1960s >> 1969 >> no-777-may-1969

Editorial: Capitalism — The Violent Society

Think about it. Violence and conflict, whether in strikes, demonstrations, crime, or war, are an accepted part of modern society. Think about it, and ask why and what can be done about it.

Every large industrial concern—and small ones as well—has its disputes over wages, hours, and conditions of work and all that goes with them—disputes often coming to a head in a strike or a demonstration, perhaps a scuffle with the police.

Every big city — and many a small town—has its gangs, whether they are the frustrated youngsters of some new town or the deadlier adult gangs who organise their rackets in places like London and Glasgow. It is the same story abroad; in some American cities, for example, people live in continual terror of violent crime.

The level of crime has been rising steadily since the war, and despite the many theories on how to deal with it, none of the experts seems to have the answer. According to the Cambridge lnstitute of Criminology, on present figures about a third of the population will be convicted of an indictable offence some time during their lifetime. In some cities crime has increased over the past fifteen years by over 300 per cent.

At no time, since peace was officially declared in 1945, has the world been free of war. Sometimes it has been a minor clash, like the battles on the Indo-Chinese borders; sometimes a bigger affair like Korea or Vietnam. Sometimes, as in the case of Berlin and Cuba, the world has stood on the brink of a nuclear war.

All of these problems—and there are many others like them—are symptoms of violence—not the violence of people or of human society but of one particular type of social system. Many people who are concerned about these problems think that they are caused by some ‘original sin’ which has left in all of us an instinct for violence and cruelty. But human beings are as ready to be kind as to be cruel, and to co-operate with each other as to fight each other. The fact is that human behaviour is largely conditioned by the environment we find ourselves in. And what sort of an environment does capitalism offer—what sort of behaviour does it encourage?

Capitalism is a society of privilege, in which one class owns the means of wealth production and employs the other class to work for it. Here is one cause of dispute, for the employing capitalists have interests opposed to those of the workers they employ. Strikes, lock-outs, and so on are the battles in a war which is continually going on between capitalists and workers over the division of the wealth which the workers produce.

Capitalism subjects its unprivileged class—the working class—to a degrading life of employment, poverty, and frustration. A worker’s life is not simply a battle to make ends meet; there are also the warping influences of life in soulless new towns or neurotic suburbs, or in the slums of the big cities. Here there is little chance for human beings to grow up freely and naturally; childhood and adolescence are often times of torture. This is how a Glasgow youth leader sees the problems of the young gangs in the Easterhouse housing estate:

They are almost totally asexual . . . This is the most overt cause of the violence; they lack the greatest outlet for human energy and emotion. (The Guardian, April 10, 1969.)

Capitalism draws some of its most hopeless and vicious ciriminals from places like these. At the same time, the system is itself a standing incentive to crime. Since it is a society of private property, it denies the vast mass of its people abundance or even security; they are reserved for a minority. But of course some people, perhaps in especially desperate circumstances, try to find a short cut out of the frustrations and humiliations of the unprivileged; they try crime in preference to the humdrum existence of the wage slave in the office or factory. That is why something like 90 per cent of crime consists of offences against property, some of which are accompanied by ruthless violence with cosh or pickaxe handle or gun.

Capitalism, in this field and in others, sets its own pattern. The same spokesmen who condemn the violent criminal have no hesitation in using force in the disputes of the capitalist class. That is why the states of capitalism keep up massive armed forces, and the few most powerful have their armouries of all-destructive nuclear weapons. This year, British arms spending will go up by £100m. to a record of nearly £2,400m.

Capitalism’s international disputes arise because it is a competitive society, whether it is competition between one firm and another in the High Street or between nations over access to markets or sources of raw materials. The Middle East, for example, is a sensitive area because of the rivalry between the capitalists of so many states for the oil there. As long as capitalism lasts war is either a threat or a reality.

Capitalism, then, is a world of violence, dispute, and frustration. It cannot provide its people with safety, or plenty, or happiness. None of its religions, none of its philosophers, none of its political parties, has any solution to its problems. They all operate on the assumption that capitalism will continue. What if we assume the opposite—that capitalism is abolished and replaced by Socialism?

Socialism is a society in which the means of wealth production are commonly owned. The wealth which is produced will not belong to any class; it will be a common pool to which all human beings will have free access. Thus Socialism will end class divisions, it will end privilege, and it will end poverty.

Socialism is a society in which all humans will have a unity of interests — to co-operate in the production of the world’s wealth. There will be no competition between one group and another for economic supremacy.

Socialism will make its wealth for use and not for sale. This will release society from the restrictions of having to turn out cheap goods for a market. Everything that is produced will be the best we are capable of—we shall not build slums, we shall not make shoddy clothes, we shall not grow sub-standard food.

Socialism is a world without nations and frontiers. It will have one people working together for the common wealth. The crimes and disputes of capitalism will fade into history.

Socialism is necessary now—and we can have it now. All that is needed is for the working class to realise the viciousness and futility of capitalism and to appreciate that it can be ended only by a fundamental social change. Socialism will come after a revolution, as the conscious, democratic act of the world working class.