You Can Keep Your Christmas Pudding
by Jack Common
Oh, the apathy of the working-classes! Oh, the non-militancy of the bastards! They've been pauperised and beaten down and robbed and tricked, betrayed and doped - and do they upsurge? Do they curdle in a revolutionary mass about the rods of their oppressors? Do they storm heaven? October after October (or November after November, new time) goes, and not a surge. All around us capitalism is crumbling and collapsing and getting fantastically unstable but still the final shove of proletarian revolution is lacking. The masses continue to play in and out the window at the Labour Exchange and the Time Office, standing themselves a drink when the Time Office is open to them, and being content with a spit when on the Buroo. Oh hopeless mass! Oh unhistoric apaths!
This lament (and its blustering counter-assurance that the masses are really ready for militant leadership; only twisters get in the way) follows every year down into the past, and starts afresh with every new one that's particularly annoying at a time when every section of our upper classes is 'revolutionary' to a man, and only needs mass-support to begin transforming society. Subversive schemes such as the corporative state, the seizure of the banks by politicians or technicians, the eternal dictatorship of a National Government, are dangled before the eyes of the poor. And every time the answer is the traditional one of - "You can keep your Christmas pudding . . ."
According to the bourgeois intelligentsia who know their Marx the reason for the rejection of all these schemes is that they are reactionary and the workers know it. So they in their turn triumphantly offer the armed uprising of the proletariat, and think that because workers find themselves therein referred to as "mass" or "proletariat" instead of "consumers" or 'Britons" they will jump at the idea. Alas, there is no jump, comrades. The paupers' answer is as before.
Suppose for one astounding instant that the poor fellows are right, that they know instinctively these schemes are not their revolution, and feel that all the golden staircases to Utopia don't seem to be properly hooked up at the other end. Let us assume that the apathy is not stupid inertia but positive disapproval of the antics of self-regarding intellectuals - in fact, fellow-revolutionaries, we've got the bird and don't know it. Roughly you might say that all our revolutionary intelligentsia ever do is to call upon the workers to be a negative force destroying bourgeoiserie. What, after all, is "mass"? The negative of individualism. What is "proletariat"? The negative of private possession. Now a worker feels like "mass" when he is being herded into the shipyard or the Labour Exchange, but what does he feel like when he's driving an engine,or buying some drinks,or voting for a strike? Like "mass"? No fear. These bourgeois negations might do to express the rotten feeling of being exploited; they go no way towards telling the world that here is a people to believe in, for their qualities are those which the world needs to learn.
For a long time, you know, the working-class scarcely existed in the social consciousness at all. They were labour-power fed to the machines. Nobody was interested in them as long as the upper ranks of society got along eoinfortaoly and the 'nation' kept getting richer. Not until the brighter sparks reported collisions ahead, did the intellectual surveys of capitalism take any account of the capabilities of this class. And then it wasn't much account. Labour power was allowed to congeal into mass as well as into commodities. it became a deus ex machina, which would appear in the last act of capitalism in order to rescue the middle-classes from the consequences of their competitive anarchy. Having allowed that much,
the intelligentsia went on describing the varied phenomena of decay observable in the upper stories - the basement remained black. It did not occur to them (and hasn't) that behind "mass" there is a humanity as worthy of celebration as any that has been. Even those who of late years definitely go out to create proletarian art find themselves describing class-oppression among the masses, in the same way that those who join the workers' struggles find themselves advocating mass-militancy as a revolutionary policy. When, however, the working-lads find that these friends and helpers of theirs actually intend that they shall not only be "mass" at the factory-gates, but "mass" in politics, "mass" in culture; and "mass" for evermore, they weary at the thought of playing up to bourgeois fantasy to such an extent.
Something of that feeling must have been abroad in Hungary recently. At Pecs, a crowd of miners were in the perennial position of miners everywhere of badly needing a raise in wages. Now according to orthodox theory they ought to have struck work, gone militant, and kept on going militant until they or the owners couldn't stand it any longer. But probably orthodox revolutionary theory has had its day in Hungary; anyhow, all these fellows had in the way of theory was an elaboration of the classic retort of the paupers to the workhouse-master. They went down the mine and stayed there four days without food, refusing to come up until their demands were met. Their demands were not met, so rather than face death by starvation they began closing up the ventilators, and asked for a thousand red coffins. At that, and not before time, the mine-owners gave way.
The importance of this case is that it should not have happened. By all the theories of social transition which have emerged in the period of bourgeois decline it is flagrantly incorrect. Nobody has ever instructed these miners that that's how the class-war is to be fought. Now whether it is or it isn't cannot be decided on an isolated incident, even one of such heroic proportions, but at least it may serve to indicate to us that the medley of unknown human forces called the proletariat contains possibilities unknown to the economic prophets of class. In fact, we must get our eyes skinned; there are new things to see, when we can look nakedly on them.
End of You Can Keep Your Christmas Pudding by Jack Common