The Prospects of the Workers’ Children

The class antagonism between exploiter and exploited, arising, as it does, out of the fundamental contradiction in the capitalist system of production, viz., the appropriation of the social product by the individual capitalist, naturally permeates the entire social organisation under Capitalism. Hence the children of the workers do not fare an iota better than their parents. There is but one difference, namely, that the parents could collectively take action with the view to their emancipation, while the children are powerless so far as securing their own welfare is concerned.

The capitalist-class naturally look upon the children of the working-class merely as the rising generation of wage-slaves, whose only justification for existence is sustained by the fact that they are the prospective producers of all wealth and luxury for the idle and useless master-class. The portion of wealth that under present conditions falls to the workers barely suffices for their miserable subsistence and the propagation of their kind. It therefore goes without saying that the conditions regulating the working-class standard of “vegetation” (to call it “standard of comfort” would be the most biting satire) apply in equal measure to the growing generation of the toilmg-class.

Men and women who live in slums and hovels, who, when at work, are under-fed and over-worked, when out of work (nowadays of only too frequent occurrence) are literally starved; who, by their vile environment and conditions are thrown into vice and disease, cannot possibly reproduce children with strong, healthy physique, brilliant intellect, firm moral backbone and sense for the pure and beautiful.

The whole process of reproducing the wage-slave is evidently in full accord with the object of his future existence. It is not only when capable of wielding the instruments of production and exchange that the life of the worker is, at its best, deplorable; already while he is being prepared (“dragged up,” would be a more fitting term to use) for his miserable task of wage-slavery, he experiences the bitter foretaste of adversities, to which, unfortunately, he grows accustomed in after-life.

During the period of pregnancy the average working-class woman is often over-worked and unable to obtain fresh air, sufficient and wholesome food and a healthy, decent environment. Were we but in a position to compile correct statistics with regard to the prenatal sufferings of the worker’s child, the cruelty and the injustice of the present system would, if possible, become more disgusting and revolting to us. Born in surroundings of squalor and wretchedness, the child of the toiler is frequently from its birth ill-fed and neglected. The working-class mother being often a wage-slave, has, in cases out of number, to entrust the care of her infant to a person running a day-nursery on commercial lines. Further comment is superfluous. Being sent to school at three years of age the worker’s child is soon compelled to forego romping and playing in favour of zealous attention to the study of the 3 R’s, indispensable accomplishments for a sturdy producer of surplus-value.

To the child habitually under-fed, badly housed and insufficiently clothed, the knowledge imparted in the modern elementary school is indeed far too liberal an education, because in numerous cases it is absolutely wasted. Seeing that the child of the worker commences its career as a responsible wage-slave at the age of twelve, thirteen, or fourteen, it cannot be a matter for surprise to find that nearly one-third of the number of children attending public elementary schools are between three and seven years of age. The total number attending such schools in England and Wales were at the end of the school year of 1902-3, 5,967,868, of which number 1,858,590 were between the ages of three and seven.

Considering that at the present time the number of unemployed workers throughout the country is nearly approaching a million, which number is increasing daily, it is not difficult to guage the number of starving and under-fed children in and out of school. The capitalist employer who, prompted by sheer “patriotic zeal,” is setting the workers of one country against those of another, has not the least compunction in employing—no doubt also for “patriotic reasons”—women and children of his native country in place of men of native birth. What wonder then, that, as the Blue Books of the Board of Education show, over a million of school children from 5 years upwards are engaged in laborious work in order to augment the earnings of their parents; at least, that is what the Government Inspectors say. The most recent Report of the Board of Education contains the information that of the 5,975,127 children who in 1902-1903 attended the public elementary schools of England and Wales, 937,629 stayed away every day throughout the year. Besides there were in that year 80,758 half-timers. These wretched children rise at five or six in the morning, tramp in all weathers to the factory and work there till noon, by which time their puny emaciated bodies are pretty well exhausted. Regardless of their being absolutely unfit for any brain work they are compelled to attend school in the afternoon. How peculiar that the kind-hearted capitalists should not prefer those half-timers working at the mills in the afternoon, so as to give them the opportunity of attending school in the morning, when their little brains are more fit for work than in the afternoon. But the ways that real kindness of heart pursues are as numerous as they are mysterious.

