Whom the Gods would destroy—
The gods seem to have designs upon my life. Through the medium of humble instruments in the shape of “Budget Leaguers” they have been assailing me with much drivel. Than such drivel there is nothing quite so calculated to make a man mad. Only the specially case-hardened are proof against the madness. And it is written ”Whom the ‘gods would destroy they first make mad.” Hence my suspicion of the intention of the gods to me-ward.
Unfortunately for the gods, however, they are at least a baker’s dozen of years too late—which hardly seems to connote godly prescience. But that by the way. Quite that number of years ago I left off being maddened by the packet of dry bones labelled argument that the Liberal apologist, with much introductory loquacity, was for ever solemnly unwrapping and presenting to me and my class to allay our doubts of the divine inspiration of the Liberal policy, and to ensure our continued support of the Liberal Party.
The Budget League gentlemen are playing the old game. They have hardly a new trick in their bag. Their lack of originality is amazing. On any other stage they would be boo’d off incontinently. Only on the political stage are they still able to secure applause—which is even more amazing than the effrontery of their frowsy and thread-bare performance.
The effrontery of Liberal pretension
When I discovered the emptiness of their precious show, I used to get mad. I thought it an unpardonable thing that a piteous appeal for bread should be answered with a stone—wrapped up in a baker’s bag. It seemed an intolerable thing that they who shot the workers down in protection of capitalist interests should come to us with protestations of friendship. It was an utterly unholy thing that they who asked for our support on the ground that they were “giving” us certain ameliorative reforms were in point of fact only “giving” something out of fear and then only giving that which they knew quite well beforehand would not have the beneficial effect represented. I was very young then, and these things angered me. If the gods wanted to demonstrate the truth of the aphorism they should have destroyed me then, for verily I was mad, or at any rate, jumping wild. They have lost their chance to-day. These things merely make me sleepy, and arouse a certain mild wonderment at the credulity of the people unfortunately of my own class, who are still prepared to swallow the gilded pill.
I’m afraid I’ve mixed my metaphors somewhat. But the metaphors are not nearly so mixed as the honest Budget Leaguer. There is probably a large number of that sort about—honest, but oh, so stupid. There is certainly another number not so stupid, but very—hardworking, let us say. You will find the latter on the platform doing the prestigitateur business. The former are generally in the audience, with their mouths open.
Budget League Blarney
I came into conflict with one of the platform sort recently. He was old enough to know better, and probably did. He had the support of the local Liberal organisation, and presumably set out the official Liberal case. And a gorgeous mess he made of it. As his arguments are typical they may perhaps be followed (or chased) with advantage. He was for the Budget, the great, democratic Budget (cheers), and was concerned to explain and defend the Finance Bill.
The extra expenditure which the Bill covered had been incurred, first by Social Reforms, secondly by Dreadnaughts. It may be noted in passing that although the cost of “Social Reform” bears to the cost of Dreadnaughts something of the relation of a drop to a bucket full, “Social Reform” is always mouthed first. The idea is palpable. It serves to obscure the comparative immensity of the cost of Dreadnaughts. The same idea dominates the grocer who makes earnest and voluble enquiries about little Willie’s health to divert attention from the fact that the grocer’s hand is being weighed with the butter. The Nonconformist conscience is dominated by the retired grocer person, and the Government is dominated by the Nonconformist conscience. Q.E.D.
Dreadnaughts for the working ‘classes’
However, my Budget Leaguer dealt with the Dreadnaught question later. I will deal with it here. Dreadnaughts were required for the protection of property. It was the Dukes of Portlands who owned most of the property, yet it was the Dukes of Portlands who were howling most about the burden of taxation. (The cheers here were heartrending. Like the jokes of Jack Point, that were “always much admired,” it is always good business to pillory the House of Lords that Liberal Governments have been largely instrumental in building up.)
But the workers had no property, went on the B. L. (B. L., it must be clearly understood, stands for Budget Leaguer, not for what you may quite properly think it ought to stand for.) That left the conclusion that most of the Liberal Government’s expenditure (on Dreadnaughts) was of no interest to the working class. This was dangerous. So the B. L. went on to explain that nevertheless the workers had much that needed protection, even more than property. There were his food, his work and his family. Dreadnaughts protected these things by keeping the trade routes open. That let imports in and kept him at work.
Unfortunately for the B. L. it doesn’t do anything of the kind. And even those in work are in large measure on the poverty line. Asked to explain he replied that remuneration depended upon supply and demand. The workers produced all the wealth, but “with the economic factors at work to-day,” etc., etc. In short the workers didn’t get it, and the Dreadnaughts didn’t help them to get it. Dreadnaughts only helped the worker to go to work—supply and demand did the rest.
The haunting horror of Invasion
With the eye of Faith the gentle reader will now easily discern the connection between Dreadnaughts and working-class prosperity. Dreaduaughts help the worker to go to work producing the wealth he doesn’t get. Who gets it ? The B. L.’s dukes and the capitalist class. The Dreadnaughts ensure that the process will go on so far as possible. They also ensure that when the worker kicks up a row about it and looks ugly, he will be kept in his place. If he is inland and can’t be intimidated with sea guns, there’s the other arm of the force (kept in existence to protect the worker’s food, work and family, of course), the military.
But, pleads the B. L., suppose we had a weak navy and a strong enemy at our gates—why, we should starve. Horror ! what a prospect for those whom “supply and demand” have reduced already to starvation. But the enemy would conquer us, and then—why then, my poor, dear B. L., we should perhaps get the same working-class conditions that obtain in our conquerors’ country, which are approximately the same as our own. We should at the worst swop masters, and that’s all there is to it. So let the enemy come if he wants to.
