Paul Lafargue

The Boycott

(November 1901)

From Justice, 23rd November 1901, p.4;
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.

We take the following from an article by Paul Lafargue in the Petit Sou of last Monday:–

The bourgeoisie of Europe and America welcomes with great favour the idea of a universal boycott of English shipping, projected by the merchants of Holland, whose ports are frequented by more than 55 per cent. of the vessels bearing the British flag. The press of all shades of opinion encourages the organisation of this new blockade.

It is well understood, of course, that it is out of pure humanity, in order to force England to put an end to the Transvaal war, that the bourgeois of Europe, who have just been massacring the Chinese, and those of America, who are doing their best to exterminate the Oedipus, desire and clamour for the use of this working-class weapon against their redoubtable economic rival.

This love for the Boers is an expression of covetous commercial greed. The bourgeois follow with sympathy the peripatetics of the heroic struggle of the farmers of the Transvaal, improvised soldiers, in defence of the land they have stolen from the badly-armed blacks only because it will lower the prestige and power of England, their commercial and industrial competitor. They propagate the idea of a boycott of English shipping only because the workers of the ports will alone have to bear the cost and the suffering of such a boycott, and because, even if it succeeds only imperfectly, it will inflict a blow on English commerce from which it will with difficulty recover.

The boycott, which the bourgeoisie regards with sentimental tenderness when directed against the trade of its commercial rival, it considers as a crime when employed by the workers in defence of their livelihood. The mere blacklisting of a workshop by a trade union is an offence, in Europe as well as in America, punished by law and the infliction of civil damages, calculated to exhaust the treasury of the union and break down the power of resistance of the workers.

When a strike takes place the bourgeoisie has only one cry: “The ringleaders have fomented it.” The whole of the bourgeois press raises a hue and cry against the leaders : “Track down, arrest, imprison these wretches, who deceive and exploit the workers; but for them the workmen would be content with their wages and conditions of labour. Those scoundrels are responsible for the ruin of national industry, for the misery and sufferings of the workers, for their massacre, for it is these who force the Government to those sanguinary exploits in order to protect the liberty of labour.”

And now the bourgeois urge the dockers to refuse to work, to commence the strike. We know that a strike has often been fomented and organised by the capitalists in order to cause a scarcity of commodities by checking production; they profited through that by the increase of prices. We have had to denounce the hand of the capitalist in many a strike. But to day the bourgeoisie throws off its jesuitical mask, and, before all the world, foments a gigantic strike to order to deal a blow at its maritime rival.

Our ears still tingle with the hot and furious declamations of French and Italian patriots against the dockers of Marseilles and Genoa. Their strikes ruined Marseilles for the profit of Genoa, and Genoa for the profit of Marseilles. Cosmopolitan gold, it was said, subsidised those anti-patriotic strikes. Yesterday the tribunals of Marseilles, amid the applause of the bourgeoisie, punished the members of the strike committee; to-day, the bourgeoisie organises an international strike against England!

What effrontery! The bourgeoisie, in order to strike its economic enemy, in order to satisfy its commercial greed, tramples under foot all its living and eternal principles – patriotism, public order, liberty of labour – in the name of which it terrorises and massacres the workers whenever they dare to strike in defence of their labour.

The great mercantile interests, coloured with humanitarianism, blind the bourgeoisie to the point of making it forget its own class interests. It excites the dockers in the ports of both worlds to rise in one grand combined movement, which will consolidate and weld them together to deliver, in their own interest, and not in that of the bourgeoisie, an international battle against capital, which will teach the proletariat to place above the mean and petty interests of country, which are only the interests of the bourgeoisie, the interests of international labour, which are the interests of exploited humanity.

The Socialists are no fomentors of strikes; they know too well that a strike is a two-edged weapon, wounding the proletariat more deeply and more grievously than the capitalist.

But, when the strike is declared, they take their part in the fight. They organise and assist the workers, protecting them against the snares of the police and the brutality of the military, and giving them such moral and material support as is in their power. The Socialists, as Vaillant has said in his reply to the International Bureau at Brussels, are not called upon to take any part in the organisation of the international blockade against English shipping, but if the boycott does take place they will know how to do their duty.

Paul Lafargue


Last updated on 7.4.2004