Work for Socialism (A Thought for the New Year)
Three years have passed since the outbreak of the Second World War. Three years which have taken their toll on the aspirations and hopes of millions; three years which have undermined many desperately held illusions. The first bomb that dropped destroyed the illusion that capitalism could continue without war. Many thousands of sincere men and women who held anti-war views veered in viewpoint almost overnight. Leaving out of account the Communists, the considerable anti-war sentiment which existed and grew between the two wars died on the first day of world war the second. The spectacle was not inspiring. Except for conscientious objectors, many of whose objections were mostly personal anyway, any hope that optimists had nursed of any real resistance to war was annihilated. Those who for years had cried “never again” now argued that Nazism must be defeated, and the only way to achieve that end was in the military defeat of Germany. To that end millions, most of whom yet knew little of life, must die. Millions have died. Millions more will surely die in the battles yet to be fought: “decisive” battles, we are told. To the Socialist, as the non-Socialist, supporter or opponent of the war, the prospect arouses anything but joy. True we are free from that pious respect for human life which is proclaimed but less often practised by the religious-minded, nevertheless, we experience the primitive will to live as strongly as all normal social beings, plus the conscious will to organise society so that all will live to the full. And young human life is precious: yes, and not because of sentiment only. The Socialist movement cannot afford the loss of the eager, inquiring mind of youth, particularly in a world where the numerical balance of the age groups grows more to its disadvantage.
The point surely does not need to be laboured.
The stark tragedy of world war fosters self delusions. One, a completely false evaluation, interprets the willing support given to the war by the workers as expressing a conscious seeking after a new or better social order. The most that could be said of some workers is that they believe they fight to avoid a worse world than the one they have known. Of others (perhaps the majority) the only explanation is that they are completely State-disciplined, the result of inheriting the accumulated experience of generations of workers. It is the job of the Socialist to face the facts. It is no service to the Socialist movement to paint rosy pictures or make “optimistic” prophecies except they rest on the surest of foundations. In the face of the present activities of the world’s workers the surest prophecy that could be made is that the Socialist is faced with years of plodding propaganda and educational work for which no measurable result can yet be seen. Socialism will yet gain recruits, conscious of all the difficulties and despite them. They will work for Socialism with the will of those who know that the world is ready for the Socialist solution for its problems and its achievement is possible the moment a sufficient number of workers want it. Now, if events could produce that moment out of a hat now. They will work for Socialism now because there can be no other alternative to the world we know, and in order to enjoy its benefits with their fellow men. If in the years following the war the worker is lured again from Socialism by rosy promises of reform, so that those whose active life is behind them would cease to hope to see the dawn of Socialism, this would not affect their work for Socialism. It is in the nature of man as a social being that he works not only for himself but for society and posterity. The worker who understands what Socialism offers to the world will work for it that his children escape the horrors he had to endure. Can it be denied, for example, that many who are fighting in the present military struggle are not conscious of what chance they have of surviving to enjoy the world they risk their lives to save.
But of the capitalist world after the war? What sort of place will it be? If the assurances of the social reformer meant anything then doubtless it would be a very different world indeed. Poverty, insecurity and unemployment will be things of the past; and profit, says the new Archbishop of Canterbury, will be relegated to second place. It all seems so simple to the social reformer: Just so much a question of goodwill, of so many do’s and don’ts on the Statute Book. But what is conspicuously absent in the proposals of the advocates of a “New World” after the war is that private ownership should give way to common ownership, and production for profit to production solely for use. They fail to propose this mainly for two reasons. First, they have not grasped the fact that there can be no fundamental social changes without it, and, two, even if this had been grasped, few of them would want to abolish the capitalist form of ownership anyway. What is likely to happen after the war, therefore, is that a number of social reforms will be introduced; that is unless the inevitable competitive struggle which must break out between different sections of the capitalist class tempers capitalist gratitude first. But no number of reforms, whatever the sincerity of the promoters, will touch the problems of poverty, insecurity, and the industrial crisis. Whilst production is for the purpose of profit and not for the purpose of satisfying the needs of the producers, capitalism will throw up these problems. For a few years after the war production of peace-time products is likely to expand rapidly as a consequence of the removal of the restriction on production that has operated during the war. Whilst this is so, conditions for the workers may be relatively good. The pendulum, however, will swing back. Competing capitalists will glut the markets, goods will become unsaleable, unemployment will grow, there will be strikes and lock-outs and reductions in wages. These things will happen because they are inseparable from capitalism—in fact, they are capitalism. There will be friction and “misunderstandings” between national groups of capitalists, as happened in the early thirties between British and American capitalists: “We cannot pay our war debts,” and “buy British goods ” were the high spots of those years. Fools, cranks, and the “experts” will strut the stage, offering their solutions. One is reminded of a famous and respected British economist who, in 1930, begged that all should spend another five shillings a week, and gave the solemn assurance that unemployment would disappear as a result!
These things happened after the Great War. Will they happen again? They will—because it is certain that the workers are not going to abolish capitalism in’ the years immediately following the war. And whilst this is so, capitalism will provide abundant opportunities for the ill-informed social reformers and the charlatans. New movements will arise which promise an easy road to the “New World.” There will be disappointments and set-backs. But out of the struggles and their lessons there will be some who will learn, and they will add to the strength of the Socialist movement, preparing the way for the inevitable time when masses must accept the Socialist message. Historically, the stage has not yet been reached when workers in large numbers grasp the Socialist’s message. But it can be hastened the more our message is spread. It is the business of all Socialists to work for this end. We are confident in the soundness of our case and tenacious in our purpose. The terrible wounds on the social organism which the present world war must surely inflict will harden us in our purpose: our hatred of capitalism and what it stands for, undiminished and increased. Socialism is an historical necessity thrown up by the economic and social development of centuries. The alternative to it is chaos and conflict. As Socialists we are conscious agents of the process of history.
Our job is to continue the work of Socialist propaganda at all times without fear or compromise. It is your job, friend and reader, if you are a Socialist, to lend a hand in every possible way and so help the movement to take all the shocks and use all the opportunities that the future may hold for it.
In this, the first month of the year 1943, we do not wish workers a “Happy New Year”—we point them to a new world, Socialism. When they want it it is within their grasp. If they have to fight for it with only a fraction of the courage, sacrifice and determination they fight the quarrels of their masters, then no combination of powers, even were they a thousand times more powerful than they are, could stand against it.