Nothing Destroyed till it is Replaced.
We challenge the existing order. But it will not fall, like Jericho, at the blast of many trumpets. Nothing is destroyed until it is replaced, and in the gradual work of replacement by the transfer from personal to communal ownership, endless patience, study, and perseverance are required. With the Collectivist his social creed must be his philosophy, his religion, his heart’s desire. And this will need no effort with the person to whom the ideal comes with its full impact and implications. A day’s canvassing, a vote at election time, the payment of ordinary dues, the support of the Collectivist press, are all as nothing to the service required. It is lifelong, a matter of every day and every hour. The battle is not one of generals, but of the common soldier. Wherever he may be placed and whenever and howsoever he may be called upon to explain or defend the latest and greatest of the causes, he must be ready with facts, figures, good reasons. He cannot know too much. He cannot know enough. We do not ask him to take all knowledge for his province; but he may rest assured that States and Communities cannot be successfully run except by men of capacity and character - men who have been at once gentled and strengthened by self-discipline, struggle, the doing of many things they would rather not. It is true we need ability, and in that respect the even citizen cannot perhaps add many cubits to his stature, though he never knows what he can do till he tries it, and the millions never try. What is chiefly wanted is single-minded zeal, the moral sense to see that what you as an individual do matters immensely, and the moral humility to be prepared to do your duty. A certain great cause was lost by the defection of a duke who gave a toothache as an excuse. When one hears men say they failed to attend a meeting because ‘some people came in,’ it seems unspeakably pitiful. The natural course for a person who takes his cause seriously is to tell his visitors that he has an important engagement, to ask them, it may be, to come with him, but in any case not to let domestic trivialities interfere with public duties, even if it be only putting in an appearance. One’s friends will respect the man and the cause the more for the display of such sincerity.
This is playing the discussion down to familiar everyday experiences; but it is such trivialities that keep the rank-and-file man a rank-and-filer.
Individualism a Failure.
Individualism is a failure, gross and palpable. But the Collectivism which can alone take its place hangs fire. The Capitalist digs his own grave; but society does not bury him, for even in his moribund state the community cannot do without him. The waste of a million barrels of oil a-day, not even in wasteful use, but in waste absolute, is typical of the chaos of private production. Production and exchange must go on somehow, and Collectivism does not make a shape to take hold. The only people who are not interested in the continuance of commercialism - the wage-earners - do not equip themselves on any wide or obvious scale to take over the business of the community, which remains perforce in private hands, even where, through enterprising local government, a great deal of work could be done under existing powers, while extra powers could be got for sufficient asking.
For one thing, much more could be done by direct labour in the building of houses. The building trades do not expand in proportion to the amount of work required from them. Apprentices are not taken on, and where there are no apprentices there will soon be no journeymen. Employers in the building trades say that boys fill out the time between leaving school and the dole-drawing age at casual and blind-alley jobs, and will not apprentice themselves to regular trades.
I do not accept this as an explanation of the failure of the building trades to meet public requirements. The position rather is that, in consequence of the complications caused by the succession of subsidies, builders have no guarantee that the present spurt in their industry is likely to continue. They are inclined to go along with small staffs, giving their time largely to repairs, and keeping back the building of houses for the local authorities. In Scotland, which is in the main a country of small, unenterprising townships, plasterers are specially scarce. Higher pay has tempted hundreds of them over the border to England, where houses have been rattled up with relative celerity, in some cases without any subsidy, the houses built being let at rents sufficient to enable them to qualify, not as philanthropy, but as a business proposition.
The prospect of the withdrawal of the subsidy has been needlessly disquieting. With the provision of a million houses since 1919 the requirements have in some measure been over-taken. But in Scotland especially there are great arrears still. One feature of house-letting under all municipal schemes is the number of houses that are taken by young people who have been encouraged to enter upon matrimony and housekeeping by the provision of that indispensable requisite, a house to keep. It is obvious that population and trade have been retarded by the scarcity of houses.
The Works Department.
One scheme ripe for adoption by local authorities is the creation of works departments which would have the building and repair of houses as their great field of effort. If cathedral authorities, railways, large works, and estate offices see fit to keep a staff of workmen to maintain their property in repair and to make extensions, there is even more need for housing staffs for the municipalities, whose property, already considerable, is steadily growing.
The advantages of direct labour are long since beyond question; and with local authorities more largely manned by men of Collectivist sympathies, the works department would be adopted as a matter of course, and the timid local builder would be left to the petty repairs to which he seems to prefer to give his attention.
