Wednesday, May 19, 2021

The Great War and the Greater Wars that are coming. (1924)

From the October 1924 issue of the Socialist Standard

Since the world turned wearily from the battlefield there has been a gradual slump in the literature of war, and the tide has set towards the “Problems of the Peace.” All who could wield a facile pen have rushed to their ink-pots and boldly covered reams of white paper with explanations of why the New World that was expected to follow the war looks so dreadfully like the old one. Most people can see that the rich are still with us, and apparently richer than ever. None will deny that the poor are still here, and relatively if not absolutely, poorer than ever. What has happened? Fortunately the scribes will tell us this also. Unhappily, they have so many explanations of the same phenomena that a process of cancelling out takes place, and the only voice that emerges is that of the one who tells us to get ready for another war. Certainly the facts seem to support that view. There are more bayonets and more armed preparations in Europe to-day than ever before. Recourse to the League of Nations has simply added to them. Every barracks is full of soldiers, drilling and training for the next great struggle. Fleets are being overhauled and provided with deadlier guns than ever. Every week we are informed of a new development in aerial terror, whilst placid bands of assiduous chemists have added seventy new poisonous gases to the weapons of the next war. The joke about the “War to End War” has become too hackneyed for repetition, but few seem to have learned the lesson.

The latest addition to the literature of the Peace is a two volume, 1,400 page work, entitled “These Eventful Years: The Twentieth Century in the Making, as Told by Many of its Makers.” Rather a mouthful, isn’t it? Such an expressive title ! obviously chosen for its slight poetic flavour. These Eventful Years ! One can almost hear it being mournfully intoned to the evening congregation. And thus it is called a Pisgah book. This is possibly more apposite than the originators thought. They have intended, doubtless, to convey that they were surveying the world and its affairs from a sublime height. Why Pisgah, and not the Matterhorn or Everest should have been chosen is not clear. We can only assume their choice was influenced by the knowledge that Pisgah stands near the head of the Dead Sea.

It remains but to add that the price of the work being only a paltry fifty shillings, there can be little excuse for non-possession. Think of the contributors, too ! Von Tirpitz and H. G. Wells, Sir Oliver Lodge and Phillip Snowden, Lady Rhondda and Wellington Koo, Admiral von Scheer and Admiral Jellicoe, Ludendorff and Bertrand Russell; and seventy others including J. L. Garvin. We do not intend to review this stupendous work, owing to our having been unfortunately overlooked on the free list. J. L. Garvin, with that native modesty that so well becomes him, has partially remedied this by using up three columns of his “Observer” (August 24th) in boosting his own contribution to the book.

He explains that he was asked to contribute the first four chapters entitled a “Introduction to the History of Our Own Times,” and they trace the steady approach of the war through the preceding twenty-five years. Their measure may be taken when one notes that the fall of Bismarck is taken as the catastrophic starting-point, and that the interval is filled up with proper names. The Kaiser and the Tsar, variously referred to as William II and Nicholas II, or the German Emperor and the last of the Tsars, are the villains of the piece. What those two men have to answer for ! Curiously enough, the name George the Fifth nowhere appears. This seems to be a grave omission. Surely if our late redoubtable antagonist and our former ally were epitomised or symbolically expressed in the occupant of the throne, a like service should be performed for our own monarch. And we all know what he did in the Great War. If the Kaiser lost his war, obviously George the Fifth won it. Let justice be done.

But to resume. The story of the war itself occupies 50 pages. He suggests the temper of that account by a brief extract describing the turning point of the conflict, July 18th, 1918. It is a forceful piece of writing, quite in the vein of the militant arm-chair strategist. “Machine guns flashed over the standing corn”; troops “gathered under those far-ranging tree-tops”; the French force “thrust like a sword” into the “flank of the exposed German salient”; the enemy “lost 15,000 prisoners, 300 guns and broad positions that were vital,” etc., etc. But not a word of a dead man. The monarchs previously so much in the limelight also appear to have been elsewhere.

