The Enemies in our Midst
“Defeat the enemies in our midst,” said the official notice; and this correspondent, hurrying past, thought, “Ah! Yes! the Quislmgs.” But, no! closer inspection of the illustration showed, not Oswald Mosley or “Trotskyites,” but the common bed bug. Other pictures indicate crevices where bed bugs breed, while the caption reads “Don’t keep it dark: Report the presence of bugs to the Town Hall.”
Thus the Ministry of Information, on behalf of the Health Ministry. The housewife is urged to fight the bed bug with plenty of soap (strictly rationed) and water, which other advertisements tell her not to use. We wonder if there is one reader of the STANDARD who does not know a street of stinking slums where little short of total demolition will get rid of the bugs. Workers who are employed in local borough council offices know quite well that their elimination from terraced houses, not to speak of tenement dwellings, is a sheer impossibility. What regularly happens is that they are chased from one end of the street to the other, house by house. Bugs, like other vermin, are a direct result of overcrowding, and were unknown to the savage—they are one of the “benefit ” of capitalist civilisation, and scientists specialising in them know that they are completely superfluous, if the conditions producing them could be removed.
Pathetically enough, the very people who can least afford it—poverty-stricken (therefore overcrowded) workers—have to fork out hard-earned, ill-spared shillings for bottles of “Pine Fluid,” insect powders, etc., to keep them within reasonable limits.
Posters appear outside the “oilshop” on the same day as the heat wave—”Insect Killer,” 1s. a bottle. One slight advantage of the air raid shelter is that it allows the harrassed slum dweller to clear out during the night—but eventually our old friend the enemy, humming his theme song (“I don’t want to live without you, baby”) turns up once more, as witness the elaborate insecticide precautions regularly carried out every morning in every tube station and large shelter.
These precautions, like reforms of the capitalist system, do not remove the evil, because they do not remove overcrowding—they mitigate it.
We know, of course, of those stupid wiseacres who hold that certain people are born inherently verminous. “Put them in a palace and they’d still have bugs,” they say. Let scientists, like Hans Zinnsner, in his “Rats, Lice and History,” point out, for example, that—
“Soldiers in the trenches on this front were as universally lousy as soldiers have always been” (p. 299).
Therefore showing that everybody who went into the Army in 1914 was constitutionally lousy—we suppose !—according to some stupid critics. Now we are told that in this war troops have been issued with shirts impregnated with a new chemical, and lice are unknown. Lice, like bugs, come with clothes; they breed, according to epidemicologists like Zinnsner, in the loose fibres of undergarments, not in the human body itself.
Now the bugs are actually “helping Hitler” they say. So are the rats—”Don’t let them” eat your food; they are doing Hitler’s work for him,” says another poster of the Minister of Information,. Another says that “Accidents are helping Hitler,” “Bad Motor Driving Helps the Enemy.” Still another says “Absenteeism helps Hitler,” showing a row of workers at machines with one place empty; in the corner is a poor devil lying injured in the road, having been knocked off his bike—this, it appears, is unimportant; essential is that the idle machine helps Hitler.
Finally, the Ministry of Information has some special advice about broken glass : —
“WHAT DO I DO . . . ?
I keep a special watch on the road outside my house.
If I see any broken glass there I sweep it up and put it in the dustbin.
I put out milk bottles in a safe, steady position where they will not easily be knocked over.
I tell my children that they must never break glass in the streets—and I tell them why.
Issued by the Ministry of Information.
Space presented to the Nation by the Brewers’ Society“—(Sunday Dispatch, April 21, 1944.)
The bewildered housewife, rushing round distractedly from the food queue to the scrubbing bucket, protecting the food from the rats, the bed from the bugs, and slipping outside (in her spare time) to sweep up the broken glass AND put it in the dustbin (if any), must sometimes wonder why they don’t do something to get a few bugs, rats, bad drivers, and milk bottle breakers on HER side as well as Hitler’s. Of course, it may well be that they have. The present writer can testify from personal experience that there used to be plenty of bed bugs in Berlin. In fact, the largest collection he has ever seen was in a common bawdy —(ahem ! sorry)—boarding-house in that once fair city. He only realised that the curtains were not brown when parts of them moved. But, then, perhaps Hitler has organised and disciplined them since then, and sent them against England. People like George Orwell (“Down and out in Paris and London”) have described how fat and numerous they are in the slums of Paris; maybe they are divided there, for and against Vichy, with a “Resistance Movement” (underground).
The largest individual specimens in the world were in the Hotel Lux in Moscow, which used to be the dwelling quarters of the permanent officials of the Communist International; perhaps Stalin has had most of these “confess” and liquidated them.
It seems to us, if there arn’t any in Berlin, that it might be a good idea, instead of telling housewives in London to destroy the bugs, to ask them to collect them up with the broken glass, and then the Air Force could drop them on the Germans instead of bombs. It would be much better, because given conditions of working class poverty, the bugs would breed, whereas bombs go off and are finished.
Perhaps the numbers of the circulars got mixed up, and they really meant “Collect Bed Bugs” and “Destroy Broken Glass.”
It would be something like Silone’s story of dropping the Pope’s holy lice on the poor peasants in “Fontamara.”
Speaking as Socialists, we have a strong suspicion that there are bugs in poorer working-class quarters in Germany, and everywhere else. Although whether Doctor Goebbels is telling the Germans that “The Bed Bugs are Helping Churchill,” we can’t say.
The more we think about it, the more deeply are we convinced how much bed bugs are like capitalists. Like the capitalists, bugs are quite impartial. London, Paris, New York, Berlin—it’s all the same to them. Like capitalists, they like their hosts to be fat and well, with plenty of rich warm blood. In fact, we have it on the authority of the N.A.P.P.K.I. (National Amalgamated Association ol Peripatetic and Pediculous Parasites and Kindred Insects—nothing to do with jumping parasites, like the common flea) that they are unanimously in favour of the Beveridge Report and full employment—”Jobs, Homes and Security,” in fact—just like Sir Samuel Courtauld and my Lords Nuffield and Mcgowan. Like capitalists, they’ll do anything to improve the conditions of the workers (their food supply), except get off their backs. When the workers get wise to the uselessness of insect powder parties, like the Labour Parties, which chase the bugs from one room to another, they will grasp the machine which will destroy the vermin-trap, “workers’ houses” system, the Socialist Party, and build anew on the clean healthy foundations of Socialism.