Mary E. Marcy


The Class Struggle Disguised

(June 1917)

From International Socialist Review, Vol. 17 No. 12, June 1917.
Transcribed by Matthew Siegfried.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

SOME of us have been talking these days as tho there were now two great issues before the working class of the world – the class struggle and war. This is because we do not understand just what the present imperialistic war means. We imagine it to be something outside the class struggle, a great conflict that may interrupt the growth and development of the militant working class movement, which we may resume again when the war is over.

But this is not true. While this war is essentially a mighty struggle among the world’s most powerful industrial and financial groups for world supremacy, it is necessary that the entire nations become involved; that the whole people imagine the struggle to be their own; that the press and all other social institutions subordinate their own aims to further the victory and the cause of the home capitalist group or international alliance of groups.

And so their war becomes “our” war and men are forced into the army and navy to establish freedom in the dark places, or to establish the rights of small nations and carry Democracy to the peoples who are compelled to work and to make war when they do not wish to do these things.

The Bars Let Down

And here is where the bars are let down and the small gains we have for years fought and struggled to attain in the labor world are wiped out over night as a war measure and in the name of war efficiency. And the capitalist classes have involved you and have involved me and are forcing us to fight their great financial and economic wars of conquest, just as the Kaiser and the German capitalists are forcing millions of Germans to wage war in the interests of the German Junker, capitalist class.

And Samuel Gompers comes out with the statement that the members of the A.F. of L. will not go out on strike but will remain faithfully on the job in order to do their share toward making the war a success. Laws are passed prohibiting Free Speech (in the name of that Democracy we are going to force on Germany). Members of the I.W.W. in Kansas City who refused to enlist are arrested and given long jail sentences, and socialists and pacifists are thrown into jail for speaking and lecturing against the war.

All reform Labor Legislation is stopped at the beginning of war and old laws beneficial to labor are abrogated. Here is an example of the way the legislation and agitation against Child Labor in England was affected by the war.

We are told that in May, 1916, 15,753 children had been formally exempted from school to go to work and that in 1915 probably 45,000 children between twelve and fifteen in excess of the usual number (450,000) left school for work with or without formal permission, while between 150,000 and 200,000 children of eleven and twelve are said to have gone into industry. Most of the younger children appear to be working on farms, but there is no possible way of estimating the actual number in munition works. That the health of munition workers, however, is not England’s only problem is clear from Cecil Leeson’s analysis of the reasons for the increase of juvenile delinquency during the war. “Had we set out with the deliberate intention of manufacturing juvenile delinquents,” he said, “could we have done so in any more certain way?” Many schools were taken over for military purposes; about 300,000 little children five years old or under who had been in school were turned out by a change in school age limits. – New Republic.

People asked why the “children should not do their bit, too.” Dr. S. Josephine Baker of the New York Bureau of Child Hygiene says that fifteen out of every one hundred children in New York City suffer from malnutrition in times of peace. What, we ask, will become of these while we are trying to force the blessings of American Democracy upon the Central Powers?

In Chicago alone several thousand high school boys have been forced to quit school and go to work on the farms. Freedom of speech, of the Press, the right to assemble are wiped out by one stroke.

Congress has bestowed upon President Wilson powers that make him one of the great dictators of the world. Almost – he may say what every citizen shall do, what he shall make, at what price such product shall be sold and what he must pay for what he buys. Congress along with the French Chamber and the British Parliament has become of just about as much importance in the war program as The Ladies’ Aid Society of the First M.E. Church of Otter Creek.

In his article on Labor, Lloyd George and the War, elsewhere in this number of the Review, L.W., in writing of England since the war, says:

“Power has been continuously added to the central organization of the state till we have reached a condition of pure absolutism. Nor is this confined to the political world, the government has assumed functions in industry which have given it enormous economic power, and the military machine which it now has at its command crowns the strength of an association always prone to assume the role of supreme sovereignty. Any extension of the State’s economic powers, therefore, will be accomplished by a further lessening of the freedom of individuals and such social groups as the unions.”

We believe it is soon intended to make “Selective Conscription” in this country industrial as well as military conscription whereby a man may be put to work designated and at the pay named by the Government. And, the New Republic very aptly comments in a recent issue:

“The organization which we must now create to administer the vital supplies of the Alliance will persist after peace is established. It will control the resources of the world except Central Europe. It will have become an economic as well as a military league of (the capitalists of; the insert is ours) nations * * * Economic association will precede political. The statutory machinery of the League will rest upon an economic basis. * * * A supernational government is being forced into existence.”

* * *

Social institutions reflect and represent the interests of the ruling class – today of the capitalist class and so we are persuaded into hurrahing for and sacrificing for and fighting and dying for, the interests of the great American capitalists; for the purpose of carrying Democracy into Germany we are to forego that which our college professors have been accustomed to call American Democracy.

Class War

But this is the class war. We are asked to fight and to deny ourselves to strengthen the financial and industrial giants in America who have grown rich from the unpaid labor of the working class.

Every time we promise to forego a strike for improved conditions, or to work longer hours, to accept a cut in wages, or a new speeding up process, every time we acquiesce in war conditions and deprivations, every time we wage a capitalist war – we are strengthening the enemies who exploit us and riveting our own chains of wage slavery.

In England while young girls work in munition factories for $2.00 a week; the factory owners have increased their profits 3,800 per cent. And the dividends coined out of the war by the American capitalist class have been still higher. We believe we are perfectly safe in saying that this class will be richer in capital even if the Central Powers win this war than if there had been no war. We know they will be stronger economically and strategically, so far as the class struggle is concerned.

In order to win their war all bars for the protection of labor are on the way to being let down; production is being systematized; waste is being eliminated, whole middle class groups wiped out, and democracy in a fair way to becoming more remote than ever. We defeated the southern aristocracy in the Civil War only to build up an oligarchy of finance and industry and speculation which is today operating at the Old Stand on a more colossal scale.

Top of the page

Last updated on 27 January 2023