Sunday, April 10, 2022

The Labour Party Enters the National Government (1940)

From the June 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard

The entry of Labour leaders into Mr. Churchill’s National Government on May 11th makes the fifth occasion in the history of the British Labour Party on which prominent Labour leaders have occupied Cabinet posts and been wholly or partly responsible for the affairs of government. The first time this happened was during the first great war, when Mr. Arthur Henderson, Mr. John Hodge, Mr. J. R.. Clynes and others entered the Government. It ended rather ingloriously with Mr. Henderson resigning in August, 1918, because the Government refused his and the Labour Party’s wish for a restatement of war aims and an international conference of Labour Parties, and with his Labour successor, the late Mr. G. N. Barnes, signing in 1919 the Versailles Peace Treaty. He did so in defiance of the declaration of the Labour Party National Executive repudiating the Treaty because “The Treaty involves a violation of the principles embodied in Labour and Socialist Conference decisions.” (Manifesto of June 4th, 1919, issued by the National Executive of the Labour Party.)

The second occasion was the minority Labour Government of 1924, which ended with the Zinoviev letter and the election of October, at which the Labour Party’s representation was reduced from 191 to 151.

In 1929 the Labour Party were back in office. Then, after two years of mounting unemployment and falling confidence, the “crisis” found their leaders, MacDonald and Snowden, entering the National Government, but repudiated by the bulk of the Labour Party.

Now, in order to prosecute the war, Mr: Attlee, Mr. Herbert Morrison, Mr.. Greenwood, Mr. Bevin and others, take office under Mr. Churchill.

Speaking at the Labour Conference at Bournemouth, where the decision to join the Government was endorsed by 2,413,000 votes to 170,000, Mr. Greenwood explained that the Labour Party had for years “built up a strong policy of resistance to aggression, and when at long last a wavering Government plucked up its courage to resist, the Labour Party had no alternative but to accept the implications of its own policy.” (Daily Herald, May 14th, 1940.)

He went on to prophesy : —
“Because we have the courage of our convictions as a movement now, we shall have greater power when it is over than we have to-day. We shall have a trembling capitalist system which can never recover again. We shall have broken the back of the vested interests, and we can build a socialist commonwealth which will be a powerful factor in the world.”
Socialists would wish that the words were really prophetic; but time will show them to be otherwise. Socialism does not spring from the catastrophe of capitalism at war any more than it came from the other catastrophe of capitalism, the crisis of ten years ago. No doubt Mr. Greenwood hopes that something else as well as victory may come out of participation in the Government; but Socialists remember similar hopes in the last war when the Labour Party, in its 1918 declaration of policy, “Labour and the New Social Order,” affirmed that it would not tolerate the revival of the social and economic system which the war was supposed to have destroyed, but would seek to build up a new social order based on co-operation in production and distribution for the benefit of all who labour by hand or by brain.

Nothing came of those hopes, and the men who cherished them still do not show that they understand why. They spent years preaching peace and disarmament, and trying to lessen international antagonisms, and tried equally hard and unsuccessfully at home to lessen the evils of the social system. The two things they never frankly faced up to are that there never will be or can be any real solution to the twin problems of poverty and war until capitalism has been replaced by Socialism. So, little by little, each one of them had to abandon his belief in Peace by disarmament or appeasement or League of Nations. It is not, as Socialists have been at pains to point out, that war is a kind of capitalist conspiracy—the view of the Communists—but that capitalism forces states into deathly rivalry even though at a given period one group of states may be doing their utmost to preserve peace against the encroachments of their rivals.

The Socialist is consistent in opposing the Labour Party policy.

The Communist critics of the Labour Party can claim no such consistency. Apart from having vigorously supported in the opening weeks the war that they now oppose, they are in the curious position of denouncing a Government which is as nearly as possible their own choice.

Communists Get the Government they Asked for
The Communist Party is annoyed about the new Government. They do not like the Government led by Mr. Churchill, which includes Mr. Attlee and other Labour leaders, along with Sir Archibald Sinclair and other Liberals. The Daily Worker of May 10th, 1940, says in its editorial: —
“The Daily Herald thunders against Chamberlain, but it is silent about Churchill.
What a man to take under the wing of the Labour Party !”
The next day (May 11th, 1940) the Daily Worker had another fierce article against the National Government, under a headline “Fight against Labour participation in Churchill’s new War Government.”

