Tragedy and comedy
Once again the boasted “organising ability” of the master class has been found wanting. After many diverse utterances by politicians and contradictory statements in the Press, a serious shortage of munitions of war in this country is now an acknowledged fact. One leading and influential organ has considerably injured its reputation in certain quarters by coming perilously near telling the truth about the matter. Its readers were much disturbed by such a flagrant departure from its notorious traditions. No doubt some ulterior motive existed for this daring attempt at veracity, but the shock was so unexpected that a large number of the journal’s supporters were flabbergasted. The Government very wisely and conveniently collapsed, and the Premier created the office of “Minister of Munitions” in the new Ministry to cover up the muddle. Mr. Lloyd George was appointed to the new post, and his duties suit him admirably. He goes among the munition workers to cajole, insult, or, if necessary, to drive them to increased productivity. Ably assisted by the cringing and hypocritical Trades Union leaders, he is smashing to atoms every vestige of protection the men have been able to secure from the masters. Conditions that have been gained after years of struggling and sacrifice are to be given up. Coupled with the base treachery of the Union leaders, his well-known insidious cunning will probably be sufficient for the success of his mission ; but he is fully endowed with the authority to compel the workers to fulfil their masters’ requirements. And just reflect for a moment ! What are their masters’ requirements ? Munitions of war. The cumulative efforts of thousands upon thousands of the working class, slaving the maximum possible number of hours at the highest possible speed, are required to produce implements of slaughter. Not something beautiful, something noble; not some luxury. No ! To produce instruments of death and destruction for our brothers to hurl against our fellow workers of other lands. How inspiring! How civilised we should feel ! What a bloody tragedy !
However grim and relentless a tragedy may be, the element of comedy can seldom be denied. Comedy is remarkably persistent, and will find some means of intruding into the situation. The comic relief in this case is provided by a collection of City “toffs” who have formed themselves into what is called the “Volunteer Munitions Brigade.” Perhaps, reader, you have not yet heard of this valiant organisation. In that case be assured that the fault is yours entirely, for no opportunity to advertise itself has been missed by the Brigade. Anyway, for the benefit of the uninitiated, the “Volunteer Munitions Brigade” has been formed by a gentleman who is an accountant in the City of London, and its members are mainly recruited from the clerks of the Stock Exchange Lloyds, Baltic and Insurance Offices. Every Sunday they forsake their collars, cuffs, and spats, don their old clothes, and go to Woolwich Arsenal to make munitions. Of course, although they go to make munitions, it must not be supposed that the Arsenal authorities are such damned fools as to let them try—it is bad enough to send the British soldiers into the field short of ammunition.
One member of the Brigade gives some of his experiences in an interview reported in the “Star and Echo” dated 14.6.15, in which he tells us that the Brigade undertakes the work “ordinarily performed by the more unskilled men and boys.” Even though the boys may not possess the requisite mental subtlety, it is to be hoped that the unskilled workmen who would ordinarily be employed will be able to appreciate the patriotic sacrifice and British pluck displayed by these brave fellows who prefer driving them from their positions in the Arsenal to driving Germans from their positions on the battlefield. For, incidentally, it may be mentioned that members of this Brigade are allowed to wear a badge denoting the fact that they are engaged upon Government work, and are therefore ineligible for military service.
The interviewed member further states that his work in the Arsenal “was a fairly hard experience.” One cannot help thinking that if the regular Arsenal worker realised the true calibre of his new “mate,” the latter would soon find his experience much harder. It is just possible that the “fairly hard experience” of doing boys’ work at Woolwich would soon be regarded as less preferable to the experience in the trenches. We Socialist propagandists know the type of individual of which this precious organisation is composed, too well. He is the snob, the superior person, too respectable to recognise his correct social status. He does not understand that his interests are identical with the interests of all workers. To tell him this is to insult him. He is a master’s man from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet, and oh ! so very, very ignorant. But, after all, he will have to be taught the revolutionary lesson, and will have to learn of his slavery. The task is a tremendous one, fellow workers, so get busy and prepare yourselves !
W. H. S.