Daniel De Leon editorial : Abolition, Not Lessening of Poverty


Abolition, Not Lessening of Poverty
by Daniel De Leon
From _The Daily People_, June 20, 1911

Socialism and the idea of "lessening poverty" are contradictions in terms. If the best that could be done with poverty was to lessen it, Socialism would lack foundation, at least sociologic foundation.

Socialism's aim is, indeed, great; the aim, however, is not to "lessen," it is to "abolish" poverty, that is, involuntary poverty.

Social science establishes that, one time, the poverty of some was necessary to social progress. That was the era when the productivity of labor was so slight that a sufficiency, let alone an abundance, for all was impossible.

A sufficiency for all being impossible, there was no alternative either for society to remain in general poverty, with the evil train thereof -- a brute's existence, spent in grubbing for the necessaries of life, constant want, and no time for mental and spiritual expansion; -- or for some to be steeped in poverty, while others, a minority, being freed from the curse, could expand mentally and spiritually, and thus uplift society as a whole. So long as society was at that stage of production, the abolition of poverty was an idle dream -- a regretable state of things, yet not an immoral, seeing that a better state of things was materially impossible. The only thing then possible was the "lessening" of poverty, or, to speak more precisely, the mitigation of the ills entailed by poverty -- a reform, not a revolution, as the abolition of poverty implies.

A child of the materialist conception of history, modern Socialism denounces the past no more than it denounces the incapacity of Franklin to reach England on one of his trips as fast as was desired -- the material, physical means were not then in existence to prevent the undesirable thing. A child of the materialist conception of history, modern Socialism first ascerrtained the material possibilies of our age. These, being found to establish the material foundation for the aspiration to abolish poverty, modern socialism steps forth boldly, crystallizing the one-time idle aspiration into a political, a revolutionary demand.

Today, the excuse, the apology, for the involuntary poverty of a single member of society exists no more.

Material conditions have changed so radically that, so far from insufficiency, there is today the material possibility of abundance for all. The mechanisms and the methods of production are such today that the leisure, the freedom from arduous toil for the necessaries of life, the emancipation from the clutches from the Fear of Want, all of these prerequisites to mental and spiritual expansion, one-time enjoyable by some, are today possible to all. Today, all statistical researches combine to demonstrate, man can have an abundance at his disposal with no more exercise of physical energies than is requisite for health.

Under such material social conditions, Socialism spurns the goal of "lessening poverty" as a miserable reform, as a betrayal of man's opportunities and duty.

Under the present material social conditions, Socialism boldly seizes the Archangel's trumpet, boldly places it to its lips, and boldly sounds the call for human redemption -- the call for Revolution -- the call for THE ABOLITION OF POVERTY.