>> >> no-116-april-1914

The Slavery of To-Day

 Glaring Facts So Often Unobserved
There is, apparently, no greater insult one can offer a man than to assert or insinuate that he is a slave. Strangely enough, also, it often happens that the more vehemently he scorns such a suggestion the stronger rises in him an uncomfortable feeling that there is an element of truth in the charge. A man will deny, almost with oaths and curses, that he is dependent upon any one other than himself, while all the time he knows that he lives and moves and has his being only by the will of some person, or persons, stronger than he is. It may, however, be taken that, generally speaking, the majority of working class men and women are quite honest in their conviction that the application of the word “ slave” to them is altogether inconceivable. “What!” a man will say, “I a slave. Why I can change my job to morrow. I need not stay on where I am but can clear out whenever I choose.”
 True enough, a man can change his particular job, but only for another under the same conditions. True, he may leave his place of employment when be chooses, but unless he is then able to find someone else willing to employ him, the chances are that be will find his sense of freedom considerably curtailed by starvation, or possibly by a police court prosecution for vagrancy.
 Those members of the working class who repudiate so indignantly the very thought of their being slaves, might ask themselves how much freedom over their own lives they really possess; whether, for instance, they can choose their hours of employment, their rates of wages, the conditions under which they work; whether they can make the same enquiries into the personal character of their master as their master can make into theirs.
 They would do well to ask themselves whether their boasted freedom extends so far as to enable them to exist without using their mental and physical ability in order to make profit for their employer. As a matter of fact, the habit of slavery, the ethical standard of slavery, has become so ingrained in most people that they are quite incapable of realising how subservient they really are.
 They meekly accept their conditions of existence as being quite in the natural order of things and resent, often quite fiercely, the very idea that their existence is not all that it might be. They hug their chains, fondle the hand that smites them, fawn about the feet that spurn them. The only freedom they desire is the freedom to continue in slavery. The self abasement of some men and women is appalling in its worm-like grovelling.

 In the Roman Catholic Cathedral at Westminster is a statue of St. Peter, the “rock” on which the Christian Church is founded. The big toe of this statue has been worn smooth and shiny by the continual kisses impressed upon it by Roman Catholic adherents. Think of the degraded mentality of the men and women (most of them working-class men and women) who are content, are eager, to give such slavish adoration to the memory of a man, who—if be ever lived—is known chiefly as a liar and traitor, fit figurehead, indeed, of an institution that, ever since its inception, has done its very best to degrade and cheat and betray its misguided followers.

This slavish attitude of mind is to be found in relation to every phase of society. “Be humble, be meek, be docile,” is the motto given to the workers from press and pulpit and platform. It is, of course, all to the advantage of the capitalists to keep obscure the fact that the working class live in a condition comparable only to that of the negroes as described in such books as “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” the difference being that the whip of Legree, instead of being of plaited cords, is now the threat of starvation.

 The position after all is very simple. While the members of the employing class hold in their hands the means of wealth production, that is, while they control the means whereby the necessaries of existence are produced, then it follows inevitably that they possess the power to give or withhold, just as it may so suit them, the actual necessaries of existence. This really means that all outside the employing class only exist by sufferance. “This man is useful to us,” say the employers. “We will therefore give him sufficient to live on, so that he may continue to be useful to us.”

 Or they will say: “This man is no good for our purpose. He is too weak, or too stupid, or too independent. We can make nothing out of him. Therefore be can live if he is able, die if he must. In any case it doesn’t matter a damn to us which he does as long as we are not bothered with him.” And so the men and women of the working class live or die just as it suits the capitalists They are not slaves—no, perish the thought! Why, they have a vote—some of them. They have freedom of choice to cast that vote in favour of Mr. A.. Conservative, or Mr. B. Liberal! Rule Britannia, Britons never shall be slaves!

Strange, is it not, and pitiful, that men and women who are intelligent enough in their employers’ business should, when it comes to a question of their own particular concerns, become so hopelessly befogged and befuddled as to preclude any possibility of correct reasoning or logical sequence.

 Though such a state of affairs is perhaps hardly to be wondered at. The malnutrition of their bodies and minds, their early training in capitalist ethics, the nonsensical superstition designated as religion which is forced down their throats when they are children, all have gone to make the workers, not only dependent upon the capitalists for their scanty means of life, but dependent on them as well for their way of thinking.
 The majority of the working class think in terms of Capitalism, instead of from the point of view of working-class interests. It is alleged that Socialists are endeavouring to bring about a revolution. At any rate they are trying to revolutionise the ideas of their fellow workers, to make them realise their present ridiculous and degrading position. That is the first object of the Socialist written and spoken propaganda.

 The slave must first understand that he is a slave and why he is a slave before he can make any attempt to break his fetters. Economic freedom can only be won through intellectual freedom, and intellectual freedom is altogether incompatible with the slave-morality with which most of us have been permeated. To bring his fellow-workers  to a perception of things from the standpoint of the Socialist philosophy must be the great aim of the Socialist.

 “Keep on—Liberty is to the subserved whatever occurs;
That is nothing that is quelled by one or two failures, or any number of failures,
Or by the indifference or ingratitude of the people, or by unfaithfulness,
Or the show of the tushes of power, soldiers, cannon, penal statutes.”

F. J. Webb