The Forum: Gas and Water Politics


Municipal administration is unattractive to the average man, mainly because of its limited scope and relative impotency. ”Gas and water poli­tics” is a contemptuous phrase, but it is not unmerited from the standpoint of the man in the tram. In the main, local council work is confined to the administration of the laws made by Parliament, while its expenditure is checked by the Local Government Board. The revolu­tionary Socialist (and no Socialist is otherwise) therefore realises that the success of a Socialist majority on a local council does not mean that the district in question can escape from its capi­talist environment, or even that any fundamental change can be made in the lives of the workers. The central power must be held by the work­ing class before local administration can be fully utilised in the workers’ interest, and even then it must first be transformed.

That being so, what is the use of Socialist municipal activity at all, one may ask. The answer is plain. It is just as useful as Parlia­mentary action so long as the workers’ party is in the minority. It is a necessary part of the workers’ task of taking possession of capitalist society for their own purpose. A Socialist minority in Parliament is a centre of revolt, a fighting vanguard, a focus of working-class enlightenment and organisation. The Socialist municipal minority or majority is not less than this. In Parliament the workers will wrest from the ruling class, during the fight for Socialism, every advantage obtainable, and in local admini­stration they will use the limited local powers to the advantage of their class in the struggle, ignoring or smashing the municipal machinery where it does not lend itself to work useful to Socialism.

Every locality captured is a new centre of re­sistance to capital, a fresh corner of the territory wrested from the enemy. That the Socialist municipality will have a lively time goes with­out saying, but it will hardly be isolated. So­cialism spreads in all districts, and the struggle will be going on centrally as well as in each industrial area.

Vital as it is to the Socialist to regard the whole question of political action from this revo­lutionary point of view, he is not blind to the fact that drains must be kept clear, the water supply maintained, and services necessary to the worker carried on, if only to enable the revolutionary struggle to continue. With the Socialist capture of a local council, moreover, despite the open war and attempts at suppres­sion by the ruling class, something can be done to help the workers in their fight. The whole local administration will then cease to be bitterly anti-working class—and this means much. Every item that can be turned to working-class advantage will be used. Strikers will be helped. ; Strenuous efforts will be made to utilize education for Socialism, to raise the wages of munici­pal employees and shorten hours of labour; while capitalists generally will be resisted in their repression of the proletariat.

Given the then almost inevitable ripeness of the working class in the whole country for the revolution, the attempts of the central power to stamp out the Socialist council will fan into name the general revolt against capital, and will hasten the day of the complete control of society by the organised working class.

This being the case, it is easy to see that the Socialist is not vitally concerned with such questions as “Should we make a profit at all in municipal concerns ?” and “If a neighbouring district wants gas from us, can we supply them at the same rate as our own consumers ? ”

These are queries sent to the SOCIALIST STANDARD by Councillor S. Smith, of Scunthorpe, in an evidently sincere desire to know the Socialist position. Unlike Mr. Smith, we do not trouble about the rates, because we know that it by the profit on municipal trading rates were abolished, the landlords would reap the whole of the bene­fit. The question has already been dealt with. It is, indeed, a principle even of orthodox poli­tical economy that rates are a charge on rent. The price of housing accommodation to the consumer is made up of rent and rates. The higher the latter the less the consumer is pre­pared to give in rent, other things being equal. It is the landlord who ultimately is out of pocket by the rates -and well he knows it !

If it were necessary to answer questions which are based on complete divergence from Socialist views, it might be pointed out that all profit on municipal undertakings would be absorbed in attempting to pay decent wages to the workers engaged in them. But the working class can­not be recruited for Socialism on a program of milk and water. The strong meat of Socialism itself alone can tempt them to sink their petty private interests and unite with all their fellows on the broad class interest of proletarian eman­cipation. A diet of gas and water leaves them utterly unsatisfied. Nothing short of the pros­pect of obtaining collectively the whole fruit of their labour will ever unite them all, or be worth fighting for ; and only in so far as muni­cipal activity is a necessary incident in the great and conclusive struggle for Socialism will it be worth the attention of the organised work­ing class at all.


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