1910s >> 1914 >> no-122-october-1914

The Socialist View of the German Atrocities

The present conflict between the Powers of Europe is a tragedy of the first magnitude; but like most stupendous tragedies, it has its humorous aspects for those who are not entirely led away by the superficial. One of the most laughable spectacles of the day is the universal outcry about what our innocent masters and their saintly hirelings of the Press and pulpit are pleased to call the “atrocities of the Huns.” Mark ! it is not here denied that there have been appalling outrages committed by the Kaiser’s hosts. That is not the question with which we are at the moment concerned. It is the capitalist hands upheld in horror, and the round-eyed astonishment of our good, kind masters, that engage our amused attention.

They are astounded and shocked to a marked degree at every manifestation of the rules of warfare adopted by the German military authorities, and run whining like chastised curs about the world, complaining in a childish snivel of every method that presses hardly upon themselves, but which, for various reasons, does not, for the moment, commend itself to the allies.

What the reasons for all this singsong of nauseating hypocrisy are is pretty obvious, and will be returned to later. But for the moment let us deal with the ludicrously clumsy effort of Maurice Maeterlinck, the Belgian author, to exploit the bestial fruits of a bestial system for the benefit of the master class of Britain, France, Russia and Belgium.

Maeterlinck is often spoken of as the “Belgian Shakespeare,” and it may be noted that the English bard himself was not above prostituting his talents in order to curry favour with the great ones of the earth. Henceforth, then, the admirers of Maeterlinck may claim for him a further point of Shakespearean resemblance, by the evidence of a very foolish article of his which was published by the “Daily Mail” and the “Evening News” (Sept. 14th).

Speaking of the atrocities Maeterlinck says:

   “It is not true that in this gigantic crime there are innocent and guilty, or degrees of guilt. They stand on one level, all those who nave taken part in it. . . . It is, very simply, the German, from one end of his country to the other, who stands revealed as a beast of prey . . . We have here no wretched slaves dragged along by a tyrant King, who alone is responsible. Nations have the government they deserve, or rather, the government they have is truly no more than the magnified and public projection of the private morality and mentality of the nation.
“If eighty million innocent people select and support a monstrous King, those eighty million innocent people merely expose the inherent falseness and superficiality of their innocence; and it is the monster they maintain at their head who stands for all that is true in their nature . . .
“They must be destroyed as we destroy a nest of wasps, since we know that these can never change into a nest of bees.
“And even though individually and singly the Germans were all innocent and merely led astray, they are none the less guilty in the mass.   “This is the guilt that counts . . . because it lays bare, underneath their superficial innocence, the subconscious criminality of all.
“No influence can prevail on the unconscious or the subconscious. It never evolves. Let there come a thousand years of civilisation, a thousand years of peace, with all possible refinements of art and of education, the subconscious element of the German spirit, which is its unvarying element, will remain absolutely the same as it is to-day; and would declare itself, when the opportunity came, under the same aspect, with the same infamy.”

This is the pronouncement of one of the “master-minds” of Europe. It is, presumably, the best this burning patriot of Belgium could do to reduce the “modern Huns” to their proper level, immeasurably below the race under King Albert. Let us see, however, if this pronouncement is logically sound, where it must inevitably lead us to.

On the West Coast of Africa is a large tract of country called the Congo Free State. Unfortunately for the inhabitants of that country it was found that in the great forests of the region there grew abundantly the trees from which rubber is obtained. As usually happens when white men discover defenceless natives in a country whose virgin forests are rich in rubber trees, the aborigines were enslaved and compelled to gather the rubber for their white masters.

The particular case of the Congo Free State formed the subject of a British enquiry by Commissioner Casement, whose report disclosed atrocities more villainous, if that were possible, than anything which has yet been charged against the Germans in Belgium.

The sickening details it is not necessary to more than touch upon. Terrorism was the foundation of the Congo system of exploitation. How the feet of natives were cut off because the amount of rubber they collected did not (as indeed, it never could) satisfy the greed of their masters; how the unfortunate blacks were suspended over slow fires and roasted to death; how a country was devastated in order to pile up wealth for foreign invaders: all this can be read elsewhere by those whose memories need refreshing.

To pile up wealth for whom? For Germans? Oh no! for Belgians. If the German “culture” found its expression in the stark outrages of the smiling plains of Belgium, Belgian “culture” asserted itself in the blood-reeking shambles of the Congo rubber fields. If the German “culture” as exemplified at Louvain and Tirlemont, was incidental to the stirring and (as our capitalist masters will have it) not ignoble romance of war, the Belgian “culture,” as displayed in the African forests, was an integral part of the noble arts of peace. So much for the merits of the respective instances.

Now how may the arguments of Maeterlinck be applied to the case of the Belgian “culture” on the Congo? The acts of violence and outrage were admittedly monstrous. The chief responsibility for them was brought home to that inhuman monster, Leopold, the late King of the Belgians, who made millions out of the death-agonies of braver, cleaner, better, and far lees savage men and women than himself. Here was a “monstrous King,” if ever there was one.

