A Short Story from the August 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard
"They toil not neither do they spin,Yet Solomon in all his glory Was not arrayed like one of these.”Sir Brian Bagalot was one of the select minority whose possessions enabled him to enjoy most of what this world has to give. He had a town and country residence both sumptuously equipped and staffed, a villa on the French Riviera, an odd farm or two whose stock were prized in agricultural circles, and a cruising yacht which he found handy when land-bound pleasures became boring. Lest it may be thought that- his whole time was spent in gay abandonment, we must add that he was chairman of 10 industrial concerns as well as sitting on the board of directorship of 15 others.
He was, in fact, typical of the strong: “terror when roused” English business men to whom society doffs its cap.
Despite this, he was a sporty, trusting kind of chap and not above discussing the prospects of the vegetable crop with his head gardener or the racing news with the butler. In fact, though he did not give it much conscious thought he had great trust in everyone—from his immediate subordinates to that vast army of men and women employed in his Industrial Empire—an army which stretched far into the vague shadow-world that lay beyond his own comfortable, sunny highway.
He shared his joys and woes with his wife, Lady Bagalot who apart from fulfilling a biological function in his life, served as a kind of walking advertisement of the Bagalot Enterprises. It was precisely because Sir Brian had recently added another “bauble” to the already well embellished Lady Bagalot. in the shape of a diamond tiara, that our second character enters the hall.
Joe was most unlike Sir Brian; quite commonplace; belonging to what has been called "the Great Unwashed” and many other things. i.e., he was one who possessed nothing that Sir Brian and his friends wanted, except his labour power. Joe belonged to the working class indeed, though he did not “slave” to run the affairs of 25 industrial concerns. He knew little about prize livestock, or yachts, and could see nothing in bridge. Obviously NOT the typical, time-honoured, tenacious Englishman who “bestrides the narrow world like a Colossus” that one reads about in novels. Whilst Sir Brian had expanded himself on the playing fields at Eton, Joe had experienced the mental and physical cramp peculiar to a large Council School, where some poor cuss of a teacher had struggled to fit him out as a decent, law-abiding citizen. Whilst Sir Brian had absorbed the “nobling influence” of the broad green acres of his estates and the exhilaration of a "true Britisher” as he stood yachting cap at an angle, on the bridge of his cruiser, Joe, when he looked around his colourless, lustreless environment, felt as inspired as a bulldog forced to eat a bowl of lettuce.
So he changed it—or he thought he would. He scrapped the “Honesty is the best policy, God's in his heaven, all’s well with the world” philosophy taught him at school, and decided that Society and he were henceforth enemies.. From now on it was Joe first, and all the time. He had, you see, acquired a kind of queer sense of justice that is, alas, all too common among the world’s poor. He believed that be could rectify and otherwise improve his status through his own efforts—a kind of “one man concern.” He obviously hadn’t studied Sir Brian’s life history, otherwise, he would have known that “real" wealth, can, and is, only created by the combined effort of many. Still, Joe was not so much concerned with making rather than taking. To use his own phrase, he was engaged in the business of “Redistribution of Wealth” by the simple means of breaking and entering.
His successes were many and not without their measure of excitement. Joe was indeed enjoying a more varied and eventful life as an “anti-social” member of society than ever he did during his law-abiding days. Just as Sir Brian felt akin to Lord Nelson when cruising, or an affinity with John Peel and his company of country squires when riding to hounds over the Bagalot Estate, so Joe felt himself a kind of Dick Turpin or Robin Hood both of whom are thought of as heroes to members of the working class whose education has been that where-in-history and romance are confused.
Joe’s end came; sudden and dramatic. He was caught in the act of burgling Lady Bagalot's “blazers” (including the diamond tiara)). After the Law had worked on him, supported by 12 moral jurymen, he was "sent down” for a long time and ceased to count as a member of society at all. Joe may have had the best of motives for his activities, but unfortunately, his methods were wrong.
This ends our little story, but perhaps we could wrap it up in a moral.
The “Joe’s” can be multiplied in their millions; workers who congratulate themselves on "getting away” with odd bits and pieces—a minute quantity of the world’s wealth—usually just about enough to keep them “ticking" till such time as they are “sent down” (with the aid of a shovel) and are no longer a part of living society. Many have in various ways, attempted to balance the one-sidedness of wealth-ownership, by the wrong method. They still continue to think in terms of “getting a bit more ” without realising the possibilities of getting the lot.
The job must be done properly; not by negative attitudes to existing laws, but by a positive move to create our own law. We can only do this by "thinking big"; having big ideas."
As for Joe:—
“The Law doth punish Man or Woman
Who steals the goose from off the Common
But turns the greater villain loose
Who steals the Common from the goose.”
[Old Peasant Rhyme, 14th Century.]
And so whilst Joe was “put away" Sir Brian embarked on—yet another of his sea cruises.