From the August 1916 issue of the Socialist Standard
Since August 4th, 1914, when this country entered the arena of European slaughter, the ruling class have used every means in their power to force working men into the Army on the pretext that the crushing of Prussian militarism would mean freedom, and therefore that the men (some of them, of course) would return to this country much better off than they were before the war. The reason put forward to support this was that a crushed Germany could no longer hold a place in the world's markets, and the trade lost to her would come to this country, resulting in more work and an improvement in the position of the working class.
We Socialists have shown this argument to be false from beginning to end. One has only to enquire into the economics of capitalism and the history of the capitalists themselves to see that they have no more regard for the welfare of the workers than the torpedo has for the ship it is about to destroy. To those workers who think that all will be well when Germany is defeated this article is addressed.
First we must go to the rock-bottom facts that the present system of society is based upon the private ownership of the means of living; that a comparatively few people own and control the means of production and distribution, with the result that the great mass of mankind are enslaved to the owners of these means, which they have to operate in their masters' interests.
It is not for the purpose of providing people with material for heating purposes that miners are allowed to go down into the mines, but simply to make profit for the mine-owners. Houses are not constructed for human habitation, but because the owner knows that there is profit in the business. These examples are typical of the whole capitalist system; profit is the be-all and end-all of it the world over, so much so, in fact, that if some improvement is recommended in the working conditions of the employees which is likely to interfere with the output the improvement is not adopted, though the lives of workers are endangered as a consequence. When the toilers ask for an increase of wages to meet the increase in the cost of living, they are in the main met with a blunt refusal, and should they strike and during the strike dare to touch one particle of their masters; property, even for the purpose of feeding themselves and their dependents, the military are brought out to shoot them at their masters' bidding.
Briefly, then, that is the position of the workers in modern Christo-bourgeois society: divorced from the means of production, working for a subsistence wage, their life is one perpetual fight against starvation from the cradle to the grave.
Politicians at election times talk glibly of the poverty of the workers and hold up some pet nostrum as a cure for the disease. But the poverty-stricken find after they have elected the thieves to power and the so-called remedies are placed on the statute book, their position is not improved one iota.
Small wonder that the position of the workers has not improved, for by returning to Parliament men of the Liberal, Tory, or so-called Labour type they have voted for the perpetuation of the present system of society, and so long as capitalism lasts poverty, misery, and degradation must be their lot.
Now just as the capitalist politician is prepared to dangle before the eyes of the workers these various reforms in order that he shall be returned to Parliament, so they have been prepared since the war broke out to gull their victims into thinking that by fighting the Germans they would be fighting for freedom, and that none of the evil consequences that have attended other wars would attend this one.
Equally guilty of leading the workers up this blind alley are the so-called representatives of Labour. Most of them have assisted the masters to run the war by using the same dirty, underhand tactics that characterised them in times of peace. Ben Tillett, for instance, who once wasted his breath calling upon God to strike Lord Devonport dead, has been going up and down the country as recruiting sergeant, telling the workers some tales of his experiences on the front and holding up the bogey of "German tyranny" in order to induce men to go and fight the Germans in the interests of the very class of which Lord Devonport is a member. But there are times—although it is not often—when these gentry speak the truth, and having done all he could to get workingmen into the Army, Ben actually has settled himself down to thinking of the position of the workers after the war.
In an article in "Reynolds's" of June 18th Tillett tells us, among other things, that "the eternal struggle between capital and labour is bound to be more acute than ever it has been in the past." With this view we Socialists agree, but what then of the freedom the workers have been fighting for? Where is it? An answer is needed, but a logical answer will not be forthcoming from Ben Tillett and the crowd that, like him, live upon the backs of the toilers. They know their game too well, and a logical reply from them would open the eyes of the workers to such an extent that their occupation would be gone.
We have been told by scores of people that we should no longer see old soldiers selling bootlaces or turning organs. But since when has the attitude of the masters changed so favourably towards our class. Ever since the war broke out the ruling class have taken advantage of the crisis to rob and exploit the workers more than ever. At this very moment there is an agitation to burst up the food rings, smash the milk and other combines and trusts which have shown how much the capitalists are concerned with the welfare of their slaves. So make no mistake about it, fellow workers; the antagonism of interests between you and your masters will no more be wiped away by killing Germans than it was by voting Liberal or Tory after having a ride in a motor car.
And just as you will find the after-the-war conditions against you in this country, so also will the Germans, Austrian, Hungarian, French, Belgian, Italian, and Russian workers find conditions worse than ever after the slaughter is over. Then perhaps you will sit yourselves down and ask in your saner moments what have we been fighting for. We still depend on a boss for a job, still are subject to unemployment and the visit of the bailiff.
Surely, with the existing knowledge and power to produce wealth in abundance, there must be a way out of the difficulty. No human being need suffer poverty and starve in the midst of such prodigious resources as are at mankind's disposal to-day. Society can be so organised that the needs of all can be satisfied. The present system of society must be abolished by the working class, organised in a Socialist Party, capturing the means by which the masters hold supremacy to-day. namely, the political machinery, and using it to take control of the means and instruments of wealth production and distribution. In a state of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of these means and instruments there can be no conflicting interests to promote war or to breed poverty, because the common interest will bind each member to work for the common good.
Moreover, when you fight for this you fight for something more in conformity with the terms of fighting for freedom; it is, in fact, the only thing worth fighting for.