Editorial Notes

Debating the Dole

(August 1931)

Written: August 1931.
First Published: The Militant, Vol. IV No. 20, 22 August 1931, p. 4.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
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The debate over the question of unemployment insurance has held the center of the stage in recent days in the camp of the capitalist politicians. An important section, headed by Governor Pinchot of Pennsylvania, has come out in outspoken advocacy of the federal dole for the unemployed. On the other hand, the dominating elements of finance capital – represented by President Hoover – have taken a number of measures to dramatize their opposition to federal insurance and to set in motion a counter-propaganda. Outstanding in these maneuvers was the conference with the head of the national Chamber of Commerce and the resultant statement in favor of a handling of next Winter’s problem by the states and cities through emergency appropriations and charity. The leading newspapers of the bourgeoisie support this view. The Times spoke for it, citing the cumbersomeness of the federal machinery which could not be wheeled into shape in time to meet the winter crisis; and the Herald-Tribune, in its issue of August 17th, argued against the federal dole from a principle standpoint. As matters stand now, the opponents of national insurance for the unemployed have the upper hand and it is hardly within the range of probability that the next Congress will pass such a measure.

But the matter does not end here. All the arguments against unemployment insurance are predicated on the assumption that mass unemployment is a temporary phenomenon. The spokesmen of the ruling class see the black shadow of the Winter crisis. But they do not see beyond it. They think their problem consists in the feeding of hungry masses for a brief period. Beyond that they do not see and do not calculate. And just because their premise is false they will be compelled to revise their conclusions.

In our opinion the ruling class of America in the last resort will not be able to avoid the establishment of a federal system of unemployment insurance. Their blind opposition to it at the present moment is only a reflection of the hopeless anarchy of capitalist production out of which not even their wisest men can see an issue. They are stalling for time in the hope that something will happen to free them from this terrible contradiction which has arisen out of the very nature of the system and cannot be exorcised. If we take the most probable development of the next future – a further deepening of the economic crisis then it becomes obvious that the stop-gap policy of state and municipal relief “for the Winter” will fall to pieces. Or, if we grant the prospect of a slow recovery – and that is the most optimistic hope expressed by any serious economist in the capitalist camp – it implies a further rationalization of industry and a residue of unemployed workers running into the millions. Sporadic charity will not be able to cope with such a situation. Either the federal government will feed them or they, to quote the words of Engels, “will take matters into their own hands”. Faced with this alternative the masters of America will most probably reconcile themselves to a system of unemployment insurance.

They will do this all the sooner if the class movement of the workers presses upon them, organized and menacing. The prospect that the ruling class will resort to this remedial measure in any case does not in any way argue against the necessity of a working class fight for unemployment insurance. On the contrary, The harder the fight of the workers the sooner will they wrest this concession. And the more will their morale be strengthened by the victory. Moreover, the passing of an unemployment insurance law – which, as has been said, we believe to be in the cards – in itself means little. The fight will take place over the nature and extent of the relief provided by it.

In the last resort the reformists, who are shouting now for unemployment insurance, will support a law which gives the shadow without the substance. It will be the duty of the Communists to organize the masses for a fight to compensate the unemployed millions with an insurance relief which will afford them an existence under the conditions which capitalism has forced upon them. The fight for unemployment insurance as such at the present time and for adequate relief under its provisions at the time of its enactment, remains a central issue of the revolutionary vanguard. This goes hand in hand with the struggle for real and immediate relief in the present situation.

Last updated on: 13.1.2013