Monday, October 31, 2016
What Socialism Actually Looks Like, by T. Hodgson 1906
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THE WORKHOUSE THE MOST PERFECT EXAMPLE OF SOCIALISM by T. Hodgson, Chaplain at Shoreditch Workhouse 1906
What has socialism to say for itself, so far as present examples of its operations and effects are concerned? The postal department is usually cited as the example of what a socialistic State would be like. It is, say the advocates of socialism, the most successful department of State, and has conferred many benefits upon the community. But the postal department is, as compared with other departments, a very simple department to work; and a system like this would not necessarily succeed if applied to the whole complex relations of life. It is always easy to manage simple bodies; it is when you come to deal with complex organisms that you are confronted with difficulties. But even this department, simple as it is, is not perfect; neither are those who live and work under it entirely contented. They have their grievances, like other folks, and they do not appear to be any better provided for than workers in other spheres of life. Nay, it is distinctly certain that they are not so well provided for as many other workers are; and, if proof be needed of this, it will be found in the fact that postmen find it necessary to augment their State income by engaging, as far as they can, in other branches of work, and so helping to complicate and intensify the labour problem. The postal system, indeed, presents some features of what a socialistic State would be like, such as low wages, a uniform dress, a monotonous routine, and a strict and severe supervision.
But the postal department is not the most perfect example that we have of what a socialistic State would be like. If you want to see a real example of what socialism absolute would be, you must look to the workhouse [in the UK it is a public institution in which the destitute of a parish received board and lodging in return for work]. In the workhouse you may find a socialistic State in miniature. In the workhouse you will see all the ghastly features of socialism displayed, and observe the effects of a system which is held up to working men and others as the most perfect means of salvation from our social ills, and as the best possible paradise of an intelligent and liberty-loving people. Here you may learn what absolute State control means; what a monotonous routine can do; and how possible it is for one supreme hand to recognise the merits, rights, and deserts of either single individuals or groups of them. Under the Poor Laws there is no recognition of the essence of law, as set forth in the words, "The law was made for evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well." All come under the same stern and unbending rule. Neither respectability, desert, skill, nor payment receives the slightest recognition. The reward of labour, so far as it is performed, is paid in the shape of food—good or bad, as the case may be—and clothes of a particular and stereotyped kind. Here liberty is entirely lost; everything is by permission or command. The State, in fact, determines everything, and exacts an implicit obedience from all alike. And so life is reduced to a dull, dead, dreary monotony—a paralysing and degrading routine.
Perhaps you will say, "Reform the system." Our reply is, Reform as you like, you cannot permanently improve it. You can only pass it from one kind of monotony to another. You may prescribe a better diet, dress, and kind of work; but the absoluteness of the State will remain, and the influence of these will be the same, howsoever they may be expressed. The most that can be done is to supply the spirit with a different body, and it is just the spirit that colours and determines everything. The only effectual way of dealing with our workhouses is by reforming them off the face of the earth. I sincerely hope that an enterprising, humane, and intelligent people will soon effect this reform, for workhouses are a standing disgrace to civilisation, a menace to, and a degradation of, human nature. They are costly and cruel, expensive and useless, a temptation and a shame. They are cruel to the respectable and worthy poor; they are useless as regards the lazy and the bad; and they are a temptation to capital, to labour, to all alike, to neglect their reasonable duty, and to forego the exercise of some of their best and noblest faculties. Brother Englishmen, let us sweep them away! Let us demand that our respectable and worthy fellow-men, who have reasonably and honestly done their work and served the community faithfully, shall have better treatment, when their health and strength have failed them, than imprisonment by the State at the cost and with the consent of their toiling brethren. And for the rest, those who do not come under the foregoing head, we shall know how to provide some fitting reward.
I have said very little about the influence which this example wields over those who are not inmates. But from experience and observation I am in a position to tell you that it is most disastrous. It spoils, by its monotony and dreariness, the temper, and nature, and disposition of all those who come under it. It is only by the most desperate efforts that you can counteract it—only, at times, by actually doing something desperate that you can keep yourself above the dull level, and overcome what, for convenience sake, I will call the workhouse law of gravitation.
And this is our present most representative example of what socialism would be. If I am right, or even if I am only partially right, socialism is not desirable. It will bring no relief to the worker, it will not increase wages, it will not bring in the golden age; but it will destroy liberty, it will introduce monotony, it will prevent individual and national progression, it will take away all incentives to ennoblement of character; it will supersede our family life, which is our best and highest source of joy; it will curtail our pleasures, complicate and make impossible our relations with surrounding nations; it will place us all under an absolute State, and all this implies a tyranny.