Saturday, September 14, 2019

The "War" Against Poverty. (1913)

From the January 1913 issue of the Socialist Standard

Anyone who has followed the Press during the last few weeks will have been struck by the reiteration, day after day, of certain articles in bold type, announcing to a more or less interested world, the fact that we are in the midst of a “Great Trade Boom," and that we are also engaged in a great “War Against Poverty."

As is usually the case, the capitalist newspapers have tumbled over each other, as it were, in their efforts to prove to all and sundry what a glorious condition of prosperity the workers are enjoying. They hare also been ably assisted in those efforts by journals professing especial sympathy with labour, which is a gratifying feature—to the capitalists.

Among others, Mr. Chiozza Money and the “Daily News" have been at great pains to show what wonderful records have been created, both in imports and exports, with a consequent increase in wages.

This may appear all right to the "man in the street," who doesn’t trouble to analyse these statements, but simply reads his daily paper and swallows all that it dishes up.

As a matter of fact, however, during the last fifteen years, wages— that is, real wages— have actually decreased seven per cent. The average income of those "who toil not" during the same period has increased by over four times as much!

According to Mr. Money “the worker is getting a share of the increased product of industry.” Maybe! But Mr. Money omits to point out that, relatively to the cost of living, the workers are worse off than they were twenty-five years ago. Instead of the workers being more contented and looking brightly forward to what Mr. Money terms “the good new times,” their outlook is blacker and their condition more, precarious than ever.

The “Daily Mail” (3.12.12) endeavours to explain the cause of this “boom” in trade. “The growing output of gold,” they say, “the increase in credit which has accompanied it, and the advance in production with the help of the modern application of electricity, are probable and practical factors.”

Now, if anyone had asked the writer what, in his opinion, was the cause of the increased misery of the workers, a better explanation could hardly have been furnished than that supplied by the “Daily Mail” to explain quite another point. The only difference is the point of view. Whereas the “Daily Mail” seeks to show that the “boom” benefits everybody, this is not really the case. Only the capitalist class is benefited. Gold production has increased enormously during the last half-century, due to improved methods of production. As a consequence of this the value of gold has fallen. Thus gold being cheaper, more of it is required in order to exchange for any given commodity than formerly—assuming, of course, that the value of other commodities remains the same.

This depreciation in the value of gold means high prices, hence a decline in the purchasing power of money. On the other hand, owing to the constant improvement of machinery, with its inevitable resulting army of unemployed, it cannot be said that “booms” in the long run benefit the workers. Cases there are where workers have been put on overtime, and others given jobs, in order to cope with a rush of trade, but trade “booms” are at the best only temporary, and are invariably followed by periods of depression due to over production. Even at the time of writing indications are not wanting that portend an early breakdown. This, of course, will mean a further augmentation of the unemployed army.

The inability of the workers to buy back that which they have produced results in a glut of the market, and we have the spectacle of thousands of men, women, and children going hungry and ill clad, simply through having produced too much! This apparently involves a contradiction, but to the student of social conditions its truth is terribly plain. And this condition, I might point out, is inevitable under a system wherein goods are produced for profit instead of for use.

These are facts that the average social reformer doesn’t trouble to enquire very deeply into. He believes that by pressing for legislation to the capitalist class, who control and administer the political machinery in addition to controlling the machinery of industry, we can gain immunity from the depredations of that class!

All the so-called remedies for the elimination of poverty that are at the present time being shouted all over the country by the "war against poverty” campaigners and others, betray the deplorable fact that even the “leaders" themselves don’t know the commonsense principles upon which a working class movement should be based. This is inexcusable in view of the fact that the real solution of the poverty “problem” is as easy to understand as falling off a log. The solution lies in Socialism. This, as a rule, is outside the vocabulary of the average labour leader, who generally has some axe or other to grind.

Let us take a glance at some of their so called remedies.

There are several reform parties in the field, and prominent among them is the I.L.P., with its cry of “War Against Poverty!” They in turn are assisted by the B.S.P., Co-operative Unions, Women's Guilds, and other freak organisations—in fact, anybody and everybody so long as they keep Socialism obscured.

One of the points aimed at is the establishment of a legal Minimum Wage. Will this alleviate poverty in any degree ? Let us see.

Money, being a commodity, is subject to the same laws as any other commodity. Its exchange-value varies. As its value increases or decreases its purchasing power is higher or lower as the case may be. Given a legal Minimum Wage of a fixed amount of money, and the continued rise in the cost of living, and in a short time the minimum would represent s greater depth of poverty than unrestricted wages give to-day.

