Editorial: Asquith’s military pickle

If, as is commonly said, it takes a clever man to be a fool, then it has been clearly demonstrated by the comedy of the past few days that the cleverest men in the country are to found in the House of Commons. That great and revered institution, the British House of Commons, the “model upon which is built all the democratic parliaments of the world,” has manifested such utter incapacity and folly in the labour of try­ing to deliver itself of a Home Rule Act, that it has become the laughing-stock of the Universe.

In the matter of sheer idiocy there is little to choose between the course of procedure of either of the political parties. It was not to the inter­est of the Tories, any more than it was to that of the Liberals, to shout from the housetops that the whole farce of the Home Rule “fight” is bunkum, and the Irish question is merely a stalking horse for professional politicians to use to secure the pickings and plunder which are among the chief attractions of their profession. Neither was it to the interest of the Tories, any more than it was to that of the Liberals, to furnish such a powerful object lesson to Syndical­ists and others, on the matter of who really has control of the armed forces of the nation.

However, our concern for the moment is not with the Tory bunglers and tricksters, but with the Liberal Government and their Labour allies.

In the gentle art of making fools of themselves Asquith & Co. are adepts. The reason is not far to seek. In a special sense the Cabinet is a Cabinet of men on the make. No capitalist Cabinet, it is true, has ever been animated by any loftier inspiration than that of conserving capitalist interests, but even such an inspiration may hold something far removed from the ut­terly ignoble—may rise, indeed, to the height of a faith supported by unpriced service and sealed by self-sacrifice.

It is one of the signs of the approaching de­mise of the present ruling class, however, that, just as in the workshop, factory, and office they have beeome more and more dependent upon paid agents, so even in politics they have come to depend upon men who, whatever class they are drawn from, are pure and simple shekel hunters. The frequency with which apostasy is rewarded with preferment, even to Cabinet rank, is sufficient proof of this.

This feature of modern politics has been very clearly exposed to view since the advent of the Liberal party to power. They started with John Burns. They have paid Churchill his price. They have dangled loaves and fishes before the greedy eyes of the traitor Labour Party. They have bought men left and right with the crumbs of the spoils of office, in order that even among these snarling canaille of the polls they might find henchmen to secure them their political plunder.

Courage and a firm course may be looked for from men fighting in a “cause” from conviction of the right, or even the expediency of that cause, but men on the make, who are trembling not for their cause but for their well-salaried offices, may be expected to show tho pusillani­mous fibre of the white-livered. A cause is only to be won by putting it to the touch, and if the “heart and mind” are in the cause it will be put to the touch with the greatest resolution. But the hireling, who fears for his job, goes groggy at the knees when he has to take action that may place his well oiled position in jeopardy. That is why this crew of Marconi vultures so completely lost their native cunning as to ask their soldiers whether they would support them in their legislation. It is also, inversely, the reason their drooping spirits revived and their courage was renewed, when the bungling Tory “statesmen,” by supporting the military strike, gave the Liberals an issue that they would not greatly fear to fight an election on.

It is, perhaps, the most significant feature of the incident, that the stick which each and every party and section has waved in the air as its contribution to the discordant comedy, has been that of the effect upon the working class. The Liberals have invited the Tories to consider the rod they are putting in pickle for themselves by advancing the theory that a soldier may re­fuse to obey orders on conscientious grounds, pointing out that the day may come when the “common” soldier will apply the theory in the case of industrial disturbance. The Tories have used the same arguments against the action of the Liberals in asking military officers what they would do in certain eventualities. And, as might be expected, the Labour Party, when they rushed to the rescue of Featherstone Asquith and his fellow incapables, exploited for all it was worth this professed fear that strikers of the working class might one day turn the aristocratic precedent to account.

Their seeming horror of such an eventuality should not be lost upon the foolish workers who have placed them where they are. It is eloquent prophesy of what course the Labour Party would take should they perchance find the reins of government in their hands at a time of “industrial disturbance.” The treachery of the Labour Party of Australia in the recent strike in Brisbane is reflected in the British Labour leaders’ concern for the capitalists’ precious instrument of oppression and the fear that they might some day refuse to fire upon recalcitrant workers.

The incident at the Curraugh has given the Labour Party an opportunity of drawing even closer to the Liberal Party which they were in almost indecent haste to embrace. They leapt, like famished dogs at a paunch, at this chance of abandoning even the last shred of pretence that they have any other mission than that of the orthodox Liberals. They seized like limpets upon the shibboleth “The Army versus the Peo­ple” as one that transcended all others and enabled them, if it should come to an election, to wave aside awkward questions concerning the class antagonism and their intimacy with their Liberal paymasters.

The Labour Party, as also the Liberal party, know as well as we do that it is sheer shameless lying to talk about “the Army v. the People,” or even “the Army v. the Commons.” They know very well that the control of the Commons over the Army is effective and complete. They know beyond all question that the issue is not “the Army v. the People,” but “the Liberal party v. the Tory party.”

No one who has any knowledge at all of the position has any doubt about the subserviency of the Army to Parliament. If there has been any action on the part of certain military men that would appear to controvert the position we have always taken up, that is no sign that the control of the armed forces is in other hands than those who hold political power. It is sim­ply a reflection of the weakness and pusillani­mity of the cowardly crew of time-servers who happen to hold office at the moment. Soldiers are quick to see the white feather. Featherstone Asquith and his coterie have displayed the des­pised plumage whenever they have run up against anything that did not run away. The workers they bully and swindle ; the doctors and the Labour Party they bribed ; the Army they have crawled to. It is this weakness alone that encouraged the cavalry officers to strike.

We affirm again that it is through Parliament alone that the armed forces of the nation are controlled, and the events of the past few days have hoist their own engineers, in as much as they have confirmed us in the eyes of the work­ers of the world. Syndicalists take note.

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