“Not a smile amongst them”


Capitalism will be remembered as the age in which, with much pretence of Christian love and kindness, children were treated with the greatest cruelty. The day will come when men shall marvel that human beings can have so used the blue-eyed the babe and tender child.

Capitalism and the Children
The early days of the system furnish their quota of villainy and of torture. Gibbins, in his “Industrial History of England,” tells us that “It was not until the wages of the workmen had been reduced to a starvation level that they consented to their children and their wives being employed in the mills. But the manufacturers wanted labour by some means or other, and they got it. They got it from the workhouses. They sent for parish apprentices from all parts of England, and pretended to apprentice them to the new employments just introduced. The mill-owners systematically communicated with the overseers of the poor, who arranged a day for the inspection of pauper children. Those chosen by the manufacturers were then conveyed by waggons or canal boats to their destination, and from that moment were doomed to slavery. Sometimes regular traffickers would take the place of the manufacturer, and transfer a number cf children to a factory cellar, till they could hand them over to a mill-owner in want of hands, who would come and examine their height, strength, and bodily capacities, exactly as did the slave-dealers in the American markets. After that the children were simply at the mercy of their owners, nominally as apprentices, but in reality as mere slaves, who got no wages, and whom it was not worth while even to feed and to clothe properly, because they were so cheap and their places could so easily be supplied. It was often arranged by the parish authorities, in order to get rid of imbeciles, that one idiot should be taken by the mill owner with every twenty sane children. The fate of these unhappy idiots was even worse than that of the others. The secret of their final end has never been disclosed, but we can form some idea of their awful sufferings from the hardships of the other victims of capitalist greed and cruelty. Their treatment was most inhuman. The hours of their labour were only limited by exhaustion after many modes of torture had been unavailingly applied to force continued work. Children were often worked sixteen hours a day, by day and by night. Even Sunday was used as a convenient time to clean the machinery.

The Poor Law’s Proteges
“The author of ‘The History of the Factory Movement’ writes : ‘In stench, in heated rooms, amid the constant whirling of a thousand wheels, little fingers and little feet were kept in ceaseless action, forced into unnatural activity by blows from the heavy hands and feet of the merciless over looker, and the infliction of bodily pain by instruments of punishment invented by the sharpened ingenuity of insatiable selfishness. They were fed upon the coarsest and cheapest food, often with the same as that served out to the pigs of their master. They slept by turn and in relays, in filthy beds which were never cool ; for one set of children were sent to sleep in them as soon as the others had gone off to their daily or nightly toil. There was often no discrimination of sexes ; and disease, misery and vice grew as in a hot bed of contagion. Some of these miserable beings tried to run away. To prevent their doing so, those suspected of this tendency had irons riveted on their ankles with long links reaching up to the hips, and were compelled to work and sleep in these chains, young women and girls, as well as boys, suffering this brutal treatment. Many died and were buried secretly at night in some desolate spot, lest people should notice the number of the graves ; and many committed suicide. The catalogue of cruelty and misery is too long to recite here ; it may be read in the “Memoirs of Robert Blincoe,” himself an apprentice, or in the pages of the Blue-books of the beginning of this century, in which even the methodical, dry official language is startled into life by the misery it has to relate. It is, perhaps, not well for me to say more about the subject, for one dares not trust oneself to try and set down calmly all that might be told about this awful page in the history of industrial England.”

This Awful Page of History
So much for capitalism s past. Calmly and passionlessly as it is related it reveals the bloodstained character of the cotton lords’ fortunes in particular, and perhaps of capital in general. But these who suppose that child-life has assumed any sacred character in Capitalism’s eyes are sadly mistaken. At the present day the Press continually reminds us that children are still used as a means of securing profit, and treated accordingly.

A recent case which may be cited as an example is that in which a woman aged 74, who declared that she was “called to the work,” and another, were punished for “wilfully neglecting a number of children in a manner likely to cause injury to health.” The following is an extract from a capitalist contemporary’s report of the case.

“The elder . . . carried on an institution called the . . . Home, where she received a number of children, and it is alleged, neglected them.
“Three medical witnesses were called, one stating that he had never seen a more miserable lot of children. The tips of their noses, their chins, their lips, and their hands and feet were blue with cold. There was not a smile amongst them.
“Another doctor said it was one of the worst cases he had seen.”

The Game Still Goes On
“Suffer little to come unto me”has been made a common precept, but its practical application today be comes, for the most part, a fiendish mockery. The similar cases not a great while since reported in Essex of gross, inhuman neglect towards children, dictated by the hunger for financial gain ; the Parish notices of the intention to “emigrate” (the term “transport” has gone out of fashion, but the operation persists under other names) deserted children of all ages, and the atrocious treatment meted out to the defenceless “Barnadoes brats” by our God-fearing colonial cousins in Canada (the facts about which are now breaking through the interested conspiracy of silence) combine to make it clear that the traffic in children is as rampant as ever, and that private individuals and public institutions alike are as ready as ever to deliver them to untold misery for the sake of a handful of gold, or to get rid of their unwelcome charges. These cruel facts, intruding themselves upon one’s notice with something like a shock, make one ask whether men and women will remain content to allow such suffering to continue. Of the facts there can be no mistake. Capitalist conditions of employment—and unemployment—”life on a pound a week,” render it quite impossible for millions of infants to receive the nourishing feed that medical opinion declares is essential to well-being and unrestricted physical and mental development. Here, then, is quite sufficient explanation of the debility and physical degeneracy that is so terribly and increasingly apparent ; and, at the same time, a mortal indictment of these same capitalist conditions—sufficient lesson for ending them, and for substituting in their place social conditions wherein the common interest is the chief object of human activity, and not the sordid, narrow interest of the few.

We Socialists boldly, confidently, advance our cause as the sole remedy for these and other terrible working class evils, as the only hope of both children and adults. Of course our opponents, jealous guardians of capitalist institutions that they are, reply : “but your proposals constitute a menace to happy English homes—to woman and the child.”

Socialism the only Remedy
Have these worthy critics of ours put their tongues in their cheeks or are they blind ? Have they never seen those long lists of deserted children posted up outside the police-stations and workhouses ? If they have not let them read them, and then ask themselves the very searching question whether it is Socialism that fills those lists of children who nobody wants, or whether it is not rather men and economic conditions under capitalism.

The writer of this article was informed when in Canada, of the vile treatment of emigrated children, and he had excellent reason to believe the reports. But when he told eminently respectable English citizens of these things, he was curtly notified that the statements were not in accordance with fact, and threatened, if he had the temerity to repeat them, with the visitation of all the terrors of that law which is designed only to protect scoundrels whose nefarious actions will not stand the light of day—the law of libel.

However, your Socialist is not to be greatly deterred by such obstacles, and the curdling thought of the pitiful plight of the martyrs of the Canadian farm (the “Barnado brats”), of the victims of capitalist “homes” and “institutions,” of the requirements of his own family, spur him on to the work of leveling capitalism to the ground—to the work of rearing the Socialist Commonwealth, wherein man, woman, and child may enjoy an assured comfort, health, and leisure, and live happily together.

H. B.

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