Social Reform, Old or New

In one of his recent utterances the leader of the Tory Party said that political power was absolutely in the hands of ihe working class, a con­dition that lent itself as a field for the demagogue. If Mr. Lloyd George and his party could persuade the working class that they were the friends of the poor, they might remain in office indefinitely. The condition of the working class being the same under either administration, it matters nothing to them which party is in office; but the fact remains that the Chancellor has an enormous following of workers who fervently and devoutly believe him to be the embodiment of progress, the friend of the workers, who understands their troubles and devises schemes to bleed vested interests for their benefit.

When these reforms are examined, they are easily seen to be mere contrivances in collective economy on behalf of the class he represents. The Chancellor himself does not attempt to conceal this fact. The frequency and vehemence with which he advertises it reveals what is his estimate of working class intelligence. For in many a speech he quite openly reassures his class of his loyalty to them, and demonstrates, in their own every-day business language, the effectiveness of his deep laid schemes to wring yet more profit from the working class. What other construction is it possible to place on the following from his preface to “Dr. H. A. Walters’ Exposition of Recent British Social Legisla­tion”?

“No attitude could be more short-sighted, or more paralysing in its influence upon social policy, than that of the man who shrinks at the immediate cost of great social reforms which aim at increasing the vigour and efficiency of the millions by whom the country’s material wealth is produced.”

If the vigour and efficiency of the working class is increased, so too is unemployment and competition. It is sheer humbug, therefore, to say that such legislation benefits the working class as well as the employers. He claims to be giving something to the workers but assures his class that like “corn thrown upon the waters it will be returned to them a hundred-fold after many days.” That is the essence and meaning of all legislation on the lines of ninepence for fourpence.

This is the nature of all the reforms instituted by the executive of the capitalist class—”put­ting capital into health” is the Chancellor’s expression. Collective capital is expended through Government departments, with the object of placing at the disposal of individual capitalists an improved commodity on the labour market—workers whose labour will bear richer fruit, in the shape of surplus value. In other words, fuller and more complete exploitation. How do the exploited benefit ?

We are told the old methods of social reform, like the poor law, were merely palliative, while the new method, like the Insurance Act, is preventive as well as palliative. The lie should be apparent, for if the working class, after the reform, produce more wealth for less wages, or for the same sum total of wages, than before, then instead of being preventive of poverty, it is productive of more poverty.

The followers of the Chancellor who have been emphasising in the Press the “economy of higher wages for agriculture,” not only in the articles, but in the title itself, admit that such reforms operate against the working class; or they fail to understand the meaning of economy.

Harold Begbie, a writer who imitates the extravagant phraseology of the Chancellor in the cocoa Press, slobbers about poverty and unemployment, and the hopeless congestion of London streets. He then advocates a central clearing house for railways, which would enable the companies to economise to the extent of forty millions annually. Transport would be cheaper and the cost of living reduced, he says.

But cause and effest follow each other eter­nally, though politicians stop where it suits their argument. The workers as commodities are weighed in capitalist scales, according to capitalist standards and ideals, on the labour market. Supply and demand always operate against them, and when their cost of production—or cost of living—falls likewise.

The workers of this country had practical experience of this truth when Free Trade was established. The Cobdenites, like their modern prototypes, were all for cheapening the food of the people—only, as Marx pointed out, that they might be supplied with cheaper labour power. The wages of the working class were reduced fourteen per cent. in commemoration of the establishment of that beneficent and progres­sive measure.

The frequency with which efficiency is being advocated in the Press and on the platform, makes its frequent exposure necessary. Neither by reducing the cost of living nor by increasing the national share of the world’s market can it assist the workers. In the latter case the working class of England, if insufficient to overstock the labour market, can be augmented from abroad. Labour power is carried by its owners to the place where it is in demand; and the ex­ecutive of the capitalist class in each country adopt measures to facilitate its passage, in the same way that they increase its productivity.

The old methods of social reform—so called—never touched the fringe of the poverty pro­blem (no problem at all, by the way, because it exists in the midst of plenty). Blankets, coals, and doles only served to prolong misery here and there. The new method, heralded with false sentiment and yet claiming to be essen­tially business-like and practical, increases the total sum of poverty. Old or new, Tory, Liberal, or Labour, all are designed solely to stem the tide of revolution. Lloyd George and all his satellites may warble their sentimental love song to the workers, wooing them for their votes, but all the crowd of political pimps and touts, philanthro­pists and social reformers of every method, though they pipe humanitarianism till they choke, have only one sentiment for the workers—contempt. Mr. Bonar Law says that the Chancellor “is not altogether insincere,” but his action in raising the load line of ships is sufficient refutation of that statement.

“Social reform is the antidote to revolution par excellence,” and no political sect ahouts louder for the antidote than does the fraudulent Labour Party. The S.D.P. claimed that every reform advocated to-day by Liberals was on their programme years ago. When they were ab­sorbed by the B.S.P., they no longer limited themselves to those on their membership card, and every member of the Party—like the mem­bers of the Church Socialist League—is free to advocate any and every reform that suits his voice, and will help him to the achievement of his ambition.

“Every party is now committed to social re­form” said Mr. Philip Snowden, and for what purpose we have shown. Is it to be supposed that the class that lives by robbery will forego even a fraction of their wealth or privilege, un­less compelled to do so ? Can anyone imagine a class revelling in luxury and vice, and that has so lived for centuries, voluntarily conceding to the class they rob any reform that would dimi­nish their helplessness ?

There is no record in history of any ruling class, oligarchy, or monarchy, making any concession to a subject class, unless under compul­sion. The nature of the capitalist class is the same as all previous ruling classes, utterly selfish and desirous of conserving its position.

“A State without the means of some change is without the means of its own conservation,” wrote Burke. That is the reason why every party—with the exception of the S.P.G.B.—”is now committed to social reform.” Capitalist society has reached that stage in its develop­ment where the vast majority have no real interest in conserving it. Though the know­ledge they require is within their reach, they only partially realise the possibility of suuccesful revolution.

Tho labour unrest, so-called, is the symptom that reminds the cute politician of Burke’s ad­monition and warns him that some change is necessary. But what change ? Obviously the fundamentals of the system must not be tam­pered with. An Insurance Act that would really insure the workers against unemployment, or a Right to Work Bill in the real sense, is out of the question, because there would no longer be a hunger whip to drive them into the factories and mines, or those other places where the workers are robbed of the results of their labour.

There are no reforms possible or likely of application under Capitalism, that can improve the condition of the working class. Moreover, it is but adding insult to injury for the capitalist class or their representatives to promise even real reforms for the improvement of working-class conditions. When the working class wake up they will see that no class or section pos­sesses the power to experiment over their heads—either for or against them. They will use the political power which Mr. Bonar Law says they possess to control the forces that stand between them and the means of life. Knowing, they will cease to be the dupes of either sentimental or practical reformers.

F. F.

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