Liberalism’s Last Ditch

Even from the point of view of the orthodox Liberal manufacturer, the present Budget, with its innumerable exemptions and concessions, can hardly be described otherwise than as “Much cry and little wool”; but that the “Labour” members should hail it as a great, democratic, working class Budget would be astounding were it not remembered that they owe their seats in Parliament to compacts with the Liberals, and hope to retain them at the next elections by Liberal aid. “One good turn deserves another” is their motto, and the workers should, realise this also—by turning them out.

The Government, indeed, often allows the real nature of the Finance Bill to peep through. Mr. Asquith, speaking at the City meeting on the Budget, in reference to Tory opposition said:

“Our critics and ourselves start from one common and unavoidable admission. The growing requirements of national defence, with the simultaneous increase in expenditure demanded both by the conscience and by the interests of the community for purposes of social reform, have brought about a gap in the exchequer of almost all the great nations which is beyond precedent. How that gap is to be filled is the question which at this moment is presenting itself with insistency and with urgency to the Finance Ministers of all the richest and most progressive nations of the world.”

The increase in armaments to protect the property and interests of our masters, together with the increasing cost of domestic legislation rendered inevitable by economic development and by the growing intensity of exploitation—these are the excuses for the Budget. The cost of “Dreadnoughts” is palpable and enormous ; it hits the capitalist where he lives. But the cost of social reform is humbug, for the capitalists, as a class, make a profit on it. Moreover the amount of reform is microscopic, demanded though it be by “the interests of the community”—that is, by the interests of the ruling class. Social reform, even when at what “Labour leaders” call an unprecedented rate, utterly and entirely fails to keep up with the increase of human wreckage created by capitalist industry, as the increasing misery of the workers testifies. Under the progressive exploitation of to-day, and with all the reforms passed or likely to be passed by the master class, the wage worker finds, and will continue to find, that instead of becoming happier or better off, his progress is only the more rapidly downward, in the direction of greater toil and poverty. Reforms are, in part, the inevitable counterpart of economic development, and, for the rest, an endeavour to stave off revolution. But however inevitable they may be under capitalism, they cannot, from their very nature, and from the nature of the class that enacts and administers them, retard the increasing exploitation of the working class; their aim and tendency is, indeed, to still further increase the security or profits of the capitalists. Hence it is folly in the workers to fight over reforms, for in revolution—in the capture of political power—lies their only hope. From this standpoint it is seen how great is the crime of the Labour misleaders in endeavouring to round up the workers in support of a capitalist Budget. All that there is in the much lauded taxes on “land-values” is a basis for the future raising of revenue for purely capitalist purposes. It is an alternative scheme of taxation to Tariff Reform—it is Liberalism’s last ditch. Carried out to their logical extreme, the new taxes would merely relieve the industrial capitalist at the expense of the ground landlord, leaving the worker exactly where he was. It is in fact, surprising how little the whole question of taxation affects the wage workers as a class, and the present sham fight between manufacturer and landowner again emphasises this fact. The Budget, indeed, only feebly caricatures the old hereditary conflict between the industrial capitalist and the landed interest. It hurts nobody, but it makes a lot of noise ; and although the new taxes on “values” are little more than names, they are sufficient to serve the Liberals as an effective election cry. The Liberal Party knows that the public dearly love to be humbugged, and it is giving the public a treat.

But apart from this, can there bo any doubt regarding the anti-Socialist (and consequently anti-working-class) nature of the present Finance Bill ? The leaders of Liberalism are falling over each other in their eagerness to reassure vested interests on this score. Mr. Churchill, who, to use an Irishism, often opens his mouth only to put his foot in it, nevertheless made several statements in that speech of his on July 17th, which did not need to be re-interpretated by his chief. He insisted that there was a vital distinction between Liberalism and Socialism in that the latter attacked capital. He also said:

“It was true to say that nearly three out of four persons paying income-tax would be taxed after this budget—this penal budget, this wicked, monstrous, despoilatory budget,—for income at a lower rate than they were by the late Conservative Government. (Cheers.)”

Rejoice ! ye wage slaves.

The Daily Chronicle for July 24th also indicated the anti-Socialist character of the Budget “Land Tax” by saying that

“the principle of it has been accepted by a Tory House of Commons, and by the Conservative party in the German Reichstag ; and it has been put into practice by Continental cities and British Colonies.”

Of course it has ; and wherein have the workers benentted ?

In a speech on July 22nd Mr. Asquith said that Liberalism was opposed to Conservativiem, but

“On the other hand, it is equally far removed from and strongly opposed to Socialism, which would do away with the institution of property, which would cripple the individual power of initiative, which would sacrifice to a superficial equality the reality and the essence of freedom. (Cheers.)”

And speaking of the Budget in general the Premier said “prove any injustice, any inconvenience even, to the business world, and we will set it right.” While in respect to the reversion taxes in particular he asserted that “no party and no government had shown greater consideration to vested interests” than had his Government in the matter of this new taxation.

There can, therefore, be no further doubt regarding the anti-Socialist and anti-working-class policy of the so-called Labour Party and pseudo-Socialist reform organisations, when they work with the Liberal Party and actively support a class Budget which would not improve the position of the worker one jot or tittle. Thus when speaking at the Hyde Park Liberal Demonstration in support of the Budget, Mr. Keir Hardie said (we quote from Reynolds’s of July 25th last) :

“The aristocrats called the Budget a Bill of robbery and spoliation, but the proposed taxes were simply measures for compelling owners to make a restitution to the working classes whom they had robbed for ages.”

So does he and his kind deliberately attempt to mislead the workers by pretending that the masters govern for the benefit of their slaves ! Unfortunately it is the ignorance among the workers of the fundamental truths of their position that allows them to become the dupes of these political charlatans. Nevertheless economic development and Socialist propaganda are doing their work, and when the toilers grasp the essentials of the Socialist position the “Labour leader,” like Othello, will wake up to find his occupation gone. For the present it is our duty in our task of working-class enlightenment to expose the political and trade union job-hunters battening, or endeavouring to batten, on working-class ignorance. It is, moreover, no accident that so frequently brings together Labour members, Liberal manufacturers, teetotal fanatics, Suffragettes, cranks, and Bible-bangers of all sorts—they are birds of a feather. A man man be known by the company he keeps, so Asquith, Hardie and Co., associated now in their endeavours to pilot the workers on to the shoals of Liberal humbug, will find themselves associated also in the shipwreck of Liberalism that will occur in the wake of the growing Socialist consciousness of the working class.

(Editorial, Socialist Standard, September 1909)

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