1940s >> 1942 >> no-451-march-1942
Reality of Equality
Socialism implies that all will have free and equal access to the means of living. Anything else, whatever it may be, is not Socialism. That is why we are looked upon as visionaries, particularly by the people who use the name of Socialism as a label for their reform nostrums. Social equality, we are told, is a dream. A vague, utopian concept with no place in practical politics. That view is also held by the majority of the working class. They have the sense of inferiority which is partly due to their subject position, but chiefly the result of the free education so generously bestowed upon them by their masters. It is not surprising that the ordinary, average working man believes that existing inequalities are eternal and inevitable, when the self-styled intellectuals who offer themselves as his leaders, share the same misconception. We hear it often. From the exceedingly bumptuous fry on the climb. The song goes something like this: “if we all started from scratch it would be the same all over again. Some would have, and others would not. The brainy and the thrifty would become rich, the dull and lazy would be poor.”
We, too, are also aware of physical and mental inequalities in men, but we know that these differences can be easily exaggerated. We can quote Mr. G. B. Shaw on this point: “To the ordinary man the difference between himself and the great man is infinite. To the great man it is infinitesimal. . . . ” Increased mental development due to economic advantages and better education is very often alleged to be the result of hereditary abilities. Even doctors without patients and lawyers without clients regard themselves as the natural born superiors of dockers and miners. Although probably many a docker educated to be a lawyer or a doctor would do much better in Harley Street or the Law Courts. What these people fail to understand is that all men are equal in one overwhelmingly important respect. The individual, no matter what his physical and mental development, is entirely dependent upon the efforts of the whole of society for his existence and his comforts. Take the case of the learned professor, for example. We know that even the most learned professor remembers to eat sometimes. Other men must obtain his food for him. Grimy and stunted men must dig in the bowels of the earth for the coal that warms his house. The milkman brings the milk, the baker brings the bread, and the tailor sends in his bills. A strike of railwaymen, busmen, or perhaps taxi-drivers, would no doubt cause him some inconvenience. He is utterly dependent on a society of non-professors for all of these extremely valuable ministrations. More important; modern capitalist development, with its gigantic socially operated instruments of production, has increased the dependence of the individual on society as a whole. This not only applies to individuals but to nations, and even continents. No man is indispensable; all kinds of work are necessary. In a society where an article, before it reaches the consumer, may have to pass through several thousand hands and, perhaps, travel many miles, the individual cannot assume an importance of very great magnitude. Socialism is a recognition of the interdependence of men and women all over the world. It is not a sharing-out process where everybody will start off with five shillings or five pounds, and then look after himself. Human society is not a race-track, nor is it a jungle, even though it may give that appearance to superficial observers. We know that men must work together, and in working together they are equals. Socialism is a system of ownership which is consistent with the existing method of production. We say, that as wealth is produced in common it could be owned in common. Social equality is now a necessary condition for the fuller development of society, and this can only obtain with the common ownership of the means of production.
The equality of Socialism does not mean that we shall all be obliged to eat exactly the same quantities of food, and wear exactly the same kind of clothes, or even work exactly the same number of hours It means that every member of society will receive what he requires for his own personal needs, and of the best that can be provided for him. And in return, he would be under the obligation of working in whatever capacity he was able to work, in line with his abilities, taste, or health. It would put an end to the existence of a class of property owners enabled to live without working by the exploitation of those who work. The very clever, the ordinary and the foolish, will have the same social standing. There is no absolute law of nature which lays it down that a very clever man must eat more food, or wear more clothes, than a less gifted man, or that he needs a larger house, and an army of servants to wait on him. Very clever people do not get these things to-day by mere virtue of their cleverness; they can only have what opportunity and social conditions allow them to take, and capitalists only pay for those “clever” qualities which enable them to pile up more profits.
We urge the workers to rid themselves of their slavish notions. Wage-slaves they are, but they also have the power to free themselves. They are only held in subjection with their own consent. When they decide to establish a social order which is consistent with their interests there will be no power on earth to stop them. All that is necessary to bring it about is a slight extension of their knowledge from the sphere of industry to the sphere of politics. They will have made an important step in the right direction when they begin to see that as they produce and distribute wealth for the benefit of the capitalist class, they could just as easily and more efficiently produce and distribute it for society as a whole. A world of wealth, as yet relatively undeveloped, is awaiting their strength and ingenuity. Its almost incalculable resources will never be extended to their fullest whilst allowed to remain in the hands of a minority. Doubtless many workers are even now thinking along these lines at a time when they are pouring out a torrent of steel in order to shatter cities and men.