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Who is the alien? The working-class view of the burning question

Opportunity is a Fine Thing
The recent world-stirring East End melodrama (in which provoking police agents seem to have pulled the strings) has afforded another opportunity to the capitalist platform, pulpit and Press to thunder against the “alien”. The pseudo-Socialist organisations and Press have, in their fear of losing supporters through this business, been profuse in their repudiation and condemnation of the “crime”, and in their praise of the armed forces in dealing with it. It is, as usual, left to the Socialist Party to point out the Socialist lesson, both with regard to the “crime” and the anti-alien agitation which it served to stir up.

On contemplating all the facts of this “mysterious anarchistic” display, the question rises uppermost in our minds: “Who are the alien impostors and criminals?” And the Socialist answer is – “the capitalist class”.

Why, the attempt to obtain property without labour is contrary to the very principles of Socialism, which insist upon labour for all and subsistence for all. But those who to-day are endeavouring to obtain wealth by filching – and with the aid of armed force into the bargain – are only carrying out the basic principle of capitalism to its logical conclusion.

Who is more honoured to-day than the successful thief, who filched millions from the product of other people’s toil? For his operations capitalist economists find such high-sounding names as “industry”, “foresight”, and “thrift”. And who is more despised and down-trodden than the worker, whose labour produces all wealth? His outrage and robbery, so long as it is carried on in the orthodox way (which converts the plunder into “rent, interest, and profit), is “legalised” by the robbers and supported by giant instruments of murder, while his aspiration to keep for himself the produce of his own toil, draws upon him every term of reproach and contempt.

Let us look back upon the record of the British Government for the last twenty years, and we shall see that the armed forces of capitalist society have been used again and again against unarmed, defenceless workers – men, women and children. In contrast to this, the modern burglar is up against the whole forces of the State, armed to the very teeth.

A Little Bit of History
In September 1893, the Liberal Government, with Mr. Asquith as Home Secretary, sent soldiers to Featherstone, and striking miners were fired upon, some being killed and others wounded. (See Hansard, vol 17, pp. 1725-1726.) In 1894 the same Government sent a gunboat to Hull to help quell the dockers on strike in that town. In 1907 a Liberal Government again sent military with Maxim guns to Belfast, where a lock-out of dockers had taken place, and the police had gone on strike out of sympathy. In that instance again unarmed workers were maimed and murdered. And recently during a lock-out of Welsh miners, troops and police were sent to fight the masters’ battle for them, and once more wounds and death were dealt out to defenceless workers who wanted to enjoy a little more of the fruits of their toil.

Now if it can be shown that the capitalist class have obtained their possessions by robbery, that in the process of robbery thousands of workers’ lives have been sacrificed, and that in their effort to protect their ill-gotten gains they employ the armed forces of the State to butcher the workers, then it is proved to the hilt that it is the master class, and not the foreign workmen, who are the real aliens, the race apart from and antagonistic to, the people.

The last point has been sufficiently proved by the preceding descriptions of the British Government’s action during certain strikes and lock-outs. The first point is most fully and effectively established by Karl Marx, in his great work Capital, particularly in the historic chapters, which are based on documentary evidence in the British Museum. The second point, however, still requires substantiation.

And a Few Eloquent Facts
Now according to Government statistics about 2¼ million members of the working class are annually in receipt of poor relief. That means that they are, to all intents and purposes, on the very verge of destitution. Over 200,000 workers annually meet with accidents (over 5,000 fatal) in the course of their employment, and most of these accidents can be traced to the want of life-protecting contrivances – which are not adopted by the master class because their cost would lessen profits.

In addition to this, many thousands gradually starve to death, for not all unemployed and destitute workers apply for poor relief. Thousands, too, die through over-work, bad housing, and insanitary conditions, or are driven insane by the awful economic stress of the present system of society.

So the Socialist allegation that capitalism spells the robbery and murder of the workers by an alien class is fully justified. And the workers in the East End, against whom the master class direct their epithets of “undesirable aliens”, dirty “foreigners”, and the like, and against whom they assiduously try to foster popular hatred, these workers form part of the army of the exploited. And as such they are received with open arms by the very class which, in order to cover their own plundering, attempt to direct popular anger and scorn against them, as the authors of working-class poverty.

