The Salvation Army and the Working Class

“The Safety of England lies in her Sunday.”—Guizot.

A Notable Utterance
At the time this famous bon-mot, was uttered (1848) any one who had travelled much on the Continent of Europe would naturally contrast the mental equipment of the English workers with that attained by the proletariat of other countries. To such an one the witty saying of the “great” French statesman would have been pregnant with meaning. Sunday was the “day of rest.” The tavern and its next door neighbour, the chapel, were then practically the only means of Sabbath recreation open to the worker. This being so, he would be little likely to bother his head with theories about the reorganisation, of society.

Drugged and stupid with heavy doses of “Beer and Bible” Sunday, but little inclination on his part would be evinced to rise in revolt against his masters. The bourgeois could therefore comfortably settle himself in his cosiest arm-chair, and, as he sipped his glass of after-dinner port, purr softly to himself, “God’s in his Heaven, all’s right with the world!”

Could the shade of the astute middle-class Gaul in this our present day revisit this country, we can well imagine him adding further point to his epigram in some such words as : “and in her Salvation Army.”

Two great assets the masters rely on to keep their wage-slaves in a state of subjection. The armed forces of the nation—which they are able to manipulate to suit their own ends—and secondly the lamentable state of almost hopeless ignorance in which the workers are still steeped.

Chloroforming the Workers
In fostering and keeping alive this state of ignorance numerous charitable and philanthropic agencies play an ever-increasing and important part. The bourgeois in this our beloved country is a greater adept than his French or German confrere at the gentle art of building temporary bridges across the yawning chasm which lies between him and the proletariat. In the attempt—too often, alas, successful—to hide the running sore of working-class degradation, more time, money and effort are spent in this country than in any other under the sun. Coals, blankets, soup and the visitation of the sick are a very present help whenever it is desired to trail a red herring across the path of the deluded worker.

This, of course, also applies to Continental Europe, but there either the drug is administered in much smaller quantities, or the trick is clumsily performed. Verily, his “charitable institutions” are a tower of strength to the British “employer of labour.” This being so, we shall not have far to seek for one of the chief reasons why the English worker is as yet so unresponsive to the teaching of the Socialist. “Where ignorance is bliss, t’were folly to be wise.”

The Vicar of Hell
Among the many agencies employed by the capitalist class to bring about this state of affairs, the Salvation Army is one of the most successful.

We have no hesitation in saying that the influence of the Salvation Army on the mind of the working class is wholly evil.

In two ways : Firstly, by its drum and trumpet performances at the street corner, coupled with the exhortations of the “captain” and the “Hallelujah lasses” to “come to Salvation,” a by no means inconsiderable section of the workers is persuaded that “conversion” is the one thing needful, and that the reformation of the individual and the building up of character must precede any attempt to better material conditions.

In this way the worker, being “well saved” “snatched from Satan” (or whatever form of expressive but inelegant cant is used), his eyes turned from his material interests (the only ones that matter) towards a heavenly throne (which doesn’t), is gradually reduced from a potential thinker to a docile, humble and obedient slave.

And that is exactly what the masters want.

The “Great Idea” Fraud
Thus in a recent issue of a great daily paper [Daily News Dec., 4, 1909] we read the following:

In a “foreword” to the annual report of the social work of the Salvation Army—written by Mr. Arnold White under the title of “The Great Idea”—the author expresses “the conviction that in the Salvation Army we have a strong barrier against Godless Socialism,”
“To grasp the Great Idea,” he adds, “is to understand the height and depth of the self-sacrificing devotion, the reason for the common-sense, the resource and readiness of the Booths and their officers, in seeking the rescue of the Lost Brigade. It imparts hope to the man whose failure in the battle of life is due to his own character and conduct.”

Now science knows no such thing as an individual character, apart from social surroundings.

In the second place, the worker’s mind is muddled and befogged by the “Army’s” ministrations to his creature comfort in the shape of “Soup and Shelter.”

Sentimental Slosh
How often is the Socialist critic met with some such question-begging argument (!) as this ?—”When I was out of work the officer came round and helped my missis and the kids. Don’t say anything against the Salvation Army or I’ll, etc., etc.”

