“But what is necessary is a very great reduction in our present economic equalities.
“This implies that, while the average level of wellbeing must be greatly raised, the rich shall become poorer and the poor richer.
“The span of individual incomes in this country runs from well over £50,000 a year to much less than £1 a week, a ratio of much more than one thousand to one. This is grotesquely wide.”(“Practical Socialism for Britain,” Hugh Dalton, pp. 319.)
Is the gap between rich and poor narrowing?
This is the monotonous theme of both Conservative and Labour propaganda—and Liberals as well. In fact, all reformists—busy reforming capitalism—keep telling the workers how much good their reforms have done.
The Conservatives have published “How Conservatives Have Helped the British People,” listing 94 pages of Acts passed by the Conservatives, showing “that the bulk of the social and industrial legislation for the benefit of the people since the beginning of the nineteenth century has been passed by Conservatives.”
Pamphlets like “Labour on the March,” by the late Geo. Ridley, start by describing the appalling conditions of the last century and proceed to enumerate the Bills introduced by the Labour Party as the reason for the “great” improvements.
“What I have so far written has been an attempt to show that the great social changes in the last forty or fifty years have been due to the growing powers of Labour in every sphere of its activity . . .
“Up to 1906 the Statute Book, was almost barren of social legislation . . .
“Then there came a most perceptible change. Labour was on the march. . . .
“Great changes have resulted—in all directions. The young, the aged, the unemployed have all greatly benefited by these changes. . . .
“These changes, however, have done no more than relieve the worst evils of our social and economic system.”
(“Labour on the March,” by G. Ridley, M.P., Published by Labour Party. Pages 10 and 11.)
Quite apart from every working-man’s own personal knowledge an array of facts refute the claim that the social position of the working class is being “improved.”
“The total value of property in Great Britain has been estimated by Mr. H. Campion to be about 13,090 millions in 1911-13, 24,570 millions in 1926-28, and 25,560 millions in 1932-34. About 90 per cent. of it was privately owned.”
(“Facts for Socialists,” Fabian Society, p. 18.)
“Eighty per cent. of the private property of the country is owned by 7 per cent. of the population.” Sir William Beveridge.
Further, the Economist of December 30th, 1944 (requoted in The Socialist Standard of July, 1945), showed Mr. Campion’s estimates proved that
“The problem of the rich and the poor, the inequalities of wealth have not been eliminated. . . .
“These estimates show that whatever levelling up at the bottom may have taken place and however the relative share of the middle class may have increased, the property structure of society has not altered fundamentally.”
The Economist also very soundly pointed out the futility of comparing incomparables, which is what reformist propaganda does.
“Indeed, to draw any detailed comparison between conditions in 1844 and 1944 would be a ‘waste of time’ . . . People lived and worked under primitive and barbarous conditions, herded together like cattle in their tenements; they were illiterate, half-starved, filthy and diseased. The only relaxations were liquor, horse-play and sex. Typhus and the yellow fever spread through the infested dwellings, but the toll of life was no matter because workers were plentiful and cheap,”
(Economist, 30th December, 1944.)
The abolition of these conditions is, even in the absence of an organised political Labour Party, the normal process of developing capitalism. It has nothing whatever to do with Socialism—and does not lead to it.
Many competent employers have introduced Welfare Schemes, free Medical and Dental Treatment, thrift Schemes and educational courses, entirely on their own initiative.
Modern employers do not want drunken lecherous hooligans, they are inefficient and unprofitable.
“Social legislation” is really for the maintenance of the supply of efficient, healthy value-producers.
Every “improvement” in the position of the wage-earner, as wage-earner, merely makes him a better producer of surplus value—and therefore more profitable.
This is all that the Labour Government’s elaborate nationalisation schemes will do, resulting eventually in greater unemployment and “miserable poverty” than ever.
Some indication of the vast “improvement” in the position of the workers as a result of both Tory and Labour social legislation is provided by the “evidence” advanced by these parties in their propaganda.
Thus the Tories, in “Forty Years of Progress,” declare that:
“As long ago as 1934 over 4,000 cinemas, each the product of the century, were providing seats for nearly four million people at round about the rate of one seat per night among every 12 persons. And the money freely circulating in dog racing, horse racing and the football pools, patronised in the main by those who rank as the poorest among us, indicates clearly the large amount of free money available in the country.” (pp. 8.)
While the Labour Party in Hampstead listed as one of its main election slogans in the recent Municipal Elections—the “Provision of a local Employment Exchange to avoid travelling and inconvenience for workers.” (As though one can be a worker without “inconvenience.” 1).
From all of which it appears that the worker intent on “improvements” without abolishing capitalism can vote Tory for “More and better dog tracks,” or Labour for “Bigger and Better Labour Exchanges.” Even a modern electronic microscope fails to reveal any real difference basically between Labour and Tory programmes.
Mr. David Stelling, in “Why I am a Conservative,” published officially by Conservative Headquarters (1945), says:
“The Conservative approaches new problems—and today they are all new—with an open mind . . .
“If nationalisation of a public service—or national control of an industry—appears to be the best course, he is prepared to adopt it.” (pp. 14.)
As time proceeds the normal course of the “Ins” and the “Outs” will operate, with Tories becoming more “concerned ”than ever about improvements for the workers to get votes, and Labour Ministers “rising to their ministerial responsibilities” to prove that it can’t be done—until they’re “out.”
No wonder Mrs. E. M. Braddock, now Labour M.P. for Exchange, Liverpool, declared at the 1944 Conference of the Labour Party that
“I have been trying during the whole of this Conference to discover some difference between our policy and the policy of the Conservative Party. Every White Paper issued up to date has had the complete agreement of both sides and I cannot for the life of me understand how we are going to fight a General Election when we are in practically complete agreement with the Conservative Party.” (Conference Report, pp. 167.)