A short story: The Socialist Versus the Vote Catcher
Some few years ago, in the suburb known as Battenham, there lived a poor workman . whose name was Hyam Eezi. He was poor in that his clothing was shoddy, his food coarse and adulterated, his habitation mean, inconvenient and hired by the week, his hold upon life so precarious that starvation or pauperism were ever on the horizon. He owned no land: nor anything beyond the rags upon his back and the few articles of utility with which he had furnished his hired house.
He himself lived by letting himself upon hire, the process being as follows. Being possessed of nothing material beyond the few poor articles mentioned, and driven by the stern goad of hunger, he found that he still possessed one saleable thing—his energy. He had read no history, so he did not know how he and those around him had become landless, propertyless outcasts in a land of plenty. He just took things as he found them, and imagined that thus they had ever been, and thus would remain. And so his main concern was to find some hirer of human labour, and lend his services to him for as long a time as possible and for as large a sum as possible. Unfortunately he found that so many hundreds of those around him were in like case, that the hirers were enabled to select those who would take the smallest sum, or alternatively those who could work the hardest or most skilfully. He, therefore, found that, no matter how hard he worked or at what occupation, the sum he received each week barely sufficed to keep him and his family in their poor standard of “comfort” and security. Security! Ever before him there loomed the prospect of finding in his pay envelope a little slip of paper, bearing the dread intimation that his services were no longer necessary. What puzzled him, when he really did sit down to think the matter out, was the undoubted fact that when he and his mates had worked so hard that the warehouses were overflowing with goods, then was the most likely time for the “sack,”’as they called it. Terms like “over-production,” “slump,” “glutted markets,” etc., filtered down to him, but he had but the haziest idea of what they all meant. The hunt for a master began anew. Presently he found one; or after an interval of semi-starvation the old one took him back again. The process is repeated, and so the years pass.
And then a great excitement stirs his drab life. There is an Election. Certain shiny-hatted, sleek, comfortable looking gentlemen appear, and profess to take an absorbing interest in his welfare. All his troubles, he is told, are directly traceable to Free Imports, lack of Preference, want of Stability, Foreign Competition, and the Crass Stupidity of the existing Government. The remedy is quite simple. Just put a little cross opposite the shiny-hatted gentleman’s name, and Prosperity will dawn upon all.
The next few years are spent in continuing to hire himself out when fortunate enough to find a hirer, and in wondering when the promised Prosperity will arrive, or what form it was supposed to take. Suddenly the mystery is solved. He has been betrayed, swindled, duped. How does he know that? Another gentleman is good enough to devote much of his-spare time to patiently explaining what is wrong. A rash of handbills, cards, posters, etc., has broken out, and he gathers that another Election is arranged for him. The gentleman explains that the individual who cajoled his vote from him last time is one of an unscrupulous gang of self-seekers who are bent on ruining the country. They are hypocrites, liars and fools, their sole aim being the feathering of their own nests at the expense of the honest working man. “What have they done for you,” he asks searchingly. Hyam has no difficulty in replying, “Nothing.” Fortunately the remedy is simple. This gentleman stands for Peace, Retrenchment and Reform; Economy, Progress and a Free Breakfast Table; Justice, Liberty and No Tariffs. The mellifluous flow of high-sounding words leaves Hyam slightly dazed. They are not part of his everyday vocabulary and he cannot connect them with any article of use in his daily life, unless it be the Free Breakfast Table. That sounds promising, anyhow. He can’t do less than the previous blighter, thinks Hyam, so here goes my vote for the gent that has shown him up.
It is needless to recount how the ship of prosperity again seemed to have mistaken the harbour and put into some more distant haven. The cause of this was made clear as crystal to our friend Hyam Eezi by a simple working man. The occasion was another General Election, and this man proved in the most convincing manner that the previous two gentlemen were arrant swindlers, both of them employers of labour and consequently living upon the ill-gotten wealth they sweated from the honest workers. What we wanted was a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, also pensions for mothers, also no taxes on food, also better education. What we wanted was Peace in Europe; Houses to let at low Rents; No Profiteering; No Inhabited House Duty; No Entertainment Tax; Larger Unemployment Dole; More Scholarships; Cheap Electricity; Sugar Beet Factories, and, above all, No Unemployment.
