Old Age Pensions

We are all familiar with music-hall melodies which conjure up visions of a best of all possible worlds, where the capricious weather is the only cause for complaint. Certainly, a nice sunny day under the palms of say, the Bahamas, sipping iced drinks and carelessly tossing filthy lucre around to fawning waiters, hoteliers and the like is guaranteed to make life tolerable; if at times a bore.

However, the gay lines of the song are themselves a reflection of their gloomy opposite—the smog-ridden back streets of Britain’s industrial areas and the dull lives of the propertyless wage slaves who from cradle to grave, inhabit them. Who rise by their alarm clocks, spend their days producing surplus value and look forward, at the end, to scraping along on an old age pension. The question is—should we aim to abolish a social system that breeds such contrasts or should we tinker at reforming it?

Certainly, the reform-mongers have had a good innings—there has been no dearth of “improvers of the condition of the working class” since Marx tabulated them. Whether Tory, Liberal, Labour of Communist Parties, they have all had a go at “improving” the wages system, until those who work for wages may wonder why there is anything left to be improved.

Further, whilst the labour and inventive genius of the working class has showered luxury after luxury on their employers, their own lives are marked by monotonous insecurity, with the ultimate goal of a weekly pension of about 50s. Cold comfort for them to read boastful headlines of progress in aeronautics and so on, whilst life in their own orbit involves wintering, not on Palm Beach or the shores of the Mediterranean, but anchored to their obscure slum allies, shivering over oil stoves. Is this progress?

Pensioners are the forgotten men and women of capitalism, who are of no further use in the production of surplus value. Here is the real reason for pensions and pensioners, for the production of surplus value is the mainspring of capitalism, which enables those who by labour power to live in luxury and idleness.

Wistful Eyes
Certainly, our pensioners may view distant sunny lands in glorious technicolor—from a cinema seat whilst the damp, foggy air of the industrial areas awaits them at the end of the show. Only within the glossy pages of coloured cruise brochures may they wander with wistful eyes along gleaming promenade decks, dining saloons, lounges, ban and staterooms of the Queens of the Southern Seas. These enjoyments are for sale—at hundreds of pounds—and so are out of reach of Britain’s sun-starved old age pensioners.

Such is the class nature of progress in a class divided society; always the greatest benefits of improvement in transport and so on accrue to the ruling class. Until the workers decide to end this monopoly of the good things of life, participation on their part will be limited to a mere shadow of the real thing.

During last winter, whilst old age pensioners and the like tried to combat the cold with stoves run on paraffin oil at 2s. per gallon instead of coal at 9s. per bag, Sir Winston Churchill flew to sunny Morocco in a 70-seater plane with only 17 passengers. Here was room for 50 of Britain’s sun-starved pensioners. After all, are they not part of Britain’s one big happy family which the politicians are fond of orating about? Or could it be that the wealthy shipping potentate Aristotle Onassis, whose guest Churchill was, preferred the empty seats to the pensioners’ company?

No Pensions
The answer is that there can be no participation in this type of progress for the great mass of humanity, so long as they are shackled to the wages system. Wages, which generally are only just sufficient to maintain and reproduce the worker, are the chain which pegs him down to his native heath. The Socialist Standard of October 1956 pointed out that “only 8 per cent. of the population of Britain went abroad for holidays in 1955 and that 77 per cent, have never been outside Britain.”

As long as the worker has abilities to sell and can produce surplus value he is an asset to the capitalist class, but once the golden juice of labour power dries up with his advancing years, his days of exploitation are numbered. Finally, he is retired and becomes a liability to those who, having exploited him during the best years of his life grant him a tiny pension to continue his existence, if he can.

Under Socialism, of course, there will be no pensions, even large ones, because once humanity is freed from the necessity of selling their energies and social ownership of the means of life is a reality, every human being, regardless of age, will have free and welcome access to the good things of life. When their hair is turning greyer—by weight of years alone—their place in society will be one of dignity and respect in a free and harmonious community.


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