So far it is clear enough, except to those who recall that, only in September last, after the war had broken out and Churchill was already in the Government, the same Daily Worker was backing the war wholeheartedly and writing of “determination that now that war has come it shall be fought in our cause, and to a finish. This war must be made a people’s war to end Nazism, and its attendant evils of oppression and violence for ever.” (Daily Worker, September 16th, 1939.)

By the time Mr. Churchill had become Prime Minister in order to fight the war to a finish, th Communists no longer wanted the war.

But further examination shows more mystery. The Communists now do not want the war, or Mr. Churchill, or Mr. Attlee or Sir A. Sinclair It was not always so. Only last year the Daily Worker was campaigning for a Popular Front Government and urging that the men of its choice should get together and form an all-party Government in order to carry out an active policy of “collective action against new aggression and threats of aggression” from Nazi Germany.

And who were the men of the Communist Party’s choice ? None other than Mr. Churchill, Mr. Attlee and Sir A. Sinclair ! The front page of the Daily Worker (March 30th, 1939) carried in bold headlines : —

It went on to say: —

“In a swift and sensational move to get practical action to save the country in the rapidly deepening crisis, Harry Pollitt, on behalf of the Communist Party of Great Britain, yesterday addressed to Major Attlee, leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party, Sir Archibald Sinclair, leader of the Liberal Party and Mr. Winston Churchill, most prominent of the Conservative ‘rebels,’ an appeal that they shall get together without another minute’s delay.”
We live in tragic days, when wrong theories have culminated in appalling consequences for the workers of all countries. One of the most tragic aspects of the situation—as tragic as working-class support for Nazism in Germany—is the spectacle of workers accepting misguided Communist theories.

New Phases of the War—What Will Italy Do? (1940)

From the June 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard

The conflict now raging on the Continent has awakened the average worker to some extent from the lethargy of a decade, but the serious character of the world’s situation he does not, in general, as yet perceive. When his friends or relatives are called up he is induced to try to follow world events, but in regard to them his attitude is one of resignation: he leaves political direction to others : he may have a vague feeling of uneasiness but he relies absolutely upon those in authority for guidance: what is involved is too much for him to grasp: in the main his mental blindness condemns him to be controlled solely by circumstances and be obedient to the will of those in authority.

All the same, 1940 is not 1914. Subconsciously the working class have imbibed knowledge from bitter experience; it may be latent, but it is there, and it can, and will, eventually find a means of expression.

The Tablet, a Catholic paper, has in its current issue summed up the Nazi power in strong but correct language : “Its weapons are the weapons of fear and falsehood. Debauched by the vision of authority acquired by the bomb, and maintained by the jack-boot and the whip, the German people have placed their strength and their abilities at the mercy of a ruthless gang, who are using that strength to enthrone themselves as the masters of an enslaved continent.”

The Government here has come into being as a result of various groups arriving at a tacit understanding, anything may happen as a consequence, even a new orientation on the part of Russia and the Communist Party.

The Labour ministers of the Crown, newly appointed, can hardly do anything for the working class: their business will be to show that they can run the system efficiently and well; the leaders of the older parties found themselves in difficulties, the leaders of Labour are to help them out. ‘Twas ever thus.

The paper quoted from above has something to say which lends colour to our viewpoint: “Some of the appointments are conspicuously good. Mr. Herbert Morrison at Supply and Mr. Ernest Bevin at Labour are both men with proved reputations as organisers well able to defeat obstructions and delay. What is more important, they can go ahead without the feeling that they may impair national unity and incur charges of Fascism (if they ask for suspension of the ordinary privileges and safeguards, normally enjoyed by business firms and trade unionists). The old Government had to walk very warily, simply because opposition journalists and speakers had for so long been blackening its character.”

