Monday, November 5, 2018

Socialism and the anti-war campaign (1910)

From the December 1910 issue of the Socialist Standard

In our report of the International Congress at Copenhagen we referred briefly to the absurd proposals to organise the workers of the world to ensure “universal disarmament and the prevention of warfare”. But in view of the efforts of the British section of the confusionists to “enlighten” the workers on “the all important question of armaments or no armaments, warfare or no warfare” (under capitalism!) and particularly in view of the projected Mass Meeting at the Albert Hall, it is necessary to explain the Socialist position on this matter at greater length.

The Declaration of Principles of the Socialist Party state that the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, exists to conserve the monopoly of the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers, and that in order to stop this robbery the workers must capture the powers of government, including the armed forces, so as to turn them into an agent of emancipation. That is unquestionably the Socialist position as it was expounded by Marx and Engels, the founders of scientific Socialism. Those who profess to-day to be the “International Socialist Movement” would not dare to challenge this statement.

However, it is possible to affirm a principle and act contrary to it, as the pseudo-Socialists both nationally and internationally prove. The main demands in the resolution which the German Social-Democratic Party forced upon the Congress were, compulsory arbitration upon international disputes, and Parliamentary action for disarmament and the prevention of wars. Yet this same party is responsible for the following pronouncement in the exposition of their Erfurter Program:
  As States and monarchs become ever more dependent upon the capitalist class, so the armies cease to serve merely the personal ends of the monarchs and are utilised increasingly for the purposes of the capitalist class. Wars are less and less dynastic and more and more commercial and national, which in the last instance can only be traced back to the economic conflicts between the capitalists of the various nations. The capitalist state, therefore, is not only in need of an extensive army of officials for the purpose of the law and police, but it requires also a strong military force. Both armies are ever on the increase in capitalist States, but in recent times the military force grows more rapidly than the army of officials.
Wars being the outcome of economic conflicts between the capitalists of the various nations, it is illogical and unscientific to attempt to abolish war while the economic conflicts remain. But these international reformers, hungry for votes, are ready to abandon the very principles they themselves set up for working-class guidance.

It is clear that the “anti-war campaign”, as such, is, from the working-class standpoint, absurd. Just as the class struggle cannot be abolished save by abolishing classes, so it is impossible for capitalist nations to get rid of the grim spectre of war, for capitalism presupposes economic conflicts which must finally be fought out with the aid of the armed forces of the State.

But in fairness to the German S.D.P. it must be admitted that they show some consistency in their anti-Socialist attitude, for, desiring to force the German Government to disarm, they, as a party, adopt the policy of opposing every Budget the Government bring in. it was because the Party representatives in Baden and other minor States violated this policy that dispute raged so furiously between “revolutionists” and revisionists before and during the last Party Congress.

In France, Belgium, Austria, Russia – in every country but England – the reform Internationalists follow this example of anti-Socialist consistency. Only in England the parties affiliated to the “International” clamour for “peace at any price” while supporting budgets which provide means of war, and agitating for a citizen army without military discipline – which they expect the “guileless” capitalist class to establish “in order to enable the workers, when enlightened, to shoot their exploiters into oblivion”.

During the discussion on the subject at Copenhagen, Ledebour (German S.D.P.) said when dealing with the anti-war resolution and Keir Hardie’s amendment recommending the General Strike to prevent war:
   I deny the right of moving such a resolution to anyone who in his own country supports the Budget. I deny this right, consequently, above all to our English comrades, who by their support of the Budget place in the hands of their masters the weapons which later on they can use for purposes of war. How can they take the liberty of proposing the General Strike to the parties of other countries who are far more anti-militarist than they happen to be? So long as they support the Budget and supply the arms let them not bring forward more extreme proposals than ourselves.
Hardie, in reply to this attack, assured the Congress of the Labour Party’s hostility to war, nay more, to militarism, and explained their support of the Budget as a matter, not of principle, but of tactics and practical politics.

Now to nail this impudent lie to the counter. In his last election address published in the Labour Leader for 11.2.10, Keir Hardie says: “The Budget, Old Age Pensions and the like, all have their roots in Socialism; that is why the enemies of the people spend so much time trying to misrepresent it”. If the Budget has its “roots in Socialism”, surely to support it must be a matter of principle, and if these measures are part of Socialism, the Liberals are Socialists and Hardie and the whole British Section of so-called Socialists again proven impostors. Further, the Liberals do not differ at all from Hardie and his party on the question of armaments. The Daily Chronicle (12.11.10) says: “It is the mad race in armaments which creates the atmosphere of hostility and maintains the tension”. The Liberal newspaper evidently takes up the attitude of dealing with effects, not causes, and the Labour Party are no more logical or convincing.

There is even more direct evidence of fraudulence in the attitude of the so-called English Socialist Section adopted at Copenhagen regarding the question of war and militarism. On March 18 Mr. G.H. Roberts M.P. (I.L.P. and L.P), speaking on behalf of the Labour Party in the discussion on the Naval Estimates in the Commons said:
  "There seems to be an idea in the minds of the hon. gentlemen that the Labour Party were strongly opposed to an efficient Navy. He did not think that anybody could point to any utterance that had been delivered from the Labour Party members that could give colour to deductions of that sort. The Labour Party looked upon the Navy as a form of national insurance” (Labour Leader, March 25, 1910).
How flatly this contradicts Hardie’s election vow, the Party’s declaration of hostility to militarism, and the attitude of the hypocrites at the International Congress at Copenhagen!

