E. Belfort Bax

Pro-British Arguments

(January 1902)

Pro-British Arguments, Social Democrat, Vol.6 No.1, Jan. 1902, pp.6-7.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

There are some persons – good men and true – in our own ranks who think the interest taken by Socialists in the Boer cause, no less than our indignation at British atrocities is excessive. “Is not India,” they say, “ far more than South Africa? Is not the destruction of child-life in our factory towns quite, as great, if not greater, than that of the concentration camps? Why then, wax so indignant over the British raid on the Boers?”

A very pertinent answer to these arguments is – (1) That the horrors of British rule in India have been received as a legacy, like British rule itself, from past generations. They have not been deliberately started by the present generation of Englishmen yesterday, or by any sort of living men. (2) That these horrors are indirect, and the result of a vicious system, and not deliberately and wantonly inflicted as in this war. Take the camps, for instance! These Boer women and children are of malice aforethought imprisoned in these death-traps after the dastardly destruction of their homes, instead of being allowed the friendly shelter which would be so freely offered them outside, or even (if it is insisted on violating the usages of civilised warfare by imprisoning non-combatants instead of their being confined in the healthier districts round the coast.

The same line of argument applies still more forcibly to the statement anent, the horrors of the capitalist system as exemplified in the factory town. The British administration of India, is a System designed for the blood sucking of that unhappy country by the British official classes, civil and military. Notwithstanding that it has grown up gradually, but might conceivably be changed, even under the present system of society, more or less speedily, by individual administrators. Not so capitalist society itself. No administration can get rid of the evils of capitalism so long as capitalism exists, and to effect its abolition or transformation requires more leverage than we have been able to attain at present, with all the enthusiasm and devotion of the various national Socialist parties. To point to the evil results of the capitalist system as in some mysterious way rendering irrelevant the natural indignation of Socialists at a hideous crime deliberately committed by a definite, set of men for their own interests – using a one-third besotted, one-third criminal nation as their catspaw – is surely conspicuously beside the mark.

It would be interesting to know the feelings of the comrade who may think the present horror against England, exaggerated, supposing he had the following experience: – He is walking peaceably along a London thoroughfare one night, when suddenly he is pushed against by a ruffian, who immediately accosts him with a “Look, ’ere, guv’, what are you going to stand for shuvvin’ up against me?” On his protesting and walking on, his way is barred by the same individual, who, with menaces, demands his watch and money. In a weak moment, to get rid of his assailant, he offers him a shilling. Thereupon the ruffian whistles to his confederates, who form part of the thieves “Empire” of the district. They rally to his support, and in a few minutes the harmless citizen lies half-murdered on the pavement, with his watch gone and his pockets turned out. Still more interesting would it be to know the feelings of the aforesaid comrade if not himself were concerned in this adventure, but the wife of his bosom (for men generally, while comparatively indifferent to being knocked down and danced upon themselves, keenly resent such treatment when it happens to their womenkind). I do not fancy our comrade would regard references to the fact that militarism and the capitalist system produced as bad, if not worse, horrors regularly, or that there were other equally bad police crimes committed every day, at all a satisfactory plea in mitigation of his own resentment or punishment of his or (at all events) of his wife’s assailant.

Now, the above illustration answers exactly to the case of the treatment of the unfortunate Boer, who only wants to govern himself on democratic methods and cultivate his farm in peace by the dastardly and criminal British power bent on robbing him of his land and political existence to share with cosmopolitan capitalism.

This should convey to the minds of one or two of our comrades, who protest that we are exaggerating the issue, why some; at least, of us regard it as of the first importance, in the interests of international justice and decency, that British brigandage should not only gain no advantage by this war, but should receive a condign punishment in addition. There are plenty of other considerations which enter into the view we hold, but this alone, I think, ought to be sufficient.



Last updated on 1.3.2004