Letter to the Editors from the January 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard
What is the view of socialists towards working for charity? I assume that charity and religion should be placed in the same category, that they both serve to relieve the plight of the underprivileged just sufficiently to avoid revolt against the capitalist system.
Unfortunately, because of my own physical disability, I am living on charity and also working for a charity. My tasks involve collecting money and sending rehabilitation equipment to disabled people in the "third world". Surrounded as I am by apathy and uninterest, my work is providing me with my only social life. Am I a hypocrite to describe myself as a socialist?
Peter H Reynolds
To answer your last question first; no. we would not condemn you as a hypocrite providing of course that you already accept the object and principles of socialism as well as recognising, as your assumption implies, the nature and function of charities. Socialists are not given to castigating the victims of capitalism, of nature's cruel quirks and of accidents when they are compelled to accept as dependants the aid and support which is, more often than not, only available from charities. And we understand the position you are in, which requires you and many in similar straits to endure what can be a demeaning reliance on handouts. You have little choice of course since you would otherwise be in an intolerable situation; a forgotten victim of capitalism's inhumane, selective priorities, dependent on central and local government both loath to accept responsibility, both trying to balance the books by avoiding such expenditure.
The first-aid, relief from suffering and longterm care provided by charities certainly helps to take the pressure off the system and off profits, some of which would otherwise have to be diverted into this area. Some idea of how much would be so diverted can be got from the present horrendous suffering world wide. A system geared to maximising profitability, even on "famine crisis relief", rather than ministering to and trying to eliminate pain, disfigurement, handicap. deprivation and hopeless despair, is not able i to change its spots or its ethics.
There is, however, an encouraging aspect to all this. Even though the vast majority in need around the world don't have even the limited charity-funded help which is available in most industrially advanced countries, the fact that the accumulation of individual care and concern does often result in organised, dedicated, unstinting service to relieve suffering, is a positive vindication of our contention regarding "human nature". The favourable social circumstances of socialism will be conducive to such care and concern, and prove false the deliberately peddled distortion that we are all totally selfish and cruel by nature. And of course in such a society of free access not only would there be access to all the most advanced technologies, equipment and skills, but the world would be free of capitalism's conditions, imperatives and dangerous attributes which directly cause most of the suffering, the deprivation and the handicaps and which call into existence the very need for charity.