A dozen years or so ago, the small shopkeepers of Britain—those, who, looking in the social mirror, see themselves as part of a non-existent “middle class’’—were “cashing in” on a market depleted by the hardships of the 1939-45 world war.
In those days of a “sellers’” market, requiring no “salesmanship,” the goods flowed off the shelves and the cash flowed into the tills with an unrestricted rhythm that brought some recompense for their “behind the counter” drudgery. Some of them even had visions of forsaking their imaginary “middle class” status and paving their uphill route with sufficient pound notes into the coveted ranks of the bourgeois élite!
Such ambitions, however, founded as they, are on the “quicksands” of boom and slump trading, can be likened to Omar’s lines
“The worldly hope men set their hearts upon
Turns ashes, or it prospers and anon.
Like snow upon the desert’s dusty face
Lighting a little hour or two is gone.”
For, from 1956 onwards, a “rot” set in, until to-day they are struggling to pay accounts for goods pressed on them by the “couriers” of commerce, the so-called “high pressure salesmen.”
Unfortunately the majority of these small shopkeepers do not understand the real nature of the “Good” or “Bad” times they experience behind the counters of their “slave pens.” Pathetically enough, they put their trust in the Government of the day as being some autonomous power capable of shaping their destiny. Indeed, this outlook is not limited by any means to small shopkeepers. As an illustration, there are the recent delegations to Parliament of representatives of the Lancashire cotton industry alarmed at the “foreign” cotton imports which threaten to put them in “Carey Street.”
The question arises — “Is the Government” the sole arbiter of imports and exports? If it were, there is no reason why it should not accede to the demands of any particular trade delegation and thereby ensure continued political support. However, there are economic forces at work as a result of the present organisation of society into competing groups of Nations which determine, by and large, the actions of the British Government or any other national entity. As Sir Anthony Eden remarked after the Suez action: “. . . My hand was forced . . .” and what forced his hand but the plain unvarnished need of British commercial interests for the uninterrupted flow of oil via the Canal ? “Great Men” or “Lofty Ideals” notwithstanding.
But to return to our small shopkeepers—many of whom do not even own the premises they occupy and, in the case of newsagents, have to rise earlier than the majority of factory operatives. One such newsagent, known personally to this writer, rises at 4.45 a.m.. remains “open” until 8 p.m. and has not even had the orthodox “capitalist” holiday for years on end. In addition, he “opens” on Sundays until noon.
Whilst this may be an isolated case of very long hours, these small one-man shopkeepers certainly qualify as members of the working class! They are really salesmen for capitalist concerns.
Yet many of them are Tories or Labourites, identifying their interests with the ruling class in Britain who exploit them. Mostly they have vague ideas about “Fair Trading,” but when asked to define such a misnomer as this, they can only lamely point to the local “cut-price” competitor, failing to realise that this is the “healthy competition” they give their political support to when voting for capitalism to continue.
In conclusion, so long as world society is split up into rival groups of nations, competing with one another for the sale of their commodities, with 90 per cent. of the national wealth owned by 10 per cent. of the population, causing as it does, the POVERTY which besets the mass of the human race, there can be no solution in agitating for fiddling reforms or hoping for “better times” under the present of any future “governments.”
What IS required is the total abolition of class ownership of social wealth, including mines, electricity plants, productive machinery of all kinds and transport on land, sea, and in the air. In short, the abolition of commodity production, with its buying and selling and advertising: shoddy goods for the masses, but diamond tiaras for the few. Its centrally-heated mansions, and oil-stove shivering hovels. To say nothing of the colossal waste of human lives and socially produced wealth in recurrent wars, etc. Is this the sort of world small shopkeepers are striving for ?
If not. then they should join up with the world movement for the achievement of Socialism, helping to abolish the chain of wage slavery wherein they are but a link.
G. R. Russell