Thursday, October 4, 2018

Why Collective Security 
Will Not Work (1938)

Editorial from the October 1938 issue of the Socialist Standard

The League of Nations, so happily described by Lenin as the “League of the Older and Fatter Bandits," invented the term “Collective Security." The idea was that all the nations, big and small, should bind themselves together to restrain—and, if necessary, attack—an aggressor nation. Then peace would be made safe at last. All so simple; and all so silly and deceptive. It is based on the falsehood that the desire for peace which normally characterises the masses of the population in all countries is also the motive which dominates the outlook of Governments and the sections of the ruling class behind the Governments. The two things are not the same. In a competitive world, where policies are dictated by capitalist groups accustomed to a never-ending, relentless struggle for profits, the temptation to use the threat of armed force as a means to greater profit is always present. Now and again the bluff over-reaches itself and war occurs. Those sections of the international capitalist class who have amassed the most profitable territories are bound to tempt the “younger and leaner bandits." Much the same thing operates in industrial disputes, where the promised eternal industrial peace between employers and employed is constantly broken by strikes and lock-outs (with this difference: that the employing class are always the top-dogs in the struggle, whereas sometimes the international bandits change places).

The League of Nations and “collective security” may look all right to the British and French capitalist victors, gorged with the plunder of the last war, but to the German, Italian and other not-so-glutted bandits “collective security" looks suspiciously like the century-old British ruling-class principle of never risking war on the Continent without first collecting a number of allies—some bought with cash, others with promises to share in the loot, others again just forced into it under the guns of the British Navy. Remember 1914-1918? The Secret Treaties? Russia to have Constantinople, Italy to have various territories, including—so they allege—Abyssinia.

What about Arabia?
The believers in “collective security" are always putting questions at our meetings asking us to consider what would happen if collective security were used against Italy, Germany or Japan. Well, there is nothing like concrete cases, so let us take Arabia. Last year (see May, 1938, “S.S.”) the British quietly annexed sparsely-populated but vast and strategically-important territories in Southern Arabia against the wishes of the Arabs and in defiance of pledges. This should have been the signal for a worldwide attack on aggressor Britain by all the rest of the League powers. Would all the Liberal-Labour-Tory-Communist believers in collective security have promptly rushed to arms to help the League ? Oh, no ! they were too busy denouncing the Japs, the Italians and the Germans.

The area annexed by Britain in Southern Arabia was about 100,000 square miles—just double the size of Czechoslovakia. If we could imagine the League of Nations taking action on the principle of “collective security" there would have been France more or less bound to back Britain because of the need for Britain's backing in Europe, and Italy and Germany interested solely with the view of grabbing some of the loot themselves. Against these four powers the little powers would have been helpless.

So much for collective security. What is more, how do they define “aggression" ?

If the British imperialist bandits want their German and Italian imitators to believe they are on the level they only need to make the trifling gesture of disgorging all the territories they won by past aggression and now hold by force of arms. India to begin with, then the African territories, and lots more to follow on. The Indians want independence. Shall the League rouse a world in arms to conquer it for them?

And before we leave the subject we, the working class, have a point of view. We are the victims of a brutal aggression, renewed day by day in the episodes of the class struggle. We want to be rid of our conquering aggressors, the capitalist class. Will the League of Capitalist Powers give us a hand in this good work ? No, we think they won’t.

What of the Future? (1938)

Editorial from the November 1938 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialists have always and rightly resisted the blindly optimistic reformist view which can, against all experience, hope that things will right themselves and life become progressively better without a fundamental change in the basis of human society. That means hoping that the capitalist leopard will change its spots, and we know it will not. But the people who at one time can hope for impossible benefits from a Labour Government are the same people who, at the present time, are paralysed with fear because they believe the worst about the future of the civilised world. German expansion is on the march and in their eyes it is an avalanche which will gain power and momentum until all is destroyed. They see Germany victorious and greatly increased in population and resources, but they fail to realise the basic instability of capitalism everywhere, dependent as it always is on finding markets for its abundant products. A useful corrective is to consider the position of the victors in the last war. In 1918 Britain, France, Italy and U.S.A. had won history’s greatest struggle. They had the defeated Central Powers at their mercy, and the world at their feet. Yet within a few months British troops with steel helmets and tanks were marching in Glasgow streets to overawe striking engineers. Within a year miners, railway, iron and steel workers and many others were fighting bitterly against the employing class. After a short trade boom in 1920 the sudden oncome of depression in 1921 had forced unemployment up to a level not reached again until 1932. France was faced with similar struggles, and Italy was on the verge of civil war. Internationally the Allies were at each other’s throats over the division of the spoils.