And then we get to the Peace. It is recognised and admitted that the Peace is a frost.

“What the Germans forgot in 1871, the Allies did not remember at the end of June, 1919.” Yes, the Peace is a frost. And what will happen when the thaw sets in?

“Europe is slowly drifting towards another catastrophe.” The map of Europe as re-drawn under the Peace Treaties cannot endure. The existing League of Nations is described as utterly inadequate. The exclusion of Germany is described as “one of the most fantastic travesties of human purpose”; the banning of Russia as timid and parochial.

And what is the lesson mankind is to learn from all this? What practical steps are formulated that we may avoid another Armageddon? What must we do to be saved?

Mr. Garvin’s own summary may do him less than justice, but apparently there are but two things to be done to avert the threatened holocaust. First revise the Peace Treaties by peaceful means, and next enlarge the League of Nations by the inclusion of Germany and Russia, followed later by America.

Is it possible that a man of education, and some width of outlook can fob his readers off with that stuff? Does he really believe it himself? Unfortunately there is no reason for doubting it. Mr. Garvin and those of his school look upon the present system of society as final, and for all useful purposes, eternal. Modification there may be, but fundamental change—no. Just as slavery was justified and defended in former times, even by men of culture and feeling, so wage-slavery under capitalism is justified and apologised for by those who profit by it. This attitude may result from a lack of imagination, but more probably from a comfortable feeling that the working class is a special dispensation of Providence, designed to do the necessary work of the world, in order that a smaller aristocratic class may cultivate the finer side of life.

With this view of human society it is not to be wondered at that the re-drawing of frontiers appears to them as epochal; that the stage-play of international leagues assumes a solemn profundity. When the working class realises its true position, it will view an arbitrary line drawn across a country as of equal validity with a chalk mark across the Atlantic. If Alsace were restored to Germany to-morrow, the Alsatian would still remain a peasant or a worker. If the Germans, Austrians, Poles, Rumanians, Czechs, Tyrolese, etc., were all re-shuffled to-morrow, the workers of those areas would still remain workers. Differences of comfort or amenity, custom and language there might be, but working men would remain working men, and that is the essence of the matter. The Irish workers are finding out that a difference in political bosses is not such a vital matter as they once thought. Where capitalism is, there is wage-slavery, and the colour of the flag that floats over the factory makes no real difference to the worker. The great nations of the world are capitalist nations. The League of Nations can be nought else but a league of capitalists. Capitalists live solely and entirely upon the robbery of the working class. How then can we get enthusiastic over a league of our exploiters?

The working class will organise itself to expropriate those who live parasitically upon it. It will link itself with the workers of every country, to achieve this internationally, when the workers understand their class-interests.
W. T. Hopley

Socialism and the Labour Movement. (1924)

Letter to the Editors from the October 1924 issue of the Socialist Standard

A Critic Answered.

15, Grenville Street,
Dublin.

Dear Comrade,

As a member of the working class, I am very interested in your party and the Socialist Standard. Some months ago a member of your party was in this town and he left a few of us thinking. For myself I must say that the Socialist Party of Great Britain has very little chance of ever making the working-class Socialists. First, because they do not definitely take their place among the workers and engage in the struggle between the workers and the capitalist class which is unceasing, rather do they preach that nothing except the political battle matter, forgetting that without the economic and the defence forces of the working class movement parliaments, or political institutions are valueless as the capitalist could afford to laugh at the attempts of a band of politicians trying to control the implements that are in his hands. The only hope that Socialism may be achieved is in a combination of all the industrial workers organised as a class together with the defence forces that it will have to fashion in its own defence, and lastly the use, if necessary, as a supplement political action. Propaganda for political action will be helped as the struggle of the class conscious and organised workers goes on.

