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world. There already exists, in the shape of the Soviet
Union, a first-class socialist power. If there were two such
powers in existence in the world, capitalism would be very
much on the defensive. Again one can imagine the immense
encouragement which the establishment of socialism in Amer-
ica would have on all the anti-capitalist forces in the rest
of the world the effect, for example, it would have on the
desperate anti-imperialist struggles going on, as I am writing
this book, in Spain and China.

I have no doubt that the sympathies of Mr. Roosevelt's
administration have been with the Spanish and Chinese
peoples in their struggles. Unfortunately, however, the prac-
tical measures of the American Government have been
strongly to the disadvantage of these peoples and have
actually helped both the German and Italian Fascist aggres-
sors in Spain and the Japanese aggressors in China.



A > In particular the Neutrality Act has un-

n questionably had this effect. No doubt this Act


was passed at the instance of sincerely peace-
loving people who saw in it a way of keeping America out
of war. They were still thinking in terms of the need to
stop the American finance-capitalists from leading their
country out on imperialist adventures in search of markets,
fields of investment and the like. As we have seen, this was
a very real issue in American political life not so long ago.
And if the progressive effort of Mr. Roosevelt's administra-
tion were defeated and America came under the control of
the largest and richest bankers and capitalists, who operate
in the political field through the Republican Party, it might
well become a most important issue again in the future.

But just at the moment this is not the issue. There is no
question of America launching out on imperialist adventure.
On the contrary, the issue is that of whether the American
people are to give their puissant support to the desperate
struggle of the Spanish and Chinese peoples. Naturally there
is no question of suggesting that America ought to go to
war with Germany, Italy or Japan. For the American people
could have given enormous support to the Spanish people
by simply consenting to sell the Spanish Government arms
under the ordinary provisions of international law. Or again
they could have made the Japanese attack upon China im-
possible simply by refusing to trade with Japan so long
as she continued her aggression. (And if any nervous Amer-
ican citizen replies that if America had done that there would



have been a danger of Japan or Italy or Germany going to
war with America as a reprisal, then let me, as a European,
tell him that he vastly underrates the reputation of America
for overwhelming strength, which obtains in the rest of the

What a tragedy that a section of well-meaning, progressive,
liberal opinion in America because, if I may say so, it had
not studied the specific character of the actual, concrete, par-
ticular international situation which confronted America,
should have used all its influence actually to prevent America
doing things which would unquestionably have had an im-
mense effect in preventing aggressive war and in preserving
or restoring peace.

What ^ s ^ was ' * nstea ^ f d 16 American Govern-

. . ment being enabled and persuaded to take

Americans . r

rj jy action which, with complete safety, could have

gone a very long way to make Fascist aggres-
sion impossible, and so secure the peace of the world, it was
left to the effort of individual Americans, and their relatively
small associations, to help the Spanish and Chinese peoples.
And magnificently these Americans have responded. Nothing
has had a greater effect than the appearance of the Lincoln
and other American battalions of volunteers on the people's
side in the Spanish civil war. The spirit of sheer, disinter-
ested nobility which moved these thousands of young Ameri-
cans to come across the Atlantic and offer their lives in the
desperate struggle of the Spanish people has shown all
Europe what Americans are made of. This is one of the rea-



sons why a European like myself can call his book Hope in

Again the well-organized, extensive and effective boycott
of Japanese goods which has been organized in America has
been a splendid example of what one free people can do,
even by individual voluntary effort, to help the struggles of
another hard pressed people. I am told by expert observers
who have recently returned from the Far East that this world-
wide boycott of Japanese goods, in which the American
people have taken a leading part, has been a factor of the
very first importance in hampering the aggressive effort of
Japan and thus enabling the Chinese people to organize their

All this voluntary, individual American effort has been
magnificent. But if only all progressive American opinion
could have united behind its government, urging it to use the
vast power of America to make Fascist aggression impossible,
by such simple and safe measures as insisting on the Spanish
Government's right to buy arms, and by refusing to trade with
Japan, then a united America could have changed the history
of the world in the last eighteen months.

