1900s >> 1908 >> no-51-november-1908

Forum: Free Maintenance

1. DOES POVERTY PREVENT CLASS CONSCIOUSNESS ?
2. ON STATE MAINTENANCE OP CHILDREN.

A.P. (Walworth.) writes a “friendly criticism” of our position extending to three folios, urging that although he recognises Socialism to be the only remedy, the working class are too unintelligent and ignorant in their present poverty-stricken condition to be able to achieve it. Free maintenance, he argues, is a necessary preliminary. He does not deny that it will bolster up capitalism, but says “the very process of patching up would play no small part in its downfall.” In the first place A.P. errs in confusing ignorance with a lack of intelligence : intelligence meaning a capacity for knowledge rather than the knowledge itself. We deny that the working class are not sufficiently intelligent to understand Socialism, one of the reasons being that we are workers ourselves. What prevents the workers accepting Socialism is the confusion introduced into its propaganda by persons calling themselves Socialists, preaching and doing that which is inconsistent with Socialism. Poverty by itself does not incapacitate a person from understanding anything—many of the intellectual geniuses of all times having struggled with poverty ; nor does poverty prevent a class from being revolutionary. Although the Peasants’ Revolt in this country was undertaken when the peasants were in a condition of comparative prosperity, the revolt of the continental peasants—the Jacquerie of France, in particular—was undertaken at about the same time, when at the lowest ebb of degradation and poverty. To-day, the revolutionary spirit is certainly as manifest in the East End as in respectable Suburbia.

Regarding free maintenance of the children, the very necessity of this as being the necessary outcome of capitalism is an indictment of capitalism, and the only remedy is Socialism. The working-class effort needed to agitate for and administer an adequate measure of state maintenance is about equal to that needed for the Social Revolution, and the working class capable of conducting the one is certainly equal to conducting the other— while Socialism would render the former unnecessary. And seeing also that while the capitalists rule they can only be persuaded to grant anything in that direction, apart from that which suits their own interests, by fear of something worse to follow, we know of nothing more calculated to impress the capitalist class with fear than the concentration of the workers on Socialism. It is quite a mistake to suppose that it is a tenet of this Party that reforms, sops, palliatives, and ameliorative measures generally would be refused. In the first place we cannot refuse them if we would, not having the power ; in the second place we know that the danger lies not in having these things offered as a substitute for Socialism—that would not lessen one class-consciousness—but in stultifying our Socialism by advocating that which is not Socialism. To talk of the patching being necessary to its downfall is simply a contradiction in terms and in fact. The illustration used seems most unhappy. If an eloquent S.P.G.B’er were to convert Haggerston to Socialism, the next week a nice, kind gentleman with a cheque book would be able to convert it back again to Tariff Reform. If the eloquence of the former were successful in converting the working class ia any constituency, that working class would be proof against the cheque book of the Tariff Reformer or any other agent of the master class, The cheque book is only powerful to-day because the workers are not converted and are not class-conscious.

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