Wake Up, Workers ! An Appeal to Reason
“German and British troops fraternise !” Statement of dire import to the capitalist class !—its importance apparently not realised by the Pressmen who publish the news. The masters have said : “Countrymen, our interests conflict with those of a foreign nation ; your country needs you to slay our enemies ; you shall make guns and ammunition ; you shall dig yourselves into holes as near as possible to those dug by the enemy so that you may kill them.” But a time comes when the men on both sides say : “It is Christmas, a time when we are to be merry and should endeavour to forget animosity. For a time at least we will not fight; we will shake the hand of the foeman ; we will drink his health and slaughter shall be stayed.” And it is done.
Is it a triumph for Christianity—a victory for Christian forgivenness—an example of the love of God which passeth all understanding ? It is not. By very few workers is Christmas Day celebrated as a religious festival. It is a respite from toil ; a truce time in the hard battle of life ; a time for enjoyment, each in his way and according to his opportunity. Holy-day it is not, but holiday only in the modern sense of the word ; a day of enjoyment when all should eat, drink, and be merry.
And the “hands across the trenches” is but a momentary return to reason, a flash of common sense which calls on the workers on both sides to pause and ask themselves what enmity they bear toward those they fight that shall override the idea of a festive season. And the answer is obvious. There is no enmity. If those in the trenches would pause long enough to figure the matter out how long would this insane slaughter last ?
A bold headline stares at me from my morning paper. An advertisement issued by the War Office asks : “What would happen to the Empire if all stayed at home like you ? ” It is a dangerous question indeed ! What would happen, O my British and Continental brothers, if we all stayed at home ? There would be no killing : there would be none to kill.
“The Germans,” says a typical letter from the front, “are quite decent fellows, and seem fed up with the war.” What a discovery ! The German soldier, it seems, is very like an ordinary person—almost as good, we may suppose, as a Britisher. He thinks more of his home and children than he does of lolling luxuriously upon a bed of mixed flesh and mud. He is quite a decent fellow. If only they would reason the matter out instead of swallowing the filth of the capitalist Press, which has led them to believe that the opposing host consists of semi-human fiends, or some sort of canibalistic savage ! If only they would ask themselves why they should continue to kill to the end that their friends and families may grieve, their wives become widows and their children fatherless ! A peace would then be in sight—a peace that can be accomplished only by the common understanding of the workers of all lands.
Of all the interests at stake is one worth, to them, the sacrifice of a life, or a single day’s torture of a wife or mother ? Are all of them combined worth the sacrifice of that comradeship of which the handshake between those awful trenches on Christmas morning was the symbol ? Just think of it !
So short a time ago British diplomatists, in a wrangle for the apportionment of a piece of Europe, might have declared a war between England or Russia and France. In the latter case France would have been declared our enemy. Then the British workman would have been flung against the “frog eating Frenchmen,” and the Parisian Press would have shrieked abuse at “Perfidious Albion,” as it did during the Boer War. What greater cause have we for enmity against the German than against the French worker ? None, of course, can be found when, in the midst of this butchery men pause for a brief spell face to face with the “enemy” and, having no cause for hatred, spontaneously hold out the hand of friendship and exchange the fragrant “Woodbine.”
The interests of German, French, and Russian workers are identical with those of the British worker. Their burden is oppression, tryanny, and brutality, as practised by the masters all over the globe—alike on the squares of London and of Petrograd, of Paris and of Berlin.
Russian autocracy still sends its best men to Siberia, though we call them friends and allies, and German workmen will still, we hope, send help and collect funds to assist their brothers in British trade unions when the latter are fighting against the brutality of the English master class, as they have done in the past.
Put aside for the moment the call of the patriotic ironmaster trust magnates, of the shoddy khaki cloth manufacturers, of the sponge and paper boot dealers, and of the rotten meat purveyors : such “patriotism” exposes itself. Ignore their specious pleading for a moment, and in that moment of sanity ask yourselves, Brition or Boer, Pole or Prussian, Frenchman or Turk, why should not that Christmas handclasp over the trenches, that expression of friendship that would out, continue.
Would it not be a more sane proposal to continue that handclasp as expressing the close and firm comradeship of the toilers of the world rather than that this horrible butchery should be maintained ? Perhaps it seems impossible, but one day the workers will awake to the consciousness of its desirability, and the Socialist works for that day.
Now, however, your masters call the tune you dance to. They have chosen your enemy for you. They have propounded the reasons for the fight. They have arranged the battlefield, and they, doubtless, will stay the slaughter when it pleaseth them. Their interest is obvious. Their cause is clear. Their action is logical, however callous that logic may be.
But, fellow workers, is our cause so clearly shown in the present conflict ? Is our interest in any way bound up in the defeat or victory of the opposing armies ?
If our bitter enemy sat in the opposing trenches—an enemy so bitter that we must shoot him on sight, then to shake hands is treachery ; but is it logical to suggest that to shake the hand of those who have assisted us in the past and who bear us no more hate than the blind, unreasoned lip-curse, is an action of treachery?
No, our enemy is not in the trenches. Our foe is those who sit in the halls of the great and on the boards of directors of catering and clothing concerns ; the capitalists whose wealth is drawn from the blood and sinew of the sweated waitress and sempstress ; the politicians and “intellectuals” who, with smooth tongue and richly bribed pen, fool the masses to their undoing ; the Labour shepherds who “lead” the revolt to waste for the reward of a seat in the secret council of the Moloch Capital.
Shall our sword be drawn to fight foreign workers misled by a gang equally as unscrupulous as they who endeavour to mislead us here ? Shall our hatred be wasted upon those of our class who are fooled into participation in a bloody struggle for the spoils of exploitation—a struggle that will cease as it began, with the exploited worker still the bottom dog ; with the wage-slave still “on the knee” ?
Why not save our energy for a better cause ?