I think that the error into which one section of progressive
American opinion fell when it sponsored the Neutrality Act
and opposed the American Government joining with other
democratic nations in the task of making Fascist aggression
impossible, came originally from thinking about things in too
abstract a way. Those who took this view were intent like all
of us on the supreme object of preventing war. But they



thought of peace and war too much as abstractions they did
not think practically enough. For the fact is that the issue for
the world today is not that of preventing war in general. The
issue is of how to prevent a particular, definite war which is
threatening to break out at any minute on a world scale. And
this particular, definite war which threatens to engulf the
world is not a war caused by an aggressive American impe-
rialism. It is, on the contrary, a war caused by the aggression
of the Fascist imperialisms of Germany, Italy and Japan
attempting to conquer the world as a market for their capi-
talists' industries. This war of Fascist aggression is already
raging in Spain and China. Hence the issue is not to prevent
war in general but to prevent this war from becoming a world
war, and to stop it in those places in which it has already
broken out,

same tyP 6 ^ consideration applies in

7? * ht the

T^r the economic and social field. In the last three

chapters of this book I have attempted to
sketch the main characteristics of a socialist system. I think
that it is important to do so because many people will not
confidently press even for immediate reforms unless they
have a general conception at any rate of the kind of economic
system toward which they are working. You cannot, in other
words, ask people to go on continually modifying the capi-
talist system unless they know that there is something to put
in its place. But I should be exceedingly sorry if these pages
gave the impression that there was nothing useful to be done
short of totally abolishing the capitalist system and inaugu-



rating a full blown socialist system. On the contrary, as I
endeavored to show when we were discussing Mr. Roosevelt's
program, the chief, immediate thing for every American and
British socialist to do is to set out to put right the glaring
wrongs which stare us all in the face. The thing to do is not to
spend endless time trying to scheme out exactly how this or
that economic problem will be dealt with in a socialist
America or Britain. We cannot know this in detail until the
time comes to do the job. What we have to do is to concentrate
on putting an end to the scourges of capitalism.

While taking care to get a grasp of the nature of our
ultimate destination, let us set out immediately to right the
wrongs which we see in front of us. Let us set out to end the
poverty of a great section of the American and British
peoples; to end unemployment; to get decency and security
for every American and British worker; to end war, injustice
and exploitation. We shall find that the righting of these
wrongs ultimately involves the abolition of capitalism and the
construction of a socialist economic system. For there is no
useful improvement which does not lead toward socialism.
But at the same time the achievement of particular improve-
ments does not lead to socialism along a smooth or easy path.
None of the wrongs of our time will be righted without effort
and struggle.


Chapter XIV

How to Get There

The Str I ^^ kk ^as ^ een designed to show that
we cannot in the end do the job that has to be
done without transferring the capital of the country its
means of production f rom the small class of persons say
five million people in America who now own them, to the
whole people. For so long as the factories, mines, and the
land of the country remain in the hands of a small class, it
will in the end prove impossible to distribute enough purchas-
ing power to the rest of the population to enable them to buy
the final products of industry and agriculture, and so keep
themselves in employment. From this fact we traced all the
worst ills which afflict the world today.

This is no reason for failing to support efforts such as
those of the Roosevelt administration to distribute additional
purchasing power, without directly attempting the transfer of
the means of production. But it is a reason for realizing that
these efforts cannot be finally successful or rather that they
can be successful only in so far as they begin to impinge upon
one or other of the property rights of the existing capital-
owning class. It is a reason for realizing that they can only be



carried forward in the teeth of relentless opposition from this

/r, n . This brings us directly to the question of

The Question J , ,

/ T> political power. Our conclusion must be that

oj rower* . . . .

you cannot do the job without acquiring politi-
cal power. The question of power is the great question of
political life.

How can the wage earners, and the rest of the population
which has no substantial ownership in the means of produc-
tion, get political power into their hands so that they can even
attempt the task of altering the economic basis of society?
Well, you may say, in America that is not so difficult. America
really is a democracy without king or House of Lords to
check the will of the people. The American people have only
to vote for whom they will and they must be obeyed.

Now there is no doubt that the exceptional degree of
political democracy which the American people won for
themselves by the revolution which founded the Union, and
which they have jealously preserved ever since, is a great
advantage to them and will give them opportunities for carry-
ing through their struggle to transform their economic system
not enjoyed by most other peoples. But they will only be able
to enjoy those advantages if they realize that their right to
vote for candidates who are in favor, for instance, of a wider
distribution of purchasing power, gives them only a particular
weapon hi the struggle. It by no means in itself guarantees
their victory.

For the truth is that in highly developed capitalist com-



munities such as America and Britain, the elected representa-
tives of the people do not necessarily rule at all. This brings
up the question of who does in fact rule.
Who R I ? Who rules in any given community? The
answer is: He rules who owns the capital of
that country its means of production, that is to say. This is
a fundamental political truth. It is only on the basis of this
truth that one can talk sense about politics.

