Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Sedition by Example XIII: Robert Semple

(A historical illustration of the abuses perpetrated under our law against sedition)

Robert Semple, speaking at the Globe Theatre, Auckland, December 3rd, 1916:

I have a message of fraternal greetings from the Australian people. It is the Australian people's message that the people of this country shall not under any circumstances permit this country to be lassoed by that Prussian octopus, conscription.

Despite all the strongest opposition, slander and vilification and journalistic perjury of the hypocritical tongue of that polished wowseristic gang, the democracy stood on their feet and wiped from the sunkissed hills of Australia every vestige of Prussianism. In years to come generations of the future will look back with glowing hearts and benevolent souls upon the men and women who broke the chains of despotism that were about to be put about their bodies. It is only a repetition of the past, anyhow. In every war it was the opportune time for the reactionist and commercial vulture to do his dirty work in the name of patriotism. They are doing that now. What other guarantee could the politicians of the world give to the Shylocks who are lending money to conduct this dreadful tragedy? No other guarantee, only a servile slavish people.

Conscription and liberty cannot live in the one country. Conscription is the negation of human liberty. It is the beginning of the servile state. It is the one forged chain that can be applied to the legs and minds of men and women. Conscription was not intended in this country to fight the Kaiser, but to fight trades unionism and the working classes. They are more afraid of the trade unionists, the capitalists are, than the Kaiser. Why? The Kaiser belonged to the same school that they belonged to. The Kaiser stands for despotism, robbery, plunder, oligarchy. The workers stand for liberty. They fear the rising of the working class population a sight more than the Kaiser because the Kaiser belongs to the same school as the rest of the robbers in the rest of the world.

The psychological effect of my experience in Australia has kindled a flame of rebellion in my soul, and, regardless of the consequences, I intend to fight, by God, that infamous rotten law (to wit, the Military Service Act, 1916), that has been passed upon the heads of the people in New Zealand. The men who fought the campaign in Australia feared nothing. We have, too, the same kind of soul. I believe similar blood flows in the veins of men and women such as flowed in the veins of the martyrs in days gone by. It has got to do things and say things, and the time has arrived in New Zealand to do it now. We're not going to allow Australia to say we haven't got a kick. They have said to me, 'Semple, whatever you do, we will be with you morally, financially, in spirit as in every other way.' We are going to make it damned hot for this government. How long are the working classes of New Zealand going to be the apathetic tools of the employing classes that they are to-day? Something has got to be done in this country to resurrect the fighting energy of the working classes. Miners in this country are ready to pay their share of the battle, no matter what it might be. I have a wire in my pocket which I got last night to the effect that every coalminer if he is drawn in the ballot (to wit, the ballot for service under the Military Service Act, 1916) has received instructions not to present himself. He is exempted by instructions of the Government. The miners don't want that exemption. They will say: 'Take your bribe back again.' They will say: 'You are not going to bribe us and conscript our labour. You are not going to play us against the other fellow. To hell with your bribery.' We are going to see before many weeks how much there is in them. We are going to try them. Make no mistake about that.

I know that everyone talking against this infamous law is knocking at the jail door. But we have to take these risks. I refuse to have my tongue bound in my cheeks. I have the freedom of my children and the dignity of my wife to fight for, and I am going to do it regardless of what I may personally suffer in the process. The gong has got to be sounded. The forces of manhood have got to be mibilised, and things have got to be done in order that the sun of liberty may shine upon the people of this country. The political system has its roots in hell. The wowser churches are infamous dens administering chloroform and 'dope'.

For this, and similar speeches in Wellington and Christchurch, Semple was charged with sedition. He was convicted, and sentenced to twelve months imprisonment. Concurrent charges that he had published (spoken) "matter likely to interfere with recruiting, discipline, or administration of His Majesty's Forces, or with the effective operation of His Majesty in the present war" were dropped.

(Source: 1916 Sedition Trials, Maoriland Worker, 1917)