And the S.D.P. is not a whit better than the other branches of the section. Mr. Jack Jones, their spokesman at the Congress, supported the amendment in favour of the General Strike for preventing war, declaring that his organisation preach war against war, and that there is no reason to suspect the S.D.P. of pro-militarist proclivities.

But what are the facts? Hyndman in his lecture on “Tariff Reform and Imperialism” (Queen’s Hall, 18.4.10) said: “I am in favour of the maintenance of a powerful navy capable of defending this island and of protecting our food supply against any assailant . . .” and H. Quelch, the author of The Armed Nation (the title of which sufficiently indicates its pro-militarist contents), writes in an article on the Copenhagen Congress (Justice, 10.9.10):
  “The resolution on armaments is much more satisfactory, and we have little fault to find with the conclusions of the conference on this subject . . . We do agree with putting forward the General Strike as a means of preventing war”.
So those who demand a powerful navy and a citizen army “capable of defending this island and protecting our food supply”, also want to apply the General Strike, presumably to prevent them doing it! And those who (rightly enough) opposed the General Strike as a means to Socialism, on the ground that when the workers are sufficiently organised for a General Strike they are able to attain Socialism without it, clutch at it, not as a means to end the system which makes war, but as a preventative of hostilities!

The Socialist position is as follows: In society to-day there are two classes – the propertyless or working class and an idle class who own and control the means of producing and distributing wealth. The latter use this ownership and control to force the workers to work for them, and to submit to being robbed of the greater part of the produce of their labour. The master class, being but a tenth of the population, can only keep possession of the means of production by their control (through the political machinery) of the armed forces. While the master class have that control it is hopeless for the workers to attempt to seize capitalist property. It is sheer madness, therefore, to expect that the capitalist class would, because the workers demand it, either abolish the armed forces or hand their control over to the working class. That would be to abolish themselves as a ruling class. Further, the interests of the capitalists of one country clash with those of the capitalists of other lands, especially in the matter of obtaining markets, and so long as capitalism lasts there will be this clash of interests, necessitating ever-increasing armaments and the inevitable appeal to arms. It is absurd then to waste time and energy in an endeavour to convince the capitalists that wars are superfluous and a curse under capitalism.

Let the workers learn their position in society and unite to obtain control of the machinery of government, including the armed forces. Such action will make it possible for them to take possession of the means of production and use them for the benefit of all. In that way alone will they be able to usher in a system of society wherein universal unity of interests will abolish all war, be it between classes or nations.
H. J. Neumann

Editorial: Remember Tonypandy! (1910)

Editorial from the December 1910 issue of the Socialist Standard

Some weeks back a strike occurred in the Moabit quarter of Berlin, during which the workers were brutally assaulted by the police and soldiers. The London Liberal Press saw in that outbreak the dire effects of Tariff Reform and an anti-Liberal Government! But recent events in South Wales, where under Free Trade and Liberal rule, the striking miners have been treated with barbarity before which the Berlin horrors pale, have exploded this idea. Moreover, the chief owner concerned is a prominent member of the Liberal party, and so greatly is he esteemed by them that they propose to raise him to the Peerage now that he has retired from the House of Commons. Wales, too, is such a stronghold of Liberalism that the events there show up Liberalism in no uncertain light.

It will be remembered that for years past the South Wales miners have been trying to get an eight hours Bill passed. But—manifestation of the fraud of capitalist reform—ever since this “Great Charter of the Miners” has been law they have been striking against its effects. The employees of the Cambrian Combine in the Rhonda Valley, and of the Powell Duffryn Co. in the Abedare district, have been driven to desperation by the harassing conditions imposed by the great Liberal mine-owners. Tremendous profits have been made—the Cambrian Trust have made a million pounds profit in the last dozen years with a capital only half that sum—yet the companies have added device to device in order to increase their spoliation, until thousands of miners can make no more than 2s. per day. And now the owners refuse to allow the men to take home firewood—a privilege they have had for half a century.

Altogether 20,000 miners are out, and in order to induce others to join them they have held demonstrations and appointed pickets, and the pickets have been attacked by the police. But the climax came on the 8th Nov., at Tonypandy. Prior to this the mine-owners became alarmed for the safety of their property, and determined to cow the strikers into submission by sheer force of arms. In the words of the Daily Chronicle (Nov. 8) “the Company, as a precautionary measure, had wired for a detachment of cavalry to protect the pits”.

Although “every available constable from the surrounding country had been summoned”, the Home Secretary sent over 1,000 metropolitan police—many of them being mounted and armed with swords—besides which about 1,500 soldiers, including many cavalry, were despatched. The hypocrisy of Churchill was shown by the statement he issued on Nov. 8, declaring that he had sent police instead of soldiers, whereas he had already ordered the 18th Hussars, North Lancashire Regiment, and the North Lancashire Fusiliers to Wales (from Tidworth, Salisbury Plain), and they arrived at Pontypridd next morning.

Boiling water was directed upon the strikers and live wires were put around the vicinity of mines, but notwithstanding all their savagery the Companies could not break the strike.

