On looking ahead
Socialism is not a cult, a creed or a fad. It is not a new religion. Socialism is the greatest idea the human mind has ever conceived. In the light of its teaching the march of human progress has barely begun. Mankind is still in its swaddling clothes. History, so far, has been the record of its blind gropings after something—it knows not what. Whatever progress has been achieved has been mainly consequential, rather than intentional. It has often been gained in spite of its originators. Few have been the men of vision who could see ten years ahead. And after all, could one reasonably expect it? The necessity of providing for his creature needs has left man little time for looking far ahead. The future was thus early the happy hunting ground of the prophet and seer. One could not expect primitive man, for instance, to have foreseen all the consequences of the discovery of fire. This, perhaps the most momentous of man’s discoveries, at once differentiated him from the brutes and made civilisation possible. Think of the thousands of things, for the production of which we depend upon fire, and you must agree that human society is almost inconceivable without it. And yet there must have been some sort of human society which knew it not: Is it to be wondered at that for centuries fire was an object of worship? That man ascribed his knowledge of it to the direct interposition of the Gods ! Without going into the question of its probable origin, one which must always remain obscure, we can readily agree that primitive man could have had no conception whatever of its consequences.
Similarly, with the other great discoveries of mankind; the domestication of animals; smelting of metals ; steam ; gunpowder ; electricity ; optics ; few or none could see their ultimate effect upon human society. Yet how profound has been each one. Each, doubtless even the earliest, has been met with derision, scoffing and prejudiced opposition. But they have conquered, and the ideas and institutions of mankind have been re-moulded. Many of us remember the hoots and boos that greeted the early riders of the bicycle; the guffaws that welcomed the first pneumatic tyres; the sniggers that assailed the first motor-cars; the sneers and newspaper cartoons that accompanied the first aviators. But they have arrived—they have “made good.”
These have been material things. Things that could be handled, felt, seen, experienced. Why, then, this antipathy to anything new? Why this antagonism to anything out of the ordinary? Precisely for that reason. Because it is out of the ord¬inary.
Man is a lazy animal, a slave of habit and convention. Anything that shakes his complacency or interferes with his established habits is at first distasteful. He also a curious, inquisitive animal, a trait he shares with his simian cousins. His curiosity often conquers his inertia. Fortunately human society is leavened with a sprinkling of individuals whose curiosity is insatiable, whose thirst for the eternal “why” is unquenchable. Who are not satisfied with the humdrum, the conventional and the superficial? These are they who make their neighbours uncomfortable. Who shake their complacency, and their tendency to take everything for granted, eternal and unalterable. That is why they are at first not popular. One of the results of universal education has been to increase the number of these enquiring souls, and the printing press has developed the means of meeting their needs (one reason why you should push The Socialist Standard). Neither of these results were foreseen by either those who inaugurated universal education, or the inventors of printing. Similarly with the discovery of steam and its application to industry. None could see that its outcome would be the world of to-day. That is what we meant when we said earlier “progress has been consequential, rather than intentional.” Mankind has got on with the job that was nearest and left the future to look after itself. That is why the world is very far from ideal. That is why current history is a groaning, rumbling, creaking progression, punctuated by catastrophies.
Most people’s view of the next ten years is that things will be much the same then as now. “Perhaps the foreman will die, and I shall get his job” sums up the philosophy of a great many, poor simple souls. Death takes “hands” as well as foremen, and what are you going to do with your life. Life is the thing that matters. How are you spending it? Poor? Of course !
Unemployed? No! And still poor? Yes! damned poor. Then what’s wrong? This is where those enquiring, inquisitive people come in. This is where the Socialist gives evidence. Why with all those great powers and discoveries at mankind’s disposal should there be any who are poor and unhappy? Why with all the evidence of stupendous wealth around us, should there be any who suffer want, hunger and privation? Yet there ate millions! Surely something is wrong !
Yes! What is wrong is the basis upon which society is built. All the means where¬by we all live are in private hands. The rule of society is “everyone for himself, and we’ll take charge of the Army.” The reason they take charge of the Army (and the other Forces, of course) is in case the workers get tired of being hired to make wealth, and desire to enjoy what they alone make. Now Socialism means just that step, that the workers should take possession of all the machinery by means of which wealth is produced and distributed, and use it for the benefit of the whole of society. There is enough and to spare for everyone to lead a full, healthy and happy life. Poverty and all that flows from poverty will be abolished. The good things that workers now produce for others will be their own.
The spectacle of useful, industrious citizens starving, or leading cramped, adulterated lives in the midst of plenty will be a thing of the past, a thing unbelievable to future generations.
The effort to bring this about will be met by force. The armed forces we have mentioned will be ruthlessly used against you. But the organised workers hold the master key. By first obtaining control of the political machine they will control the armed forces. With these under control, they can proceed to the re-organisation of society upon a workers’ basis, where to those who need will go the fruits of their industry.
Let us, therefore, look ahead. Let us raise ourselves a moment above the daily round, and realise that life worth living is within our grasp. Let us realise that Socialism is not a vague abstraction, not a dream of some arm-chair philosopher, but a practical, simple re-ordering of human affairs. That is why we said at the commencement of this article that Socialism is the greatest idea that the human mind has ever conceived. That man, after harnessing the great forces of nature, and opening the treasure chest of Mother Earth should now organise himself, organise human society, that is the “dream.” Is it so visionary; is it so impracticable? Help us to realise it. Look ahead.
W. T. H.
(Socialist Standard, June 1924)