Paul Temple

We’re Out to Build
a Brand New Machine

(September 1940)

From Labor Action, vol. 4 No. 21, 2 September 1940, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

“There’s one thing you can’t get away from,” said Johnny during the half-hour rest period. “You can talk all you want about how socialism would mean this and that –”

BILL: “This and that” means things like a decent living for human beings and no international mass murders, huh?

JOHNNY: All right, all right, you told me that before. What I mean is, the system we got now may be screwy here and there, but it WORKS, don’t it? While socialism might sound good when you talk, but how do I know it can be made a go of? I don’t see why we should jump off the deep end when we don’t even know what we’d be jumping into.

BILL: Socialism isn’t so deep, but we’ll leave that for the union picnic Sunday. So capitalism is screwy but it works.

JOHNNY: Sure, look at what a great country it’s made us.

BILL: Look at what a great country WE made IT. – The horse and buggy worked too and it never ran out of gas, but the street cleaners have had an easier time of it since they went out of style. Before that happened, the professors proved that airplanes couldn’t fly. Last thing I heard, some of them still think capitalism works, too.

JOHNNY: Well, don’t it?

It Works – But For Whom?

BILL: Slavery worked too, in the old days, – for a while. So did Feudalism – for a while. About a thousand years to be specific. That isn’t much of a recornmendation for either system. A few hundred years ago Capitalism came in with a broom and cleaned up the street after them. – I can just see Baron Pate de Foie Gras dusting off his lace in the good old days of twelve-hundred-umpteen and saying to his old friend the Duke of Champagne: “See those serfs working in the fields? They can’t afford to buy two rags on the instalment plan, but they’re all slap-happy. Who said Feudalism doesn’t work?”

JOHNNY: You’ve got to admit that workers are better off now than they were then.

BILL: Maybe I’ll admit it, if we leave out the fact that no serf ever starved because ho couldn’t get a job, and got thrown on the scrap-heap like a used can; or that the wars in those days were fought mostly by men who made a business of it; and a couple of other things.

JOHNNY: Come on now. you can’t tell me you think Feudalism was better. Why, look at —

BILL: All right, you’re right. I’m wrong. Workers today ARE better off than serfs; all I mean is that Capitalism has added new terrors to living that never existed before. But even so – what I say about socialism is that it’ll raise the common people as much above their miserable life today, as we are above the serf. Is that something to fight for, in these capitalist Dark Ages?

Here’s another angle: slavery worked too, remember. THAT WAS JUST THE TROUBLE WITH IT, AS FAR AS THE SLAVE WAS CONCERNED. Because all be had to do was ask himself, “Slavery works, but WHO FOR”? OK. shoot – who for?

JOHNNY: The slave-owner, I guess; but what’s , that got to do with it? We ain’t slaves like them.

Wage Slavery Is No Better

BILL: You’re right, we’re a new kind of slave. The bosses don’t own our bodies any more, they just own our jobs. Either way they sit back and live off our work,

JOHNNY: Say, let’s get away from ancient history. So far you’ve been admitting that this system DOES work, and that’s all I said in the beginning.

BILL: Well, seeing you insist on it, I’ve got to say no to that too. Ever hear of depressions?

JOHNNY: I’ll bite.

BILL: That’s when Capitalism breaks down. The machine stops working smoothly. Thousands of businesses go smash, millions of workers get thrown out of work. Wall Street speculators lose their shirts, and the professors start writing articles about how it wasn’t supposed to happen according to the laws of Capitalism – just an accident – ’scuse it please. Only it’s been happening regularly, every so often, ever since Capitalism was knee-high to a sweatshop. Right now, the system has been limping along on one cylinder since 1829, and the capitalist medicine-men are trying to oil it Up with blood. Do you call that “working”?

JOHNNY: All that shows is that something’s got to be fixed.

BILL: We’re going to fix it, all right! Same way we’d fix any other machine that kept on breaking down all the time – THROW IT OUT. The workers built this one with their eyes blind-folded. We’re out to build ourselves a new one, with our eyes open!

Last updated on 6.10.2012