Socialism and Social Reforms
It is not only the workers who, through Trade Union action, endeavour to place certain limits upon their exploitation by the capitalists. The State, which to-day exists for the purpose of preserving capitalism, is also compelled in the course of its activities to take such steps.
In the early days of the nineteenth century, when the modern factory system was still struggling with earlier methods of production (based on handicraft in its later phases), the workers were able to reap some slight advantage from the divisions among the exploiting class.
Thus the landed interest, organised in the Tory Party, passed the early Factory Acts; and the tradition developed that by supporting one party against the other the workers could gradually improve their conditions. With the further developments of industry, however, the wealthy manufacturers bought land, and the landlords in turn began to invest in industry, until to-day the division has practically ceased to exist. In addition, the manufacturers discovered by experience that the legal regulation of hours of labour and the curtailment of so-called sweating could be made to hit their poorer and less effectively equipped competitors more than themselves. Hence the Liberal Party eventually took a special interest in pushing through the type of measures which they had previously opposed, and a considerable section of the workers came to regard the Liberals as their friends. In proportion, however, as modern industry develops, the value of such measures to the workers declines. The less efficient workers are precipitated into the ranks of the unemployed through legislation fixing legal minimum wages, and thus their last state is worse than their first.
This brings to the fore another type of reform which arises from the growing mass of destitution at the bottom of the social scale. This destitution constitutes a standing incentive to crime and is, therefore, a constant source of expense to the public authorities and, through them, to the propertied class in whose interests they function. Following the break up of feudalism in this country, in the reigns of the Tudors, the ruling class cowed the destitute into submission by savage repression, but the peasants who, by various means, were driven off the land, continued to grow in number and eventually the Poor Law was instituted. During the eighteenth century the farmers relied on this to make up the wages of their labourers, and again in recent years miners and others have found it necessary to appeal to the parish even when in work. Coupled with the fact that the present-day volume of Poor Law relief had reduced many parishes to bankruptcy, this led to the demand by various sections of the property-owning class that the State should assume the burden of destitution. Hence we have Unemployment and Health Insurance, old age pensions, etc., designed to relieve the pressure on the local authorities and, incidentally, pacify the workers by removing the pauper stigma. Such measures, being organised on a national scale, spread the burden over the entire capitalist, class, are more economical, and simplify the work of administration.
Nothing is easier than for astute politicians, whatever their, label, to put these measures forward as being specially intended to benefit the workers. Yet the number of persons compelled to seek Poor Relief is vastly greater than it was before the War. It is thus evident that as a preventive of poverty these measures are considerably less helpful than Mrs. Partington’s mop in dealing with the Atlantic.
Education, sanitation, and the supply of houses by public bodies are other reforms for which Liberal, Tory and Labour politicians claim credit; yet it is clear that the education received by the wage-slave’s child merely fits him to follow in his father’s footsteps as a wage-earner; sanitation removes the threat of epidemic disease which does not spare the wealthy; while cheaper housing enables the workers to accept lower wages. Taken all round, these measures are intended to raise the standard of efficiency on the part of the workers, and thus make them more productive of profit for their masters.
In order to finance these measures the State is obliged to levy increased taxation upon those who alone can bear it, the property owners; and again nothing is easier than for so-called Labour leaders and others to represent this taxation as “socialistic”—an attempt to equalise incomes. The fact that the wealth of the large capitalists increases out of all proportion to the increased taxation, and that it is only the small fry that get squeezed out, is coolly ignored.
In spite of generations of this type of State activity, the cost of keeping up the armed forces is overwhelmingly greater than that of the “social services.” Thus the greater part of taxation goes not to “relieve” the workers, but to keep them in subjection.
Many self-styled leaders of the workers belonging to the Labour and Communist Parties will readily admit that reforms on similar lines to those outlined above will not solve the problem facing the workers, and that Socialism is the only solution. Yet they claim it is necessary for their parties to have such reforms upon their programme in order to gain working-class support and thus obtain political power. “The workers want something now!” we are told, the implication being that the workers’ party should imitate the capitalist parties and make promises in order to catch votes. Such reasoning ignores the fact that a party which rises to power in such a manner can do nothing towards establishing Socialism.
Socialism cannot be imposed upon the workers from above. It is a system which implies their conscious recognition of its necessity. The workers cannot make the means of life common property without being aware of what they are doing. A programme of reforms is, therefore, useless to a Socialist Party, even as a strategic weapon. The failures of “Labour” Governments, the world over, to make any appreciable difference to the workers’ conditions bear eloquent testimony to the soundness of our claim that, so long as capitalism exists because it is accepted by the workers as a necessity, it will be run in the interests of the capitalist class, and not of their slaves.
Wherever we turn, the plausible tales of the “reformers” concerning the need of “something now” merely serve to hide from the workers the fact that, in spite of Trade Union and State action, their exploitation and degradation grow greater rather than less, and must continue to do so with every improvement in machinery, technique, and industrial organisation. The effects of the much-discussed rationalisation now proceeding in all advancing capitalist countries should make clear to all the trend of modern society.
The Socialist Party will not barter its support for any promise of reform. For, no matter whether these promises are made sincerely or not, we know that the immediate need of our class is emancipation, which can only be achieved through the establishment of Socialism. Our interests are opposed to the interests of all sections of the master-class without distinction; whether bankers or industrialists, landlords or commercial magnates, all participate in the fruits of our enslavement, All will unite, in the last resort, in defence of the system by which they live.
For the party of the working class, one course alone is open, and that involves unceasing hostility to all parties, no matter what their plea, who lend their aid to the administration of the existing social order and thus contribute, consciously or otherwise, to its maintenance. Our object is its overthrow, and to us political power is useless for any other purpose. With these facts clearly in mind, and conscious that economic development is our unshakable and inseparable ally, we call upon the workers of this country to muster under our banner.