Labor as a Factor in the Newer Conception of Internationalism, May 31, 1917

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Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen:

May I begin by [restating] my subject. Owing doubtless, the <to> the general illiteracy of Chicago, a telegram reached me in such a state of confusion that I thought I had been invited to speak on "Labor as a Factor in the Newer Conception of International Relationships." This combination of a subtitle with the leading title, of course, was very long, but it seemed to me no more complicated than everything else which pertains to the vexed problems of international readjustments. With your permission I will keep it.

I shall not undertake to speak for organized labor, because as you well know, the more the <than> twelve million men the world around who are organized into trades unions, hold their national conventions annually and for many years have maintained the custom of sending fraternal delegates from one national convention to another. Trade unionists are, I believe, a very great factor in forming newer conceptions of international life and although they, like other men, in this day and generation, have been swept from all other ties by a strong nationalistic loyalty and are in many cases fighting against each other, they still hold their common body of doctrines and their mutual interests. Many of them believe they will eventually become reunited upon the basis of a [page 2] broader conception of internationalism. They are taking care of themselves, but I should like to speak for a few moments for that other very large body of unorganized labor, ordinarily designated as "immigrant labor," which is manifested <every year> by <in> large migrations of men from one country to another. Those of us who know Italians hear many stories of their compatriots who go every winter to South America. By the simple device of crossing the equator after they have garnered their own crops, they avoid the cold in both hemispheres and are always earning money. They do this annually in large numbers. You easily recall the Ruthenians, who go every year into Germany to gather the crops there and many other migrations which I need not enumerate. I will only remind you of our own immigration figures; that in 1914 when something more than a million immigrants entered the United States during the same year, a very little less than half a million returned to their own countries. At times an Italian can go from Chicago to Naples for $26.60 and if his children are little enough to go free, it is oftener cheaper for him to take his family back to Naples for the winter than to pay a coal bill in Chicago. Of course in many instances of this mobilization of labor, the <many> men are engaged on an itinerant basis, without reference to the standard of living in either <any> country, although a recent proposition that Chinese men and their families should be brought into Montana and other western states, in order to supply the shortage of labor due to the war, [page 3] was rejected on the ground that the American standards of living might be permanently lowered.

The results of this constant migration of labor is a net work of personal acquaintance and kindly relationship on an international basis, which, I imagine, none of you adequately realizes, unless you have seen men who have been divided for centuries by language and religion, fusing together in the marvelous way we constantly see in the Settlements. So far as labor is mobilized and annually crosses from one side of the world to the other, there is doubtless forming at the very base of society a new conception of international relations.

I should like to draw your attention to the fact brought out earlier at this conference, that all of this migrating labor is by no means free labor. We were told at one of the sessions of the indentured labor in the West Indies, at another the speaker referred to ten million black men who had lost their lives because they had been exploited by Europeans in South Africa. This tragedy was a result of the same sort of ruthless exploitation as that which has been applied to the rubber in the Congo, or to the diamonds in the [Kimberley] mines. There has, however, come into the minds of many people during the past few years, in regard to this exploitation of labor going on all over the world, a belief that such labor is entitled to protection, and that when certain bodies of men liable to exploitation, are <live> under governments who are not able to give it to them, [page 4] adequate protection should be provided on an international basis. Why should not labor in a country like South Africa be put under international protection exactly as publicists are recommending that certain sections of the globe which seem to afford so much temptation to rival nations that they cannot stay out of them, should be thus protected. You remember that Mr. [Lippmann] urged that certain specified localities should have international commissions to take them in charge, because apparently their resources unprotected by a stable government of their own, were too much for human greed to withstand, or shall I say plain human nature, instead of human greed? International commissions for special purposes are not without precedent, and some of them have been maintained  throughout <in the face of> many difficulties. As you know, an international commission has continued to take charge of the commerce of the Danube, as the big river flows past belligerent states, even throughout this devastating war.

Other specialized international commissions have been suggested. Professor Hull advocated at this conference that one should be appointed now to sit throughout the rest of this war, in order to take charge of the conquered lands, at least so far as lands conquered by the Allies are concerned. <He contended> that it would be much easier at the end of the war to dispose of these lands in an equitable manner, if they were being administered by an international commission, than if they were held by the particular nations which had made the conquest. [page 5] If the German colonies which are now held in South Africa by the British could be taken over by a special commission until the war was ended, and an international Conference on Terms of Peace could decide what to do with them, that in itself would be a great gain.

Might we not propose a similar international commission for the protection of labor which is now under governments too feeble to offer protection or which is so migratory that it cannot properly be protected by any one government? What would be more natural than to begin the new international morality, so sorely needed, with that simple impulse to protect the weak which, we are told, was the beginning of individual morality, as the defense of women and children in the tribe was the beginning of the national morality of which we are now so proud. Beginning naturally with defenseless labor, such international commissions might in time even take care of other things beside labor. At the present moment it seems absurd, does it not, that it is impossible to build a railroad to [Baghdad], to provide corridors to the sea for land locked states, or to secure warm water harbors for Russia, without involving the world in war. Many of us believe that this war, as so many other wars, is not so much the result of quarrels between nations, as of an unsuccessful endeavor to obtain through war that which could not be obtained in times of peace because no international machinery had been provided through which men might solve world problems which had [page 6] become intolerable and unbearable. We are told that <in> all over the face of the Earth <civilized nations,> statesmen are longing for some sort of international organization which will enable them to take care of complicated situations sure to arise during the coming years, as they have arisen in the past. Why might not statesmen begin at least with that which is so appealing, international protection to simple people whose labor is constantly exploited?