Are we to say, then, with the author of “The Blue Bird,” that this “monstrous King” of the Belgians “stands [or did stand] for all that is true in their nature” ? Are we to declare that he, and those who governed with him, were “truly no more than the magnified and public projection of the private morality and mentality of the nation” ? Are we to assert that the Belgian, “from one end of his country to the other, stands revealed as a beast of prey” ? Are we to conclude that “a thousand years of civilisation, a thousand years of peace, with all possible refinements of art and of education,” would find the Belgian people so callous, so brutalised, so low in the scale of human development, that the “morality and mentality of the nation,” as exhibited, according to the arguments of Maurice Maeterlinck, on the Congo, “ would declare itself, when the opportunity came, under the same aspect, with the same infamy” ? If so, then the “modern Huns” would be performing a worthy service to humanity at large by blotting the Belgian race off the face of the earth.

It is not only the Belgians, however, who have proved themselves to be quite the equals of the Germans in the matter of perpetrating outrages that “stagger humanity.” In this respect Russia is so notorious that it is hardly necessary to do more than whisper the name How the Press of the world rang, a decade or so ago, with the infamies that made the names of the Tzar and his Cossacks stink in the nostrils of men! The mention of Father Gapon will suffice to refresh even the memory of the sycophant Maeterlinck. The latter says: “Through the whole course of history two distinct will-powers have been noticed that would seem to be opposed, elemental manifestations of the spirit of our globe : the one seeking only evil, injustice, tyranny, and suffering, while the other strives for liberty, the right, radiance, and joy. These two powers stand once again face to face ; our opportunity now is to annihilate the one that comes from below.” How much less than “a thousand years of civilisation,”  has sufficed to evolve from “the subconscious element ” of the Russian spirit which gave us the callous butchery of the unarmed workers in St. Petersburg on “Bloody Sunday,” which has asserted itself in a never-ending stream of misery rolling its pitiful flood across the dreary waste to the appalling doom of Siberia, that has glutted its blood lust in innumerable pogroms against helpless and inoffensive Jews—how much less than “a thousand years of peace” has been sufficient to develop out of this unpromising material that “will power” which “strives for liberty, the right, radiance, and joy ”!

Of course, now that “gallant Belgium,” “democratic France,” and “upright and honest Britain” are linked with Russia in the greatest of all atrocities, we are bidden to forget all these things. More even than this, these very barbarities which Russia has inflicted upon her subject races, and particularly upon her,working class, are adduced as evidence of the “great sacrifices” Russia has made on behalf of freedom. And as if this did not achieve the very height of imaginative extravagance, a writer in the “ Daily Chronicle” of September 24th coolly informs us that “Russian bureaucracy and autocracy is (sic) a legacy from Germany and German influences. Ever since the days of Peter the Great. Russia has been governed under ideas which have been supplied her by the Prussian Junkers, and now the time has come when the whole Russian people see the chance of freeing themselves from these influences for ever.”

That Germany must bear the blame for all the innocent blood that has soddened the soil of Russia since Peter the Great’s day is ludicrous enough in all conscience, but the spectacle that we are invited to gaze upon, of the Tsar and those who rule Russia “under ideas supplied by Prussian Junkers,” waging war in order to gain the freedom to govern according to the beatific traditions of Western Liberalism is too much for our sobriety. Albeit, it demonstrates with what rubbish these prostitutes of the Press are prepared to insult the intelligence of the working class in order to bolster up the case of their paymasters.

France, also—democratic, chivalric France—has her gobbeted pages of history. The Massacre of S. Bartholomew is a classic example of foul treachery and degraded brutality that will stand so long as dastardly human deeds find s recorder at all. The history of Paris, however, bristles with shameful atrocities, among which it is sufficient to instance—not the suppression, don’t think it was that – but the bloody vengeance wreaked upon the workers of Paris for the Commune of 1871. After the fighting ceased 30,000 working men, women, and children of Paris were butchered in cold blood, while the conditions under which those were interned who were to be transported to New Caledonia are too revolting to be printed here. Let those who find themselves impressed with the idea that barbarity is the special attribute of the “modern Huns” read the history of the Paris Commune, and a new light will break in upon them concerning another of Britain’s allies.

Nor is Britain herself above the perpetration of atrocious outrage, both at home and abroad. The Boer War furnished examples enough, in spite of official whitewash. The Boer general, Beyers, has just stated that every Boer farmer’s house was a Louvain, and Smuts, with all his fervent turn-coat patriotism, could not deny the statement he could only endeavour to draw the curtain over it

The history of the British rule in India, where famine has succeeded famine, and multitudes have sunk down in their wretched hovels and die of starvation whilst their white masters were exporting the grain Indian people had grown, puts Britain on a level with any Huns, ancient or modern.

