Socialism and Social Reform

There are many people who regard Socialism merely as a demand for Social Reform, as a desire on the part of certain sections of the community for better conditions of labour and living for the working class. This misconception is largely due to organisations claiming to be “Socialist” but devoting their energies to the propagation of reforms, whereby the real issue is obscured, the sympathies of the kind-hearted are aroused and, at election times, the support and votes of those who know nothing of Socialism, but believe in some particular “ameliorative” measure, are secured. It is this kind of “Socialism” that leads people to talk of the Socialist demand as “the true development of the Liberalism which won the working classes the franchise and other privileges they now enjoy,” although, as the Tories justly claim, many of these “privileges” were granted by them in the teeth of the opposition of the champions of Liberalism. It was, therefore, refreshing to read Mr. Balfour’s speech at Birmingham on November 14th. In truth, he said, there is no difficulty or ambiguity about the subject at all. Socialism has one meaning and one meaning alone. Socialism means and can mean nothing else than that the community … is to take all the means of production into its own hands, that private property and private enterprise are to come to an end and all that private enterprise and private property carry with them. That, continued Mr. Balfour, is Socialism, and nothing else is Socialism. In discussing the difference between Socialism and social reform, he said : Social reform is when the State, based upon private enterprise, based upon private properly, recognising that the best productive results can only be obtained by respecting private property and encouraging private enterprise, asks them to contribute towards great national and public objects.

In other words, social reform leaves the basis of Society untouched, and does not affect the relative condition of the propertied class and the working class in the least. On the other hand, Socialism means the abolition of private property and the establishment of common ownership and control of the means of wealth production. It is therefore easy to understand why those who are opposed to Socialism advocate social reform, but it is inexplicable why those who claim to be out for Socialism should, by their advocacy of social reform, help the master class to maintain their supremacy, and side-track the workers from the only cause that can emancipate them, the cause of Revolutionary Socialism.

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