After the War


All things must have an end—even the war. Indeed, the feverish activity that characterises the campaign of preparedness for peace, in the guise of inter-colonial, inter-allied, and other conferences and committees for discussing conditions of fiscal and trade reciprocity for the post-war period, would seem to indicate that our masters feel that the end cannot be long delayed. Whether that end be stalemate or checkmate to each or any of the national rivals the end, as far as the workers are concerned, will be the same. One does not need the pro­phetic eye to foresee trouble.

Our daily newspapers profess to see trouble for the “enemy” alone. Every day they give us fearful details of the state of Germany. Every week for the past eighteen months she has called up her last man. Every month has seen her shoot her “last bolt.” Her losses are always “disproportionately heavy.” And in Germany, as far as one can gather, the compliment is returned in full. Surely the capitalist journals of all belligerant Europe must stink in the nostrils of every intelligent man and woman !

It is always the other country that is going to suffer ; always the “enemy” that is in desperate straits ; but occasionally, in order to show the “enemy’s” plight, the picture given mirrors home conditions so clearly that even a colour-blind patriot cannot fail to see the red light.

A case in point is an article by Professor Francke, editor of the Soziale Praxis, in the Preussische Jahrbucher, which is quoted lengthily in the London “Daily Chronicle” of 17 March in order to demonstrate the bleakness of the German outlook. Its perusal will show how exactly similar are the workings of capitalism at home and abroad, and how difficult it is to avoid reading “England” where Germany is mentioned. In another respect it will indicate the nature of the “fruits of victory” to the workers here as elsewhere.


“With regard to women’s work he is clearly of opinion that in future it will profoundly modify the labour market. It has come to stay. The Imperial Statistical Office says the number of females in Germany in receipt of wages rose between Feb. and Sept. 1915 by 600,000, in the city of Berlin alone by 12,000. They have for the most part got accustomed to their work, and innumerable employers have given the most ungrudging testimony to their efficiency and reliability. After this war women in countless cases will occupy positions hitherto held by men, and the competition between man and woman will be intensified. She will take the man’s work, and she will undoubtedly depress his wages. The work of women, says Francke, will act automatically in decreasing wages all round.


“After the war, says Prof. Francke, turning to another branch of his subject, Germany will contain hundreds of thousands of mutilated and crippled men in receipt of pensions, not sufficient to sustain them, and therefore obliged to seek industrial work of some kind. . . . Numerous employers of labour will avail themselves of the services of these war invalids, but their pensions will certainly affect their wages detrimentally, and also the wages of their comrades not in receipt of a pension. Already there are indications that this process is at work, and in the pre­ference largely given by industrials to the widows and children of dead soldiers the earnings of home workers have been rendered still more meagre, and the condition of this unfortunate class of industrial labourer more abject than ever. If a manufacturer knows that one of his home workers receives an allowance from the Government enabling him to live rent free he would naturally reckon with this fact in fixing the wages of this worker. The future will bring enormous additions to home industries workers, and with this addition far-reaching reduc­tions of wages and probably lengthening of hours. Prof. Francke assures us that in Germany, at any rate, not only will wages sink rapidly after the war, but that the purchasing power of money will be far less than it was before August 1914. The cost of the most modest establishment and all necessary for its maintenance, will be excessive for many years after the end of the war, and the professor’s greatest fear is that high prices will be maintained for most of the necessary foods. Even under the most favourable circumstances conceivable the return of food prices, of the prices of coals, oil and gas, clothes, cotton goods and boots, to normal conditions will take years, perhaps a generation. All over the country the first sign of the coming change is seen—the gradual migration of enormous numbers from their present dwellings into smaller and less expensive houses.


One of the most inevitable industrial consequences of the war will be, in Professor Francke’s opinion, the strengthening of the position of employers, individually and associated in federations. In the course of the war their power has already enormously increased, and although their numbers have been diminished, their strength does not rest so much on their numbers as men, as on the number of their establishments.
As a rule these establishments have improved and strengthened their positions, and have increased their concentration. There are now fewer independent groups of industrials. Unity among them is practically complete, and there can be no longer any doubt that German industrials after the war will go hand in hand with the Agricultural Alliance and with the Middle Class Leagues. The leading men of the most important industries are already stating in their Press that their principles remain unchanged, and assume with absolute conviction that they are the masters of the situation. They insist that Social Democracy shall learn a lesson from the war, and re-write the principles which have hitherto guided it. But they themselves decline to re-write anything, and, therefore, when peace comes, there will be peace and relief from years of bloodshed, but the war of labour will succeed it, and no one knows whither its battles will lead.”

In this country the fact that capitalist concen­tration has made enormous progress, and that the position of the employer is strengthened and that of the worker weakened, is obvious to all. Trade union and Factory Act conditions are overthrown, never to be fully re-established ; woman and child labour is exploited as it has never been before. Despite all lies about working-class prosperity, the workers are getting rapidly worse off. Even the official Board of Trade figures for March give the increase in the cost of food to the average household as 48 per cent., and housewives are wondering how the Government arrives at such a moderate estimate. It means a substantial depreciation of the worker’s standard of life, and by no means least in those munition industries where workers are literally using themselves up in intense and most excessive hours of labour in return for an en­tirely illusory larger pay, with the probability of being thrown on the scrap-heap as worn out and useless when “peace” conditions return.