(This, of course, loses sight of the fact that our diatribes are levelled at the “Army” as an institution, not at the inoffensive and often sorely-sweated wage-slaves of that venerable fraud, the autocrat of Queen Victoria Street.)

Or again—”Whilst you fellows are spouting at the street-corner, General Booth and his men are feeding people and giving them shelter from the cold ! Why don’t you do something for the poor? ”

Saving the Rates
The fact cannot be too strongly insisted upon that the Salvation Army provides the bourgeois with a cheap and effective form of sticking-plaster wherewith to cover up the hideous ulcer which is eating out the vitals of our class. For are we not told by Mr. F. A. McKenzie—the “Army’s” spokesman for 1908—that “it is the business of the Salvation Army to help and reform. And where I have worked out costs on both sides the Salvation Army does for £1 what costs the Guardians £3.“—”Waste Humanity,” 1908, p. XVIII. (The italics are ours.)

This is letting the cat out of the bag with a vengeance !

We are well aware that the workers in other capitalist countries enjoy the blessings of the “Army’s” efforts to please, both on the religious and the material side. Stray items of news do sometimes filter through from “foreign parts” to show that the rate-saving dodge is not confined to British soil. The following paragraph will serve as an illustration.

“COUNCIL SEEKS ARMY’S AID. The Helsingfors Town Council has again turned to the Army for a solution of its unemployment problem. Numbers of out-of-works had adopted a threatening attitude towards the authorities, and demanded 10,000 Finnish marks from the council for food and clothes.
In their dilemma, the authorities approached The Army and handed over the sum of £200 (half the money demanded), with the request that we should find some of them work.”—War Cry, Feb. 12, 1910.

But it is in Britain and “our” colonies that the operations of this gigantic many-sided fraud can best be observed from the point of view of working-class economics.

The “Army” and the Public
Articles and paragraphs criticising the Salvation Army have from time to time appeared in various magazines and newspapers. We nevertheless believe that no detailed attempt has yet been made to approach the subject from the Socialist point of view. Even Mr. John Manson’s monumental work on the subject [“The Salvation Army and the Public,” by John Manson. Routledge, 4½d] (to which we have gone for many of the facts and figures to be herein quoted, and which should be read by all Socialists) deals mostly with the “Army” from the public’s (i.e., the capitalist public) standpoint. We are emboldened to quote, when necessary, from Mr. Manson’s work for two reasons.

First, it is almost impossible for anyone who does not possess an inexhaustible stock of time and patience to gain direct and straight forward information from the Queen Victoria Street authorities themselves. Secondly, although the work above referred to was first published in July 1906—a subsequent and cheaper edition being issued in 1908—General Booth and his assistants have never yet thought fit to make any reply to the charges brought against them, although repeatedly urged to do so by their journalistic supporters in the capitalist Press. The vague and airy nothings of the “General” on this subject can be at once eliminated—e.g.: “These attacks are too silly to need refutation” [Genera Booth, 1906.] (although a few months previously an interviewer was informed at “Headquarters” that the book was officially admitted to contain “a good deal of truth.”)

(Here let us state that, in accordance with our custom, the columns of the SOCIALIST STANDARD are at all times open to apologists for the “Army,” official or otherwise.)

With the manipulation and management or mismanagement of the Salvation Army’s funds the Socialist is not directly concerned. The money collected is subscribed out of surplus-value, the donations of the workers being, we believe, in proportion to the whole a negligible quantity.

As Socialists our business is first and foremost with the effect the “Army’s” schemes have upon the economic position of the working class. Our enquiry will naturally fall into two divisions.

A. The results of the purely “tradesman” or “shop-keeping” operations of the “Army.”

B. The inception, growth, and present position of the “Darkest Fngland” scheme with its manifold ramifications, viz., Elevators, Farm Colonies, Emigration, etc.

With the first of these divisions: “The ‘Army’s’ Trading Schemes,” we shall at once proceed to deal.

(To be continued.)


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