The Social Environment of the Worker
When the industrial revolution occurred in this country, roughly between 150 to 175 years ago, its champions, the merchant manufacturing class preached the gospel of work. These commercial highwaymen and their followers, the aristocracy, the priest and the politician, were all loud in proclaiming the “virtues and glories” of work. Not being fond of it themselves, they were able to let others enjoy the “honour.” In those days there was little else to engage the time of the workers— except the prisons and the stocks, if obstinacy made them prefer the open-air life to the foul fumes of the “workhouse.” Because it must be remembered that the wholesale confiscation or enclosure of the common lands which had previously taken place, had driven the small peasant farming class and their motley following off the land. Those who failed or refused to find masters were treated and branded as criminals, vagrants, etc.
What little opportunity there was for indulging in the “fine arts,” i.e., bear baiting, cock fighting, the chase, and the few intellectual pursuits popular and possible at the time of which we are writing, were the exclusive privilege of the nobility and their favoured followers. Therefore, the class who worked, being ignorant of everything else but work, listened patiently to the preachings of their “superiors” and “got on with it,” while others “got away with it.”
It is well to grasp the great changes which have taken place during the 200 years or so which have intervened. Such a study of history shatters the notion, so diligently fostered by the ruling class, “that things have always been the same.”
To-day, for instance, the unemployed worker has become largely resigned to the fact that he is one of the “out-of-works.” He knows there are millions in the same plight, for whom the State is compelled from mere force of numbers affected, to institute State-aided unemployment insurance funds.
Young and old equally are thus victimised side by side. The younger ones find difficulty in finding openings and the old ones still more difficulty in keeping theirs.
In short, the application of scientific methods in wealth production has developed at such a rate that every year must show a decrease in the number of workers required to engage in this production. Thus there is left behind an ever-increasing army of unemployed.
Side by side with the development of the means of wealth production, changes have taken place in what we may term the social side of the workers’ lives. To compare the stage-coach—wherein each traveller suspected the other as being “the wanted highwayman”—with the “comfort ” of the modern motor car, coach and ubiquitous bus, the bonnets, bustles and crinolines of Victorian wenches with the “Eton cropped” and dress-shortened athletic girl of to-day; the hobby-horse and bone-shaker, with the easily-propelled bicycle; the news sheets and exclusive calf-bound volumes, with the modern newspaper and public and private circulating and reference libraries, where the modern student can readily obtain literature, classical, scientific, historical, covering a wide range of subjects. Consider again the educational facilities of to-day compared with say 50 years ago! Secondary schools, polytechnics, University extension courses open for day or evening students; the theatre, concert halls, picture shows, wireless, the playing fields; museums, picture galleries, etc.
Such are the assets of social life in the towns of to-day, which constitute, within prescribed limits, the liberating influences which tend to separate the worker from work, as “the aim all and end all,” as he was taught to look at it, of a short generation ago!
Let us pause here, however, to reflect upon the fact that there is a value in endeavouring “to know something about everything and everything about something.” The “something” which we have in mind is political economy, that branch of science which explains the laws which regulate the social system known as Capitalism.
The reader may think this is rather a sudden retreat from the chatty style we had previously adopted. But if an understanding of the principles of a science which reveal the whys and wherefores of the claims of individuals to a foothold on this, our mother earth, is not of primary interest, then we should like to know what is interesting. Because we have come to the conclusion, which we dare not try to prove in the space of one short article like this, that the most the workers can ever attain to is “ the world for the workers.” It is enough for us, and in order to attain to this desirable end we will endeavour in a few more lines to broadly point the way.
There is nothing for it but to speak the truth, and unblushingly we refer the reader to the Declaration of Principles on the back page. There it is laid down that the emancipation of the workers must be the work of the working class itself. You see, we have returned to “work” again. But such work!
The working class to-day is a slave class. They can only live by selling their labour power—working abilities—to a master class, who, by their ownership of the means of life, keep the workers in their enslaved condition. The effects resulting therefrom flow from a cause. The cause is obviously due to an environment represented by a social system divided into two classes—the workers and the non-workers—whose interests are opposed. This social system—Capitalism—is based upon the private ownership of the means of life, and the task confronting the workers is to gain an understanding of this environment.
“How can this be achieved?” the reader will say. We reply, directly the worker begins to take an intelligent interest in the economic system known as Capitalism, a system which spells for the great majority of the peoples of the earth, long, monotonous, uninteresting days of toil. The Socialist, realising the need to react to his environment, advocates Socialism as the only alternative to Capitalism, wherein the means for producing and distributing the things necessary and desirable in life, will be the common property of society. The details of such a system it would be futile and useless to go into. Suffice it to say that man would control and regulate those gigantic forces of production with which we are to-day so familiar instead of being their slave. Such handicrafts considered desirable and to common good and well-being of society would perhaps be revived thus affording an opportunity once again for mankind to display his creative genius in the arts and crafts which machine industry and manufacturing have so ruthlessly swept aside. Further, the intellectual and physical pursuits, now the privilege of a few, would be possible to all who were capable of enjoying them.
Such vast possibilities for human enterprise and endeavour come before the mind’s eye that we dare only suggest them.
Remember that to-day, however, the workers vote Capitalism, and in return! — what a ghastly picture! Wars and the infernos which the war gods discharge — death, disease, pestilence, social insurance schemes, adulterated foods, shoddy clothing, asylums, hospitals and sanatoriums galore !
True, mankind is the product of his environment, but thousands of years of progress and change have wrought wonderful results. To-day, mankind is on the threshold of still more wonderful awakenings. The centuries that have passed have been periods of long and ponderous yawnings on the part of mankind at the majestic grandeur and awe-inspiring spectacle of the wonders of Nature. The day, however, is slowly but surely approaching when mankind, recovering from his age-long sleep, confronts Nature and all her myriad wonders with the ripened understanding of the part he can play in the great scheme of things. What does this step mark? It is but the consciousness of the mighty fact, that man is capable of adaptation to his environment.
The Socialist has attempted to organise the experiences of mankind down through the ages, and the outcome of this attempt is the Socialist philosophy of life, which in economics is the common ownership of the means of life.
What flows from this we must leave to posterity. We are not prophets. The Socialist, therefore, stresses the need for the workers to become class-conscious. Consciousness of the abilities of their class to do all the work—as they do to-day—for the benefit of an idle, useless class, means the growth of the desire to so organise this consciousness of class interests, so that it may insure “to those who labour the fruits of labour. ”
That such a state of things is very desirable, few will deny. Do the many, then, deny the necessity of co-operating with us in bringing about a new order—the Socialist Commonwealth?—or do they think the existing ruling class will “ hand the prize over?”
The master-class are never tired of appealing to the worker to :—
“Do as much work as you can.”
We of the Socialist Party also make the same appeal to members of our class, with a very important addition : “For the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of Socialism.”
The environment, i.e., the stage which economic development has reached, shatters the argument that we Socialists are mere idle dreamers, and calls insistently upon the workers to react to the possibility which this environment provides.
That possibility is the establishment of Socialism, when the workers realise and desire it.