My chief idea in writing was to urge that sectarianism inside the working class should cease and that small bodies like the S.P.G.B. ought to get into the Labour movement and put their influence on the side of unity, otherwise there will be doubts as to their sincerity. In this town the S.P.G.B. has one individual as a member, and there are intelligent young men calling themselves Communists. He and they are a group who unite in their refusal to assist the mass of the workers who are out for the Workers’ Republic. Why do such people, Communists and Socialists, anger the working class by their hair-splitting differences? Why is it that capitalists whom we are trying to down manage to keep united while we are divided, yet we are all out for working class control of the means and instruments of production and distribution? Therefore I would urge that inside the working class is your place.
Yours fraternally,
P. Cunningham.


Reply to P. Cunningham.
Your letter has been passed on to me for reply, but I find reply difficult because your letter contains only baseless assertions and muddled ideas.

In the first place, capitalist conditions make socialists; we only assist the educational work of conditions.

You say that we do not take our place among the workers in the struggle. I don’t know where you get your information from, but you are evidently badly misinformed. The members of the S.P.G.B. are working men and working women. They work in factories, mills and workshops, and take part with their fellow workers in the daily and weekly struggle for the best conditions of labour that can be obtained. But while doing so they point out the limits of this struggle and the impossibility of overthrowing capitalism by industrial methods. They therefore agitate among their fellows for political action. In the S.P.G.B. they are organised for the political struggle; class-conscious revolutionary action for the establishment of Socialism.

What do you mean by “the economic and the defence forces of the working-class movement”? There is only one force that is worthy of a moment’s consideration—the force that operates as powder and shot, bombs, poison gas, and so forth; the force that is bottled up in aeroplanes, battleships, and tanks; the murderous force that can blow thousands of us to bits and spread ruin and desolation over large territories in the wink of an eye. Have the experiences of war, of strikes, and of battering of native populations taught you nothing? And this mighty death-dealing machine is operated from parliament—in Britain, from the House of Commons. They can crush any working-class uprising almost before the workers have begun to move, as many a man, eating his heart out in prison, has learnt to his sorrow.

Now what can the workers bring to combat this political machine? Nothing but empty stomachs and brickbats. Their wages are not sufficient to enable them to purchase anything beyond a few rifles, and any attempt to manufacture munitions (which could only be done on such a small scale as to be valueless) or to tamper with the soldiers or sailors would, and has been, rapidly met with a term of imprisonment. Up against the political machinery the workers are helpless, and yet, the irony of it, they can obtain control of this machinery as soon as they wish.

On the industrial field the workers are faced with the misery and demoralisation produced by repeated failures. On the political field they are faced with complete success as soon as they are clear about the objective and the way to obtain it. It is easier to organise workers effectively for sound political action than it is to organise them for industrial action alone, because in the one direction complete success is within their grasp, whilst in the other ultimate defeat is certain. The two positions can easily be demonstrated by illustrations that will satisfy the average worker, who is not either a blind worshipper of idols or empty phrases, or whose head is not filled with the fatal delusions of the communist.

To take another of your points. The implements of production are in the possession of the capitalist because he can resist by force any attempt made by the workers to take them. That is why the capitalist laughs. But when the workers, through delegates they control, take possession of the force the laugh will disappear, as it disappeared from the faces of the people composing each class that in the past lost political power and with it economic ownership. Space is too limited for me to give illustrations of this fact here, but you have only to ask and you will receive plenty of illustrations in a future number of this paper.

You ask us to unite with others in “the Labour movement.” But for what are we to unite? Mere unity is meaningless by itself. Are we to unite with the Labour Party to help the capitalists to obtain more profits and the workers to become more docile slaves? Are we to unite with people like J. R. Clynes? He is president of the League of the British Commonwealth that has issued a leaflet stating :
   “The ‘League of the British Commonwealth’ demands, therefore, the nationalisation of our principal banks as the only permanent remedy for unemployment ; but this does not imply or involve the nationalisation of land, industry, or anything else.”
Masses of workers are Liberals, masses are Conservatives; do you want us to unite with either or both of these? You see, unity depends upon the objective and the means to obtain the objective. But I am forgetting, you consider political action to be useless, therefore I presume you are not in favour of uniting with bodies that urge the workers to action you consider useless?

