Some Pars From America: Not Read at the Peace Conference
As news of the American labour movement is so scare in these days of censorship and Press laws, perhaps the following notes from the December issue of the New York “Class Struggle,” an unofficial organ of the so called left wing of the also so-called Socialist Party of America may be of interest to the reader.
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In a candid article on the recent elections it is admitted that the large vote received by the S.P. of A. at the 1917 election was more of an anti-war vote than one for Socialist principles and that this vote has now gone back to the “old parties.” By this means the recent “slump” is accounted for.
“Nothing seems to left of the sprinkling of Socialist legislators that were elected in the previous year in Washington, Oregon, Nevada, and California. Kansas, Idaho, Illinois, and Minnesota are again without Socialist representatives in the legislatures, and Minneapolis lost its Mayor Van Lear, which is hardly to be regretted. This precious “Socialist” who, at the beginning of the war had opposed the “infamous Public Safety Commission” as the new election approached “compromised himself and the party that elected him, by joining hands with the American Alliance of Labour and Democracy, and by speaking from its platform at a so-called Victory Meeting . . . That Van Lear took this stand not so much from a change of conviction as from openly opportunist motives, above all to get re-elected, by no means detracts from this sorry spectacle.”
The article declares that the defeat of Meyer London, the late “Socialist” Congressman for New York, is “one thing to be thankful for.” After telling the tale of his reactionary, pro-capitalist activity in Congress during the war the writer concludes: “His re-nomination is not to the credit of the membership of New York, even though it was prompted by the consideration that the district would be lost if another candidate were nominated in his place.”
Such are the methods of the anti-revolutionary, anti-socialist ideas which permeate the membership of the S.P. of A. Is this the party which is going to overthrow the best entrenched and most unscrupulous capitalist oligarchy in the world? I think not.
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Very little news has reached this country about one of the most dastardly outrages among the many which American capital has perpetrated upon its wage-slaves. The sequel, too, is interesting. In Bisbee in Arizona, in 1917,
“four thousand miners went on strike against the Phelps Dodge Mining Corporation for a ten per cent. wage increase and a reduction of the ten-hour workday to nine hours . . . At that particular time there was an enormous demand for metal ore, and the highest prices were being paid. The Company saw fat profits slipping away between their fingers; the strike was costing them millions of dollars. They were, therefore, prepared to come to terms on the question of wages, and would perhaps have granted a reduction of working hours. But they refused point blank to consider the recognition of the union demanded by the striking miners.”
Then on the 17th June the bosses took action:
“A great crowd of striking miners that had gathered about the entrance to one of the mines was surrounded by an army of police, deputy sheriffs, and gun-men, were driven, unarmed as they were, before the loaded guns of their captors, to the railroad station. There, all of them, men, women and children, were forced with unbelievable brutality into a waiting freight train, in which they were shipped across the border into New Mexico about seven hundred miles from Bisbee, where they were thrown out of the cars in the midst of an uninhabited desert. In this deserted region of New Mexico, completely cut off from all communication with their families and the world, these unfortunate men, women and children were exposed to the most intense suffering. And only the foodstuffs that were brought them by organised labour at the earliest possible moment saved these thousands of workers from a miserable death.”
“It took some time before the energetic protests of labour in the West were finally able to force an investigation. It was disclosed that this dastardly crime had been committed not only with the knowledge, but with the assistance of the management of the mines and the local authorities of Bisbee. The corporation officials had paid the gun-men, while the local authorities had engaged the scoundrels who did this dirty work. Indictments followed, indictments that incriminated the highest officials among the millionaire knaves at the head of the company. Proudly the capitalist press showed that there was no class justice in the United States of America, that rich and poor were measured by the same standards, that not even the richest of the men were responsible for the Bisbee outrage would be able to escape the hand of justice.”
“That was six months ago. Since then things have been strangely quiet. And now comes the news that the entire matter has been dropped because of a technical error in the indictment.” (Italics mine.)
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A very interesting account of the recent food riots in Japan is given by the well-known Sen Katayama. The immediate cause of the riots was the high price of rice, the staple food of the Japanese workers. Dr. Yokoi, “the agricultural authority of Japan, says in ‘Industrial Japan’: ‘The past five years have produced super-abundant rice crops in Japan. Statistics show that there is no shortage of rice this year.'” The article following the Japanese “Oriental Economist,” declares that the high prices were directly due to the policy of the Government in aiding and encouraging export trade. The political machinery of the country functions exclusively in the interests of a few big capitalists, while the interests of the vast majority of the people and the workers are completely disregarded.”
The various phases of the riots are described in some detail. They “usually began in a peaceful demonstration that went to the homes of the rice dealers or to the granaries to demand cheaper food. Invariably it was the police who met the demonstrants with drawn sabres that turned these for the most part peaceful demonstrations in furious attacks.” The riots were very wide-spread, extending “over three prefectures, Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto, over thirty provinces, and in Hokkaido, the northern part of Japan. Altogether this rising affected over two-thirds of the Japanese Empire. The ‘Oriental Economist’ reports that there were destructive riots in 142 different localities; that in 38 places they could be put down only by armed troops. In Osaka (the Manchester of Japan) the rioting continued for three full days and nights, and it is roughly estimated that at its height a force of over thirty thousand soldiers, including cavalry, was necessary to control the infuriated masses.”
“In Kure, where the chief Navy Yard of the Empire is located, the marines were called out in full strength to quell the desperate mobs, while all thoroughfares and important crossings were armed with machine guns. But in spite of the rigid military discipline that obtains in the Japanese army, it was found that a number of the marines had made common cause with the rioting masses . . . In Kobe the populace burnt down stores, offices, and even the residences of the wealthy rice speculators. The rioters were joined in a sympathetic movement of the 8,000 workers in the Mitsubitu shipbuilding yards.” It must be remembered that working-class organisations, which might have rendered the movements more effective and less chaotic and violent, are illegal in Japan.
After August 13th the Government, fearing the spread of the disturbances, suppressed all news relating to the riots. “In Osaka the Governor published an edict forbidding more than five persons walking together on the streets. In Yokohama street assemblies were limited to nine persons.”
“When the Government saw the magnitude of the movement, it appropriated $5,000 000 with which rice was bought up to be given away to the poor, or to be sold at greatly reduced rates to stem the tide of popular dissatisfaction.” This, however, failed to have the desired result, for the movement had developed new characteristics. “Since food riots have ceased there have been labour troubles all over the country. The ‘Oriental Economist’ gives a detailed account of seven large strikes that occurred between the 1st and the 19th of August, while the daily newspapers enumerate at least 40 others.” The legal machinery, of course, reaped a rich harvest. “According to the latest reports (Sept. 12) over 5,000 persons were arrested and are awaiting trial. It is estimated by the Government that the number of arrests will reach more than 7,000 before the whole matter us settled. Among them are numerous Socialists. Chief among these is Yei Osugi, arrested at Osaka. The Government is particularly desirous of incriminating our comrades as mob leaders.”
The article further hints that a contributory cause of the riots was the discontent of the workers with the Government’s policy of intervention in Siberia, Whether this is so or not the political sequel to the disturbances was significant, for the Terauchi Government was superseded and the new ministry under Premier Hara reversed the policy of the old ministry in Russian affairs, and openly declares that Japan desires only a responsible government in Russia, whether it be Bolshevik or not.” Of course, this eyewash may satisfy for a time the workers of Japan, but we know that a working-class government can in no circumstances be considered “responsible” by the bourgeoisie.
R. W. Housley