1910s >> 1919 >> no-177-may-1919

Editorial: May-Day Talk

On the eve of May-day, in probably the most momentous times in history, it is meet that we should have a glance about us, a little stock-taking, a summing-up of the general situation as it affects “Labour,” and as viewed through the eyes of those who have made a special study of the needs and interests of the working class over many years.

Our masters are talking now of peace. But what significance has such a word for those— we were going to say who work, but we must use the more expressive term—who toil ? During the great “Business War” the horrors of the industrial strife have been largely removed to the military cockpits. The burying alive of men in mines has found its counterpart in the burying alive of men in trenches ; the gassing of men in the bleaching powder factories has been paraleled in the gassing of men at “the front” ; the tragedy of the Titanic has been reproduced in the “atrocity” of the Lusitania; the crime of the abolition of the Plimsoll line has found its twin brother in the villiany of mined seas. These things, done in “war,” and between race and race, have attracted to themselves tense attention, but there is nothing, nothing, in the whole range of battlefield horrors, that is not matched in the everyday struggle of the workers for bread and of the masters for profit, an almost common-place occurrence of toe everyday existence of those who toil.

And now we are to exchange again the horrors of war for the sevenfold horrors of peace. Our masters’ “gratitude” to their “heroes” has already reached the vanishing point. In little open spaces in the London suburbs, and on the ugly blank walls of London slums, ugly little wooden shrines have been erected to the “honour” of those same “heroes”—the cheapest of cheap carpenter’s jobs, but neatly varnished and glazed, and “eye-washed” with a picture of Christ or a Mons angel looking upon cannon fodder, and provided with a shelf for other people to leave floral offerings on. And inscribed upon the page of fame behind the glass behold the names of the local warriors, with here and there blank spaces where the names of the fallen had been written in in red ink, and have long since faded from the sight of man. The symbolism of the whole thing is perfect. The shoddy show, the superstitious dope, the appeal to private charity—and nothing could better have stood for the transient nature of capitalist “gratitude” than that ironic, contemptuous, fleeting red ink.

The “gratitude” of the class for whom the war was “fought and won” is already dead. The Lord Derbies, who sweated so profusely in the khaki of the labour battalion, are, it is true, now “hard at it” on the work of reconstructing—the Turf. The rich find no great problem (for themselves) in the transition from war to peace. But in other directions the work of “reconstruction” goes on about as fast, probably, as those to whom a great unemployment crisis would present a welcome opportunity to put the screw on wages desire. The shortage and consequent high price materials of every description has a fatally deterrent effect on the resumption of the ordinary productive processes of peace time, and this applies with greatest force in that most important industry where the increased cost must be saddled on a relatively permanent product—the house-building industry. There is, therefore, looming ahead, the prospect of such a time of suffering for those who toil as will indeed cause them to ask themselves what signify those little wooden shrines to working-class agony and capitalist greed.

The vampire class are getting ready for the inevitable result of the world conflict. Already the chiefs among the thugs are denouncing the victims of their blood-orgy who have the indecency to claim the out-of-work dole as lazy impostors. Pledges are being given by the Government, who got their present places and power upon lying promises to carry the working-class safely through the “transition period,” that those doles (already reduced to ludicrous inadequacy) will cease to be paid in November. The Army is being strengthened with men whose pay is sufficient to claim their heartfelt allegiance to any duty; the police are having their grievances settled with a lavishness that is eloquent testimony to their future usefulness to the exploiting class. “Public opinion” has been sounded on and broken to the patrol of “tanks,” armed against the workers, through “our” city streets, and the filling of “our” municipal buildings with soldiers armed with rifles and bayonets and machine guns and bombs. Oh, yes, the masters have made their preparations.

And how about the workers ? What will they do when desperation seizes them ? In what direction will they seek surcease of their torment when they find themselves workless and wage-less in the face of high prices ? If failure has not utterly discredited Bolshevism by that time there will doubtless not be lacking those in this country those who will make an attempt to lure the desperate into “living dangerously” in the Bolshevik way. Soldiers returned from hell to find themselves displaced by women or supplanted by machinery, to learn that all they have suffered for is the right to starve, and used as they are to reckless and violent methods, may prove to be fertile ground for such appeal to fall on. A rude awakening awaits those who participate in any such attempt.

There is only one remedy for working-class misery and that is to overthrow the present social system, based upon the private ownership of the means of living, and to set up in its stead a system based upon the common ownership of those things. Since this involves the abolition of the capitalist claes, they will certainly resist it to the utmost extremity of their power. They who have hurled millions of their slaves to death in a mere trade squabble would turn the very world into a charnel house to maintain their robber privileges. Hence the essential first step in the working-class revolt is for the toilers to get control of the armed forces of the nation. These armed forces, as we are continually pointing out, are controlled by Parliament. It is therefore necessary for the workers to organise in a political party for the capture through the ballot of the Parliament. When they have captured this capitalist stronghold they will have control of the machinery of government, and will be able to proceed to their emancipation secure in the control of the means of dealing with any capitalist rebellion.

Such a political party already exists in the Socialist Party of Great Britain. The S.P.G.B., is founded upon sound principles, principles which have stood the searching test of the last five years, and have proved sufficient to keep the organisation true to working-class interests. Those principles are set out on the back page of every issue of this journal. We invite every working man and woman to study them in a critical, a challenging spirit, and to proclaim any flaw he or she may find in them. If they are sound the worker’s duty is dear.