Perverted History. The “Socialist” Countess’s Twaddle Exposed

“Little more than half a century has passed since in Japan the Samurai surrendered their privileges into the hands of the Mikado, and with their sacrifice the new Japan was born…..Suppose that our aristocracy, as a class, were to emulate the Samurai, that they were to place at the disposal of the State the Mother Earth that belongs to the State by right. They might reasonably accept a moderate recompense, something that would provide for them and their children on the scale of modest living that will become the rule when we begin to meet the price of war . . . How far fairer it would be for us to recognise and accept the truth and go as the Moors went from Spain, where they too had become an anachronism, though the beauty that made their sojourn remarkable lingers to this day. If we would make the supreme sacrifice of our traditions we could trust the common sense of our countrymen to see that no plutocrats stepped into the place we had vacated ; we could make our bargain with the State that it should be the supreme landlord spending the rent to make the lovely countryside at least as valuable to national life as the u«iy town. We who came into the high places of Europe with the false halo of conquest would retire from them in the real halo of renunciation, and our act of supreme sacrifice would be a better memorial than the best of us could have hoped to gain.”

The above is from an article by the Countess of Warwick which appeared in the “Daily Chronicle” of April 12th, 1917. The article is entitled “We Must Go.” The “We” is the “hereditary landowners,” to whom the appeal is made to hand over their land to the State, in the interests of greater productivity, and in justice to the workers, who have bled for it.

How the latter can benefit in any way from the proposed surrender of lands is made no clearer by the Countess than by any of the Fabian or I.L.P. treatises on the same subject.

State ownership of land, or, indeed, of any of the means of wealth production, solves no problem for the working class. Only common ownership with democratic control can do that. State ownership, that is, collective ownership by the capitalist class, as with the Post Office, for instance, leaves the workers still wage-slaves. The introduction of labour-saving machinery would therefore have the same effect as it has to-day. The countess, like many another reformer, overlooks this fact, though it should be obvious. She says: “The country has great needs, and if it is to remain solvent the united work of one and all following the latest developments with the most complete equipment will be inevitable.”

This policy in the past has resulted in increased unemployment for the working class ; its extension, therefore, can only result in greater poverty, arising from still further increased unemployment. State ownership of the land excludes the working class from the soil, except in the capacity of wage-workers. They are mere subjects of exploitation to those who provide with their capital the “most complete equipment,” and the rent to be paid to the State for the use of the land.

The fallacy of State ownership, however, has been so often exposed in these columns that we can afford to leave it for the present and deal with the other fallacy contained in the first quotation—that a ruling class has ever in the past renounced, or is likely in the future to renounce, its privileges and power unless compelled to do so by superior force. There is no record in history of a ruling class abdicating in favour of a class weaker than itself. Nor is there any record of a ruling class so imbued with a moral sense of justice and consideration for the class it governed, that it would, knowingly and willingly, sacrifice the meanest of its privileges to assist that class to its emancipation. The ruling class in capitalist society is stronger in its determination to maintain its rule and possesses more powerful weapons than any pre­vious class in history. Its barbarity, as every contest with the workers testifies, equals and its hypocrisy exceeds, that of any previous ruling class.

But, the reader will ask, does not the countess give actual examples from history where a dominant class voluntarily abdicated? Both these examples are misrepresentations of the actual facts. Take the case of Japan. In that country the system of society previous to 1868 was similar in its essential features to the Feudal system of European countries. The Samurai were the military class, composed of territorial nobles, called Daimios, and their vassals or retainers. Strictly speaking, however, the term Samurai applied to these latter only. They and their families were kept by the Daimios, or had lands assigned to them for which they drew the rent, as under the Feudal system in Europe. This applied to the Daimios as well, who numbered about 255, and whose incomes varied between 10,000 and 1,027,000 koku of rice per annum.

The revolution that abolished this system was not of the same sanguinary character as the bourgeois revolution in France in 1689, or the English revolution in the time of Charles the First. “The two parties,” says Arthur Diosy, “were too unevenly matched for the struggle to become a severe one.” Therein lies the secret of its relatively peaceful consummation. The Daimios were between the devil and the deep sea ; they submitted to the inevitable—on the best terms they could obtain. They received from the State an annual income equal to one-tenth of their former income, and were relieved of the responsibility of maintaining the Samurai, who were taken over by the Government to form the nucleus of the Army and Navy. Those who held hereditary incomes were given the opportunity to sell their rights to the Government for half cash and half Government bonds.