If this is so, take care you are not throwing a boomerang. Take care some members of the Labour Party may not be accusing you of “splitting the ranks.”

From your letter it would appear that the fraction you favour is that rapidly diminishing quantity going under the name of Communist. But it is difficult to find out on what policy one could unite with the Communists, except on the policy of finding out that one is constantly making mistakes and must start again with a new shibboleth—rather a barren outlook you must admit.

You say the mass of the workers are out for the Workers’ Republic. Wake up, friend, your blissful dreams are far, far away from the truth. The mass of the workers are, alas, supporters of capitalism, and your foolish statement suggests to me that you mix very little with your fellow workers. Come down from your attic ot dreams and learn the realities of life before tendering advice to those who are engaged in the struggle for Socialism.

You wind up with the absurd statement that “we are all out for working-class control of the means and instruments of production and distribution.” If this is so, why all the fuss and propaganda? And why, above all, isn’t Socialism here now? Anyhow who are the “we” to whom you refer?

Finally people may be “out for” many things but the point is are they acting in a way that will obtain for them the object of their desires? I might be “out” to visit France but if I started from the North of England to swim there via Greenland there would not be much likelihood of my arrival. The means cannot be separated from the end. There are many people who claim to be “out for” Socialism, but their actions give the lie to the claim and push farther into the future the wished-for objective. The Labour Party, for instance, who urged the workers to take part in the late war, and who engage the attention of workers upon a multitude of questions that are of no value. Then there are also the Communists, who change their minds every few weeks; continually find out that they have been making mistakes; ask the workers to trust them completely, and then work might and main to drive the workers into the shambles.

We are of the working class, inside the working class, and working our hardest to assist our fellow workers to understand that in Socialism lies their only salvation; and that the only way to obtain Socialism, once understanding and desiring it, is to capture the political machinery from the capitalist so that we can dispossess them of the power they wield and the wealth they have stolen.
Gilmac.

The Decay of the Communist Party. (1924)

Editorial from the October 1924 issue of the Socialist Standard 

After a meteoric career lasting no more than 3 or 4 years the Communist Party in this country finds itself trying with ever less success to stem the tide of members drifting away to the Labour Party or into apathy. In spite of the blundering ineptitude of its leaders in a sphere which they thought peculiarly their own—the sphere of stunts and political intrigue—they had at first a small measure of success. That they were able to achieve this was due partly to the money received by them from Moscow and thrown away in advocating futile insurrectionary policies which were always promptly disavowed whenever the authorities threatened suppression, but chiefly due to the chaos of trade and production after the world war, and the consequent weakened hold on the workers’ minds of pre-war political ideas and allegiances. But even in ground apparently so fertile the fruit of their labours was ridiculously small in comparison to the cost in money and energy.

Although they began with a flourish and reported frequent huge accessions of new members, they have in fact failed to grow and even to hold their initial position. Their total present membership is less than the 5,000 who were alleged to have joined them from the I.L.P. in 1922. Weaker numerically, they are weaker too in the respect they can demand from the class-conscious worker. From vigorous if somewhat hysterical hostility towards the Labour Party, they turned in 1921 to the United Front policy. They then claimed that support of anti-working-class candidates was not incompatible with the continuation ot communist propaganda and the denunciation of the very men they were asking the workers to vote into power. Incredible as it may seem, it required considerable experience to convince them that the communist rank and file would always in this dilemma be compelled to suppress their own views in order not to offend the Labour Party’s capitalist sympathisers. While the job seekers and the light-minded intellectual riff-raff which had been drawn in by the cash and glitter of the Communist movement saw in the new policy only the promise of elevation to the House of Commons. The boasted thousands of “communist” votes given to communist Labour candidates showed, not the strength but the weakness of the Communist Party; the dependence of a so-called independent organisation on Labour votes and the Labour Party machine. So soon as they found this out the careerists and the “intellectuals” began to desert the sinking ship, following, of course, the ancient custom of their kind of giving every excuse but the true one. Meynell, Malone, Windsor and later, Walton Newbold, Ellen Wilkinson and Philips Price are some of those who have left because of the call of ambition, the passing of the excitement of the earlier months, or simply because they had learned through experience that the fundamental ideas on which Communist Policy had been built were partly false and wholly inapplicable except in the peculiar conditions which gave them birth in Russia.