According to Blue Book statistics there are further about 200,000 children between 5 and 13 years of age who, attending school regularly, work after school hours from 15 to 40 hours per week, that is to say, in all from 45 to 75 hours per week.

Here I must remind you that Mr. Shackleton, M.P., the Chairman of the so-called British section of the recent International Socialist Congress, has until now persistently defended the necessity of child labour.

Comprehending as we do, that the children of the workers are compelled by a Capitalist Government to attend school for the purpose of being trained for their future vocation in life, viz., to be victims of capitalist exploitation, we fully realize that the whole system of education for the workers’ children is based upon the principle of “Little science with reactionary deductions, heaps of superstition encouraging servility.”

It is evident that teachers for the training of capable wage-slaves need not be particularly accomplished. Again, the Blue Book informs us that of the 157,281 teachers engaged in the elementary schools of England and Wales, 86,375 are not even certificated and consist of pupil teachers, probationers and article 68 (any female over 18 years of age, who has been vaccinated). 4,645 teachers are trained in colleges every year. Of 47 colleges, 32 belong to the Church of England, 12 to the Nonconformists and Catholics, and only 3 with 356 scholars are undenominational. It being impossible for the average child of the worker to take up teaching as its calling, owing to the expense and time involved in a course of training, the majority of elementary teachers spring from the lower middle-class, who naturally carry into their work the snobbery, jingoism and reaction so rampant among their class.

As to the school books used, history and science, in fact all subjects, more or less, are interpreted with a view to convincing the prospective toilers of the necessity for the existence of competition, class distinction and the struggle for a paltry sustenance for ever and ever.

Holding, as we of The Socialist Party of Great Britain do,, that the social evils produced by Capitalism have reached a stage where peddling reforms enacted by a Capitalist Parliament can only have the effect of retarding working-class emancipation, it is our bounden duty to be up in arms against all those who, posing as champions of working-class interests, help to bolster up the capitalist system by assisting the capitalists in throwing a bone to the under-dog—the proletariat—in order to prevent him from attacking his tormentor—the capitalist-class.

Having existed now over 20 years, the Social-Democratic Federation has in recent years seen fit to abandon the propaganda of Socialism and to devote its energies to promoting “Liberal-Labour” candidatures, to an attempt to solve the unemployed problem under Capitalism by demanding from a Capitalist Government the calling of a special Session of a Capitalist Parliament, and last but not least, to the agitation of “a meal a day for the children in public schools” (I assume it means breakfast). The capitalist-cum-labour “political machine” produces most staggering effects. Here a palliative which, enforced on Socialist lines (the only possible for Socialists), would start the “Social Revolution,” is put into the aforesaid machine and, lo and behold ! out comes a measure : “a meal a day for the children,” promoted by Claude Hay, Sir John Gorst, “The S.D.F. Countess,” and Co., which is received with wild rejoicing by the Social-Democratic Federation, for now at last their few “Labour seats” for Parliament appear absolutely safe. What matters that Socialism once more is dragged into the mire, so long as ambition for place and distinction is satisfied and the capitalist-class has been assisted in gulling the unwary workers.

It was until a year or two ago that the S.D.F. agitated for “Free Maintenance,” which was always interpreted to mean that the children of the workers were to be adequately fed, clothed, and housed with the view to becoming sturdy citizens of a free and happy commonwealth. To-day, this “Reform” organisation stands (see “Justice” of December 17th last) for ”a meal a day,” that is an extension of the Poor Law system, which the capitalist-class is compelled to introduce in view of the growing unemployment among the workers. That a presumably Socialist organisation has, owing to the “distinguished” intervention by a “Knight” and a “Countess” consented to stand sponsor to a “capitalist offspring” is undoubtedly a feather in the cap of the “capitalist-cum-labour” caucus, which exists for arranging the diplomatic relations between capital and labour.

