1900s >> 1906 >> no-22-june-1906

A Look Round

Dr. Emil Reich has continued his lectures upon Plato. In the course of the one dealing with “The State and Individual Socialism” he said that we had slavery here as much as it existed in the time of the Greeks. The working men were slaves. It was no use to say : “They are not slaves; they have rights”; for the Athenian slaves had certain rights also.

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It is just this bogey of “rights” that leads the members of the working class to consider themselves free. They claim to have the “right” of free speech, the “right” of choosing their employer and their landlord, the “right” of combination; the “right” of recording their vote for one of the master class or for a misleading Labour “Leader” and so on,

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Take the “right” of free speech. Does it exist ? Is it not a fact that if only three persons congregate in a public place they cause an obstruction within the meaning of the Act ? And the many prosecutions and imprisonments which have taken place in connection with this alleged right have conclusively proved that no such right exists.

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Then we are told that a man can work for whom he likes and live where he likes. Leaving out of the question the many who cannot work at all, because nobody can find it profitable to employ them, and who consequently cannot pay the rent, where does the “right” of the employed come in ?

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Does a workman enter a factory, dock or warehouse and say to the employer, “I’m coming here to work, my hours will be from 10 to 5, with 2 off for refection, no work on Saturdays and my wages will be £4 per week ?”

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Of course not. When he presents himself at the factory gate he either sees the familiar notice “no hands wanted” and sorrowfully departs, or he humbly enquires if there is any chance of a job. If he gets the welcome “yes” he is told when he must start and when he must finish and what the pay will be. When his employers consider he shall eat, or, at any rate, cease work with that object in view, a bell is rung to denote the fact, and when he is permitted to return the bell is again rung.

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And as to the ” right” to live where he chooses, this also does not exist. He must of necessity live where and how his economic circumstances determine.

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We are all born into this world without being consulted in the matter. We are supposed to belong to our parents. Before we are six weeks old we must be registered, before we are six months old we must be vaccinated, unless our parents have within four months of our birth obtained an exemption order; when we are five we must go to school, and we must not leave school and go to work until the State says we may. If we cannot find work and therefore cannot pay the rent, the landlord has the right to employ the machinery of the law in ejecting us. We then have the right to become an obstruction or a nuisance ; if we beg, the policeman has the right to run us in, as he also has if we steal or poach, or wander about without any visible means of subsistence, or sleep out of doors, and if, finally, we give it up as a bad job, and seeing that Capitalist Society will not allow us to live decently, we endeavour to put an end to our miserable existence by jumping from “the bridge of sighs,” once again the gentleman in blue has the right to take us into custody and we shall get “time.” Where do our “rights” come in ?

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Either with the object of killing time or of playing the game of bluffing the workers, some Belgravians have formed an Association called the “Freedom of Labour Defence.” At the inaugural meeting Lady Francis Balfour, who a few days afterwards was prominent at the Women’s Suffrage Demonstrations, presided. Lord Wemyss, a life long defender of the liberty of the propertied few to exploit the propertyless many, gave as his ideal: “Work as long as you like, for what wages you like and for anybody you like.” I can see his lordship “a doin’ of it.” This reminds me of the speech of Lord Salisbury, when Viscount Cranborne. He said: “So long as they are not overworked, all the working classes want is plenty of work,” and in order that they may have it, of course, Salisbury, Wemyss & Co. refrain from working themselves. It is the “freedom” of the working class to be exploited that they, the shirkers and exploiters, would defend !

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The formation of the Association is due to the Sweating Exhibition organised by the Daily News, at which a number of ardent one-step-at-a-time revolutionists like Herbert Burrows, Ramsay McDonald, Chiozza Money and others have been lecturing to the sweaters on their moral responsibility in this matter. But appeals to this unknown quantity been have made many times, and sweating continues. The Daily News itself points out that more than half a century ago Charles Kingsley wrote his impeachment of “Cheap Clothes and Nasty.” Seven years before this Mrs. Browning in “The Cry of’the Children” and Hood in “The Song of the Shirt” had awakened the public conscience to a menacing danger. Civilization has broadened and deepened. England has become a world-State. Science applied to industry has muiltiplied by twenty-fold the capacities of production. Yet to-day “The Song of the Shirt,” the “Cheap Clothes and Nasty,” “The Cry of the Children” still remain. Women are still working their lives into the fabric of shirts and Bibles, and children are labouring in home industries “who have never known the sunshine nor the glory that is brighter than the sun.” All the large processes of change, the accumulated wealth of Empire, spoil gotten from all the seven seas, has brought no mitigation and no hope to these unfortunates.

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The Daily News could not have penned a better indictment of Reform had it tried. Revolution, and Revolution alone, will be effective.