The Tablet, being an upholder of the old religion, is naturally opposed to Stalin and Co., but it may be right when it surmises that the suppression of the Communist Party in France has greatly hindered the work of the Russian Foreign Office. “We must be wary of attaching any importance to signs and rumours of estrangement between Stalin and Hitler. They may be true, but they may equally be intended to restore more freedom of subversive action inside Britain and France to the hidden army.”

The Daily Mail is jubilant over the Discipline Act.

We are told it is the most revolutionary law that Parliament has passed in modern times. “At one stroke we relinquish our right to choose our own tasks or to dispose of our own property as we think best.”

The wage slave has, in reality, had few rights in regard to choosing what he should do and as to property: he has few possessions. Why the Daily Mail should see anything revolutionary in the Discipline Act is beyond us : it makes little difference in the lives of those who live by selling their labour-power. . . .

The invasion of Holland has brought about certain international complications. The latest news at the time of writing is that Germany, Russia and Japan are to hold a conference to discuss and decide what to do about the Dutch East Indies. This is likely to bring the United States directly into the war and induce Roosevelt to run for a third term.

The readers of the Socialist Standard will be alive to the importance of these developments, but, to refresh the memories of our readers, we would remind them that 15 per cent. of the world’s bauxite comes from Dutch Guiana and over 17 per cent. of the world’s tin from the Dutch East Indies. In rubber also, the Dutch East Indies produce a third of the world’s supply and they are also the most important source of copra and produce a quarter of the world’s palm oil. The petrol produced in the Dutch East Indies is not inconsiderable in amount and, what is more, Dutch interests in the oilfields of Roumania and the Near East have been placed unreservedly at the disposal of the Allies.

Japan is finding China a problem, the war game there is not worth the candle: the exploiters of the wage slaves of Nippon perceive that, if their hands were free, they could make large profits by taking advantage of their industrial rivals’ troubles in Europe: the markets are waiting, but the war in China absorbs all the efforts of the industrialists of Japan and the gains from the conflict are not perceptible.

The Evening News of May 21st says: —
“American and European fears that Japan might interfere in the German campaign against Holland is easily understood in view of the pronouncement of a number of Japanese naval and military authorities.
Behind it there is the economic question of oil.

The Japanese Navy, like every other, has turned exclusively to oil fuel; and the tremendous enthusiasm for Diesel engines in the Merchant Service, only recently checked by Government decree which demanded the return to coal wherever it was economically possible, has increased the shortage of oil.

Demand Now Greater.
Even in peace-time Japan consumes two million tons of oil a year—the greater part of it by the Navy and Merchant Service—and can produce less than a quarter of a million tons herself.

If she obtained complete control of the oilfields in Sakhalien, which Russia would prevent to the limit of her forces, it would mean rather less than half a million tons more.

That was in peace-time, but the campaign in China has greatly increased the demand for the Navy, Air Force, and Merchant Service which is caring for the supplies.

Rubber, Too.
The greater part of this excess demand has had to come from the United States. This is paid for in silk, but the mobilisation of the Army has depleted the supply of peasant labour available for its production.

So the exchange with the United States is not nearly as advantageous as it might be.

Possession of the Dutch East Indies would supply Japan with all the oil that she would require, as well as other commodities, of which the principal is rubber, which Japan has to import to the tune of 100,000 tons a year.”
Before concluding this article we must draw attention to events in the Mediterranean. The situation appears to be dangerous to the peace of the Near East. Mussolini, however, is not having all his own way. The Italian papers do not give us the true opinion of the Italian people. When Italian journalists get their instructions, and understand what the Government line is, they must not go against it, and the only way they can distinguish themselves is by their zeal for it. The organ of the Vatican, Osservatore Romano, solidly supports the Allies. It has a circulation of 300,000 and is supported by a following strong enough to cause Mussolini to pause before lining up on the side of Germany.

If Italy does enter the war on the side of Germany, and the resistance of the Allies becomes too strong for the Germans to overcome in Northern France, Germany will, no doubt, invade Switzerland with Italy’s aid. Hitler is pressed for time : he had to win quickly or he could not hope to win at all.

