What Do You Want From Life?
All men and women of the working class who think clearly, and feel deeply, must come to one conclusion when they consider the worker’s existence under capitalism. They cannot help seeing the great contrast existing between their own lives, as a class, and life as it might, and could, be.
To very many of the workers life seems one long round of economically-forced toil, with very little of the so-called “leisure” we read so much about, insufficient rest and sleep, impaired health, and precious few opportunities for real enjoyment. It is painfully evident that, in this country to-day, existence has its worst phases in the “distressed areas.” The conditions obtaining there are a disgrace to a country vaunting its ” civilisation” and evince the callousness of capitalism.
We, as Socialists, are out to abolish, not only these conditions of poverty, privation and preventable misery, but the very system itself which causes them.
Being Socialists, we have an Ideal ever before us—an attainable Ideal. Socialism, we claim, is the only practicable solution for abolishing the many evils that are the product of the operations of capitalism. Socialism, we claim, is the only system that can effectually realise for the world’s multi-millions of toilers a real, true and full Life, such as should be theirs who are the wealth creators.
We want a world where peace reigns from Pole to Pole; a world where war and the very causes of war are abolished.
We desire a full, joyous and unfettered life for the peoples of all climes. And, for this purpose, we seek the complete emancipation of the world’s workers from their wage-slavery, so that all these desirable things should be theirs in complete fulness.
And, to obtain this, we must overthrow the capitalist system, and establish in its place the Socialist Commonwealth of the World.
The three primary essentials in the life of man are food, clothing and shelter. It is to obtain these basic things that the workers seek employment. To “make a living” is the chief concern of millions of people.
Socialism concerns itself with “making life worth living” for every human being: life in its fullest and finest sense—life that is Life indeed! Socialism, being based on the facts and experiences of working-class existence, is pre-eminently a practical social system.
Now, the social system of to-day does not assure or guarantee that the world’s inhabitants shall be amply fed, adequately clothed and properly housed to suit human needs. Based on the private ownership of the means of life, capitalism exists simply for the benefit of those who live on “Rent,” “Interest” and “Profit.”
Nothing is sacred to the capitalist class but their own capitalistic rights. Their ownership and control over the sources of wealth; their “right” to exploit human labour-power; and their ”right” to the surplus-value they appropriate (from which is derived rent, interest and profit)—these are, to them, sacred.
So long as we continue to tolerate this system of private ownership and production for profit, so long will the needs of humanity be disregarded. The starving poor want food, and they cannot buy it because of their poverty. They are ill-clad and poorly shod, yet there are immense quantities of clothing and footwear unsold. They live in hovels amid squalor and filth—while the race-horses of the wealthy are splendidly housed and cared for. “Man’s inhumanity to man,” as Bums so aptly phrased it, is exemplified to the nth degree by the social system we know as capitalism. In time of ”peace” or war, human considerations are the last things the ruling-class think of.
Now, as Socialists, we want to make it very clear that we are not only concerned about the ”bread-and-butter” business of “making a living”; we know that is fundamental, and that we must have the three essentials: food, clothing and shelter. We consider our objective is such that these are but the basis of living. We desire that Life for mankind should be the freest and fullest possible, and that every part of his physical, mental and cultural nature should have the finest opportunity for splendid development. In spite of the sneers of anti-Socialists at our “materialistic outlook,” we claim that Socialism, alone, being based on a splendidly firm economic basis, can assure mankind of a perfect foundation on which humanity can build, ever upwards towards the ideals which are possible of attainment only through the Socialist Commonwealth.
We must have a goal to reach, a splendid purpose to fulfil far beyond the petty idea of working for wages in order to get a living; or the parochial ideas of reformers.
Socialism, alone, opens up an immense vista of boundless development for the individual and for the world’s multi-millions.
For Socialism will come to free Man from his age-long bondage.
Now, this bondage—this wage-slavery which holds the world’s workers in its grip—is, in spite of what unthinking or prejudiced non-Socialists say, a very real thing. It is the essential outcome of the means of life being in the hands of a small, but immensely powerful, ruling-class. Owning the means and instruments of wealth-production and distribution, and being in complete control of Political Power, they thus have the means to exercise their will and wish over the world’s toilers in any and every way they desire.
It is obvious that, having these powers and this control over our lives, they are the Master Class.
The capitalist system exists for their benefit as a class; it is operated to increase their wealth; and lives and thrives as a system of thievish gain by systematically robbing the wealth-producing working class.
