Slaves in War Time
During the past couple of years the workers of “this country of ours” have been hearing a great deal about “poison gas” through those journals of “mud and blood,” the “Daily Mail,” “Sunday Chronicle,” “Daily News,” and “Manchester Guardian,” and others of that great heap of refuse which is spread broadcast daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly, to the detriment of the wage-slaves who buy them.
This “poison gas” is the gas which is being used by the various armed nations against their opponents on the European field of slaughter. But we Socialists draw attention to another kind of “poison gas” the doses of “mental chloroform” daily given out to the wage workers by parson, politician, and journalist—all of them hirelings of the master class.
These individuals, in order to gain life’s necessaries, “gas” the workers with their fairy stories concerning man’s activities and his relations with other men in the material world, and fool them with the “eternal life” phantasy.
Of course, it is not to the interest of our masters to have editorials dealing with and exposing this brand of “poison gas.” Such work is left to the working class itself; hence the reason and the need for the Socialist Standard.
It is surprising to find how many workers are always ready to believe anything the papers and their masters tell them. We have heard a lot of cant and hypocrisy mouthed by parson, pressman, and politician on “Equality of Sacrifice.” They wax quite eloquent on “everyone doing his bit.” It is, however, rather hard to find what most of these hirelings and their masters (the employing class) have sacrificed. For instance, what have the food manufacturers, the shipping companies, or the armament firms sacrificed? Their profits?—not likely ! You see what is really meant by their cant phrases is sacrifice for the “lower classes.”
Everyone nowadays is aware of the huge profits that are being raked in by our “good” masters. Consequently, to the workers who have started to think for themselves the question naturally arises, “For what are we fighting?” But the reply, of course, rests upon what is meant by “we.” If “we” means the workers, then the only reply can be, a more intense form of slavery in the future even than in the past, greater poverty and misery for the many, and an outlook eloquent of strikes and revolts of the workers against their miserable conditions.
On the other hand, if “we” stands for the master class, then the fighting is for the control of trade routes and the securing of further markets in which to sell their surplus manufactures ; the gaining of territory in which to “collar” the natural resources, and the obtaining of cheap native labour. In other words, it means big profits now, with the chance of even bigger profits in the future.
Are we not constantly having these facts brought to our minds by flaring newspaper headlines, such as “How to Capture Germany’s Trade,” “How Great Britain may Increase Her Share of the World’s Commerce,” and so on? Then, again, have we not got such things in our midst as the Anti-German League, whose object is the smashing of the industries of Germany? Have not “our’ politicians told us that as soon as the war is over we must be ready to smash the Germans on the field of commerce after having smashed them on the field of blood?
Of course, in order that the state of affairs may not be too easily seen, our masters and their agents (the “patriots”) lie and bully and invent such statements to gull the workers as that this war is “a fight for Liberty and Freedom,” and “a struggle to suppress German Militarism.” And this, mind you, when the masters are so rapidly increasing militarism here.
Then we have the good old catch cry of the violation of Belgium’s neutrality, as though any country hesitates to break treaties and make “scraps of paper” of them when it suits their interests to do so. This is admitted by that “patriot,” Harold Begbie, of “Fall In” fame, when he says (“Daily Chronicle“, Aug. 5, 1914), “At every Christian frontier you can pick up a broken treaty and a dishonoured bond.”
Then England is supposed to be fighting for the “rights of small nations,” this after what happened to the Dutch Republics a few years ago. Concerning this we might with interest read what was said at that time by Mr. Merriman, who was then an English member of the Cape Assembly. He was reported thus:
I say “never again” will England hold the title she did as the friend of small peoples. When it is a question of tyranny towards some small powers, how can she say anything? The Transvaal and the Free State will be flung in her teeth.
—“The Speaker,” Oct. 27th, 1900.
And to show how kind-hearted this country was we were told :
We went into war for equal rights, and we were prosecuting it for annexation. Wc went into the country for philanthropy and we remained in it for burglary.—Mr. Lloyd George, reported in the “Manchester Guardian,” July 26th, 1900.
All the flowery excuses which have been spread broadcast since August 1914 are but dust thrown in the eyes of the toilers to prevent them from seeing the truth.
Some very enlightening articles have recently made their appearance in the columns of the anti-working class papers. One in the “Weekly Dispatch” for March 19th, 1916, which told of the huge profits that have been, and are still being, made owing to war conditions, commenced with this valuable piece of evidence:
In this country millions have been made by companies who hold the lives of the civilian population in the hollow of their hands.
This knocks the bottom out of the statement so often made that we are fighting for our liberties. What liberties are possessed by any person whose life is held in the hollow of some other person’s hand ?
In the same paper for Dec. 24th last another “war profits” article appeared. To give that part which deals with armament firms, would not, perhaps, be out of place. For such people a “good” war is a heaven-sent blessing.
Munition profits—in the early months of the war at any rate—were fabulous. Recent figures in some cases, are not accessible, but here are the facts of a few typical companies’ change in fortune:
|Latest Profits.||Pre-War Profits.|
|Curtis and Harvey||143,800||48,100|
|Webbley and Scott||61,300||9,500|
(6 months only.)