The night of the 8th saw the most bloodthirsty attack upon the workers that has been recorded throughout the strike. Men and women were bludgeoned, kicked and maltreated so terribly that hundreds were maimed and wounded beyond description. Even little children did not escape, and many are disabled for life. Samuel Royce, a miner, was murdered by the police that night; he had joined the Territorials some time ago to defend “his” country. What a tragic commentary!

For evidence of police brutality let us quote the Liberal M. P. for Merthyr. Speaking in the House of Commons on Nov. 15th Mr E. Jones, “referring to the conduct of the police and soldiers at Aberdare, said the people were bludgeoned a quarter of a mile from the mines, absolutely innocent people being savagely attacked. It was openly stated in that district that the policemen in this case were under the influence of drink, and many incidents pointed to the fact that the police had altogether lost their heads”. (Daily Chronicle, 16. 11. 10).

Although the soldiers have not been in action yet, they are being kept on the spot in case the police fail to satisfy the requirements of the colliery owners. In his official statement of Nov. 10th the Home Secretary said that he will not hesitate to use the military, and in the House of Commons (15th Nov.) he stated that “the Central Government has acted more directly than is usual or usually desirable”, and further said “I take full responsibility for all that has been done”.

In face of these admissions of the murderous nature of capitalist government, the workers should note the despicable conduct of those who claim to represent them in the House of Commons. That prominent member of the Labour Party, Mr. W. Abraham (“Mabon”) in the House of Commons on Nov. 15th said that “he declined to take any part in condemning the Home Office or the Government for the part they took at the commencement of the sad affair”. His attitude is that of all the other members of that wing of the Liberal party. For the sake of securing their seats and their salaries they are now engaged in supporting Liberals all over the country. In Dundee, for instance, the workers are being told to vote for the two “progressives”, who are Mr. Alex Wilkie and—the assassin Churchill! Elsewhere—at Bow and Bromley and at Deptford for example—the Liberals are carrying out their share of the bargain by telling their supporters to vote for the “Labour” candidates.

Mr. Keir Hardie is anxious for the Government to appoint a Committee of enquiry. Of course—many of those on strike are his constituents. But how childish to ask the capitalists to appoint a committee to enquire into their own conduct! It will be remembered that on the occasion of the Featherstone massacre the Liberal Government gave way (!) to public demand and appointed a Committee of enquiry. Here are the miners’ names: Lord Bowen, Sir A. K. Rollit, and Mr. Haldane. The result could only be the whitewashing of butcher Asquith. The traitorous Labour Party were dumb when the workers were slaughtered at Belfast in 1907 by order of the Liberal Minister Birrel. And Keir Hardie absented himself time after time in 1893 although Asquith challenged him to be present and accuse him inside the House.

Notice the impartiality of our capitalist masters. See what a sham the party divisions of Liberal and Tory are, when the issue is between the workers and the capitalists. When the Tory mine-owner, Lord Masham, appealed for soldiers to protect the Acton Hall Colliery, the Liberal Asquith immediately drafted troops to the spot, with the result that Gibbs and Duggan were murdered. Now when the Liberal mine-owner D. A. Thomas applies for military aid he receives it. The Tory party are in the same boat. When Penrhyn sought military assistance to subdue the starving quarrymen ten years ago it was readily afforded him. And in 1887 they sent armed mounted police to Trafalgar Square to disperse the unemployed—and poor Linnell was done to death.

The working class have many things to remember concerning the history of both political parties. The fact stands out clear that both political fractions have used every agency at their command to keep the working class in subjection. The hypocritical Liberal cries out against the Tory: “Remember Michaelstown!” what time he overlooks those landmarks in the class struggle—Featherstone, Belfast, and now Tonypandy.

The lessons of Tonypandy should be remembered by the toilers and driven home whenever support is asked for for the capitalist candidates. Capitalism stands for murder, whether direct as at Tonypandy or indirect as at Whitehaven, West Stanley, or at the Maypole Colliery—murder, whether in the enforced starvation recorded daily in the papers, or in the suicide of those unable to bear the burden of misery any longer.

The race for profits by our masters is a race that means misery, starvation and premature death for its victims the workers. Therefore our policy must be one of unceasing hostility to capitalism, whether “reformed” or not. Unceasing hostility to all is upholders, whether they label themselves Liberal, Tory, Labourite or Social-Democrat.

We cannot ever ally ourselves with that class whose hands are stained with the blood of our fellow toilers. We can never forget that in the struggle between the workers and the capitalists there can be no truce, no quarter, no compromise! The South Wales horrors have once again demonstrated this fact with the tragic emphasis of blood. It is for us to point again the lesson that the armed forces of the State—nay, the whole machinery of the State—exists but to conserve the interests of the ruling class. The capture of this State machinery must then be the object of our endeavours. Vengeance and our emancipation are one and the same thing, and must both be sought on the political field. If the miners learnt this lesson the masters would have cause to Remember Tonypandy!

Riot and Revolution: Speech by Rosa Luxemburg on Trial for Inciting to Riot (1907)

From the January 1907 issue of the Socialist Standard

On the twelfth of last month Rosa Luxemburg was tried at the Criminal Court at Weimar for “inciting to the use of physical force” by the speech she contributed to the discussion on the General Strike at the annual Congress of the German Socialist Party held in 1905 at Jena.