The disgust and confusion which follow these “betrayals” add point to our criticism of leader worship; the workers lose more than they can possibly gain from the magnifying of the individual and dependence on his leadership. Having foolishly overrated, they now, spitefully belittle the ability of their late members. What is however of rather more importance is the opportunity that offers here of justifying the position of the Socialist Party.

When the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia we alone of the organisations claiming to be socialist in this country, refused to be swept off our feet either by hostile prejudice or by misguided enthusiasm. We never lent ourselves to capitalist condemnation of Bolshevik “violence,” a pastime which was very popular with Labour men who had been preaching murder for the capitalist class during the war, nor did we deceive ourselves with unfounded hopes and mistake intentions for performances. We held that economic backwardness and the anti-socialist peasants would forbid the establishment of Socialism in Russia, and we held that the seizure of power by a minority could not succeed, and need not be attempted in Great Britain where political traditions, institutions and development had been so different. We were told that we were wrong, and the C.P.G.B. came into being to show how it could be done. Now, seven years after the initial success of the Bolsheviks, their too servile imitators are having to confess failure.

Walton Newbold writes (“Forward,” Sept. 13th) :—
   “From the autumn of 1920, although it was almost impossible to see it at the time, Capitalism had won, not only the advantage, but the decisive advantage, here in Britain as elsewhere. . . .

   There will be no further revolution in Europe for many a long year.”
This is strange talk from one who discoursed then so glibly and learnedly on the “collapse of capitalism.”

Philips Price, in whose judgment the communists were used to express the utmost confidence, takes up a similar attitude. He chides the communists with assuming
   “that the same process must be gone through in Western Europe as in Russia, where there never was a Parliamentary machine elected in geographical constituencies and on a democratic franchise. (Forward, August 30th.)
The editor of the “Workers’ Weekly” tries to minimise the force of his argument by offering evidence to show that Newbold had for long been expressing more or less clearly the views on which he based his resignation. But what are we to think of a party which discovers only when a member resigns that the opinions be held years before are incompatible with the party’s position ?

In December, 1922, Newbold wrote this :
  “I, like my comrade Saklatvala, am a member of the Labour Party. Either as a member of the Fabian Society or of the I.L.P. or otherwise, I have been a member of that party without intermission since the autumn of 1908. I have never had any cause to disagree with the Labour Party as such.” (“Manchester Guardian,” Dec. 7, 1922.)
And as a matter of fact, in December, 1923, the C.P.G.B.’s official attitude was to give unqualified support to all Labour candidates.

The Manifesto issued by the Executive Committee of the C.P.G.B. during the election contained an appeal to the workers to “Support the Labour and Communist candidates” without any kind of qualification. They themselves in the same issue of the “Communist Daily” which printed the appeal, boasted of the help their members were giving to such men as Jack Mills and John Hodge. Harry Pollitt, Communist candidate, withdrew in favour of the latter and spoke on his platform, although Hodge refused to give a satisfactory answer to the questions put by the unemployed. (“Communist Daily,” 13th November, 1923.)

The Communist Party did and does support reactionary Labour men, but because Newbold wanted the criticism of these people to be confined to private meetings, and wrote that “the moment they came out there was to be no difference between the most extreme right men and left wingers, like himself,” he is denounced by the editor of the “Workers’ Weekly” as “favouring the enemy” (12th Sept.). The charge is surely more damaging to the accuser than to the accused, for how does Newbold’s policy differ from their own of denouncing Labour men at private Communist meetings and then going out to ask workers to vote for a Thomas or a “monstrous gnome” like Stephen Walsh, or allowing their members to appeal for votes on the strength of a letter from MacDonald, as did Paul in Manchester?

