Mankind under Capitalism

The constant endeavour that has marked man’s life since his biological emergence to human status should have created a world befitting the dignity of manhood. But man, sociologically, lags far behind his biological advance. He has learned to observe, and, to a large degree, understand surrounding phenomena; to connect causes and effect; to make and use tools; to harness natural forces to his own ends. But the latter part of humanity’s history has seen the arrival of class-divided orders of society where those who rule seek to confine education to what will do no more than preserve the existing order of rulers and ruled. This obtains in the present day when we live in a capitalist society.

On the whole, therefore, man under capitalism has not learned to study the economic foundation of his world to probe into its shams and anomalies, to devote his mind to establishing a society no less advanced than his biological development. And so. with the acquiescence of nearly everyone, a social system which has long outlived its justification as a phase of social evolution, hangs on with its spoliation of personalities, its unnatural relationships and its sordid purpose.

Nothing so determines the character of man as his manner of securing his means of living. Of legitimate ways of securing these means under capitalism there are only two—the employment of each of which is dependant upon the social class to which each man belongs. If one belongs to the master class the obtaining of the means of life—not to mention, in many cases, the luxuries, the riches, and the accumulated wealth to be used for further investment—will be contrived by exploiting working-class labour power and by securing profit through the sale of the surplus values derived from it. This is the sole function of the capitalist—imposed on him by the circumstance that he is a capitalist.

By his very position in capitalist society, therefore, this person becomes a parasite, an exploiter. No matter if his inclination be one of kindliness, his survival as a capitalist entails expropriation from his fellows. More, to remain a contending factor in the competition for markets he must offer the commodities produced by his workers at competitive prices. Wages must be kept as low as possible; output pushed to the highest reachable peak. He becomes the hard business man, a fevered participant in the capitalist rat-race, the ruthless strikebreaker. And, although as a man he may have repugnance towards the thought of war, as a capitalist he may quite well find justification in a conflict which has for its aim the preservation of markets and market accessories from the hands of foreign rivals, or even the capturing of further markets etc., for himself and his fellow capitalists.

This is the way in which the existing order forces the capitalist to behave. But he gets off lightly compared with the men and women of the working class. These are the people, overwhelmingly exceeding in numbers the members of the capitalist class, who daily are compelled. by the necessity of getting a living. to sell their energies to the capitalists. They range from factory managers —though such may like to claim inclusion in a mythical “middle class”— to general labourers; from chief buyers in gigantic emporiums to borough council road-sweepers; from conductors in theatre orchestras to bus conductors. But. however “posh ”, “respectable”, or “degrading” the means of their getting a living, each and every one of these workers cannot escape the brush with which capitalism tars them.

Nor is that all. The better-paid workers smug with a fancied superiority and an imagined exclusiveness from working-class dependence on wages, are nonetheless just as reliant as other workers on their salaries. Struggling to maintain the appearances expected of their “good position” they lead lives, very often, of gilded poverty. Their concept of their position in society is, in many cases, an empty delusion, for refuting the reality of their working-class status, they have embraced the fiction of their oneness with their masters.

And so it goes on. The foreman— once “one of the men”, and perhaps happier as such—has accepted promotion because of his inability to manage on his former wages. Expected by his employers to prevent slacking and to raise or maintain output, he must now either boldly show himself as committed solely to the interests of production, the overseer with the whip, or, to preserve continued popularity among his former bench-fellows, he must resort to the under-handedness of maintaining a “still one of you” demeanour whilst carrying tales of non-co-operation to his masters. He becomes either the workshop tyrant, or the two-faced spying informer.

And what of the workers who are thus openly sweated or surreptitiously coerced? Is it their reluctance to work hard and continuously that makes foremen necessary? Possibly so, but can conscientiousness and industry be expected from those who, under nearly all circumstances, are compelled to work for wages that will buy very little more than the basic needs of life? Very often, for the sake of a “bigger shilling”, they take a job that nauseates by its unhealthy conditions, its tediousness, or its lifeless repetition. And, although the cause may be unknown to the sufferers, it is frequently felt that for all the day-to-day striving they never reach a condition more comfortable than that of just getting by. Small wonder that conscientious work becomes a rarity, that spending the minimum of effort becomes the rule, that many workers arc clock-watchers looking forward only to knocking-off time.

Capitalism’s destruction of ready endeavour is most widely observed among those who work closely and frequently in contact with the general public. Indifferent clerks behind post-office counters, curt or officially “nice” shop assistants, unashamed “behind time” bus drivers and conductors— these are but a few of the human products of capitalist society. And ever commenting on the faults of these are the critics—mostly members of the working class themselves, and in all cases the creatures of capitalism. Not recognising that here is behaviour engendered by capitalist environment, they condemn what they call the basic nature of the offenders. These people, they complain, are utterly selfish. Instead of being helpful and courteous to the public they are disinterested and curt. “And then they have the nerve to want more money—if I had my way, they’d be given less”.

The prize taunt, however, is that these people “want the money, but don’t want to work”. Ironically, this is true when one considers the universal compulsion upon the working class to go to work and in many cases perform the most nauseating of tasks in order to get the necessary wages to exist upon.

Of course it is nice to think of men doing well-loved work with happy heart, and with no thought of repayment. But it is an idea unrealisable within the present order of society. Of course, there arc many of us who feel the revulsion against the indignities, the incongeniality and the oppressiveness of our occupations, and the reasons we keep at these occupations (and a proof of our wage-slavery) is because, to keep alive we must have, and subsequently want, the money.

The salesman in whom smooth falsification has become so much a part that he cannot eradicate it from his behaviour outside business. The soldier deceived into believing that the training he receives is not to make him a killer, but to make him a man. The youngster who, in a world that takes the carnage of war for granted and. in the name of ”defence”, devises and uses the most diabolically destructive weapons, becomes somehow attracted to the violence of the age and experiences a thrill in embarking upon a little violence himself. All these are products of the capitalist world.

Sometimes the clash between the workings of capitalism and the ideals of mankind produces ideas which contrast with those promoted by ruling class propagandists. For instance the existence of oppression, anomalies, inequalities, cutthroat practices and preparation for wars that threaten to imperil the whole of mankind, brings into being the rebels against these ills. Most of those express themselves through political or humanitarian organisations which lack the sound sociological knowledge which alone can promote action that will eradicate the anti-socialist behaviour objected to. Thus these rebels remain, ardently protesting against the horror of nuclear war, pleading that votes for particular individuals might serve beneficent ends, but missing altogether and failing to deal with the real cause of the trouble.

But within the womb of capitalism, as of all social orders, is the seed of its own destruction. Not all rebels are Utopian idealists. There are some who have sought to understand the world around them, and to base upon scientific fact their efforts towards a social reconstruction. We maintain that a sane, classless, warless, povertyless social order—Socialism—will remove the causes of anti-social behaviour.

F. W. H.

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