The Motive Behind The “Boy Scout” Movement
For over a century and a half Lancashire has been the centre of the greatest sweating system the world has ever known, and a glance through the pages of working-class history reveals facts that makes the blood boil to think of; how for years the little children of the working men were driven into factories at the age of six and eight, when mere babies, to work their poor little bodies away from early morn till eve, week in week out, year in year out, till they eventually went down to early graves, providing luxury and enjoyment for the heartless scoundrels who opposed tooth and nail all legislation attempting to improve the lot of factory workers.
It is, therefore, with curious feelings that we read in the “Manchester Guardian” of the 1st July last, the report of a meeting held in Manchester at which Gen. Sir R. Baden-Powell delivered a speech in support of an appeal for £250,000 for the Boy Scout Movement.
The meeting was composed of business men, and the slimy unctuousness of the address was worthy of its listeners, the offsprings of the worst hypocrites known to history.
Oar poor little kiddies who, in the majority of cases, get their schooling while earning their dearly bought bread, are to be roped in and taught “to co-operate with each other for the good of the country.” Why? A little further on the noble general explains. He said, when asking his audience to contribute liberally, “I do not want you to do that merely out of a spirit of charity, but rather from a business point of view.” Thus he exposes the hypocrisy of the whole thing. He says in so many words that the movement is not advocated for what good it may do the boys but in the interest of the master class. When we hear of capitalists, who have gained their wealth through the sweating and murdering of their white slaves, stepping forward and contributing hundreds of pounds to a movement of this sort, it behoves us at once to look beneath the surface and see what prompts their sudden and alarming generosity. Men who are willing to stop at nothing, not even murder, for the sake of a few hundreds per cent., don’t throw away good money for nothing, and a careful examination of Baden-Powell’s address will show the particular way in which the masters will benefit.
We will make a few extracts from his speech for purposes of illustration. He says “We try to teach them (the Boy Scouts) one or more handicrafts. Call them hobbies if you like, but hobbies lead to energy and inventiveness and to using fingers as well as brains, so that no man with a hobby is likely to become a waster in later life.” Of what use are wasters to the masters? money invested in them would not yield an adequate profit. “Then we try to give the boys health by teaching them to look after themselves. Millions of hours’ work are lost now-a-days through ill-health,” not to speak of the annoyance and loss of profit caused by sick employees interrupting and putting out of time the steady and mechanical flow of daily operations. “We try to teach them to be helpful to others . . . in that way he has learnt service to his fellowman, and the idea enlarges into service for men generally, and for his (!) country, and into self-sacrifice. . . . The barriers are to a great extent artificial, (!) and the more classes mix with each other the greater friends will they become, the better will they recognise each other’s merits, and the better will they be able to co-operate for the good of the country.” Hear! hear! Mr. General, but, of course, not that common corduroy clad country that lives in back alleys and feeds (sometimes) on boiled beef (!) and carrots And now for the climax. “At any rate let me come still nearer to you gentlemen in Manchester. We will find from experience that the boys who cultivate the ideas and habits of the Boy Scouts prove more useful to employers of labour, they do their duty not ! from fear of punishment, hut because it is their business to play the game to the best of their ability. Their discipline is founded on that playing for their side, and not for themselves. They come into business for what they can contribute to it, not for what they can get out of it. “
The above extracts give the key to the whole business. The value of the movement is that it will turn out boys with all those virtues suitable for steady, obedient, self-sacrificing workers, who will die rather than do anything to injure their employers, and it will make human labour-power more efficient and cheaper. The boys are taught how to husband their energies and live cheaply. What effect will this have on the lot of the working class? Wealth will be turned out by fewer workers; there will be more competition for fewer jobs; wages will fall. Thus by reducing waste to a minimum, lowering the necessary wages, and increasing the unemployed army, the Boy Scout movement is shewn to be anti-working class and in the interests of the masters.
If further proof is required let us glance at those who contributed so lavishly to the fund. The Fine Cotton Spinners & Doublers Association, who on several occasions lately have locked out their workers, contributed £250. Pilkington Bros., the famous glass manufacturers, one of the largest firms in St. Helens, contributed £100. One of the brothers is a Liberal and the other is a Tory. Who said Liberal capitalist and Tory capitalist interests are not identical? Lord Ashton, the carpet manufacturer of Lancaster, whose workmen were recently out on strike, contributed £25. And to clinch the argument a big engineering firm named Mather & Platt, Ltd., sent the following letter to Baden- Powell, which appeared in the ‘’Manchester Guardian” of the same day (1.7.14). “As we find that the boys in these works who are Scouts make the beat workmen, every encouragement will be given to extend the movement amongst them, and we are therefore glad to support your appeal by giving a promise of £500 to the Endowment Fund. There seems to be little doubt that the Boy Scout training tends to produce a better class of workman all round, and we hope that many other large employers of labour will answer your appeal in a generous spirit.” We think no more damning evidence could have been produced than that contained in this letter.
The whole speech by Baden-Powell, following the old time-dishonoured game, is invested with that slobbering religious humbug we know so well, that pretends to be interested in the spiritual welfare of the children. Fancy putting on the pretence of the children’s welfare before those who are responsible for the state of affairs obtaining in Lancashire at present. Father Vaughan, speaking at Liverpool on Sept. 10th, 1913, said that passing through Lancashire he could not help being struck by the small stature of the lads around Liverpool and Manchester towns, small, badly-grown, bow-legged, and narrow-chested lads. Many boys and young men looked bleached, not to say anaemic, as though they suffered from want of oxygen, nitrogen, and wholesome food. (“Leader,” 11.9.13). And those who are the cause of these conditions responded nobly to B.-P.’s appeal ! ! !
Another of your heroes, O working men is, therefore, at the bottom, but another of the tools of the master class. All the so called great men of today, whether soldiers, sailors, clerics, or politicians, are only the holders of briefs for the capitalists. “All are but ministers to wealth, and feed its mortal flame.”
The measure of a movement’s value to the working class is to be gauged by the attitude the masters adopt towards it. Religious movements, land movements, Boy Scout movements, etc., are backed liberally by the masters, then obviously these movements are in the interest of the masters and against the workers’ interests. The Socialist movement has the undying antagonism of the masters, then obviously workers should back it. In spite of Powell’s soft phrase about wiping away the barriers between the classes, the class war exists and must continue to exist until the exploiting class is wiped out of existence.
The whole vast edifice of modern civilisation is built upon the basis of exploitation and all means are employed to provide the most efficient exploitable material. When workers firmly grasp this elementary fact the cries of those who ‘boost’ the various movements for “improving” the workers’ lot, without attacking the exploiting system itself, will fall upon deaf ears, and the good work we are doing will have received its recompense.