Editorial from the February 1935 issue of the Socialist Standard
In an editorial entitled “Flaming Patriotism" one of the less vicious of Lord Rothermere’s newspapers, the Evening News, tells us (January 15th) what the Saarlanders have done, and why. Before considering his Lordship’s contribution to world hysteria, let us cast an eye over some other contributions. A great battle has been fought and won. A glorious triumph has been achieved by the enthusiasts for reunion with Germany. The small band of supporters of continued administration by the League of Nations, and the microscopic handful favourable to France are correspondingly depressed. But what are they fighting about, these Saarland workers? What would they gain by any of the three courses open to them? What did they stand to lose? The Communists gave one answer. The Communists, who in Russia suppress every independent trade union or political party, told the Saar workers that Hitler would suppress their independent trade unions and political parties. So little did the workers care about this that they voted in overwhelming numbers for Hitler. The I.L.P., which for years has advocated returning the Saar to Germany, and which denounces the League of Nations as an imperialist instrument, implored the Saarland workers on no account to return to Germany, but to remain under the League. The Liberals and Labourites all wept bitter tears over the awful fate which would befall the workers under Hitler, forgetful of the fact that large numbers, if not a majority of the workers already under Hitler apparently find life so little different from what it was under the German Labour Governments and Coalitions that they do not mind, or are even enthusiastic Nazis. But none of these parties, nor the legions of journalists and expert commentators who have overrun the Saar, have told us what there was at issue which merited the bitter campaign.
Let us, then, seek an answer from Lord Rothermere, for his organ is at least definite. It tells us that the Saarlanders were stirred by the call of race and language and blood. Seemingly this was so attractive that for it “they willingly face the chances of poverty and unemployment.” Mark those last words well. They contain the distilled wisdom of a great capitalist newspaper. They are a mark both of the impudence of the capitalist Press and of the simplicity of the non-Socialist mass of workers who read it. The Saarland workers, we are told, have voted for re-union with Germany, even though it means the “material hardship” of poverty and unemployment! Just think of it. We are asked to believe that members of the working class only suffer poverty and unemployment in Germany, and that if they remained under the League or joined France they would escape these things. The tragedy is that there are British workers, intelligent and experienced in many things, but not yet intelligent in politics, who will read the Evening News and believe what they read, though it flies in the face of all working-class experience everywhere. And there are Saarland workers subject to just the same paralysis of the mind, so that when they read the lying propaganda of their masters, or the stupid nonsense of their Labour and Communist leaders, they believe it. What are the facts of the situation? The Saar is capitalist. It has capitalism to the west of it and to the east of it, north of it and south of it. Everywhere the means of production and distribution are owned and controlled by the master-class. Everywhere the workers produce wealth for others to own. Everywhere poverty and the risk of unemployment are the normal features of working-class life. Yet, knowing this, so-called leaders and counsellers of the Saarland workers, at home and abroad, egged them on to take sides in this master-class dispute about the ownership of the Saar. Members of the working class were thus divided into two bitterly antagonistic groups about the momentous question whether the proceeds of their own exploitation should flow to capitalists under the French or German or League flags!
What was needed in the Saar and what would have happened had there been any organised Socialist (as distinct from reformist) movement, was a clear presentation of the Socialist case. The workers would have been shown that their interests were not at stake in this Capitalist bickering, and that the surface differences between French and German and League capitalism are not vital, and cannot be dealt with by the working up of national hatreds. The workers would have been shown that the prime need of the occasion, as of every occasion, was a demonstration that they could no longer be drawn into capitalist rivalries, but stood for the abolition of capitalism, without conditions and without delay. Even as a minority gesture an organised Socialist refusal to vote for either of the three forms of capitalist administration would have done more to proclaim the message of Socialism, and would have caused more consternation to the capitalists on both sides of the frontier than all the misdirected efforts of the anti-Hitler United Front. The organisers of that movement failed to seize the opportunity of putting the Socialist case because they do not know what the Socialist case is. They displayed their courage and energy in a worthless cause.
The result, in the absence of a Socialist movement among the Saarland workers, is that Hitler and Lord Rothermere, and the capitalists of all the countries in all the world are able to sit back, reassured that they and their system are still safe, safe behind the patriotic and capitalistic illusions of the working class.