As things are, communities are being doubly robbed, first in the payment of grants-in-aid of building-ring profits, and secondly by the loss of rent-revenue upon housing schemes begun but hanging fire through under-staffing in the trades employed upon them. These tradesmen refused to sign a penalty clause, and the only remedy of the public is to employ its own staff.
But while we cannot get men of ability and courage to advocate and carry such proposals in council, we have at the same time preposterous proposals being advocated for an all-round living wage, to be secured heaven knows how. The onus of finding it is put more immediately upon the employer, nobody stopping to consider that such a wage must needs be an additional burden upon production, which the employer would recover from the public in higher prices and higher profits. Where those prices are to be secured in trades subject to foreign competition is not explained either.
The idea of certain elements in the democracy is to dodge the burden of reorganising industry upon Collectivist lines, and to leave the onus upon the capitalist still. It is a repudiation of our own principles. It is a proposal peculiarly acceptable to the robots of democracy, since it still absolves them from coming out into the open and accepting responsibility for running the industrial machine upon Collectivist lines. Parliament, the body of professional politicians, is to pass an Act saying to the employer ‘You must pay a living wage, and we determine the wage. It is no concern of ours how you find it, but find it you must.’ The real Collectivist way of securing a living wage is to take the business out of private hands altogether. But Collectivism can neither be secured nor would it work when secured if run by a community of robots.
The robots are the people who roar themselves hoarse around the football field, who draw the dole, play Crown and Anchor, and smoke rice paper; who refuse to learn a trade; who refuse to read except about sport and crime; who will not learn music, but turn on a gramophone; who continue to be cogs in the wheel of capitalism, without responsibility for any of the duties of manhood or citizenship. The robot does not learn even the language of his own country. He speaks words that he has learned from the slang of the streets, for all the world as a parrot would learn, garnishing his speech with ‘I seen it,’ and ‘He done it,’ and ‘Ye see,’ and ‘Ye know,’ ‘I mean to say,’ ‘I were,’ and ‘You was.’
The robot is an automatic biped, genus homo, produced by machinery, capitalism, and dope editors. It likes to meet other bipeds in a mob, it hates solitude, and its impulses are all herd impulses. It hates to be obliged to think, and likes machinery because the machine does the work and saves it from the necessity of training hand and eye. A good man likes responsibility, likes to have freedom to please his own taste in colour, plan, arrangement, or method. The robot prefers to ask ‘How am I to do this?’ The robot thinks other people’s thoughts. He likes hats, ties, and clothes ‘as worn.’ He smokes cigarettes because, as he so often says, he hates the trouble of filling a pipe. On Sundays and holidays, if he cannot get off with a charabanc party, he sleeps, eats, and yawns through the day, his only reading being Sunday papers full of crime, sport, the exploits of freaks, and the portraits of ugly pugilists and football players.
If democracy meant the reign of the robots, doing things to please the robots, reducing things to the robot level, I should say, May the kindly fates save us from democracy! Fascism, the Comintern, the Kuomintang, are all inevitable reactions from the imbecility of an ignorant and frivolous democracy.
But there is the more excellent way of equipping ourselves, by reading and learning and discussing and listening, to be no mean citizens of cities which shall no longer be mean, but which shall be splendid, not merely in their public ways, but in the culture and grace, the skill and manners and integrity of their people.
The Human Element Most Important of all.
I for one am concerned about social changes, not primarily because I want to see everybody well fed, clothed, housed, and amused, but because I want to see a better class of men and women. As things are, the means of many individuals far outrun their taste or judgment in the use of them. While there is still plenty of searing, bitter, degrading poverty, especially among the self-respecting ones who scorn the various forms of taking something for nothing, one goes into houses where there is appalling waste of food, fire, clothes, money, and the great stuff of life - Time. Hours are spent in dull talk about nothing, because the people, not having read or travelled or listened or thought, have nothing to talk about that matters. There may be a piano, but no one plays it. There is a bath, but it is little used. The fires are too big and the rooms too hot. There will be piles of comparatively costly and tasteless clothes, seldom worn, and while the inmates tend to overeat themselves, there is at the same time a great deal of waste carried out to the pigs or the fowls. But there is a great poverty of books, pictures, music, good talk, or any of the signs of taste. For these are families of money-chasers.
What such people obviously need is not more money, but education in the broad sense of the word - reading, attendance at lectures, concerts, and the better class of plays, personal drill in good habits, both mental and physical, and the keeping of good company, the best of all ‘society’ being good literature.
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