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Susan Green

War and the Working Class

Meet Mrs. Neame – Working Woman

(1 May 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 18, 1 May 1944, p. 8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Who is Mrs. Neame?

Drew Middleton, New York Times correspondent from London, gave many details of her life, her family, her activities, her outlook, in a recent article he wrote for his paper under the heading: “Why the British Are Wonderful: Meet Plain, Stalwart Mrs. Neame.”

Mrs. Neame, wrote Mr, Middleton, “is the sort of person American correspondents have, in mind when, in discussing air attacks on London, they say that the British are wonderful.”

You want to know more about Mrs. Neame. She is a British working woman. She has lost her husband and two sons in the war. Two of her remaining four children are fighting and may have the same fate as their brothers. Mrs. Neame walks two miles to work at four o’clock each morning, to clean buildings near St. James’ Palace. She cleans her house and takes care of her dead son’s baby daughter, having naturally never known what it means to have a maid.

She gives time to the fire service station near her home, putting out incendiaries when they fall. When the sirens blow, she packs up and. trudges along to the public shelter; and when the “all-clear” sounds, she drags herself home again. She lives in the London slums, which have been pounded relentlessly by the German Luftwaffe. She has been bombed out of her flat, and has seen human beings buried under rubble. “Mrs. Neame could tell you something about sacrifice,” said Mr. Middleton.

A Pat on the Back

This write-up of Mrs. Neame is as neat a bit of capitalist-class propaganda as can be found anywhere – by way of a pat on the back.

It is not necessary for the capitalist press to inform the world about the wonderful human qualities inherent in the masses. Of course they have loyalty and bravery, endurance and self-sacrifice, imagination, sympathy and generosity. Believe it or not, the working people have had these virtues before they were “discovered” by those literary geniuses who are giving glib and unqualified approval to the imperialist war.

But it is pathetic – not wonderful; it is a great waste of the human spirit – not wonderful; that such qualities should be detoured into a holocaust imposed on the world by the laws of capitalist imperialism and out of which civilization itself may not come alive.

What is wonderful, for example, about “British boys being burned to death in airplanes while they are roasting to death the -population down below,” as radio reporter Edward Murrow recently described the bombing of Germany?

Those British boys and their American pals are brave, loyal, enduring, self-sacrificing – unquestionably! But there are in the German towns and cities they are drenching in liquid fire, many German editions of Mrs. Neame – yes, German working women as “stalwart” as this British working woman. Also, the German boys who come over to make rubble out of the London slums are brave, loyal, enduring, self-sacrificing.

The common people in both warring camps share these human traits. Of this there can be no doubt. But here is the tragedy: ALL THESE PEOPLE ARE EQUALLY DUPED!

The German people have been stuffed with Hitler’s propaganda that they are fighting to redress the wrongs of the Versailles Treaty and to build a new, glorious world order. The British and American people have it dinned into their ears that this is a war to defeat the fascist aggressors and to bring a new world of peace. And the masses of no country – as a whole – really understand what so many millions of people of all nationalities all over the world are dying for, and why this most agonizing of all wars is being fought.

For sad it is but true, the masses of all countries are merely the meek tools of their imperialist masters. The German people are going through hell so that their ruling class may ACQUIRE a world empire into which to spread their power and from which to glean profits. The British people are fighting so that the British imperialists may KEEP the colonial empire from which flow their power and their profits. Whereas the American people are unwittingly backing the plans of American capitalists who aim for world ASCENDANCY over all other powers.

That is why the Mrs. Neames all over the world are by no means wonderful. How can people who permit themselves to be used as the tools of their ruling classes be anything but pitiful?

“I’d Think It Was a Pity”

Do you want to know more about Mrs. Neame? She has no great hate for the Germans, as Mr. Middleton reports, and she does not want to see them all killed. “They have their families and homes, too,” she says. “If it wasn’t that they’d do that and more to us, I’d think it was a pity. Even now I sometimes feel sorry for them.”

Mrs. Neame’s words strike a true note! The working people of the world undoubtedly have Sympathy for each other’s sufferings. But here, in Mrs. Neame’s words, you have, above all, the reflection of the propaganda used by the ruling classes in both Germany and the Allied countries. The propaganda is to the effect that each country must continue to spread death and destruction over the other – TO PREVENT THE OTHER FROM DOING THE SAME TO IT!

But this is a vicious and endless circle in which humanity is caught. It must be broken. It can be broken. And only in one way. The working people of all countries must join in allegiance to each other, realizing their common interests against all the ruling classes of the world.

The Mr. Middletons are so very enthusiastic about the Mrs. Neames because they are NOT joining together against their capitalist classes! “She is wonderful,” Mr. Middleton wrote, “for all the familiar reasons – because she is frail and brave, underfed and enduring ...”

