Peru and England. A Comparison

The world has lately been startled by the publication of sensational reports of the methods by which a British rubber company, operating in Peru, obtains its rubber.

The nauseating details which have found their way into the papers do not by any means exhaust the catalogue of atrocities inflicted upon the company’s Indian victims, or sap the infinite variety of the tortures used to terrorise these poor people into superhuman exertion in the collection of rubber ; nor do those widely publised details touch the limits of ferocity laid bare in the Government Blue-Book.

This, however, is not meant in the sense of the degree of physical suffering involved, for it is inconceivable that the agonies of roasting the feet over a slow fire (as quoted by the newspapers) can be transcended, even where the torturers go the length of smashing up a man’s organs with a stick, or inserting burning brands in a woman’s body in a part which even a Blue Book only dares hint at. But these details which the British Press even cannot lift the veil on, add to all the other horrors some inkling of the filthy-mindedness that goes hand-in-hand with British capital, to win dividends for British Christians and the like.

It is not the purpose here, however, to treat the public to a recital of the sickening story of mutilation and murder reported by Consul-General Casement, but to direct attention to horrors no whit lees sickening which are mere everyday affairs much nearer home than the forest glades of Peru. Those who are so startled and shocked to find that the inhumanities which make the names of the old-time Spanish “conquerors” stink in the nostrils, still survive in British capitalism; those who are horrified to discover that the tale of the Congo has been re-written with but varied detail in the solitude of Western forests, those who have observed with pained surprise, the agonised convulsions of a harmless and innocent people being done to death in Southern America, transforming themselves into the sensational throbbing of rubber shares in Throgmorton Street at the time of the great “rubber boom,” do not need to throw their imagination half way round the world in order to find something to move their “bowels of compassion” or stir their righteous—very righteous—indignation.

As a matter of fact murder and brutality—like charity, according to the account of those who know all about it—begin at home. Not only, mark you, the murder of the Peruvian Indians, whose doom is pronounced in the London board rooms by silk-hatted directors and cosmopolitan financiers. We do not have to turn to the diocese of the Bishop of the Falkland Islands (who is now in England trying to raise funds to further the interests of British capital in Peru and the vicinity, instead of being in his diocese supervising the decent burial of the corpses British capilal is providing there), one does not, I say, have to go to that Bishop’s diocese to find matter for “thrills” and “shocks.”

No, there is not one of the atrocities related in Blue Book Cd. 6266 that cannot be paralleled in the diocese of the Bishop of London, or in the diocese of any other English Bishop. There is not one page of this voluminous report, reeking with bloody tragedy, that might not have been made to carry as tragic and as bloody an inscription by any faithful hand that should have set itself the task of chronicling the history of any single day in any of the great manufacturing towns of highly civilised, free and Christain England.

Capitalism is very much the same thing in all its operations and in its every sphere of influence. What is good or evil under it is determined only but its result upon profits—by its effect upon ruling interests. Capital, as Marx says, comes into the world dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt. And one Dunning many years ago wrote :—

“With adequate profit, capital is very bold. A certain 10 per cent. will ensure its employment anywhere ; 20 per cent. certain will produce eagerness ; 50 per cent., positive audacity ; 100 per cent. will make it ready to trample on all human laws ; 300 per cent., and there is not a crime at which it will scruple, nor a risk it will not run, even to the chance of its owner being hanged, if turbulence and strife will bring profit, it will freely encourage both.”

So outrage is inherent in the system—nay, that is but half stating the case : outrage is the foundation and corner-stone of the system. The great primal outrage is the seizure by those who rule under the system, of every means by which men might support themselves in any form of independence. Upon that great, tragic outrage—the closing of every avenue of life against the worker, the whole system of robbery, violence and violation rests. And that robbery, that violence, that violation, is as complete, cruel, and shameful here in England as anything Consul-General Casement travelled so far to put on record.

Violation of Indian girls ! It is common enough in any factory district in England for girls to have to submit to the bestial attentions of their foremen and male overlookers. They have to choose between that and starvation. It is a fact well known to the employers, who do not interfere (as has been admitted) because it smooths the way to prostitution, which is the necessary adjunct to the low wages paid by the factory masters. It is a fact also well known and confessed by our legislators, as is proven by the provision made for its interdiction in a projected Bill.

