Members of the Socialist Party are frequently perceived as stingy scrooges for we often criticise the idea of giving to charity and we scold philanthropy. We do not doubt the sincerity or compassion of those who donate to charities or volunteer to help them (although the latter is somewhat tarnished by the unemployed living under the threat of losing benefits if they do not put in unpaid hours at the local charity shop.) But what is fostered is the dangerous illusion that, either through charitable alms-giving, the many problems of capitalism can be solved by good-will and kind gestures. Socialists are not indifferent to human suffering but we point that society is well capable of solving the problems of poverty, hunger and homelessness. What does not exist is the social system of production and distribution can be matched to people’s need. Capitalism is a world of deliberate scarcity, in order to pursue the aims of competition and profit.
The voluntary efforts via a host of charitable institutions and associations do not tackle the cause of such problems that they profess to alleviate. The main beneficiary of charities is the capitalist class, who otherwise would pay, via taxes, for State expenditure for the Welfare State, the NHS, and the local councils’ responsibility and obligations. To fill the gaps in state spending on “welfare” is the function of the legions of charities. The never-ending problems they seek to ameliorate are caused by the fact that what we produce is not for our use but for the capitalist class’s profit. Since the State is funded by the capitalist class, you get the absurdity of the have-not’s giving from the little they earn to organisations whose real reason for existence is to save the capitalist class money.
What then is the Socialist Party’s attitude towards charities? This can best be answered by another question: Why do the workers need charity? Because they have not access to all the things that could give them joyful and healthy lives (a sure preventative measure of most ailments). Our answer, then, is that all our spare time and money, which is very limited, should be spent on furthering the cause of socialism, the sure cure-all for the economic and most other social ills which humanity suffers. Achieving socialism will be far simpler and quicker. It is the direct method of solving the poverty problem. The sad thing is that charities, despite the enormous amount of human energy and goodwill that go into them, can rarely do more than touch the surface of the problems they were set up to deal with. They can never get to the root of these problems. Only political action aimed at revolutionising the whole structure of society and abolishing its profit system can wipe out the problems that give rise to charities.
The Socialist Party believes that poverty is unacceptable and unnecessary. We want to persuade people of the severe limitations of organised charity and also of the unfortunate effect it has in wrongly suggesting to people that, by giving money, they are doing something about solving the world’s problems. What charities never suggest is the plain truth that the perpetual calamities and suffering they exist to cope with are due not to any inevitable defects in man’s capacity for organising the world but to a social system which puts profits-and armaments to guard these profits-before human welfare. Charity will end when we get socialism. People won’t need it then. It’s something worth thinking about.
Some say, considering socialists are out for a society where each gives of their labour and its produce freely, why we are so negative about charity. Our answer is, is that for us, socialism is not about moralistic giving and self-sacrifice, but a condition of society wherein helping others is the best way of helping ourselves though working to help others. The fruits of the common effort of socialism will not be gifts but, rather, the common wealth of all.
“I had become convinced as Ernest was when he sneered at charity as a poulticing of an ulcer. Remove the ulcer was his remedy; give to the worker his product; pension as soldiers those who grow honourably old in their toil, and there will be no need for charity. Convinced of this, I toiled with him at the revolution, and did not exhaust my energy in alleviating the social ills that continuously arose from the injustice of the system.” - Jack London in ‘The Iron Heel’