Socialism and Charity
“There is no nobler work than this. It is unthinkable that it should be hampered or curtailed through sheer lack of funds.”
These are the concluding words of an appeal by Kingsley Long in the Daily Herald (February 23rd, 1933) entitled ‘Mother must be Saved!’
This appeal is for help for the hospitals. Its good work in saving the lives of numbers of women in childbirth is cited as being one direction in which the hospitals have fullest claim upon our sympathies and to which we should respond with financial aid.
What is the Socialist’s attitude towards charities ?
This can best be answered by another question: Why do the workers need charity? Because they have not access to all the things that could give them joyous and healthy lives (the sure preventative of most diseases). Our answer, then, is that all our spare time and money, which is very limited, should be spent on furthering the cause of Socialism, the sure and only cure for all the economic and most other ills which humanity suffers.
The objection to this, of course, will be that while we are waiting for Socialism, humanity still suffers. Whether we continue to devote our time and energy towards getting Socialism, or whether we divert them into charitable channels we shall still have the vast majority of the workers needing immediate help and succour, simply because, as a class whose sole possession is its labour-power, the workers depend upon the sale of that commodity, whether or not they live frugally or plentifully, or in semi-starvation. We have only to look in the daily newspapers to find hundreds of cases of want and necessity, which are a crying disgrace to a so-called civilised community.
The Star (February 18th) calls attention in large black lettering to the ”Ill Fed Mothers of Poorest London.” It is a report prepared by Deptford Public Health Committee. It says: —
“It is clear that in the case of families in receipt of public assistance the amount of relief afforded cannot assure its recipients the minimum varied diet recommended by the Ministry of Health. It is impossible to escape the conclusion that there are many homes in which, after the rent is paid and allowance made for heating and clothing, there is an insufficient sum available for food.”
Dr. Keith, the Medical Officer for Health, points out that the member of the family who suffers most when there is a shortage of nourishment is usually the mother, and adds: —
“The signs of malnutrition are rather insidious. There is a loss of vitality, with mental depression, apathy, due, as the old-fashioned mothers express it, to “poorness of blood.”
Again, in the Daily Herald of March 29th, 1933, there is a paragraph dealing with building with money borrowed at a cheap rate of interest for slum clearance. At the beginning of the paragraph it mentions that the Poor Law Authorities have found that they can only just, by buying wholesale, manage to keep a child for 4s. 8d. in a Poor Law Home.
It then goes on: —
“But the slum housewife does not buy wholesale. Nor does she have 4/8 per head for her children alone, apart from the grown ups, after she has paid her rent. How, then, can she. keep her family in reasonable health when her husband’s wage is £2 a week and the rent for the home, to house a family of two adults and five children is 16/- a week. Someone has got to be sacrificed, if the children are to be nourished, and it is usually the mother and the unborn children.”
Here, then, we have indisputable examples of some of the causes of the mothers of the working class losing their lives in child-birth, i.e., lack of pre-natal care and nourishment. What a hopeless endeavour charity is. First of all you are asked to help the hospitals, and when the hospitals fail, as they must, against such odds, you have got to clean up the slums, get a living wage for the workers, abolish unemployment, feed the schoolchildren, and spread the knowledge of birth control. But stop, stop, the task is too Herculean. Getting Socialism will be far simpler and quicker. It is the direct method of solving the poverty problem. Terrible suffering is undergone by women in childbirth, and chloroform capsules have been used in a number of experimental cases, with great success, but so far the treatment is too expensive for universal use upon working-class mothers.
The position, fellow-workers, is this: We are living in a state of society wherein one class is a subject class and one a dominant class. The subject class, the workers, must sell their labour-power in order to live. The wage they receive may suffice to enable them to feed, clothe and shelter themselves, and have a family. All these things must be managed within the limited amount of the wage. In many instances it will barely cover a certain amount of actual necessities. All things other than these have to be provided by the State or by private charity, or are not provided at all.
Thus, no allowance is made in a worker’s wage for hospital treatment. He may never need it, but the State is prepared to assist in a limited way when he does. A worker cannot save for unemployment, but a good and beneficent State has made unemployment insurance compulsory because they cannot rely on voluntary help being given when they have to dispense the necessary maintenance. The State (that is, the capitalists who control the State) is prepared, sometimes, to supplement the worker’s wage, when and if absolutely necessary.
It is rather significant that on February 28th the Daily Herald reports that the Ministry of Pensions is economising by closing, or partially so, its hospitals and transferring their patients (relics of the last war) to already overcrowded voluntary or municipal Poor Law hospitals. Here we have an example of how workers in the better-paid positions, who sacrifice part of their earnings to help their fellows, only succeed in helping the State to curtail expenditure. The Press, Pulpit, and now the B.B.C., are pleading and cajoling the people to help these causes. They never have to make a good cause out of sewers or refuse dumps. Disease is no respecter of persons, and these vital health services are scrupulously attended to, because the master class would speedily be affected, in many ways, by lack of attention to these details.
Tear down the veil of lies, cant, and humbug, fellow-workers, and let your sympathies go only to a cause which is worthy of your support as a class, namely, Socialism.