Those who run away with the idea that there is something in the German character which explains the present aggression forget that capitalism everywhere produces its would-be aggressors. Only 40 years ago Britain was devouring the Boer Republics. As recently as 15 years ago France was represented to be the bully of Europe, and the late Arthur Henderson could get up at a Labour Party Conference and speak of war with France as a reason why Britain should not disarm. The Franco-Polish treaty was not directed against Germany, but against Russia. Another year or two may see Europe in still another capitalist grouping, brought about in answer to the present preponderance of German capitalism.

True, the Dictators have perfected a technique of terrorism which makes open resistance by their own populations seemingly impossible for all time, but history shows time and time again that as discontent becomes widespread the apparently all-powerful oppressors prove vulnerable. Bismarck, after 12 years of brutal repression of Social-Democrats and Catholics, had to admit failure, and capitalism to-day even more than half a century ago cannot fail to go on producing discontent among the workers.

The duty of Socialists is, therefore, not to give up the task as hopeless, but remember that economic forces, as well as human reason, are on our side against the brutal power of the propertied class and their agents.

Assisting Workers Abroad (1938)

From the December 1938 issue of the Socialist Standard

For a long time now working-class organisations have had a splendid tradition of helping workers in other countries in their industrial and political struggles. This has not been confined to any one country, though some workers shed their extreme isolation earlier than others. The fine way in which Continental unions rallied to give their help to British workers during the General Strike and Mines struggle of 1926 is matched by the occasions when workers in Great Britain have given money and other practical aid to their fellows abroad. One aspect of this has been the help given to refugees suffering under the dictatorships, and to Spanish workers.

Yet along with all of these activities there is a harmful side, particularly evident in Great Britain. It consists of well-intentioned but ill-informed pronouncements on any and every event in other countries, to the neglect of a proper attitude towards affairs at home or within the Empire. A case in point is the clash of nationalities in a dozen countries in Europe. Telling foreign governments what they ought to do about Jews and Czechs, Poles and Sudeten Germans, helps nobody, and gives support to the false idea that an all-round solution of the nationalities problem is practicable in a capitalist world. The clash of nationalities will never end under capitalism, because every capitalist state, when it has an object to serve, fosters the clash in order to further its own trading and imperialist ambitions. Hitler has only to point to India, Palestine, and Ireland, to convince his own working-class admirers that British workers who give expression to such views are merely acting as the tools or willing partners of British imperialism. As a German anti-Nazi told Miss Ellen Wilkinson, “the difficulty to contend with is not so much the Nazis as the belief among the [German] workers that the British and French workers are behind their governments—and particularly the British—in keeping Germany down." (Manchester Guardian, August 29th, 1938.)

In other words, the first duty of working-class organisations when they declare their abhorrence of the iniquities of foreign capitalist governments is to show clearly and unmistakably that they are opposed to their own ruling class and free from the suspicion of condoning its actions.

A more positive harm done in the international sphere is the unintentional misleading of groups of workers abroad. It is good to send resolutions of sympathy to organisations in foreign countries, but time after time the effect has been to create the impression that really decisive help could be given when this was not the case. Perhaps the most glaring instance was the impression conveyed to the Russians in 1918 and the following years, that British workers were on the verge of coming to their aid by overthrowing capitalism. Incredible as it may seem now, the Bolsheviks did literally believe that this was in large measure true.

