1940s >> 1940 >> no-429-may-1940
A Mad World
Since 1890, May 1st has been the day chosen by Labour organisations to express by demonstrations their international solidarity. This year, May 1st comes at a time when the war clouds have burst all over Europe and the East, and even America is expecting them to reach her shores.
All the signs suggest that the war that is now upon us may be worse than any yet known to history. What the workers will suffer in the course of it and how they will stand at the end moves many to gloomy foreboding.
It is a sad thought that such a war has only been possible because of the political backwardness of the international working class. Had the professions of solidarity made at the huge May-Day demonstrations of past years been backed by a sound knowledge of the workers’ slave position in capitalist society, and the Socialist solution to it, war at this time would have been impossible. Yet, just as in 1914, among the most war-minded to-day are to be found people who were prominent on May-Day platforms of the past speaking eloquently to resolutions of international solidarity.
The madness of the whole business becomes apparent if one thinks quietly over some of the happenings.
Every now and again a wealthy man dies and we learn that he has left a fortune of some millions of pounds in spite of the fact that he has been living in luxury for years. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of workers are finding it difficult to make ends meet when in work and semi-starvation when out of work. A few years ago there were three million workers unemployed and there were more millions asking for increases in their meagre wages. When our masters’ attention was called to this state of affairs they replied that industry could not afford any improvement in the workers’ conditions.
Since then the unemployed figure has been cut by over half and there is a standing war force of several million just eating up production—and yet industry can stand it! Thousands of workers are employed to make guns and shells whose purpose is solely to destroy. Thousands of workers are employed to use their utmost skill in building ocean-going ships that are sent to the bottom of the sea. Over two hundred thousand tons of shipping have already gone down, but we are told that it is not serious, as shipbuilding has been so speeded up that at the present average rate of ship sinking they can all be replaced in the course of a year. Just imagine building ships knowing that a large percentage of them will soon be at the bottom of the ocean. Is it not a mad world? Think how well we could all live if this huge quantity of wasted labour were employed making and supplying the things we really need.
Why does this madness persist? Why do major wars turn up every few years and small wars always go on ? Because of the present private property basis of society with the accompanying necessity of buying and selling. Under capitalism the capitalists must sell or sink, and therefore where diplomacy fails they force their way into markets by means of war or cut out their competitors in that way.
There is only one solution for this recurring disease of war, and that is to convert the means of wealth production from privately owned means into the common property of the whole of society to be used for the equal benefit of all. The workers perform all the functions necessary to produce and distribute wealth, and they do not need the capitalist. He is only where he is because in the course of time he has been allowed to live like a leech on the backs of the workers. While he remains the workers’ labour will be used up producing gigantic instruments of war and luxurious trifles to suit the fruitless whims of the wealthy instead of those necessary things which would make the world a pleasant place for workers.
In these days of suspense and foreboding there are, however, not lacking signs of hope. The worker of to-day has made progressive mental strides from his brother of 1914. The Socialist message is slowly finding its way in, as is evidenced by the fact that so many are less easily carried away by the old well-worn shibboleths.
On this war-troubled May-Day, then, when the sap is rising in the trees, the flowers are blooming and the birds are singing, let workers here and elsewhere make up their minds that the problem of happiness is worth a little hard thinking and cool examination; that while they have hands and brains and energy their world need not be forever clouded with war and the uncertainty of finding the means to live in comfort. The key to comfort for the workers is a real understanding of their present subject position. Once they have got that they will realise that through Socialism lies their only path to a care-free existence.
This is true not merely for one nation or another, but for the whole world of workers, who suffer a common bondage and have an identical interest in ending it.
Across the years come the words of one who spent his life easing the workers’ path to understanding, and what he wrote nearly a century ago is as true to-day as then: —
“Proletarians of all lands unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains, you have a world to win.”
What a May-Day message for the workers in a war-torn world !