1920s >> 1927 >> no-274-june-1927

Incentive—yesterday and to-day

A few thousand years ago, before the world had become thoroughly civilised, young men and old men lived on a Spartan diet, and worked arduously in order that they might become pre-eminent in games, in the arts and in warfare. Their sole recompense, apart from that personal feeling of satisfaction, was the approbation of their fellows expressed in the form of a crown of bay leaves or some similar token of public appreciation.

Since those healthy times, the unhealthy influence of Commerce has cankered the sources of action and the Daily Press periodically provides us with the sordid details of boxers who will only box if thousands of pounds is guaranteed to them; tennis players, golfers and all the rest who make a like proviso. We are even told that England cannot hear the best singers and musicians often because sufficient cash is not forthcoming. The old slogans “Art for Art’s sake” and “Art for Life’s sake,” are rapidly being transformed into the miserable howl of “Art for Money’s sake.”

It has become usual, with a self-satisfied feeling of genius unrecognised (particularly among the so-called “Intellectuals”) to blame that mysterious entity the “Public” for this state of affairs. It were better to observe the source of the trouble, which lies in a social organisation that compels people to think of income before work. Fortunately for us, though unfortunately for themselves, there are still plenty of people who place joy in the work of their hands and brains before income, but, in many cases, this healthy attitude brings a direful end, as the records of penury and suicide, and of the workhouses and lunatic asylums abundantly prove.

What, from the point of view of incentive, can be more sordid than the following extract from the “Daily News,” of April 18th, 1927 :—

“Gertrude Ederle, the New York girl who swam the English Channel, is complaining that the fortune she was promised is not reaching her.
Critics of her management point out that excitement in America was allowed to cool while her father carried her off to Germany to “swank” to his old compatriots, and that when she returned, and New York itself went wild about her, her advisers’ ideas grew so inflated that they frightened good money away.
The facts are that in the six months of last year in which she had her great record to capitalise “Trudy” Ederle got nothing out of it but a nine weeks’ music-hall contract. All the customary “by-products” of sporting success which are exploited here were neglected.
It is true that for her music-hall performance Miss Ederle still receives £1,200 a week. But she has been explaining how the money goes before she touches it. Here is her balance sheet:
A Week
Her lawyer, Dudley Malone …… £200
Her father ……………………………. £200
Agent for her act ……………………£120
Publicity agent ………………………..£35
Two girl divers ………………………..£100
Man setting up tank………………….£20
This leaves £485 a week, from which Miss Ederle herself pays the fares, travelling expenses of seven people and charges for the water used in the tank on the stage, probably £60 a week at least, leaving out of her £1,200 about £400 for herself.
Mr. Malone draws his percentage because he lent her £500 for expenses. Her father, who is. a successful pork butcher, draws his percentage because he advanced £300 of his own and £200 of the girl’s own savings from her swimming prizes.”

Is not this a fitting commentary on a society that judges nearly everything by £ s. d., and allows the views and the power of the money bugs to dry up nearly all the springs of healthy human activity ?

The cynical, the pessimistic, the gloomy-minded, and the supporters of the present rotten foundation of society, observing these facts, are apt to jump to the conclusion that nothing good can or will be done to-day without having money and “position” held up as a prize to provide incentive for the courageous and the skilful. It would not be matter for wonder if this idea were true, when one considers the tremendous obstacles that confront those who choose to ignore, up to, and even beyond, the verge of starvation, the commercial side of what they do, and prefer rather to follow the calling they love, asking as recompense only joy in the work they do and appreciation from their fellows.

A careful examination of the facts, however, is rewarded by the gratifying information, so full of hope for the future, that the bulk of the important things done to-day, in every direction, for the benefit of humanity, are not done with the object of securing either place or pelf, and often foreshadow to the doer social loss, poverty and misery. Of such things are the great industrial discoveries, the great works in literature and other forms of art, and the expeditions to the untrodden places of the earth.

There is one side to the problem that is apt to be missed by many well-meaning people. People of an imaginative and energetic temperament must find some outlet for their energies or perish. This fact is at the root of much of the activity that, on the surface, appears suicidal to the unobservant.

Apart from the fields of activity mentioned above, the different forms of sport provide myriad illustrations for the readiness of men and women to undergo arduous training purely for pleasure, or for the approbation of their fellows. When the social organisation has been cleared of the cankerous influence of private ownership in the means of production, with the limitations such a state of affairs imposes upon human activity, everybody will be free to exert their capacities to the full in whatever way they like best, with the only condition that such activity shall not be to the hurt of the rest of the people.


(Socialist Standard, June 1927)

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