Against War When It Mattered
July 1917, and the bloody butchery of world capitalism had been unleashed for nearly three years. Workers in their masses were being sacrificed as human offerings to the insatiable god of profit. The recruiting sergeants, in different countries and different languages, poured forth the propaganda of nationalistic hatred.
And with them, supporting the recruitment for the trenches, were the bogus socialists. Yes, indeed, these so-called socialists, who wave the red flag in peace time and their national flags when the signal for war was given, had spoken loudly of "internationalism" before the war began. Easy to favour peace when there is no war, isn't it? But, because they were tied up in the ideology of capitalism and did not recognise it as a world system based upon a clear class division between capitalists and workers, the phoney socialists abandoned the interest of the working class in favour of the interest of capitalist nations.
We publish below the Manifesto which was issued in 1917 to be considered by the proposed anti-war conference which was due to be held in Stockholm. It shows that, at the time when it mattered, we socialists held tight to our principles and upheld the case for world peace.
Since 1917 socialists have been urged to support other wars. Indeed, some of those who were part of the minority of anti-war internationalists in July 1917 were subsequently to create the Russian state capitalist dictatorship which, in 1939, justified the Stalin-Hitler pact in the name of socialism. We have been asked to support "wars for democracy" and "wars of liberation" and even "civil wars for socialism". In every case the World Socialist Movement has refused to support the view that the workers' interest can be advanced in any way by means of capitalist war. It is not only in peace that we have spoken of peace, but in war too, even though the consequences for our members have not been easy or comfortable.
So, in printing this, the first of our regular "classic reprints", we stand by what we stated in 1917. The parties referred to may now have different names; in different countries the militarist histories have taken different forms; but war in this century is of global proportions and has a single cause: the system of capitalism. And, as war has only one cause, so it has only one possible solution: world socialism.
From Socialist Standard, July 1917
The Manifesto of the Socialist Party of Great Britain
To the proposed International Congress
Residing as we do under the control of the "democratic" British Government, we are not permitted to send Delegates to the Congress to state our views, present our case, and defend our policy, as we so strongly wished. All the more is this to be regretted as our organisation is the only one in the British Isles that takes its stand upon a definite and avowed Marxian basis and follows a policy logically deduced from that basis.
We hold that the Working Class must march to its emancipation from wage-slavery and the domination of the Capitalist Class, by the conquest of political power. In the British Isles the means wherewith to accomplish this are already in the hands of the workers, as, despite certain anomalies in our franchise, the workers have the overwhelming majority of the votes at their disposal when an election takes place. Hence the great, immediate, and pressing work requiring to be done is the education of the Working Class to an understanding of Socialism -to a realisation of their slavery and the method of their emancipation.
The Working Class are slaves to the Capitalist Class. While the Workers produce all existing wealth by applying their labour-power to the materials provided by Nature, this wealth, and the instruments necessary for its production, along with the great storehouse of Nature's materials -the earth- are owned and controlled by the Master Class under a system of private ownership that necessitates the selling of the bulk of the products upon the markets. But while powers of production increase by leaps and bounds, the markets grow but slowly. Hence the struggles between the various groups of Capitalists for the control of these markets and the routes thereto so that they may dispose of the commodities the wage-slaves have produced. Practically all the wars of the last three centuries, from the struggle against the Dutch and Portuguese in India to the present colossal carnage which is devastating the whole world, have had their essential causes rooted in the demands of the various groups of Capitalists to control these markets and routes.
The Workers' share of these conflicts has been to slaughter each other in their Masters' interests, to find a grave if killed, or be offered the degrading and comfortless shelter of the workhouse if disabled or maimed. The hardship, misery, want, and suffering following these wars fall always upon the Working Class. Thousands of cripples and tens of thousands of men with constitutions ruined by military service will feel the horrors of the struggle for existence with tenfold bitterness after the war. In the midst of the conflict the Pensions Minister, Mr. G.N. Barnes - a member of the ILP and of the "Labour Party", and "Labour" Member of Parliament for Blackfriars Division of Glasgow - has admitted that over 100,000 men have been discharged from the British Army as medically unfit for Service without allowance or pension of any kind. To soothe the ruffled feelings of these unfortunate victims of capitalist brutality this so-called representative of the Workers said:
"It has been claimed that these men should be put on pension . . . . inasmuch as the doctors have passed them in . . . . I want to say that they will not get it while I am in the office."-Official Report, col. 254, March 6th, 1917.
No matter which group of the Masters win the struggle, the Workers remain enslaved. The division of interests is not between the peoples of the world, but between the classes - the Master Class and the Working Class. Not, therefore, in their fellow Workers abroad, but in the Master Class at home and abroad, are the working-class enemies found.
What interest have the Workers, then, in either starting or carrying on war for their masters? Absolutely none.
Every Socialist must, therefore, wish to see peace established at once to save further maiming and slaughter of our fellow Workers. All those who on any pretext, or for any supposed reason, wish the war to continue, at once stamp themselves as anti-Socialist, anti-working class, and pro-capitalist.
Moreover, where the Working Class have the necessary means - the franchise - for their emancipation within their grasp it is clearly an anti-Socialist and treacherous act to urge them to use those means for the purpose of placing political power in the hands of the masters. The flimsy excuses so often used to cover up such acts of treachery to the Working Class merely add evidence to support the truth of this statement.