And it was the “Workers’ Weekly” itself under Palme Dutt’s editorship which published after the election an article by Newbold which contained the following :—
  “If we are not proud of Thomas as Thomas we shall be proud of him as a Labour Minister. Our business is to make him feel, the responsibility, putting the stress on the first, word “Labour,” rather than the second word “Minister.” . . .

   In the next few months we shall have to do a great deal of barking back at the “boss” class, and as little as possible, I hope, of snapping at our leaders.”
When, therefore, Palme Dutt goes on to say that in spite of Newbold’s defection the Communist party “has no reason to revise its attitude to the Labour Party,” we cannot refrain from asking what on earth he means. Which of its half-dozen policies is the C.P. determined to persist in? The policy of 1921 of open hostility in theory, coupled in fact with the opposition to some (MacDonald) and the support of others (Naylor), or the policy of 1922 and 1923 of supporting them all where they needed support at election times, and keeping the denunciation where it could do no harm? Or the policy of support on the political field and opposition to the same persons and policies in the Trade Unions?

Palme Dutt can only reply that they will “persist in their policy.” The fact is that the “tacticians” blundered again. They might themselves be proud of J. H. Thomas, but they soon found that the only people from whom they could expect to win support were not proud of him at all, and this explains why T. Johnston, who in January they considered to be a staunch fighter for the proletariat, is described in September as a “capitalist lackey” as are the ministers and other supporters of the Labour Government (“Workers’ Weekly,” 12th Sept.).

And it seems that Newbold and the rest of the “traitors” have the laugh after all. After they have been ridiculed for ignorance and denounced for their cowardice and treachery, they will still as Labour candidates receive the votes and assistance of C.P. members !

They cannot even condemn Newbold for his imperialist tendencies, for it was while he was “Communist” member for Motherwell in 1923 that he admits having defended the Navy as essential for the protection of “our food ships,” and no public condemnation of him was made by his party. (“Forward,” 30th August, 1924.)

It would also be interesting to know what is now supposed to be the attitude of the Communists on the question of minority revolution. Do they hold with Trotsky (“Communist,” 6th Aug., 1921) that the victory of the working class “can only be achieved by the capacity to conduct battles, and above all by gaining over the majority of the working class.” Or do they still believe that an “intellectual minority” can do the work? It was as recently as the end of 1923 that the German Communists made a futile attempt, in spite of the fact that their strength, as shown by the Reichstag elections, was only about 12 per cent. of the votes cast. And the left wing who dominated the party (980 delegates to 369 of the others combined), referring to this rising, were still able to declare, in April, 1924, that “victory—the seizure of power by the workers—was not only possible, but historically necessary.” (“Workers’ Weekly,” May 16th, 1924.)

In all this welter of confusion the S.P.G.B. stands alone and unshaken. I.L.P. pacifists join hands with Labour jingoes building cruisers to solve unemployment, and joyfully endorse in the Dawes Report a new attempt to intensify the slavery of the European working class; while Communists call them knaves, and vote them into Parliament.

The Communists, trying to emulate their fellow confusionists in the I.L.P., just hug themselves with delight because MacDonald has agreed to give a State guarantee of interest payments on a £40,000,000 loan to Russia, for the benefit of certain financial circles. One of their amusing arguments is that it will make work for the unemployed. They have doubtless overlooked the detail that even if work is provided for engineers now, the ultimate result when Russian agriculture has been reorganised and brought up to date by the imported machinery, is that this and other countries will have to face the competition of cheap Russian wheat. This will be good news for the unemployed agricultural workers. While the Communist propagates futile “solutions” of insoluble problems, the Socialist goes on propagating socialism.

We extend an urgent invitation to those who have seen the Socialist Party stand the test of war and would-be revolution and yet maintain the intellectual strength of its position, to come forward and give us their active assistance.