Revolution’s reply to Reform


The answer to “Arms for the Workers: A Defence of the Programme of the Social-Democratic Party.” (E. C. Fairchild, Lon. Organiser, S.D.P.)

On the Generosity of Capitalists

We will lump several of Mr. Fairchild’s sections together under this heading, partly because in some of them there is no very definite argument, and partly on account of exigency of space.

Our opponent says it is often argued that a Socialist party need not ask for measures to alleviate poverty. “The assertion that improvement in the workers’ conditions under capitalism is impossible,” he says, is “changed into an admission that good housing, maintenance of the children or the public provision of employment, are of benefit to the people, but we are told that it is unnecessary for us to ask for legislation dealing with these matters, because the governing class will give concessions of their own free will.”

It is difficult to know who Mr. Fairchild is girding at. The only persons claiming to be Socialists who still believe in that hoary old supertition, “free will,” are (as might be expected) just those who believe in asking the capitalists to make “public provision of employment” and the rest, “of their own free will.”

The attitude we take up is the proper and logical attitude of those who deny the whole theory of “free will.” Moreover, it is the proper and logical attitude of those who assert the preponderating influence of economic forces upon the human will. How obscure our author’s ideas in this connection are is shown by his assertion (p. 13) that the feudal baron was “surrounded by an atmosphere which contained the elements of magnanimity, but there is nothing generous in the nature of the man who introduces a mechanical time recorder to check the entry of his employees and when they leave.” What rubbish ! Had Mr. Fairchild said that the man who introduces a mechanical time recorder is “surrounded by an atmosphere” that contains no element of magnanimity, environed by economic forces which tend to thwart, restrict and penalise every generous impulse of employer toward employed, he would have been right. But to declare that the capitalist can have no spark of generosity in his composition is not only folly, but is peculiarly grotesque on the lips of one who charges his opponents with regarding “the capitalist in business as devoid of all sentiment and deaf to human appeal.” It is capitalism that has no heart, not the capitalist.

But to get back to the argument, no one in his senses would deny that some improvement in the workers’ condition is possible, even under Capitalism. Capitalism itself may conceivably demand such an improvement, and then it will take place. This, however, is no confession that it is possible for the “palliator” and his “palliatives” to improve the workers’ conditions. Of course we must confess that “good housing, maintenance of the children or public provision of employment, are of benefit to the people,”—if other things remain constant. But other things have a knack of changing. Thus it is significant that the Board of Trade reports that during the first year of operation of the Old Age Pension “palliative,” the total wage income of that section of the workers covered by its returns decreased by £3,599,024, and this in a year when the slight decrease of unemployment might have tended to a rise of wages, and the abnormally high price of necessaries in no way encouraged a fall. Again, it has been shown that any attempt to relieve the congested labour market, such as by the public provision of employment, lessens the relative redundancy of labour-power, hence tends to raise wages, and hence again encourages the adoption of more economical machinery, which in turn displaces further workers, and refills the depleted ranks of the “palliated” unemployed.

Now let us turn to the question of the “maintenance of the children.” Capitalism provides wages for one object only—the production of labour power. Capitalism, moreover, never ceases its efforts to reduce to the lowest possible limits the cost of producing that labour-power. In this direction, indeed, capitalism abhors waste. Yet, from capitalism’s viewpoint, the production of labour-power, at least in respect of the raising of children for the continuance of the supply, is proceeded with in a very wasteful manner. For instance, there is no way of distinguishing in the labour market between the man who is bringing up a dozen children for future exploitation, and the man who has only himself to keep, hence the wages of the latter include a margin which to Capitalism is a lamentable waste. Of course it may be argued that the single or childless man having smaller needs, is an instrument in lowering wages, but on the other hand, having less responsibility, and having moreover a margin in times of employment his power of resistance is greater.

Then under the present system of “parental responsibility,” mothers are largely prevented from entering the labour market by the fact that they have children to look after. Nor does it end here. Since the support of these children’s attendants must, broadly speaking, be included in the fathers’ wages, and as the childless married man cannot be distinguished in the labour market, he is generally able to keep his wife at home. This is a further leakage. Again, the single man, whom Capitalism was forced to credit with a certain share of “parental responsibility,” is not only the gainer in as much as he has no children to keep, but also in that he has not to support a wife to look after them.

Now assuming that the S.D.P. attain their pet and chief “palliative”—State Maintenance of Children—in all its “stupendous magnitude” and gaudy magnificence, what happens ? In the first place, parents having been relieved of the cost of maintaining their children, their wages will suffer equivalent depreciation by competition. In the second place the childless married men, standing now on the same footing as the fathers of families, share in the wage reduction without being relieved of any burden. In the third place the mothers are freed for and forced into th< labour market, to accentuate the competition there. Fourthly wives who are not mothers, being now in no favoured position, are also forced into the struggle for work. Fifthly the male workers, released now from the necessity of supporting their women-kind, being, indeed compelled to compete with them for the means of subsistence, quickly find their wages reduced accordingly, so that Capitalism gets the labour-power of the women as well as of the men, for the sustenance of the two sexes, instead of only the labour-power of the men. Sixthly the advantage of the single men, who have no wives or children to keep, vanishes. As regards the children, it is argued that they would be better looked after and more of them would survive. As for the first argument, and better conditions after birth might be more than outweighed by the less favourable prenatal environment due to their parents' increased struggle for subsistence. As for the second argument, it is an insane sentiment of humanity that would preserve children for the labour market conditions that would arise from launching the whole body of working-class women into the industrial arena. A word as to the effect upon the working-class movement. It is fatuous to argue that the measure would strengthen the workers' hands im case of strike. The children would be returned to them in order to smash the strike. Nor could the workers prevent this unless they had strength to end capitalist domination for ever. Then when we hand our children over to the capitalists for maintenance, we hand their education entirely over to the priest and the capitalist moralist, who would blur the class line, teach them to lick the hand that fed them, and so place mountainous obstacles in the way of the growth of class-consciousness. And now my space is exhausted, and I can only say in conclusion



Leave a Reply