‘Down with American Militarism’ by S. J. Rutgers from International Socialist Review Vol. 16. No. 1. July, 1915.

The first of many articles by S.J. Rutgers for International Socialist Review was this fine 1915 essay speaking to U.S. workers on the growth of U.S. imperialism through the lens of comrade Rutger’s own experiences in Dutch-controlled Indonesia.

‘Down with American Militarism’ by S. J. Rutgers from International Socialist Review Vol. 16. No. 1. July, 1915.

(Comrade S. J. Rutgers is one of the foremost civil engineers in Holland. He is also a member of the revolutionary Dutch S. D. P. and one of the group, comprising Drs. Pannekoek and Gorter, whose book on war we hope soon to publish. Comrade Rutgers has spent several years in the Orient and perhaps no Socialist whom we have met in a long time is so capable of telling our readers the meaning of Imperialism or Colonial Expansion in the far East.)

It may be of interest to American laborers just now when there is so much talk of army and navy matters in this country, to know something on far eastern colonial matters. For, although the general interest in colonial problems seems to be negligible at the present moment, it is probable that America will become imperialistic before the masses are aware of what is happening.

Already there is a general demand in the press for an increased army and a stronger fleet and there is little going on among the working class to oppose this general feeling.

U.S. soldiers pose over those they murdered at the Bud Dajo Massacre of over 800 Moros civilians on Jolo Island in the Philippines. March 7, 1906.

A Socialistic reform paper like the Milwaukee Leader even joins in the cry for armaments and Mr. Hillquit states that if there should be any danger of America getting into a war, he would admit the necessity of having a strong army, which statement means the yielding of every possible resistance against one of the most acute dangers that threatens labor.

Military power, once acquired, will surely be used as a strong argument in future diplomatic discussions on imperialistic problems. We must not forget that America just now is becoming more and more a nation of industrial export and that financial capital is rapidly increasing its foreign investments. The result will be imperialism in spite of all so-called democratic institutions.

There will be financial interests in Mexico, in South America and in Canada and, in no less degree, there will be financial interests in the far east, especially in China, where Rockefeller already possesses a monopoly of oil fields, which from a financial point of view, is worth a military conflict. I have only to mention the aggressive policy of Japan, combined with England and the probable future combination of Germany and Russia to regain their lost influence in the far east, to show that there will be some problems of vital capitalist interest in which America will mix if it has the power to do so.

Whether this will lead to spheres of influence or colonies or even to the more hypocritical form of “protection” of some foreign governmental system, in order to secure the profits, makes no difference. The purpose and the result will be large investments and no robbery nor murder will be too barbarous to secure profits to those investments. Even the most direct slavery may be re-introduced.

To gain some idea about your own future politics, you have only to look to those who have preceded you and it is in this sense that you should be especially interested in colonial problems.

I doubt if it is necessary to call to your minds the crimes and cruelties perpetrated on men, women and children due to the more primitive methods of colonial exploitation. If we recall the exploits of Gordon of England, Peters of Germany, Leopold of Belgium, J. P. Coen of Holland and the Foreigners’ Legion of France, we must frankly admit that colonial barbarism is not a national but an international feature. Indeed America has had its share in this kind of civilization by robbing and murdering the American Indians. But that was some time ago and although the same methods are practiced today in some parts of the world that are newly opened, it is not likely that America will go in for this sort of colonial development. These methods indeed are not modern and less profitable. When it becomes necessary to force the natives to work for you, you may starve them instead of killing them at once.

Every nation has its own ways in the modern modes of colonial exploitation and much attention is used to give things the semblance of good-will, especially by so-called democratic countries.

When I arrived at the Dutch Colony, east coast of Sumatra, some four years ago, there had previously been published a book containing revelations of cruelties committed by the whites against the colored laborers. At that time the “planters” were practically their own masters and flogged and often eventually killed their “coolies,” without inviting trouble upon their own heads. After the publication of the book above mentioned and much parliamentary debating, the Dutch Government decided to put things on a more modern basis. New regulations were made and more officers appointed, first to form new tribunals and some of them to act as inspectors on the treatment of the native laborers.

Sebald Justinus (S.J.) Rutgers in 1925.

All parties interested in this big and profitable colony made a formal propaganda to convince people that everything was now a paradise to the colored workers. If you happened to ask a planter about the state of labor, he generally admitted that things had been rather rotten before, but would declare that all had been changed.