The court was densely crowded. Besides a great number of Socialists the audience included a good many “ladies of the highest Bourgeoisie”, the President of the Supreme Court, and, last but not least, a representative of the Ministry.

Public Prosecutor’s Charge
The incriminating speech having been read the Public Prosecutor submitted his case as follows:

“After Bebel had  spoken at the Party Congress in favour of the General Strike, other speakers, who took part in the discussion, expressed disapproval of such means, as the General Strike could lead to a physical force revolution, at which the workers may be defeated. Then followed the accused, who derided and sneered at these objections, more especially as they were living in the year of the ‘glorious Russian revolution’. She said: ‘we should be fools if that would be no lesson to us’, and she emphasised the fact that in Germany we had also arrived at that point where Evolution must give way to Revolution. Respecting her comrade, Heine, she stated he was not in touch with the masses who, as history proves, had always shed their blood for the exploiting class; and she thought they may once shed their blood for their own class.

These are the main points of the speech, which dealt less with the General Strike than with the Revolution. In fact the accused mentioned only now and then the General Strike, in order to be able to talk about the principal point, viz., the Revolution. In that way the incitement to the use of physical force was thrown out to the masses who were confused already, and the sanguinary seriousness of the speech was crowned by a quotation from the Communist Manifesto that the workers have nothing to lose but their chains. The accused desires that the object of the Socialist Party should not be attained by parliamentary means or by means of the General Strike, but by a physical force revolution; and the speech was made to incite the masses to break their chains. It was to happen in our country just as in Russia. All this amounts to an incitement to the use of physical force. Her words were such as to create excitement among the masses and from the standpoint of law and order it is most significant that the accused occupies a prominent position in her Party and by virtue of her heedlessness has considerable influence and hence is exceptionally dangerous. I ask the Court to pass a sentence of four months’ imprisonment upon the accused.”

Rosa Luxemburg’s Reply
Counsel for the defence, Kurt Rosenfeld, answered with a brilliant speech from the Socialist as well as the juridicial standpoint, but the limited space of The Standard unfortunately does not permit our reproducing more than the speech of Rosa Luxemburg. She said:

“My defending Counsel having dealt with the juridicial aspect I wish to explain my own conception and that generally held in my Party regarding the question of the General Strike and the use of physical force. But before doing so I must refer to the argument which the Public Prosecutor used a moment ago. I cannot help saying that I was really astonished at the carelessness with which an official representative of the law ascribes the responsibility for affairs like the Hamburg street riots to a Three Million Party, the Socialist Party.”

The presiding judge, interrupting the accused, warned her not to indulge in expressions such as “carelessness”, which he thought would not help her case.

Rosa Luxemburg (continuing):

“I think that it is particularly necessary for me to draw attention to – let me say – the complacency with which the Public Prosecutor, in face of an express decision by a Court of Law to the contrary, wants to make us responsible for the Hamburg riots, for this is on a par with the complacency with which in this case he ascribes to me the intention of inciting to the use of physical force by my Jena speech.

“Counsel for the prosecution holds that my excited tone deserved grave consideration. But surely the tone is a matter of individual temperament. Why, is it not possible that one may speak most excitedly, yet may present a strictly scientific conception, while, on the other hand, one may speak very quietly, yet present a very crude, unscientific, and alarming conception? And as far as my conception in regard to the question of the General Strike is concerned, I hold the view that neither a revolution nor a great, serious General Strike can be produced or provoked in an artificial manner.

The General Strike
“As the Public Prosecutor has referred to my speech at Mannheim, I may, perhaps, be permitted, for the purpose of making clear my conception, to quote here some passages from a pamphlet on the General Strike, a pamphlet I wrote purposely for this year’s Party Congress at Mannheim. In that pamphlet I say, for instance, on page 33:
  ‘It suffices to sum up what I have said in the foregoing, in order to obtain an explanation as to the question of the said leadership and initiative of the General Strike. If the General Strike does not mean one separate action but an entire period of the class struggle, and if that period is identical with a period of revolution, it must be clear that a General Strike could not be called forth at will, even if such resolve should emanate from the unanimous forces of the strongest Socialist Party. Seeing that the Socialist Party is really powerless as far as the setting on foot and the suppressing of revolutions according to its own sweet will are concerned, neither the greatest enthusiasm nor the uttermost impatience of the Socialist forces could provoke a real period of General Strikes that would culminate in a live, mighty movement of the masses.’
“And on page 50 of the pamphlet you will find the following statement:
   ‘While it is on the one hand difficult to predict with certainty whether the abolition of manhood suffrage in Germany will create a situation instantly calling forth a General Strike, there can on the other hand be no doubt that in the event of our entering a period of stormy action of the masses here in Germany the Socialist Party could not possibly confine their tactics to the merely parliamentary defensive. To determine beforehand the cause and the time of an outbreak of the General Strike in Germany is beyond the power of the Socialist Party, because it is beyond their power to create a historical situation by means of Party resolutions. But what the Party can and must do, is to indicate the political trend of these struggles, if they once take place, and to formulate a clear, determined policy for their pursuance. Historical events cannot be controlled by prescribing regulations, but by realising beforehand their probable, measurable consequences and by taking action accordingly.’
“That is my conception with regard to the General Strike and from that you will be able to gather that this conception is far removed from the views held by the Public Prosecutor.