From what has been written the reader will be able to perceive that, owing to the inter-relations prevalent in the productive world of capitalism, all countries are likely to be involved in the conflict sooner or later. Marx says : “Force is the midwife of an old social order pregnant with a new one, that it is the tool by the means of which social progress is forwarded and foolish, dead political forms destroyed.”

When the smoke clears away from the battlefields, and we can calmly view the results, we can better judge the outcome of force in the present instance. In the meantime we continue our task of striving to bring into being a new social order “in which there shall be neither rich nor poor, neither master nor master’s man, neither idle nor overworked, neither brain-sick brain-workers nor heartsick hand-workers, in a word, in which all men would be living in equality of condition and would manage their affairs unwastefully and with the full consciousness that harm to one would be harm to all—the realisation at last of the meaning of the word commonwealth.”

The quoted words are from William Morris, who hated with all his heart “the dull squalor of capitalist civilisation,” whose fruit is so often war. In the commonwealth of Morris there is no cause for conflict—when we establish Socialism we establish peace and plenty.
Charles Lestor

What We Have Said For Over Twenty Years (1940)

From the June 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard

The following is from a review of “Stalin—Czar of all the Russias” (Harrap, 9s.), by Philip Page, in the Daily Mail, May 18th, 1940 : —
“Our local Communists will not relish the assertion, carefully argued and incontestably proved, that Soviet Communism owes little to, and has even less affinity with, the doctrines of Karl Marx.”
Marx will yet be rescued from his Bolshevik perverters.

Everything and Everybody (1940)

From the June 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard

The new Emergency Powers Bill, which the Daily Herald (May 23rd) describes as a Bill which gives power to the State “to control everybody and everything” was passed in 2½ hours from first to last. The Bill was introduced without prior warning at 3.45 p.m. and taken through all its readings in Commons and Lords by 5.57 p.m. At 6.9 p.m. it received the Royal Assent. As the Daily Herald says, it shows “the speed at which Parliament can work in a crisis.” Against many Labour Party and other critics of Parliamentary Government who argue that Parliament is too slow, the S.P.G.B. maintained that Parliament can act just as speedily as it wants to act. It has taken a war to convince some people that this is so.

The New Defence Regulations (1940)

From the June 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard

On May 9th the Home Secretary, Sir John Anderson, announced in the House of Commons that the Defence Regulations affecting propaganda had been amended. The amendment had taken place after consultation with members of the opposition parties, but it was pointed out by Mr. Attlee for the Labour Party that the consultations “in no way implied that those members either approved or disapproved of the regulations, which were, necessarily; put forward on the sole responsibility of the Government.”

The relevant part of the Home Secretary’s speech is reproduced below : —
The Home Secretary’s Statement

“The second group of Regulations is concerned with the activities of individuals and organisations who, by spreading defeatist or anti-war propaganda, are seeking to undermine public morale and to weaken the resolution of the people to prosecute the war to a successful issue. As I said in my reply to Questions on 25th April, there is a risk that our traditional reluctance to limit the free expression of minority opinions may be exploited by persons whose real purpose is to hamper, for ulterior motives, the war effort of the nation. The Defence Regulations introduced on the outbreak of war included stringent provisions dealing with propaganda, under which it would have been an offence for any person to endeavour to influence public opinion in a manner likely to be prejudicial to the defence of the realm or the efficient prosecution of the war; but after the Debate on the Regulations which took place in this House on 31st October last there was a drastic curtailment of those provisions of the Regulations which had attracted special opposition on the ground that they were capable of being used for the suppression of minority opinions. The Government are anxious to avoid any unnecessary interference with our traditional liberties, but they feel that a distinction can and must now be drawn between the mere expression of honest opinion on the one hand and, on the other, the deliberate and systematic advocacy of defeatist or antiwar policies with intent to weaken the national resolution to prosecute the war to a successful conclusion.