Indeed it had changed but only to become a more perfect form of slavery. The whole force of the police and “justice” is now behind the planters and there would be no longer any necessity for them to execute their own “justice” were it not for the time lost in sending the natives before the magistrates and to prison. Those living far from the place where there is a tribunal, generally continue in the old way of judgment with corporal chastising and many others continue out of habit. The more clever capitalists, however, take advantage of the new system by leaving punishment to government officials.

The colored laborers are bound by contract to work for their masters and are therefore not only sent to prison if they try to run away, but also if they do not work with sufficient intensity or if they have presumed to act against the orders of their masters or there is something offensive in their attitude toward the whites.

Magistrates often have to deal with from twenty to fifty cases an hour and as most white as well as colored people are willing to swear to everything that is in their own interests, it is absolutely impossible to get any sort of justice, even if the judge should wish to do so. So it is within the power of the planter to send every contract laborer to prison whom he wishes to send there and to maintain a system of terror much more effective than it would be were he obliged to risk his own skin by flogging personally.

Dutch colonial court, c. 1865.

The appointment of inspectors may have brought some improvement in dwellings and sanitary conditions. The state of slavery is not affected in any way.

The inspector always announces his visits in advance to the estates and he cannot even understand most of the laborers who speak in a foreign tongue (Chinese and Javanese). So the inspectors are accompanied by interpreters who go about to allow the workers to bring in complaints against their masters. In the beginning there really were some complaints and the planters accused the interpreters of instigating the laborers to bring in accusations. The government, of course, took the part of the planters, simply telling the interpreters to put down the complaints in form as they were brought in.

The interpreter gives the complaints to the inspectors and the inquiry is held in the offices of the accused company. The result has been that in the course of a whole year, there has not been one serious complaint laid before the officer of justice through the mediation of the inspectors, notwithstanding that during this time several of such cases were dealt with. Indeed slavery regulated by the state is the worst of all and a warning to the admirers of so-called state Socialism.

Now I wish to impress upon you that this kind of slavery is not accidental, but the result of conditions that would, no doubt, force other states to adopt similar measures.

General Van Heutsz taking Sumatra for Dutch capitalists.

This part of Sumatra being thinly populated, it is absolutely necessary to import workers if the capitalists would gain the big profits to be had from the conditions of climate and soil. The statement that one of the tobacco companies made a profit of more than ten million dollars in one year will sufficiently show the capitalist necessity of procuring laborers even though they have to draw them out of hell itself.

In fact the laborers are brought from China and Java and the transport of these people costs so much money that there must be some form of slavery to secure the desired results. The more so because in these rich countries the natives could find a living with much less energy than the capitalists expect them to spend in their behalf.

To a greater or less extent you will find conditions the same in other parts of the world where capitalism develops and where there is not a sufficiently large population that can be expropriated and turned into “free” laborers. Even in the greater part of South America—in Chile, which has already attracted the attention of American capitalists, there are no laborers to develop in the modern capitalistic way. And the importation of Italians has proved insufficient. Probably there will be an import of Chinese labor in a way similar to that used in the Dutch colonies with sooner or later a revolt or intervention and American militarism defending the capitalist interests.

The United States workers, who openly or secretly approve a stronger army and navy and those who do not oppose them with all their strength, will have to realize that this militarism is to be used to secure big profits out of foreign labor and to impair their own position through the involuntary assistance of those yellow laborers whom they do not yet acknowledge as fellow soldiers in the class struggle.

Yet it is not too late if labor here will spend its whole energy in opposing imperialism and militarism together with the workers the whole world over—black, white and yellow.

This does not mean philanthropy. It means self-preservation. It is the only way to win your own cause.

There is an opportunity before you American workers, because you are only at the beginning of militarism and imperialism in this country. The workers of Europe are being crushed by these forces which they did not recognize in time. Do not wait until war is acute, but oppose at once and by all means in your power.

The International Socialist Review (ISR) was published monthly in Chicago from 1900 until 1918 by Charles H. Kerr and critically loyal to the Socialist Party of America. It is one of the essential publications in U.S. left history. During the editorship of A.M. Simons it was largely theoretical and moderate. In 1908, Charles H. Kerr took over as editor with strong influence from Mary E Marcy. The magazine became the foremost proponent of the SP’s left wing growing to tens of thousands of subscribers. It remained revolutionary in outlook and anti-militarist during World War One. It liberally used photographs and images, with news, theory, arts and organizing in its pages. It articles, reports and essays are an invaluable record of the U.S. class struggle and the development of Marxism in the decades before the Soviet experience. It was closed down in government repression in 1918.

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/isr/v16n01-jul-1915-ISR-riaz-ocr.pdf

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