1920s >> 1928 >> no-288-august-1928

Socialism Smashed Again

A correspondent has sent us a cutting from the “Daily Express” of July 2nd, with a request that we answer it. The cutting is an article entitled “J. D. Beresford Tried Socialism But Found It Wanting—Too Much.” Then follows a portrait of the author’s face and a picture of his mind. Neither is flattering. The article is too long to quote in full, and the reader must accept our assurance that we will summarise Mr. Beresford’s “points” as fairly as muddled sentiment can be summarised.

First, then, he became a convinced Socialist, for a time, more than twenty years ago, through reading one or two of H. G. Wells’ books.

Perhaps we can conveniently pause here and clear away a little brushwood. H. G. Wells is not a Socialist. To a Socialist, his political utterances have been puerile. He has repeatedly confused municipal capitalism and nationalisation with Socialism and believes in the rule of the expert and the bureaucrat. He supported the late War. Wells foams at the mouth whenever the name of Marx is mentioned. Marx, who raised Socialism from the realms of sentiment to those of science.

 And now we reach the final stage. “My true argument against Socialism is founded on … first, the present state of human nature; and second, our regard for its development.” So that is his true argument. Poor old human nature ! Dear ! oh dear ! ! The number of times the “human nature” tag has been used is past all counting. What is human nature, anyway? Like all the flat, tepid tribe who use the phrase, Mr. Beresford makes no attempt to define it. He proceeds to false prophecy right away :—

“But your average man or woman under fifty would be bored stiff by life in a Socialist State. There would be no outlet for ambition, no delicious hope from week to week that next year we might be in a better position than we are to-day.

With our eternally fixed income, our everlastingly regulated work and leisure, most of us would find no outlet for our surplus activity other than in quarrelling with our neighbours. There is certainly a minority of people who are content with flat monotony . . . But not the majority. Ours is not the right kind of climate for that sort of life. In the south of France, or in Italy, it might be more endurable.”

Gawd save us from that. One wants to walk through the dung-strewn streets of Bermondsey to see what joys Socialism means to destroy. The streets are alive with adventure. Narrow, foetid thoroughfares are thronged with thousands of kiddies. Their taste for adventure seems fairly divided between dodging the motor lorries they can see and the bacteria they cannot. Fortunately, Guy’s Hospital is on the spot, so that quite a number avoid the flat monotony of a tombstone, and grow up to be carmen, pickle workers, hide scrapers, tanners, gutter merchants, truck pushers, and other outlets for ambition. Not for them the eternally fixed income, the everlastingly regulated work and leisure. Bless you, no ! They are bung full of the delicious hope from week to week that next year they may be better off than they are to-day. Hope seems to be all they are full of. Many exchange it for hops when occasion offers, and, curiously enough, seem happier for it. But what should be still more curious to Mr. Beresford is that if one of the denizens of Bermondsey heard of a monotonous, constant job, with an eternally fixed income, and even everlastingly regulated work and leisure, say, as a porter on the gate of Guy’s Hospital, he would throw all the glorious possibilities of a fugitive to-morrow to the four winds and grab the job. Will any reader of the “Daily Express” blame him?

“Another point,” we learn, “that the Socialists avoid with a shrug of the shoulders is that of invention.” As we said before, Mr. Beresford should read more. If the Socialists he has met have confined themselves to shrugging their shoulders, it is obvious he has been unfortunate or indiscriminating in his acquaintance. One cannot shrug the shoulders in print, and if there is one point that Socialists have dealt with in extenso it is that of invention. It is one of Capitalism’s black chapters. If Mr. Beresford read even the newspapers to which he contributes he would know that the inventors that Capitalism made use of in the Great War are still fighting for their rewards in the Courts. One, only a fortnight ago, complained that his legal expenses already have exceeded his original claim. Capitalism has one test for invention, as it has for most other things— is there money in it?

The remainder of Mr. Beresford’s article is really too vapid for anything. Under Socialism—appalling thought—”our daily newspapers would have been limited to a single and, no doubt, dull sheet.” We cherish the consolation that it could not be flatter than his article, anyway. It proclaims the fact that when Mr. Beresford uses the word Socialism he does not know what he is talking about. Like all the profoundest truths in existence, the elementary case for Socialism can be reduced to a few simple, self-evident statements. Only blindness, prejudice, ignorance and selfishness stand in the way of its realisation. Listen to this:—

The following are mankind’s prime necessities : Air, water, food, shelter and clothing. Without air we should die in a few minutes ; without water, in a few days. Socialism simply means that food, shelter and clothing, etc., shall be supplied similarly without question or condition; that they shall not be the sport of profit-makers, that access to them shall not be through a gate bearing the sign, “Profit First.” Without the necessities of life we die. To obtain them we hire ourselves for a period to those who own the means whereby we live. How do they make and retain themselves masters of our lives? By force and custom. We propose to dissolve the first by converting a majority to our opinion, and at an Election taking control of the machinery of government. We propose to vary the second by substituting common ownership of the masses whereby we all live, for private ownership of them. When people thoroughly understand these simple facts, we venture to think they will chance the monotony of regular and choice food, the boredom of roomy houses instead of stuffy hutches, the lameness of plentiful clothing instead of shoddy and patches. Perhaps Mr. Beresford could recommend the great tonic value of the present system to the 200,000 mine workers whose unemployment the “Daily News” says (July 24th) “is not a temporary difficulty but a permanent condition ; they are definitely and irrecoverably surplus to the industry.” What a chance for Mr. Beresford to explain to them the joys of not knowing from week to week whether they will be better off next year or no ! And there are the other happy million of unemployed who would welcome the joyous gospel. And perhaps they would not.

Anyhow, Mr. Beresford can be reassured on one point. Socialism will not abolish hurricanes, earthquakes, tornados, blizzards and other natural hazards. There will be nearly as many opportunities for the adventurous to risk their necks as now. We can suggest at least a score under Socialism that will be more spicily adventurous than writing for the “Daily Express.”

W. T. H.

(Socialist Standard, August 1928)

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