The Futility of Reform Advocacy

There are thousands of well meaning people to day, who, while convinced of the existence of many wrongs and evils inside society and sincerely desirous of their removal, are at the same time equally convinced that the only sure way of effecting this purpose (slow and even disheartening as the process may be), is by the gradual introduction of a series of social reforms combined with the application of the gospel of individual moral regeneration—upon the latter of which much stress is laid.

These well-disposed people will not, at present, accept Socialism as the remedy, because, without having studied it for themselves, they have, by imbibing the views of the political and religious leaders in whom they repose confidence, acquired an unconscious but none-the-less deeply rooted prejudice against it. They hold the view—a very common view—that Socialism is Utopian and visionary ; that in some aspects it is immoral, in others impracticable ; that it ignores or is contrary to human nature ; that it allows no room for initiative or talent, has nothing really tangible that men can get hold of ; in a word, its advocacy is but the vapourings of an emotional discontent, and, in view of the fact that something is wanted HERE and NOW, really hardly worth consideration at all.

This is the mental attitude of a vast number of working men and women who are willing to devote time and energy to the advocacy of reforms, and upon whom the reform policy exercises a wonderful fascination.

Believing, as we do, that with all their prejudices, these people are willing to look at all sides of a question, we wish to state and to prove that no reform policy of ANY kind can mitigate to any appreciable extent the evils they rightly deplore. The reason for this is the simple but all-sufficient one that the very constitution of capitalistic society demands the continued existence of these ills, and in sober fact, could not possibly exist without them.

We will not mention in detail what these evils are, for they are too well known to need recapitulation ; they are admitted by every shade of politician and ostensibly regretted by all religious leaders. Moreover, the very existence of an elaborate reform policy in the planks of both political parties and of numerous “philantrophic” agencies, presupposes that something radically wrong is eating at the heart of society requiring abolition. We would, however, deal briefly with one of them in order to prove our contention concerning the futility of reforms, and the one we propose taking is the ill, or rather the tragedy—common to-day the world over—of unemployment.

We need not trouble the reader with a description of what unemployment means, for to very many the bitterness of experience has conveyed the lesson only too well. We merely wish to emphasise the fact that in untold cases it means actual destitution, the sale of the home, underfed children, and gradual physical and mental deterioration. It means also the loss, in many cases, of moral stamina and self respect due to the necessity of seeking charity, for as Mrs. Herbert Stead, of the Browning Settlement, told the Congregational Union when dealing with the effect of religious charity on poor women (“Chronicle,” 16.10.13):

“Religious organisations have driven the poor woman deeper down rather than helped her, by teaching her to accept doles and to understand that hypocrisy is a marketable possession.”

We are, however, not so much concerned in this article to point out the results of unemployment as we are to show its inevitability on an ever increasing scale while capitalism lasts, no matter what attempts may be made in the way of insurance, relief works, etc. to minimise or gloss over its appalling effects.

And in order to show why unemployment and the suffering it entails MUST go on under the present system and cannot be really touched by any reforms, we would invite attention to the following statements concerning modern industrialism, the truth of which, we are sure, will withstand criticism.

1. All commercial undertakings are run for one purpose only, viz., to secure profits for the class which owns them.

2. All profits are obtained by returning to the wealth producers—the working class—a less value (as wages) than the value of the goods they produce. This should be obvious, for it is clear that if the full value of the goods was returned, there could be no surplus-value, and consequently no profits.

To anticipate criticism we might here way that the capitalists, as a class, neither produce nor distribute wealth, the few who “work” being engaged in commerce, i e., in buying and selling, which, of course, producesnothing. The fact also that there are a few very small masters who, through the precariousness of their position, are compelled to work while at the same time they are exploiting one or two men, does not in any way affect the statement that the masters, as a whole, do not work.

3. The productive capacity of the workers—owing to such factors as the use of improved machinery, new processes, scientific sub-division of labour, speeding up, etc., is increasing yearly at a terrific rate-far greater than the rate required to meet the demands of an increasing population. If this is doubted we would refer the doubter to such wonderful machines as the Northop loom, the Doxfora Collier, the Gordon drill, the ferro-concrete, process in building, the use of oil instead of coal fuel, the extraordinary results arising from the application of electricity to many fields of modern industry. All these improvements in the last analysis simply mean that an equal or greater amount of work can be now done, with only a fraction of the labour formerly employed, and consequently there is more unemployment.

But this is not all. More and more in recent years the masters have been giving the workers object lessons in the power of intelligent combination, by forming among themselves working agreements, combines and trusts. These are created for the sole purpose of eliminating competition and effecting economies, and an examination of the results will show anyone who cares to enquire that economies effected by the masters are ALWAYS at the expense of the workers.

One instance will suffice. Most English Railway Companies are joined up in groups among whom there are working agreements. Since 1907 the work in both passenger and traffic departments has much increased ; the net profits have gone up from 43 to 52 millions, and yet in the same period, through more capacious rolling stock, and so on, the companies have been able to discharge permanently nearly 13,000 men.

4. Owing to the supply of labour being vastly in excess of the demand, there is intense struggle among the workers for employment ; this competition results in steadily pressing down wages till they reach on the average the bare subsistence level. This is to the benefit of the masters. At the same time, mainly through the operation of trusts, the cost of living steadily increases. This is also to the benefit of a powerful section of the masters, but makes the position of the working class doubly worse by lowering the already poor standard of living.

The final statement to which we would particularly draw the attention of reformists is, that all institutions in a capitalist-controlled society are subordinated to the interests of the capitalists, who, as long as they have the power, will never allow any institution or person to in­terfere with the economic base of society—in which unemployment is a vitally necessary part, and out of which their power, privileges and profits are built.

