Tuesday, June 27, 2017

What Price Charity (1968)

From the January 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard

That the face of society is becoming increasingly more scarred by the demands being made from charity organisations is now only too painfully clear. That the social problems which these organisations were formed to alleviate are becoming more acute also is only too clear.

That there is no new thinking on the question of ends and means only shows the extent to which emotionalism rather than rationalism governs the actions of both those who beseech our support and those who are morally blackmailed into giving their support to charity organisations.

We are bombarded from all directions to support this appeal, or that cause; accusing fingers thrust their way into our faces reminding us that one day age too will menacingly envelope us. That illness, or loneliness, or worse incapacity might strike us down. We are informed that there are homeless children, and homeless aged. Not so very long ago we were seduced into filling tin boxes with metal coins to help the homeless children in China. In yet a later decade the labels on the collecting boxes were changed to the homeless children of Korea. Yet again the labels change to show that the Vietnam children should be the recipients of our help. No Cooks Tour of the world need remind us of those in need in the many parts of the globe. This function is well served by the rattle of little tin boxes. Christian Aid reminds us that millions are hungry. The National Food Survey Committee tells us that 500,000 children live in poverty in England, living on inferior diets. There are fund raising campaigns for diseases of the heart, polio, cerebral palsy, cancer and many others. Money raising is big business, quite often competing one against the other. The Aberfan fund did much to deplete the tin boxes of other charities.

The Jewish Board of Guardians was founded 107 years ago. The ambitions which animated the J.B.G. were similar to those of other reformist bodies, namely that inherent in their activity for voluntary work in such fields as housing, health and general welfare for immigrant Jews was the concept “that the amelioration of physical conditions and the relief of poverty was the key to the solution of all social problems.”

V. D. Lipman. in his book Social History of the Jews in England 1850- 1950 tells us that the various Jewish charities, including the J.B.G., were originally supported by large donations from wealthy and generous individuals such as the Rothschilds; he however does not question the origin of the accumulation of Rothschild’s wealth, neither does he question the fact of riches alongside poverty or physical degradation alongside privilege and comfort. These are accepted as part of some vast eternal plan, but somehow or other to he alleviated.

Mr. Lipman suggests that today's welfare state has replaced many of the functions previously performed by charities. Even if this were true, which it is not, he completely fails to understand that the “welfare" state is in itself a reflection of capitalism's inability to provide for those in want. The Observer agony column of 29 October last carried advertisements from 17 charities advertising the sale of Christmas cards on behalf of bodies concerned with cancer research, the deaf and the blind, spastics. diabetics, rheumatism and arthritis. The plight of sufferers from these diseases is pitiful, particularly when it is reported that economies have to be instituted in the Royal Marsden Hospital for Leukaemia (a killer disease). Because of shortages of funds wards will have to close down (Times 22.4.67).

In the same year that the [Jewish] Board of Guardians was founded in 1859, Karl Marx too had some observations to make about social problems. He wrote “that the working class may improve their material conditions in Capitalist society, but they do so at a cost of their social conditions". In the light of the many demands now being made by charity organisations throughout the world, for so many causes, it would seem that Marx was right. One does not have to look very long upon the social scene to see that the efficacy of charity organisations is being frustrated by the very conditions that have given rise to the problems they have set out to alleviate. That this so is substantiated by the charity organisations themselves.

The Jewish Chronicle of October 27 carries an article by a Mr. Mark Fineman, who gives a quotation from the Jewish Welfare Board’s annual report for 1922: “We recognise that bad times, the crushing burden of taxation, the insistence of appeals for our suffering co-religionists abroad, and for hospitals and for other general charities at home, all make it more difficult to support the Board in the generous way of our forerunners”. Mr. Fineman then concludes with the statement “These words are as true today”. This after 100 years!

Oxfam reminds us that 1967 marked their 25th anniversary. Their current appeal does show more realism by asking us to help put them out of business, but it then goes on to say “how many of the hungry will live to see their (Oxfam’s) 26th anniversary?”

That it is utopian to expect charity organisations to make any inroads into the problems they collect funds for is evident by the title of one particular organisation — World Hunger Week — in other words the title is a reflection of the proportion of the problem. They are no longer local in character or isolated “unfortunate incidents in the life of a nation”. On the contrary, they are increasing in dimension and mote acute in their effects. For example, the Jewish Chronicle quotes Browning “Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be” then goes on to say that “for many Jewish citizens old age threatens, fear, illness and isolation at the end.” And then proceeds to tell us that the support Israel fund did much to deplete the funds for the aged and for the infirm! And in another edition God had performed a miracle of divine intervention in order that an Israeli victory was assured, but in his divine inscrutable wisdom failed to intervene on behalf of aged Jews. That must be left to charity!

Neither the supporters nor the organisers are concerned, so it would seem, to establish the cause of poverty in the modern world. They fail to see that the one complements the other. They fail to recognise that sufferers from poverty and social inadequacy, or maladjusted human beings are in the main wage earners, and it is the fact that they are wage earners first, living in a highly competitive industrial society which renders them immediately vulnerable to all the slings and arrows of a rapacious system.

One other aspect of charity worth dwelling upon which organisers themselves might consider is the degradation of being the recipient of charity. Oscar Wilde observed in his essay The Soul of Man under Socialism that “it is safer to beg than to take, but it is nobler to take than to beg.”

Socialism being the conversion of private property into common property replacing competition with co-operation will restore society from one of wanton waste into one of plenty, where human beings will take from society according to their need, freed from the necessity of having to live for others but where man can finally live for himself but in cooperation with others.
Harry Hamme

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