The Malthusian League. Have they a Remedy for Poverty?

Non quantitas sed qiialitas” is the motto of the Malthusian League.

“It is questionable whether we shall be able to retain our position among the nations if the decrease in the population continues,” said the Bishop of London.

“It ought to be considered immoral for a wo­man to have less than four children,” said the Bishop of Ripon.

Here we have two sides of a popular question, and we may well ask where any consideration for the working class comes in. As we might expect from a parasite class that only legislates in its own interests, and upholds its supremacy by brute force, the only question considered is the buttressing of the State or the stocking of the labour market.

Say the priests to the ruling class, “it is numbers you want,” while the Malthusian claims that more attention should be paid to the quality of the slaves. Both sides agree that the work­ing class should remain a slave class ; both sides are therefore the enemies of the working class.

The means of life are owned by the master class, but are useless to them without workers to operate them. So long as their profits remain unaffected it matters little to them whether their country is thickly or thinly populated. It is no doubt a question worthy of discussion by the capitalist whether his class interest is best served by a working class sufficiently prolific to overstock every section of the labour market, or a working class that consciously and obligingly regulates its numbers to suit his requirements.

The individual worker may debate within his mind as to the prospects of inflicting his progeny on future generations—whether is is better to give one or two children the best pos­sible equipment under the circumstances, or to breed a round dozen or so and let them take their chance. It may seem best to him to limit his family, and thereby reduce his responsibi­lities, retain a slight degree of comfort, and escape some of the anxiety incidental to bring­ing up a family. He may even weigh the chances of a large family being better able to support him in his old age. But all these ques­tions are merely for the individual who, through ignorance, regards the present social system as fixed and unalterable, and who accepts the anarchy and poverty imposed upon the working class as inevitable. They are questions on a par with the questions of drink and gambling, purely individual in character, and having no political bearing whatever.

The limitation of the family has little or no effect on the general conditions of the work­ing class, even when extensively practised. A limited population—other things being equal—involves a limited production, with fewer employed and a capitalist class with less surplus-value to spend in various ways. Capitalism adapts itself to large or small populations. The poverty of the worker was just as deep in the days of Malthus, when the population was only nine millions, as it is to day, when it exceeds forty-five.

Neither by logic nor yet by example can the Malthusians prove that theirs is any remedy for poverty. They quote the black death of 1348, which killed off a large number of workers. “How food was plentiful and wages went up, despite the efforts of Parliament to stop them.” This, however, is a case that has no bearing on modern conditions, because the people had not at that time been driven off the land. The ma­jority of those in the towns were not wage slaves, but members of the guilds, and as such, either owned or expected to own, the tools with which they worked and the product of their labour.

France and Ireland are classic instances of the failure of Malthusian principles, yet with characteristic audacity the Malthusian League claims them as successful examples. The population of Ireland has been reduced by nearly one half in fifty years, but still the tide of emigration goes on at the rate of thirty thousand per annum, because working-class conditions there, as everywhere else, are growing worse.

The claim that “agricultural labourers’ wages seem recently to have fully kept up with prices” falls flat when we read that many of them re­ceive in actual cash from five to eight shillings per week, the average, including allowances, being between twelve and thirteen shillings per week. The towns of Ireland, we know by repute, rival in slums and sweating dens any­thing in England or on the Continent. The linen industry for example, is notorious for its low wages.

For France it is claimed that real wages have gone up six per cent. in the last ten years. Whether this be true or not—and the league give no authority for their statement—French wages may still compare unfavourably with English or German in actual purchasing power.

Wages in England have risen during the last ten years, according to Government figures, but the rise has not kept pace with the rise in prices, we are told. The same applies to France. If it were not so, how are we to account for the discontent of the French workers, for the numerous strikes and demonstrations agajnst rising prices, and for, what is even more conclusive, the consumption of horse and dog flesh by the poor ?

We are informed by the alarmists of the Malthusian League that “our excess of births over deaths is one thousand per day ; that the population of the United States has increased so that it is now consuming all its own wheat, and that Russia is having a famine of its own. That sup­ply is getting more difficult and our demand and that of other countries, becoming greater, is it any wonder that prices rise?”

The Malthusians are not the only ones that souad alarm in this direction. Malthus himself wrote of the time when every available acre of land would be under cultivation and human beings would scarcely have standing room on the earth. Professor H. N. Dickson, president of the geographical section at the recent science association, says : “We are already making serious inroads upon the resources of the whole earth.” Such an admission, however, only reveals the inability of the ruling class to regulate their exploitation. The earth is being denuded of its wealth-giving properties for the sake of profits—to build up wealth for a parasite class—to pro­tect and pamper that class.

The only useful class in society—the working class—even if its modest requirements were doubled, would not tax the world’s resources in ten years to the extent that capitalist anarchy does in one.

To say, as the Malthusians do, that supply is getting more difficult, is the reverse of the truth. The production, and consequently the supply, of wheat—or in fact of any commodity—is easier to-day than ever it was. Machine invention and new methods have, during the last century, multiplied man’s productiveness by hundreds. With bonanza farms miles in extent, requiring but few workers, and machines that traverse the “fields of waving corn,” performing all the operations short of actual grinding, how can anyone possibly claim that supply is getting more difficult ? Would the Malthusians claim that there are not sufficient able-bodied men to cultivate the soil ? Would they have the cour­age to assert that all the available land is under cultivation ?

