Original Document
Original Document
James Maurer, "My Social Philosophy," 1938.

The stock market collapse of 1929 was no accident, but rather a violent eruption on a dissipated, cancerous, social body. Social, political, commercial, and industrial quacks promptly diagnosed it as harmless, and while admitting it was painful, promised a speedy recovery. When the cancer spread, the quacks prescribed "confidence," but the supply was exhausted. Chief Surgeon [Herbert] Hoover then called the beneficiaries of the ailing system together and told them the best remedy he could prescribe was good wages and full-time work; they thanked him, went home and promptly cut wages and either closed their plants or ran them part-time, and were surprised when things got worse.

Then came the Technocrats who declared that the patient had outlived his usefulness, and in place of capitalism they proposed the abolition of the profit system and the establishment of the cooperative commonwealth, with production for use and human welfare the sole objective. Immediately the beneficiaries of capitalism cried, "Rugged Individualism will never surrender to Collectivism!" And the politicians from rostrum and through their press denounced the terrible Socialists who would overthrow their cherished and sacred institutions-rent, interest, and profit.

Capitalism is a form of society in which a few at the top are permitted by law to rob the masses at the bottom; a system in which those who produce everything own nothing, while those who produce nothing own everything; in which the workers who create all wealth live in poverty, while the idlers live in luxury; in which parasites are respected, while workers are despised.

Capitalist nations are pretty much alike. The premiers talk of peace, disarmament, and the outlawing of war. At peace conferences they render eloquent lip service to these ideals, then go back home and ask their parliaments for increased military appropriations. Diplomacy today, more than ever, has come to mean spying upon and lying to one another by the various nations. Should any of those who speak so feelingly of disarmament suggest the sinking of the navies of the world and the destruction of all guns, they would be laughed at and voted out of office. And so it will be as long as the masses permit a few parasites to do their thinking for them.

What have the victims of capitalism, the workers, to say about it? Not much. How can they? When young their minds are warped in the interest of the system that exploits them; the press, theater, motion pictures, radio, pulpit, schools, old-line politicians, and hundreds of other agencies feed them the capitalist dope. News is colored to serve the interests of the exploiters, with emphasis on non-essentials designed to take the minds of the masses off their own exploitation. The love affairs of a movie star get more space than the struggle of the workers for a decent wage. Where then are the masses to get a knowledge of economics, labor problems, or history? Is it any wonder that they often scab on one another, applaud the wrong side, or mob those who would help them? That of course isn't true of all workers. Organized Labor, Socialists, farmers' organizations, and other agencies of enlightenment have made great inroads on ignorance among the workers during the past quarter of a century.

The men and women who work with their hands aren't the only ones that bark up the wrong tree. The white collar workers too often identify themselves with capitalism. They remain in school longer than manual workers, get a cheap job in an office with promises of advancement, and then, just as they are looking forward to being taken into the firm, they are discharged to make room for younger white collar workers with whom the process is repeated.

Then there are the small merchants, many of whom try to ape the upper class. Their business is done on paper, which means that they are at the mercy of the banks and that their opinions are molded by the bankers. They know that if they were to take a stand or even to express an opinion contrary to that of the established order, they would be ruined financially and suffer social ostracism.

The other branch of the middle class consisting of the clergy, doctors, lawyers, professors, and other so-called intellectuals, while numbering many of independent mind and with the courage of their convictions, is mainly composed of men and women who are afraid to take sides on a controversial subject.

The middle-class people, however, are gradually getting bolder as pressure from above forces them out of their once comfortable rut. Like the workers they are beginning to realize that not only is their position in life being threatened, but civilization itself is in danger. Their greatest present weakness is that while they understand the injustices and crimes of capitalism they wish merely to patch it up. Like many workers, they fear its abolition would take too long. They will have to learn that capitalism can no more allow itself to be reformed than can the beasts of the jungle,


During 1931 a campaign to reduce taxes was launched by the Chambers of Commerce, Manufacturers' Associations, and similar bodies. It is still going on. In some of their propaganda they went so far as to lay the depression to high taxes which, they said, hindered the growth of business, and to claim that a reduction in taxes would speed recovery. Their favorite targets were the income and inheritance taxes, and a nation-wide drive was opened to lower them during the period of greatest unemployment when, instead, they should have been increased to provide for those who were unable to get jobs even though they were willing to work at anything. Yet taxes were lowered wherever the authorities found it possible to do so by laying off city, county, and state employees or slashing their wages, which added to the already mountainous distress.

My own opinion of what was behind the drive for lower taxes is that it was launched to head off a movement for increased taxes or to draw the attention of the starving away from the swollen profits of the privileged classes. As a matter of fact, there is no outlay for which we get more service or return than taxes. Taxes collected for all governmental purposes amount to only about 11 per cent of the national income, whereas legalized robbery of the consumers by capitalism may run as high as 50 per cent or more of the wealth produced by the hands and brain of Labor. I doubt if the people will long continue to be taken in by the cry of "burdensome taxes."

Billions are needed for relief. Adding to the already staggering public debt cannot go on forever, nor can the present policy of taxing the consumer, because the majority of consumers are either working for low wages or are on relief. At the height of the depression Morgan, Mellon, and Mitchell were shown not to have paid any income taxes for several years, and only the other day Morgan announced that he was going to continue to take advantage of every loophole in the law to continue not paying income taxes. Several years ago I met Lady Astor and during our discussion on industrial problems she said: "We rich don't like to pay taxes. We prefer to have the poor pay them, because they are used to doing so and don't even know that they are paying." I don't know whether she was trying to be funny, but she certainly spoke the truth. As one contemplates the wealthy crew that first grew rich on privilege and then takes a second helping by forcing the poor to pay their taxes, one cannot but compare them to their predecessors in Bourbon France, who acted pretty much the same way until the Revolution put an end to them and their privileges. May America be spared such a bloody road to justice.

Credit: James Maurer, It Can Be Done: The Autobiography of James Hudson Maurer (New York: Rand School, 1938), 314-18. Courtesy of the Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University
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