1930s >> 1934 >> no-362-october-1934

Stepping Stones

For A New Reader


It is sometimes interesting to know how people of professional qualifications react to the Socialist Standard when it is first brought to their notice. Those who have had the opportunity to do so must have been struck by the great similarity of opinions expressed by these people. Such expressions as— “the paper seems fascinated by the idea of capitalism,” and “the statement in the Declaration of Principles referring to the consequent enslavement of the working class by whose labour alone wealth is produced is sheer nonsense,” are not uncommon. Let us, therefore, endeavour to deal with these particular objections.


To a new reader it does, perhaps, seem that the Socialist Standard is “ fascinated by this idea of capitalism,” according to the rather sloppy wording of this particular objection. An inanimate object like a paper cannot, of course, be subject to the influence of fascination. What is undoubtedly meant is that there is throughout the Socialist Standard a continual reference to capitalism as being the main cause of the evils which exist to-day. Those evils are almost too well known to need recapitulation. They are widespread poverty and semi-starvation in the midst of an abundance of wealth, lying advertisements—part of the enormously wasteful method of distribution, with its myriads of shops and salesmen and deliverers, the colossal waste of human effort in the building of battleships, aeroplanes and armaments, the fussy and useless activities in the circularizing of letters and the faking up of news as an adjunct to the advertisers, the waste of valuable human labour in ministering to the whims and caprices of wealthy idlers—these, and the evils which arise directly from poverty itself, such as prostitution, robberies and murders.


If capitalism is the cause of these evils, then it is obvious that any party which maintains that this is the case must constantly refer by name to that order of society. In all sciences there are words which indicate certain basic ideas or principles, and if any discussion upon any section of that particular science is to be understood at all, those words must be used whenever that particular idea or principle is referred to. For instance, in physiology one constantly has to refer to the heart and the circulation of the blood. In the same way, in sociology one has to refer to the elements which constitute a particular society, and the particular form of society in which we are living at the present time, and which therefore interests us the most, has been given the name of Capitalism. It is, therefore, frequently necessary to use this word, and no apology is required for doing so. It is perhaps unnecessary to add that the pro-capitalist Morning Post constantly refers to the existing form of society as Capitalism.


That capitalism is the cause of the evils enumerated above, besides many others, has been abundantly proved in the previous issues of this journal. It is not proposed to go into this in detail here, but it is sufficient to point out that the characteristics of capitalism are—the private ownership of the means of production and the production of articles for profit. It is not very difficult to perceive that those evils arise from this fact of private ownership and the efforts by the few people who own them to dispose of those commodities.


“The consequent enslavement of the working class” is the next phrase which antagonizes our professional friends. Does it not logically follow that if the means of living are owned by one class, then any other class can have no other relation to the first class than that of slaves? But if logical deduction is not sufficient, then what are the facts? Unless he steals or begs, a person without capital has to work in order to live. He has to find a master. That master is generally some big combine or other. During the time that he is with that firm he has to work hard, he has to do what he is told, he frequently has to smile back when he is insulted, he is bullied, and if he dares to stand up for himself, he is sent forth to endure the torments of unemployment. He is now “free,” but as it is difficult to live upon the dole, quick as thought he has to start searching for another master. Whilst he is on the dole he is constantly being summoned to the Exchange for his case to be “reviewed”; an investigator comes round to see if he has managed to put by any savings or if he has earned a few shillings surreptitiously, and if he has and has not disclosed it, then woe betide him. Is this man not a slave to the class which employs him and which, when he is out of work, administers the relief and the unemployment benefit ?


It is, incidentally, of interest to note that the recent creation of a Central Assistance Board to control the local relieving authorities is in parallel with the development of capitalist industry. As capitalism becomes more centralised, the capitalists would not desire local relieving authorities, over whom they could not exercise direct control, to distribute scales of relief in excess of what they, in their just wisdom, might deem necessary.
The next phrase calling for comment is “ the working class, by whose labour alone all wealth is produced.” The professionals like to think of themselves as performing some useful function, and hence, no doubt, their objection to this phrase. Definition is, however, the starting point of any science, and if it is realized that by the working class is meant all those who are compelled to sell their mental and physical energy—what we Socialists term labour-power—in order to get a living, then it is obvious that this term includes clerical and professional workers and scientists, and it cannot be denied that it is only the application of the energies of the workers to material supplied by Nature which results in the production of all present-day commodities.


The production of these commodities to supply human wants is of such a complicated nature that it can only be carried on by groups of men working together. The commodities which these workers have produced, however, do not belong to them, but to a group of anonymous capitalists who endeavour to dispose of the commodities. In times of trade depression the commodities cannot be sold, the men who have produced them are discharged, and are unable to obtain the very goods which they they themselves have produced and of which they may be in sore need. There is, therefore, a disharmony in the mode of production brought about by—on the one hand—social production, and—on the other hand—private ownership of the means of production. Therefore, by abolishing private ownership and substituting for it social ownership, the disharmony is eliminated and mankind will then be able to lead a free and full life.