Let us get rid of our intellectual blinkers, and look squarely in the face of the economic and political facts of our working-class existence.
The vast majority of youths at school-leaving age embark on the hazardous business of trying to “make a living” (if they can “get a job” !), little thinking that, perhaps for fifty years of their life, they will have to work as wage-slaves. They will have to create surplus-values for their employers, which they, as workers, will be robbed of, and will not benefit by. After being exploited and robbed for, say, fifty or sixty years, by the operations of a ruthless wage-system, they will be very little better off financially than when they started. What a prospect!
Such is the economic life of the average working man. He has worked all through his working life, and his labours have been chiefly to enrich an idle, parasitic and thievish class who live on “Rent,” “Interest” and “Profit.” This is only one aspect of the case.
For the average working-man is, throughout his toiling years, like a harnessed horse that goes round and round a central mechanism which is kept in motion by his constant movement in a prescribed circle. Occasionally the horse is allowed to stop and feed or drink. Yet, outside his slavish circle, are the luscious fields of sweet sunlit grass— and Freedom!
Of those delights that real freedom would bring he has no opportunity.
And, ask yourself, what opportunity does the working class have to participate in the advantages and enjoyments that are appropriated by a leisured and privileged class?
Most of the things that we, as workers, desire, are unprocurable; for the life of most toilers is arid, cramped, and limited to a very great degree. It in no way approximates to the life that we, as Socialists, visualise and desire all men to have and enjoy.
We desire an equality of opportunity for every man and woman in the world—an opportunity to reach the very peaks of development for the individual’s sake, and for Mankind. Talent and ability should have every encouragement and scope; and self-expression in all that is worth while should be full and free.
To enjoy life to the full in their own way, whilst participating in the greatest freedom possible, should be each man’s right—so long as his actions were not anti-social or prejudicial to the interests of Mankind.
We have not yet reached such a splendid state of human society—but we visualise it! ! And we know that the Socialist Commonwealth, alone, can realise in full a social condition of equality and concord that is expressed by the phrase: “Each for all, and all for each!”
What, then, do you want from Life?
If you have the Ideal before you that we, as Socialists, have, you must be profoundly dissatisfied with capitalism; and if you chance to be a Socialist you will know that the things you desire you will not obtain under the present system—at any rate, not to a satisfactory degree.
Let us, briefly, summarise a few of the most important that, having, will make Life, for you, worth living.
You want good and sufficient food, adequate clothing, and a shelter which is really a home in the fullest sense. You want to feel that these things—the primaries—are assured to you.
You want a reasonable amount of work to do to usefully occupy your active brain and hands— work that is socially useful and productive of good to the community and yourself as an individual. That work should not be a drudgery, or a means of stunting the worker’s mind by its deadly monotony, or wearying by its duration. You want radiant physical and mental health, and every opportunity to sustain it at a splendid pitch of human efficiency for yourself and those around you. Freedom—economic, political and social—is as the breath of life to us. We must have Freedom!—as we Socialists understand it. Leisure, in abundance, in which to develop our many-sided natures, and cultivate the garden of our talents and abilities, so that their finest flowers shall blossom forth. Recreation, too, that shall be productive of splendidly healthy men, women and children, as well as a source of joy. Access, in full, to a knowledge of all the finest products in the field of Art and Science, Literature and Music. Opportunity to travel and enlarge one’s international sympathies and see the marvellous beauty that Nature so prodigally displays. You want an existence that is as productive of joy and happiness to yourself and others as it can possibly be. In one sentence: You want a useful, satisfying, free and happy life.
This, in the main, is probably what many of us desire.
Well, when the working class understand what slaves they really are to the master class, they will begin to start on their splendid wayfaring. When they realise that, if they desire to accomplish their emancipation, they must, as a class, emancipate themselves, they will really be on the move. And when they fully understand that Socialism is their only hope, they must, if they intend to achieve its triumph, study it, and find the way to the goal.
They will become convinced Socialists, and be bent on the one means that will realise a Socialist Commonwealth—the capture of Political Power by a majority of Socialists. Capitalism will thus be overthrown, and a Socialist administration will be ushered in. Nought else avails.
Do you want Life to yield you and your class joy and peace and freedom in all their fulness and splendour ?
You will get these only through your own wise and determined efforts—by establishing a worldwide Socialist Commonwealth !!
(Socialist Standard, March 1939)