Correspondence. Protest from a French patriot

15 GREEN ST., W.C.
11th January, 1918.

(To the editor )

Dear Sir,—
In your recent article “Children or Ore” you pour the phials of your wrath upon French capitalists but while the German capitalist is apparently such a sacred being that not one word is said against him. I assume that you have heard of the war aims which German Industrials have published not once but every few months before and since the outbreak of war. The most important of these war aims has always been the appropriation of the iron mines of Briey, although the iron mines which Germany already owns in annexed Lorraine give her the supremacy in this industry over the whole of Europe. I should be glad to hear whether you applied to these German capitalists the scathing reprobation which you now heap on French claims to a territory which as a correspondent in “Common Sense” stated only a few weeks ago “is most French in sentiment.” As a Socialist Deputy remarked in the Reichstag two years ago, Germany could not have carried on the war for one year, if she had not taken hold of the entire Lorraine iron districts. This is one further proof of the wrong of 1871 which Bebel and Liebknecht condemned so bitterly that they were sent to that same prison where the son of Liebknecht is now dying: : yet so far as I am aware not one word of blame is addressed to the poor German capitalists at whose behest German Socialists are imprisoned if these cannot be put into the first lines on the battlefield.
I am unable to understand why you should be sarcastic at France’s expense if she claims her children. Is it not a fact that this claim is the direct outcome of the demand which Alsace-Lorraine has uninterruptedly made for over 40 years to be reunited with France ? The existence of the French spirit in the two provinces and the failure of the Germany Colonisation in Alsace were openly acknowledged by Bethmann Hollweg and Falkenhayn in 1913. The self-determination of peoples, large or small, is to-day the guiding principle of Socialists everywhere, and Alsace-Lorraine has put this principle into practice ever since Germany took the country against the will of its inhabitants. The district where the Socialistic spirit has made the greatest progress in Alsace is Mulhouse with its innumerable factories. The workers have sent Socialist representatives to Parliament, but their hatred of Germany and their determination to become again French is proverbial. The scenes at the entry of the French troops in Mulhouse in August 1914 proved this so overwhelmingly that when the town was reoccupied by German soldiers, fearful reprisals were taken.
The German pre-war methods of dumping, underselling, and supplying cheap clerk labour in England have left an indelible impression on the minds of the English working men. No such methods have been practiced by France. Since then Engand and France have been fighting side by side in self defence and in defence of scraps of paper. Yet German capitalists are to be left in possession of Lorraine which provides Germany with her sinews of war, whereas France is crippled in all her vital industries. If, say, the Welsh coal mines were in the hands of the German enemy would any English Socialist charge English capitalists with greed if England claimed the restoration of that coal district ? Speaking of coal the German occupation of the North of France has deprived her of at least 70,000,000 tons of coal since 1914. This quantity represents a value of £420,000,000 for France pays £6 a ton for her imports. Will or can Germany ever repay this enormous sum which must be multiplied many a time if the whole damage inflicted on France is to be estimated. I think that every Englishman, Socialist or otherwise, will prefer that after the war the French output of iron ore should be 43 millions of tons and the German output 8 millions instead of 46 milliions for Germany and a bare-tenth of this for France (to quote your figures). If as you say material interest dominates every action of the Capitalists Socialists should at least see to it that the interest is more equally distributed. To leave everything to the German capitalists who have plundered France of plant and raw materials and leave nothing to the French working men except their eyes to weep over their misery is neither Socialistic nor English.
The return of the children of Alsace-Lorraine to their motherland, France, will redress the balance to a small extent and will also realise that aim of the Russian revolution which insists that no people is to be subject against its declared will to the rule of a foreign power.
I am, Dear Sir,
Yours faithfully,
Acting President



As Mr. Roudolphi quotes from the SOCIALIST STANDARD we assume that he had a copy of our December issue before him when writing his letter. If that is the case a glance at the back page would have shown Mr. Roudolphi our Declaration of Principles, wherein are laid down the essentials of the Socialist position. For convenience of reference we will quote the opening clauses :

The Socialist Party of Great Britain holds—
“That Society as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living (i.e., the land, factories, railways, etc.) by the capitalist or master class, and the consequent enslavement of the working class, by whose labour alone wealth is produced.
That in Society, therefore, there is an antagonism of interests manifesting itself as a class struggle between those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess.
That this antagonism can be abolished only by the emancipation of the working class from the domination of the master class by the conversion into the common property of Society of the means of production and distribution and their democratic control by the “whole people.”

