Why social reform is useless

The Socialist Party of Great Britain has all along claimed that the only solution for the social diseases rampant in capitalist society is Socialism. The professional “Socialists” of the B.S.P. and I.L.P. type, whilst claiming the same in a somewhat misty and hazy manner, seek always to put some pet scheme of social reform before the working class. They are not alone, however, in their schemes of reform, for the capitalist class are well in the front as far as reform is concerned”. The consequence of this being that some reformers who are able to hold their situations cling more tightly to the governing class, whilst others not so fortunate have jumped to the other end and have become anarchists, or what is the same, syndicalists.

Reform, to-day, chiefly through the activities of the politicians of the master class, has become very popular with the mass, many regarding it as eventually being capable of removing the anomalies of existing society.

Let us, therefore, see what reform has already accomplished for the workers; we shall then have an idea what to expect from the effects of reform in the future.

Before examining these reforms, however, let us, very briefly, look upon those people who are especially interested in social reform.

First of all there is the sentimentalist, who, without any reason at all, is always wailing about the afflicted and poverty-stricken, so much so that he is absolutely blinded by his own tears from seeing the true state of affairs. Then there is the petty bourgeois reformer, the small capitalist, who at times may describe himself as a “Socialist,” but is always showing his fear of Socialism, for in his ignorance he believes that Socialists will confiscate what little property he may have—it may be his wedding ring or in some cases his house. Then again, we have the professional politician whose business it is to pander to the “mob.” In his cunning way he will invent all sorts of nostrums for the people, who, through their ignorance, are led to believe now one set of politicians, now another set, never realising that they are being hoodwinked by them all.

How these humbugs have been using the Home Rule for Ireland red herring to befool the mass is at once a comedy and a tragedy. And yet people will go on believing, in their simplicity, that the so-called leaders of the opposition and the Government are serious in their manoeuvres. They cannot see that it is merely a means to keep the workers divided and ignorant of their true social status.

The many reforms one might mention, instead of benefiting, injure the workers. One of the pet reforms of the sentimentalists is the “feeding of the school children.” Now, every sane man and woman wishes to see children fed ; but we cannot afford to allow sentiment to get the better of our reason. We know that those who possess children wish to feed their children by their own effort. State grants merely make, in most cases, subservient wage-slaves of those who receive them, thus making the work of the Socialist more difficult.

But what of the economic effect of such a measure ? Why, a woman who has children to look after, by paying a small sum of money to “farm” out her youngest child whilst her elder children are being fed at school, is enabled to .go to the factory or mill and be exploited at a low wage as married women are known to be.

The Old Age tension scheme is another Act that has benefited the capitalists immensely. For whereas it costs to maintain a pauper something like fourteen shillings a week, they manage to get the aged State pauper to exist on five shillings. The Compensation Act seems on the face of it to be of much value to the worker. By being crippled or maimed they are sometimes able to get a certain sum of money as compensation. It may be true that in individual cases the Act has had some advantage for the worker. But it is hardly necessary to-day to repeat the facts of “too old at forty,” or a man with a slight injury not engaged, or if engaged, then at a lower rate of pay. The Compensation Act is a very good Act—for the capitalists.

We shall not talk of the Labour Exchanges, for even the over liberal-labour M.P.’s who at the inception of the bill claimed it to be Messiah itself, are now calling them “blackleg institutions.”

The Insurance Act again, compels the workers to submit to be mulcted of a certain sum of money so that they may keep going a lot of well-paid officials who are to ticket and number them and keep them in their respective grades.

The “Health” Insurance Act is a direct affront to the workers. It says it can prevent sickness ; it can do no such thing. Disease is bred by the conditions under which the workers must toil and live ; only Socialism cm ensure healthy working and living conditions. Those who supported the “Health” Insurance Act avow by their action that they are the direct enemies of the working class.

Then there is the class of reformers who advocate the nationalising and municipalising of private enterprises, such as the railways, trams, etc. Here, again, we find that where national undertakings are in existence the lot of the workers engaged in those concerns is very little, if any, better than the wage-slaves in private firms. We know how the postal employees fare in the hands of a capitalistic government ; how the municipal workers of Leeds, Blackburn, and Dublin have been treated by unscrupulous and tyrannical corporations.

It is the very nature of capital, whether it be organised on national, local, or private basis, to oppress and exploit the workers. Only when it suits the capitalist class—who now have the mastery in these matters—will municipal or national enterprises be undertaken, and then only for their benefit.

