File spoon-archives/marxism-international.archive/marxism-international_1997/marxism-international.9710, message 487

Date: Fri, 24 Oct 1997 18:33:05 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Re: M-I: welfare queens

Steven Philion writes: 

>It's one thing to say that the left (all 5 of us) should not be in the
>position of *merely* defending a welfare system. It's quite another to
>associate poverty with lack of hard work.  For one, the majority of people
>who are poor work, and for that matter the majority of people on welfare
>also work (as the word is being very narrowly used by Lou Godena and James
>Heartfield here).  Do Lou or James not recall Marx's appeal to organize
>the employed and unemployed? 

Steve, all I am saying is that poverty debilitates to the point where the
poor cannot even take full advantage of those programs still left after the
Republican revolution of the 'eighties and 'nineties.  The struggle for
survival on welfare benefits produces behavior and a cast of mind which
progressively insulate the excluded from the workings of everyday society.
They are not, for example, positioned to use informal channels of finding
work, segregated as they are in the least accessible corners of urban
communities.  And even when they are able to present themselves for work,
prolonged poverty and its social accoutrements make them unattractive to
prospective employers.

The alleviation of human wretchedness is the first duty of any Communist
wherever one finds oneself.  Be it as a member of a "left" parliament of
bourgeois reformers or at the head of a revolutionary government, the
conscientious Communist will always fight for the right of all to a life
free of poverty, exploitation and fear, for a society where one has, in
Bakunin's memorable phrase, "the opportunity for creative activity".

But is this enough?  The social democrat seeks to fetishize the institution
of poverty as both an unavoidable social cost of capitalism and as a
mechanism for the reproduction of its own constituative power.  It is an
inevitable corollary of their frank acceptance of the capitalist system, as
well as their unabashed pursuit of those limited ends which can be achieved
within that system.  A Communist refuses to accept the tautological premises
of the welfare state, criticizing its defects while recognizing the
potentialities of those who suffer under it.

One cannot be both a Communist and a social-democrat.  The social-democrat
criticizes capitalism, but in the last resort defends it.  The Communist
rejects it, and believes in the end it will destroy itself.  But the
Communist is, at the same time, conscious of the strength of forces-- like
the welfare system-- which still uphold it.

Louis Godena

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