Legal provisions on this subject must necessarily be cast in somewhat general terms if they are to cover all forms of propagandist activity which are prejudicial to the national interests; and the difficulty has always been to find a form of words which will suffice to check the really mischievous activities without at the same time penalising expressions of opinion, with which we should all desire to avoid interference, however much we may disagree with the opinion expressed. The consultations which I have held have led me to the conclusion that this point cannot be fully met except by giving, to a responsible Minister answerable to Parliament, an administrative discretion to determine in what cases individuals or organisations should be made liable to criminal proceedings for engaging in mischievous activities of this kind; and in the new Regulation which has now been made a novel procedure has been adopted in order to secure that the sanctions of the criminal law shall be applied only to persons acting with deliberate intent to prejudice the national interest. The Regulation provides for the issue of a warning to any person or organisation who appears to the Secretary of State to be concerned in the systematic publication of matter calculated to foment opposition to the prosecution of the war to a successful issue. The warning will draw attention to the matter objected to and will make it clear that if after the warning there is any future publication of matter calculated to foment such opposition the person or persons concerned will become liable to prosecution under the Regulation. Until a warning has been issued no person can be prosecuted for an offence under the Regulation; but if after receiving such a warning there is a continuance of mischievous activities those responsible then become liable to prosecution and, if convicted, to heavy penalties—namely, seven years’ penal servitude or a fine of £500, or both.

The Regulation provides ample safeguards against any misuse of the new powers which it confers. In the first place the Secretary of State must be satisfied, not by an isolated remark but by a consistent course of conduct, that there is systematic publication of matter which is calculated to foment opposition to the prosecution of the war to a successful issue, and further that the continuance of these activities may cause serious mischief. Then there must be a formal warning by a notice in writing of the consequences of persistence in this course of conduct. Then, if such conduct is persisted in, proceedings based on a specific contravention of the Regulation can be instituted only with the consent of the Attorney-General and can be taken only at Assizes or courts of corresponding jurisdiction; and the defendant cannot be convicted if he can show to the satisfaction of the court that he had no intent to foment opposition to the prosecution of the war to a successful issue and had no reasonable cause to believe that his activities were calculated to foment such opposition. I hope that what I have said will suffice to satisfy the House that this new Regulation is so drawn as to penalise only deliberate, organised and systematic efforts to undermine the national morale; and I need hardly add that it is the firm intention of the Government to apply the criminal sanctions provided by this Regulation only in cases of real gravity where the national interests may be seriously threatened.

A second Regulation in this group is designed to extend and strengthen the provisions of Defence Regulation 39A, under which it is already an offence to endeavour to seduce from their duty persons in His Majesty’s service or in the various services of Civil Defence. Experience has shown that it is not enough to restrict this provision to persons already embodied in the various services. The efforts of those who wish to undermine the efficiency of these services may be directed not to persons already serving but to those who are shortly to be called up for service; and the Regulation has therefore been amended so as to make it equally an offence to endeavour to incite persons liable to such service to evade their duties or to endeavour to incite persons to abstain from enrolling voluntarily in any of the defence services. Here again care has been taken to avoid penalising the mere expression of opinion. It will be no offence merely to state the statutory rights of men liable to military service to claim exemption on conscientious grounds, nor will the Regulation prevent the giving of guidance to a young man who is troubled in conscience and seeks advice from a priest or a friend. The Regulation is aimed at those who try to incite young men liable to military service to simulate conscientious objections for the purpose of evading their duties. I am satisfied that this limited provision is necessary and that it will command general support.

Finally, power has been taken to apply really effective sanctions against the use of printing presses for the production of publications which contravene either the new Regulation dealing with the corruption of public morale, or the expanded provisions of Regulation 39A regarding attempts to cause disaffection or Regulation 39B dealing generally with the publication of false statements prejudical to the national interests. Under this new Regulation the Secretary of State may, if he is satisfied that any printing press has been used for the production of any document in respect of which any person has been convicted of an offence under any of these three Regulations, direct that the press shall not be used for any purpose until the leave of the High Court has been obtained for its further use. The High Court may grant such leave if satisfied that the use of the printing press for the production of the offending document was due to a mistake, or even though not so satisfied may grant leave for its future use subject to conditions, or may if it thinks fit order that the printing press shall be destroyed. In many cases documents constituting an offence under these Regulations will have been printed, by persons other than those convicted of distributing or publishing them; and in serious cases it is desirable that there should be power to bring it home to the printer that his plant cannot be used with impunity for the production of mischievous documents of this character which contravene the law. A power to seal up the printer’s plant is likely to operate as a more effective deterrent than criminal proceedings leading to a fine; and this new power should materially reduce the extent to which printing presses will be made available for the production of documents of this type.”
Text of the Regulation regarding publications

