It is quite a common view that the events of life are governed by the ideas of certain “great” men, some of whom are “good” and some “bad.” If the “good” are in the majority then all is well; if the “bad” are in the majority then all is not well.
Ideas are supposed to be due to some peculiar quality that only exists in “great” men’s minds, and have no connection with the world around until forced upon a willing or unwilling people.
There are many who believe that Socialism is an idea of this nature, and hence Socialists are referred to as “dreamers” and “idealists.”
Socialism is an idea that is born out of the present condition of society. The conditions themselves force the idea into the minds of the workers and are the guarantee of its ultimate accomplishment.
A little thought will convince any average person that material is necessary in order to think at all—and that the material about which each thinks is that which he finds in the world around. This being so the ideas and outlook of people depend, as a rule, upon the way in which they live, or their method of obtaining a livelihood.
When we think, what do we think about? Where do we find our material? We cannot very successfully think about nothing ! A child opens its eyes to a certain set of surroundings, and these surroundings govern the child’s outlook on life, and provide it with ideas. As the child grows to the adult, practical life and books furnish matter for thought and shape the outlook of the grown-up.
For the average person the things that are nearest occupy the bulk of his thoughts. The nearest and most important thing of all for the majority is obtaining the necessaries of life. Where, as with the rich man, the means of life depend upon profit, so his thoughts turn upon methods of making profit. With the poor man, however, the means of living have to be obtained by working; consequently the poor man’s thoughts turn mainly upon work and the problems connected with work. The poor man is the working man. He belongs to a group that depends for a living upon wages. He is therefore a member of the working class. His outlook on life is a working-class outlook—the opposite to the outlook of the rich man, who is his master. The latter also has a class outlook—the outlook of the master class to which he belongs.
In the course of his occupation the worker tends more and more to observe that he is the backbone of society, that he, by applying his labour power to what the earth provides, produces all the wealth upon which the whole of society lives. Later he begins to wonder why it is that, although his class is the only class necessary to wealth production, yet it receives relatively the smallest share of the wealth produced, the rest going to support a group of idlers. By and by he realises that it is not necessary to support a group of idlers— that if the workers own the wealth they produce then there will be no need for idlers. He becomes a Socialist and takes part in the struggle for Socialism.
(Socialist Standard, August 1923)