It is true that the reformers at their various meetings have added amendments to the resolutions, calling for a rise in the minimum if the cost of living rose, but one can hardly conceive any government establishing a minimum wage that had to be periodically adjusted to rising or falling prices.

But even if they did, the operation of economic law (as has been shown in the columns of this journal) must inevitably defeat the object of the reform. Substantiation of this comes from Australia, where the establishment of a Minimum Wage has led to the wholesale dismissal of men who are no longer young and active, and has intensified the struggle all round.

The Minimum Wage is a snare and a delusion, intended to lure the working class into supporting the Liberals. It is unscientific and calculated to lead the workers into the bog of false economics.

The B.S.P. are in the same boat as the I.L.P., for they claim that “the legal enactment of a Minimum Wage for all adult workers, a maximum working week, and maximum prices of commodities are proposals advocated by the (then) S.D.P., which clearly indicate the revolutionary nature of their policy.” (“Justice,” 22.7.11.)

Just how far such a policy is revolutionary may be judged by the statement of Sir George Askwith (known as “the strike-breaker”) at a meeting held by Mr. Harold Cox only the other day. “In a comparatively short time,” said Sir George, “we might be face to face with the grave consideration of the question of a general minimum wage.” So, whether we “demand ” it or not, it is quite conceivable that we shall be forced to have it—in the interest of the master class.

Another “demand’’ is for an Eight Hour Day. This needs very little examination in order to show the “benefits” accruing from it. The speeding up that has resulted from its introduction in such places as Brunner Mond’s, Nather & Platt’s, and various municipal bodies is well known. Such firms afford fine examples of the hours being reduced without in any way curtailing the output.

Any worker engaged on an eight hours a day job will testify as to who benefits by the restriction of hours. Only recently the hours on the Birmingham Tramway System were reduced from 60 to 54. This has since been nullified to a great extent by “speeding up” the journeys, and the men complain that they are as badly off as before. Cases could be quoted where hours have been reduced from 10 to 7½, and yet the actual output has been the same.

In 1911 151, 056 workers had their working time reduced, yet we find that the total production was greater than in 1910. Clearly an eight hours day will not benefit the mass of the workers.

"Provision for School Children” is another item which provides an example of tinkering with effects without removing the causes. How much better would it not be to eudeavour to understand the cause of child misery, and work for its removal, instead of advocating fatuous reforms that have only the effect of blinding the workers with false hopes! Instead of applying salve to the social boil, why not purify the system, and thus eradicate disease?

Children should be well fed, and well clothed too, but is it to be expected that the capitalist class will abolish poverty when such a condition is absolutely inseparable for their position of social dominance.

When the workers can be got to recognise that the cause of all poverty and social misery is the control by one class over the means of life of the other, the end of poverty will be in sight. Poverty has no need to exist, but until the working man ceases to vote his master into political power, so long will it continue.

Any of the reforms enumerated above can be applied without in the least effecting any permanent improvement in the lot of the workers. They are essentially capitalistic, and as such should be emphatically denounced by the Socialist. who sees in Socialism the only remedy.

The opportunities for studying Socialism are open to everybody, and when we find so called labour leaders heading in a different direction, we are forced to the conclusion that it is against their interest to abolish capitalism. Indeed, they aim only at propitiating it, for they claim that they wish to get ‘'the best” out of the system. We have continued to point this out, and experience has verified our judgment. Such a policy has no place in the propaganda of a Socialist party. The issue— freedom or slavery —is too clear for that.

Both the B.S.P. and the I.L.P. believe and teach that capital would exist under Socialism, and also that wages would be paid and that government would continue. No wonder the “rank and file” are politically blind, when they are taught to believe that the conditions essential for the introduction of Socialism are identical with those necessary to capitalism.

The strewing of the path with these red herrings, fouling the trail, as it were, of Socialist propaganda, renders the work of the Socialist more difficult, but whilst it may, in a small sense, retard the ultimate realisation of Socialism, it cannot expunge its principles or prevent its final triumph.

There is only one party that is engaged in a real war against poverty— that party is the Socialist Party. Being a Socialist Party, all our efforts are logically centred upon Socialism. It is to the interest of the workers to rally under its flag, and help to speed the day when we shall have gained the right to live, when those who create the wealth shall enjoy it, when every man, woman, and child shall have the opportunity to develop to the fullest extent their human powers, and thus, for the first time since the dawn of history, realise the true meaning of life.
Tom Sala

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