Editorial from the May 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard
MAY-DAY, 1939, finds working class internationalism at its lowest ebb for many a year. How low can be seen from the success the rulers have had in the various countries in turning May-Day demonstrations from their former purpose. The celebration of Labour Day each year was formerly a spontaneous gesture by the workers' organisations that they repudiated the national hatreds fostered by reactionary interests for their own profit-seeking ends. By this sign the producers of the world's wealth gave, expression to their longing for peace and their growing desire to co-operate with their fellow workers in other lands. But the year 1939 finds May-Day half submerged in the growing tide of nationalism and war preparation. In Germany, May-Day has been filched by the Nazi Government and turned into a compulsory parade demonstrating the gigantic powers of the war-machine and the equally gigantic suppressive power of the Nazi State apparatus over the ideas and longings of the working class. And the dictator-states are not alone in their fever of nationalism. It is reported from France that the French trade unions, which have just had to sacrifice their forty-hour week and go over to sixty hours for armament work, have this year decided, in the same cause, to refrain from their customary stoppage of work to celebrate May-Day. At the same time, Parliamentary Government in France has reached a precarious stage under the system of emergency powers to facilitate the armament programme and war preparations.
In Great Britain the call for conscription has already succeeded.
Thus does the set-back of the working class movement on one side of a frontier exercise its evil influence on working class movements everywhere. In Great Britain, too, the year 1939 sees working class organisations being drawn deeper and deeper into the mire of nationalism and war preparation.
Of course there are many voices assuring the workers that their mistrust of this trend is mistaken. Telling them that defence of the Anglo-French Empires against the German-Italian encroachments is in the interest of democracy, and is therefore in accord with "true" internationalism and social progress: but those voices carry a false message. There is no practical effective internationalism except that which springs strong and self-reliant from the workers' community of interest, sweeping across national frontiers like a cleansing wind blowing away bestial hatreds and fears. The future of the human race demands the destruction of the national barriers which divide the peoples of the world. Not the defence of national independence but the destruction of capitalism must be the watchword of those who would build for the future of the human race and at the same time help to stem the flood of war in which capitalism threatens to engulf civilisation. The doctrine that each group of workers should rally round their own ruling class in defence of the “national interest” only plays into the hands of the war-makers in every country. Just as British and French workers gain hope and courage whenever they read of German and Italian workers who have resisted the mass propaganda of their rulers for war and nationalism, so also the internationally minded workers in Germany and Italy would be inspired to further brave efforts if they heard that their British and French comrades were refusing to ally themselves with Anglo-French imperialism: and correspondingly depressed to learn that many of those workers were falling into line behind their capitalist rulers.
For, make no mistake, Europe is not on tire verge of war for the sake of Nazism and Democracy, but for the sake of a re-division of the spoils of the last great capitalist war.
From a working-class point of view, the ideological differences between Chamberlain and Hitler are as nothing to the common cause they both espouse—the capitalist cause. When Hitler declares that German capitalism must export or perish, the representative of British imperialism, Mr. Robert Hudson, Secretary for Overseas Trade, answers in the same language of predatory capitalism: —
We are not going to give up any markets to anyone . . . Great Britain is strong enough to fight for markets abroad. Britain is now definitely going to take a greater interest in Eastern Europe.—(Speech in Warsaw, March 21st. News Chronicle, March 22nd, 1939.)
Let the British and German capitalists quarrel about their profit-seeking interests. Let British workers set an example to their fellows in all lands by proclaiming that the interest of the working class is in internationalism, not in wars for markets. Let working-class May-Day be an answer to all who would seek to turn the thoughts of the workers to nationalism and war.
Long live Proletarian May-Day!Long live International Socialism!