1940s >> 1943 >> no-472-december-1943

Mr. Priestley does not understand

Mr Priestley of Postscript fame, has discovered a conspiracy. Not in the Argentine to prevent certain British capital to exploit the production of Argentine workers, or in one of the Balkan States where Kings and Presidents add the prefix ex- quite often, but here in England.

“When the war situation was bad a great many gentlemen and their newspapers suddenly developed an acute social conscience. ‘Yes, yes,’ they cried, to our astonishment and delight. ‘a new Britain after the war … no more unemployment, low wages, bad housing . . . Beveridge …. Equal opportunities. Couldn’t agree with you more.'” (Reynolds. 20th October, 1943.)

Surely, if Mr. Priestley has any memory, he shouldn’t have been astonished and delighted by such an old and well-tried chicanery as this. Does he not know that at all crises developed by Capitalist production, when its continued existence was threatened and could only be saved by the efforts of the working class, that lavish promises of a better life were made? To be forgotten directly the immediate danger was past and when the workers might have been expected to claim the rewards due to them. When they did so they could be assured of plausible reasons for the non-fulfilment of the promises. Sometimes it has been deemed better to frighten the workers and terrible bogeys like inflation are used to encourage them to adjust themselves to the new conditions.

The success of these methods is possible because a proper understanding of the social system, of which the workers are victims, is lacking.

Mr. Priestley continues :

“But since we have begun to win battles and complete victory in Europe is almost within sight, these gentlemen and their newspapers have changed their tune. We hear very little from them now about that new Britain. Their reforming zeal appears to have vanished.”

The tune is the same, Mr. Priestley, it is just a variation. It is occasioned by the new conditions that loom up from the darkness and havoc of the war. Industry will no longer have to curb its activities for the purpose of war. There are world markets to gain and the domestic requirements of the people to supply. These peace-time projects are at present hedged around with controls and orders that disturb some capitalists.

But the workers have plenty of experience of the discomforts of short supply. In fact they are quite used to it. Even when there was an abundance of these things many workers went without, and as long as Capitalism, and its motive of production for profit remain they will continue to do so.

Certain sections of Big Business have to capture the ears of the workers. They have to gain their support in order to legislate for the purpose of giving full reign to their profit-seeking activities. The workers may be told that labour restrictions are the cause of their bad conditions, that the Essential Work order is not democratic, and that they are entitled to the freedom that has been fought for. Thus exploiting the lack of political knowledge of many sections of workers.

When industry seeks its profits once more in peacetime production there will no longer be need for Essential Work orders. Once more the threat of unemployment will take the place of the fine and imprisonment. If anyone doubts the possibility of unemployment then the controversy on demobilisation should dispel any illusions on that matter. Many times has that fear been expressed in leader columns and letters to the Press, that those who have fought and served the longest will return to find all the jobs have been snapped up.

In the same article Mr. Priestley relates the inconveniences of form filling and their like to those other rather permanent features of working-class life, unemployment and undernourishment. He sums it up with—

“Too much red tape is bad, but better red tape than chains.”

Socialists know that the wage system is the basis of Capitalism and the wage-packet the link in the chains of the worker. All our well-meaning reformers see as their greatest achievement the provision of a wage-packet for all, and so the chains are complete. We who understand the nature of Capitalism know why this is impossible, and makes the provision of the dole necessary to fill in the gaps and to keep the workers from utter destitution.

The controls that have been introduced in war time, and which many of our well-known politicians of the Left find so attractive, have been introduced by the representatives of the owning class, and when they have served their purpose they will go and other methods adopted to secure the functioning of capital. Workers will strain in vain to cage or curb it. Capitalism has its own way of working, and never to the advantage of the workers. The workers’ task is to abolish it and the evils and poverty it entails.

The socialist message is the same to workers of all lands.

The abolition of Capitalism and its wages system, and its replacement by the common ownership of the means of life with the distribution of goods solely for use according to our needs.

S. K.

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