From such instances we can see how well the master class can afford to invest a portion of their profits in the War Loan at 5 per cent. Yet they would have us believe they are making a sacrifice. A sacrifice at 5 per cent. smells good. The fellows who are making the sacrifices are the workers, who are being used as food for cannon, and who, when they return broken from the war, are not even given the bare means of existence.
How often do we find in the daily and weekly Press such headlines as “Starved under Hun Rule”? Yet what about the thousands of starvation cases under the rule of the Brit-hun ?
That high-class organ of piffle and bluff, the “Daily Dispatch,” on Aug. 9th last commenced its editorial in the following strain :
Among the good resolutions we all made in entering this war was one that the scandalous treatment that in past wars was meted out to our broken soldiers should not this time disgrace our national fame.
We recalled Mr. Robert Blatchford’s piercing remark about “the candidate for the British workhouse charging the guns at Balaclava,” and nothing had bitten deeper into the nation’s conscience than the spectacle of war-worn veterans, with medals on their chests, selling matches and bootlaces at back doors. We rightly resolved, at any rate, that that might never happen again.
After pondering over the latter part the only conclusion one can come to is that our masters never expected any of their warriors, even the wrecked ones, to return. Of course, the attempt is made to convey the impression that every provision is made for those of our “Tommies” who come back maimed, but does anyone with the least common sense believe that? No! “Equality of sacrifice” is a fine phrase for rogues to use and fools to swallow.
The shareholders in shipping, tea, armament, coal, iron, milling and other companies, are obtaining dividends of from 35 to 40 per cent, without ever having done a day’s work to earn it. On the other hand, the man who has been broken in fighting for such shareholders gets a pension of 8d. a day and is buried a pauper. Even this is not the worst, for the “Weekly Dispatch” for Dec. 20th says there are “50,000 broken soldiers without pensions.”
One has only to go through the daily papers to find scores of cases regarding the treatment of the broken Tommy. Space admits only of a few in the present article, but each goes to prove our contention. Thus we read in our masters’ papers accounts like these :
At a meeting of the Redruth Urban Council a member declared that numbers of soldiers, broken in the war, called on him every day stating that they were unable to secure employment of any kind and had to go to the workhouse to get food.
—“Manchester Evening News,” Feb. 3rd, 1916.
A case was reported this week where two heroes found their way into the workhouse because they were unable to get any allowance from the War Office. It is this sort of thing that does a great deal of harm and in itself is entirely indefensible.
“Reynolds’s,” Feb. 13th, 1916.
Of course, we know the “harm” our masters are afraid of. It is not that the soldiers may “demand” a mere allowance, but that the above treatment may help in a large degree to awaken the workers from their slumbers, in which case the wage slaves, becoming intelligent and understanding the class struggle, will not waste their time demanding anything, but will turn their energies toward the capture of the political machinery, in order to abolish capitalism and its many evils.
“A grateful country will never forget you.” So runs the cry. The following shows the amount of truth in it:
AN EX-SOLDIER’S PLIGHT.
NO PENSION, NO FOOD, AND NO SHELTER.
“I am a discharged soldier,” said a man who asked a West London magistrate for advice, “I have served my King and country for twelve years, eight months. I have been in France gassed and wounded. I came out time-expired, and went back again for 180 days in the Royal Garrison Artillery. Since I have been discharged I have only had two sums of 10s. from the Soldiers and Sailors Association. I have been sleeping out for several nights and have had no food for two or three days.” The man, who looked very ill, had had no pension, and the magistrate said if the story was true it was a case of very great hardship, and directed the court missionary to investigate the case, and, in the meantime, to give the man a little help.
—“News of the World,” Oct.8th, 1916.
And in the Manchester edition of the “Daily Dispatch” for Aug. 18th last there was a photograph of a man standing alongside a street organ, and underneath were the words : “Not receiving the pension due to him, a Manchester soldier, disabled at Ypres, turns a street barrel organ for a living.”
These cases go to show the attitude of the ruling class toward the workers, and are irresistible evidence that it was rank hypocrisy when they tried to make us believe that they intended to “make good ’ to the “heroes.”
Those of the discharged “Tommies” who can work are treated in a similar way. The following, although it has been quoted in these columns before, will show the truth of my statement :
Army and Navy men wanted who have done their bit; bring discharge papers ; salary 28s. a week to start with.”—“Daily Chronicle,” July 21st, 1916.
There is magnificent generosity for our gallant warriors ; 28s. a week for those “who have done their bit”! One would like to ask, where is their country now? The truth is the workers of all lands, whether they be Germans, Russians, Frenchmen, Belgians, Englishmen, or Italians, have no country ; they are but the slaves of those who own and control society’s means of production.
The war, we Socialists hope, will be the means of enlightening large numbers of our fellow workers as to their true position in society.
To us the only hope of freedom, comfort, and happiness lies in “A system of society bused upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means, and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.” And this can only be brought about by the workers learning and understanding the Socialist position.
H. C. A.