All these alarmist theories are absurd and unscientific. There are no physical difficulties that prevent mankind from satisfying all their needs. What difficulties exist to-day are entirely social in character. They are due to the fact that the land together with all the other means of life are owned by a small class in society, who only allow production to go on for profit.

The Malthusian League support this system. The ruling class, in their eyes, can do no wrong. If there is poverty, according to them it is because of the improvidence of the workers. They ignore the anti-social actions of the capi­talists—how they have burned wheat, cotton, and coffee, and allowed other commodities to rot, in order to maintain a maximum price—how manufacturers have closed their mills by com­mon agreement for weeks on end, in order to create an artificial famine.

Trusts and combines, financiers and company promotors, are anti-social in character ; sabotage and ca-canny are practised by market riggers to an extent that would make trade unionists turn green with envy if they were but class-conscious and could realise it.

Capitalists invest their capital where they will obtain the highest dividends. They do not study the needs of the people either of this or future generations. Capital is wealth that is used for exploitation ; and every capitalist being actuated by greed, is utterly regardless of the havoc wrought in his interest, either on the earth itself or on the working class, or, for that matter, in the fortunes of his competitors. The means of life under such a system are not used to the advantage of those who operate them, but in the interest of those who own them. The one fact that emerges, clear and unchallenged, out of the chaos of competing interests that constitutes the mechanism of capitalist exploitation is that man, to-day, can satisfy all his needs, live up to a high standard of comfort, and enjoy more leisure than ever before in history—if it were not for capitalism.

The Malthusian League offer the capitalist restriction of the family as a panacea for labour “unrest,” and show their contempt for the working class in the suggestion that they should be taught to practise it—at least that larger section of the working class whose wages are twenty-five shillings a week and under.

“In Holland,” they say, “the poor have been taught to limit their families by a large, State-recognised society ; the death rate has fallen more rapidly than in any other country in the world, and there seems to be practically no labour unrest.” Holland must be a paradise for the capitalist—the wonder is that they do not flock there with their capital from all parts of the world.

Again we are told by the worshippers of Malthus that there aro 960,000 adult men workers who get wages less than twenty shil­lings per week, and 1,600,000 who get between twenty and twenty-five shillings ; and further, that the only effective remedy for their quite natural discontent, is that they should only have one child. These self-appointed tutors of doci­lity and submission should join hand with hous­ing reformers and advocate more spacious homes for the working class. If the only remedy is limitation of the family, then it is not the capitalists who need separate bedrooms, but the workers. They might, at the same time, advo­cate the free supply by the State of certain rubber goods, as, by their own showing, those who need them most cannot afford to buy them.

Neither can they afford to have children, Malthus might have replied. Neither can they struggle against the desires of the flesh : they have not the stamina. As Mr. Lloyd George said of them : “Their wages do not suffice to replace the energy they use up in their daily toil.” In his “White Slaves of England” Ro­bert Sherrard says the workers in the “sweated industries”—men and women alike—have but one pleasure, and many of them swear it is the only thing worth living for. This, however, does not apply to the so-called sweated indus­tries alone ; the vast majority of the workers are in the same position.

Imprisoned in a factory hell by day ; relegated to a slum for the night—a life of such days and nights with a dollar pension or the workhouse at the end—such is the worker’s prospect. All his senses fed on filth, on what is ugly incon­gruous, is it any wonder that the worker turns to the merely animal functions within his reach and makes them his pleasures ?

In sheer desperation the lower animals, when deprived of food, try to stave off extinction by excessive breeding. Man, after all, is but animal, and has not lived on a pinnacle of intelligence long enough to shed any of the fundamental instincts common to animal life ; and when social conditions rob him of his means of life and thrust him deep into the morass of poverty and wretchedness, the instinct of the brute comes to the top.

Science supports this explanation. Scientists in support of capitalism may deny it. Not all of them do so, however. The late Professor Huxley, greater in the world of science than a whole regiment of modern time-servers, said of the environment of the working class :

“It is a condition in which the food, warmth, and clothing necessary for the maintenance of the body cannot be maintained, in which the pleasures within reach are reduced to brutality and drunkenness; in which the pains of starva­tion, stunted development, and moral degrada­tion accumulate ; in which the prospect of even steady and honest industry is a life of unsuc­cessful battling with hunger rounded by a pauper’s grave.”

“The pleasures within reach are reduced to brutality and drunkenness.” Is it necessary to say more ? Man desires recreation and enjoy­ment. When he has learned to appreciate intellectual pleasures he will turn less frequently to the merely animal. Under capitalism the workers are denied the time and the means for intellectual recreation, hence their debasement.

Socialism alone, because it will give to the workers the fruits of their labour, can give them the leisure, means, and opportunities for genuine happiness and enjoyment. And even if it could be proved that under Socialism the human race would breed in swarms, still the robbery of the working class by the capitalist class would not be justified.

F. F.

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