The Sons of Raghnall: International

September 17th, 1879
Arbeidernes Hus, headquarters of Landsorganisasjonen, Copenhagen

“No blood for dye! No blood for dye!”

“Quiet, there!” Geir wished uselessly for Gjest’s booming bass to overcome the rowdiness of his party comrades; but he was stuck with his own tenor – musical, his wife liked him to sing while she played the piano, but not the sort of voice that shouted down an organised claque. He had, nonetheless, a trick up his sleeve, if an experimental one: He gestured to Håvard, standing in the door to the side of the lectern in the plain gray uniform of the Strike Guards. Håvard pulled a switch, and popping and snapping sounds announced that the ultramodern electric gear, expensively imported from Russia, was active. Geir spoke again: “QUIET, I SAID.” This time his words boomed out like gunshots, somewhat distorted but recognisable enough, and underlined by a harsh squeal of feedback. Even Geir, who had been expecting it, was surprised by the effect; the Russian salesman had not exaggerated. The claque, startled, lost their cohesion. Another amplified shout made it clear that Geir could carry on all night; unaided human voices weren’t going to win the competition with machinery. Even among Socialists, Geir thought wryly; it was, in microcosm, a demonstration of the very problem Landsorganisasjonen had been intended to solve, that machinery could make one man do the work of twenty, and thus put nineteen out of work.

The problem couldn’t be solved by smashing the machines, however; the system had to be reformed so the nineteen could eat, not destroyed. And tonight the amplification was useful.

“Thank you,” Geir said in a more normal speaking voice. “Now perhaps we can discuss this matter like men grown.” There were rumblings of discontent to his left, where the peace faction sat, but no more attempts at making discussion impossible; probably it had only been a demonstration of strength. There had been fistfights in the Workers’ House before, and once something rather close to a pitched battle with knives and broken bottles. For a moment Geir wished for the dignified, low-voiced decisionmaking, in smoke-filled rooms open only to invited gentlemen, that was said to create the consensus of the Kristelig Folkeunio. But then, that staid old organisation had been bleeding voters for twenty years; Landsorganisasjonen might be unruly, but it was also vigorous.

“Bjørn,” he said. “Five minutes. Tell us why we should not vote for war credits. No personal insults, if you please.” That meant insults against Party members; a few epithets against capitalists and exploiters were expected. The man thus named rose to his feet to speak:

“Why should the people pay for a capitalist war? This is nothing but mystification, a short victorious war to stem the tide of revolution. And a stupid target at that; a war with India will be anything but short. If this bond issue passes there will be others, mark my words. And money to one side, it’s a rich man’s war but it’ll be a poor man’s fight. The regiments are out drumming up men already.” The phrase was literal; Norwegian regiments announced their need for men by marching up and down streets beating on drums, advertising enlistment bonuses by the number of beats between pauses. The day before Geir had heard a pattern of five beats, meaning five shillings; an unprecedented amount. “You don’t think the exploiting swine will do their own fighting, do you? War with India means ten [url=]May Massacres[/url] a day!” There were indrawn breaths; the Massacre, with its three hundred dead, was a founding myth of the Landsorganisasjon. Privately Geir thought that an underestimate; but then, men who joined the regular army instead of the Strike Guards – well, hunger could make a man desperate, but there was a difference between martyrs for the workers’ cause and casualties in an imperialist war. He kept the thought to himself, however – many of the men in the room had brothers in the colours, or had served themselves – and called on the next speaker. “Johannes. The case in favour. Five minutes, no insults.”

“Bjørn is perfectly correct,” Johannes said. “A war with India will not be short. When the drummers go through the streets beating seven, nine, twelve beats, and nobody signs up, won’t the workers be radicalised? When the fourth and fifth issues go out, even the so-called patriots who club together to buy state bonds at a shilling each will understand that wars are not fought for their benefit. The worse the situation, the better for us; the exploiters are playing right into our hands! If they’d picked Bavaria as their target, or France – but they have their marching orders from Moscow, of course. The worse for them! A long, bloody war is just what we want, to educate and radicalise the masses. When the army comes home, the streets will be full of veterans, and will they be given pensions as a thank-you? It is to laugh. The Strike Guards can make good use of such men.”