The Lesson of Russian Revolution
“It has been said that the most aggravating moment in my charge is the fact that in my speech I alluded so frequently to the Russian Revolution. But one cannot help observing that the Russian Revolution is the first great historical experiment with the weapon of the General Strike and that every serious-minded social student, even if he happens to be a bourgeois scholar, must turn to the Russian Revolution for the purpose of gaining practical knowledge.

“A further point mentioned was the composition of the audience, whom I am accused of having incited to the use of physical force. Why, I did not even speak at a public meeting, but at the Socialist Congress; I spoke therefore to an assembly of men, who comprised a selected number of the enlightened workers of Germany. Hence I think it a really enormous under-estimation of the political maturity and intelligence of the Socialist Propagandists to believe that they could by an inflammatory speech so easily be incited to the use of physical force. Such an aspersion amounts decidedly to a tremendous under-estimation of the enlightening and elevating intellectual influences which 40 years of Socialist propaganda have produced in the ranks of the German working class. And I say openly that I should and could have used the identical expressions even at a public meeting without having caused the remotest idea of using physical force in the minds of the workers. Why, has the German Proletariat not proved sufficiently during the last few decades how completely it has attained its political maturity, how capable it is to control its passions in face of the meanest of provocations to riot. And the workers are provoked to rebellion daily not only by words but by deeds.

Real Organisers of Riot
“Do you believe that masses of people could be incited to use physical force against the ruling class merely by a few words on the Revolution, when you consider that these same masses kept their temper admirably all the time the capitalist class enforced their anti-Socialist law, their penal servitude enactment directed against free speech and press, their measures for increasing working-class starvation and, last but not least, their Bill for smashing up the workers’ economic organisation? I am surprised that the Public Prosecutor has not, instead of prosecuting me, brought to book the originators of those laws and Bills, for these deeds are apt to stir up immensely the propertyless masses and would most certainly lead to physical force excesses if – yes, if it were not for Socialism’s enlightening and elevating influence.

“The Public Prosecutor opined that I completely repudiate the revolutionary character of my Jena speech. That is a great error. I have spoken in a revolutionary strain and I always speak in a revolutionary way, seeing that our entire Socialist propaganda is revolutionary; but not in the sense so peculiarly interpreted by the Public Prosecutor, who ascribes the Hamburg street riots to the revolutionary effect of Socialist agitation; but in the sense that we aim at a basic revolution of the present social order. And I do not even deny that in that process physical force may well become necessary.

Engels on the Bourgeoisie
“But I, together with my Party, take up the standpoint that the initiative for using physical force proceeds always from the ruling class, a standpoint that was so ably made clear by our great teacher, Frederich Engels, who in 1892 wrote in the columns of the Neue Zeit:
  ‘The Bourgeois have very frequently suggested to us that we should under any circumstances abandon the use of revolutionary methods and remain within the limits of the law now that the exceptional Socialist law has been dropped and the common law has again been made accessible to all, even to Socialists! We regret being unable to oblige the gentlemen of the bourgeoisie by taking that hint and hasten to remind them that at this very moment it is not us who destroy ‘the legal means’. No, on the contrary, they – the bourgeois – are doing propaganda work for us so effectively that we should be fools were we to interfere with them whilst they are making such wonderful progress. There is evidently some justification for the question whether it will indeed not be the bourgeois and their government who will violate laws and rights, in order to demolish us by physical force. We are prepared to wait. In the meantime ‘kindly have the first shot, gentlemen of the bourgeoisie!’ They will no doubt fire the first shot. One fine morning the German bourgeois and their Government will grow tired of watching with folded arms the overflowing river of Socialism, and they will take recourse to lawlessness, to physical force. What will be the use of it? Physical force may repress a small section of the people in a limited district, but the power has still to be discovered that is capable of annihilating a Party of two or three million persons spread over a very large country. The counter-revolution, a momentary overpowering of the workers, may perhaps delay the triumph of Socialism for a few years, but only that it may finally prevail so much more completely and definitely.’
“This is our conception. And now in conclusion I ask you to acquit me; not because I am afraid of the imprisonment to which you may treat me. If it is a question of enduring the punishment meted out to us by the ruling class for our convictions, every Socialist submits to it with the greatest indifference. But I ask you to acquit me, because my conviction would be an injustice and would cause aggravation in Socialist circles.”

After an hour’s deliberation Rosa was found guilty and sentenced to 2 months imprisonment.

Well done, “red Rosa”; you have grandly expressed the sentiments of the class-conscious workers of the world and may you live to see the Social Revolution accomplished!

Editorial: Forget, forget the 5th of November – and Trafalgar Day (2005)

Editorial from the November 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

The only man to enter Parliament with good intentions”. So some describe Guy Fawkes, though this isn’t the official line on the Gunpowder Plot which was uncovered four hundred years ago this month. Actually, this saying is wrong on two counts. Guy Fawkes did not enter Parliament with good intentions, and to wish to blow up Parliament can’t really be said to be a good intention (blowing them up wouldn‘t achieve anything; voting them out is the intelligent thing to do).

