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V. Grey

Shop Talks on Socialism

(17 March 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 11, 17 March 1945, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

“I was talking to my corner grocer,” said Shorty. “He says Socialism is all right, but it doesn’t respect the rights of the individual.”

The fellows swapped arguments back and forth a while on this theme. And then it came out that Shorty’s grocery store was an A and P Tea store. That’s a big chain, in case you don’t know it. And the manager is only a forty dollar a week errand boy for the district manager, who’s an errand boy for somebody else.

So I don’t know just what individual rights this storekeeper thought he had that us working people might take away under socialism. Maybe he thought he knew what he was talking about. And maybe he was just a big-mouth and a show-off, repeating the lessons the bosses’ stooges taught him in school. You never can tell.

Anyhow, the way for a workingman or woman to look at it is this. What rights have we got right now under this free and democratic system we’re supposed to live in? And what rights would we like to have? And will we have them under a working people’s government?

You don’t have the right to freely change your job. You don’t have the right to take a day off. You don’t have the right to bring a steak sandwich every day in your lunch. You don’t have the right to criticize the boss. You don’t have the right to stand on your own two legs like a real individual human being should.

“Why everybody has those rights! This is a free country!”

No. That’s not so. Only a handful of people at the top have those rights. The working people don’t, because they can’t afford to have them. It would mean losing money, or what’s worse – losing their job. Then they would only have the right to starve.

Look at the way everybody in the shop is tied to his or her machine just as though an individual chain was welded to the machine and riveted around their wrists. And the chains of wage- slavery are worse than real chains in a way. Your hands work faster and pile up wealth faster for the boss when iron chains are not in the way.

Only NEED chains us all. Only cringing poverty before mighty wealth of ONE individual. But it’s a wonderful chain – for the BIG BOSS. We don’t all wear the exact same uniform of the chain-gang prisoner in the South. But it doesn’t take long for dust and hard labor to do its work and make us all look alike – inside and out.

So where is your individual? Where is he under this so- called system of the individual, this capitalist system? Why, his individuality is buried in the mines, and it’s crushed out of him and pushed and pulled out of him in the factory.

Only a slobbery fool at the top sitting uselessly on the sands of Miami, while his managers run the business, is “free.” Only a parasite, living drunkenly and aimlessly off the backs of a million slaves, has any “rights.” Only this rum-pot has the nerve to call himself an “individual” under this system.

Crown of Capitalist Individualism

There’s your individual. There’s the crowning glory of individualism. A bored and jaded imitation of the rest of his society. His main activity is to find newer thrills and taste rarer foods. His main accomplishment is a final softening of the brain, And this is the mark we are told to aim at to become an individual!

When we working people take over production, we’ll have some real rights for the first time in history. The main thing we’ll do is make enough and more than enough goods for all. Then a man or woman won’t have to look the other way when the foreman passes – or keep his mouth shut when he wants to open it. The fear of starvation and poverty which makes us about as “individual” as an animal will be gone.

People will then have a different idea of what makes you outstanding, excellent, or “better” than somebody else. They won’t figure that the biggest thief or his heirs are so hot. Not the person who steals the most, but the one who creates the most, and the best, will stand at the “top” of OUR society.

And we’re going to see to it that a person who wants to be a pattern-maker, or engineer or whatever else gets a crack at it. And I don’t mean just a three-day trial like in the present contract seniority clause, either. We’ll filter the ore dust, coal dust, polishing powder, welding smoke, grinding dust, paint-spray fumes – draw them right out of the air. So people will keep their clothes clean and different, and LOOK LIKE individuals.

We’ll make the work easier by using the many inventions that capitalists buy up and bury. And we’ll encourage far more inventions from people who can hold up their heads for the first time and look their machine and the whole factory over from top to bottom. Instead of us all being one tired-out bunch of workers, drab, grey, and regimented by the power of Capital, we’ll BE individuals.

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Last updated: 16 October 2018