Unlike the revolution that broke up the Feudal system in Europe, the Japanese revolution was projected, or rather accelerated, from outside the nation. Attempts to establish trading relations by occidental powers, sometimes, as in the American expedition under Commander Perry, involving a display of naval forces, rudely awakened the ruling class from their feudal sleep. The Mikado and his nobles were forced to recognise that they must establish their rule on Western lines, or they would speedily become a vassal State to one or other of the great Powers that, with increasing impatience, knocked at her gates with wares for sale—and with heavy artillery to batter them down if their admittance was long delayed.

In these circumstances the Mikado and his nobles, after consultation, and not without military opposition from some of them, took the only possible course to maintain their independence as a nation. They proceeded to organise the nation on the model of their capitalist neighbours, their first care being to establish a fighting force on land and sea, capable of warning off belligerent intruders and guaranteeing a share in the world’s markets to Japanese capitalists.

This action, taken in defence of their independence and based on a compromise or bargain between the nobles and their legitimate ruler, is what the countess describes as a sacrifice.

So much for the first example quoted by the Socialist (!) countess ; now for the second. The Moors entered Spain in 711 A.D., and in three years Lad “conquered the whole country, except the almost inaccessible regions of the North-West.” The Spaniards, according to their historians, waged almost uninterrupted warfare against them for nearly eight centuries. They gained the upper hand late in the fifteenth century, and then commenced a long period of religious persecution against the Moors, who were finally all converted to Christianity by burning, torturing and other methods approved by the Inquisition.

But their religious opinions were suspected by the clergy under Phillip III, who ordered their expulsion from Spain. “How far fairer it would be for us to recognise the truth and go as the Moors went from Spain, where they too had become an anachronism” says the countess, as though their going was a voluntary act of abdication.

They went, “about one million of the most industrious inhabitants of Spain,” says Buckle, “were hunted like wild beasts. Many were slain as they approached the coast, others were beaten and plundered, and the majority, in the most wretched plight, sailed for Africa. During the passage, the crew, in many of the ships, rose upon them, butchered the men, ravished the women, and threw the children into the sea. Those who escaped this fate landed on the coast of Barbary, where they were attacked by the Bedouins and many of them put to the sword. Others made their way into the desert, and perished from famine.”

The Moors ruled in Spain with the same arrogance that characterises every ruling class. Their rule became “an anachronism” because their power was broken and for no other reason. What childish nonsense, what a wilful pervesion of history, to pretend that theirs was a voluntary act of renunciation. Yet it is on statements such as these that capitalist tools, wearing the Phrygian cap and waving the red flag of Socialism, gravely inform the workers that the shuffling, grabbing and hypocritical capitalist class will lead the working class, step by step, to its emancipation.

As in Japan, so in every European country—feudalism succumbed before the revolutionary power of the capitalist class. The fact that a compromise was afterwards effected, by means of which, feudal traditions and lineage were preserved, made no difference to the ultimate nature of society. Capital alone had voice. Was it not by means of capital that the wealth-producing class was exploited, and the national exchequer provided with the funds that maintained the fighting forces ? Lords and Barons might flaunt their heraldry, but the capitalist built his State on physical force and allotted monarchy and aristocracy their places in the capitalist State. The aristocracy were absorbed ; they became capitalists themselves and henceforth their interests were identical with those who had accomplished a revolution against them. For all practical purposes landowners and industrial capitalists form but one class—there is no serious friction between them. They control the executive power in the full determination—rarely expressed because so well understood—to maintain the existing system of society, and neither the prayers of morbid countesses nor the groans of their millions of starving victims will ever shake their resolve.

Only the organised might of the working class can break the power of capitalism and bring emancipation. If the capitalist class were imbued with the moral and sympathetic qualities they profess, the poverty and the toll of lives under their system, even in peace times, should have been sufficient incentive for them to exercise those qualities. Not so, however. Their efforts were always in the opposite direction—how to intensify exploitation.

Even the tragedy and devastation of their latest crime, with all the added misery it brings in its train for the working class, has never once caused the question to be raised—except by the Socialist—”Is not the system itself wrong ?”

And let the workers make no mistake, though every capitalist nation took sides and fought to the last man, till every vestige of civilisation were destroyed, the ruling class would never raise that question.

That question must be asked and answered by the working class. At present they are exploited, dragooned, bluffed, trained and educated to the status of wage-slavery. Thus with their intelligence warped, though the largest in numbers, they are the weakest. Let them strip themselves of the capitalist shroud which envelops their minds and they will at once become the strongest class in society. The capitalist class will then lose the opportunity, which they have never shown the slightest inclination to embrace, to win a “halo of renunciation” because working-class emancipation will be accomplished by the working class itself.

F. F.

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