Editorial: Socialism and the Humanitarians

Ever since the recent International Blood Carnival, the word “Humanity” has seemed to have acquired a slight sarcastic flavour. It has certainly been demonstrated that the so-called beasts have much to learn from humanity in the way of beastliness. And the curious part of the whole business was, that those whose particular role was supposed to have been the preaching of Humanity, Love, Brotherhood and the rest of it, were the first to drop it when the butchery started. Doubtless you will be wondering why we are dragging this old tale out again. Everybody knows that when the call came to take up the bayonet, very few of its students experienced any difficulty in dropping the Bible. We only refer to it again as a sort of a prologue to another study of human psychology.

Just before the great Christian festival at Christmas, the Animal Defence Society thought to improve the shining hour by inserting a seasonable advertisement in the newspapers. “Christmas is approaching,” they said, “and the Spirit of Mercy is knocking at the heart of Everyman.” And so the Animal Defence Society suggest that in answer to the knock, why not send them a nice donation towards building a beautiful new slaughterhouse. A lurid, and possibly true, picture is drawn of reeking carcases, pools of blood, pole-axes and knives, pain-poisoned meat and other horrible details, calculated to draw the money from the pockets of revolted readers. To aid in this lofty work one is informed that donors of £1,000 will have their names inscribed upon a tablet as Founders; those of £500 as Builders; those of £250 as Masons; of £100 as Carpenters, and of £50 as Bricklayers. This, you will admit, is interesting. What a reflection for the proud Mason that he is considered worth five common Bricklayers or two and a half lordly Carpenters. It should provide some interesting dinner-hour discussions for the men who erect the building. It is rather a pity that few of them will have the forethought to provide themselves with a copy of the list of potential Masons, Carpenters, and Bricklayers, the advertisement mentioned. In these days of sex-equality it is cheerful to note that over two-thirds of them are women. But we digress. What is their precise grievance?

They object to the use of the pole-axe in killing large animals. They object to the use of the knife without preliminary stunning in killing pigs, calves and sheep. They object to the way animals are roped and dragged and driven to the point of slaughter. They object to animals being slaughtered in sight of each other and their standing awaiting their doom on floors covered with blood and amid the carcases of those slain. In short, they object to all avoidable cruelty in the killing of the animals upon which mankind feeds. The Foundation Stone of this model slaughter-house was laid on Dec. 14th, when a prayer of dedication (whatever that may be) was offered that the building might serve as an example of pity and kindly treatment of animals.

Now what is wrong with all this? Surely we also are in sympathy with any movement to lessen the amount of suffering in the world ! Surely we are not going to crab any attempt, however feeble, at abolishing avoidable cruelty ! Perish the thought. Then where does our grumble come in ? Just here. We do believe in first things first. We do insist upon a sense of proportion. We also have our objections. They relate primarily to human beings. Consider recent history. We objected to human beings being torn to pieces by shrapnel and splintered steel. We objected to our boys being taught the proper way to insert a bayonet into the intestines of a fellow human being, and to so twist it as to make the most ghastly wound. We objected to fathers, brothers and sons being blinded, gassed, poisoned, blown to fragments, driven insane, butchered, or tortured by every horrible device that perverted ingenuity could evolve. We objected to women and children being starved, exploited, maddened and massacred in the sacred name of Patriotism. We were the Human Defence Society. Where were the members of the Animal Defence Society then? Were they weeping over pole-axed cows and distressed sheep, or were they taking part in the great work of disembowelling their fellow-creatures. We fear the latter. It needs little more than the list of Lords, Dukes, Earls and Admirals who figure in the list of contributors to convince us of that.

And what did we do? For the ten years of our existence before the War we denounced the conditions that made the catastrophe inevitable. During the progress of the Horror itself, we protested against it as a crime against humanity; that is we protested so far as the friends of the Animal Defence Society would ignore our efforts, as not being weighty enough to hinder their great Blood-feast. And now that that War is over, we are engaged in the work of pointing out the inevitability of another, and yet another war so long as capitalism lasts. We are not oblivious of the claims of animals to consideration, but we think the claims of mankind are greater. What of the horrors of mines, slums and factories; the degradation that follows unemployment; the disease inherent in foul conditions, malnutrition and neglect? We think these are primary things. We say further, that the horrors of both peace and war have their origin in the capitalist basis of society. Time and again we have proved it. We get remarkably few bouquets thrown to us, neither do we expect them. But when we see people who are making a handsome living out of the cruelties of capitalism, distributing thousand pound cheques to ease the lot of pigs and sheep—well, we are mildly surprised, that’s all. They have a heart, we suppose, but the cry of suffering humanity has less effect, apparently, than the bleat of a sheep.

To be quite candid, we have little hope of their hearts at all. Should that sensitive organ ever be perturbed by the patent evils in the fabric of society, we may be sure there are learned economists among them who will provide a comfortable explanation. We have more hope of the working class itself. It is to them we address our message. We ask them to consider whether the present system of society gives them anything approaching what they expect of life. We suggest to them that the existing huge engines of wealth production are capable of providing ease and plenty for all, and that the reason they do not do so is because they are the private property of a few instead of the common possession of all. We therefore recommend them to seriously study our literature, gain a knowledge of how the present state of things has come about, and how it may be altered. Cruelty to animals will go the way of all forms of cruelty, when a real civilised existence becomes a possibility to everyone. So let us have first things first. If anyone has a thousand pound cheque they would like to devote to the abolition of cruelty to human beings, our address is on the back page.

(Editorial, Socialist Standard, February 1926)