Taxation and the workers. The budget and the bottom dog
The introduction of the Budget has once more provided the Labour Party with an opportunity of demonstrating their utility to the master-class and their utter uselessness to the workers ; and right nobly have they risen to the occasion. While hundreds of delicate, half-starved women are being told by unemployment committees that they are not genuinely seeking work these redoubtable champions of the under-dog can find nothing better to do than to kick up a shindy over a tax on silk stockings !
Not only do they find themselves in the company of Liberals such as Runciman and Co. and Tories such as Colonel Gadie, of Bradford and other representatives of the employers of the West Riding, but that notorious organ of democratic enlightenment, the “Daily Mail” also rallies to their support and condemns the fiscal folly of the chameleon Chancellor. How inspiring ! What enthusiasm the spectacle must awaken in the breasts of those who seek to persuade us that the Labour Party is entitled to the support of Socialists !
Now, frankly, fellow-worker, what do these taxes matter to you? Have you ever known them make any practical difference to your condition in the long run? When, for instance, the man who won the war (you know who I mean, of course) bilked the tyrannous landlords of a halfpenny in the pound on the unimproved value of their estates, to provide money for battleships, did you buy a car or take a tour to the Riviera? Of course not ! You went along to your job just as you always had done or you lined up at the Labour Exchange along with hundreds of thousands of others in a similar plight; and such has been your lot whatever taxes have been put on or taken off. Nor is the reason far to seek.
Why are taxes imposed at all? That is the question you must first answer if you are to arrive at any understanding of the matter. As hinted above they are imposed for the purpose of providing for the expenditure of the State. The Labour Party themselves have on occasion shown that the greater proportion of that expenditure is upon the armed forces. Do those forces exist for your benefit? Is it for your sake that the Navy guards the products of the farms and ranches overseas, of the tribute of the gold-fields and of the cotton, cocoanut and other tropical plantations? Is it on your behalf that aircraft terrorise the inhabitants of India and Iraq, where the oilfields are? You only need to remember what happens when a large strike is on to find your answer. Then another branch of the services is told off to see that you do not lay unholy hands on the products of the labour of your class. You are forcibly reminded that in the land of your birth you are the bottom-dog whenever you seek to challenge the justice” of your subsistence wages.
Of course there are not lacking fatuous boobs who profess to believe that taxation can be and is used for what they are pleased to call “social amelioration” as a primary object. The facts are all against them. Take any form of non-militant expenditure such as that on education, sanitation, the relief of destitution and the like and you will invariably find that such expenditure is manifestly totally inadequate to raise the workers above the level of mere profit-producing machines.
The “education” provided is such as will fit the child for absorption in due course into the factory, shop, or office of the boss. It is primarily an education in discipline necessary to capitalism. The instinctive curiosity of the child is smothered under a heap of “facts” systematically loaded with the cant and prejudice of religion and patriotism. That is all that education means to the workers beyond the rudimentary three r’s.
The sanitation provided in working class areas is the minimum necessary to prevent the spread of infectious diseases to the areas occupied by their exploiters. It is notoriously inadequate to prevent the workers sinking to the C3 level ! After a century of sanitary legislation the slum still survives, a standing menace to healthy social development.
As for the relief of destitution by such methods as insurance, these have been shown in these columns repeatedly as being nothing more than attempts to economise by centralisation—the alternative to extra police protection. Once again the sums given are nothing more than will actually prevent the masses of the destitute from raiding the food stores.
The entire machinery of government thus exists simply for the purpose of preserving the system by which the workers are robbed of the greater portion of the fruits of their labour. It is, therefore, a matter of indifference to the workers how taxes are raised. The essential point to bear in mind is that the sums raised are utilised in opposition to the interests of the workers.
Reformers and taxation-tinkerers of all kinds endeavour to establish some connection between taxes and the workers’ condition in order to claim their electoral support. Protectionists try to maintain that certain forms of taxation will increase employment. Free Traders pretend to oppose them on the ground that such taxes will increase the workers’ cost of living. Neither side have ever proved their case; but even if they had the fact would contain no consolation for the worker.
Whether the workers are busy or idle they are poor and the boom is inevitably followed by the slump. So much for the Protectionist. America is eloquent testimony to the fallacy of his arguments. The Free Traders, whether they call themselves Liberals or Labour men have nothing better to offer. Even were it true that taxes on commodities materially affected their prices for any length of time (which is a mere assumption) how does that affect the workers? Wages are based upon the cost of living of the working-class as shown in last month’s issue of this paper. If there is any truth in the dogma that “the consumer pays” then a rise in the cost of living is “passed on” to the consumer of labour-power, i.e., the capitalist employer ! In actual practice, however, quite irrespective of the incidence of taxation, the workers are engaged in a continual struggle to prevent wages sinking beneath the level of subsistence.
Protectionists and Free Traders alike simply represent the interests of different sections of the exploiting class. The Cobdens and the Brights no less than the Chamberlains were concerned with screwing the maximum amount of profit out of their slaves and simply used the cry of “Taxes” as a means to dupe them on the political field. The triumph of Free Trade was the signal for an all-round reduction in wages.
The Labour Party claims to have inherited the mantle of these Liberal hypocrites. So far as the Socialist is concerned they are very welcome to it. Socialism remains the only means by which the workers can achieve their emancipation from poverty and subjection. The Socialist therefore does not advocate this or that method of financing the State, but only the capture of the machinery of government by the consciously organised working class for the purpose of establishing Socialism and ridding us of the instrument of oppression for ever.
(Socialist Standard, June 1925)