It is interesting to note how at this time of the year the Press weep tears of tenderness over the starving bodies of the workers who have been cast down to such depths of misery by the workings of the capitalist system; the hypocrisy of the writers is only emphasised by the humility with which the doles of food and clothing are received by the victims of capitalism. Under the heading of “Adopting a Family : a Useful Birmingham Scheme,” the Birmingham Mail (20-11-’21) quotes the Daily Post:
“The suggestion that individuals should ‘adopt’ necessitous families has elicited a promising response and a considerable extension of the movement appears likely.”
Apparently, the master class are somewhat alarmed at the widespread effects of the industrial crisis and the possibility of disturbances if no attempt is made to alleviate the distress other than by the Government unemployment pay, or the Guardians’ dole; hence the special efforts and the appeals to Christmas sentiment to gain support for the various schemes of adoption, Christmas dinners, etc., in order to counteract any attempt by the unemployed to parade their miseries before the very doors of their masters.
It is probable also that there is a fear that the efficiency of the working class will be seriously deteriorated, and therefore the necessity arises for them to be kept in such physical health as will ensure wage slaves capable of standing the strain of the next period of booming trade.
The Post admits the “State benefit is barely sufficient to pay the rent; the Guardians,” we are told, “are willing to adopt a scale of relief which ensures the recipient from starvation.”
May I suggest that there are three grades of starvation : firstly, nothing at all to eat unless one takes on the rôle of a Nebuchadnezzar, or the advice of Foulon, “Let them eat grass.” Secondly, the Guardians’ scale —just sufficient to keep a flicker of life in the badly-clothed cold-racked bodies of the unemployed. Thirdly, the miserable wage (a much desired attainment) of the employed, which will buy a few more ounces of marge and a few more pounds of bacon and cheese than fall to the lot of the unemployed; in short, the necessary fuel to generate the energy to set in motion the human machine for its purpose under capitalism—the production of surplus value. “Truth will out” is an old saying, and its aptness is clear in the following :—
“The present trade depression is unparalleled in extent, and has engulfed hundreds, if not thousands, of families who have never before been unable to provide for themselves. This is their first acquaintance with poverty and adversity, and many of them will suffer untold misery rather than appeal to the poor law “
To the worker who gives any thought to his position the true interpretation of that statement goes far beyond the desire of the composer; these thousands of families were previously in the third stage, before mentioned, of starvation, as the fact that they are now in the first stage proves, for they were not able whilst at work to provide for the rainy day which capitalist mentors are always so keen on exhorting them to prepare for. The drizzle is always with the working class, excepting when, as now, it rains with a vengeance.
The article informs us that families are recommended by a body called the “Citizen Society,” with which enquirers are put in touch. And then follows an instance how the scheme works.
An inquirer desired to be put into communication with some suitable family; he was supplied with the particulars of two (suitable, of course), and the inquirer wrote the Post as follows : “I visited the two families whose names you gave me, and both seem such genuine ones that I have decided to adopt the two.”
What sublime feelings of humanity came over the visitor whilst inspecting these cases that “seem” to be so suitable, so genuine ! One can almost imagine them to be cases of whiskey, with appropriate labels of “Genuine Scotch,” about which the inquisitor appears a little doubtful, and prefers caution until actual experience with the liquor enables him to give a more pronounced opinion.
At this rate of adoption there will not be a single starving family in Birmingham; perhaps not in the whole country—until next summer. Further, there can be no doubt a desperate struggle will take place between individual capitalists for the genuine best brands to be plucked from the hell of starvation; in my mind’s-eye I can see a smug, philanthropic, hygienic Lord of Ballyville Paradise having it on with the Screwjab of Brum. as to which shall have the honour of relieving some necessitous family. Life will be one long holiday for the unemployed, with cakes and pictures thrown in, if this idea spreads. But stay, who is going to decide the scale (useful term) of food for the adopted family ; what will be the menu? Will it assume the proportions of a ration just sufficient to keep alive the victims of capitalism, or will it be oil the same scale as the patron’s family?
We get a little enlightenment on this point when we read in relation to the adopted family of the staff of the Post : “it is hoped to keep the family in a state of efficiency until they are again able to provide for themselves.”
So it is evident the adopted are to have just enough for the purpose of keeping them in such condition as when the depression is over they will be capable of producing once again a maximum of surplus value for their masters, and thus the true reason for the scheme leaks out. But the generosity embodied in it is of so far-reaching a character that it is necessary for others to share in it, and so the co-operation of individuals, of church, of shop, and office staffs is called for, in order “to see some deserving case through the trials of winter.”
Those in work are reminded they can adopt a family or families “according to the means at their disposal.” This implies that the rich are so desirous of helping the starving unemployed that they ask the starving employed to help with contributions from wages which have been bumping down during the last year.
“Personal adoption has great potentialities for good,” we are told. “It introduces the personal touch which is so valuable to both parties to the transaction, and creates an atmosphere of friendliness and sympathy which is lacking in the most carefully conceived forms of public charity.”
Such schemes can only be valuable to one party, and that party is the ruling class, for the notion is kept alive that humanity is all that is required to regulate the affairs and alleviate the troubles of the present; they are built up on the assumption that there must always be poverty, and the idea is general amongst the workers that it is the duty of the rich to alleviate the miseries of the poor with gifts of clothing, food and money. It is not the duty of the rich, neither is it the duty of groups of workers such as office and works staffs to take part in such temporary expedients. The former will pretend there is such a thing as duty in this connection, and preach that duty to others through their mouthpieces in the Press and pulpit, in order to lighten the burden for themselves. But when the working class, unemployed or employed, delve down to the root reason for their misery and poverty, they will then see that trade-depressions with their effects, and trade booms with their overwork, inevitably accompany a system of world-wide commodity production.
The abolition of poverty can only be within measure of realisation when the workers understand that the material conditions for producing wealth as water flows from a tap are here; they will then march on direct to the goal, the possession of the political machine, and in the name of society convert the land, factories and tools from private into common property.
The basis of society having then undergone the revolutionary change, that freedom which poets sing of will be possible; no man, woman or child will be patronised, for each man and woman capable of work will take his or her part in the social labours required by society’s needs, and the fruits of those labours being owned by the whole of society must needs be distributed in conformity with that basis. When the working class understand the principles of Socialism they will take the necessary action to abolish capitalism with its attendant evils of poverty and canting humbug, removing once and for all the obstacle which stands in the way of equality liberty and fraternity.