Four hundred years ago the English ruling class was engaged in a life-and-death struggle with Spain which, with the backing of the Pope, was trying to incorporate England into a revived Holy Roman Empire. Capitalism had only come into being in the previous hundred years or so and the English ruling class was in the process of transforming itself from a serf-exploiting feudal nobility into a ruling class whose wealth and power would be based on producing for and trading on the world market. To achieve this it was essential to avoiding being incorporated to an economically stagnant Absolutist Empire such as Spain was trying to establish in Europe.

The ideological smokescreen under which this conflict of economic interest was fought out was Protestantism versus Catholicism. Henry VIII had broken with the Pope in 1529 and Protestantism became the ideology of that section of the English ruling class striving for a national capitalist state. Catholicism that of its enemies. Throughout the 16th century in England, Catholics and Protestants were successively burned at the stake. Guy Fawkes was a Catholic and had entered Parliament with a view to blowing it up in a bid to re-establish a Catholic regime in England.

From the point of view of the English ruling class, he was a traitor, and has traditionally been portrayed as such in school history books. In fact, anti-Catholicism remained a key feature of English nationalism right up until the end of the 19th century. By then it had become an anachronism. England – since the union with Scotland in 1707, “Great Britain” – had long since established itself as the leading capitalist power in the world and was no longer under even the remotest threat of being incorporated into some backward-looking Absolutist Catholic Empire.

In view of the anti-Catholic aspect the media didn’t know quite how to mark the 400th anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot. They had no such doubts about how to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar – by an obscene display of jingoistic nationalism.

The ground had already been prepared by London’s successful bid to stage the 2012 Olympics and England’s regaining of the Ashes from Australia, both of which saw a mindless mob gather in Trafalgar Square to sing jingo songs known to socialists as “Fool Britannia”, “Land of Dopes and Tories”, “Good Save the Queen (and all who sail in her)” as well as – though quite out of place – Blake’s “Jerusalem”.

Socialists are utterly opposed to such manifestations of nationalism. In fact, we find disturbing the revival of nationalism in Britain in recent decades, as seen in the acceptance into the mainstream of formerly fascist usages such as the term “Briton” and the flag of St. George. At one time, British patriots used to call on people to die for their “country”, i.e. for the state which for accidental historical reasons happened to have jurisdiction over the geographical area where they lived. Nowadays, the appeal is to the “nation”, i.e. to an imaginary community. But there never can be any real community under capitalism. A “nation” is a false community, and a dangerous illusion because of its divisive nature.

Britain, like every other country or state in the world, is class-divided: a minority of rich owners and the rest of us. We have no interests in common with them and anything which encourages the illusion that all the people of Britain form a community with a common interest can only serve their interests. They need us to believe this because their rule and privileges depend on our acceptance. They are few but we are many. They know this but most of us don’t, yet.

When we do then we will see that the only community possible today, given the integration of the world economy, is a world community. But to be a real community there must be no class division. There must be common ownership of the globe’s resources so that they can be used for the benefit of all the members of the human race. We will then recognise ourselves, not as British, French, American, Australian or any of the other labels our rulers impose on us, but as members of the human race, citizens of the world, Earth people. Then the sort of narrow-minded nationalism orchestrated on Trafalgar Day – and let’s hope it’s not going to become an annual event – will be looked back on with a shudder as a manifestation of a barbarous past when ruling classes incited people to regard themselves as members of rival, competing “nations”.

Strikes for Peace (1918)

Editorial from the February 1918 issue of the Socialist Standard

Signs are steadily growing that the working class of Europe are becoming weary of the war, with its endless slaughter, its lack of decisions making for peace, and the increased privation and misery that result from its continuance.

Enthusiastic at first for the war, with an enthusiasm inflamed and fed by the Press and the preachers — religious and political — of the master class, the workers of the various belligerent countries rushed to the fray, to the cry of “On to Berlin!” “Paris in a week !” and the like. Three and a half years of appalling slaughter have intervened, with immense improvements and developments in the instruments of torture and destruction, but the belligerents are no nearer a military decision now, on either side, than they were in 1914.

Food is becoming short, not only because millions of men have been called to the armies and navies, but also because millions more have been taken from the production of the necessaries of life and put to making instruments and articles for its destruction. And this second army has to be fed along with the first.

This food shortage is further aggravated by the favouritism that is rampant all round. Working-class women may wait for hours in queues for meat or margarine, and then fail to obtain any, but wealthy novelists, paunchy parsons, triple chinned quondam “white-feather” tricklers, and prosperous “patriots” in general, can easily obtain hundreds of pounds weight of good things to nourish their determination to sacrifice and strengthen their “will to victory.” Shops in working-class neighbourhoods are often shut for days because of the lack of supplies, but there is no shortage of first class meat, genuine butter, choicest tea, and so on at the big hotels and clubs of the West End of London, and of certain fashionable resorts. The wives of the capitalists never stand in queues for anything except a view of the latest extravagance in expensive fashions.

Although the news published here of things that are happening on the Continent has to be taken with a certain amount of caution, as we must remember that the Censor will only allow the publication of items that suit the interest of the master class, it seems fairly certain that disaffection is growing there and strikes are increasing. In many cases the avowed object of the strikes in Germany and Austria is the securing of food, but nearly always accompanying this demand, and in some cases forming the sole object, is the call upon the governments to declare an armistice and enter into negotiations for peace.

