Editorial: What of the future?
It is usual at this season of the year to review the past and see what hopes the future holds out for us. There is no particular reason for doing this beyond the fact that it is customary. The problems with which we are grappling; confront us at all seasons of the year, whether the date be the first of January or the 1st of July.
For the moment we need not worry about the Locarno Pact, which promises Europe peace and larger and more deadly armaments ; nor need we worry about the great Irish Agreement which has brought a “settlement” at last to the difficulties of that benighted land, and a civil war between the Northern Government and its Special Police; nor even need we stop to ponder over the Lloyd George Land Scheme, which bids fair to be nipped in the bud by the cheap trips to Canada and Australia, arranged by our benevolent Government which, evidently quite rightly, believes that one can starve as comfortably abroad as at home. These matters can be fittingly discussed in another place.
A disinterested observer, if such could exist, would surely marvel that a proposition, so simple in its main features, as Socialism, receives such scanty attention from the disinherited—the very people to whom it offers so much.
Socialism offers to the hungry the means to fill their stomachs, to the idle congenial work, to the overworked abundant leisure, to those in tatters sound and comely raiment, and to the homeless a roof, society and laughter. Yet the bulk of the people to whom it offers these things treat it with derision or apathy. Why? What are the main obstructions that hinder the majority from accepting the Socialist outlook?
The first important difficulty is that Socialism is something new, it demands a break from the traditional ways of looking at things and it is therefore disturbing to most people. All new ideas and outlooks are disturbing, and that is why they make such slow progress at first. Times are so hard, life is so burdensome, to the majority of people that they desire to escape from its hardships every moment they can. Socialism signifies thinking over these hardships, and consequently it is distasteful, A drink, a heart-to-heart talk, a listen-in, a dance, a football match—these are distractions, moments during which the wear and tear of life are forgotten, consequently they are sought after as the opium of the toiler. The modern worker uses up so much of his mental and manual energy in the service of the employer that he avoids, as much as possible, whatever calls for the exertion of serious thought after the work of the day is done. When once a worker is persuaded to think seriously about his social position, and made to see that there is a gleam of hope, a possible pathway out of his troubles for ever, then the disinclination to consider the new point of view disappears. The difficulty is to get him to start, to overcome the particular form of mental inertia that prevails.
The masters, who have a privileged position to lose, are made well acquainted with these facts, and see that whatever means are available shall be used to throw dust in the workers’ eyes. From press, pulpit, and platform the workers are taught that things have always been much as they are to-day, and it is divinely ordained that they will remain so for the future.
The paid advocates of the present order of slavery steer, more or less skilfully, among such disturbing influences as wars, peace treaties, strikes, and the like, with the basic object of keeping secure the profits of the employers and retaining the blind allegiance of employed. Much money and effort is spent in developing welfare schemes, arranging fruitless commissions of enquiry, and providing amusement and entertainment to absorb harmlessly energies that might otherwise be directed towards the abolition of a privileged class.
For many years a standing menace to capitalist states has been the growing army of unemployed. In England, however, they have at the moment met the difficulty in a way that takes the edge off the menace and spikes the guns of the disgruntled. The much-discussed “dole” at least minimises the danger of bread riots, and its qualifying clauses serve to intimidate many who might otherwise endanger the stability of the System.
Along with this there is a boom in certain of the sciences just now, and knowledge is increasing in the ranks of the intelligentsia (who conduct affairs on behalf of the masters) of the best way to deal with men, individually and in groups, not only for the purpose of increasing the amount of wealth produced per man, but also for the purpose of blinding and misleading the wealth producers as to their true interests.
So far has this latter idea progressed that it has induced, in at least one man of science, a profound gloom. Bertrand Russell in “Icarus” expresses himself as follows on the future outlook :—
“The effects of psychology on practical life may in time become very great. Already advertisers in America employ eminent psychologists to instruct them in the technic of producing irrational belief; such men may, when they have grown more proficient, be very useful in persuading the democracy that Governments are wise and good. . . .
More sensational than tests of intelligence is the possibility of controlling the emotional life through the secretions of the ductless gland. …. assuming an oligarchic organisation of society, the State could give to the holders of power the disposition required for command, and to the children of the proletariat the disposition required for obedience. Against the injections of the State physicians the most eloquent Socialist oratory would be powerless.”
Such is the outlook for the future according to one professor.
But Bertrand Russell is not the only one who is gloomy and full of foreboding.
In the latter days of the war and in the period immediately following the Armistice there was a boom in “Red Revolution.” Pamphlets were poured out in abundance, and mass meetings were held all over the country. In fact many thought the “revolutionary moment” had come and the day of emancipation was at hand.
