T. A. Jackson
Source: The Communist, June 25, 1921.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: David Tate
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
I HAVE been to Oxford. You may think this a thing of no moment, and in truth there seems little enough in the fact to make a song about. Yet to me even as I write there is a light as of magic about the bare statement of the fact. For in Oxford there was revealed unto me the goal for which we strive.
Do not for the love of charity imagine that Oxford just as it is—“without one plea!”—represents in one street or stone or man or beast anything like what the world will be under a Communist regime. Far from it. In fact I am undecided whether to put a tight fence around it with turnstiles, and preserve it, undergrads, dons and all, for the amusement and instruction of our Communist youth—a sort of super-zoo—or whether to clear it of its present occupants and turn the whole show into a home of rest for tired workers.
No! What Oxford did for me was to make clear by its utter detachment from all grim and earthly reality just what I hope to get from the attainment of a Communist republic.
The starting point of all Communist speculation is a grasp of the elementary truth that men working in organised co-operation can produce far more than the same men working in independent isolation. The greater the number of co-operating workers, the more complete can be the sub-division and co-ordination of the labour process. The more manifold and complex the productive mechanism the wider the area from which to draw raw and incidental materials, and the more complete the technical realisation of natural potentialities, the greater will be the power of self-disposal of the community so equipped, and so co-operating.
Interposed between us as we stand, and that enormously amplified power of self-disposal, are all sorts of social obstacle—property rights, economic institutions, legal relations, frontiers, states, traditions and superstitions. Against all these in an instinctive, an incidental, and a half-conscious way the world’s proletariat is constantly driven to fight, by the pressure of practical circumstance. Some day—such is our faith—the fight will become so much the more clearly a conscious one as to make victory inevitable; an end hastened by the inner contradictions and unmanageable complications of the out-worn capitalist system itself. And with the victory, this power—of control over the forces of nature—multiplied, and realised, because the possession of the working mass consciously freed from inherited obstructions—will pass into organised for its capture and employment.
A Communist system of production will by its superior efficiency make available for its co-operating units not only a greater bulk and variety of ordinary consumables but (what is of infinitely greater importance) an infinitely greater wealth of leisure, enriched by the accessibility of all the cultural achievements of the race.
It is upon these things that my imagination tends to dwell with never-failing eagerness. Not that I mean by “leisure” merely loafing (in a canoe, say, under the shady bank, all the cooler by contrast with the sunlight blazing on the meadows) of mere dabbling in the things that Oxford would denote by the blessed word “culture.” Not that, nor anything like it.
It is my belief that everyone in his innermost soul cherishes, and would be sub-human if he did not cherish a desire to—if it were but for an hour—do something, or be something. It is this hunger for accomplishment that makes the artist starve in his garret rather than surrender his soul to commercial exploitation, and the rebel die on a barricade across the slum into which he has been sent rather than surrender his dream. It is the desire of a soul in prison to break out and enjoy, if only for a moment, the sensations of a man triumphant.
We say, and it is true, grimly and literally, that Communism will be a state of society in which everybody will be forced to work whether he wants to or not. This is the chief reason why only the Proletariat can be expected to persevere in the struggle for its attainment. Many, if not most, of the cultured middle-class can see the abstract possibility of a Communist order and with it the probability at least of escape from the ugliness and squalor inevitably attending the bourgeois regime. But speak to them of compulsion to work and all the uglinesses of the Bourgeois system seem as nothing beside this appalling and tyrannically sounding realism. The proletariat for their past, never having known freedom from compulsion to work—and the worst sort of compulsion, that of iron necessity indifferent alike to the revolt and the docility, of its victims—will accept this as a matter of course. For them the essential point will not be the enforced work but the splendid security and the freedom from compulsion to starve. And above and beyond that the possibility that when their minds are no longer burdened with the need to fret over matters of farthings they can begin to think of enjoying all that there is in the works of nature and the achievements of man to excite either (illegible) of joy.
And there lies the secret. Give me a sporting chance to be myself—to do those things for which my nature craves—and to find out those things that I am hungry to know and I will pray the price—so many hours per day of compulsory task work with joy that ever accompanied the payment of ransom for a captive.
They took me into the chapel of Magdalen and showed me the mason’s work. Tracery as delicate as fine lace—a vine carved over the doorway moulding all under-cut and tooled so that in certain lights it would seem to sway as though it lived and stirred in the wind. Here was no work designed by a college-bred man who thought in terms of pencil marks upon a paper sheet, nor work executed by a wage-worker prodded on by a gaffer concerned mainly with keeping down the costs lest he lost his job from the inadequacy of the net profit resulting. The very stones seemed to cry out with a proud voice whose like echoes from every ancient tower and quadrangle in Oxford—“A master of his craft wrought me: better his work if you can!”
They are very proud of their fine architecture in Oxford, and delicate-minded dons will rhapsodise for you as long as you please, over its artistic excellence. There is no industrial unrest in Oxford and if they read of it in their newspapers they will feel just as they would if a naughty child were to run screaming and kicking up the turf in their placid quadrangles. It would argue gross neglect on the part of somebody and the need for some sort of prohibition. They admire their treasures of craftsman’s work, but they have not, and cannot have, any glimmer of a notion of the craftsman’s joy in his mastery over his, tools and intractable material he has learned to subdue to his will. They will tell you, if you let them, that these craft-arts are lost; and they will devise ingenious theories to account for both their coming and their departure. Above everything they will fear—if they know enough even to fear—that a Communist revolution will drive out from the world all capacity for reverencing the few master relics that they treasure. They have no conception of the fact that the system which keeps them in cultured security and supplies them with a constant stream of affluent youth all ready for their polishing is one that cuts of from the proletarian mass anything beyond the rudiments of such a craftsman’s pride in tool-mastery.
For there is a blight of leprosy upon everything upon which the bourgeoisie sets its hands. If we in their workshops have any craft skill it is either thwarted by time begrudged and necessary; auxiliaries with-held; or rendered vapid by the mechanical monotony inseparable from a commercial objective. Worst of all, it is prostituted to the basest ends of their brutal social system. We are forced to put forth our skill in order that there shall appear either things of beauty to manifest the purse-pride and ostentation of successful exploiters or things dubious or harmful for the consumption of our fellows of the exploited man. We are all prostitutes—and prostitutes for bread—from the weaver of shoddy to the shop-assistant selling deleterious and adulterated food-stuff; from the mechanic fabricating weapons for exploiters’ wars to the manufacturer of chemicals to make endurable the intolerable stench and poison of the slum; from the journalist who for pay suppresses an ugly truth to the printer who for bread helps to promulgate a fair-smiling lie. All prostitutes—as surely and more terribly than the poor painted harlot of the streets; and the shame has festered in the marrow of our souls.
It is from this that Communism will save us. It will save the craftsman who loves his craft from any fear of seeming to pander meanly to a brutal boss if he lets his craft-love have full scope. It will open up to the half-atrophied eyes of men all the splendid sheen and green of this greyed and smuttied world. It will recapture for the souls of men all the joy of living which will come when we taste the sense of mastery over our fate.
Noblest and best is the fact that this mastery can be won in solidarity with our kind and in solidarity alone.
Power, which is freedom, individuality; solidarity, craftsman’s joy—these are ingredients, combine them howsoever variously you may, of our Communist Ideal. And if you ask how to reach it, I answer in the words of William Morris: “Give us Imagination enough to conceive; courage enough to will; power enough to compel; and then I say, the thing will be done.”