Mangling done here. Which is the bigger Hell?

[To the Editor.]
Sir,—Being of a very critical turn of mind—one of those misguided mortals who want a lot of convincing—I always scan your brilliant journal for something to attack, I must admit that it is usually very hard to find a weak spot, but I think you have given an opening in your article on “Peru and England.” To put it briefly, it seems to me that you spoil your case by exaggeration.
With your first column, dealing with the Peruvian atrocities, I have no quarrel. The second may also pass unsinged through the fire of criticism. Now we come to the third column, in which occurs the following sentence:
“Notwithstanding that the method is different, the violation at home is as brutal and as shameful as that in Peru.”
This seems exaggeration run mad ! It is, surely, more than a difference of method. Are women in England murdered and raped wholesale ? Are women in England, or men even, denied the means of subsistence in return for their labour-power ? Generally speaking, are the workers forced to perform tasks beyond their physical capacity ? If not, what becomes of your “parallel” with Peru? You contend that in England if a member of the proletariat wants to live he or she must live on the master’s terms and by his consent. It must surely have been a rhetorical heat-wave that caused you to overlook the existence of the Poor Law. The S.P.G.B. has said over and over again that no one need starve who is willing to apply for relief. Does this alternative exist in Peru ? In England, even prostitution is preferable to starvation. In many cases it is considered more attractive than hard, monotonous toil. To a certain extent it might be regarded as a necessity of our monogamic system—but this is rather a digression from the main issue.
When you remark towards the end of the article, that the “other atrocities” have “their parallels in any capitalist country,” it is fairly evident that your imagination is again playing tricks with your reason. “Let us be clear in our comparison. Let us get the true perspective.” Agreed.
—Yours, D. A. CONROY.


Misguided mortal, what was contained in the article you criticise is so strange to your critical mind that it seems to you to be “exaggeration run mad.” Well, Mr. Conroy, I only expected that it would appear to be so to a certain number who seem to be utterly unable to realise the actual conditions under which their class exist.

Are women in. England murdered and raped wholesale, you asked. What I said with regard to girls working in factories and offices is sufficient answer (if it is true) as to rape. It is a fact widely known, though the critical, mind which wants such a ”lot of convincing,” may never give it credence. It is, as I pointed out in the article, supported by the fact that provision is made for its interdiction in a recently proposed Parliamentary Bill. This is the obstinate and awkward point you should have attacked.

As to murder, the instances I gave of wholesale murder were those of men—shunters and miners. But what do you want ? Is it worse for women to be murdered than men, that you must challenge me to set against the slaughter of Peruvian women the murder of women in England ? If that is it there is no difficulty. The days of “phossy jaw” are not quite over yet, and tales are told in the potteries that would make an Indian woman’s flesh creep. But in many trades in England women are being murdered by the conditions of their labour—conditions made and enforced by the masters.

You, evidently, view these things from the standpoint of the bourgeois coroner’s jury, who find every death sanctioned by capitalist laws, to be a “natural” death or “misadventure.” So it is only “natural” death when some poor working lass dies of starvation. And it is purely a case of misadventure when several girls are burnt to death through being made to work in a room full of slow guncotton (they call it celluloid but it is a form of guncotton) with naked lights about, and no adequate means of escape.

Perhaps you, friend Conroy, can explain the difference between being roasted to death on the top of a City warehouse to save the English capitalist the expense of making provision for safety, and being roasted to death in a Peruvian forest. Perhaps it lies in the comforting assurance of one of the witnesses at the London inquest that these things cannot be helped because celluloid is used in nearly every trade. Which means, of course, that if only one or two women were in danger something might be done, but since thousands are in danger, it would cost too much to protect them, and they must take their chance of some workingman hero being able to get the blazing celluloid out of the window.

Certainly it is “more than a difference of methods.” This writer has not said that it was not. The conditions are different and the results are different. But it is violation all the same, and as brutal and shameful in the English method as in the Peruvian. You say that “in England, even prostitution is preferable to starvation,” and ask if the alternative of Poor Law relief exists in Peru. Probably not—certainly not in the district we are concerned with. But if the implication is that the whip used in Peru is starvation, and that since this is thought, in England, to be worse than prostitution, it must be a terrible thing in Peru, then you are wrong. Starvation is not the whip in Peru. Sheer brutality is what drives the Indians to work. On the other hand, this starvation, which you so subtly reveal in all its hideousness, is the weapon uaed in England, as you admit when you say that prostitution is preferred to it.

But what else have you said, Mr. Conroy ? You have unwittingly said that the British capitalists have made their alternative to starvation—the Poor Law—less attractive “even” than prostitution ! And since you say that none need starve who are willing to apply for relief, and it is undeniable that many do starve, you show that the Poor Law alternative is (for many) worse “even” than starvation ! What “rhetosical” phenomenon was it that put the Poor Law bogey into your head ?

Your “digression from the main issue” just suffices to enable you to “put your foot in it” again, for certainly prostitution may not be regarded, even “to a certain extent,” as a necessity of our monogamous system. Do you realise that prostitution involves sale ? Whatever sexual relations may be ascribed to “our monogamic system,” sale cannot. Prostitution is a necessity of our capitalist system.

And if, as you say, it is sometimes considered more attractive than hard, monotonous toil (a statement that to me only shows the awfal misery of the latter, and does not one iota lessen the horror of the former), then, as I have before pointed out, in thousands of cases prostitution offers no escape from “hard, monotonous toil,” but goes with it ! This is, in part, the answer to your question whether women in England are denied the means of subsistence in return for their labour-power. They are indeed, in vast numbers. For all their hard and monotonous toil they have, not exceptionally, but generally, to find some means of supplementing their wages. Their male relatives may come to their rescue, but often enough the question has to be faced whether “even prostitution is preferable to starvation,” and sometimes it has to be prostitution, and sometimes slow, but certain, starvation.

The parallels in this connection between England and Peru, are startlingly close. The Indian is forced to labour, and has to partly provide his own means of livelihood while doing so. The English factory girl, shop-assistant, and so on, also are forced to work, and have (as reference to the wages paid in many “women’s trades” will show) to provide in part their own means of subsistence while doing so. Yet there is a difference—not overlooked by me, but by you, my friend. The delights of prostitution are not open to the Indian women, hence when the exploiter has exhausted the physical powers of his victim (whether in actually working rubber or in obtaining the necessaries of life to enable her to do it makes not the slightest difference) he is at the end of his tether as an exploiter. In England, however, by paying such low wages that they will not suffice for a woman to reproduce her labour-power, he not only exploits her physical power, but her sex also.

The case, however, does not turn upon one sex or one section, but upon the broader basis of the general condition. That general condition is indicated by the admission that there are in this country always thirteen millions of people on the verge of hunger. This is no question of unemployment. This is indicative of men and women in England being “denied the means of subsistence in return for their labour-power.” They work and starve.

But since it seems that your chivalrous nature can only appraise female suffering, let me ask if you have ever walked through London at midnight, and seen women, old and grey and homeless, sitting on the doorsteps, huddled bundles of misery, waiting for the dawn—no, not for the dawn, for there can be no hope for them in that—waiting for death ? I will not ask if you can imagine any more poignant picture of suffering and desolate despair in Peruvian forests, for such depths of human anguish it is not for either you or me to sound.

Finally, workers in England are not “forced to perform tasks beyond their physical capacity.” If they are in Peru, then the answer to your query as to what becomes of my parallel is, give me the invisible paint that I may hide myself.


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