In this country a similar movement is spreading and strikes are not only in progress, but more are threatened. This movement has received a great impetus from the introduction by the Government of a measure for extending the power of Conscription by the military authorities, usually referred to under the misleading but catchy title of the “Man Power Bill.” In the Press the greatest prominence has been given to the attitude taken up by the Amalgamated Society of Engineers, though this society is not the only, or even the most important, section affected by the Bill. The reason for singling out the A.S.E. has been the refusal of the Executive of that body to take part in a joint conference with the other trades and Sir Auckland Geddes, on the details of applying the Bill. The A.S.E. Executive claim that as they have a separate agreement with the Government on this question, they should be consulted separately on the withdrawal of that agreement.

While the Government have a complete answer to this objection, it is significant that, so far, they have not attempted to bring that answer forward. Sir Auckland Geddes or Mr. Lloyd George (whose title will no doubt arrive later on) could easily have answered the A.S.E. Executive somewhat as follows :
   “It is true we made that agreement with you, but what of it ? Did we not point out at the time that there was no guarantee that we would keep it ? Did not Mr. Henderson answer your question on this point by telling you point-blank that no such guarantee would be given ? And, far more important than this, is it not a fact that we have made various promises, pledges, and agreements, several of them embodied in Acts of Parliament, not only to sections, but to the whole working class. Even now your protest is not on behalf of the working class, but a claim that a small section—the members of the A.S.E.—should not be placed in the Army until the “dilutees” have been taken. Surely if you did not complain when we smashed agreements and pledges given to the whole working class it is illogical to complain now when a section of that class is being similarly treated.”
This latter fact is the fatally weak point in the A.S.E. case, and is being used effectively by the capitalist Press and spokesmen against them.

While such narrow, short-sighted views are held by sections of the working class the master class have an easy task in keeping alive the jealousies and divisions that are so useful to them in their fights with the workers.

Sir Auckland Geddes was quite successful in urging the other trade union leaders whom he met in conference to accept his proposals and to promise to persuade their followers to accept them without trouble or friction. One reason why the A.S.E. officials were not so ready to follow their old methods on this occasion is the growth of the “Shop Stewards” movement up and down the country. This movement has helped to undermine the influence of the “official” cliques in the trade unions, as shown by the numerous “unauthorised” strikes, and with the loss of this influence over the rank and file the officials realised that their chance of bargaining for jobs with the master class would be gone.

Apparently some of the Shop Stewards, however, are merely rivals for the “official” positions and refuse to move far outside the beaten track. According to the “Daily Telegraph” for Jan. 30th, 1918, the “National Administrative Council of Shop Stewards” passed the following resolution :
  “That they are not the body to deal with the technical grievances arising out of the cancellation of occupational exemptions from military service embodied in the Man Power Bill, and must, therefore, leave such grievances to be dealt with by the official organisations concerned.”
Most of the “official organisations” are swallowing the “grievances” whole.

It would be a big mistake to suppose that these strikes and threats to strike indicate an acceptance of the principles of Socialism, or even a general awakening to the fact that they are slaves to the master class, on the part of those engaged in this movement. In some cases there may be some suspicion as to the good faith of certain Ministers and the War Cabinet, but even this suspicion is only of a faint type, as is shown by several of the resolutions passed at various meetings. According to Press reports resolutions of similar character have been passed (up to the time of writing) at meetings held at, Woolwich, Albert Hall (London), Barrow, etc., in the following terms :
   “That the British Government should enter into immediate negotiations with the other belligerent Powers for an armistice on all fronts, with a. view to a general peace on the basis of self-determination of all nations and no annexations and no indemnities. Should such action demonstrate that German Imperialism was the only obstacle to peace they would co-operate in the prosecution of the war until the objects mentioned in the first part of the resolution were achieved, failing this they would continue their opposition to the man-power proposals.—"Daily News,” 28.1.1918)
These resolutions show the confused mental condition of the workers concerned. Does their claim for “self-determination” apply to Ireland, India, and Egypt ? If so do they really imagine the British capitalist Government will agree to such application ? Certainly they must be simple if they believe a threat to strike would bring such a result.

A resolution moved at Glasgow at a meeting where Sir A. Geddes was present struck a firmer note in the following terms :
  That having heard the case of the Government, as stated by Sir Auckland Geddes, this meeting pledges itself to oppose to the very uttermost the Government in its call for more men. We insist and pledge ourselves to take action to enforce the declaration of an immediate armistice on all fronts ; and that the expressed opinion of the workers of Glasgow is that from now on, and so far as this business is concerned, our attitude all the time and every time is to do nothing in support of carrying on the war, but to bring the war to a conclusion.
The supporter of the war could, of course, point out that, as far as the workers are concerned, there is as much—and as little—reason for carrying on the war now as ever there was. Better late than never, however, and if the Clyde workers realise even at this late date that they have nothing to gain but a good deal to lose by the continuance of the war it is a point to the good.

Of course the Government soon arranged for a counterblast to these resolutions, and the Press gives somewhat vague and rather circumstantial accounts of meetings where resolutions of support, of the Government were supposed to be passed. But this action in itself is a proof of how widespread, if not deep, is the movement.