Who could resist it? Not Hyam Eezi! Here was a man of his own class, who talked his own language. Here were thing he could understand. Houses at low rents! No Profiteering! No Unemployment! These were ideas he could handle. And the remedy was so exquisitely simple. Just put a little cross opposite this honest toiler’s name and the Dawn was guaranteed visible within a few short weeks. God!. would polling day never arrive?
Alas! The months have gone by with little to distinguish them from the drab years before. Hyam still hires himself out when he can find a hirer, and starves when he can’t. The honest working man of his last choice is painfully explaining to him how the main caravan missed its way, but how grateful he should be for what has been salvaged. The capitalists of France and of Germany are on much better terms; the capitalists of England and of France are happier together; the “socialist” capitalists of Russia and the ordinary capitalists of England are in a fair way to doing business; the low-rented houses are, er— on paper; the thirty million pounds (think of it, Hyam!) a year off food taxes has reduced the cost of living, except where it has gone up; the landlord has been freed of the irritating Inhabitated House Duty;, your seat at the ”pictures” has gone down a whole penny—in some places; we have increased the pittance to ex-Servicemen whom we sent to be butchered in the War; we have—, but Hyam is bewildered.. He asks himself what all this means to him. Receiving no answer, he seeks out one of those “extremist” fellows who works in the same shop, and inquires rather irrelevantly: “Where the devil are we, mate? ”
“Mate” replies : “Look here, Hyam boy, the main thing that’s wrong is yourself. All these loquacious gentlemen have had one thing in common. They have invited you to trust them. You have done so; that is why you now find yourself ‘trussed.’ Your trouble is glaringly thrust in your face every morning, but you are so used to it, you don’t notice it. You ‘book-on,’ or ‘clock-on’ at a definite time, and after some hours have gone, you ‘book- off.’ But you feel different, don’t you? Something has gone from you; you are tired; you have less energy. There you have it. The firm have had so many hours of your energy—and what have they given you in exchange? A wage. And what does a wage represent? The cost of replacing the energy, plus a bit to enable you to bring up kiddies to take your place. Many factors make wages vary, but the point round which they vary is the average cost of living. So you see, Hyam, you are a thing of hire, a piece of merchandise, a commodity. In selling your energy, you sell yourself, for you are inseparable. You sell yourself—a piece at a time; and when your energy thins off, you are scrapped. Foreign Agreements don’t help you; Russian and German Loans don’t help you. You still remain a worker. The whole collection of Pensions,’ Insurances, Health Benefits, etc., do not really affect you. You remain a worker. Cheap rents, cheap food, low rents, low taxes, cheap everything, do not affect you. Cheap cost of living means cheap wages. With any wages, high or low, you remain a worker. And that is the whole trouble. Palliatives do not palliate; ‘benefits’ do not benefit; ‘something now’ means next to nothing for ever.
“The system under which we live is called Capitalism. Under it the land, factories and means by which we all live are owned by small groups of people. The workers, the great mass of the people, hire themselves out to the capitalist at so much per day, per week or per month. The result of their toil goes to the owners of the tools of production; the workers get their hire. When the capitalists cannot make a profit out of the hire of labour they stop hiring it and the labourer starves. Starving men are desperate men, so good, kind capitalism arranges a scheme of Insurance, that just sufficiently dulls the edge of desperation to secure the continuance of the system of capitalism. Your Labour party has sounded the loud trumpet over their having increased this “benefit” You can read this little lesson for yourself, can’t you.
“The Socialist says there is one problem, and one problem only, before the worker: his wage-slavery. There is one solution and one solution only for his problem; that he and his fellows must own the means whereby they all live. To do this they must capture the political machinery of society—Parliament—not by trusting to any glib-tongued orator to do something for them, but by organising in the workers’ party, the Socialist Party, to capture and use the political machinery in the interests of the whole working class. That is a very brief outline of Socialism, and if it appeals to you, don’t trust any more to people who are going to bring Utopia here without the least effort on your part, but come into the Socialist Party and work for Socialism. Socialism will come when enough of you want it. Why not begin to work now, Hyam? ”
W. T. Hopley