South Africa and Ireland: Lessons for the Misguided

South Africais in strike turmoil that has set the Union Government in such a panic that, in addition to the most elaborate military precautions, it is described as a revolution more than a labour quarrel. Yet the demand of the strikers is for the reinstatement of the men displaced by the economies effected in the railway service by a policy of retrenchment!

The Capitalists’ Risks

Making full allowance for the fact that any will do to hang a quarrel on when a quarrel is brewing, it is difficult to imagine a revolution in any way connected with what the red flag, that decorated the streets of Johannesburg, is supposed to indicate, being dependent upon a question of capitalist administration.

On the other hand, the Government in South Africa have expressed the opinion that the present trouble arises from the presence of “agitators”- and that when these are successfully deported the trouble will cease. This is flattering to the agitators, but very doubtfully true to facts.

The most successful labour agitator must have the conditions for his success present, and the discontent must arise from something material in addition to the appeals of the agitator. The following figures from an article which appeared in the ” Daily Telegraph” (Jan. 15th, 1914) may help to explain the economic conditions on which the “agitator” had to work:

“In 1912 the Rand, as it, is colloquially known, produced in round figures, £37,000,000 of gold. Over £13,500,000 of that vast sum was paid in wages, £7,865,000 going to Europeans of whom 23,518 were employed on the mines, and £5,691,000 to South African natives, of whom 193,351 were employed. Stores and supplies consumed on the Rand cost nearly ten millions sterling; £5,800,000 was spent in development work, leaving a balance of about £8,000,000 to be distributed as dividends to investors who had furnished the necessary capital for the mining enterprises.”

Why Safety cannot be Afforded

It is interesting to note that the “investors who had furnished the necessary capital” had already had that capital returned to them in dividends up to forty-four times over, drawing 12 per dividend.

The “Daily Telegraph” says further:

“Some of the Rand mining companies have made enormous returns to their shareholders. There are 115 companies on the Rand from which returns were received, and it is impossible to give details of all of them, but a few typical instances of high dividends may be mentioned. The Ferreira Company, since its flotation has paid 4,415 per cent, on its capital, and has distributed nearly four millions sterling in dividends. The Crown Reed has paid 2,404 per cent. ; the Johannesburg Pioneer 2,107½ per cent. ; the Emmer, 1,237 per cent. ; the Meyer and Charlton, 1,105 per cent, ; the Durban Roodeport, 1,100 per cent. ; the Crown Mines, 1,067½ per cent. ; the New Hereto, 992½ per cent. ; the New Primrose 817 ½ per cent. ; and there have been many distributions amounting in the aggregate to 200, 300, and 400 per cent, and upwards. The total sum paid in dividends by the Rand mines amounts to £88,159,489. If the whole of the Transvaal gold mines be included, the payments to shareholders reach the colossal total of £91,462,773 distributed between 1887land 1912.”

Then if we recall the articles that went the rounds of the Press last July on the occasion of the former strike on the Rand, which showed how short-lived the miner was on account of the mortality from a form of phthisis resulting from breathing the dust-laden atmosphere, we shall get a further glimpse of the motive force behind the agitator.

The Answers to Industrialists

Apart, however, from the actual conditions of labour for white workers in South Africa, which on the showing of the above figures represent a degree of exploitation seldom to be met with – and leaving out the industrial position occupied by the native blacks and the imported Indians, which is infinitely worse – the attitude of the Government is enlightening. There is a growing body of labour opinion in this country and elsewhere, that contemns and belittles the political forces which we Socialists pronounce of the very first importance. In South Africa a big strike is on, and a general strike is threatened, and the answer of the capitalist Government is the mailed fist—the mobilisation of all forms of the weaponed arm of the law. With it the capitalist Government can batter the working class into submission, whether it, be in Johannesburg or Dublin.

The same lesson was taught by the strike of French railway workers that was scotched in a similar way—by calling up the military reserve, many of whom were of the strikers.