“But,” say some ignorant persons, “it cannot be denied that these undertakings are able to cut down rates and taxes.” By such talk are they able persuade the workers that public enterprise is a benefit—because it saves rates and taxes. Before taxes are levied a person must receive, an income of no less than £160 a year; and in so far as the worker comes within the Health Insurance Act., i.e., receives less than £160 per year, he is not liable to pay taxes. “But he pays rates ?” shrieks our reformer. “For he certainly lives in a house—poor one though it be.” Here again our reformer is wrong : the workmen pays merely a rental for his house, the rent going up or down according to the demand for and supply of houses within a given area. The rents of the workers are not affected by the rising and lowering of the rates, which proves that it does not concern the working class, but only the property owners.

“But,” the reformer will say, ” if he does not pay taxes directly, he certainly pays indirectly, on his tea, tobacco, etc.” Again our social reformer errs ; for the worker is not robbed in the sphere of exchange. It is in the domain of production where the robbery of the workers is carried on. The latter, although producing all the wealth of society, are only allowed to buy a small portion of the wealth which they produce. Receiving a wage, the price of his labour power, he is not able to buy up all that he has produced. Therefore the concern of the working class is not that tobacco, or tea, or any commodity is dear, but that the major portion of what they produce is filched from them. It would make precious little difference to the working class as a whole, if all articles were cheapened in price if in like proportion their money wages dropped, or vice versa, their money wages rose while prices rose in the same proportion. The working class have never had the power, nor can they have such power under capitalism, of dictating their terms to the master class. Which proves that it is not the price of an article that matters, but the control by the workers of their own working conditions which Socialism alone can give, which matters.

Of late we have had the land taxers, with Lloyd George at their head, trying to revive an old nostrum. What villains these landed gentry are ! Certainly no one can say a wrong word against the people Lloyd George represents—for is he not the heaven anointed “Messiah,” himself ! Yes, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, the landlords are sucking the blood of the farm labourers and workers in general, but it is a mere flea-bite to the outrageous plunder and spoliation of your masters, the capitalists.

This nostrum, if put into practice, will certainly relieve capitalists of a burden. But will it help the workers ? These professional diddlers claim it will by opening up new land and industries. By such means, it is asserted, will the unemployed be absorbed and wages, as a consequence, raised.

Yes, but the land taxer has never looked into the nature of capital. The capitalist reformer looks to this scheme as being a means to increase profits. Seeking the support of the workers, he leads them to believe that wages will also rise. History shows that although profits have risen enormously, real wages have fallen. And this has come about through capital becoming greater by inventions of machinery and the speeding up of the workers.

This has been going on all along and taxation of land values will in no way disturb that process. Thus while land taxation will benefit the members of the commercial class, (who own little land), by easing their burden of taxation, it in no way guarantees to the workers better living conditions.

Having then examined the most popular and so-called beneficial reforms, we find their ill effects far outweigh what can be said in their favour. And naturally so. For the fact is that reforms which are enacted by a capitalist govern¬ment are used generally for the benefit of the master class. They touch only the externals, and never the internal or foundation of society. So long as the basis of capitalist society remains, so long will the social diseases, that are a result of that basis, remain.

The whole foundation of capitalism must be removed for Socialism to take its place, for not till then will society be relieved of the social cancer that affects it to-day. Mere talk that reform may benefit under certain imaginary conditions that may arise in the future is futile. We as Socialists know that we cannot afford to deal with fantastical side issues ; for we are convinced that Socialism is the only means for the emancipation of the working class. Therefore, we must ever be advocating Socialism before the working class so that they may be prepared for the change in society.

“But,” say some reformers notably of the I.L.P. and B.S.P. type, “we cannot afford to wait so long, and besides, we are legislating Socialism step by step until we shall have secured the lot.” Our misguided reformer cannot see that it is not Socialism that is evolving, but capital ism day by day, as capitalism becomes more and more powerful, the workers’ position in, society becomes increasingly deplorable. The capitalists (who legislate—not the workers) will not legislate themselves out of power gradually despite the talk of some crazy people about “revolutionary reform,” rather will they seek to increase their power.

Only by the working class themselves taking conscious revolutionary political action will the fight be finished and their victory assured. By the workers taking such action, the capitalists, in their attempt to save their power, will dole out reforms in plenty, but the working class politically and intellectually organised will not be hood-winked as they are to-day. They will, through their political supremacy, abolish private ownership of the means of life, and institute social ownership for social use. Then and only then will society be freed from the glaring anomalies that exist to-day, viz., luxury and idleness on the one hand ; poverty and slavery on the other.


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