In offices things are much the same, and in large drapery establishments every “encouragement” (such as locking the girls out in the street all night if they are not in by a specific time) is held out for their girl assistants to resort to certain means of augmenting their scant wages.

Notwithstanding that the method is differed the violation at home is as brutal and shameful as that in Peru. In the latter case the weapon made use of is physical force: in the former starvation In the one case the tormentor has possession of the woman’s body, in the other case of her means of livelihood. The compulsion is pretty complete in both cases.

We must not allow ourselves to be led astray by the old capitalist defence that “this is a free country.” The freedom of these girls to leave their employment is merely the freedom to starve. That is the freedom which belongs to every wage-slave. It is the freedom which followed naturally upon the enclosure of all land and the seizure cf all the means of living. The capitalist has no need to hunt the forests of this country for workers : he has shut them out of the fields and forests, and left them only the freedom to starve. This freedom the capitalist would not interfere with if he could. It is the greatest asset he has. The slave has not got it, hence the slave must be fed, cannot be trusted with delicate machinery, cannot be speeded up to the requirements of the modern factory system. The lash never has been able to compel anything but the quality of labour most nearly approaching that abstract conception, the “purely physical”—it cannot induce the exercise of “gumption.” Only when the workers are free to starve, and liable to be thrown out on the street to do it, do they become fit and proper instruments for the economical manipulation of the modern machinery for producing commodities.

Hence the masters cherish the workers’ freedom to starve even more than do the workers themselves. It is the basis of all their exploitation, their standby in every difficult situation.

And similarly it is the basis of the whole awful position of the workers. Because this freedom is their only alternative, they present themselves for sale in the labour market. Because they have only the freedom to starve they face death in the mine and torment before the battle-ship’s furnaces. They give up their whole lives to unrewarded drudgery in sordid and bestial conditions, submitting to the vilest prostitution of their labour in the performance of slave tasks, all because they may starve if they don’t.

And at every turn they are offered the same alternative by which it is pretended the women may save themselves from violation, but which, nevertheless, cannot save any workingman from handing over his body, nay, his life, to exploitation, cannot afford one of them escape from a prostitution as vile (if we could only see it thro’ the unaccustomed eyes of the savage) as any that women are subjected to through their sex.

The other atrocities reported from the rubber districts all have their parallels in any capitalist country. The police brutality at Liverpool and Manchester and year ago, when scores of people of both sexes and all ages were maimed for life; the murders at Tonypandy, Belfast, and other places, the kicking of pregnant women quite recently at Canning Town, show very plainly that when it comes to dealing with resistance to their plundering, the master class know not the slightest difference between the Indians of Peru and the working class of England. Rubber is not more bloodstained than coals. Dying Indians are not more contemptuously thrown into the bush to expire than are our miners bricked up in the blazing pits to burn. The Waste of Indian life is no more extravagant than that of shunters on British railways, and callous brutalily cannot anywhere outdo that displayed in certain capitalist hospitals, where healthy working-class children are innoculated with filthy diseases and reduced to noisome masses of corruption—because they are cheaper than calves. And where, in the whole of the Consul-General’s report, can a more stupendous crime, a more ghastly butchery, be found recorded than has been recently witnessed in the streets of London, where the shipping masters have deliberately set themselves to crush a hundred thousand men into submission by starving their wives and children ?

Let us be clear in our comparison. Let us get the true perspective. The Indians, the evidence in the report tells us, are so used to being flogged that they do not so much mind it. Let us make sure that our familiarity with the brutality of our daily existence does not blind us to its real horror. The Indians, while they have their forests, have to be hunted and captured. This, as we understand it, is illegal. But generations ago the workers of this country were captured by depriving them of their means of living. Hence if they won’t submit to the masters’ terms they are legally free to starve. It is this illusive difference in the aspect of the cases which blinds us to their essential similarity. Under the cloak of legality the workers of the whole civilised world are enslaved and starved and bludgeoned and raped to satiate the lusts of a parasite class, and when we see our own condition reflected in a savage race, and only revealed because the savage, having his means of livelihood in his native wild wood, has to be exploited by “illegal” means, we are astonished and shocked.

The only remedy, both for ourselves and for the Indian, is to take away from the capitalists the means of life and make them the property of the community, first capturing the political power by which they hold their sway.


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