It would be folly, or worse, for the workers to fail to recognise the forces that can be employed against them by the Government if it chooses. Already in certain cases where men have refused to work in a particular factory or on a particular job the protection cards have been withdrawn, the men called to the colours, and then ordered back to the factory or job at ordinary soldier’s pay. With its present powers and without troubling to pass the “Man Power” Bill at all the Government could withdraw the protection cards and exemption certificates of the engineers and others concerned, call these men to the colours, and then draft them back into the shops and shipyards under military orders and discipline and on army pay.

The messages, more or less reliable, purporting to show that this action is also taking place in Germany against certain of the strikers there may merely be the newspaper preparation for an extension of such action here.

It is true that, to the outsider, signs of another sort are not wanting. The sudden calling of the Labour Party Conference to formulate what it called its “Peace Aims” without even taking time to consult its constituent bodies was undoubtedly the work of the Government to prepare for a “climb down” on their previous bombastic claims. The contemptuous treatment of Mr. Havelock Wilson at that Conference shows how readily the capitalists throw aside their tools when they have served their purpose. Mr. Lloyd George’s speech a few days later was practically a withdrawal of almost every claim, from Constantinople to Alsace-Lorraine, previously put forward. Of course the game of bluff will not be dropped all at once ; but how transparent it is becoming is shown by the official statement of the Inter-Allied War Conference published on 4th February, 1918 :
  The Allies are united in heart and will, not, by any hidden designs, but by their open resolve to defend civilisation against an unscrupulous and brutal attempt at domination.” — “Daily Telegraph.”
To draw up such a statement during the very week that the question as to whether the war was to be continued till the objects of the Secret treaty with Italy were attained was being raised in the British Parliament was certainly an exhibition of irony.

Rumours have been floating round that the Bill was introduced with the object of raising disturbances so as to give grounds for a further abatement of claims on the part of the Government, and whether these rumours have any foundation in fact or not, it is certainly curious that a Bill should be introduced to give the Army authorities power they already possess in substance if not in method. The excuse that the matter is too pressing to allow the time necessary for the present procedure, while valid, hardly seems strong enough for the introduction of such a trouble-raising measure.

By far the greatest danger to the workers lies in another direction. The ablest representative of the master class to-day on the public Press is Mr. A. G. Gardiner, of, the “Daily News.” Not only has he a firm grasp of the situation from the masters’ side, but he is easily the cleverest of their agents at the game of misleading the workers by using a style of seeming honesty and openness to cover up a substance of slimy deceit. A good example of this was his “Open Letter to the Clyde Workers” (“Daily News,” 19.1.1918′. His articles, while appearing to condemn the Government, are strenuous attempts to defend the existence and maintenance of capitalism. Another instance of danger from this direction is the employment of Mr. Henderson as a decoy duck to lure the workers into dangerous waters. Despite his unceremonious and contemptuous dismissal at a moment’s notice from his position in the Cabinet, he is again engaged on dirty work for the masters in the statement he issued to the Press on 1st Feb. In that screed he urges the workers to realise the gravity of their threatened action because it—
   . . . may precipitate a crisis which in the interests of the whole international working-class movement we must do all in our power to avert.”—(“Daily Telegraph,” 1.2.1918.)
The cant and humbug of talking about an “international working-class movement,” that has no existence, while the capitalist governments refuse to allow even a meeting of international delegates, is characteristic of one who has done all in his power to urge the workers to slaughter each other for the national interests of the capitalist class.

But these statements, along with those of Mr. Gardiner, sound plausible. Their purpose is to persuade the workers to still leave in the hands of the masters’ agents the manipulation and direction of affairs. And there is a great danger that the workers, so long used to following this course, so long in the habit of following “leaders,” will succumb once more to this influence. Some of them not daring to trust themselves to manage affairs, will believe it better to leave the management to these “experts.” If only half of the blunders and appalling crimes of this war should be brought into the light of day, these timid workers will have a rude shock concerning the ability of those “experts.” Even such reports as have leaked through up to now show what a gigantic hypocrisy is their claim. The revelations that have been published in regard to Mesopotamia should convince every worker that they simply could not themselves manage matters worse, while the contempt they are held in by both the master class and its agents may be illustrated by a small incident from one of the war fronts.

A certain road on a portion of the line is used to bring up munitions and food to the men in the trenches. The “enemy” knows the position—and use—of this road quite well. It is therefore watched during the light hours, and swept with shell and machine-gun fire during the night. The transport vans are stepped just outside the area of fire to save the mules (four-legged ones) and the supplies are then carried through the shot-swept zone by the men.

As the working class begin to understand the position they occupy in modern society ; as they begin to take a hand in settling affairs of social importance, they will make many blunders and mistakes. In the main, however, these will be easily recognised and corrected. But the biggest danger that confronts them—the biggest mistake they can make—is to place power in the hands of “leaders” under any pretext whatever. It is at once putting those “leaders” in a position to bargain with the master class for the purpose of selling out the workers. It allows the master class to retain control of the political machinery which is the essential instrument for governing Society. All the other blunders and mistakes the workers may make will be as dust in the balance compared with this one, and not until they realise this fact will they be on the road to Socialism.