Jane Rosen introduces ‘Don’t Shoot Your Class!’, by Tom Anderson, first published in The Revolution, June 1918. It is extracted from Reading and Rebellion, an Anthology of Radical Writing for Children, 1900-1960.
Though this piece is unsigned, the bound copy of The Revolution held by the Marx Memorial Library in London is annotated with the message that all unattributed work is by TA. Tom Anderson (1863–1947) was an active trade unionist who was involved in leading a major strike in Glasgow. As a result, he was blacklisted and unable to work at his carpenter’s trade. He was rescued from this plight by a supporter who set him up in a draper’s shop, enabling him to finance his own revolutionary activities. From the 1890s, Anderson dedicated himself to the radical education of working-class children, as part of the Socialist Sunday School (SSS) movement.
It soon became clear that Anderson’s ideas about the kind of socialism to be taught were very different from those of the leadership of the SSS movement, and in 1910 he broke away to found a more radical Socialist School. Inspired by the February 1917 Russian Revolution, he changed the name to the Proletarian Schools and produced for it a set of rules known as the Proletarian Maxims, of which the fifth was ‘Thou Shalt Teach Revolution’. The associated journal, The Revolution, was aimed at the young workers of the country. The first number appeared in June 1917, and from the beginning it mentioned events that were controversial under the wide-ranging Defence of the Realm Act (DORA), which reached into every aspect of social life and curbed the freedom of the press. Controversial subjects covered in The Revolution included references to Karl Liebknecht, imprisoned in Germany for his work against the war, and James Connolly, leader of the Easter Uprising in Ireland the year before.
The article printed here, which appeared in June 1918, the time of the German Spring Offensive, would have been considered particularly seditious as it actively campaigns for soldiers not to kill fellow workers fighting on the other side. This plea to workers was central to the class consciousness of the international working-class movement. The First World War tested this principle and thereby split the movement, causing the collapse of the Socialist International, the anarchist movement, and other working-class institutions. The success of the Russian Revolution in October 1917, and the mutinies and unrest amongst ordinary soldiers during the last year of the war, meant that this call for international working-class solidarity was at the forefront of revolutionary thinking. The article comprises two pages of powerful rhetoric, and it can be assumed it was the reason why this issue was the last produced, as it almost certainly fell foul of the Defence of the Realm Act.
Don’t Shoot Your Class!
by Tom Anderson
YOUNG WORKER,—You will be asked, or forced, some day to don a hateful dress. With a rifle on your shoulder and a bayonet by your side, you will march under orders to slay and be slain.
Before you go, before your mind becomes a mechanical echo of the drill sergeant’s voice, we ask you TO THINK.
You are a child of the working class. You were born of parents who toiled for a living. You own no land, no country, and no REAL wealth. The land, the country, and the wealth therein are all owned by a few men of another class. You cannot live without the permission of the men of the class who own these things, and because to gain that permission you must labour at the bidding of that class, it is truly a fact that you are a slave and your class a slave class.
Yet you, a slave, a member of a subject class, are ordered to don uniform and march away to slay.
To slay whom? The people who oppress you; the people who live in luxury whilst you toil and starve all your days?
NO! You will march away to shoot your own class your brothers who under another flag and speaking another tongue, will likewise march to war at their masters bidding to meet and fight you.
War! What is war? The capitalist class of all countries exists by and for the extraction of profits from the unpaid labour of the working class. The hunt for profits has speeded up the great wealth producing machines so that to-day we workers produce more than our masters can sell.
New markets are sought by the capitalists of Germany, France, Britain, America, Japan, etc. Their capital has grown so large, so international, that much of that capital cannot find room and means to reap profit for its owners. The owners of capital fall out and quarrel, each wanting to secure plenty of plunder. The owners of capital are grouped in different countries, and alliances are made between these different groups, and these alliances plot and scheme by secret diplomacy to beat their rivals and secure to themselves the sole right to exploit foreign countries.
This is what has occurred in Europe. In Europe two alliances of capital face each other as sworn enemies, each seeking the others’ destruction, for they realise that there is not room for all.
One alliance is Germany, Austria, and Turkey, and the other is Great Britain, France, Italy, and America. German capitalists are seeking territorial aggrandisement, casting envious eyes on England’s world trade. French capitalists want the rich lands of Alsace-Lorraine with its great mineral deposits, now held by Germany; British capitalists wish to maintain their world supremacy and to see their most dangerous competitor, Germany, vanquished. American capitalists want the dollars that are to be made from the sale of munitions to the Allies.
And you, young workers of Britain, France, Germany, Austria, and America are standing face to face maiming, slaying, and murdering each other.
And all for what?
That your masters may settle the ownership of the wealth that is not yours and has never been yours, although you created it.
Brother! wherever you are, no matter your nationality, is it not high time you began to think and act differently? We workers are brothers the wide world over; we share the same labour; we suffer from the same oppression—why should we hack, kill, and massacre each other? We are of the working class; we are international. Victims of the same capitalist system, we cannot afford to let the war drums of our masters stampede us to war, and to allow ignorance to blind ourselves to our own true interests.
Comrades! There is a great big happy world of freedom! Of joyous happiness, of true love, of equal rights for all to live and enjoy the fruits of their labour. There is a world where the crowded slums of the city hell and the weary grind of machine like toil are no more. Where starving children and overfed pet dogs do not exist, and where cringing workmen and overbearing slave-drivers are not met with. There is a world where the cannon stands in the museum along with cruel relics such as the rack and the whipping-post; a world where to slay or to slave shall indicate something lower than manhood.
That world is the future Socialist Commonwealth. It is the shining goal only to be reached by the solidarity of Labour!
Brothers of all lands! Think before you shoot your own class. Think before you go to war. Forget the cunning lies your masters have told you. Stop fighting to keep your chains fettered fast and start right here and now to strike a blow for the emancipation of yourself and your class.
All over the world we workers are one : white, black, brown, or yellow, English, French, German, Turk, or Africander; all are one despite difference of race and tongue. And if we are intelligent enough we will form a REAL International, sworn only to serve our own class, to achieve our emancipation, to achieve Socialism.
SOCIALISM! It is the new world vision of the workers.
Socialism! It is the only hope of the workers! It spells the freeing of the human race from the thrall of greed. It means the breaking of the bloodstained bayonet and the hoisting of the red flag of universal kinship.
This is an end worth striving for, living for, and dying for. And to that end, little comrade of the working class, we implore you NOT TO SHOOT YOUR CLASS.
Soldiers leave the armed forces, by Chad McCail