And surely this truth is obvious enough? Put it this way.
Imagine a country in which a certain group of men owned the
entire water supply. Would not this group of water-supply
owners rule that country? Could not a child tell you that so
long as they managed to hold on to the water supply, they
could dictate to the rest of the people? It might be that the
rest of the people had the right to elect their rulers. But the
owners of the water supply would say, "If you do not elect
us, we will cut off the water." Therefore the people's right
to elect whom they pleased to rule them would be, in practice,
almost worthless.

The position in America and in Britain today is not quite
so bad as that, but it is something like it. Five million or so
Americans own the capital, or means of production, without
the use of which most of the rest of the American people
cannot get their livelihoods. The American people have a
perfect right to refuse to elect a single one of the five million
to Congress or to any public office. But, if they do, the five
million begin to cut off the water supply. They begin, to be
plain, to refuse to use the means of production or to let any-



body else use them. They create what is called a financial
crisis, or panic, or slump in which more and more Americans
become unemployed and destitute. And unless some very
vigorous measures are taken, they remain so until they be-
come good boys and girls again and re-elect the representa-
tives of the five million to govern them.

, r , He who owns the means of production rules

It Is More

TL X*L the country, whatever its constitution may be,
Than Changing J ' 7 '

until and unless he is actually turned out 01

Governments. J

that ownership.

In other words, the road forward lies through the taking of
power out of the hands of the five million, and putting it into
the hands of the ninety million. Now this is a much bigger
thing to do than simply to change the government of the
country. It involves far more than the replacing of a Republi-
can administration by a Democratic administration, or even
the election of a Farmer-Labor administration. All the same,
the election of a progressive administration is a first step in
this direction.

But the election of a progressive administration is a step
in the right direction only if that administration realizes that
its election is but one incident in the enormous struggle of the
people to regain their economic birthright. For unless the
progressive administration realizes this, it will be unprepared
for the furious counter-attacks upon it which the representa-
tives of the ruling class will certainly launch as they have
done in the case of the Roosevelt administration.

The point is that the placing in office of an administration
based on the non-capitalist elements of the population, still



leaves the owners of the means of production in power. For
he who owns the means of production holds political power.
The election of an administration which they do not control
is, however, a serious threat to the owners of the means of
production. They always fear that it may do things which
will impinge on their property rights. Hence they always
attack it relentlessly. And this mam attack always takes the
same form. They attempt to discredit it by "cutting off the
water supply" by creating a panic or slump in which
millions of people lose their jobs.

When that situation arises the progressive administration
must ether surrender to the ruling class, who will then have
established their power to override and set at nought the
democratically arrived at decisions of the people, or it must
enter into a struggle with them which can only be finally
successful when the means of production have passed out of
the hands of this small class into the hands of the people. In
a word the present possessing and ruling class will not give
up the struggle because a vote of the people has gone against
it. It will use every available means to cling to its possessions.
How then can the transfer of real power, which must involve
the transfer of the means of production, come about? That I
cannot tell you. For in order to do so I should have to be able
to foresee future events.

/TTT n . But, you will ask, do I mean that the trans-

The Question r f

t T/ . i fer of power must come about by violence?

of violence. r i

Must there be revolution and civil war: Can

we not transform society without passing through this terrible



Now this question of violence is not really a very complex
one. We have allowed ourselves to be confused by the terrific
propaganda which our present rulers make on this question.
They suggest that socialists and in particular communists
are desperate and evil persons who want to use violence for
the sake of violence, and will not abide by democratic deci-
sions. Quite simply, all this is a lie. There is nobody outside
a lunatic asylum who does not wish to do everything in his
power to avoid his country being involved in social violence
and civil war. Socialists and communists are absolutely
willing to abide by the democratic system. Indeed, they spend
a very great deal of their time defending democracy from
the attacks upon it which the Fascists and their friends are
already making.

But what they do say is this. They cannot pretend that they
think that the representatives of the capital owners will abide
by democracy, if and when the people have voted, perhaps
not even for socialism, but for the righting of certain wrongs'
which involve disturbance of the capital owners' property
rights. They will, I repeat, "cut off the water supply" if we
do not go on voting for them. They will create a financial
panic or slump if a democratic government attempts to enact
any serious progressive legislation at all.

But a democratic government, if it is to survive, must not
yield to such blackmail. Such a government must push on
with its progressive program in spite of the sabotage of
capital. It must, if necessary, replace by government plants,
or take over, industries which the employers are no longer



willing to conduct, and thus give the people their employment
back again. Nor can we deny that it is possible that the
representatives of the capital owners will try to use violence
against such a determined democratic government, which
they have failed to scare off by economic sabotage.

