The Worker January 1916

Should The Workers Arm?
A Desperate Situation

Source: The Worker no. 4, 29 January 1916 p. 5, by R;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

The workers are being attacked. A savage and persistent offensive is being launched against their rights and liberties. They are being forcibly legally deprived of their health, strength, leisure, and money. The attack assumes a fresh and more cunning form almost every week. The workers must fight. They must fight to win. And in fighting to win they must make careful choice of the methods and weapons they will employ.

When a ruffian begins to fasten a chain upon your neck, so that you may not move, and a gag in your mouth, so that you may not cry out, and then proceeds to starve you into a state of feebleness before going through your pockets, you want to shoot that man. The workers are at present being shackled, gagged, and robbed. Are they going to shoot?

Who is the enemy? The enemy consists of that small, cunning, treacherous, dirty, well-organised and highly respectable section of the community who, by means of the money power, compel the worker to sweat in order that their bellies may be full and their fine ladies gowned in gorgeous raiment. They are the owning class. They own Britain, and all the wealth in Britain, and all the people in Britain. In order to keep the people obedient and pliable they employ many and divers agents – gaffers, managers, editors, preachers, law-makers, and, let it be confessed with a lump in the throat, sometimes Trade Union leaders.

In order that we might not reproach them with disorderly conduct they commit all their outrages in a scrupulously legal manner. Ruffianism can be quite lawful when the ruffians are in power. If Dick Turpin made the laws highway robbery would no longer be a shady occupation. So before launching an attack on the people they pass an Act of Parliament which transforms their contemplated atrocity into a virtue.

They pass a Munitions Act to chain the worker to his master. They “dilute labour” to call into being an invisible army which an be mobilised at short notice to defeat the struggles of striking artisans. They place a gate before our lips and call it a Defence of the Realm Act. They clap agitators into jail, and suppress popular newspapers for speaking the truth at inconvenient moments. They multiply their plunder by raising food prices, at the same time preventing the workers from taking suitable steps to increase their wages proportionately. Finally, they pass a conscription law to compel reluctant men to fight and bleed in defence of “their” country. Their conscription law, by the way, will not apply to married men – until it is suitably amended, nor will it be used for industrial slavery – until the necessary commons and semi-colons are manipulated.

The attack of the masters must be resisted. The workers must fight. What shall the weapon be? Trade Unionism, all honour to it, seems powerless in the present whirlwind onslaught. Trade Unionism, as we have hitherto known it, seems a suitable weapon for gaining laborious concessions at so many farthings an hour. But the present crisis finds It unequal to the attack: Sending Labour M.P.’s to Parliament seems even less successful. The chloroforming influence of that assembly has ruined many an honest man.

These instruments having disclosed flaws and shortcomings, the workers everywhere, not on the Clyde alone, are turning their thoughts in other directions. There is a fascinating attraction in the idea of meeting force with force, violence with violence. The eyes sparkle, the blood courses faster in the veins, when one contemplates the possibilities of an intelligent working class, methodically planning to crush the Masters by forcible methods. It is undeniable that many of the more thoughtful among the toilers would consider their lives had not been spent in vain if they could organise their comrades to drilled and armed rebellion. Their minds turn pleasurably in the direction of rifles, bombs, and dynamite.

If the internal clash of armed forces can be avoided in this country it should be avoided. There is another method which, if conducted on a thorough scale, should prove completely successful. A worker’s labour-power is his only wealth. It is also his strongest weapon. The irritated cart horse that snorts and kicks in impotent rage makes no impression on its master so long as it continues to drag its load along the way. But when it sticks its hoofs into the macadam and refuses to budge, then the driver is up against a tough proposition. But the workers need not think of using this weapon so long as they are split and divided into sects, and groups, and crafts. To be effective they must organise as workers. An organisation that would include all the workers, skilled and unskilled, throughout the entire Clyde area, would prove irresistible.