The Good Abbé

It was recently announced from Paris that the Abbé Pierre, “. . . known among his followers as ‘The Apostle of the Homeless’ ” has joined forces with the former Brazilian president of United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation, Senhor Jose de Castro, to create a “world organisation to fight hunger.”

The announcement added that the organisation would be financed by funds accruing from an international prize awarded to Senhor de Castro some years ago, and from lecture tours to be undertaken by the Abbé Pierre.

We are further informed that the good Abbé has already founded an “international institute for research and action against world poverty,” and a “World Abbé Pierre Foundation ” to finance it!

We might well wonder what kind of world it would be if we had not the impoverished, the homeless and the other victims of our social disorder to provide rungs on the ladder of fame and/or salvation to the pious reformers who, like the poor under capitalism, are always with us.

Worthy motives of muddled Reformers
But let us not ascribe such unworthy motives to the noble Abbé and those of his kind. Let us assume that they are sincere people, with a constant care for the miseries that beset millions in our unfortunate world. Well might they be shocked, indeed, for capitalism presents us with much that is shocking, even today, after generations of reformers.

As workers, ever close to the miseries which shock our reformers, and Socialists, knowing fun well the reason for such miseries, we must be forgiven if we wonder at the unworldly simplicity of all Abbé Pierres.

Even the poor man himself has been forced to confess that only “miserable results” have been so far achieved in the fight against misery.

Pity the poor reformers! Ephemeral things, they come and go, tampering with the effects of a cause unknown to them; administering social aspirin to a society afflicted by a social cancer. Good people? Of course they are! But in their dealing with the problems that confront the mass of the people they are, to put it charitably, naive.

We cannot believe that any reformer setting himself the task of eliminating poverty, could be so stupid as to seriously hope that they will achieve that end. Rather, we should imagine, do they hope to alleviate small pockets of the misery that so shocks them.

In order to protect themselves from “impostors” it is usual for the charity-giving reformers to make extensive enquiries regarding the depth of social degradation into winch the objects of their charity have fallen. It is bad enough to live in a world so organised socially that it is incapable of providing you—often, even if you are the most docile of wage-slaves—with work. To be denied by society the food, shelter and clothing necessary in order to live, is bad enough; but to suffer the piety, platitudes and preaching of most of the charity mongers and reformers heaps insult on injury.

The pious Abbé is going to spend funds on “research” and “action” against world poverty. We can only hope that such recklessness will not prevail in his broader charitable work, for all the research necessary on the origins of world poverty, and the required pattern of action for its eradication, have long since been known to Socialists. A very little research by the Abbé into Socialist writings will undoubtedly yield the cause of the misery against which he militates. Further persistence will reward him with the solution to such misery.

Poverty, unemployment, bad housing, crime, and the host of other evil social phenomena that continually haunt us all have their groups of “good-doers” spending time, money and effort vainly trying to stem the flood of misery, or effect reforms, but these evils remain, strong, virile weeds in the fecund soil of capitalism.

Cause and effects
Capitalism is the basic social cause of all these evils; that which the Abbé Pierres of this world struggle against is but the effects. They fight shadows, the Socialist prefers to get to grips with substance. As Socialists we know that there is only one truly effective “reform,” and that is Socialism.

Capitalism, with its private ownership of the machinery of wealth production, forces on the mass of people a condition of slavery, wage-slavery. All the things necessary to the sustenance of human life become commodities, their use value only incidental to their exchange value. Even our physical energies—our labour power—has a commodity character which, since we are propertyless, we are obliged to sell to the owners of the factories, mills, land, etc., in order to get the wherewith to buy the things we need.

It is a staggering thought that even the humble loaf of bread—the “staff of life” to the masses—is not produced, under our present social system, primarily for the purpose of being eaten. If you have money you can buy all the bread you want, and there is no law to prevent you burning it should you so desire. On the other hand, if you are without money and starving you will go without bread—or beg at the table of an Abbé Pierre! ,

Order of Priority
Capitalism provides us with hungry millions, surely a reason for unrelenting work, and at the same time with armies of unemployed; capitalism gives us our slums for there is little profit in providing homes for the slaves of the system; capitalism, with its need to protect its foreign investments, gives us wars and their attendant evils.

Even if it were feasible to attack the problems of capitalism singly for the purpose of piecemeal reform, which, of course, it is not, it would be an odious task indeed, placing them in their evil perspective. While you fight slums, war creeps nearer, while you organise peace pledges, slums go unattended, while you are re-habilitating the refugee his compatriots are creating refugees, and so on.

There are no short cuts to Socialism and certainly trying to patch up a bankrupt social system is not progressing. If all those people who are genuinely desirous of putting an end to the evils they see around them actively joined with the Socialist movement, they would put an end to their objection that Socialism is a long way off. Had there been no Labour and Communist parties holding out political carrots to the working-class and no reformers using energy uselessly, then the pious charity mongers would long, since have been compelled to find other means of getting to Heaven and the world might well stand on the threshold of Socialism.

Until that time arrives, I suppose we who know better will see many Abbé Pierres trying to perform the miracle of the loaves and fishes.


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