Poverty: Its Cause and Cure


The review of our pamphlet “Poverty : Its Cause and Cure,” which appeared in your May issue, has been brought to our notice, and as your reviewer accuses us of propounding some flagrant heresies in the name of Socialism, we would like, with your permission, to defend our position in regard to certain points he has dealt with in the review.

In the pamphlet we stated that the causes of poverty were insufficient production, waste, and unequal distribution, all of which causes were in operation in England to-day. Your reviewer differs from us here on the ground that poverty does not afflict society as a whole, but only a portion of it, and he asserts that the poverty of the working class (which appears in his opinion to be the only class afflicted with poverty) is due neither to insufficient production nor waste, but wholly and solely to unequal distribution. Now we contend that poverty afflicts society as a whole, but we are quite willing to agree with your reviewer that only a portion of the members of society feel the effects of poverty ; and the reason of this is unequal distribution. We contend, however, that if an equal distribution of necessaries could be effected, there would still be poverty because of insufficient production and waste. It was therefore in our opinion necessary to show that Socialism, besides ensuring a more equal distribution of income, would increase production and diminish waste.

Your reviewer differs from us as to the manner in which Socialism will be established. He objects to our characterising as absurd the idea that a Socialist Government would be able to socialise all industries within its term of office ; but, having regard to the enormity of the task of socialising all industries, we must confess that we fail to see how any Government, however anxious it might be to establish Socialism, could complete the task within say five or seven years. This does not imply that a majority of opinion could be in favour of capitalism, as your reviewer seems to think, but, nevertheless, we do hold that it would be possible for a majority of the people to be in favour of certain Socialistic measures and at the same time not in favour of the whole of the means of producing and distributing wealth being owned in common and democratically controlled. As we have stated in the pamphlet, there is reason for thinking that Socialism will be realised by the socialisation of such industries as are authorised to be socialised by mandate from election to election.

We are next accused of repudiating the class struggle when we say that the method of Socialism is not to try to force the will of one class upon another class. Now it seems to us impossible to find a section or class of society to which Socialism would not be beneficial, and we think that as the tendency to Socialism becomes stronger it will also become wider, and that the spirit of Socialism—the universal brotherhood of man—will extend not only to members of the working class, but to members of all classes, and unite them on a common ground in the cause of the common good.

In this reply to my criticism of their pamphlet which appeared in the May issue, it is worth noting that no position is advanced that is not contained in that, pamphlet, and, moreover, no new evidence is brought forward to uphoid the position there taken up. In repeating that poverty is due to insufficient production and waste in addition to unequal distribution, the authors agree “that only a portion, of the members of society feel the effects of poverty, and the reason of this is unequal distribution.” Although this practically amounts to granting me the first point of my criticism, let me state the facts. The estimated total of the wealth produced in this country varies between 1,125 millions and 1,800 millions sterling. The population is about 43 millions. Were the distribution equal the income per head would be, on the low estimate, about £26, and on the high estimate about £42; which for the average family (5 persons) would be equal to a sum of £130 per annum in the one case, and £210 per annum in the other. So far as necessaries are concerned, therefore (and all references to poverty have been references to a lack of.necessaries), the unequal distribution is sufficient to account for poverty, quite apart from waste. Regarding their references to the increase of production, and the decrease of waste, under Socialism, I am quite prepared to agree, remembering that capitalism has been called a system for preventing production rather than a system of production. That, however, was not the point.

In the pamphlet originally under notice, the authors say “the majority of the people must first be converted to Socialist ideas” and “until then, Socialism must be to the legislator not a State, but a guiding principle, and he is prepared to co-operate with any political party which will introduce measures leading in the right direction.” The explanation of this appears in the reply to my criticism, wherein it is stated-that “as the tendency to Socialism becomes stronger it will also become wider . . . and will extend . . . to members of all classes.” Here it is assumed that the capitalist class will assist in the realisation of Socialism. With us the assumption is that the capitalist class will fight in defence of its position of social and economic privilege as all previous privileged classes have done, and that the working class must work out its emancipation in the teeth of the opposition of the class which enslaves them. At present the capitalist class is prepared to use any means to safeguard its position, and even if we were to assume that, when the Socialist movement is strong enough, it will, making a virtue of necessity, bow to the inevitable, even then we should be compelled to insist that the movement is primarily that of the working class towards its emancipation, and any member of any section oE society must adopt the standpoint of the working class—the socially useful class—to take part in that movement.The idea of Socialism being a guide to the legislator pending the conversion of the majority to Socialism is, therefore, extremely improbable, while the contrary seems much more likely: that the legislator, being a capitalist legislator, will do all that lies in his power to strengthen the position of his class, pending that Socialist majority which will inevitably mean the abolition of the system, the class, and the legislation he stands to support. The establishment of Socialism is dependent upon the majority, when the case will be altered and the majority, through the political machine as being most convenient, will establish Socialism, and not the Government legislating “Socialistic measures” on an unconverted people.

D. K.

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