From the December 1914 issue of the Socialist Standard
Fellow Members of the Working Class,—
Month after month the war goes on; nation after nation is drawn into the maelstrom’s vortex. To the original combatants have now been added Portugal and Turkey, while Italy is arming and Greece, Bulgaria, and Rumania are palpitating with the all-pervading blood-lust. Thus the “European War” assumes the character of a world struggle.
Meanwhile the million men Kitchener asked for at first have become inadequate. The war having developed into a “fortress war,” in which practically every available man and boy capable of carrying a gun, among a population of one hundred and twenty millions, is forced to add his body as a handful of clay to the ramparts about countries which belong to his exploiters, a torrent of blood is needed to flood the “enemy” from their trenches. Hence every “fit” man in these islands is required for the butcher’s job. What a spectacle International Capitalism is preparing!
With such a deluge of blood imminent, with such a colossal avalanche of suffering about to be let loose upon the world, it is pertinent to ask again, as we have asked before, what and whose mighty interest is worth such butchery, such prodigal wasting of precious life, such maiming of strong, shapely and eminently useful bodies, such wrecking of virile minds, such hopeless ruin and black devastation as is being spread over the fairest parts of the earth.
Those who call you to battle give many reasons why you should go. They talk of patriotism who wring fortunes out of the provision of shoddy khaki and rotten boots to the men upon whose boots and clothing the result of the war may ultimately depend ; they talk of the rights of small States who applauded the Jameson raid ; they talk of the sanctity of the bond who flouted the provisions of the “Railwaymen’s Charter” ; they talk of honour whose word swindled electorates have many times found to be as bad as their bond. But in their most candid moments they, realising that none of these vaporous phrases will suffice to cover the reeking, quivering mass of human agony they know they are about to spread over the plains of Europe, proclaim that, whatever the cause of the war, the result will be the smashing of the most serious industrial rival Great Britain knows. To the discerning ear this hoped-for “result” of the war proclaims itself the war’s real cause also.
If there is any sound argument in this for workingmen of this country shooting their fellow-workers of other lands, it will be revealed by logical reasoning. The argument will not, however, stand logical handling from the worker’s point of view. If we are to go out and shoot those who compete with us for work, it is folly to go outside the country to do it, for our closest and most direct competitors are not the foreign workmen, but our fellows in the same street.
But the whole theory that the ultimate competition lies between worker and worker is false. The true competitor of the worker is machinery. It is advancing machinery which provides the unemployed, and will continue to do so tho’ every German is wiped off the face of the earth.
That the masters’ argument may be sound enough from the masters’ point of view only proves the antagonism that lies between the masters and the workers. If German trade were captured, the profits yielded by that trade to German exploiters might pass into British pockets—but not your pockets. Your masters might wax fatter than ever, but at once they would begin to devise ways and means for enabling the extra wealth they had found a market for to be produced by fewer workers. As wages rose consequent upon the greater demand for workers, the advantages of the use of machinery would be extended ; the use of more and improved machinery would follow, with inevitable displacement of workers. This is how the unemployed army is produced, and no victories over foreign armies can alter that.
Since the ultimate competitor is not the German workers, but machinery, it follows that the real foe of the workers are those who own and control the machinery: the master class. It is their control of the instruments of production that changes those instruments from helpful agents to oppressive competitors, whose every improvement is fraught with dread to those who use them.
The banishment of poverty can never be secured by slaughtering wealth producers. The idiotic stupidity of butchering other workers can never improve the position of the working class of any nation. Only by ousting the master class from the possession of the instruments of labour (every improvement in which, under their control, is disaster for the workers) can those instruments be used to bring comfort, security, and happiness to all who labour.
The Executive Committee.
The Real Enemy of the Working Class is the Master Class. Workers Unite!