From the November 1920 issue of the Socialist Standard
While attending a crowded meeting held by the Socialist Party of Great Britain in North London the other night, the writer was afforded a glimpse into the mind of a man in the audience who might be taken as representative of the ordinary type of individual.
This man showed by his manner that he was intelligent to a degree, but he also showed that his education was sadly in need of extension.
He asked the speaker (who had referred to the probability of the coming winter being a very hard and
BLACK ONE for the workers) a question, the gist of which is as follows:
"Don't you think that, while keeping to the idea of bringing in Socialism, the workers would be well advised to agitate for reforms to mitigate the hard times that are undoubtedly in store for them this winter ? Such reforms as getting the Government to give up the campaign in Mesopotamia, to resume trade relations with Russia, to start building houses on a large scale in England, which would put thousands into work, and to take full advantage of countless other ways of economising and making work for the enormous army of unemployed ?"
It may also be noted here that the questioner declared that he was "in sympathy with the Socialists," in fact he was a Socialist !
Now, as men who have studied the matter from the point of view of working-class interests—and the interests of the only other class, the capitalist class, are in good enough hands— we are able to state most emphatically that agitating for reforms of THE CAPITALIST SYSTEM will not better the material conditions of the working class generally.
It matters not what reform the working class may agitate for or against, the final say as to whether it shall or shall not be rests with the capitalist class and their agents.
The term "capitalist agent" comprises every member of Parliament and a great many who would like to be members. Very few workers, however, have sufficient knowledge to understand that the three candidates who stood for the constituency of Ilford at the recent bye-election were, without exception, agents of the capitalist class.
However, let us get back to this matter of reforms.
During recent years we have had some shining examples of reforms that were or WERE NOT WANTED by the workers being placed on the Statute Book because the capitalist class judged them expedient for their own interests. Take for example the National Health Act.
When that "rare and refreshing fruit" was dangled before the eyes of the workers by the capitalist agent, Mr. Lloyd George, it was a reform strongly objected to by the workers in general, but because it suited the interests of the capitalist class, and because, as at Ilford recently, the workers had blindly given away their power to have things otherwise, that reform went on the Statute Book.
Again, the granting of a pension to aged poor persons was a reform that the workers generally desired.
The capitalist agents examined the idea, laughed up their sleeves, and old age pensions became an accomplished fact.
And now the poor old pensioner knows that he would be better off in the workhouse. We can get what satisfaction we may out of knowing that the workhouses are practically empty (some having been sold), and that old age pensioners—who must have led "respectable" lives—cannot possibly live on the miserable pittance that reform has given them.
Old people without friends or resources did not starve in the workhouse, but now they are COMPELLED to do so on the terribly inadequate sums they receive, while, by way of contrast, a law-breaking criminal, a convict, according to Sir J. L. Baird, Under Secretary at the Home Office, costs the Government the sum of £111 per annum for his upkeep.
Take the latest reform that has come about, the Unemployment Insurance Act that comes into force on November 8th.
Unemployment benefit will be at the rate of 15s. weekly for men and 12s. for women—and not for more than 15 weeks in any insurance year.
According to the "Daily Chronicle" of Oct. 8th, Preston, to take only one town, had a sixth of its population out of work, and "an increasing number of firms are adopting short time and curtailing output."
Our capitalist masters hare seen the possibility of serious trouble arising as a result of the terrible misery, want, and disease that will unavoidably follow in the train of such widespread and lasting unemployment.
They know that it is easier for them to subsidise misery than to meet strife, hence the 15s. per week for the breadwinner to keep himself, his wife, and his children on, and bread costing 1s. 4d. per quarter ! AFTER 15 WEEKS WHAT?
Let the workers gravely consider these reforms, and then reflect that all the material wealth of the world is the result of the application of the workers' energy to nature-given material.
Wealth can be produced in stupendous abundance by the workers, but that production is limited by its profit-extracting possibilities for the capitalist class. When the capitalist sees no chance of disposing of the articles that his employees have produced, for a substantial profit, he curtails production or closes down his works altogether.
To-day the warehouses of the world are filled to overflowing with the goods necessary to life. The capitalists cannot dispose of them; the workers are forbidden by capitalists' property-protecting laws to take what they are so much in need of, although there is plenty for all.
And the worker, in his profound ignorance and general apathy toward these problems that concern him so vitally, is content to starve, or at best to agitate for reforms !
The wonderful knowledge attained up till now by human beings is not sufficient to prevent the vast majority of them being in danger throughout their lives of starving in the midst of plenty—of the plenty created by themselves.
This vicious system that we live under has not always been, and it need not continue. But before it can be superseded by Socialism, which is a system of society based upon the common ownership of the means of life, Socialism must be understood and desired by the workers generally.
To agitate for the reform of a system which has such a basis as the capitalist system has, to endeavour to palliate its inevitably harsh bearing upon those who possess nothing, is a waste of energy and time.
Worse than that, the struggle for reform obscures the main issue.
One thing, and one thing only, will change for the better the condition of the workers generally, and that is the OVERTHROW OF CAPITALISM and its supersession by Socialism.
Our friend the questioner, although declaring himself to be a Socialist, proved beyond doubt that he did not understand what Socialism means, and consequently he could not be a Socialist.
He is not alone, however, in labouring under a multitude of disarranged ideas. There are many unfortunately like him who do not understand what Socialism means but who are always ready to assert that they are Socialists.
There are also a great many who, while thoroughly understanding the Socialist position, are satisfied to improve their own position at the expense of the workers whom they mislead—men who make a good fat living out of wearing out the workers' energy and obscuring their understanding by leading them in strivings for reform that, at best, only prolong the life of a system that makes the existence of the worker a long-drawn-out terror.
Some of these paid misleaders of men have actually enough subtlety and bare-faced villainy about them to call themselves Socialists.
This refers to such agents of the capitalist class as the apostles of reform who, a short time ago were strenuously advising the workers to PRODUCE MORE with the result that is plain for any poor fool to see to-day, when, as the consequence of having "produced more" than our capitalist masters can find a ready market for, the workers are unemployed and unable to obtain the things they need to keep themselves alive.
The abolition of capitalism and the inception of Socialism is a work that necessitates knowledge of the system now obtaining, of the system that can replace it, and of the necessary work that shall make Socialism an accomplished fact.
To gain this knowledge the workers must think for themselves !
Socialism will not come until it is generally understood and desired.
Organisation will give knowledge an effectiveness that will sweep want and poverty from the earth.
Such an organisation is to your hand in the Socialist Party of Great Britain.
Your lot to-day is insecurity of life, misery, degradation and want, but if you will have it.