If Not Ballots, Bullets (originally published in 1898)

If Not Ballots, Bullets (originally published in 1898)
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The People
October 1996
Vol. 106 No. 7

GUARD THE BALLOT!

Further Instances of the Conspiracy to Disfranchise the Working Class.

IF NOT BALLOTS, BULLETS

(THE PEOPLE, March 13, 1898)

Review of the Primary "Reform" Laws that are Just Now Being Proposed in Several States of the Union -- Also of the New York Proposed Biennial Legislature Constitutional Amendment -- All Underhanded Ways to Pilfer the Ballot out of the Workers' Hands -- Silver Bug South Carolina and Mississippi Have Already Disfranchised the Workers, Now the Gold Bug North is at Work to the Same End.

More than once has attention been called in these columns to the signs that denote a positive and organized attempt on the part of the capitalist class to deprive the working class of the ballot. More signs are coming in.

These fresh signs are the proposed primary "reform" bills that are appearing in New York and other states, and the New York bill for biennial sessions.

These primary bills are so constructed that the secrecy of the ballot, considered to be necessary if the workingman is to have a free expression of political convictions, is to a great extent impaired.

In the first place, only those workingmen who hang on the skirts of capitalist parties can with impunity participate in the proposed primaries. In such primaries no one is to participate who does not openly enter himself in the registration lists as a supporter of the party in whose primaries he wishes to take part. Accordingly, if the workingman wants to participate in a labor party, he must announce so publicly, or that party can have no ticket in the field. It follows from this that the secrecy of the ballot is to all intents and purposes demolished. Unless workers are ready to run the risks, that a secret ballot is intended to protect them against, the workingmen can have no ticket of their own choice to vote for; they are placed to the alternative of not voting at all, or of voting for parties they don't want, there being no others in the field. What is this but disfranchisement?

In the second place, the proposed primary laws fix the hours of enrollment so that they cover to a large extent the time the workingman is at work, and, as primary enrollment days are not holidays, the capitalist class has full swing and the working class is hampered. When a small army is confronted by a large one, it is a strategic move for the small one to put itself in a defile; in that way the numbers of the larger army that are in excess of the smaller are virtually eliminated from the battle; only a force equal to that of the smaller one protected by the defile is able to oppose it. The battle becomes more equal. This is what the provision amounts to that limits the primary registration time to virtually working hours. The workingmen are the overwhelming majority. The capitalist class wishes to reduce the fighting size of this army; its primary provision accomplishes for it what the protection of a defile accomplishes for a small army fighting against a larger one. This may be shrewd tactics, but they should be understood by the workers.

Finally, there comes the proposed biennial bill of New York. According to it the Legislature is to meet only once every two years, and this will necessitate a change in the election of assemblymen. Now they are elected every year; if the biennial plan goes through, they will be elected only once every two years; which is the same as to say that every other year the workingmen will be disfranchised from voting for assemblymen. The capitalists could not vote either, 'tis true. But there again the defile strategy comes in. As things are going on, the capitalists fear every year to have seats taken away from them. If the battle can be waged at longer intervals, then their small forces would every other year be equal to the larger ones of the workers, in that the latter could not conquer them, not being allowed a chance to fight.

The straightforward disfranchisement of the working class was attempted before, but had to be abandoned. Its openness raised too loud a hue and cry. Since then the campaign to disfranchise has been conducted in the above surreptitious ways, to wit:

The next best thing to no ballot in the workers' hands, is to diminish the opportunities to wield the ballot. Instead of an election every year, elections are to be made few and far between. In pursuit of this conspiracy the terms of offices are being made longer and longer; biennial sessions of the legislatures are coming in; and we may be ready for triennial, quadrennial, etc., legislatures.

Again, if the ballot cannot be boldly taken from the workers, such laws may be passed as will accomplish the same thing by a back door. The primary reforms that are proposed are intended to do that. What is the difference between a disfranchised working class and a working class that nominally has the ballot, but is so hampered that it cannot set up a ticket of its own? None.

Let the working class allow themselves to be fooled and led by the nose much longer by the labor fakirs, and kept from joining the Socialist Labor Party, and they will be confronted with the alternative that confronts their fellow wage slaves in many a European country: either absolute submission and slavery, or physical uprising.

Where the ballot is silenced, the bullet must speak.