Editorial: Sidelights on the War. Property versus Human Life

It is an underlying principle of modern State activity that human life and liberty are minor considerations compared with the rights and safety of property. This is no new discovery. To-day the fact is so glaring that it seems idle to dwell upon it. Yet it is no mere war-time principle ; it arises from the very nature of the capitalist State. That State mainly exists in order to provide the force to guarantee the rights and emoluments of property to the possessors. The origin of the State was in the necessities of the institution of property. To-day its predomin­ant function is that of the armed forces of re­pression. In essence it has always been an armed policeman. The State and its chief func­tion is necessitated by the antagonism of inter­ests, the division of the people into oppressors and oppressed, propertied and propertyless, brought about by the institution of private property. It cannot live longer than the sys­tem that is based on property. With the re-absorption of property into social ownership the repressive State will disappear. As a State it will die out. In its stead will arise the administration of things in common for the common weal. These are truisms to every Socialist, but how completely are most workers deluded into believing that the State exists to protect their lives, liberties, and happiness ! Yet the lessons have been both numerous and conclusive. Despite the veil of hypocrisy that has been thrown over the facts, these are, and have always been, plainly visible to all who have eyes to see.

When Mr. Asquith took upon himself the re­sponsibility for the shooting of miners at Featherstone, it was made plain that miners’ lives were as nothing compared with the safety of the mine-owners’ property. So it has been in every working-class massacre, and in every capitalist undertaking. When Mr. Lloyd George conceded to ship-owners the raising of the Plimsoll Line, he merely signified once more that the lives of sailors were as dust in the balance against shipping profits.

Do human life and property receive anything like equal treatment to-day ? Far from it. Men are taken by force from their homes : the widow’s only support is dragged away to be sacrificed for the benefit of the ruling class: the workers’ bodies are confiscated—the wealth of the ruling class is not. Mark the difference in the treatment of human life and material wealth in this con­nection. Are the wealthy even asked to lend their money free of interest ? Not at all. They are offered unprecedented profit. There is no compulsion even in this. It is left to voluntary cupidity. But the lives and liberties of men are taken by force. No interest accrues in this case. It is all dead loss to the worker. And as if to crown all, those fortunate enough to escape with their life through the present ordeal, are, when broken in health, crippled, or driven mad, grudged a paltry pension ! The hypocritical silence that has been preserved by the unspeak­able Press on this subject has at last been broken. All along the public have been carefully impressed with the idea that the State would make provision for every disabled warrior. Re­cruiting speakers told us that all war-broken soldiers would be given up to 25s. per week as pension. This is now shown to be a falsehood. The deliberate suppression or perversion of the truth on this matter has already been referred to in these columns, and it may further be pointed out how significant it is that glimmer­ings of truth are only allowed to become visible with the advent of Compulsory Service

A newspaper report of the case of a dis­charged soldier who came before the magistrate at Lambeth was quoted in the Commons on Feb. 16 (Parliamentary Debates, Vol. 80, No. 2).

“The man had been incapacitated by frostbite, and had received nothing from the army. The police officer said the authorities had decided that the man was not entitled to a pension, and he added that there were many ex-soldiers who had got nothing after being discharged.”

During the debate a number of other cases were quoted, together with some important letters to the “Times” from Sir Frederick Milner, who stated :

“Already there are numbers of men who have contracted consumption or lung trouble through the cruel hardships to which they have been exposed. The lot of these men is peculiarly pitiable. The State turns a deaf ear and refuses a pension of any kind.”

In a further letter he says :

“Of sixty men discharged as no longer fit for mili­tary service from a London hospital, twenty-two were reported by the medical board as C.P.T. (Chronic pulmonary tuberculosis). All have stated that they were absolutely sound when enlisted, and had never had any lung trouble in their lives. Yet the War Office refuses to recognise that consumption can be caused by service, even if it be proved that the men were sound when enlisted and contracted the disease when on service. All these wretched men will be deprived of any pension, and the workhouse will be their final home.”

Sir C. Kinlock-Cooke also quoted, in the House, a sad case of a widow whose late hus­band threw up a good living for patriotic motives, and died at the front. The widow was told by the authorities that her husband had died from a malady he had suffered from for years. She testified, however, that :

“My husband never suffered a day’s illness all the thirty years I was married to him. . . I have to draw my allotments for another ten weeks, after which I shall be practically destitute with two children under fourteen years of age dependent up­on me.”

