State Maintenance Criticised

Important objections discussed

“Palliatives Don’t Palliate”
At a time when so much precious working-class political effort is being run to waste in the vain clutching at “palliative” motes in the air, when the pseudo-Socialists join hands with the capitalist captains in leading the workers on all manner of wild-goose chases after “palliatives” that, in the very nature of things, “di’na, ca’na, wi’na” palliate, it behoves us to iterate and reiterate the futility of all such striving and longing, and to regard all times as seasonable for the exposure of the criminal folly of any such aspiration. Interested only in results, like the dreamers of dreams we are, we leave it to the “hard-headed” and “practical” to enlarge on the moral aspect, to differentiate between motives, to find excuse for error and lend a sheltering arm to ignorance. Charity is a fine thing no doubt—in its place, and so many of us stand in need of not a little of it; but charity is quite out of place in politics, for politics is war—and war, they say, is hell. And who of us is so lacking in respect for existing institutions as to suggest, in the lowest of whispered accents, that charity is at home in hell ? When it comes to war motives are nothing, results everything. Those intentions only are good which make for the advantage of the side on which the combatant fights; those intentions only are reprehensible which weaken the position or the fighting power of the respective forces. Maintaining, then, as we do, that the struggle for palliatives is evil, and even disastrous, to the working class, inasmuch as it is saying to the workers, in this bitterest of all bitter struggles, “there the enemy is” when there the enemy is not, we refuse absolutely to judge between intentions, to condone the errors of ignorance, or to find a soft spot in our hearts (which should be written “heads”) for the fool and the meekling.

The effect of Disappointment
Alike for the victim of the enemy’s calculating blandishments and of their material bribery is our scourge. Fool or traitor is of a class to us, since they are equally useful to our antagonists—though in the long run they find the former the cheapest. They are in the way; they hinder us; they pander to the enemy and conceal from the workers ; they weary and perplex so that those of our class who lift up their eyes for a gleam from Hope’s belated spark, clutch, clutch, in wild frenzy at the little specks which snatch reflected light and glory from the beam, and finding when they have caught them (if, indeed, they ever do catch them) that they are only black motes after all, fall back on the hopeless floor of their prison dens, crushed beneath the debris of their ruined expectations.

One of the brightest and most alluring of these specks floating in the fitful ray of hope, and the one which the blnd or bridled leaders most persistently encourage the dazzled to clutch at, is State Maintenance of Children. We are led to expect much from this “great” reform measure. Its advantages to the workers are paraded upon every conceivable occasion by the I.L.P., S.D.P., and Fabian Society, in their solicitude to provide in the interest of the master class, that reform which Mr. Balfour tells us is “the antidote to Socialism.” But they never show us that it has disadvantages ; they never reveal how much of profit it holds for the capitalist class, and therefore of loss to the workers. Yet it is no extravagant idea that if they are really in earnest in their desire for this “palliative,” they are confining their attention to the education of the wrong class. They would gain their object quicker by a propaganda campaign among the capitalist class, pointing out the advantages of State Maintenance from the point of view of capitalist interest. Though this is not the object of the present scribe, if logic does ever appeal to the reformers, the logic of this idea should prevent them from heaping invective upon these lines.

What we are Promised
Given “State Maintenance,” they say, the children would be fed and properly fed, would be housed and properly housed, clothed and properly clothed. It is confessed with some reluctance that they will grow up better wage slaves, but with people only remotely concerned with revolution and the making of revolutionaries, that is not a matter to worry about. But the trump card is the anticipated effect in the industrial struggle between masters and men. With the children maintained by the State, they confidently assert, the position of the workers when appealing to the strike becomes almost invulnerable.

There are two sides to most questions—let us see if this one follows the general rule.

In the first place it must not for a moment be forgotten that wages as a whole represent the necessary cost (under prevailing conditions) of producing in continuity the labour-power for which it is exchanged. Part of the necessary cost of the production of this labour-power is the maintenance and education of children. It is clear, then, that if wages are still to represent the necessary cost of the production of labour-power, any shifting of the incidence of child maintenance from the workers to the “State” must be compensated for by a general deduction from the total wage-bill to meet the altered conditions. And how is that going to affect the workers ?

What we Shall Get
One thing will not be denied—the “State,” with its more economic machinery, can maintain children at a far cheaper rate than individual parents can. Taking note of the value of the services of those millions of working-class mothers whose attention is occupied in ministering to the health, comfort and necessities of their school children, and of the waste of individual cookery, washing, and so forth, it is plain that the present method of raising human-labour-power receptacles is a very expensive one, and capable of a cheapening process to a considerable extent.

