To anyone giving the matter his or her consideration the measure now in force known as the National Insurance Act, is undoubtedly one of the most significant pieces of legislation that have been passed for many years. Significant, for one thing, as showing the trend of the movement by which the ruling class is endeavouring to obtain a firmer grip on the lives and destinies of those ruled. Even more significant, perhaps, in its implication as to the deterioration which appears to be gathering strength within the ranks of the workers. It is in the latter aspect more especially that the present writer wishes to examine it.

The question to be asked is : “Why is insurance against sickness on a national scale necessary ? Why has this compulsory scheme of insiirance been thrust upon the working class ?”

A healthy man, or a healthy class of men, or a healthy nation, would find it superfluous to waste time formulating a complicated and widespread scheme of insurance against sickness. A healthy man, for example, takes little account of the possibility of his being ill. It is only when he begins to feel creeping on him lassitude, or aches and pains of any description, that he starts thinking as to his physical well-being. So with a nation. It is only when a nation is found to be in a condition of ill-health that the dominant section of that nation begins to devise ways and means by which the national sickness may be checked.

There may be some who will accuse the writer of attempting to credit the Government (or rather the capitalist interests that are behind the Government) with humanitarian motives in passing the Insuranse Act. But such is very far from his intention. The capitalist class never has passed, and probably never will pass, any legislation that is not intended primarily for the benefit of the capitalists, and for the purpose of strengthening capitalism. They have begun to realise, however, that the working class of this country (and the same applies to the working class of any civilised country) is in danger of developing into a class of mental and physical degenerates, and, realising this, they are making abortive attempts to bring into operation some scheme or other that will check this growing degeneracy, the more far-seeing of them perceiving that the continuance of such mental and physical penury means, not only the end of the workers, but the coincident end of the capitalists themselves.

The foregoing may seem to some people an exaggerated view to take of the conditions existing in present-day society. But the facts and figures given by eminent scientists and sociologists, as well as official statistics issued by the governing authorities, show that the position has little or no exaggeration about it.

Dr. Max Nordau, writing in the “Hibbert Journal” for the present quarter, on “The Degeneration of Classes and Peoples,” says :

“The first phenomenon that forces itself upon our attention is the great increase of lunacy in all highly civilised lands. The studies and statistics of Dr. F. Winslow for Enland, Dr. J. H. Kellog for the United States, and Dr. Bertillon for France, are so well known that their figures need not be repeated here.”

He goes on :

“The increase in crime is also a fact proved by the official statistics of all countries.”

The following, as summing up his conclusions as to the cause of what he contends is the degenerate state of all civilised peoples, is worth noting:—

“The work done in the civilised world to-day is incomparably greater than at any former time. Even the poorest workman, who is not a beggar, but earns his own living, makes greater demands on his existence than his forefathers did, and the rise in his standard of life imposes correspondingly greater efforts upon him, since it is not compensated for by the general rise in wages. The dominant part played in production by the machine, to a mere attendant on which man in the factory has been degraded, and ever-increasing division of labour which condemns the worker to an eternal, automatic repetition of a small number of movements, and reduces the part taken in his work by the intellectual faculties to a minimum, wears him out one-sidedly, and therefore quicker and more completely than is the case when, with a varied, manifold activity, which calls in turn upon different groups of muscles and requires the continued intervention of imagination, judgment, and will, he manufactures some complicated object of common use from the raw material up to the perfect article.”

Even more sweeping than the above are some of the statements made by A. F. Tredgold in an article entitled “The Study of Eugenics,” appearing in the “Quarterly Review,” July 1912.

He starts out by saying that “The important question that confronts every nation is, are the people showing themselves possessed of, or lacking in, the capacity to advance’?” From the information and the statistics he gives one can only come to the conclusion that the people are not showing themselves possessed of the capacity to advance.

In passing, it is very interesting to notice that when both A. F. Tredgold and Max Nordau speak of the “people” or the “nation” they are manifestly alluding to the working people (the members of the working class), implying thereby that the only important section of the community, the only socially useful and necessary section of society, is that section which works ; implying, moreover, that upon the shoulders of the workers alone rests the burden of civilisation, and if the workers are not strong enough to uphold that burden then nothing can prevent civilisation from falling.

To return, however, to the article by Mr. Tredgold. He admits that there has been a decrease in the death-rate, but contends that it is due to the advance made in the science of preventive medicines, as well as in medica] and surgical treatment, rather than to any heightened vitality of the people.

He then continues :—

“It is a remarkable and important fact that in spite of the diminished death-rate and of the lessened prevalence of many diseases, the average rate of illness has been steadily increasing for the past two generations.”

(Statistics are given from reports issued by such societies as The Hearts of Oak Benefit Society. The National Deposit Friendly Society, The Manchester Unity of Oddfellows, in support of the above).

The following is taken from the last report of the Chief Medical Officer to the Board of Education :—

“Out of six million children registered in the books of the public elementary schools of England and Wales, about 10 per cent. suffer from a serious defect in vision : from 3 to 5 per cent. suffer from defective hearing; about 40 per cent. suffer from extensive and injurious decay of the teeth ; about 30 per cent. to 40 per cent. have unclean heads or bodies ; a considerable percentage of children are suffering from a greater or less degree of malnutrition.”

He says :—

“I think it is the experience of most physicians that diseases of the nervous system generally are on the increase.”
He comes to the conclusion that “on the whole the proportion of the mentally weak in the entire community must be well over one per cent.,” and considers also that there has been a very real increase in the proportion of those persons who are unable or unwilling to subsist by their own efforts. (This last, of course, applies solely to the working class, and has no relation at all to the parasitic capitalist idlers.)

As to the increase in crime, from figures issued by the Home Office it is clearly shown that there has been a marked increase since the beginning of this century, and that in 1910 (the year the report was issued) the amount of crime was much above the average of recent years both absolutely and in proportion to the population.

The extracts quoted above make ugly reading, certainly. It is not surprising that the local and national authorities are beginning to take an interest in the physical and mental condition of working-class men and women and children. For the matter of that, neither is it surprising (to the Socialist) to see how futile are all the measures they bring in, all the efforts they expend, to prevent the downward tendency of working-class vitality. The workers may be patched up here, experimented on there, in order that they may still have sufficient vital force to continue the work necessary for the maintenance of society. But all the while the capitalist system itself is, like a cancerous growth, draining the vitality out of the workers. In a society composed of slaves and slave-owners, what can there be but degeneration, decadence, death ? The only hope is in the slaves throwing off their shackles and thus obtaining the freedom to order their own lives.

The present writer reiterates the fact that it is for the working class to say what is to be the outcome of capitalism, whether society is to move forward to Socialism and a regenerated race, or back to degeneracy and a chaotic atavism. If the ever-increasing deterioration of working-class mentality and physique is to be checked, it will only be checked by the united efforts of the workers themselves, not by any system of eugenics, or through the medium of fraudulent insurance acts. Civilisation is in a very sick and sorry condition. It is the task of the working class to make it whole.


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