Moissaye J. Olgin

Why Communism?
Plain Talks on Vital Problems

Chapter I — The Malady

YOU are a worker. You have had a job for a number of years. Your pay was not high, but you managed to get along. You were a faithful worker. You never shirked. Perhaps you saved up a few dollars against a rainy day. Perhaps you married and raised a family. You were decent, law-abiding.

One nice morning you are told your services are no longer needed. In plain words: you are fired. You are thrown out. There is a depression, they say. The employer has no more work for you. He cuts operations or he shuts his plant altogether. While you remain without a livelihood, he goes to his country estate or abroad to have a good time. He does not care to think what will happen to you. You plainly do not exist for the “company” any longer. It has no obligations towards its unemployed.

And yet, come to think of it, you are not a stranger to this factory or mill or shop. You and the like of you have built it. You and the like of you have created all the machinery, all the raw material and all the fuel which is necessary to run an industry. You and the like of you are the live power that puts motion into the dead matter of every industrial undertaking. It is your blood, your sweat, your muscle and your brain that is sunk into every piece of goods produced.

You have much at stake in this establishment — your whole life. It is yours, more than the owner’s. It is part of your very self.

Suppose now, when you are told to go, you refuse to budge. Suppose many of you get together and say that you are going to stay where you belong and continue working because this is the only source of your livelihood. Suppose you say you are going to produce for the benefit of yourself and others. This thought may be strange to you. Yet consider what would happen.

The owner, who has never worked and who does not know how to work, would call the police. Most probably the riot squad would appear. Perhaps the militia would be called out. There would be clubs and riot guns and tear gas bombs galore. You would be clubbed and shot at and many of you imprisoned, tried and convicted — for the sole crime of wanting to continue working at the machines and with the materials you and the like of you have produced.

Has it ever occurred to you that such a state of affairs is wrong?

Take another example. You are a tenant. For ten or fifteen or twenty years you have been living in a house. You have paid your rent regularly. You have paid off your flat several times over. Your landlord smiled at you as long as you were a “good” tenant. But now you have lost your job. You have not paid your rent for several months. A sheriff comes. Your furniture is thrown out on the sidewalk. You are “evicted.” Yet you know perfectly well that it isn’t the landlord who built the house. It is you and others like you who have produced all the building material and who have actually constructed, the house. Besides, you made the landlord rich by our payment of rents.

Suppose now, you refuse to quit the house. Suppose you band together with your fellow tenants and declare you are not going to permit anybody to drive you out into the street. You are a proud American; you will not allow anybody to turn you into a beggar. Again, you would be confronted with police clubs, courts and jail.

It looks strange. But this madness is the every-day practice of our great and wealthy country.

Now there are some notions that have to be made clear before we proceed. We said that the owner “has never worked.” You may disagree with this statement. Doesn’t a factory owner spend days and days in his office? Doesn’t a banker keep office hours? Doesn’t he go to the country club and golf links to rest after his strenuous labors? The papers and the preachers and the professors tell you that the business man is “doing his share” in production. They even say that he is an indispensable part of the industrial organism. This is one of those incorrect notions that are being inculcated in the minds of our people from childhood on. In fact, the small business man may still do some work by himself: the grocer works behind the counter, the cobbler works together with his few men. But the bigger the business, the less work remains for the actual owner. What does Morgan know about the operation of railroads and mines and restaurants he controls? What does Rockefeller know about work in a coal mine or an oil refining plant? Remove Ford from the top of his pyramid and nobody will notice the loss. Ford may have been instrumental in working up his business long ago with the aid of numerous engineers and workers — but he no more “runs” his business than the roan in the moon.

Big business, large scale production of the modern type is conducted by all kinds of specialists with the aid and cooperation of workers. Engineers, technicians, draftsmen, machinists, chemists, all kinds of experts are managing the big industrial giants of today, and these are hired people, while the board of directors and the other “big cheeses” of the corporation only decide upon policies which reduce themselves mainly to manipulating stocks. These people never produce. They could be removed without any loss to actual operations.

And yet, it is they who decide to cut down production or to close the plant altogether, depriving both the staffs of specialists and the skilled and unskilled workers of their sole means of making a living. Those who do not produce decide for those who produce.