Since then there has been a gradual downward tendency. One by one the “heroic” figures, that loomed large in the eye of labour, have stepped off the stage and quietly vanished. The names that are now writ large are not the names of yesterday. Most of the men of yesterday are now completely forgotten, although the false flags they waved have been taken up by those that have stepped into the shoes of the departed. But the doleful cry of “what is the good of it all?” has found favour with multitudes of enthusiastic but misguided people, and there is desertion from the camp of the “Reds” and the whitey Reds.
At the end of the war the promises in the Labour movement were fair, but the accomplishments have been foul.
On the one side the advantages gained whilst labour was at a premium during the war have one by one been given up under the guidance of leaders who took the side of the masters, urging and cajoling workers into accepting lower wages and working harder on the plea of “saving the country from bankruptcy.”
On the other side the “success” of Russia was held up as an example of what would be accomplished in this country by methods such as “Soviets of the Streets,” strikes, and other action outside of Parliament and in face of a parliamentary majority pledged to support the present state of affairs.
But opportunism, whether of the pale or the lurid red, alike lands us in the quagmire, or the shambles; and the successors of those who promised a “world revolution” by 1921 are now languishing in jail for indulging in wild talk at trade union rates !
Whatever value the work of the Russian Communists may have had in Russia, its general effect upon the movement outside has ultimately been disastrous to the movement towards Socialism, and the full extent of the evil has probably not yet been reached. It was and is a deadening power on educative propaganda. Its failure to redeem its promise has armed the opponents of Socialism with a false argument that they have not been backward in using to the utmost. Russian propaganda has put back the clock of revolution many years. It has accomplished this in five different ways. It has helped the capitalist to maintain an iron dictatorship over the workers. It has spread widely false ideas as to how to accomplish the Social Revolution. By the failure of its methods, both in Russia and outside, it has driven into despair and apathy some of the most active and valuable elements in the ranks of the working class ; it has placed in the hands of our enemies a powerful weapon — illustration — to use against us; and finally it has cleared the ground for the progress of those capitalist hirelings—the labour leaders—whose position was previously being rapidly undermined. Since the Russian Upheaval the reformist Labour Parties have made rapid strides almost everywhere.
But the wave that recedes returns with redoubled force when the tide is coming in— and come in the tide of Revolution surely will and must.
Need we be unduly disturbed then at the apparently slow pace of progress? Not at all. The battle is to the strong, and the strong are they who have the patience to persist in the path that alone leads to victory. It is not enough to have a burst of enthusiasm that fades away if the harvest does not come in a few short years of effort. It is necessary to know that however long and hard the road, it is the only road, and there is surely the promised land at the end.
When looking back at past revolutions, one is apt to forget that they were the product of years of preparation, and that the forces preparing them were nearest ripening at the moment when the future looked darkest. This was true particularly of the English and French Revolutions, which appear on the surface to have been the sudden and spontaneous uprising of popular passion.
The question so often put by people in moments of pessimism, when bad health or social stress blacken their outlook, “Shall we see Socialism in our time?” is really a superfluous question. One complete answer to it is that the progress towards Socialism is in direct ratio to the amount of effort put in by those who understand and desire it. Another answer is that the unborn generations will have little sympathy for those who abandon the struggle on the slender grounds of their own immediate feelings. Yet another answer is that the servile crew who abandon the struggle under the influence of such a consideration deserve the kicks that are the recompense of slaves. And, finally, who is there with such prophetic vision that he can foretell, with any degree of accuracy worth consideration, how long the mass of the people will groan under the yoke of slavery in face of a spreading tide of education that neither pulpit, press, platform nor police can stem? Just as a close-kept secret will out some day, so a view such as Socialism, however harshly it may be surpassed, will take root and flourish, often flourishing all the more strongly on account of that very suppression.
In conclusion, we would like to address a few personal remarks to you, who belong to the unconverted. What do you want? Do you love slaverry? Do you want your children and your children’s children to be born into slavery, making the means for others enjoyment while they toil in poverty and misery? What is the use of toiling, week in and week out. for the sake of a smoke, a drink, and a football match? You make the earth fruitful, the mine and the factory belch forth their riches. But these are not for you who have gained them by the power of your muscles and the fertility of your brains. These riches belong to those who live upon you and bleed you of the product of your labour. They twist your intelligence into channels favourable to their welfare and your ill, and you let them enjoy the things that you have made because they have taught you some great natural law or some unscrutable power has decreed that it shall be so. There is no power outside of custom and the things born of the economic organisation of society, and these are things that you can alter when you will. But to achieve alteration you must rid yourselves of false notions of others superiority, false ideas of a natural order of social privilege, and the pessismism which keeps the servile mark of slavery upon your brow.
(Socialist Standard, January 1926)