October 1917 issue of the Socialist Standard
It is curious what strange instruments truth at times will find by which to express itself. This reflection is strengthened by a letter in that “organ of the Democracy,” “Reynolds's Newspaper" (Sept. 3rd.) from “Recruiting Sergeant" Ben Tillett to the members of the Docker’s Union.
This budding field marshal is reported to have said, among other things, in reference to the proposed International Conference:
We are of the opinion that before any meeting it possible the organised Labour of each belligerent country should first of all define its attitude by democratic vote, that its representatives should be purely Labour representatives,and under no Government patronage, with a view of free expression of opinion.
That this Conference upholds the rights of democracy to its share of representation in determining peace settlement, and invites the democracies of all the belligerents to co-operate with a view of ending the tragedy of the war.
“General" Tillett it greatly concerned that the labour representatives shall be “purely" labour representatives. This, to start with, knocks out all the “labour" members of the Government, and also all those who, during the period of the war, have assisted the Government—directly or indirectly, officially or unofficially—in the task of roping in the workers for war purposes, including Henderson, Hodge, and of course, Tillett himself.
As for the suggestion that the Conference upholds the “rights of democracy to its share of representation in determining peace settlement," the governing class will allow the workers as much voice in the peace settlement as highwaymen allowed their victims in the matter of their robbery.
But seriously, the desire of the labour “leaders” to take part in the function of cutting up the swag, shows that they either do not understand the slave position of the working class, or that they deliberately misrepresent it. In the first case they are fools, in the second case rogues, and in either case they are of no use to the workers.
It is the mission of the propertyless class— instead of seeking to participate in the division of the spoils—to see to it that there shall be no spoils. To do this they must put an end to the exploitation of the producers by the non-producers, i.e., the capitalists.
It is the duty of the workers to achieve a real peace—a peace guaranteed by the identity of interest of all the members of society in contrast with the “peace" hitherto prevailing. Such a peace can only be obtained by the realisation of the Object of the Socialist Party.
We are further told that “We can only end the war by striking at militarism” (not capitalism). But here comes the gem of the letter: “The genuine working-class movement must take its affairs out of the hands of political adventurers and parasites, take its destinies in both hands, and ask organised Labour in all lands to war against militarism, repression, and annexation, and to be prepared to enforce this should occasion arise."
This is a brilliant example of the devil rebuking sin, for what are Tillett and his colleagues but “political adventurers and parasites," out to lead the workers up a blind alley, where they may be the more easily victimised and exploited? Evidence of this can easily be found in the various issues of this journal, and also in our Manifesto.
An additional instance of this is furnished by Tillett himself in the final sentence of his epistle, in which he advocates the use of the “industrial and economic weapon," ignoring the political weapon.
It is reported in the “Daily Sketch" for September 1st 1917 that the Australian Government had suppressed the I.W.W. in Australia, and imprisoned some of its members. Can a better object lesson in the necessity for political action by the workers be needed ?
In a series of interviews during the T.U.C. Mr. Tillett is reported to have said re Stockholm, “How can there be democracy without a defined policy?” This, from a man of Tillett’s record, is almost Gilbertian, or would be if it were not so tragic.
Is it necessary to recall the famous prayer on Tower Hill, when Tillett hoped that “God" would strike the late food controller dead, and to compare that with his attitude since the war? During this period we find him using his energise to the utmost in the dirty work of getting other people to fight and kill each other, taking on this job under the auspices of a government a prominent member of which was his one-time enemy. Lord Devonport.
Is this Tillett’s idea of a “defined policy” ?
However, such contradictory actions are common to all reformers. Forever chasing will- o'-the-wisps, they are forever getting deeper into the mire of capitalism.