Bullets for Breakfast. Or How the Workers Got What They Asked for

When the Press reports sensational episodes of the class war abroad—the Pinkerton massacre at Homestead, sabreing in the Moabit quarter of Berlin,and so on—the average “level-headed” Britisher gives another puff at his pipe and smiles a superior smile. Such vain excitement is reserved for the foreigner, you know.

British Equanimity Disturbed
But lo and behold, in the year of grace 1911, the land resounds to the tramp of the myrmidons of the capitalist State. The police are found quite insufficient. Thousands of special constables—defenders of the rich, enemies of the poor—are summoned and armed. Practically the whole of the regular army, booted and spurred, with all the baggage of war, and with pouches full of ball-cartridge, are put in the field or rather, upon the streets and railways. And, as the sole likely billets for their bullets, stand half a million of these same, one-time level-headed, sensible, not to say docile, British workmen ! “Who’d a thought it ? ”

It is the purpose of the present article to bring home to the workers the true significance of this use of the armed forces. At a time when already several persons have lost their lives, and many hundreds have suffered grievous bodily injury, no subject can be of greater concern to the working class.

To rail against capitalist inhumanity is simply futile. The appeal to sentiment, to ideas of justice and of liberty, leads nowhere. The rich, if they had any need, could logically reply that their right is as good as yours ; that it is as inhuman and despotic for strikers to cut off the milk supply or to interfere with the “loyal” servants as it is for policemen to baton strikers. Our capitalist, however, feels himself in a position to dispense with wordy warfare in these matters. He answers with imprisonment the innocent who, having helped overturn a loaded waggon, tells the magistrate that “we claim a right to do it.” This, at least, should bring home to the stiff backed worker the obvious, although oft-forgotten fact, that the striker’s notion of his “rights” and the view of the makers and administrators of the law are very different things.

The capitalist is fully persuaded that the law-breaking striker is a most wicked person. Has he not intimidated his fellow citizen and sought to hinder him in the exercise of his sacred “right to work” ? Above all, has he not laid violent hands upon his master’s property—the “Great Taboo”—thereby committing the greatest crime conceivable in the capitalist mind ? To prison with him then ! Sabre him ! Shoot him !

The Material Interest
But the naive utterance of the worker is worth looking into. “We claim the right to do it,” quoth he. Clearly, the law acknowledges no such right—nor priests nor schoolmen allow it. Nor can the employer recognise the striker’s right, for obvious reasons. The aggressiveness of it; the outrage upon property ; the intimidation of the blackleg: all these run straight up against the employer’s material interest. The striker’s right is the master’s wrong. And, by the same token, tbe man’s action in doing his utmost, at all costs, to paralyse the employer’s business, in order to compel the granting of concessions, and his claim of an unlawful “right,” are but the expression of the worker’s material interest.

Here, then, is the veritable basis of their differing notions of morality—their opposed material interests.

To the master, the striker is an animal whose moral perversity requires punishment limited only by expediency. “Starve him and his into abject submission if we can ; shoot them if—which God forbid—they get too threatening.”

To the man, the master becomes a heartless exploiter. The master’s ally, the “blackleg,” and that ally’s protectors and guarantors, the police and soldiery, become objects of hatred—deadly enemies.

Fire Day Comes
Master and man have both had their dose of “gentle Jesus.” Both have swallowed tbe “Decalogue” and mumbled the “Lord’s Prayer.” Both have imbibed in childhood the notion of a heaven-sent morality—have been taught to “know the right” and to “reject the evil.” But in face of the stern facts of capitalism—the opposition of material interests—these assiduously taught ideas gradually evaporate, and differing ideas of right and wrong, corresponding to differing material interests, take their place. The day comes when the oppressed, instead of “offering the other cheek to the smiter,” turns and lays about him. He meets the oppressor’s allies—the strikebreaker, the policeman, and the soldier. In the hot passion of strife he seeks to vindicate his claim to a better existence. Some of him realise, in the face of all this, the futility of the babble of “rights,” and they seek—the might. They seek it, not to win a fleeting halfpenny per hour, but in order to end the oppressor’s trade once for all—to rise out of the realm of wares into that of free manhood.

These are the Socialists.

However, to get back for a moment to our simple-minded striker. He faces the majesty of the law only to find that the capitalist’s right is preferred. He goes to jail. ‘Twere strange if it were otherwise. The law is enacted by a Parliament composed of property owners, employers, their business connections and hangers-on. A tribe interested in keeping wages low, interested in providing a reserve of unemployed workers, interested in breaking strikes. It is administered by a judiciary drawn from the same class with like interests.

Judiciary, priesthood, army, navy, police—practically all departments of the State, are at the disposal of the employer as his interest may require. But this remains the case to-day only because of the acquiescence of our striker and his fellow workers. The direction of the State organisation is deliberately placed in the hands of the masters at every election by the working class, who have the majority of the votes. In other words, the workers accept the order of things which obtains and vote themselves broken heads—vote themselves hard labour—vote themselves perdition.

Reaping what They Sow
With regard to the methods of the armed forces, it is as well to have on record in the SOCIALIST STANDARD, the following excerpt s from a report in that leading Liberal organ, the Manchester Guardian (August 14). This account ot the conduct of the police on the occasion of the great public meeting held on “the Plateau,” at Liverpool, on Sunday, 13 August, is of such importance as to justify a somewhat lengthy reprint here, and demonstrates the utterly brutal depravity produced in those engaged in doing the dirty work of Capital.