In that case, the question of avoiding an actual outbreak
of violence will depend on the democratic government acting
swiftly enough to prevent the reactionaries and their repre-
sentatives from getting the chance to plunge their country
into chaos. A progressive government will reserve the right,
in a word, to meet reactionary violence in the only way that
it can be met, namely, by the quick, short, decisive use of
force in order to prevent the overthrow of democracy.

In principle there is no more to be said on the subject of
violence and non-violence than that. Everybody, of course,
hopes that social change will come in the most peaceful way
possible. But we cannot allow change to be prevented by the
unchallenged violence, first economic and then physical, of
those who have a privileged position to lose. For to resign
ourselves to the continuance forever of the capitalist system
because our present rulers would not allow it to be abolished
without violence would be to condemn the world to an endless
series of world wars.

Who AW? ^ k ave sa id above that "we" cannot resign
ourselves to the everlasting rule of the owners
of the means of production. We cannot resign ourselves to it
even if every attempt to challenge that rule is to be met by the
threat, first of economic reprisals, and then of actual physical



violence on the part of our present rulers. For the rule of the
owners of the means of production means the perpetuation of
an economic system which, because it cannot distribute to the
mass of the population sufficient purchasing power to buy the
final products of industry and agriculture, must drive a
literally maddened humanity into self-destruction in both
international and civil war.

But who are "we"? We are that great majority of the
population who have no effective ownership in the means of
production. Tens of millions of human beings cannot, how-
ever, act without somehow organizing themselves. They must
form some kind of associations, through the instrumentality
of which alone they can make their will felt.
TL / L Now in every capitalist society certain or-

ji* ganizations have grown up among the mass

of the wage earners as a reaction to the con-
ditions imposed on them by capitalism. These organizations
have been designed to protect the interests of the wage
earners. These are the trade-unions, the co-operative societies
and the working-class political parties. These organizations
make up what we call the "labor movement." A labor move-
ment represents the instinctive determination of the four-fifths
of us who live on wages and salaries to protect ourselves, to
some extent at any rate, against the absolute rule of those who
employ us.

The trade-unions prevent the employers from fixing wage
rates, conditions and hours exactly as they please without
taking any account of the workers' point of view. The co-



operative societies make it possible for organized consumers
to get a certain amount of their wants satisfied without paying
a tribute of profit to the capital owners. The political parties
of the working class, by putting pressure on the representa-
tives of the capital owners, extract concessions by way of
social services, pensions, insurances and the like. It is
above all through this labor movement that "we" the great
majority of the population can make our will for social
change effective.

T L . Now the labor movement has been less eff ec-

Labor in .

4 . lively developed in America than in Great

America. J

Britain. It is only in the last few years that
trade-unions have been organized in some of the most impor-
tant American industries, while in Britain important and
influential trade-unions have existed in these industries for
many years. Again in Britain there is a very extensive con-
sumers' co-operative movement, with no less than eight
million members, possessing stores all over the country.
Finally the organized British workers have for nearly forty
years possessed, in the shape of the Labor Party, a political
party of their own, organized on a national scale, which has
twice formed the government of the country, and is now the
official opposition. In America, on the other hand, political
parties based on the organized wage earners are only just
beginning to come into existence, and are still local to par-
ticular parts of the country, as for example the newly devel-
oped Labor Party in New York State. All this may sound as
if the task of accomplishing social change would be very



much harder in America than in Britain. But I believe that
just the opposite is true. I believe that the fact that the
American labor movement is only now beginning to develop
its forces on a national scale is actually a great advantage
to it. For it will be able to avoid the very serious errors into
which the British movement has fallen during the course of
its development errors which threaten, if they are not
speedily overcome, to send the British movement into decline.
Th P lit' I Naturally it would not do for someone like
p myself who is not an American to begin offer-

ing suggestions as to what the American labor
movement should and should not do. Nor could I do so even
if I would. For only an American can possibly know enough
about the realities of American political life to begin recom-
mending particular courses of action. But I would not have it
be thought that in saying, as I do, that the labor movement
must, in any country such as America or Britain, be the core
of the forces making for progressive social change that I am
suggesting that the labor movement is the only progressive
movement in the community, or that it ought necessarily or
immediately to cut itself off from the more progressive non-
labor political forces and parties.

I submitted above (Chapters V, VI and VII) the case
for supporting to the uttermost Mr. Roosevelt's program for
the distribution of purchasing power to the mass of the

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Online LibraryJohn StracheyHope in America → online text (page 11 of 12)