Mary E. Marcy

Why Not Register Them All?

(August 1917)

The International Socialist Review, Vol. 18 No. 2, August 1917, pp. 87–88.
Transcribed by Matthew Siegfried.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

ACCORDING to the June 22nd issue of the Chicago Tribune, under an editorial on Why Not Register Them All? the Chicago police say “that the registration for military service has been of great aid in the identification of men the police want to keep their eyes upon.”

“If it is an advantage to have men from twenty-one to thirty-one registered it would be a greater advantage to have every one registered,” continues the editor of the Tribune.

“Americans have a distaste for this method of identification, but without good reason. They associate it with an autocratic espionage system intended to keep citizens under strict police regulation to prevent them from establishing themselves in greater liberties.

“It may suggest to Americans a police government which would interfere with private rights and create an intolerable, even if petty, police tyranny.

“We do not think that any such thing is likely to happen in the United States. The police could not ride the people successfully. The registration of all citizens would be no imposition upon the people who conduct and expect to conduct themselves with respect for others' rights and in obedience to the law. It might be an intolerable nuisance to be compelled to carry an identification card and have life cluttered up with new minor details. A forgotten identification card would be or might be a mischief maker.

“The men now registered carry their registration cards because the police are making a search for men who did not register, and the card is the simplest proof that can be given and is the simplest means of avoiding annoyance. But there would be no requirement in general registration that people keep constantly with them means of establishing their identity. While there would be no requirement, it might be of such value as a means of identifying one's self that many people would want to carry them.

“Registration would help to give citizens an idea of closer association with the state. We run considerably on the loose now and do not have as intimate an idea of relationship as ought to prevail in the citizen's conception of the state and himself.

“We believe that general registration would increase the sense of obligation and responsibility, and it might at any time be valuable for the nation to know who its citizens are and what they are doing.”

Before the United States declared a state of war between this country and Germany, the Review declared that the Morgans, Guggenheims, McCormicks, Rockefellers, the lumber, coal and transportations and all the other great profit-grabbers were envious of the German system for keeping its working class cowed and submissive. They are now seizing the opportunities presented by “a state of war” to fasten upon the American working class chains that only can be forged while a country is swept off its feet in the excitement of war.

Of late the Chicago Tribune has stood among the first of the advance guard for capitalism and we are not surprised to see it editorially advocating a universal registration that will actually be used (as the Tribune well knows) “to keep citizens under strict police regulation to prevent them from establishing themselves in greater liberties.”

This universal registration, for which the Tribune is now making a plea, was one of the weapons which the German autocracy has used most effectively in its industrial as well as its military system.

In Germany every married workman was compelled every week to bank a certain portion of his wages which he might only withdraw to pay in the purchase of a home. If, because of his strike activities – unprofitable to his employer – he sought to change his residence he could only accomplish the change by sacrificing his savings. The German system of universal registration enabled his past and future employers to keep an eye on him. All his Socialist or union activities were on record and he was unable to lose his past and begin anew.

This enabled German capitalists to know and to watch union agitators and Socialists and to prevent them from making headway in their desires and aims for the improvement. of the condition of the working class.

As the mouthpiece of capitalism in its most brutal and most aggressive form, the Chicago Tribune advocates universal military service, beginning at the age of nineteen and its plea for universal registration is not even proposed as a war measure, but as a method for keeping a governmental eye upon the doings of the militant workers.

With every policeman in the United States carrying his index of the names and records of every workingman, what chance would the boys in the I.W.W. have, what chance would anybody have for going into a factory, a shop or mill to educate or organize the workers “on the job?”

He would be spotted the moment he applied for a job and he would be either arrested as a vagrant, a disturber of the peace, or would be placed in some position where he could work little good for his class.

Universal registration means police tyranny as well as industrial tyranny; it means that the active Socialist, the rebel, the unionist will be hounded to death or incarcerated on some tramped up charge.

Universal registration was one of the weapons that enabled the German capitalist class to perfect an organization that has almost crushed out and disciplined away whatever spirit of revolt the German workers originally possessed. For so long has the German autocracy regulated and spied upon the lives of the German workers that there has remained to the workers little of leisure and less of energy with which to study and organize and fight for the emancipation of the working class.

Universal registration will make of all workers what is known as “honest” men. The steel worker who is injured on the job and forced to move his family into a tenement because he is unable to pay the rent at the old place, will have his first landlord trailing him from Maine to California. He will have to pay his back rent if he wants to get a job. And he will have to stall off the last landlord if he wants to pay the first. The United States will not be big enough to hold the worker who owes a butcher bill, or who could not pay the grocer when he was sick or his fifth new baby was born.

Universal registration will insure the capitalist class from casual laborers, from agitators, Socialists and industrial unionists. It will show up the intelligent worker, loyal to his class, just as plainly as though his face were covered with smallpox.

The big capitalists, who take our products and make hundreds of millions of dollars out of them are going to tell their kept editorial writers to hooray for universal registration. It is going to be up to the working class to show them in unmistakable terms that they will have none of this new bondage.

Every labor paper in this country should take up this question at once.

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