“At a quarter past four the strike leaders and the few police officers present were congratulating themselves that a meeting of about 70,000 workers was ending very peacefully. But fifteen minutes later the huge square resembled a battlefield, and wounded men, some of them looking to be dead, were being taken down side streets or into any place that would offer shelter.”

When the crowd began to run “the police immediately gave chase, and heavy blows with truncheons were showered on nearly all who came within their reach. In some cases discrimination was exercised, but hundreds suffered severely. In some cases the blows were so brutal that men who had seen them delivered called out that it was murder. Men who seemed as if they could have no connection with the labour dispute were crushed down to the ground like nine-pins. Heads were cracked and blood flowed so freely that it was impossible to move more than a yard or two without seeing some of the splashes on the ground. Men pulled off their belts and used them with heavy effect, but neither bricks, staves nor belts could stop the conquering rush of the police.”

Policemen getting Experience

“Even when the crowd was separated into groups the police continued their onslaught. They used their truncheons mercilessly, and some could be seen taking deliberate aim at the backs of men’s heads before giving them blows which, despite the din, could be heard yards away.
“It was when nearly all the crowds had been dispersed that the worst scene of all occurred, and that the brutal, unnecessary blow were struck by some policemen, mostly young and probably inexperienced. The steps of the hall had been crowded with men and a few women interested in the demonstration. The orders given for the steps to be cleared led to incredible scenes. At the top is a wide stone platform with iron railings to protect the ends, where there is a sheer drop of 12 feet. When the police charged up the steps they had the people in a trap from which escape was possible only by dropping through the railings to the flags below. Hundreds realised that this wus the only thing to do, but in a few seconds the policemen had wom their way to the railings, and the men, women, and young boys and girls were pushed past them and over the edge as rapidly and continually as water down a steep rock. The officers could be seen using their truncheons like flails. Dozens of heads were broken and many shoulders and arms received blows the marks of which will remain for many a long day. And of those who escaped the blows many were hurt by the fall. It was a display of violence that horrified those who saw it.
“Mr. W. H. Quilliam, solicitor to the Mersey Quay and Railway Carters’ Union, who was on No. 1 platform,” stated that “having a great experience of Liverpool disorders, I am firmly of the opinion that had the police kept oat of the way and not interfered with the youngsters, the crowd would have remained perfectly quiet. In fact, the police made numerous charges before the men became infuriated. It was evident the police knew they would be backed up by the military, or the few to be seen at first would not have adopted such violent tactics.”
“Councillor Shore, a member of the Bootle Watch Committee, who was on the second platform, said it was remarkable that the crowd remained quiet so long considering the provocation that was given.”

The “Guardian” further says: “The number of injured must be quite a thousand.”

This truly extraordinary perpetration of the civil arm can only be explained by the nature of the police training, and the men’s consciousness that they are segregated from the rest of the working class for the defence of the propertied class ; to which class, indeed, they have learned to look for subsidy and commendation.

In order, however, to avoid giving the false impression that the Socialist views the soldier and the policeman as hopelessly dehumanised wretches, it is as well to recall an instance of kindly action on the part of the police. This is the case where two policemen jumped in to rescue a striker who, in an exciting scuffle, had fallen into a canal. Such incidents help maintain the human relationship, and remind us that we count on the armed forces some day, and if necessary, turning their weapons upon those who are their enemies and our’s—the exploiting class.

That is the consummation to be desired but surely not to be expected while the workers still toady to the master class.

However, the following news items would seem to show that some of the governing class feel a bit squeamish about the reliability, for capital’s defence, of a part, at least, of the armed forces. The Daily News of 19 August announces that: “Orders were issued yesterday directing the arms of Hertfordshire Territorials to be sent in forthwith.” And Reynolds’s of August 29 has the following :

“Liverpool Territorials were instructed to return to headquarters the bolts of their rifles, which would, of course, thereby be rendered useless.”

That the governing or capitalist class fear the workers are losing their assinine respect for capitalist order and the sacred rights of property may be divined from the elaborate precautions taken in view of the railway strike. Even before the strike was proclaimed troops were moved to within close distance of the termini, while immediately the strike commenced the whole organisation of the regular army and a part of the navy were thrown into the scales. “Life, property, the food and fuel supply of the people, must be protected.” So ran the squeal of the Government and Press. The effect is, of course, that the masters’ “loyal” tripe-hounds may do their dirty work uninfluenced and unhindered, and thereby smash Labour. Apart from the function of feeding the section on colonial (mostly Indian) service, the regular army is tendedly organised as an expeditionary force for use against a foreign enemy, or for the defence of these very tight little islands. But capital seriously menaced at home flings this organisation to the winds. Artillerymen leave their cannon at the other end of the country, and, armed with rifle and bayonet, take to convoying Deacon Jones’ bacon waggon. The army is split up and sent in detail all over the country. The railway strike will have rendered great service to the workers by showing them what is the real and primary purpose of the military force of the country. These tens of thousands of bayonets flash to day, tacitly admitted the oppressor’s only reliable defence—the sole guarantors of the right of property, which is, above all, the right to exploit one’s fellow human. The sentinals posted every few yard around the terminus, with their twenty rounds in their pouches, speak all too eloquently. There it is for every eye to comprehend—the blunt ultimatum that in the last resort it is to the machine gun and Commune massacres that Capital looks for its survival. The ultimate justification is the, river of blood. Is it not time for Labour to get BEHIND the guns ?

H. B.

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