1930s >> 1936 >> no-387-november-1936

Capitalism as Seen from the Air

During a recent flight over south-eastern England, the writer saw an interesting picture of capitalism in miniature. Passing over a picturesque garden suburb, we saw below about forty new red-roofed pleasant-looking suburban houses, each with large enclosed garden attached. Immediately afterwards we passed over a large private estate, and into this the so-called garden estate could have been planted four times over. In the centre stood a large, mansion, and, adjoining it, another smaller mansion. This smaller mansion doubtless housed the personal and domestic bodyguard of the occupant of the principal mansion. The two mansions were surrounded by a small forest of trees, and this again was in the centre of a large emerald green park, on whose fringe could be seen a border of tall trees—a narrow fringe of forest—the whole enclosed in a high wall shutting out the nonentities on the other side.

Setting one’s mind at work, it was easy, in the light of a knowledge of contemporary social conditions, to imagine the workers in the garden suburb engaging in the production of some useful commodity, such as margarine, in a factory of which the inhabitant of the mansion was the principal shareholder; one could also imagine them “buying” their houses through a building society, of which the aforesaid gentleman might quite conceivably be the chairman; his interests extending far and wide, one could also imagine him having been the proprietor of the land which was “sold” to the house-owners. Also, being no doubt a thoughtful and far-sighted individual, one could imagine him deciding to have constructed a specially-built underground bomb-proof and gas-proof shelter, and utilising the services of the house-owners for the designing and construction of this necessary refuge at a time when the conflicting “idealisms” of capitalist powers leads them into armed conflict. In such an event, one could also imagine the house-owners sallying forth to do armed battle with a dastardly enemy, while the gentleman contributed handsomely towards the cost of a temporary hospital bearing his name, and descended discreetly into his shelter when bombers are about. Returning from the fray, the gallant fighters (those who do return) may have to face a period of compulsory retirement from industry, due to an “economic blizzard,” and may be under the unfortunate necessity of surrendering their houses to the building society. Let them not worry, however; a kindly Government has placed at their disposal a Board of Public Assistance, who will be only too glad to enquire into their means and to ensure that they should not starve.

Whence arise these discrepancies? Why do workers, having built houses and mansions, not live in them without the fear of being expelled? Why, having produced an abundance of useful things, so that the world’s storehouses are filled to overflowing, are they compelled to queue up before officious bureaucrats in order to be allowed a pitiful subsistence—a mere fleabite out of the enormous wealth they have produced?

The answer is to be found in the fact of the private ownership of the means of production and the consequent existence of a separate owning class. Ownership means control, and so the capitalists, as we will now call them, are able, within limits, to decide what goods shall be produced, and when. Being natural human beings, however, they do not love production for its own sake, but only for the wealth and the comfort it brings them. Hence we see that, when the periodic crisis comes along, the workers are dismissed and thrown on the scrap-heap. This system, however, has so far satisfied the workers that, while they have grumbled at its effects, they have consciously or unconsciously supported the system itself. The workers, however, form the overwhelming majority of the population, and provided they adopt the right tactics, nothing can stop their acquiring for themselves the complete ownership and control of the means of production. The capitalists, however, realising the precariousness of their position, are not too scrupulous in their methods to conserve it, and, controlling the armed forces, are prepared to use them against the workers if they deem it advisable. There is only one method of gaining control .of those armed forces, and that is by using the weapon which the masters have placed in their hands, i.e., the democratic machinery of Parliament.

Those who accept the correctness of the Socialist position will not fail to give the necessary financial and other support.


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