The “hungry forties” once more
The B. L. is nobly shocked. At any rate we are better off than we were. Why, in Bolton in the “hungry forties” nine people died of starvation in a day. Good old “hungry forties.” The perennial stand-by of the political bankrupt. Why did nine people die of starvation ? Vast fortunes were being piled up in those “hungry forties”—by whom ? By Liberal manufacturers largely; the same lot (snow-white and God-fearing progenitors of the Liberals of to-day) who fought so splendidly for the Free Trade that would give the starving people food and still keep wages low. The people would have to have food or the manufacturers would soon be without the labour required for profit making. It was a case of increased (relative) wages and consequent reduction of profits, or cheaper food. Free Trade meant cheaper food but a reduction in the profits of the land-owniug class. The latter fought the Free Traders desperately on the issue. But the Free Traders were strongest and won. So Virtue triumphed and the people got food (of a kind) and the manufacturers profits.
That’s the reason people died of starvation in Bolton. But we have advanced enormously since then, says the B. L. We have. The wealth of the country has increased enormously—stupendously. The wealth of the working class has also increased—to the point where 21 people die of starvation in London (1905). And just to show how much we are still improving, 46 die of starvation in 1907. And in 1909 according to the B.L., a beneficient Liberal Government has concentrated its whole soul upon Social Reforms (and Dreadnaughts) designed to alleviate a little of the distress amongst those who have produced all the wealth and can’t get it.
Progress ? I should just think it is progress. If it isn’t progress what is it ?
The Liberal way of Salvation
However, let us have a sympathetic look at the “Social Reforms” of our friend the B. L. He had only just time to mention them in passing—with one exception. There were quite a lot—unemployment insurance, labour exchanges, national development schemes, provision against invalidity, sickness, widow and orphan, wants, and old age pensions. In point of fact, excepting old age pensions, most of these things are in the air, with a few thousand other projects of the Liberal Party. Assuming they came to earth, not one of them would touch more than a ravelled thread of the fringe of the condition of the people. Unemployment insurance is at best a device to save some of the poor rate. Labour exchanges are transparent mockeries. National development schemes are ambiguities that, to the extent to which they provide useful work for some unemployed, displace employed elsewhere. Provision against invalidity and the rest are in the category of unemployment insurance. Frauds, every one—and the Liberal Party know it. They dare not deal with unemployment; dare not deal with the insecurity of working-class existence; dare not interfere with the liberty of capitalism to do what it likes with its own ; dare not touch the property basis upon which the whole social superstructure is erected and from which all the evil flows. Even if they dared they could not. The working class alone can do that—when understanding comes. And until the wealth producers themselves own their product by virtue of the ownership of the machinery of production, which they manipulate to-day, but do not possess, all the “good intentions” in the world will do no more than pave the floor of the red hell of misery and insecurity and want that the worker must tread every age-long day of life
Social Reform Fore-damned
The Liberal Party no more than any other crowd of capital’s political hucksters, will deal with the ownership of the means of living. Challenge them individually and severally. Fix them to a yea or nay (they will shuffle and hedge and throw off clouds of words, but fix them) and the answer will be always and ever nay. Yet while the workers do not own the means of living no change can effect their general condition ; all changes are no more than good or bad hearted fooling. Social Reforms so-called are mere leather and prunella—when they are not deliberately administered antidotes to Socialism. Socialism is the thing that is feared. Socialism must be kept at bay at all hazards. And the only known medium is Social Reform—the reform, that is, that will give the shadow of amelioration without the substance ; something that will palliate discontent; something that will throw a barrier across the path down which relentless Revolution comes striding. Balfour, Asquith, Churchill, Smith—from either side and from both sides comes the fiat “Social Reform is the antidote to Socialism.” That in itself should be all the evidence required against Social Reform. The fuglemen of Capitalism administer Social Reform in the interests of the Capitalism that connotes wage slavery. Social Reform is fore-damned.
The Budget League’s Ewe Lamb
However, I’m forgetting the B. L. He had not time to talk of the others because in fact he hadn’t the others to talk about. But he had Old Age Pensions—”the scheme for making the last years of the worker and the poor brighter and by which the brand of pauperism shall be swept away.” The dear man, only the more dear because he saved me the trouble of doing what better writers in the SOCIALIST STANDARD have done better than I can do—riddle its ridiculously inflated importance. For my B. L. set himself presently to defend the Liberal Party against the charge of extravagance and unbusinesslike method, urged by Tory job-hunters. And in doing it the B. L. cuts his own throat in a ghastly way.
This old age pension scheme, quoth he, is not all expenditure—not by any means. Why, at the present time it costs 4s. 1½d. per head per week for the keep of inmates of the union and 5s. 1d. per head for administration, or twice as much as the maximum old age pension. Extravagance ? Why, Mr. Lloyd George expected to save £1,600,000 per annum on the deal in this particular connection !
So there you have it. Instead of the people going into the workhouse to cost 10s., they will stay outside and cost only 5s.! Is that not a veritable triumph of statesmanship ? Is it not also a desperate swindle—a typical Liberal fraud ?
I can only add to that at the risk of spoiling it: let it rest so. And presently we may return to our B. L., perhaps after many days, to see how much more truth he has managed to wind up from the depths of his well. Meanwhile I cast him as bread upon the waters. And I hope for my fellows of the working class there will be enough in the foregoing to cause them to at least rub their eyes and turn out the disused thinking cap.