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Seventeen syndicates in the French Engineering Trades,—including the Iron and Steel Trades, the machine-making trade in all its varieties, the cycle trade, the hardware trade, and others—have formed themselves into a Confederation in opposition to the Workmen’s Union. They declare that the attitude of the Workmen’s Federation, which is now revolutionary, leaves them no alternative but to found a Confederation of their own.

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Such is inevitable that, as the Class War intensifies, as the final struggle between the master class and the working class approaches, changes must take place in the organisation and methods of both armies. Just in proportion as The Socialist Party impress the working class by their propaganda, so the latter, becoming class conscious, will recognise that the form of Trade Union that has served a purpose in the past, and which is based upon the superstition of the brotherhood of capital and labour, is unsuited to present day conditions.

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It is the function of The Socialist Party to prepare the working class for the Revolution and to build up the necessary organisation. Some of our friends, tired of the vote-catching dodges of alleged ”Socialist” candidates, disheartened at the slow rate of progress, disgusted at the large number of good men gone wrong after being elected to legislative and administrative bodies, declare for an industrial organisation, having for its object the taking and holding of the means of life, without affiliation to any political party. And it is not to be wondered at that some of the more impatient are reviving the Anarchist doctrine of the futility of Parliamentarism and are advocating an economic organisation alone, with its ultimate general strike, or, as it is now being put, the general lock-out of the master class.

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It looks very alluring, but do not let us forget that the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, is an instrument of oppression. Is it wise to leave that instrument in the hands of the capitalist class ? No. The Socialist Union must work in conjunction with The Socialist Party.

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There are others who are of opinion that the new economic organisation should not be called a Socialist Union, as its object being “the taking and holding of the means of wealth production,” it would be sufficiently stamped as a Socialist Union without mention of that word.

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Some of these very folks, however, have denounced those who have pursued a similar policy in electoral contests, and I think justly so. I have before me now the election address of Mr. T. R. Wall, who, although a member of the S.D.F., contested a seat on the Fulham Borough Council as “The Labour Candidate” and whose election address stated the Socialist position whilst carefully refraining from avowing it as such. To oppose men who do this on the political field and assist them to do a similar thing on the industrial field is illogical and confusing.

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Last month John Burns was elected a member of the National Liberal Club. What an affecting sight it must have been when he first encountered those members of the Club who are also members of the S.D.F., viz., H. M. Hyndman, E. Belfort Bax, J. F. Green, A. S. Headingley, etc. Every candidate for the Club, before being elected, must take a pledge that he will support the principles of the Liberal Party.

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In a recent issue of THE SOCIALIST STANDARD we gave details of the compacts entered into between candidates of the Independent Labour Party and the Liberals at the General Election. In the Labour Leader for Sept. 9th, 1904, Mr. J. Keir Hardie wrote “Temporary tactical understandings with, say, the Irish Party, or any other independent section of politicians I can understand, but a working agreement with Liberals or Conservatives would spell ruin.” In view of this utterance it is easy to understand why the recent “working agreements with Liberals” were not mentioned in the Labour Leader.

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“Importation of Chinese Stopped ” was the double column head-line in the Daily News for December 22nd, 1905, above the report of, Sir H. Campbell Bannerman’s speech at the Albert Hall. It was there that he stated the Government’s conclusion to stop forthwith the recruitment and embarkation of Coolies in China for South Africa. At that time there were 47,217 Coolies employed ; At the end of February the number had risen to 49,995, and in the three months the desertions had nearly doubled. Thus have the Liberals carried out the promise “No Slavery under the Liberal Flag.”

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I know that Bannerman said that the importation should be stopped as “far as practicable,” and no doubt some Liberals will argue that this has been done. But it was practicable to stop it in December. The Daily News of May 19th admitted that “of course, the present Ministers might have withdrawn the permits just as they might have ordered the repatriation of the Coolies already there. There was no physical impossibility in either case.” And the Western Morning News pointed out in January that “the Transvaal being a Crown Colony, the Home Government could, if it chose, cancel the Chinese Labour Ordinance, and send every Chinaman back to China.” But, of course, they didn’t, and there are now more Coolies in S. Africa than at any previous time. The lie, however, like other Liberal lies, served its purpose.

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On May 25th a complimentary Banquet was given to Mr. W. M. Thompson, Editor of Reynolds’, at the National Liberal Club. Hobnobbing with the titled participants were Messrs. H. M. Hyndman, E. Belfort Bax, and A. E. Fletcher. The Rt. Hon. John Burns was the principle speaker, and was followed by Mr. H. Hyndman ! Oh, these revolutionary S.D.F’ers !

J. KAY

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