Wonderful for Capitalists

Yes, for the ruling classes this unenlightened conduct on the part of working people is wonderful – but maddeningly foolish from the point of view of working class interests and indeed from the point of view of simple justice.

For why should the “frail” be “brave” and the “underfed” be “enduring” in. a cause which is not their own? Those for whom this war is being fought are neither frail nor underfed. The capitalist classes of all countries are getting rich out of the war!

The war profits of the American capitalist class top all the rest, but they are not the only ones by any means. Business is very good for the British industrial owners and overlords. It is good for the same class in Germany. Even in occupied France, industrialists who are playing ball with the Germans are getting theirs. In Russia, while the people are bled white to support the war, the class of bureaucratic rulers becomes more powerful.

Be it in America, England, Russia, Germany or Japan, the contrast between the war sufferings of the poor and the ease and profiteering of the rich is disgustingly apparent. Just as was the case in London during the blitz, when the rich had their luxurious shelters all ready while the working people had brimstone hailed on them from the sky, so in German towns and cities, and in all war-bombed places, the rich have real protection while the masses are provided with unsafe makeshifts.

In France, in Italy, in Greece, in every country where disease and starvation plague the poor and their children, the rich are amply supplied through the black markets – where money is no consideration.

While the masses of stricken Europe wander from place to place, homeless, in rags, starving, the rich managed to get most of their money and some of their other wealth into safer quarters abroad. DESTITUTION IS THE LOT OF ONLY THE POOR IN WAR.

What is wonderful about the “frail” and the “underfed” being “brave” and “enduring” such injustice? What else can be the answer but this: “It is wonderful for the ruling classes that the Mrs. Neames still are that way.”

What Civilization?

Mr. Middleton’s admiration for Mrs. Neame is. indeed boundless. She is wonderful “also because although civilization has offered her so little and her children only a bit more, she is willing to go on fighting for it.”

It is not “civilization” as such that has offered her so little. The word must be qualified. It is CAPITALIST civilization that keeps her “frail” and “underfed,” and bombs her out of house and home; that robbed her of husband and two sons, and may rain destruction from the sky upon her little grandchild.

The Mrs. Neames do not yet know that civilization, FREED FROM THE POISONOUS HOLD OF THE CAPITALIST CLASS, can offer them everything human beings want in life – plus peace for the enjoyment of the things of life. But they will learn!

In fact, the learning process is going on at a rapid pace – not only in Britain but all over the world.

From the standard of working class interests, British labor is doing truly remarkable things. Tens of thousands of British miners struck against the SO LITTLE that British capitalism offers them, while taking for itself SO MUCH. Workers in other war industries have done the same. Even after the government announced new penalties for “fomenting” strikes, the bus drivers of London and gas house workers struck, understanding very well that,it is not “brave” to “endure” for the sake of capitalist profits.

In America the rank and file of labor is thoroughly dissatisfied to “endure” wage stabilization while profits are very much unstabilized. They decidedly do not like the arrangement whereby the government and big business cooperate so that the workers get “so little.” The miners’ strike, the threatened rail strike, the many “unauthorized” strikes, the widespread wage demands, are ample evidence.

As far away as China and Japan the realization grows in the minds of the most backward and most propagandized workers and peasants that the war is used as a pretext to grind them down. Peasants’ and workers’ strikes in the Far East attest to the awakening of the masses.

But the most revolutionary thought and action comes from the working people in those parts of the world where capitalist civilization has collapsed most completely. From the workers of France, through their underground organizations, comes the demand for a socialist reorganization of society. The most advanced workers there will undoubtedly fight against the return of the capitalist masters and their capitalist governments – yes, against the return of the CAPITALIST civilization which threw them into the depths of degradation and misery.

In Italy the working class indicates in action its opposition to the restoration of CAPITALIST civilization. The Italian masses have been ground down by fascist tyranny, decimated by hunger; they are still under the German heel in the North, and in the South under the suppressive “guidance” of the Allied military government – but they know what they want. They don’t want that kind of “civilization” that has given them and Mrs. Neame “so little.” They want the real civilization Of a socialist society.

World Workers, Unite!

Around the world, the working people are in motion – and all in the same direction. Some in one way, some in another; some more, others less; the workers of the world are fed up with their capitalist masters. When those great human qualities of loyalty, bravery, endurance, self-sacrifice, imagination, sympathy, generosity which the Mrs. Neames and all working people possess in abundance, are employed in the cause of finally ousting those capitalist masters, that will be truly wonderful!

For then the workers of the world will unite, to put into a dishonored grave the capitalist system on whose head lie all the crimes being today inflicted upon humanity.

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