How Well is the “Welfare State” ?

(Continued from the June SOCIALIST STANDARD)

Health in the Welfare State
Those who sing the praises of the European Welfare States and of the land of the highest wages and greatest prosperity—the U.S. A.—seem to be quite unaware of or to deliberately ignore the ugly, cruel, stupid and tragic features which the model states in both hemispheres have in common. In the totalitarian countries behind the Iron Curtain where Press and platform do not often dwell on the ugly side of things at their end, and where, therefore, information and statistical data on social affairs are not so easily accessible, ignorance may be excusable, but this cannot be said of the peoples of countries where books and Press supply the damning facts and figures with critical comment.

The 1955 report of the largest Austrian Health Service, with close on one million insured persons, provides perhaps the clearest picture of the state of health of the people. In that year the service had to deal with half a million cases of illness. Three million sickness certificates had to be issued.

Prescriptions totalled 8,700,000, which works out at 10 per person per year. In each 1,000 insured persons 193 insured persons or members of the family were treated in hospital. 375,000 bills for spectacles, foot supports, artificial limbs, bandages and other accessories had to be paid, 9 million days of illness were registered, and 3 million days in hospitals. There were 672,000 cases of dental treatment.

These are the records of only ONE, though the largest, Health Insurance Fund to which other sick clubs and the private practitioners have to be added. The city’s many hospitals and clinics are woefully short of beds and are invariably overcrowded. So are the institutions for the mentally sick. The number of inmates in the Vienna mental institutions and lunatic asylums has trebled since 1950. In that year the largest institution took in 735 persons and in 1955 the number rose to 1192. Even if it is true that alcoholism has a lot to do with it, it must be pointed out that frustration and the hard and nerve-racking conditions under which the mass of people have to live and work are in very large measure responsible for people taking to drink and driving them mad.

In a budget debate it was disclosed that in Austria no less than 4,200 million schillings were spent on alcohol, which is half a milliard more than the year before, and two milliards on tobacco. In Germany the situation is even worse, with nearly 50 per cent more on both items. How hopeless the problem is for the reformer or the apostle of anti-alcoholism is clear from the fact that prohibition, or even curtailment of the production of beer, wine and Schnapps would involve the loss of 348 million schillings for the government’s tax collectors, not to speak of the serious effect on employment. An increase of alcoholism is noticeable in almost the whole world. Sweden has had to take drastic steps to restrict the rapidly increasing consumption of alcoholic drinks. A report says that since the abolition of rationing in 1915, offences and crimes have frightfully increased. If the number of unfortunates who have been and are being driven mad by the iron heel behind the iron curtain, is probably incalculable, the number of persons in mental institutions in the “free world” countries is no secret—it is, for example, 750,000 in the U.S.A.

This chapter is not intended to deal with such deeds (perpetuated by governments) as training young people in the use of instruments of mass murder and destruction. Whatever can be said about war in the jungle and in the wild and woolly past of the human race it is now and has been for a century already—a crime. True, it is so regarded not only by Socialists, but unless you are consistent in your condemnation and earnestly concerned with the all-important question of the real cause of the dastardly deed and prepared to work, as Socialists do, towards the elimination of that cause, the mere expression of your moral or sentimental indignation remain ineffectual and futile. Thus, with all their professions of peace and desire for disarmament, the welfare states and the totalitarian regimes continue the status quo, with all its contradictions and imbecilities—poverty and misery in die midst of ever-increasing accumulation of wealth and possibilities of enjoyment of life for everybody—in other words: with Demon Capital in the saddle. Whilst chewing platitudes about peace, freedom, sovereignty and social justice, the Labour Government of the United Kingdom brought in the atom-bomb, and in another welfare state—Austria—it is the very leaders of the “Socialist Party of Austria” who are the chief promoters of a new army. And in order to imbue the young recruits with the necessary fighting spirt, welfare statesmen and writers continue as in pre-welfare days, to give to historical events the bias required by the national (read capitalist) interests. So important is the fostering of that spirit to the powers that be that if for example, there was no “Südtirol question,” both Rome and Vienna would have to invent one.

