Letters to the Editors from the March 1905 issue of the Socialist Standard
In the last SOCIALIST STANDARD your correspondent, “Ignoramus,” asks for information on three very important points: a clear understanding of which entails a sound grasp of Socialist philosophy. May I offer a slight attempt at explanation?
I have only space enough, to deal with one of his points—no doubt those better qualified will deal with the others. With regard to the question of the Taxes the answer is just this: to tax a commodity is by no means necessarily to raise its price, in fact taxation is the least important factor in determining prices. In regard to Municipalism, a variation of the same economic fact is brought to light. Municipal enterprise is favoured by the small middle-class because profits derived therefrom are used to “reduce the Rates”—which Rates again are no factor at all in determining the price of house-accommodation and, therefore, no concern of the working-class as such. Certain Socialists, by-the-way, advocate municipalism chiefly because of this rate-reduction, and it is this use of “Municipalisation” or “Nationalisation” as a red-herring to draw the working-class into the mazes and mists of “Reform” that we must set our faces against as fiercely as against any “Fiscalism” or “Laborism” whatever.
But these points will be dealt with doubtless by the better-qualified. “Ignoramus’s” other point needs careful consideration. “Here is the rub,” he says, “the intelligence of the worker can only expand as a result of the alteration of his present conditions. Yet the alteration of these conditions is dependent upon the expansion of the working-class intelligence. The latter must precede the former, yet the former must precede the latter!” Put in this way it certainly looks like a contradiction, but is not “Ignoramus” generalising a little too loosely?
We find reason to complain that the working-class, in general are either satisfied with things as they are or despair of any improvement in their lot. We find them too often caring little for the acquirement of knowledge about anything, and in parts animal in their enjoyments and squalid in their ideals. But will “Ignoramus” or anyone else deny that all this and a 100 per cent, more could be said of the possessing-class? Is not the capitalist-class in general brutal, unenlightened, animal in its pleasures, and squalid in its ideals—and much more so than the average working-man? Are the manners of “Park Lane” so greatly different from the “New Cut” except in outward form?
The average workman fails to realise that the present system is based upon his enslavement. The average member of the “respectable” class considers himself or herself a superior kind of being to a member of the lower orders. Which is the most ignorant? In short, the “ignorance” argument cuts both ways and, argued to its logical conclusion, simply exposes the hideous mockery of our “glorious Civilisation.” That the number of those who really love learning, who ardently seek Truth, or who possess any lofty life ideals is very few, no one who knows anything of Life as it is could deny; but few as they are, I contend and will maintain that their number is made up of actual proletarians and those who work with the proletariat for the Social Revolution.
“Ignoramus” has hardly got the Socialist contention correctly stated. That the hooligan, the drunkard, the imbecile, the physically degenerate, the libertine, the prostitute, the “gospel revivalist,” the blasé roué, and the Society lady are all hideous products of an obsolete social system is what we contend; and when it is argued that the poor are poor because they “drink,” or because of their “ignorance,” we are easily able to show that they are created what they are by their environment.
Furthermore we are easily able to show that the evils of poverty tend to increase with the development of capitalism. But to contend that the working-class is “ignorant” is to ignore the fact that the whole production of the community is effected by the efforts of wage-labourers. The capitalist as a capitalist contributes not one iota to the useful work of society. The “intellectual” working-man is with us—and suffers from unemployment and the “competition of machinery and women” like the remainder of the working-class. Is a clerk who understands three languages and cannot get employed at any price above 30s. a week to be classed as “ignorant”? He is a proletarian beyond question.
Briefly, the ignorance and apathy of the working-class exists, like that of the capitalist-class, in the shape of “lop-sided” development and is common to our present social system: but this does not prevent the working-man from realising what every day it becomes easier for him to realise, viz., that the present system is based upon his exploitation and enslavement, that his interests and those of the master-class are diametrically opposed, that therefore the master-class will always consciously or unconsciously try to keep him as he is, and consequently that he must act in such wise as to get rid of a master-class at once and for ever.
The function of the Socialist propagandist is to speedily and effectively increase the opportunities for this awakening. The Socialist is produced by present conditions just as much as anything else, and most of all, “Ignoramus,” it only needs ordinary common sense to understand Socialism—otherwise, Comrades Editorial, where should I have been?
THOS. A. JACKSON.