Sir C. Kinlock-Cooke added that this was “no exceptional case.”

How different to the treatment meted out to property ! Even enemy Bills of Exchange are honoured by the Government, but the life and liberty of its citizens is another story. If the man in the case quoted had lent money for the war he would have received 5 per cent. interest and the whole of his money back afterwards. But he only gave his life !

It is not necessary to multiply instances. The cases were not denied. The Government’s pro­mise to see that ex-soldiers and their dependents did not suffer was, like all government pledges except those to property owners, only made to be broken.

As Mr. Hogge said in the course of the same debate, regarding men who had voluntarily attested :

“these men, despite the promises given by the govern­ment, are not allowed to appeal on the grounds of ill health.”

Moreover, men who had already been rejected as unfit were compelled to attest, despite the Act of Parliament, if they could not produce one of two arbitrarily specified forms. And worse fol­lows. Sir John Simon stated on Feb. 21 (Par­liamentary Debates, Vol. 80, No. 4) :

“I say further that people who produced these very forms had them taken away from them and were compelled to attest. . . And in some cases the certificate was torn up in their presence. They were told that the certificates were not worth the paper they were written on.”

He gave many instances, adding that :

“Here within two miles of the House of Commons there are people sitting and in the name of the War Office cheating these people into the Army. . . These poor people are being bustled, deluded, and bullied into the Army.”

Mr. Tennant’s reply was, as usual, a shuffle. He said that “It is not always possible to back up everything that is done by subordinates in a very large department” ; but he did not think those in authority were responsible. No wonder Mr. Pringle was moved to remark that

“We are living under the blessings of the Prussian military system. After all, under the Prussian mili­tary system conscripts are treated better than that : they are treated, with honesty. Under the Prussian system they get a moratorium for civil debts, a thing that has never been done in this country. The man whose letter I have read has no moratorium for any civil obligations, but the Prussian whom you despise gives that concession to the man called up for mili­tary service. He has a little honour, which has been deficient in the government. You have given your pledge that there is to be no compulsory labour, but you are getting compulsory clerks. You are getting round the pledges in this Act by using the device of granting armlets to get out of the schedule.”

Every capitalist pledge to the workers is worthless. The whole conscription business has been a deliberate fraud as Mr. Lough gave figures to prove. Figures which that remark­able patriot, Mr. Chiozza Money, was unable to dispute. In order to justify conscription in the eyes of their own supporters the recruiting figures were cooked, and it was made falsely to appear that there was a very large residue of single men apt for service who had not enlisted. It was falsely insinuated that the vast majority who had joined were married men. And now, in order to justify their figures, they are roping in the unfit and compelling those already rejected to come into the army. The exemptions granted are rare, yet Ministers are asserting that the tribunals are exempting right and left ; that they are exempting far too many. Is the fraud not obvious ?

Nor are these the only things under which the people surfer in this connection. Under the Defence of the Realm regulations journals are sup­pressed and critics thrown into prison. The Habeas Corpus Act is suspended and British subjects sent into confinement without trial. Men in Australia, Canada and Great Britain are prosecuted and condemned for political criticism. One thing alone is safe in this mighty Empire, and that is property. Interest on War Loan or Exchequer Bonds, profits on shipping, flour, coal, railways, munitions, tobacco, beer and whisky are high and safe. WE, say these capitalists, can stand the strain. Let the war go on ! You, working men, do not count. Your health, your lives, the welfare of your dependents, your hard won conditions of labour, your standard of living, poor as it was, all these are the sacrifice you must make to guarantee their profits. Is it not about time the workers ceased their damn­able faces and got to business ? The Socialist Party has a message for them which soon or late they must heed. The interests and true aims of the workers of the whole world are one against the propertied interest in every land. The capitalists always, in every clime, sacrifice the lives and liberties of others to property. There is no help for the working class in any­thing but their own organised might and intel­ligence against this world-wide system of murderous brigandage ; and there is no hope for the workers of this Empire but in the fight for Socialism, which means the extension of the hand of comradeship to their fellow slaves groaning under the property system in every capitalist State in the habitable globe.

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