Our purpose in this chapter was, however, to deal with the crimes committed not by order or at the behest of governments, but by individuals driven to desperation and anti-social acts by an anti-social and insane system of society. It is to show that in the welfare state most of the evils inseparable from the money system flourish as abundantly as ever before. Burglaries, robberies with violence, theft and larceny, shocking murders and assaults, cruelties to children, etc., are on the order of the day. In January the leading article in a Vienna newspaper wrote: “With great alarm the public learns that the number of murders and general crimes with violence have for weeks again sharply increased. The excitement about the brutal assault on a postman last Saturday has hardly abated when news comes of a new far more terrible crime. In their tumble-down barracks an old couple was found battered to death and robbed of what little savings they possessed. A youth of 17 was afterwards arrested for the murder.” The same paper reported the murder of a 25-year-old wife by her husband. Two boys of 17 and 18 raped and murdered a girl of 15 on her way home. A one-arm invalid killed his wife and six children with an axe. Another man murdered his wife and four children. Six boys stole within a short time 31 autos. “Christmas is the time”—another paper wrote—“in which the number of suicides and attempted suicides is far above the average. Among the many “tireds-of-life” this Christmas was the 40-year-old A. H., who gassed herself and her two children.”

It is interesting that within a few days of one paper boasting that Austria was a land without gangsters, there occurred no fewer than three bank robberies in classical gangster style, with autos and the rest (two in the country and one in Vienna), in one of which two young robbers perished. And so one could go on ad infinitum, every day bringing new reports of crime and tragedies. Rarely are they reported in the foreign press, since every country has more than enough locally to fill their own regular columns of police and court reports.

In these unholy and unblessed orgies of crime, cruelty and fraud which, by the way, give employment to whole armies of policemen, gendarmes, prison guards, and wardens and executioners, lawyers and judges, reporters and printers and photographers, detectives and special transporters, in addition to experts in safety devices, safe-makers, etc., etc., the annual number of convictions of all kinds over recent years is invariably just over 100,000 in this country, 20 per cent. of which are for criminal killing and assault; the rest are for fraud, embezzlement, blackmail, insurance swindles and other “scandals.”

With the Socialist’s preference for quoting his enemies confirming the truth of his statements and criticism, here is what the Austrian Sozialminister Proksch said at a conference of the “Aktion Jugend am Werk” (7/11/1956): It is the tragic fate of the young about to start a profession, to be faced with unsettled problems. The advisory committee tries to help them in making a decision, but what good is this to them when there are no suitable openings and nobody wants them. It is hypocrisy to accuse youth of being spoiled and depraved when nothing is being done for their professional education. What is to become of a youth who has to wait months and sometimes longer for a chance of an apprenticeship? One must not be surprised if young people eventually become criminals.” Remarkable, is it not? that this same Sozialminister should only a few months earlier have declared: “The Welfare State brings welfare to everybody, and with it assures well-being to every citizen”

If it will console British readers that things are said to be worse in America, here is what Sir Basil Henriques, former chairman of East London Juvenile Court, said after he had spent 51 days in the U.SA discussing juvenile delinquency in 20 cities and 14 States: “Every court where I sat I heard cases which were more serious than any I have heard in my 33 years on the bench.” On the television, he said: “I saw nothing but murder, divorce and prison scenes.” And if you should happen to get hold of a book “Never Come Morning,” by Nelson Algren, you may come to the conclusion that really Sir Basil could hardly have exaggerated.

Accidents at work
The number of accidents at work is rising from year to year. From 1953 with 129,449 accidents, with 422 killed, it rose to 162,500, with 670 killed, in 1956. They do not only bring physical pain for the worker and mental depression (fear of losing his job) of the injured, but also distress to wives and children left behind after the death of their breadwinner. Almost unnoticed in the sensational revolt in Hungary and the Suez conflict, there occurred (in October 1956) the terrible tragedy when a bridge under construction and serving in the building of a dam at the Ottenstein power stations collapsed burying 10 workers under huge blocks of concrete. The accident, coming after the previous year’s catastrophe at the Kapron dam, added its tragic quota to the already great number of widows and to the 25 orphans left behind after the previous disaster. Twelve more children were orphaned on 19th and 20th March when their parents lost their lives in a cycling accident near Salzburg.

So is the tragedy of accidents aggravated under capitalism by an individual having to provide for a number of others (wife, children, old folks) who are, through the breadwinner’s death, deprived of the wherewithal to live. Under Socialism, when no individual will be dependent on another individual for his means of sustenance, but when every man, woman and child will be the responsibility of the whole community, any unfortunate accident to an individual will then not involve such tragic consequences to others. (This aspect will be dealt with more fully later in this series of articles.)


(To be continued.)

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