The Forum

Some Open Discussions

Statements of difficulties, criticisms of our position, contributions upon any question of working-class interest, are invited. Members and non-members of the Party are alike welcome. Correspondents must, however, be as brief as possible, as bright as possible, and as direct as possible to the point.


ENQUIRER (Manchester) submits the following queries, to which replies are appended :

(1) In “Capital” we read, “along with the surplus-population, pauperism forms a condition of capitalist production, and of the capitalist development of wealth. It enters into the faux frais of capitalist production ; but capitalism knows how to throw these for the most part, from its own shoulders to those of the working class and the lower middle class.” (p. 65 Vol I.)

This statement, and one to the effect that high or low rates do not affect the condition of the workers as rates are paid by the capitalist class, would appear to be contradictory.


It only appears contradictory. The statement quoted from Marx amounts to, in effect, asserting that the capitalist class retain as much of the wealth produced as possible, making real wages keep as close to the subsistence level as is economical. The maintenance of the non-producers—whether they be “unemployed,” children, aged persons,or what not—enters into the “dead expenses” of capitalism, and while not entering into the factors determining real wages, except in the case of children, is, so far as possible, shouldered onto the workers, and largely borne by them, as witness the extent of Friendly and Benefit Societies, and Trade Unions. Even the maintenance of official paupers is, if at all manageable, transferred to a son, daughter, or other relation in the case of parents, while now the endeavour is being made to fix upon the individual the responsibility of maintaining a pauperised grandparent. Where these items are shouldered on to the workers it assists in keeping those expenses down to as low a level as possible, and incidentally, by swelling the quantity of money wages, further cloaks the extent of exploitation.


(2) If it is cheaper for the capitalist class, as the payers of rates, to give old age pensions to worn-out veterans of industry rather than have them go into the poor law institutions, why have the recepients of poor law relief within a certain period prior to Jan. 1st, 1908 been debarred from receiving the old age pensions ?


The present Government has the whole question of the Poor Law in the melting pot. To empty the Poor Houses would be to dislocate the Poor Law system before the alternative machinery is laid down and perfected and possibly precipitate trouble. At present there are the two systems working side by side, and the relationships are largely at the disposal of the Poor Law authorities. We cannot explain their motives. Perhaps they consider a twelve month’s course of training in soliciting charity a necessary preliminary to attempting to eke out an existance on 5s. per week.

The fact, however, that the Poor Rate is levied locally while Old Age Pensions are a national charge, is one reason why the transposition could not be made so suddenly as to complicate the question, and risk alienating the political support of any section which might be affected by the change.


(3) If the capitalist class pay the rates why do they not take the credit unto themselves for so doing, instead of telling the workers that they are as much interested in the rates being kept low as the capitalists themselves ?


The answer to the first question meets this, at any rate in part. By interesting the working class in the maintenance of the non-producers, their support is enlisted in keeping the necessary expenses as low as possible, although the fact remains that as an item over and above the bare maintenance of the individual it must encroach upon the difference between the minimum on which the individual can live plus the raw material he obtained, and the total production, and so reduce the ideal degree of exploitation towards which the capitalist class strive.

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