With regard to the prospects of the children of the working-class, we of The Socialist Party of Great Britain have, as respecting all other social evils endured by the toiling-class, no illusions whatever. Fully recognising the rottenness of the entire capitalist system, we regard it as a betrayal of the true interests of the working-class to encourage, let alone assist, any “patching up,” which, after all, only means prolonging the agony.

The capitalist-class will, as we know, only concede what it is impossible to withold from the workers. Hence the assistance by so-called Socialists in the granting of these concessions tends to throw the working-class completely off the path of class antagonism.

So soon as we fully understand that under such conditions and in such surroundings as described above it is impossible to give the child of the worker the scope of a full physical and mental development, we necessarily recognise that all measures promoted to improve present conditions only tend to further delay the advent of the economic freedom of the toiler and to prolong the suffering of his offspring. Surely it is not the business of the Socialist to assist in applying the brake to the wheel of human emancipation. But those would-be Socialists who join hands with the capitalist politicians in procuring a paltry meal for the little standings of the working-class now conveniently ignore the fact that they flatly contradict the deductions they drew in the past from the economic causes and effects presented by the Capitalist System.

If the capitalists make a concession with one hand they recoup themselves with the other. They may provide a little food for the children in school, but as they will on no account suffer a reduction in the amount of their surplus value—seeing that they completely own and control the economic and political power of the State—the wages of the workers will go down and most likely to such degree that the little food the children will obtain at school will probably be all the food they will get. Besides, the class-unconscious workers are sure to take this concession on the part of the capitalist-class as a pure act of grace and not—as in reality it is—an economic necessity, especially when they see that an organisation posing as a Socialist Body has been amiably working with the capitalist to attain that end.

Now, it may be argued that even if the capitalists recoup themselves and the workers and their children consequently do not gain materially, and even become less class-antagonistic, yet the thin edge of the wedge has been inserted and the small concession will lead to full-fledged free maintenance of the children and hence to the Social Revolution. One may as well argue, as the “advanced Reformers” contend, that the workhouse system, if fully taken advantage of by the workers, would eventually abolish poverty, misery, and degradation. In fact, the once revolutionary S.D.F. to-day argues that providing you put a sufficient number of patches on a pair of old boots you will produce a new pair. But in order to be politically successful in the capitalist sense it is impossible to proceed on strictly logical and uncompromising lines.

We may further get reminded that Marx and Engels in their Communist Manifesto held that it was the duty of the proletariat, while working for the revolution, to endeavour to obtain every amelioration possible for their class. Our reply is that this pronouncement was made over fifty years ago and that since then Capitalism has developed to such an extent that, if Marx and Engels were alive to-day, they would fully agree with us that at the present time there is only one way of obtaining amelioration for the proletariat and that is to usher in the Socialist Republic as quickly as possible.

Further, if amelioration were possible, surely it could not be obtained by joining the capitalists in promoting measures prompted by economic necessity and the desire to stave off the collapse of Capitalism. How amelioration could at all be achieved unless enforced by the antagonism of the class struggle is for a Socialist impossible to comprehend.

It was such men as Marx, Engels, Lassalle and Liebnecht who wrought the enlightenment and knowledge that led to the elevation of Socialism to the powerful science and the political creed of the International proletariat. But apart from the great services these men rendered to mankind, we must not forget the devotion and faithfulness they at all times bore to the suffering proletariat, never flinching, never yielding, although at times bowed down by their own personal suffering, by their own individual misery.

Seeing in their teachings our guide, our refuge, and our hope for human emancipation, endeavouring to emulate their moral strength, their uncompromising revolutionary attitude, we invite all men and women of a similar mind to ours to rally and thus help us to keep aloft our banner: “No Reform, no Compromise—but complete, unconditional surrender of the existing capitalist forces in favour of the free and happy Socialist Republic.”


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