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V. Grey

Shop Talks on Socialism

(2 June 1945)

From The Militant, Vol. IX No. 22, 2 June 1945, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

An old-timer explained Capitalism and Socialism to me at lunch the other day. This is what he said.

Now the Capitalists own all the factories, the mines, the railroads and everything we work at. We just own our debts, our appetites and our muscles. We have to give the Capitalists our muscles so we can pay our debts and feed our appetites now and then.

Here’s the way it works. Say this jackknife here is all the plants, machinery, tools – everything we work with that the Capitalists own. Suppose this chunk of bread is the earth itself. Pretend for now that you are the whole working class of the world. I’m the Capitalist class because I own the jackknife.

I let you work with this jackknife. Here, take it, and cut that bread. There, you made ten slices. Well, I put those ten slices away in my cupboard and give you five cents. You take the five cents, go out and buy five slices of bread. Here’s the five slices. You and your family eat it up tonight. Then tomorrow you come to work and slice some more bread for me.

After this goes on for a while, I get a hell of a lot of bread stored up in that cupboard. And it isn’t any use to cut up any more, because it’ll only get moldy. So I tell you to go home, and wait for me to call you back to work. I let the jackknife get rusty while I sell that extra bread.

How Capitalism Operates

Well, you’re out of work, and you can’t buy any bread, so I have to lower the price. I can’t make much money that way, so I dump a lot of it in the ocean so the price will go up. Maybe you’re so hungry by this time that you pick it up and eat it when it drifts to shore, salt water and all. But if I’m smart, I figure on that and put poison in the bread.

Things get tougher and your muscles are getting weaker. That looks bad for me because I’ll need you later on. So I am big-hearted. I give you a half a slice of bread a day for nothing – no money at all. Of course I say you’re a lazy bum because you won’t work, and it’s your fault that I don’t give you any work. But that generosity makes me a pretty good guy.

Finally I get things started again. I get you to sharpen up the jackknife once more. You cut out twenty slices a day instead of ten. To show you how big-hearted I am, I give you six cents a day. And it isn’t my fault if the price of bread goes up. I’ve got a little war on so I can sell more bread in the rest of the world. I have to give your brother some of the bread you cut so he can go out and kill your cousin and get killed himself.

In the meantime my cupboard is getting bigger than ever. When my war is over I’ll lay you off again, fold up the jackknife again and eat my bread while you starve.


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