The Real Baby-Killers. A Critic Critcised

The Crime Against Motherhood
“Apart entirely from the depletion of the labour for cotton manufacture by the war, adult workers are finding the strain of the work so great that they prefer other work even at much less rates of wages. Of recent years the speeding up has been accelerated. The toll in the fac­tories is almost more than flesh and blood can stand. Indeed, flesh and blood cannot stand it and remain healthy. Women in the mills are, as a result of the conditions, rendered unfit for the duties of motherhood. The strength of the race is being sapped at the very root. Let it not be thought that I am exaggerating in any way. It is a fact that conditions in the cotton mills are steadily going from bad to worse, and how bad they have been only those can know who have had to live under them.”

The above is quoted from an article by one Donald Ross, which appeared in “Reynolds’s Newspaper.” The description of the conditions in cotton manufacture apply with equal force to nearly every industry that can be mentioned. Robert Sherard, in his “White Slaves of England,” examined half-a-dozen industries, and could have included many more, where conditions were even worse than were to be found in textile factories, bad us they are.

There are undoubtedly degrees of poverty and suffering among the workers. There are some industries that are notorious as child-murdering institutions ; but the children of the working class are sacrificed to capital everywhere. Mr. Ross ignores this, and attacks the cotton lords as though they were the only criminals.

The question of child labour has been discussed inside and outside the House of Commons only to reveal the naked hypocrisy of the employing class and the rottenness of their system. At the conclusion of all these discus­sions, rather than admit their impotence or unwillingness to check the evils that flow from their avarice, they invariably cast the blame upon the parents of the children—”These men and women, who for the sake of a few shillings per week eagerly curtail their children’s educa­tion and condemn them to the factory hells.” Mr. Ross, though not endorsing this view, yet says : “Surely the parents of Lancashire will refuse to let their children be ruined in this way.” He does not tell us, however, how the workers of Lancashire are to back up their refusal. To maintain their children in idleness is out of the question. Their wages, even when husband and wife both work, is barely sufficient to keep themselves. Throughout long years they have struggled against fearful odds to feed and clothe their kiddies. They have continually looked forward to the time when they would get them off their hands.

Who is to Blame ?
In localities like Lancashire, where a single industry predominates and nearly all the workers are more or less directly employed in it, there is little chance for the children as they grow up escaping from it. Their destiny is marked out for them. The factories are there to incorporate flesh and blood with the raw cotton, and with the best will in the world the parents cannot protect their children from the vampires that have already sucked the parents dry.

“It is an astounding proposal,” says Mr. Ross, “that children of twelve years of age, for the period of the war, be allowed to work eight hours a day, and be required after the war to attend continuation schools.”

It does not strike the writer of that remark as astounding or monstrous that there should be an idle class in society able to enforce this and much more—a class that owns all the means of wealth production, and by that means are able to enslave the rest of society. But this fact transcends in importance any of the wretched details that make up the hideous nightmare of capitalism.

The Baby-killers are Here
“The whole is greater than a part,” and the entire sufferings of the working class are greater than the sufferings of any section. The cause of the total suffering is the class ownership of the means of life and the commodity character of human labour-power. For no one to-day can deny that society could satisfy all its needs and abolish poverty entirely if the means of life were owned in common and wealth were produced for use. Class ownership and production for profit are the cause of poverty, of the exploitation of children as well as of men and women—and of the war that provides the excuse for intensifying wage-slavery. That is the cause; and Mr. Ross gravely informs us that “the best way to deal with an evil is to remove its cause.” Private ownership is the cause ; let the workers remove it and substitute common ownership, when, by working co-operatively and controlling democratically they can satisfy all their wants with the minimum expenditure of labour-power, If men, women, and children are “sacrificed on the altars of Mammon,” destroy the altars and take away the power of their priests.

