In vast numbers of people during the Twenties and Thirties there grew up a revulsion against war, a reaction against the senseless slaughter of World War One. Writers like Remarque (All Quiet on the Western Front) and H. G. Wells (The Shape of Things to Come) attempted to show the futility of war and the possible destruction of civilisation. On the political field, popularity and votes could be won by politicians claiming to be in favour of disarmament, and armament manufacturers were pilloried as the “merchants of death.” Basil Zaharoff was held up as an example, with his supplying of arms to both sides. Prominent politicians like George Lansbury and Stafford Cripps won fame by their opposition to war. There was the “Peace Letter” campaign, which held great sway among the opponents of war. Its aims were linked with the League of Nations, whose alleged purpose was to assemble all the nations for the settlement of differences by discussion and reason. And yet war came.
Those people who formerly opposed it changed to support on the grounds that it was the lesser of two evils. That the horrors of Nazism and Fascism were worse than the horror of war. Politicians whose popularity had rested on disarmament and appeasement were reviled and replaced by those more determined to prosecute the war. Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo became the personifications of evil.
The Allies, in order to prosecute their war aims more successfully, drew up the Atlantic Charter and its declaration of human rights. The sweeping away of poverty and the degradation of the common man, was pronounced a major war aim. Despite Churchill’s popularity as a war leader, the desire for change at the end of the war resulted in the election of a Labour Government with an overwhelming majority. 1945 was thought to be the beginning of a new era. The “Welfare State” was ushered in with loud acclaim.
Yet for all the blood, toil, tears, and sweat, what has become of the hopes and ambitions of those years? Has the threat of war been abolished? Have the antagonisms and tensions between nations ended? Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo are gone; Khrushchev, Chou-En-Lai, and Nasser, are now the “villains of the peace.” Instead of Fascism, Communism is now held up as the barrier to the peace and stability of the world.
Politicians say that one of the causes of the last war was the weakness of the Allies in their policy of appeasement. It is claimed that this encouraged aggression by the Axis powers—therefore, we should be armed and ready to deter any potential aggressor even if it means going to the very brink of war itself, as advocated by the late American Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles. Labour Party leaders now support nuclear weapons, for to argue from strength, they say, is the only way of maintaining Britain’s position in a world charged with aggressiveness. This is the ludicrous situation —all the nations are determined to have peace, even if they have to go to war to get it.
As much as people are opposed to war, history teaches us that mere opposition is not enough. Socialists are more than just opposed to war. We are opposed to a system that is the direct cause of war situations and finally of war itself. What is this system? It means private ownership, working for wages, the buying and selling of goods, and the acceptance of trade, both national and international, as the only way people can get the things they need. Armies, Navies, Air and Police forces exist and function for the sole purpose of maintaining and protecting property institutions. This is the main reason for the division of the world into national competitive groups.
Anyone who supports this system is an agent of that same process that produces a Hitler, Gas Chambers, a Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and all the other horrors of modern war. Here is the irony of it all. That in their daily lives the way in which people get their living produces a monstrous situation for which there is only a monstrous and yet temporary solution. Having defeated the supposed enemy, they then bring about the situation which nobody wanted in the first place. The Socialist solution runs counter to everything that supports existing property institutions.
Socialists want a world based upon voluntary co-operation, in order that the products of men’s efforts can be of free access—a world where money will not be necessary.
We want people to break out of this vicious circle that perpetuates the ideas of property society. We want their thinking to be Socialist thinking.