Dora B. Montefiore 1919
Source: The Call, 4 December 1919, p. 6 (1,233 words)
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
When sentencing recently a W.R.A.F. girl clerk of 21 for attempting the life of her “war baby,” the Old Bailey Judge is reported to have remarked: “Infant life is so sacred that we cannot afford to let the opinion get about that attempts to do away with infant life can be passed over lightly.” We Socialists are prepared fully to accept the dictum of the learned Judge that infant life is supremely sacred, and that it is bad for the moral tone of the world that the contrary opinion should get about; and under that formula we are further prepared to indict every Imperialist government existing at the present time in the world as “baby-killers,” as destroyers of what should be looked upon and cared for as supremely sacred. Under this indictment we include not only Imperialist crimes against the infant life of other Empires, but against the infant life of their own individual Empire; and we go further and say such cowardly crime is an integral part of Imperialism, which in the 20th century is but crowned, and privileged, and consecrated, and entrenched capitalism, which possesses no bowels of compassion, whose only law of Right is the law of Might, and which uses Church, State, the Press, the Law Courts, the Army, Navy and Flying Service, and Parliament itself for the furtherance of its hideous and hypocritical crimes. This may seem strong language, but the more one has travelled the more one has seen the various Imperialisms at work in countries of backward development among native and coloured races, and recently in the heart of Europe itself, the more it is brought home to those who possess the Socialist interpretation of the cause and cure of capitalist exploitation, the more it becomes apparent that unless the proletariats of the world are prepared to unite in a conscious struggle against Imperialism the lives of their children will be more than ever enslaved and at the mercy of “military necessity” or of “commercial expansion.”
If only the German imperial power could be broken we were told (from 1914 onwards) there would dawn the day of a new heaven and a new earth for Europe. It was presumable that “infant life” was included in that large promise, yet since August 1914 “infant life” throughout Europe has experienced, and is still experiencing, nothing but HELL. It was a pity that when the Old Bailey Judge was mouthing his hypocrisies about “the sacredness of infant life” Elsie Kathie (awakened from her child dream of patriotic service for a grateful country in the ranks of the W.R.A.Fs.) could not have confronted her capitalist accusers, and pointing a finger of scorn at the “venerable judge” have launched her accusation against the form of Society he represented as a system of wholesale slayers and destroyers of infant life. The proofs come not from Socialist writers, but pour in from Blue Books, from Consular Reports, from workers in Church organisations such as the Y.W,CA., from the daily press (carefully censored as it is) and from the accusations of one Imperialist government against another when they have the misfortune to fall out on the subject of division of plunder. Let the international proletariat take warning that this last source of information will soon be closed as the League of Nations is the final form of political and commercial trust, and when it is firmly welded together the interests of the great imperialist nations will be ONE, and they will start out on their predatory enterprise for exploiting commercially every corner of the world with fresh life, fresh powers, and fresh organised cruelties. Just as commercialism has discovered that the Trust is a more paying proposition than competitive industries, each trying to undersell and destroy the other, so Imperialism has discovered that a League of Nations will be a more paying proposition than competitive Imperialism, which has so recently defeated its own ends and laid the world waste. The master class is appalled at the cost and waste of modern warfare; it is just beginning to reckon up its losses—not in “sacred infant life,” not even in the life of its youth and manhood poured out on a hundred battlefields—but in what is much more sacred to the master class, the loss and waste of real wealth, which none but the workers can replace and recreate. Every daily paper rings with the story of “the need for economy,” of “the country on the verge of bankruptcy,” of the debates in Parliament on the economic situation. We Socialists remain unmoved. The sooner the capitalist state is bankrupt the sooner will come the chance of the proletariat to declare its Dictatorship on board the political ship that has lost its economic rudder, and to begin to produce for use instead of for profit. We take the assurances in the recent financial debate of Mr. Chamberlain and of Mr. Lloyd George for what they are worth. Lies and violence are the political poison gas and the machine-guns of capitalism. Mr. Lloyd George with his oratory may temporarily bluff the parliamentarians who listen to him, but he cannot bluff all the nation all the time. It is quite possible that, as a last resort, the master class will put a Labour Party in power with an absolutely empty exchequer and a monstrous public debt, and will cynically advise them to carry out their paper programme of social reform.
But the workers must have the sense and the interpretation to see through the purpose of such skilfully baited traps; they are on a par with the arrangement of having a tame Labour representative in the Government (without portfolio), or of having tame Labour Food Dictators, making millions of pounds profit for the Government out of food. Then will be their moment to put in practice what they have learned from Russia.
Let the workers remember that among the most hideous crimes of capitalism are the millions of deaths by slow starvation during the last four years of infant and child life. That in India, according to a statement made by the India Famine Fund Committee of Canada, “32,000,000 deaths have occurred already from plague and famine, and 150,000,000 are on the verge of starvation. The cities are peopled by emaciated humanity; traffic has ceased, mails are undelivered, and business is at a standstill.” Is it surprising that there were revolts “in which innumerable half-naked men, women, and children, armed with nothing but bamboo sticks, lost their lives before British machine guns, while British aeroplanes have bombed them from the skies”? But, at the same time, the workers must never forget that the master class, through the mouth of one of its paid judges asserts that “infant life is sacred.” And it might be useful also to remember that in the recent financial debate there was a tendency on the part of some of the master class parliamentary representatives to suggest a cutting down of expenses on the Education Bill; while the news from Soviet Russia is, in spite of brutal blockades, and a remorseless ringing round of Allied enemy forces, that after 1920 education will be provided for all up to 20 years of age, and will be compulsory up to 16. That means “the sacredness of young life” in action, instead of in empty words.