But really there is nothing astounding in the “proposal” Mr. Ross speaks of if we take into consideration whence it comes. The cotton lords have always been in the van in the capitalist war on children. Who forgets their past record ? Who forgets how they bargained with the representatives of their class in authority for the work­house children, taking one imbecile in every five ; how they worked them in relays, chained to the machines, and turned them into beds just vacated by their companions who were to take their places at the machines ? The lineal descendants of these inhuman monsters, only one or two generations removed, can scarcely be expected to have lost their appetite for child flesh.

Some Capitalist Humbug
The cotton lords are ordinary capitalists, and all capitalists are concerned with obtaining cheap labour—the cheapest that can be got for their purpose. Even “garden cities,” recreation rooms, and other “ideal condi­tions” are avowedly established with that object in view. The function—if it can be dignified with that name—of the capitalist is the function of the parasite. His nature is to exploit ; and his natural hypocrisy comes to his aid when he seeks to justify his exploitation. It is best for the children, he says, to be in the factories with something useful to occupy their minds : it keeps them out of the streets, where they come to harm. The capitalist is the real baby-killer. But it is useless to rail at him, or to plead with him. The only sane course is to put it out of his power to continue his exploitation.

The only way to do this is to deprive him of ownership of the tools of production, and incidentally this is the only way to save the children from his clutches. Mr. Ross overlooks this simple solution. “The war is to be used as a pretext for binding men and women to the tools of their trade : tools which they themselves do not own. But that is not the main point. The main point is that children of twelve years of age” and so on. So Mr. Ross fails to see that the ownership of the tools determines the slavery of the parents, and their impotence to save their children from a like fate follows.

It is questionable whether the writer of the article understands the Socialist solution, although he refers to the tools which the textile workers do not own. Labour leaders and others often use this phrase with no conception of what it implies. Some, indeed, understand by it the Syndicalist notion that the workers in each industry can own the tools they operate. But there is a distinct danger in the use of such phrases unless the knowledge is conveyed along with it, that there is only one alternative to capitalist ownership, and that is, common ownership of all the tools of production and distri­bution by the whole people.

Save the Children !
“But this is not the main point,” says Mr. Ross, meaning, of course, “the binding of men and of women to the tools they do not own.”

We contend that, it is the main point. If the children have to be broken on the wheels and frames of the cotton lords—as the parents have been—it is not a mere question of a year or two less school, but a question of their condemnation to the hell of life-long slavery.

Mr. Ross says : “The best way to deal with the evils of cotton manufacture is to alter the conditions.” He neglects, however, to inform us how to do so, or even who is to alter them, cotton lords or wage-slaves. The latter, if they wish to learn, might apply to Mr. Ross, who has evidently mastered the question and found it easy. He says “that would be too simple,” and then he intimates that the cotton lords have the power to alter conditions, though admitting it would be against their interest to do so. “It might interfere with profits,” he says. Further : “It might, indeed, persuade cotton operatives that they are human beings with equal rights to their masters, instead of mere commodities to be bought and sold in the labour market.”

Here our author reveals the futility of all reform movements. Reforms can only come as concessions from the master class, who know by experience that concessions are a sign of weakness. The strength and boldness of their enemies are increased in proportion as concession is made. It is the knowledge of this that determines employers’ opposition to every demand made by the trade unionists. A few real successes by trade unions would do far more to make them popular than years of propaganda. But real successes are impossible to them. The economic organisation and power of the capital­ists increases faster than do those of the unions. The resistance of the latter, though necessary and useful, is only able to slightly retard the pace of the increase in the rate of exploitation.

Nor do reforms accomplish anything for the working class, whose poverty and wretchedness increases with every improvement in the means of wealth production. They neither palliate present conditions nor build up the workers’ strength for an organised effort in the future. The exposure by Mr. Ross of child-slavery in the textile factories—although dealing with only a portion of the crime against the working class—is surely sufficient to move the workers to at least take counsel among themselves with a view to ending a system which means slavery for themselves and their children. Reforms are useless, for even while we are concentrating our attention on one particular evil other, and worse, evils are springing up all around us. The only sure way to fight all the evils is to spread the knowledge of Socialism. Socialism alone will give the workers control of the tools they use, and enable them to save themselves and their children from poverty and slavery.

F. F.

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