Pocket Patriots
When in 1905, during the debate on the Alien Bill in Parliament, an amendment was moved to keep the foreign workers out during strikes and lock-outs, the great mass of the members of Parliament, representing the vested interests of the capitalists, – the robbers living upon rent, interest, and profit – of course rejected the amendment.

The patriotism of the master class, like their professions of kindness, generosity, and magnanimity, is sheer hypocrisy. In the quest for profits all barriers are broken down, and the capitalist’s love of his country withers before a fraction percent on the yield of his capital. He has no scruples in the matter of displacing the native worker with the “alien”, provided that it pays him – any more than he hesitates to displace either with machinery, directly he can save wages by so doing.

We do not stand alone when we allege that the “alien” workers of the East End are even more completely robbed and worse treated, if that were possible, than the native workers. The Rev. Canon Barnett, of Toynbee Hall fame, writing in the Daily News of January 10th last on the “Sidney Street Lesson”, made the following statements:

“The great need in East London is that the people by receiving more respect should gain self-respect. They do not receive such treatment. The streets in which they live are not lighted or cleansed according to the standard which respectability demands. The second or third best in buildings or in entertainment are good enough for the East End, and Police Court humour and Police Court law, which most vividly represent the attitude of society, are often insulting. I doubt if it would have been possible for the police to have adopted in a West London Square, the methods they adopted in Sidney Street. Respect for the neighbours and neighbourhood would have prevented them from setting men to fire at and to burn two criminals in the open streets.”

A “Socialist” Adviser
And what has Robert Blatchford, the jingo cat’s paw of gutter-press journalism, to say on that question? The following are from his article in the Weekly Dispatch of January 8th.

“Our wise and kindly British law was not made to deal with foreign Thugs of the twentieth century type . . . I am not discussing the existing law. I am only suggesting that the police should be legally empowered to deal with undesirable aliens immediately on their arrival at any British port. In all such cases as this, where the foreign police have warned our police against an immigrant, that immigrant should be sent to the right about turn at once. In cases of suspicion the immigrant should be detained and, failing a satisfactory explanation, should be deported.”

The above is not quote with a view to proving Mr. Blatchford to be an anti-Socialist of the worst type. His actions have fully exposed him, and very few people indeed can still believe him to be out for Socialism. His German war scare, his glorification of the Army and Navy, and lastly his present attitude on the “alien” question, show distinctly enough that Mr. Blatchford is ignorant of the very rudiments of Socialism. And that is not the most annoying feature. That which Socialists most resent is that the capitalist class should obtain from professing Socialists, advice as to measures of repression and persecution against members of the working class.

The whole Houndsditch spectacle looks as if it had been instigated by Russian police agents in order to create a popular clamour for legislation against “criminal” aliens, to the end that political offenders (especially Socialists) might have cut off their last means of escape from the savage vengeance of the knout and the appalling horrors of Siberia.

The capitalist press, pulpit and platform continually gloat over the apathy and indifference of the workers hailing from other countries to their own utter poverty, misery, and degradation, and whenever the dominant class make an attack upon the Socialists it suits their purpose to praise these “aliens” to the skies as splendid examples of “peaceable and law-abiding citizens”, On the other hand the master class, when it suits their purpose, ascribe the poverty of the native workers to the presence of “alien workers” in this country, or to the importation of labour products from abroad.

In short, it is the business of the capitalists to set one section of the working class against another in order to prevent them perceiving who are their real enemies. Hence the outcry against the “alien” which has followed upon the recent affray. But the development of the present murderous system is gradually revealing to the workers of all countries, that between worker and worker there can be no alienism, because there can be no alienation. They are bound together by the common ties of their class position – a common class interest. On the other hand, they have nothing in common with the master class, whose interests are everywhere opposed to theirs. Therefore it is the master class who are the aliens.

H.J.N.
(Socialist Standard, March 1911)