1900s >> 1906 >> no-22-june-1906

The Appeal to Dives

To the glory of the Daily News and the increase of its circulation, a “Sweating Exhibition” was opened in the early days of last month, under the distinguished patronage of certain serene or royal highnesses who were graciously pleased to express their heartfelt sympathy with the condition of the victims of the system which their royal highnesses are also pleased to uphold, and of which they are the more or less picturesque figure-heads. We read that when she saw these brave workers Princess Henry was moved several times to say, “Oh, terrible ! terrible ! terrible !” and again “Shocking ! shocking ! shocking !” And these ejaculations seem to have so greatly affected the Daily News gentlemen that they forgot to reject the advertisement which has appeared at intervals in their journal check by jowl with the lavishly worded reports of the proceedings of their Sweating Exhibition—a large displayed advertisement which sets out the advantages of somebody’s suits at 21s.

All through the month of May the exhibition has, with the assistance of a weirdly polyglot committee of high church dignatries, low church ecclesiastics, broad church clerics, nonconformist church pillars and a host of laymen of every church and no church—a committee ranging from my lord bishop to plain Harry Quelch—kept its doors open. The well-to-do folk in goodly numbers have followed the lead of the royal personages and passed through the tastefully arranged hall and after closely inspecting; the horrors of sweating with all the horrors carefully eliminated, have passed out again having remarked “oh, terrible ! terrible” and also “dreadful! dreadful !” which it seems is the proper thing to say in the circumstances. And the soul of the Daily News has been much gratified thereat; and the sweated workers on exhibition have (vide the Daily News) been equally gratified ; and the columns of the Daily News have been filled with much good “copy;” and a firm has written expressing their great indignation that the boxes used by them should have been discovered in process of manufacture under sweating conditions and has donated a sum to the exhibition ; and the Daily News has secured a wide and valuable advertisement out of the undertaking; and what with one thing and another it has been most excellent good ibusiness.

It was a great idea to fix upon the West End for the show. It was done purposely to attract the well-to-do. All that the well-to-do wanted was to have their consciences shaken up a little. Once effect that, and something was bound to happen. It was useless going to a poor neighbourhood as had been proven by the lack of success of the previous exhibition which had been holden in the East End. The conscience of England, rich England, that is not poor England which does not matter, could not be reached from the East End. Certainly much interest was aroused by the East End Exibition. Representatives of large firms unable to understand how their trade rivals could undersell them, came and were astounded at what they saw. It cleared the air for them and they went away no longer seeing as through a glass darkly. Yet the sweating did not stop. On the contrary, it seemed to increase. Perhaps it was that the City firms, knowing their rivals’ secret, had been forced to adopt their methods. Its a poor Exhibition out of which nobody gets a wrinkle.

Therefore, the Daily News show came to the West End in order to lash the moral consciences of the rich and if a West End conscience expresses itself under the lash in “shockmgs” and “terribles” the show has done it. The Daily News people at any rate have no doubt about it. Their Exhibition “has rendered a great service to humanity;” it has successfully appealed to the moral conscience of England and has raised such a storm of indignation that, if the land is not filled with fugitive sweaters hastening without the revengeful reach of relentless wrath, it clearly ought to be.

Nevertheless, the truth compels the admission that sweating still continues and must continue so long as the worker is compelled to sell his or her labour-power on the market as a commodity and has no control over the disposal of the wealth which the labour of the worker alone produces. Just because it is inevitable that the exigences of profit manufacture,—the necessary accompaniment of capitalism,—should demand that a large proportion of labour should be redundant on the market; just because, that is, capitalist production would be impossible without an army of unemployed to keep wages down, it is inevitable that the pressure of want should force numbers of these workers to sell their labour-power at starvation prices. Not all the .waves of indignation and “moral feeling” that can be conjured out of a community, can affect that result even though the community were ten thousand times more susceptible to “moral” appeals than English people are. Given capitalism, there is no escape from the mind-blunting, heart-racking misery which the annals of toil shew as their dominant and most persistent feature.

Exhibitions such as the Daily News has organised are useless—worse than useless, because the only effect they have or can have is to temporarily stimulate the flow of ludicrously impotent driblets of charity to the end that the evil plight of those unhappy persons whose condition has been brought under notice, may be in some measure palliated, and the time when drastic and adequate action may be taken, delayed. To delay that time may or may not be the deliberate intention of charity dispensers and their following, but it is indisputable that their action contributes to the dissemination of the idea that there exists a “moral conscience” which when occasion demands, can take on tangible soup-and-blanket expression sufficient to satisfy the immediate demands of the acutely impoverished. In other words, the response of the charitable is the excuse for Governmental indifference to the poverty problem, is the force that blunts the agitation of those concerned to press that problem upon a reluctant public attention and, what is of far greater importance from our point of view, helps to obscure that class issue which it is our business as a Socialist Party to keep boldly defined, and so fosters confusion in the minds of the working class. As against the Daily News and its circulation raising sensationalism, we urge that nothing short of the overthrow of capitalism itself and the establishment of Socialism can effect the eradication of poverty and all its attendant horrors. Only when the working class understand that they are poor because they have no control over the machinery of wealth production and, therefore, have no control over the wealth which they alone produce ; only when they have recognised that fact and appreciated the unalterable antagonism existing between themselves and the capitalist class in control of the machinery of wealth production, which that fact necessarily connotes, only then will they understand that by organisation on class lines and by waging unceasing war upon the dominant class until they have achieved complete victory and secured possession of political power and through that the possession also of the means of life can they ensure for themselves freedom from the possibility always present with them to-day, of reduction to the ranks of the sweated and even below. Until then, the fear of abject poverty will haunt them perpetually. Until then, sweating, as even a Daily News writer has been obliged to confess, will continue. The leopard cannot change its spots nor the Ethiopian his skin. An appeal to either to do so would not be more preposterous than the appeal to capitalism to abolish sweating is,

AGRA

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