An Inspector Calls

Recently the B.B.C. broadcast a play by J. B. Priestley entitled “An Inspector

J. B. Priestley

Calls.” It concerned an influential capitalist and his family who are visited by a police inspector, who is enquiring into the tragic suicide of a young girl.


It would appear that all the members of the family had at one time or another known this girl, and, it became apparent as the inspector questioned them, that each one had in some way contributed to the circumstances that led to her miserable end.


The capitalist had employed her in his works but had dismissal her for her part in a wage strike. His daughter had been responsible for her dismissal from her next job in a gown shop, and his son had discovered her on the streets where poverty had driven her, and left her pregnant and destitute. Finally the wretched girl turned in desperation to the local charitable institution for fallen women. But alas! even this miserable crumb was refused her, largely due to the vindictive and respectable spouse of the capitalist, who happened to be a prominent and influential member of the committee.


The police inspector then reveals himself as a moralist in disguise and proceeds to denounce this family, who, hidden under a veil of respectability, were capable of so shamefully treating a fellow human being. This attitude, the bogus inspector claims, will bring dire and terrible results to society unless people do not quickly have a change of heart. If only the wicked capitalist had not victimised the wretched girl for striking for more money, if only the young man had contained his sensual desires, if only people would stop persecuting others and learn to live harmoniously, man helping man instead of kicking each other in the posterior on every available opportunity—and so on, the world would be a better place. This is the gist of the moralist’s attitude towards human behaviour, assuming all the time that it is man and not society which decides his relationship with his fellows. The Socialist recognises that man’s relations to man are dependent on very material conditions. In other words, our behaviour, our morals, even the way in which we amuse ourselves, can be related to the method which society employs at the present time to produce and distribute the things we need.


Man is not born with an inherent instinct to perform all the most insidious and diabolical cruelties to his fellow creatures. The capitalist does not oppose workers’ demands for higher wages and better conditions because of a desire to see millions of people squirm in poverty, filth and degradation. His economic position dictates his policy and if he ignored the rules he would soon find himself ousted from the markets by more astute members of his class, and possibly flung into the exploited class himself.


It is the capitalist system with all its ridiculous contradictions and anomalies that puts class against class, race against race and nation against nation. It is the capitalist system that twists and perverts people’s sense of values so that they are shocked and disgusted at an unmarried mother but accept and condone the mass murder and butchering of millions of helpless people.


You do not need to delve into the mysterious labyrinth of the human mind to discover the reason for man’s inhumanity to man. The fault lies not in man but in man’s inability at the moment to understand and grapple with the economic machine which dominates his whole outlook and relationship with his fellow beings. Once man has discovered the real cause of his problems, there is no power on earth that can stop him sweeping away capitalism and introducing a new form of society based upon different economic laws.


This will not only abolish man’s persecution of man but also the economic problems of war, insecurity and want. These things are the root of all the mental phenomena and disarrangements which our psychologists and moralists would have us believe can be cured and finally abolished if only we could learn to control ourselves a little better.


G. L.