Now if these statements are true, then it follows of necessity that no social or legislative measure devised by well meaning people to mitigate either unemployment or its evil consequences, stands the slightest chance of success, for such success would disturb the smooth working of the industrial machine, the very heart’s blood of capitalism. The ruling class will allow, nay encourage, tinkering with social sores ; they will patronise and subscribe to relief agencies, soup and blanket societies, almshouses, rescue homes, ragged schools, etc.; they will pass an Act giving the aged poor the pitiful pension of 1s. to 5s. a week, and incidentally save their own rates in the process; ; but any attempt to alter the SYSTEM which in its daily working must create these evils, is opposed by them tooth and nail.

One has only to turn to the history of capitalism for overwhelming proof of this. For 80 years the Parliament of the richest empire in the world has been passing one reform measure after another ; factory and mining regulations, child protection, sanitary measures, education, poor law and so on. During the same period the statesman, the philanthropist, and the divine have professed their heart felt sympathy with the poor ; every political programme has been sweet with honeyed words, and the everlasting refrain has been “trust US, and all will be well.” And the people have trusted them, first the one and then the other, and after 80 years of trusting during which the hope of the poor has been daily crucified on the altar of disappointment, and their patience has been the most astounding thing in the universe, the net result, O Reformer ! in the word-picture of Mr. Lloyd George (Cardiff, 29.1.11) is:

“There are MILLIONS of men and women in this country who through no fault of their own are suffering unnecessarily . . . who go through life sodden in poverty, wretchedness and despair . . . You have always a large, wide, deep area of chronic poverty and misery . . . yon cannot deal with a pro Ken of this magnitude by spasmodic appeals to the charity of the benevolent. . . . You have greater poverty in the aggregate than you ever had, you have oppression of the weak by the strong, you have a more severe economic bondage than you probably ever had before.”

Such is the net result, after the idealists have worked, and the millions have been spent. It is the net result of the directive ability of the “brainy” men and the captains of industry. Why is it permitted to go on ? Is there insufficient wealth ? Never was the ruling class so rich as it is to day. Is the poverty of the poor due to their criminality and laziness ? Read carefully the words of Mr. Lloyd George above. “Through no fault of their own,” etc. Are the masters animated by a sincere desire to do something and yet unable to move ? If you think so, read how quickly they can move and do move when their own intetests are threatened, as is the case ia the present war.

In the course of a few days they passed the following measures and Acts : Two votes of credit, one for £100,000,000, and the other for £225,000000; two measures to increase the army by 1½ million men and the navy by 87,000 men and boys ; an Act known as the “Moratorium” postponing payment of debt to protect the interests of banks, financiers, the Stock Exchange and the capitalist class generally, many of whom were insolvent and would otherwise have gone smash ; they have guaranteed dividends to railway shareholders ; nationalised the railways, the aniline dye industry and shipping insurance ; fixed food prices at levels which press heavily on the workers but yield handsome profits to rings and trusts, and have issued numerous proclamations concerning martial law, contraband, espionage, and other things.

All this has been done in a FEW days, quickly, unanimously, and without discussion, by the two parties who were supposed to be enemies and who, before the war, were apparently flying at each others’ throats over the Irish question. They have now forgotten they are Tories and Liberals, but they never forget they are capitalists ; and working in capitalist unison, they are moving heaven and earth to safeguard those interests now seriously threatened by “alien” capitalists abroad.

These things show they CAN move when they like. Why was it, then, that for over six years they deliberately refused to feed half-starved children on non-school days or increase the miserable half-penny rate allowed for food ? Why did this Government break its own signed agreement with the London Dockers, driving them back, with the use of armed force, to harsher conditions; refuse to concede miners the minimum wage of 5s. a day, or give dock navvies 6d. an hour while giving M.P.’s £8 per week ? Why does it condone Government sweating, use Labour Exchanges as sorting institutions where the masters may obtain the cheapest and most servile labour, and offer, as the only “refuge” for the destitute poor, that organised brutality known as the Casual Ward ?

Surely the reasons are obvious. In the one case their interests are in serious peril through the armed scientific violence of the “enemy,” and it is imperative that they spend money like pouring out water in the creation of a force strong enough to win in the struggle. In the other case their interests are powerfully supported by the existence of an unemployed army, as with it they can smash strikes, reduce wages, secure cannon fodder and use it as a whip with which to keep the poor “content,” and so, beneath all their wordy sympathy the fact remains that they wouldnot alter it if they could.

They know from evidence all around them what unemployment means ; they know its universality and its ever-widening area ; but faced with the alternative (for there is no middle course) of either yielding up their positions, or perpetuating a system which builds its myriad tragedies out of class subjection, they do not hesitate for one moment, but throw overboard every dictate of our common humanity, becoming more ruthless than the beast of the jungle in order to make secure their profits and the class privilege they now enjoy. This they have always done, and always will do so long as they have the power.

The reformist, therefore, is up against two forces, either of which play destruction with his best intentions. There is the industrial development of capitalism itself, which daily recreates unemployment, and there is the all powerful opposition of the governing class, to whom the grinding misery of the unemployed is a NECESSITY. As soon, therefore, as he learns this, he will also learn that there is nothing to be done, nothing that can be done, but to add his quota to the creation of a public opinion which, gathering strength day by day, and linking in ever-growing might the world-wide army of the dispossessed, will sweep away for ever the unclean cause of the horrors he rightly deplores. He will fight to destroy capitalism and substitute Socialism, for this is the only REMEDY for the evils of the day.

F. V.

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