Some of the examples of the wages paid to women munition workers can only be described as paralysing. Miss Margaret Bondfield stated at a conference reported in the morning papers of March 10th that

“In one factory the women worked five days a week from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., on Saturday from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Sundays from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. The work, the making of hand grenades, was paid for at the rate of 2¼d. an hour. Even in that sweated in­dustry of tin box making the wages had been estab­lished at 3½d. an hour.
The process in cartridge making known as the twelfth operation had to be gone through 18,000 times before 3s. could be earned.”

What prospect does this sort of thing offer for the post-war period ? The plight of the young also is fearful. They are being driven prematurely into agriculture and industry, and being mentally and physically stunted to a greater degree than ever. Young lads are now placed in sole charge of heavy vans or made to haul great weights, and it is a common and painful sight in London streets to see young and immature girls lunging and straining at the pedals of heavy carrier tricycles, to be almost certainly physically ruined for life. While working men are being slain wholesale, their jobs are being abolished at an even faster rate by cheaper labour, by automatic machinery, and by a thousand and one labour-saving devices. So far is it from there being any prospect of an increase in the economic strength of the workers relatively to the employing class, that the latter are growing economically stronger while trade unions decline in power absolutely and relatively. There, is, therefore, the certainty of widespread and desperate labour struggles, doomed to fail to do more than act as a slight retarding force against the encroachments of the capitalists. There is also it is true, the certainty that ultimately the utter failure of the economic movement and of the pseudo-labour political reform movement to make headway, will force the workers in the end to use the political weapon class-consciously and ruthlessly to overthrow capitalist control over their lives and labours, and inaugurate the era of industrial democracy. But is that end in sight ? Are the workers con­scious of their class interests and true aims ? Are they out of the leading-strings of the Charlatan and hypocritical capitalist politician ? It must be confessed that they are not. Much educational work remains to be done, and the labourers in the Socialist vineyard are as yet too few. Nevertheless there are important features of hope and cheer. The economic basis of Socialism is being ripened during the war as never before. And in this connection the words of Frederick Engels written many years ago promise to be almost literally fulfilled. The words in question were translated and published in an American exchange, the “New York Call,” and are reproduced below.


What Frederick Engels thought about a future world-wide war is clearly shown in a part of a preface written by him in 1887 for a new edition of Borkeim’s book, “Zur Erinnerung an die Deutschen Mordspatrioten” (“A Momento for the German Jingoes”).
In this foreword Engels places the responsibility on the system of competitive armament, and declares this to be the factor which will finally bear fruit in making war inevitable.
The most remarkable passage written by Engels, almost thirty years ago, is as follows :

“And, finally, no other wars will be possible for Prussia (Germany) but a world war, a war so extensive and frightful as has been hitherto unthought of. Eight to ten million soldiers will murder one another, and incidentally devour Europe as would a swarm of locasts. The devastations of the Thirty Years’ War pressed together into three or four years and spread over the entire continent ; famine, epidemics, a partial return to savagery on the part, of the armies and the masses of the people, brought about by acute suffering ; demoralization of trade, industry, and credit, ending in general bankruptcy ! An absolute impossibility to predict how all will end and who will be the victor. One thing is absolutely certain, general exhaustion and, the bringing about of the conditions which will be necessary for the final victorv of the working class !
“This is what must be looked forward to when the system of competitive armament will have borne its inevitable fruits. To this pass, princes and statesmen, you have brought Europe, and if nothing else is left you but to start the last great war dance, we may as well be satisfied with it. The war may, perhaps, force us into the background for the moment ; may even take from us many a position we have conquered, but if you loose the forces which you are afterwards unable to control, things might as well go as they will.”

As with all the words of either of the founders of the scientific Socialist movement, the words above quoted have a startlingly up-to-date sound and meaning. Marx or Engels may have misjudged the pace of economic development, but they never mistook its direction. The words tave a grave message for us. The growing ripeness of economic conditions for social change places a great responsibility and a heavy but glorious task upon our shoulders as pioneers in the Socialist movement in this country. It is our duty to ensure, as far as in us lies, that the intellectual development of the working class keeps pace with ripening conditions. We must all understand—and teach. A premature revolt of the workers born of mere misery and devoid of understanding must end in chaos and defeat. It would put the working-class movement back for years, and bring in its train an apathy and disappointment that would increase the difficulties to be faced. Hence our watchwords mast be : Learn ! Discuss ! Educate ! Organise ! in order that the stirring times ahead shall find us stronger in numbers and fully equipped for the successful prosecution of the greater war, so that at last order may be brought out of chaos, peace out of strife, and health, happiness and comradeship—instead of misery and hate—be the inevitable outcome of mankind’s rationally ordered industrial activity.

F. C. W.

Leave a Reply