Mr. Roudolphi will see here no restriction to any country or nationality, but the clear statement that the class struggle is between the capitalist class and the working class, quite irrespective of the particular portion of the Earth they may be inhabiting. In our propaganda we have denounced German capitalists just as much as those of other nationalities. Thus in our first Manifesto on the war we stated: “The capitalists of Europe have quarrelled over the questions of the control of trade routes and the woild’s markets,” and we denied that there was any material difference in the degree of guilt of the various national sections of the master class for this orgy of slaughter that now surrounds us. Once this position, which is the necessary deduction from Socialist principles, is understood, the attempted sarcasm of Mr. Roudolphi’s remark that “the German capitalist is regarded as such a sacred being,” loses all point.

We denounce the claims of the German Industrialists with regard to both Western and Eastern annexations, just as we denounce the claims of the French Industrials to the Valley of the Rhine, under secret treaties with Russia, and their claims to portions of Morocco, under secret treaty with Great Britain and Spain.

The essential point of our article, however, is completely admitted by Mr. Roudolphi in the third paragraph of his letter, where he says : “Yet German capitalists are to be left in possession of Lorraine which provides Germany with her sinews of war, whereas France is crippled in all her vital industries.”

The first claim may be Mr. Roudolphi’s—it obviously cannot be placed on those whose object is to abolish capitalism without distinction of race or nationality. But note his admission that it is solely a question, as far as his claim is concerned, as to whether German capitalists or French capitalists—for that, of course, is what he means by “France,”—shall own these mines. This is exactly what our article stated, namely, that it was the desire to own the coal and iron mines of Alsace-Lorraine that lay behind the hypocritical cry for “her children” raised by the French capitalists.

We are asked : “If say the Welsh coal mines were in the hands of the German enemy would any English Socialist charge English capitalists with greed if England”—which would, of course, mean those capitalist—”claimed the restoration of that coal district ?” The answer is : certainly. Every Socialist, whether English or otherwise, would point out that it was greed for profit, not regard for Britain’s “children,” that would lie behind that demand, exactly as it would have been greed for profit on the part of the German capitalists that would lie behind the forcible annexation of that district.

Our contention is further admitted by our correspondent when he says :

“If as you say material interest dominates every section of the capitalists, Socialists should at least see to it that the interest is more equally distributed. To leave everything to the German capitalists wno have plundered France of plant and raw materials and leave nothing to the French capitalists and to French working men except their eyes to weep over their miser is neither Socialistic nor English.”

What grim irony ! The capitalists fall out over the sharing of the plunder robbed from the workers, then Mr. Roudolphi wishes the robbed to help the robbers to share out—among the robbers, mind you—the wealth stolen from them, the workers ! The French capitalists may only have their eyes left to weep—though we take leave to doubt this—but the French workman will have left the only thing he had before—his labour power, which he may sell if he can find a purchaser. If he cannot find a buyer for his labour power he can starve, even though all Europe belong to the French capitalists.

What difference the nationality of the purchaser makes to the wage slave is shown, for instance, by the treatment meted out to the Welsh “children” by the Welsh coal owners at Llanelly and Tonypandy, when the former were shot down by British soldiers, just as the French “children” were shot at Chalons and Roubaix by French soldiers, and as the German “children” were shot in Berlin by German soldiers, and the Austrian “children” by Austrian soldiers in Vienna and Silistria.

These incidents, however, shrink to small dimensions when compared with the gigantic crimes of the French capitalist class at the very period when Alsace-Lorraine was forcibly annexed by Germany—1871. This very annexation, now so loudly denounced, was agreed to by the French capitalist claes on condition that the French prisoners of war should be released from Germany for the sole purpose of crushing the Commune of Paris. It was the price of the slaughter by French soldiers of 25,000 French working men, women, and children in the streets of Paris. No capitalist eyes then wept for the workers ; no capitalist love for the “children” of France saved them from the foul conditions and awful tortures of Satory and other prison camps; no French capitalist “chivalry” stood between hapless thousands and death from hunger and privation in savage New Caledonia. Long after the fighting ceased the farcical “trials” continued to provide targets for capitalist bullets. In fact, the slaughter was only stopped because of the fear of an epidemic. As the real historian of the Commune—Lissagaray—says, “It was pestilence, not pity,” that stopped the murders.

The French and German capitalist classes joined hands, after a tremendous war between the two countries, to crush down, maim and murder the working class in France. The lesson should be burned deep into the minds of the working class, not of France only, but of the whole world. For it shows the foul hypocrisy of the capitalist class, whether of France or of Germany, of England or of Italy, of Austria, Russia, America, Japan or any other country, when they pretend to be interested in the welfare of the workers of the particular nations they rule or aspire to rule, while all the time it is the profit plundered from the workers that is their real concern.


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