“As for the people paying, after all we speak of loans. The war won’t be short, but I notice nobody argues that it won’t be victorious; India can’t defend its coastline any more than so many African chiefdoms. The aristocrats will turn the screw on them, make them pay; that’s how feudal classes make their money, by exploiting directly using raw force instead of indirectly using hunger. And, fair’s fair, why shouldn’t the Indian manufacturers pay for our bread, for a change? You can’t tell me we’ve no use for Indian silver, honestly stolen; most of it was ours to begin with.” There was a murmur of appreciation; the older Landsorganisasjon men still had a soft spot for Gjest’s old occupation of directly stealing from the rich.”

“And finally, what of the Congo? The blacks are our brothers, as exploited as any matchstick girl; we should stretch out our hands and help them rise, strike off their chains so they can help with ours. Arise, all the Earth’s bounden thralls! Are we international socialists, or exploiters of African labour? Many of us wear Indian cloth; it’s cheap because the Congolese work, not for slave wages, but with a rifle to their heads and a whip to their backs! Is not their freedom worth fighting for, too? Or do we only care for our own, like so many bourgeoisie?”

Freedom for the black colonies was a popular cause, even among some of the ruling classes who were otherwise utterly opposed to everything Landsorganisasjonen stood for – likely because Norway didn’t have any such colonies, Geir thought cynically. Someone at the back of the room took up a chorus of “This is the final struggle”. Geir let it go on until “unites the human race,” pounding the point home, then interrupted before anyone could start on the actual verses – he didn’t have to be completely impartial, but he couldn’t make his partisanship too obvious, either.

“All right, that’s enough,” he said. “I call the vote.” Before he could formally set forth the question, though, Bjørn interrupted:

“If you vote credits for an imperialist war we’ll split the Party!”

Geir blinked; that was a new one, and not good. “We’ve had castle-peace in the workers’ movement since Gjest’s day,” he remonstrated. “It’s our one advantage over the exploiters. Show some Party discipline, comrade.”

You show Party discipline,” Bjørn shot back. “If the Party betrays the revolution by fighting an imperialist war, it is no longer the castle of the workers against exploitation – it is their tool!”

“The Revolution is not a tea party,” Geir said. “If we can free the Congo, we have an obligation to export socialism there, at the point of a bayonet if necessary. If the imperialists are foolish enough to declare a war that suits our purposes, the worse for them!” In spite of his words, though, he had to reconsider. The war might be useful, but was it worth splitting the Party over? Then again, how good was Bjørn’s threat? He took a quick head-count; the pacifist wing was loud, but it was perhaps half the size of the faction trying to shout them down – not so much in enthusiasm for war as in indignation over the threat. Moreover, only Bjørn among the pacifists was a delegate to the Storting, or at all prominent in the Party; apart from him the pacifists were mainly young idealists, without the street connections that gave the Party its fighting and voting strength. They could walk out without much weakening Landsorganisasjonen; and to give in to threats was a bad precedent. Should every man with some following be able to veto a vote by threatening to split? Geir set his jaw.

“We’ll take the vote, and it will bind our delegates,” he said. “Those in favour of war credits, to the right – my right, that is.” There was some scattered laughter; confusion over which way was right was an old joke in these meetings. “Those against, to the left, and both sides remember, no enemies to the left.”

It was a formality; Bjørn’s threat to split the Party had made it a point of Party unity rather than policy or tactics. Even among those who hadn’t been convinced by Johannes’s clever rhetoric few wanted to associate with splitters; only the hardcore pacifists went left, perhaps one in ten – and seeing which way the wind was blowing, a few even of those bolted back across the floor at the last moment.

“The ayes have it,” Geir announced. “The Party will vote in favour of the bond issue.”

Bjørn didn’t waste further words; he turned on his heel and walked out, taking his comrades with him.


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