As to bankers and brokers, real estate operators and promoters — they do not produce anything essential to human life although they have the lion’s share of control over production. As a matter of fact, they produce nothing. They transfer “paper” from hand to hand. That paper — call it checks or deeds or drafts or shares — is a claim to the fruits of somebody else’s labor.

Another question is that of “bad luck.” You have been taught to think that when you are out of work it is just your misfortune. “Business is bad,” “there is a depression,” they say. “Nobody is to Maine.” you are given to understand that economic powers are beyond human control. You are told that a depression is something like an earthquake, like a thunderstorm, like an avalanche. And yet, human ingenuity has learned how to control some of the most formidable forces of nature. The human mind has harnessed electricity, which produces the lightning. Human knowledge is accomplishing things which look miraculous. The tropics and the poles, the air and the bowels of the earth are all coming under control of man. Why should he not be able to control the production and distribution of goods that are vital for his life. Isn’t the Soviet Union a living example that this can be achieved? Why should there be a situation like the one we suffer render in the U.S.A. at present where millions of able-bodied workers, capable and willing to work, are being consumed by idleness and hunger, while excellent machines and mountains of raw material are lying around unused? Is it so difficult after all for human genius to organize a constant flow of goods which would satisfy everybody’s needs with nobody compelled to go without food, clothing and shelter? Humanity has learned to master the forces of nature. The progress of science is tremendous. New and ever newer inventions are made to aid human labor. At the “Century of Progress Exhibition” at Chicago, they showed cotton-picking machines, each of which does the work of 16 to 48 men. There are excavators and ditch diggers that do the work of 20 or 30 men. Between 1922 and 1929 the productivity of American labor increased 100 per cent. Why should the terrible crash in 1929 have had to come? Why should we have had to suffer those long weary years of the most terrible crisis in the history of this country?

We cannot blame this plight of millions on “natural forces.” There is nothing natural in such a situation. It is not natural that men should go hungry while the means to produce food are close at hand. It is not natural that a government should order the destruction of three and a half million bales of cotton by plowing under the year’s harvest on ten million acres of land in the South the way it was done by the government of the U. S. A., while so many are badly dressed. It is not natural that there should be poverty in the midst of plenty. It is not natural that milk should be dumped into rivers while babies are starving. It is not natural that the most ingenious means of production and transportation should be rusting away while those who produce them and can operate them are being wasted away by starvation and disease. All this is most unnatural. It is insane.

One word about the law. You have been taught to respect the law which appears in the shape of the policeman or the judge. You were taught that this is “justice.” Yet where is the justice of your being thrown out into the street for nonpayment of rent? Where is the justice of your being dismissed from the mines after many years of work? When the owner ejects you forcibly from his premises, this is not called force; when you resist, they say you are using force and violence. When the sheriff puts your belongings on the sidewalks, that’s law. When you break the padlock and replace your furniture in its old place, that’s unlawful. Why is it that violence against the workers is law and resistance to violence is unlawful? Why is it that robbing you of your only source of life is justice and protesting against this bloody justice is injustice? Something is wrong here, too. Apparently, all these notions about law and order, about justice and injustice, about crime and punishment, are made in the interests, not of you and the like of you, but in the interests of those who use them against you.

One more instance. The workers declare a strike. They have been told many times by many fine gentlemen that there is a partnership between the owners and the workers, that they must cooperate for the benefit of the industry. When partners disagree on a certain issue they fight out their dispute. Suppose you decide to fight it out by refusing to work. You are entitled to do so under the law. You organize a picket line. You say you are partners to this plant and you want to fight it out with your own employers. The employers try to bring in scabs. You refuse to admit the scabs into the plant. Immediately police arrive. The law protects the scabs and attacks the strikers. If you insist on your right to keep the plant shut, you are fired at, and the history of strikes in America is one long trail of bloody murders perperated by the police, by the “law” protecting the scabs.

There must be something wrong in a “law” that professes equality of employer and employee but at the same time uses all its power to oppress the latter in favor of the former. There must be a monstrous lie in the statement that employer and employee are partners to the business and equal before the State. The capitalist State itself apparently is something vicious and cruel and not the nice and lovely “institution of freedom” it is reputed to be.

We think it is urgent for the workers to look more deeply into these matters. Moreover, it is our deep conviction that workers who do not concern themselves with these vital problems are doing grave harm to themselves and their class. Only when you understand the malady can you find the proper cure.

Next: II. The Diagnosis