Editorial from the January 1941 issue of the Socialist Standard
On December 5th, 1940, the I.L.P. group of M.P.s (Messrs. Maxton, McGovern and Campbell Stephen) put forward a motion calling for a peace conference. They condemned the Government because it has failed to set forth the terms upon which peace could be made, and
has failed to propose that a conference should be called to bring this conflict to an early conclusion, on the basis of the restoration of freedom in each country, and the pledge of all the contending governments to put at the disposal of the conference all their resources, at present being massed for producing the instruments of destruction and death, for the production of all instruments of well-being for rebuilding the homes in Europe and the establishment of a new social order which would mean the end of German, British, and other imperialism and provide a decent home and standard of life for each family in every country of the world.
The motion was rejected by 341 votes to 6. The six who supported were the three I.L.P. M.P.s, together with two Labour M.P.s (Dr. Salter and Mr. Kirkwood), and also Mr. W. Gallacher, the one Communist M.P. (Hansard, December 5th, 1940, col. 763).
Mr. Gallacher explained to the Daily Worker (December 7th) that he voted for the motion but did not agree with it: —
William Gallacher was unable to speak in the debate, but commenting on it afterwards, he pointed out that his vote for the motion was in order to demonstrate his opposition to the Government.
“The I.L.P. amendment,” he declared, "is typical of a loyal, orthodox opposition. It raises no question of class. It does not present the question of ending the war as a task of the people in the warring countries, but proposes a peace conference of the Imperialist Powers to end war and imperialism.’
“I went into the lobby against the Government,” said Mr. Gallacher, “in order to express the determination of the Communist Party to organise the fight of the people against the war and to achieve a People’s Government and a People’s peace.”
The Daily Worker's editorial attitude was summed up in the words, “Peace through an appeal to Hitler! The proposal is farcical. . . .”
The Labour Party officially opposed the motion, and Mr. Attlee devoted some time to showing the impossible position in which the I.L.P. put themselves. They ask for a conference of Governments and make it a condition that they shall not only restore the position of August, 1939 (i.e., German and Russian evacuation of occupied territories), but also that they shall pledge themselves to establish “a new social order” which would mean the end of all imperialism and provide a decent standard of life for all. What happens if one side or the other refuses to accept the conditions?
Mr. Attlee pressed the question on Mr. Maxton:—
“Mr. Maxton is suggesting that this Government should put forward certain terms of peace. If the Government does, will he support them? If it comes to a conference and Herr Hitler refuses to listen to the so-called voice of reason and rejects Mr. Maxton’s idea of liberty and social justice, what will Mr. Maxton do then? Will he fight, or will he give way? ”
Mr. Maxton’s answer, after first seeking to avoid it by saying that it was a hypothetical question was : —
“If he and His Majesty’s Government accept my suggestion, I and my hon. friends will not be found wanting.”—(Col. 758.)
This was, in fact, precisely the same situation that arose during the last great war, when Macdonald and Snowden, for the I.L.P., proposed peace negotiations. When pressed to say what they would do if the terms were rejected by the German Government, they replied that they would go on with the war.
No other answer was logically possible, then or now. If Mr. Maxton were to say that his present answer does not mean going on with the war but some action not directed to capitalist Governments but directed to the workers, he only shows up still more clearly the illogical nature of the I.L.P. motion with its call for a conference of Governments.
That, of course, is a difficulty inherent in the situation. Effective control is in the hands of Governments, none of which will or could pledge themselves to introduce Socialism (if the motion does not mean a pledge to introduce Socialism then it is meaningless altogether, for it assumes that wars and poverty can be abolished without Socialism). Mr. Gallacher points this out, but is in no better case than Mr. Maxton. How does Mr. Gallacher imagine that the Russian workers can represent their views at a Conference, over and above the heads of their own dictatorship? What does he think would happen to Russian workers who, for example, had sought to end the Russo-Finnish war by seeking direct contact with Finnish workers against the will of the Russian Government bent on capturing territory and controlling resources that happened to be inside the Finnish frontiers?
It is, as the Daily Worker says, farcical to appeal to Hitler, but it happens to be Russian Government policy to enter into friendly relations with the Hitler gang, both for the purpose of providing materials required by the German forces and for sharing the spoils of conquest. (What has happened to that onetime popular slogan of the Bolsheviks, “no secret diplomacy” ?)
The question of appealing to workers over the heads of Governments, either to end war or for the purpose of helping Socialism, has a double aspect. No workers are going to be influenced by appeals to oppose the Government in their own country, no matter how much they are opposed to it or its policy, if the appeal comes from quarters associated with the Government of some other capitalist country. Those who could address an appeal to the workers of all countries without their own bona-fides being suspected are those whose every word and every action demonstrates their single-minded concern for the establishment of Socialism.