanted lower rents, too. Also more open spaces for the children to play in. And many other things. But above all they wanted everyone’s vote next Wednesday. (Applause.) The next practical man hesitatingly informed us that, like the previous speaker, he had not the gift of the gab. He briefly and haltingly read the items in the Address that he and Labour stood for, and assured us before abruptly sitting down, that although (like the previous speaker) he was not much good at the speechifying, he was much better at debate. The third practical man suffered, it seemed (like the previous two speakers), from the defect that he was no good at the oratorical business. But he knew what was wanted. What the town was crying out for was more houses, lower rents and more allotments. He and his wife found that if the end of the week found two shillings in their joint possession, they counted themselves amongst the fortunate. Therefore an allotment was a necessity. It enabled them to live on his meagre earnings. True it took all his spare time, and meant much hard work, but he was prepared to give that. Liked it, in fact. Another thing we wanted was a Municipal Market. The building of this would relieve the unemployed problem. It would also give the small trader a better chance. It would reduce the cost of living, by making competition keener, a thing that was good for everybody. And so on. Anyhow, don’t forget to give us your vote next Wednesday. The next speaker made no apologies. He had the gift of the gab—and very little else. A well-groomed appearance and a hatred of the S.P.G.B. are comprised in the latter. In three sentences he was purple-necked. Someone (“Why doesn’t he come and say it to my face?“) had described him as a Bolshevik and a disrupter of the British Empire. “If that is repeated in your hearing, gentlemen, tell them that when the call came in 1914, to rally in defence of our rights and liberties, I just took out the old khaki (it had been there twenty-three years, gentlemen) and joined my old unit, and travelled many thousands miles to fight for King and Country.” (Loud applause.)
He eventually left this subject and turned to the Housing Question. We were thrilled to learn first, that he also had an allotment, situated in the Public Park. What had this to do with the Housing Problem? Listen. He had been horrified and disgusted, and also ashamed to take his daughter through the park on a Sunday evening, when the grass was dotted in all directions with couples engaged in courtship. The provision of ample housing accommodation would enable these young couples to either get married, or do their courtship in the privacy of their parents’ houses. (Loud applause.) After an engaging solo upon the trumpet, entitled “What I have done for you,” this fiery revolutionary sat down. The next speaker shared the prevailing epidemic, and was bereft of the gift of the gab. He was, however, in favour of a wider High street. Visions of distracted women with prams, doing their shopping in a High street filled with homicidal motor ’buses, were held up as good and sufficient justification for giving him our votes next Wednesday. We turned from this harrowing picture to listen to his successor, who regaled us with a list of the Trade Unions, Federations, Councils and Societies, of which he was a member. He particularly stressed the fact that he had been a member of the Hearts of Oak for twenty-three years, so that he was eminently the person to look after the interests of friendly society members. Eight women had signed his nomination paper. Who could doubt after that, that here was the man Watford was crying out for. Therefore next Wednesday, etc., etc,!
The last speaker, a thirty years’ member of the Ancient Order of Foresters, an old Trade Unionist and a keen Co-operator, told us that the recent incorporation of Watford as a borough was as much the reward of Labour efforts as anyone’s. We were told that the immediate results were practically nil, but it was a necessary step towards becoming a County Borough. Arrived at this last dizzy eminence, we were assured that we should be able to have our own policemen and other advantages. The poor old Housing Question was again soundly thrashed, although his plea for more and still more houses seemed rather discounted by the tales he told us of numbers of families being ejected from existing houses because they could not pay the rent.
Yes! I am glad I went. I know what to tell my Labour friend when next we meet. I shall tell him that should ever a doubt arise in my mind of the correctness and stability of the S.P.G.B., one visit to their meeting would restore my faith. If these are the men who are going our way, they have a long way to go to catch up. Most of them have turned into taverns along the wayside, and whilst partaking of very small noggins of “something now,” have given up the prospect of attaining something worth having. After listening to an evening of problems and policies and programmes, and after ruminating over previous programmes years and years ago, it is good to sit down and reflect on the crystal clear position of the Socialist Party.
The only thing wrong with the poor is their poverty. They are poor because they are robbed. They are robbed because the rich own the earth and the fulness thereof. The poor have to hire themselves to those who own the means of living. The price of their hiring is called a wage, and is based upon the cost of keeping dusty death at bay. This is their sole share of the wealth they produce. They can alter this state of things whenever they like by taking possession of their means of livelihood. The armed forces would, if possible, prevent them. The armed forces, however, are established, maintained and controlled through Parliament. The workers elect the Parliament. Therefore, to control the armed forces and to alter the basis of society; to become masters of their means of living, the workers must capture the political machine. If they widen all their High Streets, cover Great Britain from shore to shore with alternating patches of allotments and houses, turn all their towns into boroughs, abolish rates altogether, and achieve all the splintery planks in their Labour programme, they will have “got something now,” but they will not achieve Socialism. And until Socialism is attained, the workers will remain poor; poor because they are robbed. Capitalism is based upon the robbery of labour. “Labour” believes in its palliation; Socialism in its abolition. That’s all.