Coming to more recent events, contact with refugees from Austria, Germany and Czechoslovakia shows that many of them feel they have been betrayed by workers in France and Britain. Receiving resolutions of sympathy and support, they translated these expressions of goodwill into concrete pledges of effective help—help which, of course, could not be given.

The fact is that there has been a great deal of misunderstanding among continental trade unionists and Social-Democrats about the power or influence of the British trade unions and Labour Party. They have thought that the latter would be able to force the British Government to give protection against the dictators. Some—in Spain, for example—have even counted on the British ruling class itself taking action on their behalf out of pure love of democracy.

All of this indicates a failure to understand the nature of capitalism—whether governed by dictators or self-styled democrats. That lack of understanding is to be found in every country, and the task of fostering an international working- class outlook and international organisation is made more difficult by ignoring it. Internationalism will only have a sure foundation to the extent to which such illusions are ruthlessly cut out. A first step is to tell foreign workers frankly that with the best will in the world the amount of practical help that can be given is strictly limited, and therefore it is necessary for them not to build great hopes on succour from abroad to make up for their own weakness.

The best help that the workers anywhere can give to their foreign comrades is to redouble their efforts to strengthen the Socialist movement in their own country and hasten the day when the workers will control social affairs.


Claims and counter claims (1963)

Editorial from the December 1963 issue of the Socialist Standard

It is traditional that all sides put a brave face on it at election time. Only rarely does a defeated candidate admit that he has taken a beating; it is more usual that, after a bit of smart juggling with the voting returns, he claims some sort of victory, or at least a portent of a future victory.

This is what happened at the first of the by-elections to be fought since Sir Alec Douglas-Home came to power. Luton was a sore blow for the Conservatives; after all, the voters there have, by their restricted standards, done not too badly under Tory rule. The only comfort the new Prime Minister could offer over the Luton result was that his party had suffered similar defeats at by-elections in 1958 yet had won all the seats back at the next general election.

The Labour Party had the same sort of job to do over Kinross, where Douglas-Home got a vote rather better than he probably expected. The Tories said that the result marked a new chapter in their fortunes. Mr. Wilson preferred to remind us that Kinross was a safe Tory seat anyway and to claim that Luton was the more significant result. He may well turn out to be right.

All round satisfaction, then, and all round confidence that both sides are sure to win the next general election.

But one of them, of course, has to lose. The mock confidence which politicians assume when they discuss their chances of forming the next government is nothing but a smoke screen; they all believe that to concede defeat before the count has been taken will discourage their supporters and so cost them a lot of votes. So they whistle, albeit sometimes in the dark.
Thus the merry game of claim and counter-claim goes on. And for what? During the Kinross by-election, Douglas-Home gave out what the press was pleased to call his manifesto. He intended, he said, to “ . . . regulate imports of cereals and meat to produce a steadier and more stable market.” (Kinross, of course, has a lot of farmers). He will ". . . bring our industries up to date and make our railways and roads the best in the world . . .  see that higher education is open to every boy and girl in Britain who is qualified to take advantage of it . . . speed up the rate of house building, slum clearance and modernisation . . .  continue to look after pensioners and all those in need.”

All very familiar. All very much as expected. No politician dare enter the arena without a brief case full of such promises. Political battles are largely a matter of which side can offer the most attractive sounding programme without leaving themselves open to the counter-punch line that they are irresponsibly cadging for votes.

But whichever side wins the battle, the end result is to all intents and purposes the same. The needs of capitalism itself often wipe out many of the promises and those that survive and come onto the Statute Book have little, if any, effect upon the lives of the people who have been persuaded to vote for them. Capitalism grinds on, leaving the mass of its people to be exploited by a privileged few, who do very well out of the arrangement.

The key to social progress is the level of knowledge and understanding which the masses attain. When they begin to see through the promises and the posturing of their leaders, the first gleam of hope for the better life will be on the horizon. In the meantime, there is unaltering comfort for capitalism. As long as there are results like those at Luton, Kinross, Dundee and the rest capitalism will continue; whether under a Labour or Conservative government is unimportant.