That lesson was quite lost upon the Industrialists. They argue that a general strike will bring society to a standstill. Which may be true, but the working class are at a hungry standstill easily first. The workers cannot hope to starve the masters into surrender. In the starvation handicap the workers are half way along the course to start with. Nor can they fight the masters, while the latter control the fighting machinery. Nor can they lock the master out while he holds the keys. If and when they are ready to stop capitalist exploitation, and expropriate the master class, granting they will instinctively turn to direct and immediate force to express such a conviction, we ask as—How will they use the vote they already possess?

The Weapon of the Vote.

According to the attitude of the Syndicalist, he would not use it at all. To tell him that the vote is —or should be—the modern, civilised methods of registering the opinions of citizens leaves him cold. Historical explanations of the growth and significance of the vote merely cause his lips to curl. But the majority of votes controls the policy of government, and if you refuse the social expression of your opinion you leave the majority with the enemy; your case is lost by default.

To be ready to right against capitalism and to refuse to vote against it is to us sheer folly—folly in its own account, and rank madness when the voting is an essential preliminary to successful fighting, and may even render the lighting unnecessary. The “agitators,” therefore, in South Africa may be arch-Larkins, but they are not Socialists. For the Socialist always emphasises the importance of the political weapon. It is this very emphasis that has enabled the Labour members here to steal our thunder, and substitute the form for the substance. While we insist on the necessity of political representation for Socialism, they insist upon political representation only, with themselves as the representatives.

The colour or creed of the capitalist government does not matter in the least. When Larkin brought his fiery cross across the Irish Sea, in his first speech here, at the Albert Hall, he said it was important that the Dublin strike should be won, but it was a thousand times more important that the Home Rule Bill should go through. Which shows that Larkin doesn’t understand the working-class position. For does not the situation in South Africa show the Boer generals— Delarey, Botha, and the rest who were prepared to fight for independence for South Africa, hand in glove, shoulder to shoulder, with their erstwhile opponents against the working class?

What Larkin Does Not Know

And so in Ireland, the Home Rulers, with the passing of the Bill that Mr. Larkin thinks so important, would be found side by side with Carson, Law, Smith & Co. against the workers.

The incident in South Africa is a glaring instance of the fundamental nature of the class struggle, and a standing example of how it overshadows any sectional difference between the masters, which all Socialists know, and which Larkin does not.

The same thing is going on in Dublin. The authorities are inclined to blame the “agitators,” and made the mistake South Africa is copying of imprisoning them. The forces of law and order ran amok and battered people not wisely but too well. The official investigation that was to follow has provided an illuminating spectacle. The process of white-washing is so flagrant that a Liberal member of Parliament who saw the battering and was going to throw light on the investigation has been badly snubbed and is disgusted. It is to be hoped he makes a noise when Parliament meets, but it is to be feared he is too loyal a Liberal to have the heart to inconvenience an administration that is already up against difficulties enough. After his timely rescue of the Government last session when they were threatened with a minority on a snap division, surely he will not round on them now! They must explain things to him.

The conduct of the police, however, can only be considered from their point of view as indiscreetly over-zealous, and one can quite understand the displeasure of the legal luminaries engaged upon the difficult task of glossing over so rough a case, at an English M.P. “poking his nose in,” as they expressed it.

As the action of the police in Dublin was no different in kind, if it were in degree, from their action in Wales and in Cornwall, when a Commission does sit on the matter, it may as well include in its terms of reference those and other cases besides Dublin.

But the present writer is strongly of the opinion that if the working class do not want the police force, and the army, and the navy, and the bench, and the rest of the present social machinery, used against them, the only way is to grasp the power that wields these forces, which is to be had by the casting of a vote in the right way, with the consciousness and the intentions of the Socialist behind it. You must get behind the gun; you must guide the policeman’s baton from the centre of government. The capture of the political machinery is still the essential preliminary to a successful working-class revolution.

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