Is this cheapening of the cost of producing labour-power likely to be of any advantage to the workers ? I trow not. If any fact in political economy has become noon-day clear to the working-class perception it is that the source of all their troubles is that difference between the cost of producing labour-power and the wealth labour-power will produce ; otherway stated—the excess of wealth the workers produce over that which they consume; still otherway said—surplus-value. The love of surplus-value is the root of all capitalist evil. It is for this the workers are enslaved. It is for this, indeed, that they are born, for the means of life as represented by the wages of the worker have become merely the means of producing that from which alone surplus-value can be extracted—human labour-power. This excess of their own products which their wages are insufficient to allow them to buy back and consume, heaps up like a dammed river, and presently floods the markets with a surfeit of goods. And the labour market assumes the prevailing condition of glut, and men are unemployed and women and children starve—why?—because and simply because too much has been produced. Oh, this surplus-value plays the very devil with those who produce it, and it is evident that the bigger its proportion the verier the devil must be which it plays.

This being so, the argument is complete. State Maintenance of School Children means lowering the cost of producing labour-power, and so doing increases the difference between consumption and production, hence quickens the recurrence of crises, and aggravates the evil of unemployment.

Shall we Enjoy it?
In lessening the cost of producing the future supply of labour-power State Maintenance would finally set free the women of the working class for the labour market, and in rapidly increasing numbers would they be forced into competition with men for a place in the industrial field. And here again it may be insisted that there is a lessening of the cost of production. of labour-power. While their attendance upon the school children was a socially necessary part of the production of the commodity labour-power, the cost of their maintenance was necessarily represented in the wages of their male bread-winners—speaking broadly. But with the home ties removed their power of resistance to the demands of developing machinery, ever and ever calling for a lower strata of labour, is rapidly broken down, and the production of labour-power becomes cheaper because the maintenance of the woman and the man now brings to market the labour-power of the woman and the man, instead of that of the man only. What particular condition of chaos we are to have when, not only is there this vast increase in the numbers competing for work, but in addition, instead of the one producing the two produce, and their power of consumption is cut even lower by the increased competition for work, is beyond imagination.

And with regard to the much talked-of physical improvement of the children of the working-class, even here the claims of the advocates of State Maintenance appear to be gratuitous. It is admitted that, in those working-class districts where the infantile death-rate reaches the most striking altitude, the foundation to the condition of affairs rests in the circumstances attending the infants’ pre-natal existance. What effect the more general employment of women in the industrial field, with its concomitant struggle for place and the worry of unemployment, is likely to have on the generation which is to usher in the Social Revolution (not to view it with too optimistic an eye) may be better argued by those possessing fuller knowledge, but it does appear to the writer that what may be gained by better nutrition during school days may be more than counterbalanced by increased parental hardship prior to this period.

With the children placed even more than at present in the hands of the capitalist class, it were useless to look for any rapid growth of the revolutionary spirit in the young idea. Those workers who know only half as well as our rulers do how persistent first impressions are, and more particularly how strongly habits of thought inculcated in the young cling through life, will realise the importance of the workers jealously maintaining freedom of access to the plastic minds of the coming race. There is more than sufficient of capitalist soporifics, in the shape of admiration for the status quo, false religious and moral ideals, inverted views of natural phenomena, reverence for the laws of repression, and the like under the present system, as they know who have taken any active part in Socialist propaganda, without forcing our children entirely into the hands of the hireling “educators” of the capitalist class.

The idea that the children of the working class would ever be maintained by a capitalist State while their parents were on strike is most distinctly ludicrous. Every force on either side would have to be resorted to before so much would be conceded, and the issue had better be Socialism and have done with it. Certainly the power that could effectually fix on the master class the onus of maintaining the children of those engaged in industrial hostilities by means of the strike against them would be fully equal to the destructive portion of the revolutionary proposition, however far the underlying intelligence directing so fatuous an endeavour might fall short of that requisite to the carrying out of its constructive policy. I imagine the mere threat of throwing their children upon their hands would be sufficient to reduce to abject docility the most turbulent of wage-slaves, and with the general wage reduced by the simplification of the expenses they represent (the reference is to the abolition of “parental responsibility”) and the keener competition due to increased supplies’ of female labour-power, there would be far less opportunity for that mutual working-class support and assistance upon which the success of the strike so largely depends to day. Hence the condition of the strikers would be very much worse than at present even.

There is also to be considered—and space may be found for it at an early date—the important part this “parental responsibility,” or, as it really is, this obligation of working-class parents to raise for their masters sufficient children to keep the labour market supplied and wages depressed, plays in enabling the workers to maintain any standard of life above that of the merest beasts of burden. But, tis is sufficient to show even the unthinking that there are two sides to the question of State Maintenance of School Children. It may be suspected that any “palliative” which offers so many advantages to the capitalist class, cannot afford palliation to the workers—the oft repealed assertion that the interests of the capitalists and the workers are diametrically opposed is meaningless else. Finally, let it be understood that our opposition to the advocacy of State Maintenance in no degree arises from indifference to the sufferings of our children, but from a deep conviction that so long as our children are economically regarded as only repositories in the making of the commodity labour-power, so long are they doomed to suffer at one age or another. We look sideways, therefore, upon all suggested remedies save that single, revolutionary one which, as the essential preliminary, restores to them their human standing. That remedy is Socialism.


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