There are three great human instincts, or tendencies, exhibited in the striking degree by laborers, organized as well as unorganized, which I believe will in the long run result in finer conceptions of internationalism. The first, the Russian peasant [Bondarev] defines as the instinct for "bread labor". The peasants all over the world magnify and consider obligatory that labor in the ground, which is destined to feed a man, his family and his neighbors and, so far as he is able, all the people on the face of the Earth. When our Committee from the [Women's] Congress at The Hague was in Austria-Hungary, in 1915, we were continually told stories -- which we received with a grain of salt because related by Austrians -- of Russian soldiers who throughout the spring had been made prisoners easily because they had heard that war prisoners in Austria were working upon the land. The Russian soldiers had said to their captors, now that spring had come they must get back to work, and they would like to be made prisoners at least long enough to put the seed into the ground. [page 7]

Such stories may have been exaggerated, but certainly they are not alien to the temperament of the Russian peasant, who believes that "bread labor" is his sacred duty, and who, longing to go on with it, regards war as an interruption of the main business of his life.

There is another characteristic of human nature which I believe counts in the same direction, that which Professor [Veblen] has designated as the instinct of workmanship. Mr. Wells has recently told us that this war is a destructive and dispersive industrialism, which has taken the place of the constructive and accumulative industrialism with which we are all so familiar. Accepting this definition, it is of course an open question how long mechanics will be able to go on with this reversal of the experiences of a lifetime, how long they can continue to defy and outrage the training they have received as apprentices. One of the British commissioners told us a few weeks ago, of having been sent on a committee to France in order to take out of the trenches skilled mechanics who were much needed in the munitions factories at Sheffield. He said that the response on the part of the men in the trenches was very touching and impressive. The fighting mechanics were hungry for "the feel of tools" in their hands, they longed to lay down their muskets in order to take up the implements to which they had been so long wonted. The English Commissioner did not challenge the patriotism of these mechanics, who were quite [page 8] ready to fight on to the end of the war, if it was so ordered, but he was much impressed with their eagerness to return to a more normal life and to again use the implements to which their very nerves and muscles had become accustomed. Is not the instinct of workmanship a genuine factor in human existence, and one that is <should> not to be [underrated]? <in a world of internationalized industry>

There is still a third characteristic which those of us who have lived with humble people realize is highly developed among them. It is difficult to describe, and I put it much too baldly, when I call it a certain reverence to <for> food. Food is the precious stuff which men live by, that which is obtained with difficulty at every step in a long and toilsome journey; it is the cherished thing which they have seen come into the house little by little, and often not enough, since they were children, until it has come to have for them almost the sacramental quality of life itself. There is among simple people everywhere a revulsion against the destruction of food. In the peasant's dread of war, there is a passive resistance to the reduction of the food supply, because a peasant well knows that when a man is fighting he is not producing food, and that he and his family and all the rest of the world may be in danger of starvation. This comes to have the strength of a conscientious deterrent in some minds. I was in Paris during the Boer War of 1900, and one morning I found the street in front of the studio, in which I was living, filled with an excited group of French men and women. [page 9] The cause of their feeling was a report in a morning's newspaper in regard to the destruction of food in South Africa, which at one stage of the war, as per record <you recall>, became part of the campaign; grain was systematically burned, as were the bodies of cattle -- which were piled high and covered with kerosene. Such destruction seemed to the thrifty French an impossible horror, almost beyond the horror of the loss of life to which they had grown somewhat accustomed during the war.

The need of feeding the young, which the workman is obliged to think about all the time if he is to rear his family at all, goes back to primitive times when men's lives depended upon their ability to garner the harvest. In the present disordered state of the world's food supply and in the interruption of the orderly exchange of those commodities upon which the whole world has come to depend, the fear of famine has returned into the world with so many other primitive and half forgotten fears. This concern for the common food supply may prove a factor in what I should like to believe is at least the beginning of a basic conception of international life. The hope comes to me sometimes, <that> in these dark days when men are being thrown back to their earliest and most primitive experiences, that there may be an opportunity to lay over again the old foundations of morality. The instinct to protect the men who are being exploited to the point of extinction, is certainly very similar to that instinct [page 10] which led the tribe to protect its weakest members. If we are forced to exchange food with our alien enemies, it might be analogous to those first interchanges between tribe and tribe, when a shortage of food became the humble beginning of commerce and exchange. Such a conception of international relationship may be sound not only because it is founded upon genuine experience, but because it reaches down into the wisdom of the humble.

I hope I have not stretched the use of the word "labor". We have so long been accustomed to think of labor as organized by skilled men; but after all, there is a great deal of labor in the world, of hard, unremitting toil carried on by men who are totally untrained, many of whom have no opportunity to attain to a higher standard of life except as it is assured to them through some sort of governmental action.

Such a beginning of a newer conception of international relations and more basic international ties, is totally unlike the mid-Victorian notion of organizing the world through a conference of wise men, quite unlike some of the newer plans which are being put forward and for many of which I have the keenest sympathy; but whatever new international organizations may be consummated, it is not impossible that the international morality <upon which their usefulness depends> will begin as individual morality has begun with the simple function of protecting the weak and of feeding those who are hungry. [page 11]

<speech at Long Beach

sent to Academy of Pol. Science
Kent Hall
Columbia University
N.Y City>