The following is taken from the Manchester Guardian, May 31st, 1940.
“Power to suppress a newspaper is provided by a new Emergency Powers (Defence) Regulation, issued yesterday, which reads: 
1. If the Secretary of State is satisfied that there is, in any newspaper, a systematic publication of matter which is, in his opinion, calculated to foment opposition to the prosecution to a successful issue of any war in which his Majesty is engaged, he may by order apply the provisions of this regulation to that newspaper.
2. No person shall print, publish, or distribute or be in anyway concerned in the printing, publication, or distribution of any newspaper to which this regulation applies.
3. An order of the Secretary of State under this regulation specifying a newspaper by name shall have effect not only with respect to any newspaper published under that name but with respect to any newspaper published under any other name if the publication thereof is in any respect in continuation of, or in substitution for, the publication of the news¬ paper named in the order.”

Another regulation empowers the Secretary of State to seize printing presses used in the production of a newspaper it he is satisfied that the newspaper is one in which there has been a systematic publication of matter which is, in his opinion, calculated to foment opposition to the prosecution to a successful issue of any war in which his Majesty is engaged.

Editorial: How will the Defence Regulations be Used? (1940)

Editorial from the June 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard

Elsewhere in this issue we reproduce the Home Secretary’s statement on the new Defence Regulations. The Home Secretary declared that it was his desire to avoid “penalising expressions of opinion, with which we should all desire to avoid interference, however much we may disagree with the opinion expressed.” Elsewhere he referred to “mere expression of honest opinion.” Much depends of course on how the regulations are used and what the Government regards as honest opinion. As far as the S.P.G.B. is concerned it should be clear even to the most embittered opponent of Socialism that there could be no better indication of honest opinion than the fact that, unbrokenly for 36 years, the members of the S.P.G.B. have constitutionally and democratically propagated the same unchanged Socialist principles. It is our claim now, as always, that we are Socialists and we preach Socialism. And if the declaration made by Mr. Justice Stable in a recent libel action holds good we shall continue to do so : —
“The expression of views, no matter how unpopular, how fantastic, or how wrong-headed they might appear to the majority, was a right, and a right which he (the judge) was paid to see was observed”.— (Reproduced in Manchester Guardian, May 10th, 1940.)
As was however to be expected, certain newspapers (including some which for years were expressing admiration of odious aspects of Fascist regimes abroad) are using the fierce feeling against Quislings to support action against every opinion uncongenial to themselves. The following appeared in a Times editorial on May 23rd, 1940:- —
“But public indignation and suspicion are undoubtedly being aroused also against the activities of British citizens who, consciously or unconsciously, ally themselves with the evil forces against which their country is fighting. The Defence Regulations have already been amended to give the Home Secretary powers to deal with such people. They provide heavy penalties for persistence in anti-war propaganda and for attempts to dissuade men from undertaking defence duties. They give power also to require persons to reside within a specified area and not to travel outside it without permission. No one would be sorry to see these powers exercised immediately against those responsible for publications or activities which seek to traduce or to impede the high purposes of their country in waging this war, and many would prefer to see such persons confined to their own society in internment camps. They have a right to their own opinions, if indeed these opinions are their own and not manufactured or procured by the nation’s enemies : but they have no right to inflict them on others at such a time.”
It will be observed that The Times proclaims the principle of “right to their own opinions”—“in internment camps.”

It can hardly be supposed that this specious doctrine is held by the Labour Party representatives now in the Government. If it were it would be against their own long-proclaimed Party tradition.

We may add that, in the matter of forming opinions of our own, “not manufactured or procured” by any other person, party or government, here or abroad, the S.P.G.B. and the Socialist Standard, during the period of their existence, have not had to take guidance from The Times.

