Editorial from the February 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard
It was announced in the Press on January 2nd, 1941, that the Home Secretary, Mr. Morrison, had suppressed the Daily Worker and a journal known as The Week, because of their "systematic publication of matter calculated to foment opposition to the prosecution of the war to a successful issue." This action was taken under Regulation 2D of the Defence (General) Regulations. The Times (January 22nd) gives the following further details : ―
"The effect of the Orders (the announcement continues) is that if any person prints, publishes, or distributes, or is in any way concerned in printing, publishing, or distributing either of these papers, he will be committing an offence. The regulation provides that an Order under it, specifying a newspaper by name, shall have effect not only with respect to any newspaper published under that name, but with respect to any newspaper published under any other name if the publication thereof is in any respect a continuation of, or in substitution for, the publication of the newspaper named in the Order. Orders have also been made under Defence Regulation 94B by the Home Secretary directing that the printing presses and other apparatus shall not be used until the leave of the High Court has been obtained, and authorising the police to take such steps, such as the taking possession of the plant or premises as may appear necessary for securing compliance with the Orders."
Most of the daily papers had editorials giving approval to the suppression, even if, in some instances, with a certain uneasiness. Hardly anywhere in the Press did the Daily Worker find a friend. Even the Manchester Guardian, which might have been expected to take an independent line, did not do so. Its reason is interesting. The Guardian (January 22nd, 1941) held that the Daily Worker's activities "might be excusable if the motives were honest, if it were really desired to help the country in its struggle to keep democracy alive in Europe. But the Daily Worker did not believe in the war or in democracy; its only aim was to confuse and weaken, We can well spare it."
This is a curious justification for suppression. Are the Communists dishonest? If by dishonesty is meant that they sought to gain members, influence, and power by exploiting every conceivable grievance, small or great, while not worrying whether the supporters thus recruited understood and accepted the more distant and fundamental aims of the Communist Party, then indeed the Communists are dishonest; but is not some degree of such dishonesty an old English custom among all political parties except the S.P.G.B.? And is it not obvious that the only way of limiting the influence that can be gained by such a group is to keep them right in the open where the very reticent Communist leaders and speakers can be constantly called upon to explain their motives and inspiration, their somersaulting policies, their associations, their tortuous methods and semi-secret organisation? Even from the declared standpoint of the Manchester Guardian one might have supposed that there is much to be said for the view of the "Londoner" in the Evening Standard, who says: "The Daily Worker does less damage when printed than when suppressed " (January 22nd, 1941).
The S.P.G.B. has its own, quite different, point of view. True to our basic principle we do not support suppression of opinion, however false we believe that opinion to be.
We have always thought and always said that the activities of the Communist Party have been a continual menace to the Socialist movement and the interest of the workers, not least the calculated dishonesty of their manoeuvres. It was not for nothing that Lenin urged Communists to resort to "strategy and adroitness, illegal proceedings, reticence and subterfuge, to anything in order to penetrate into trade unions, remain in them and carry out Communist work within them at any cost." The Communists have applied these unprincipled tactics in every field of their activities and propaganda. Among their schemings may be mentioned their support for the present war in the early weeks and their alternate support for and opposition to the Labour Party and its leaders. Since 1920, when the Communist Party was formed, it can truly be said that they have on some occasion or other urged the workers to support and then to oppose every prominent Labour leader, from MacDonald and Thomas to Morrison and Bevin. More recently (Daily Worker, March 30th, 1939) they were appealing by personal letter to Churchill, Sinclair and Attlee to get together to overthrow the Chamberlain Government and form a Government of their own in order "to save the country in the rapidly deepening crisis." It may well be said that they got the war they wanted (and then soon ceased to want it when Russia decided to be friends with Hitler) and got the Government they asked for and now it has got them.
So tortuous are the ways of the Communists that it is by no means impossible (the contents of the Daily Worker in recent weeks rather suggest this) that for some obscure reason they now no longer wanted the immunity from prosecution they sought last year by setting up a board of "influential persons" to run the Daily Worker but wanted to be suppressed.
All the same the S.P.G.B. is opposed to suppression of opinion. In our view the way to counter any kind of propaganda, and in the long the only way, is to meet it in the open in unfettered discussion. We are entitled to add that we practise what we preach and have always thrown open our platform to our opponents.
A further point to be noticed is that the Communist Party, while giving lip service to democracy in this country ― at least since they discovered that their early propaganda for dictatorship was not popular ― has never on any single occasion criticised and denounced the rigorous suppression of all independent parties and journals by the Bolsheviks in Russia. It is one of the unfortunate consequences of the suppression of the Daily Worker that the Communists, who are enemies of democratic methods, will be able to pose as martyrs in the struggle for democracy. Fundamentally an anti-Socialist organisation, they will be able falsely to represent themselves in the eyes of many workers as victims in the fight for in Socialism.