But let us come nearer home. How many working-class butcheries have been perpetrated in these islands of recent years? Only three years ago the same military support which has now been given to capitalist France was promised and rendered to the railway magnates of England in order to enable them to force their men to continue to work for 16s and 17s. a week That ended in butchery. Tonypandy is another instance that will be fresh in the memory of many, while we have the testimony of the Liberal politician who “saved the Government” from defeat, Mr. Handel Booth, that in Dublin during a recent labour struggle, women of the working class were dragged from their homes by the hair of their heads and brutally batoned by the police. The same witness also affirmed, what was amply borne out by others, that one of the victims of the struggle was felled by a police truncheon, and then deliberately beaten to death by several policemen as he lay helpless on the ground.

How did the modern Huns of capitalist Britain meet the charge of these cowardly atrocities, committed at their behest and in their profit-mongering interests, and witnessed by one of their own politicians? By resorting to that rich product of Western Liberalism — a sham enquiry—and appointing legal bullies to bully the awkward witness out of Court.

The “Hun” in the British master class is revealed in a thousand places. At the very time that the war broke out instances were causing unpleasant attention to be turned to our masters’ methods. There was the callous butchery in Dublin, engineered by rival politicians, when four people were done to death, among whom a woman was shot dead, and a boy who was killed received a bullet wound in the back and a bayonet thrust in the thigh. The war came opportunely to divert public attention from this Irish “Louvain.” Again, when war broke out thousands of men in the building trades in London had been for many months deprived of their sole means of livelihood—condemned, together with their wives and children, to starvation because they refused to sign a degrading and economically undermining contract form. No snuffling Harold Begbie thought to ask of the starving victims of that “battle for liberty,” the ironic question : “What will you lack’. Sonny?”

British history, ancient and modern, at home and abroad, is a veritable fabric of atrocity, which can find no parallel in the history of any other race on earth. The early invaders of India may have perpetrated orgies of bloodshed that only the whole European civilisation has been able, after nineteen hundred years of Christian humbug, to surpass; the industrial magnates of America may have provided, in the piping times of peace, examples of lawless violence so open, so naked and unashamed, as to startle even us ; but for long exercised, persistent, callous brutality, which is none the less fiendish because it has evolved the cunning to mask itself with legal shams and social sophistries, one can find nothing approaching the industrial history of England.

Let those who want to whine about the atrocities of the Germans first explain away the methods by which the peasantry of feudal England were deprived of their lands and driven from the countryside to become factory slaves ; let them cleanse, if they can, the fortunes of the great cotton families of the blood and agony-drops of the thousands of working class children who were murdered to make those fortunes ; let them blot out from the memory the scores of shamble scenes from Peterloo to Dublin, in which unarmed British workers have fallen to British bullets; let them tell us what higher “culture” than that of the “modern Huns” is indicated in the preventable sacrifice of railway shunters’ lives, the raising of the load line of ships, the contemptuous ignoring of the laws of the mining Acts because the fine for launching 400 miners into eternity is only £24.

Maeterlinck and other sycophantic “intellectuals,” playing their prostitute part in the upholding of that system which gives them their “place in the sun,” may rail and rave as only they know bow, about the German atrocities, but their motives are clear enough. They desire to do two things to inflame the workers of Britain, France, Russia and Belgium against Germany, and to hide the truth.

And the truth is that atrocity is not a national attribute anywhere or at any time. On the contrary, atrocity belongs, not to nations, but to systems. It is of the very nature of all systems of plunder, and it was and is the common attribute of the Huns of Attila, the Huns of the Kaiser, and the Huns of Asquith, Penrhyn, Claude Hamilton & Co, and the Huns of Rockefeller and of Carnegie in America, Werner, Beit & Co in South Africa, Tipoo Tib in Central Africa, and White Wolf in China because all these ancient and modern Attilas were or are engaged in the robbery of their fellows.

 

The Maeterlincks and other lickspittles of the capitalist class hope, by their outcry against the German atrocities, to obscure the fact that THE atrocity is not Louvain or Tirlenoont or Rheims, but the war itself ; not the blood of unarmed victims spilled at the instance of German bullies of the master class, but the whole hell of horrors which has been let loose upon the world by the MASTER CLASS of Europe—Belgian, French. British, and Russian no less than German. Of this colossal atrocity, the bestial and inevitable fruits of the robbery of the working class of the world, Louvain and the other German outrages are but a part,  and a comparatively insignificant part.

 

Refuse, therefore, to have your mental balance upset by the squealing of those who raise the cry of “German barbarism.” There can be nothing but barbarism in those who have launched fifteen millions of working men in the field of death in order to decide who shall control the markets where the wealth stolen from the workers may be sold. And those for whom the ; Maeterlincks speak would welcome ANY atrocities that would, by obsessing the public mind with the false idea that atrocity is a national trait of the German race, prevent the workers from realising that it is the common characteristic of the whole capitalist class, as is revealed in every mill and mine and shunting yard in Britain, in the Carnegie massacre at Pittsburg and the Rockefeller holocaust in Ludlow City, in the Italian brutalities in Morocco, in the rubber shambles of the Congo and the Putumayo, in the death-trap compounds of the Rand, in the slaughter of Socialists by the new-risen and triumphant capitalists of China and Japan, and in the uncountable acts of barbarity by which the capitalists of every country the wide world over establish and maintain their position of plundering dominance over the working class.

 

A. E. Jacom