From the May 1939 issue of the Socialist Standard
The Marching of Armies coincides with the May-Day March of the Workers. In every country in Europe, preparations for war are being feverishly concluded, so that everything seems set for yet another orgy of mass-murder.
And remember, it is a mere twenty years since the last “War to end all Wars”—barely time for a new generation to be born and ripen into manhood.
Twenty years of poverty, of slums, of unemployment, of struggling and starving, and now, with supreme contempt for the millions who were the sufferers, your rulers may want you to fight and die so that those who come after you may perhaps inherit another twenty years of that self-same existence.
It is not too late, even now, for the common people of this and other lands to halt in their mad stampede to the slaughter-house and ask themselves WHY?
Many people believe they have got the answer. “Liberty is at stake," they say; “that precious freedom for which our forefathers fought.” Others maintain that “Hitler and Mussolini must be stopped, else they will seek to dominate the world.” With such fine-sounding phrases do working class men and women delude themselves, blindly ignoring what happened in 1914-1918, when those very same slogans lured millions to a horrible death.
The workers of Britain and France are not alone in their fatal ignorance. In Germany and Italy masses of people are convinced that they will be fighting for “a place in the sun,” for “room to expand,” not knowing or understanding that their working class opposite in the "Glorious British Empire” is just as sun-starved and cramped in his slum-cage of poverty.
It's "Class" that Counts
That is the great tragedy of to-day: the workers have not yet learned their most important lesson, the lesson of CLASS.
They allow themselves to be lined up as Britons, Frenchmen, Germans or Italians, never as workers and capitalists. Yet a German, Herr Thyssen, has more in common with a British .Lord Nuffield than with the men he employs.
Bata, the Czech boot manufacturer, comes to England and is still a capitalist, merely exploiting British wage-slaves instead of Czechs.
So capitalism puts everyone in his place, not according to language or nationality, but according to the economic position. That is the fundamental fact for the workers to consider, and all other questions mean little in comparison.
Remembering this, you must understand why the Socialist will not support a capitalist war to prevent Hitler or Mussolini grabbing parts of Europe or of the British Empire. For that Empire has no more meaning for the worker here, or anywhere else, than has the gold in the Bank of England. He knows it is there and is told that it belongs to him. But he has never been able to make any use of it, for the simple reason that it does not belong to him at all: any more than the street he lives in. And the native population in those parts of the world have so far shown no signs of preference for any of the imperialist gangs. It is a different question for those who have been able to invest large sums of money in those places. Owners of oil wells, of diamond mines, of rubber plantations, those are the people who are seriously perturbed by the threat of German and Italian aggression, and rightly so. For they fear the loss of their property and income, and it is that fear which is responsible for the enormous outlay on armaments by the British capitalist class, a class that not so long ago pleaded poverty as a reason for reducing unemployment pay by ten per cent.
When the British Government pledges with open heart to protect the “independence” of poor little Greece or Rumania or Poland, many coloured inhabitants in parts of the British Empire may well be making rude noises. For they are feeling the iron heel of a despotism that is comparable with anything “made in Germany.” So we are I left with the fact that neither on economic nor moral grounds should British workers trouble to defend the Empire.
If Hitler attacks Britain!
Here we are confronted with another bogey. Should we then put up no resistance at all and “allow Hitler to march his hordes into Britain?” Here at least there are some liberties left, and surely to kneel before Hitler and his like would mean the instant suppression of all freedom, including the right to put forward Socialist propaganda. This latter point is considered by our opponents as clinching their argument, and they point triumphantly to Germany and Italy, where in very truth all kinds of opposition have been ruthlessly suppressed. Is this not to be resisted? we are asked.
We will agree without hesitation that Socialist propaganda is worth preserving. But is it going to be preserved by lining up under the banner of British Imperialism in a war that will kill millions?
The first point that arises is the obvious fact that when Socialists allow themselves to be recruited for such a war they do not only commit suicide physically but ideologically as well. For they renounce completely the fundamental axiom of Socialism, namely, the directly conflicting interests of workers and capitalists, a conflict that, so far from being abrogated during a war, stands out in sharper contrast than ever. For that war, although it will be fought mainly by the workers, will not be RUN by the workers; it will be run by the ruling class, and their method will be to crush ruthlessly any attempt to express any working class opposition, whether in the factory or politically. In other words, the workers will have to place themselves wholly under an iron control of militaristic capitalism, and who is going to argue that if and when such a war is ended workers can start again where they left off?
In France to-day, the tactics advocated here “for the defence of democracy" have led to the establishment of a virtual dictatorship, which has as its first reactionary step stolen from the French working class all and more than was gained previously by independent working class action. If the workers here are stupid enough to fall for the same lies, they will be rewarded with savage economic and political oppression.
And, above everything, try and remember something about the last Great War. Then the Kaiser "had to be stopped." Ten million human beings who took part in stopping him were killed. millions more were maimed and wounded. The Kaiser is still living, enjoying a comfortable old age in his castle at Doorn. In his stead rules an even worse despotism, produced in part by the bitterness left over by the last war. What will the end of the next war bring? No one can tell for certain, but one thing it will not and cannot bring: that is a real and permanent peace and freedom from oppression. Neither can it bring relief from poverty.
And those objects alone are worth fighting for. We do not preach passive acquiescence to Fascism any more than to any of the other evils for which capitalism is responsible. We preach the Struggle for Socialism. And that struggle is not for a Utopia of a dim and distant future. For in its development we can play a more and more effective part. As the Socialist movement extends its influence to an ever-widening circle of the working class, so will we be able to actively interfere with the machinations of the capitalists, whether they be of so-called “peace" or even those of war. Let there be signs to-day that more and more workers are becoming class-conscious enough to understand the real causes of capitalist wars and see how quickly our rulers would forget their international quarrels.
There are those who say that, by preaching Socialism to-day, we are playing right into the hands of Fascist reaction. We want to remind those people of what happened during the last war in one country—Russia.
The workers and peasants there were not Socialists. But they refused to fight and turned their attention to their real enemy at home. And what was the result ? Not only did they drive out a most reactionary regime, but their move helped to play a decisive part in the collapse of German imperialism, and thus hastened the end of the war. How much better could a strengthened Socialist Party in this country play its part in bringing home to workers everywhere die madness of fighting each other in the interests of the class that oppresses and exploits them.
We call upon you, Fellow Worker, to help us. Our message on this May-Day, in a world driven mad by capitalist greed and brutality, is the message of Marx and Engels:—
“ Working men of all lands. Unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains; you have a World to Win !"