Looking Back and Looking Forward (1940)

From the June 1940 issue of the Socialist Standard

In the midst of the present titanic struggle in France and Belgium it appears to the majority of people that the past and the future are alike matters that can be left alone. Every energy, every thought, must, they say, be concentrated on the present; and with the impatience of those who are in the fight they are resentful that anyone should be concerned with past causes and future consequences. Socialists can appreciate the attitude of mind, for, we have felt similar impatience for years with the opponents of Socialism. For years the Socialist has had to put up with the apathy or wrongly directed zeal of the great majority. Before 1914, and right up to the outbreak of the present war, Socialists have been trying to get the workers of all countries to realise that, without a fundamentally different and better basis for the social system, there never would be or could be any safeguard against, poverty and war. But we who were on the job of showing the only way of escape were not listened to. We had to put up with the people who were “not interested in politics,” or who thought they knew of short cuts or easier roads, or who privately said they agreed with the S.P.G.B. but publicly put a different case because of the alleged ignorance and hopelessness of the working class.

We remember the Communists and their many Labour Party admirers who suddenly discovered, 20 years ago, that dictatorship—and its likely accompaniment, civil war—were the golden road to Socialism. In face of scornful taunts that we were out of date we replied that Socialism and democracy are indissolubly linked together, and that those who preached dictatorship would inevitably provoke reactionary terrorism. The Bolshevists cannot escape their major responsibility for the rise of Fascism.

We remember, too, the blind guides who thought they saw Socialism sweeping Europe because of the Labour and Labour-Coalition Governments set up in many countries after the war. We were told that “Over a large part of Europe definitely Socialist administrations are actually in office, and the principles of Socialism are avowedly accepted as the basis of social and economic reconstruction.” (Sidney and Beatrice Webb, in Preface to “A Constitution for the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain,” Fabian Society, 1920.)

The answer to this illusion was plain to see even in the journals which fostered it. The Daily Herald in 1919 had sent a correspondent, Madeline Doty, to study conditions in “Socialist” Germany. She interviewed, among others, a well-known German woman Socialist, a close friend of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxembourg, and said to her: “The world talks of a Socialist Republic in Germany.” This was her answer: “It is a lie. There isn’t an atom of Socialism. The Monarchy has gone, a Republic has come; but it is a capitalist Republic, a capitalist Republic that is more deadly and relentless than the Monarchy.” (Daily Herald, July 30th, 1919).

We remember again the legion of Labour Party supporters, including men now in the Cabinet, who preached pacifism, disarmament and appeasement; who, in face of our insistence that it was a dangerous illusion founded on a complete misreading of the world we live in, declared that if only German capitalism were treated generously there would be prosperity, stability and international reconciliation. The S.P.G.B. maintained unceasingly that neither greater armaments nor disarmament, neither punitive peace terms nor a policy of loans and concessions and a League of Nations, would alter essentially the basic forces driving to conflict. The S.P.G.B. continued to preach its only “ism,” Socialism, never on any occasion lending support to sentimental illusion and dangerous dreaming, and all the time we had to put up with the scoffing of the open enemies and misguided would-be friends of Socialism.

We are, of course, now asked to face the charge that we, too, failed in our effort to get the workers to realise the true nature of the situation confronting them. True, we failed in our task. The workers were not ready. They had too many and too persuasive leaders preaching the comfortable doctrine of the short and easy way to Socialism, against which we were almost powerless. But with our unanswerable case fortified by the experience of the past 20 years, and the present tragic outcome, what should we do ? Give up the struggle ? Stop pointing out the truth ? Plainly, No. The world needs the Socialist message more urgently than ever before. Let us rather determine that, to the best of our ability, old false doctrines in a new disguise shall not again be allowed to take root. Let us recognise with Sir William Beveridge there is need of a new idea; that “in view of the failure of the peace settlement of 1919, and of the despondency created by it in many minds, there is need of some new idea for the next peace. …” (Speech to Manchester Reform Club, reported in Manchester Guardian, January 31st, 1940.) Let us, however, determine that that demand for a new idea in the workers’ minds shall not be met, as Sir W. Beveridge proposes, with the sterile idea of Federal Union, but with the one fruitful conception for the human race, the idea of Socialism.
Edgar Hardcastle