1920s >> 1924 >> no-240-august-1924

Socialism and Birth Control

“The New Generation League (formerly Malthusian League) aims at eliminating poverty, unemployment, and other social evils, as well as war, by the simple method of reducing over-population, by enabling married couples to restrict their families to those children for whom they can properly care, and give a reasonable chance for a happy and useful existence.”—(New Generation, June.)

As Socialists, we are not opposed to the teaching of sexual physiology, but welcome any knowledge based upon the facts of life conducive to health or comfort. Our opposition is to the claim that even a general application of such teachings (the use of contraceptive methods of birth control), can remove deep-rooted social evils such as is claimed in the quotation given above.

Working class poverty prevails throughout the Capitalist world irrespective of fiscal systems, forms of government, rising or falling birth rates, etc. It exists because the abundance of wealth produced by the workers is in the hands of the non-producers, the Capitalists, who own the means and results of production. The workers’ share of that wealth is wages, a fraction of the total values they produce. Wealth is produced to-day for markets, which relatively shrink as world competition grows more intense. Labour saving devices increase the number of unemployed, as they reduce the number required for a given amount of production. Wars are fought either to extend or retain markets for the disposal of wealth primarily produced for sale. The propertyless condition of the workers compels them to enter the Labour market in order to meet the owners of their means of living—the buyers of their Labour power—and the effective sale of that labou^ power is expressed in its price or wage.

As far as the adult male worker is concerned, that wage is based upon the cost of maintaining a family. Those without families gain a small advantage while that difference is maintained.

“The Neo-Malthusian contention, however, lays chief stress not upon the gain to the individual family from a reduction of its size below its normal, but upon the gain to the labouring classes in general by following a policy which by restricting the supply of labour raises its market price.” (Report of the Commission on The Falling Birth Rate (Chapman & Hall), Page 28, 1916.)

This might be true if other things remained equal, but they never do. The war reduced the working class in numbers, but did its conclusion bring improvement in their conditions? Even the steady reduction of the working population, carried out by whatever means, could never keep pace with the number displaced by the introduction of labour saving devices.

Any tendency for “costs” to increase is a direct incentive for installing wages-saving methods and a shortage of labour would hasten their adoption. To reduce the size of the average family is no remedy, as under the competitive conditions of to-day a general lowering in the cost of living brought about by smaller families would mean lowered wages :—

“The value of labour power resolves itself into the value of a definite quantity of the means of subsistence. therefore varies with the value of these means, or with the quantity of labour required for their production.” (Capital, Page 151.)

A number of statistics and facts from Henry George (Progress and Poverty) right up to the Commission report on the birth rate mentioned above, bear evidence that high and low fertility are closely related to poverty and comfort respectively. In plant and animal life we observe similar tendencies 5s a result of the struggle for the food supply. The wealthy are not so because they restrict their families. Their lowered fertility results from their luxurious and comfortable lives.

“Darwin noted that 19 per cent. of the nobility were sterile.” (“Mulhall’s Dictionary of Statistics,” Page 383.)

The workers, as a class, are not poor because of their larger families. Wealth has increased much faster than population. The workers are born poor, remain poor, single or married, employed or unemployed, abstainers or moppers, with small families or large, and their larger families result from their keen struggle for existence.

“In fact, not only the number of births and deaths, but the absolute size of the families stand in inverse proportion to the height of wages, and therefore to the amount of means of subsistence of which the different categories of labourers dispose. This law of Capitalist society would sound absurd to savages or even civilised colonists. It calls to. mind the boundless reproduction of animals individually weak and constantly hunted down.” (Capital, Page 658.)

The workers are poor today in the midst of what is termed over-production. Unlike the reformers (birth controllers included) we do, not approach the question of social evils with the assumption that Capitalism is inevitable and eternal. To us those evils have a definite cause, to be sought for in their social epoch. We cannot expect to understand modern war or unemployment by studying ancient society, hence the present population question is essentially a Capitalist one. Its solution is the removal of the system that gives rise to it and other social evils, and the establishment of Socialist society in which the conflicting elements of to-day will cease to exist. While production is limited to the needs of our masters’ markets, while the workers must limit their consumption of wealth to the meagre purchasing power of their wages, while every labour-saving method is, in the control of the Capitalist class, a means to a greater output with a relatively fewer number of workers, while, in short, the present system remains, conditioned as it is by the monopoly of the means of life by the Master class, an ever-increasing number of the workers must go to swell the surplus population of Capitalism—the “over population” of the Birth Controllers. To talk of the lack of means of subsistence to-day is childish; apart from the fact that the workers sustain the wealthy “unemployed” in riotous luxury, those surplus to the production o£ wealth under the present social system, become such long, long before our powers to produce are utilised to their capacity.


(Socialist Standard, August 1924)

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