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Letter to Keir Hardie on Organized Labor
(S528: 1896)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: An open letter to labor advocate Keir Hardie on the occasion of a major labor congress. Printed on page 251 of the 25 July 1896 number of Hardie's publication The Labour Leader. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S528.htm

    Dear Mr. Keir Hardie,--There is no brighter spot in the long vista of human progress than the international labour movement, with its effort at a realisation of the dreams of saints and sages--the true brotherhood of man, and peace between all the so-called "civilised" nations.

    But to bring about this era of peace and fraternity something more than speeches and resolutions are required. The time for action has now arrived, and the best and most effective form of action against the existing systems of militarism and dynastic wars is that of passive resistance. The whole power of the aristocratic government of England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was unable to overcome the passive resistance of the small and insignificant body of the Quakers, who not only refused to perform military service in any form, but also to take oaths, to pay tithes or church rates, or to conform to those ceremonial observances by which all other classes recognised those who were their rulers and claimed to be their superiors.

    It is not, however, necessary or advisable to refuse military training. That will some day be useful in defending your own liberties. What is needed is that all organised workers should combine in a solemn promise, in the first place, never to use their arms against such of their fellow-workers who may be peacefully striving to gain their political or social rights; and, in the second place, never to use their arms against any other nation, the workers of which have joined the international movement, except within and in defence of their own country, or in cases where the workers of any country appeal for help against oppressors and tyrants.

    I believe some of the German labour organisations have proposed or have adopted some such principle; and it seems to me that if in the present International Congress the English workers will use their influence to get some such principle discussed and ultimately accepted, a blow will be struck in the interests of labour and of peace which will be more effective than all the efforts of philanthropists and philosophers, because it will cut away at the very root the power of diplomacy and militarism to bring about dynastic wars.

    The numerical power of organised labour in all the chief European countries is now so great and is so rapidly growing that by this system of passive resistance in military affairs it would be absolutely irresistible. Let it once be shown that the trained soldier will not fire upon his fellow-countrymen who are assembled for discussion or for combination in defence of their rights, and all attempts at governmental interference with the freedom of meeting and free discussion will cease. And let it further be realised that the men who will not fire on their fellow-countrymen are equally pledged not to fire on their fellow-workers of other countries, except in defence of their own hearths and homes or to assist the oppressed of other lands to gain their freedom, and no invasion of the territory of another country will occur since the rulers will not risk the fiasco of the fraternising of the two armies on the field of battle.

    And any compulsion or punishment would be equally impossible. No government can or dare punish the whole body of the organised workers, members of which constitute the largest and best portion of the armies. And even if some compulsion or punishment is attempted, surely the workers of to-day, who are everywhere showing that they are not afraid of imprisonment or even of death in defence of their liberties, can do what the small and unpopular body of Quakers did more than a century ago.

    At present there may be some difficulty owing to the fact that in many European countries recruits are so young and so often belong to the unorganised ranks of labour that they cannot be depended upon to join in the action of their fellows. But this is a matter than can soon be cured if the principle is once seriously and earnestly adopted. For every worker will bring up his children to look upon the principle of not fighting against his fellow-workers as constituting the very charter of his own liberties as well as his first duty to his order; and against his home teaching no influence of church, school, or authority will be able to prevail.

    My excuse, if one is needed, for venturing to give advice in this matter is my lifelong interest in liberty and progress. As a boy I was a disciple and ardent admirer of Robert Owen; and though in middle life, while chiefly engaged in scientific work, I was influenced by the individualistic teaching of Herbert Spencer, I have now returned to my first love, and am a firm advocate of the co-operative commonwealth as giving the best promise of human happiness, and as affording the only prospect of a speedy cure for the terrible evils of existing capitalistic society. With earnest wishes for the success of the congress, and with the hope that it will sink all minor differences to further the definition and adoption of fundamental principles--of which that relating to militarism is certainly one of the most important.

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