A system of society in which wealth does not belong to those who produce it may for a long time be borne with patience by the producers, if it does not impose any great hardships on the majority. The fact that with increased powers of production and a greater expenditure of energy poverty becomes more acute, is excused and partly hidden by the current belief that wealth cannot be produced except for markets. The imperative necessity—from the capitalist standpoint—for ever cheaper methods of production, coupled with the insatiable greed of the master class, breeds antagonism everywhere between the two classes in society. The competition between combines and groups of capitalists wipes out large numbers of smaller capitalists and leaves the bulk of wealth-producing concerns in the possession of a dwindling number of financiers.
Whether the means of wealth-production are owned and controlled by a capitalist class large or small in numbers, the interests of that class are always opposed to socialism. It is even possible that, as the capitalist class grows smaller in numbers they may be able to combat socialism more successfully because of the greater ease with which they could agree upon, and set in motion, antagonistic forces.
The growing antagonism between capitalists and workers centres largely around the question of wages and conditions of employment. The workers in the main are thus expending their energy in the struggle over hand to mouth conditions, and neglecting any study of the root causes of their poverty. The longer they pursue this short-sighted policy, which at the best can only slightly retard their downward progress into depths of poverty, the more permanent and fixed does the capitalist system appear to them, and the more hopeless does their struggle seem.
It does not follow that their hopelessness will cause them to accept socialism, which has to be understood first, and which therefore requires a certain amount of study. Until the workers are prepared to give the necessary time to its study the question of economic development is a secondary matter, and small progress is being made toward socialism. Those who pretend that anything else but the propaganda of socialist knowledge makes for socialism are only spreading confusion among the workers and encouraging them in the belief that economic forces of themselves will work out their emancipation for them.
It is no satisfaction to the socialist that the development of capitalism causes greater suffering for the workers. Suffering alone does not make socialists : it is more likely to result in desperate actions or futile attempts at reform, generally followed by apathy and inaction.