1920s >> 1927 >> no-275-july-1927
Why We Are Socialists
It is by no means uncommon for anti-Socialists of various types to try to explain away Socialist principles as a result of a mental kink, as a symptom of pure cussedness, so to speak. This attitude finds considerable encouragement in the posturing of the sentimentalists of the Labour Party and kindred bodies. To judge by the speeches and writings of many of these worthies, they “thank God that they are not as other men are”—that their pure and lofty aims spring from hearts brimming over with loving-kindness to all mankind—in vivid contrast with the base machinations of their “hard- faced” opponents.
The members of the Socialist Party, however, make no such angelic pretensions. Our temperaments are as varied as our physical qualities, and these, again, are as numerous as those of the rats in Browning’s “Pied Piper of Hamelin.” Attend one of our annual conferences and you will observe the lean and the fat, the tall and the short, the bald and shock-headed, the ugly and the—well, we will not claim that anyone is pretty; somehow capitalism doesn’t have that effect. As for mental disposition, you will find the verbose and the reserved, the calm and the excitable, the artistically loose and the mechanically precise, all contributing their quota to the discussion, and either impeding or expediting the business to the best of their ability; and while this is not the place in which to disclose unofficial secrets, we may perhaps admit that there are to be found in our ranks both the austere and abstemious, and those who indulge not wisely but too well—tho’ in this respect, again, the system we oppose involves obvious limitations.
Whence, then, arises this tendency to regard the Socialist as a crank—a conceited meddler with the welfare of the human race? The answer becomes obvious the moment we consider just what it is that Socialists have in common.
Despite the variety of their physique and character, almost all, without exception, are drawn from a certain class in society, i.e., the working-class. The Socialist may be distinguished from his fellows perhaps by his greater sensitiveness to certain aspects of his environment, by his keener insight into conditions, and his greater readiness to grasp general causes; but that in itself does not explain the ideas he has.
There are adaptable men and women of mental vigour among the members of the capitalist class, but they do not become Socialists. On the contrary, their class interests lead them to oppose the Socialist movement with all the greater steadfastness the more they understand the conditions under which they live.
There have been, it is true, capitalists who have accepted the Socialist outlook through the operation of exceptional circumstances, but in order to do this they have had to forsake the standpoint of their own class and to study the position of the workers. That is the crux of the matter— the struggle between workers and capitalists forms the basis of Socialist ideas.
The Socialist is discontented, but so are many non-Socialists.
There has been widespread discontent under previous forms of society. The serfs and burghers under feudalism, the slaves under the Roman Empire, were the victims of oppression, and occasionally revolted; but their revolt did not form a Socialist movement. Their aims were either personal freedom and more private property, or some vague Kingdom of God in which all material problems would find magical solution. Scientific Socialism could arise only when the development of machinery had rendered antiquated all the old utopias and made the common ownership and democratic control of the means of life both possible and necessary.
So long as the means of production were small and could be operated by individuals or groups in isolated villages, the total wealth produced was insufficient to provide all with comfort and leisure. Hence private property was the necessary condition of security for producer and parasite alike, and the struggle between them was a struggle for one form or another of private property. The feudal lords struggled with their peasants over the land, but whichever side won held to the private form of ownership. The merchants and the handicraftsmen struggled over conditions of trade and production, but each side saw their “beau ideal” in the individually owned workshop or sum of money.
What is the position to-day? Millions of wage-earners co-operate, directly and indirectly, in the production of the wealth of the world, which is so abundant that it suffocates the markets. The means of production are so huge that they have long ago passed out of purely individual control. The individual capitalist only holds so many shares in a giant concern which may extend its operations over the whole earth. The vast mass of the producers are disinherited. For them private property has long ago ceased to exist. They have nothing to struggle over of an individual nature except wages; and these can only be defended (and but seldom extended) by collective action.
If under these conditions the workers still idealise private property, that is only because they have not yet fully realised their position. If the grasping of new facts is the hall-mark of the crank, then Socialists are cranks; but the only people whose interests are served by the worker’s ignorance are the parasites.