1990s >> 1992 >> no-1058-october-1992

50 Years Ago: The Worker and his Work

Many years ago the S.P.G.B. rescued from undeserved oblivion William Morris’s Art, Labour and Socialism, in which the truth was proclaimed by a man who understood the subject in all its aspects. Morris had his limitations, but he was right in his insistence that capitalism, along with its economic exploitation of the working class, had committed the crime of compelling many workers to perform degrading tasks under conditions robbed of all pleasure and intelligence.


He rejected the shallow view that all we can do, and want to do. is to take over capitalist industry as a going concern, and put it under new management. He saw that with the abolition of capitalism Socialists will get rid of the profit seeking that has corrupted the production of wealth. “


 That system.” he wrote, “is after all nothing but a continuous implacable war; the war once ended and commerce, as we now understand the word, comes to an end, and the mountains of wares which are either useless in themselves or only useful to slaves and slave-owners, are no longer made, and once again art will be used to determine what things are useful and what useless to be made; since nothing should be made which does not give pleasure to the maker and the user.”


 He was not, as some of his admirers have supposed, aiming at putting the clock back and dispensing with machinery. He knew this could not be done, but he also saw that machinery which could have been used to minimise that necessary labour, not pleasant in itself, had not been so used under capitalism.


 He echoed J. S. Mill’s doubt whether all the machinery of modern times has lightened the daily work of one labourer. Instead, capitalism has imposed on its machine slaves “plenty of unnecessary labour which is merely painful”.



[From the editorial, Socialist Standard. October 1942.]