What is called “unrest” amongst our fellow-workers is widespread to-day. It is often indefinite in form ; it does not imply understanding of the roots of the trouble; but it is sufficiently in evidence to embarrass these in pulpit and press who would prefer to represent the nation as a united and happy family.
Workers are accustomed to toil; but now even the privilege of toiling is denied them for years at a time. They are familiar with the presence of people who are rich without working at all: they see nothing extraordinary in the fact of their masters enjoying different food, different clothes, different houses, a higher culture than their own. But now when they are losing even the slight improvements in their condition which they have from time to time secured, acquiescence tends to disappear. More and more they long for relief, from whatever quarter they look for it.
But ask a worker what he is doing about it, and watch his look of surprise. Usually he is still looking for something to be done for him; and that is why he is continually disappointed. Governments go in and out of power : he gives his vote now to one party, now to the other, as either seems to promise more, and remains as before, miserable. Some of those whose business it is to write or speak what the masters wish to hear, have concluded that our class will never move beyond this stage of waiting to be saved. Every day from the Bench, the House of Commons, or the Press, comes some new insolence. A paragraph written in the “Outlook” last summer is a good example of its kind :
“Labour no longer even, barks; it moans and bays the moon. It has lost faith in its programme, its ability and itself. . . . Direct action makes it shudder; the mere mention of political action reduces it to tears. It loves a phrase or a platitude, but it is too proud to fight, too tired to think, and too timid to speak.”— (Quoted by “Evening Standard,” 27/7/22.)
As regards the strike, which is what the writer appears to mean by direct action, the workers have used it, shudders notwithstanding, many times in the short space since those words were written. To mention only a few cases, we have had strikes of miners in Canada, U.S.A., and Belgium; a railway strike in Italy and one of rail shopmen in America; in France of metallurgical and textile workers, coalworkers, transport men, navvies and municipal workers of many grades; in Great Britain, juteworkers, woodworkers, furnishing tradesmen, miners, seamen and farm-workers, with the probability of several more big stoppages shortly, all bearing witness against the zealous journalist of the “Outlook.” But since strikes can do little more than safeguard an already poor standard of life, we need not say more about them now. As regards any substantial change for the better, is it true that the workers have lost faith in their ability to achieve it? Can that be lost which they never had? “Faith,” in our own powers, is only now growing strong amongst us. Numbers still prefer to trust the employers, believing that their distress is due to an exceptional trade depression, which once past will not be repeated. The only question to them appears to be, which Capitalist party is taking the best means to surmount exceptional difficulties? Only another disillusionment is in store for them. The trade revival when it comes must be short, and every succeeding; crisis more acute and protracted. Why? Because modern industry is so highly productive that it can meet and exceed the demand within a shorter time than ever before. The recurrence of crises could only be prevented by agreed restriction of production, which would be reflected in a monotonous condition of poverty for the workers in place of alternating periods of comparative comfort and acute distress.
To look then for help from any section of the masters is vain. They will only study ways and means to perpetuate production for sale. Do they not, moreover, deliberately use periods of unemployment to break the Trade Unions and strengthen their own position? Capitalist organisation of industry must be brought to an end.
With what purpose, then, will work be undertaken, if not for the manufacture of things for sale? It will be undertaken with one purpose—to supply us all with what we need. And who will make themselves responsible for doing it, since there will be no private profit when there is no sale? We, the workers, shall take it upon ourselves. We shall go to work as we do now, and every man and woman who wants to eat will do the same. Not quite willingly at first, perhaps. Not immediately will those who under Capitalism have known only joyless drudgery, nor yet those who have been parasites, find themselves able to cooperate freely and heartily with their fellows in useful work. These are results of centuries of social antagonisms. But they will gradually disappear. We shall decide for ourselves how the supply of the multitudinous necessary goods and services is to be carried out, how long it is necessary to work, who shall be our managers, and so on. And so long as any man discharges his part of the social work, he will be entitled to receive (by whatever means shall then seem convenient) what he requires from the common store. We shall carry through this revolution; but we shall have to do it together. It is not a job for a few men. A few could not conquer the masters, and a few could not work a Socialist system of industry. Too timid? Too tired? We Socialists do not think so. You fought, fellow-workers, in your masters’ war. You work (when you have the chance) as you never worked before. There is no lack of courage and industry. But you fight as you are told : you work as you are told. You spend your energy and pluck for the masters. When you realise what you have been doing so long, you will use them to set yourselves free.
The Socialist Party is the growing expression of the revolutionary purpose of the workers. Read its principles on the last page of this paper, and make them your principles.
(Socialist Standard, June 1923)