During the East Coast Floods
When Socialists outline the society that could be established with the present productive equipment, non-socialists argue that it wouldn’t work. They say it would be against human nature, that men are by nature lazy and greedy and wont work unless they are forced on with the whip or incited by some economic advantage.
The Observer in an editorial refuted those arguments.
The Observer wrote:—
“When the floods broke, people showed exactly the virtues and the spirit needed in a modern industrial society. Machines and materials had to be moved quickly to the coast, and so had a labour force of many thousands. There had to be a service of engineers and technicians, and a system of administrative control. Everything was done in a hurry; there was a good deal of excited confusion and some ill-directed endeavour. But the total organisation worked well, mainly because so many people worked willingly and in relative harmony.
“The motive force was enthusiasm, sweeping away the inhibitions and protective restrictions which persist in many of our industries. Engineers on the flooded coast were sometimes embarrassed by lorry-drivers who, foregoing all their rest-periods along the road, arrived with thousands of sandbags in the middle of the night. One of the gangs working with fortitude and persistence, under conditions of unrelieved hardship, did so almost within sight of a building site where not long ago thousands of men struck work partly because they were denied a tea-break. And on the professional and administrative sides, many people hitherto rutted deep in the easy routine of their lives gave themselves up to days and nights of revolutionary discomfort.
“Moreover, once the tragic side of the disaster had receded, people scarcely bothered to disguise the fact that they were enjoying themselves. They seemed to welcome the chance to work without sparing themselves, in cooperation with others, and for the good of an obviously stricken community.” (April 5th, 1953.)
The Observer compared the zeal shown by the workers during the East Coast floods with that shown in ordinary everyday work and implied that if the workers worked with the same zeal in their everyday jobs as they did during the floods British capitalism could be extricated from its difficulties.
But, of course, the Observer realised that there are
” . . . differences between an emergency of this kind and the routine of ordinary working life. Nobody on the East Coast was afraid of working too hard or of working himself out of a job; the effort required was intense, but everyone knew it was not going to last long. Nobody was worried by the thought that he was working to make profits for someone else.”
In their ordinary everyday life the workers sell their labour power to the capitalist class who own the means and instruments of production. The wages they receive in return are very often not enough to live on. What the workers produce over their wages enables the capitalist class to live in luxury and idleness and increase their investments, and is the primary purpose of capitalist production. To increase their profits the capitalist class use every device; they instal labour-saving machinery, appeal to social feelings and national prejudices to get as much work as possible from the workers at as low a wage as possible. To improve their standard of living, even maintain it, the workers must struggle continually. Between the working class and the capitalist class there is a fundamental conflict of interest
To sell their goods the different sections of the capitalist class come into conflict over markets. They also come into conflict over sources of raw materials and strategic points controlling trade routes.
The non-Socialists who argue that men must be “forced” to work should take note of the following words from the Observer although they are coloured by an appeal to patriotic sentiments:—
“The experience of the floods has shown that the country has not lost its energy, its co-operative impulses or its adventurous spirit. The problem is to harness these forces to the everyday jobs.”
These forces can be harnessed to everyday jobs by abolishing the private ownership of the means of production—the source of the conflict of interest in modern industrial society—and establishing the common property of the means of living. Then there would be a community of interest: the many would not work in the interest of the few; everyone would be working for the benefit of all—as during the floods—for the benefit of humanity.