More for a new reader
We presume that you know little of Socialism. Perhaps you have a dim idea that Socialists are terrible people whose deliberate aim in life it is to overturn everything ; destroy your most cherished ideals out of sheer downright devilment. Let us have a little heart-to-heart talk on the subject. We will not hold your attention long, but we may perhaps assist you to see things in a different way from what you usually see them.
There are many parties appealing for your support, some of whom do so on the ground that they are Socialist parties. “How am I to know which is the right one?” you may ask. You are bewildered by the multitude of parties who all claim that their object is to help you.
There is a well-known proverb that contains an element of truth. It runs : “God helps those who help themselves.” Therefore avoid those who make a great fuss about their desire to help you : seek rather for information from those who urge you to help yourself.
Man is spoken of as being a social animal. He associates with other men—forms part of a society. A society is a group of individuals bound together by a common principle. The larger sense in which the word “society” is generally used refers to the common principle of obtaining a living. Whatever is referred to as “social” concerns man in his connection with other men. It is the opposite to individual or private. For example, when we say a thing is privately produced we mean that one man produces it without assistance ; when we say such a thing is socially produced, we mean that different men produce portions of a thing and their combined efforts make up the finished article. Likewise, when we say a thing is privately owned, we mean one man or a small group of men own it; but when we say it is socially owned, then we mean it belongs equally to the whole of those forming the society.
You are living in a society to-day in which the things produced, and the tools by means of which they are produced (in other words, the wealth of society), are privately owned : that is, owned by one individual or by a small group of individuals—either a single capitalist or a small group of shareholders.
The aim of the Socialist is to make these things social property : to convert these privately owned goods and tools into goods and tools commonly owned by the whole of society. He who acts in such a way as to bring this new state of affairs into being is a Socialist : he who acts in a way that hinders progress towards this end is evidently not a Socialist, no matter what he may call himself.
Owing to the private ownership of wealth the majority of the people of this country are unable to obtain the things they need except by working for those that own them; and these wealth owners can employ whom they please and discharge whom they please, so that the mass of the people depend for their existence upon the desires or fancies of a comparatively few masters. The majority of people are therefore slaves of the wealth owners, because unless they act as the latter wish they are liable to be sacked and lose the wages upon which they depend for getting the necessaries of life.
These two types of people, masters and workers, broadly speaking make up society. They form two distinct classes, one of whom depends for a living upon working, and the other upon owning what is produced.
The workers, then, are wage-slaves. The masters are capitalists because they own capital—wealth (tools and so forth) which they advance with the object of getting back more wealth than was originally advanced or laid out. History will tell you that the wealth the capitalist advances was originally obtained by robbing the mass of the people of their land and liberty.
It may perhaps surprise you to hear that a few hundred years ago there was neither a landless man nor a beggar throughout the whole of this country. When you hear that and see that the mass of the people are without land and practically beggared to-day, you may wonder how such a change has come about. If you want further information of this, go to the nearest library and look for a book entitled, “Industrial History of England,” by H. de B. Gibbins. It is a book of only about 250 pages. In it you will find much valuable information of early and recent conditions in this country. You will learn how the land was stolen from the people and passed into the hands of a few individuals; how the people were ruthlessly driven off the land and herded into manufactories ; how finally, after many trials and troubles, the one-time member of a peasant commune, owning his land and tools in common, became the wage-slave of to-day, owning nothing but his power to labour, and compelled for his living to sell this power to the present master class, the descendants of those who robbed his forefathers.
So much for the “original” capital of the masters. The extra wealth they obtain over and above that laid out is due to the fact that you produce a quantity of wealth to-day that suffices to pay your wages, make, good what is necessary for further production, and still leave a substantial amount over on which the master and his family and those that minister to the enjoyment of him and his family, live upon. You thus produce surplus wealth—wealth that keeps an idle class in luxury. You keep parasites.
Between you and your masters there is a constant struggle going on over the destination of the wealth produced. You struggle to obtain as large a share of the wealth you produce as possible. It is a share you think of, you don’t think of obtaining the whole, because you think of, and argue about, a high or a low wage. Your thoughts are bound up with the wages system. The masters on their side resist your desire for high wages and pay you as low wages as they can. This struggle over the division of the wealth you produce is an expression of what the Socialist calls the class war.
It you have followed the argument so far, it must be obvious to you that the masters will not give up their privileges without a bitter struggle; a struggle that can only end when you have obtained control of the whole of the wealth you produce; in other words, when you have established Socialism.
The masters, in their fight to keep their privileged position, employ any weapon that they think will assist them. The all-powerful weapon is the machinery of Parliament, which gives them control of the Army, Navy, Air, and Police Forces—those forces which they employ against you when particularly bad conditions drive you to go out on strike. This power you give to your master at election time when you vote them into Parliament.
This Parliamentary weapon, however, has one drawback ; it is inclined to be a rather open illustration of the opposition between your interests and those of your masters, and is likely to bring to your notice the fact that the modern State is on the side of privilege and against the oppressed.
There are other weapons the masters employ that are less obvious and frequently very effective. Religious teaching is one of them. You are led to believe that some supernatural power hath ordained it that man shall eat his bread in the sweat of his brow, and you are assured that you are the man to whom this precept refers. You usually forget to ask : “What of the master who works not and yet eats plenty?” You are taught that life on this earth is a purgatory through which you must pass in order to reach the paradise somewhere above. In fact, you are taught to think little of, and not worry about, the trials and tribulations of your short life in this world, as it will be all made up to you in the next. But you will notice that those who subscribe most to religious bodies, and who are most anxious that you should accept the religious outlook, take no chances, but avoid the trials and tribulations of this world, leaving the “hereafter” to take care of itself.
Now you can easily see how useful it is to the master that you accept a view such as that outlined above. Being assured of an endless good time hereafter, providing you work hard and obey those who are over you, you are likely to be content with a slave position here below ; working under bad conditions at low wages without protesting, allowing your masters to enrich themselves to what extent they wish.
Among other methods that suit your masters’ interests are those that keep your mind occupied with petty details ; multitudes of so-called “remedies” for minor evils that waste your time and energy to such an extent that you are prevented from applying the one sweeping solution for all your troubles—the abolition of the cause of your troubles, and that is, as you have seen, the private ownership of wealth.
When the wealth produced, and the tools by means of which it is produced, have been made into the common property of society, no one will want either work or food, because all will give to society of his best and will receive from society the best it can give, regardless of age, sex, or occupation.,
We are members of the working-class, and we want you to join us and help us to carry on the struggle for Socialism. Why are we anxious for your aid? Are we moved by a desire to help you? If you have followed carefully the position outlined above you will see that we are in the same mess as you are, and that we cannot get out of the mess except by the same way as you. We want Socialism because it offers us the only means of leading healthy and happy lives; but we cannot get Socialism until you want it. Therefore we want you to want Socialism and to join with us to fight for it, then we will all have an equal opportunity of enjoying the best that life can offer.
(Socialist Standard, July 1923)