Applying these tests of real understanding of Socialist principle and correct action to the organisations in this country claiming to be Socialist, we find all of them except the Socialist Party of Great Britain failing to stand that test. The Fabian Society, with Mr. Bernard Shaw and Mr. Sidney Webb at its head, merely wishes for an extension of the Civil Service system under the control of a bureaucracy, and is opposed to the Workers being emancipated from their slavery .In addition to supporting the carrying on of the war, both the society and its individual members readily support the return of Liberal Capitalists to Parliament.
The so-called Independent Labour Party is ready at all times to make political bargains with the Capitalists and to urge the Workers to place power in the hands of the masters. Thus Mr. Ramsay Macdonald at Leicester, Mr. Philip Snowden at Blackburn, Mr. F. Jowett at Bradford, Mr. James Parker at Halifax, Mr. G.H. Roberts at Norwich, Mr. G.N. Barnes at Glasgow, and Mr. Clynes at N.E. Manchester all owe their seats in Parliament to bargains made with the Liberals, in return for which they gave their support to Liberals in these and other constituencies. While protesting - in some forms - against the war, and now urging "Peace by negotiation", the ILP allowed its members like Mr. Parker and Mr. Clynes to assist in the recruiting campaign.
In a letter sent to his constituency on 11th September, 1914, Mr. Ramsay Macdonald said:
"I want the serious men of the trade unions, the brotherhoods and similar movements, to face their duty .To such it is enough to say ‘England has need of you' and to say it in the right way.
"They will gather to her aid; they will protect her." Daily Chronicle, September 9th, 1914.
In the Merthyr Pioneer for 27th November, 1914, the late Mr. Keir Hardie, another ILP Member of Parliament, said:
"I have never said or written anything to dissuade our young men from enlisting. I know too well all there is at stake."
How is all this different from assisting in carrying on the war? How clearly it shows the treachery of the ILP leaders and Members of Parliament!
Moreover, the ILP has allowed its members to accept office in a Capitalist government without making any protest or repudiation. It is true that their 1917 Conference passed a resolution dissociating the organisation from Mr. Parker's action in taking a Government office, but not only is Mr. Parker allowed to remain a member of the ILP, but no protest at all is made when other members, as Mr. Mitchell, Mr. Barnes, and Mr. Roberts, accept office under similar conditions. While protesting against German Social-Democrats voting war credits in the Reichstag, ILP members have steadily voted for war credits here.
The claim of the ILP to be a Socialist organisation is fully repudiated by the actions of its members, of which the above are but examples.
The British Socialist Party has been just as ready - if with less success - to try and enter into arrangements with the Capitalist parties for seats and offices. At General Elections they have shown their impartiality by advising the Workers to vote for Capitalist candidates of the Tory brand in some constituencies - as South Hackney, Norfolk, etc. - and for Capitalist candidates of the Liberal type in other constituencies. The one MP who until recently was a member of the BSP - Mr. W. Thorne owes his seat to the Liberals and Tories in West Ham combining to make him a present of that constituency. In the early days of the war he, with Mr. Hyndman, Mr. Hunter Watts, and others, took a prominent part in the recruiting campaign, calling upon the Workers of Great Britain to take up arms for the slaughter of their fellow Workers on the Continent, although Mr. Hyndman admitted that whichever side won the Workers would not benefit a single jot. Just lately Mr. W. Thorne has returned from a trip to Russia, taken, along with Mr. O'Grady and Mr. W. Saunders, on behalf of the British Capitalists, to persuade the Russian Workers to continue the war on the Eastern side.
In the ranks of the BSP a division of opinion has developed, resulting, after a struggle between the two sections, in the secession of the defenders of the war - Hyndman, Hunter Watts, Lee, Irving, and the rest - and the formation by the secessionists, of the National Socialist Party .The absurdity of the title is balanced by the merit it has of showing how completely pro-Capitalist and anti-Socialist these individuals are.
The BSP has now joined hands with the ILP in a so-called peace propaganda, but the confusion and double-dealing lying behind this movement is shown most glaringly by the fact that both these organisations remain affiliated to the Labour Party that has whole-heartedly supported the war from its inception.
One of the rewards given for this support was the appointment of Mr. J. Hodge, "Labour" Member for Gorton, as Labour Minister. Within a week of his appointment he tried to show his utility to the masters by threatening to use the powers of the Defence of the Realm Act against the Boilermakers of Birkenhead, who were protesting against the rotten conditions imposed upon them by the employers.
The organisation calling itself the Socialist Labour Party has never understood how the Workers are enslaved, and for years has propagated what it calls Industrial Unionism as the method of emancipation. Its attempts to reconcile this position with its claim to be a political party has led to such confusion in its ranks that when the war broke out it was divided as to whether it should support or oppose it.
THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN alone takes up the Socialist position here. At the beginning of the war we pointed out the essential factors forming its cause which we have given above, and we have steadily and consistently pressed this view by all the means in our power, and maintained it upon all occasions without change or deviation. Thus we said in the first issue of our official organ to be published after Britain's entry into the war (Sept. 1914):
"THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN . . . whilst placing on record its abhorrence of this latest manifestation of the callous, sordid and mercenary nature of the international capitalist class, and declaring that no interests are at stake justifying the shedding of a single drop of working-class blood, enters its emphatic protest against the brutal and bloody butchery of our brothers of this and other lands, who are being used as food for cannon abroad while suffering and starvation are the lot of their fellows at home.
"Having no quarrel with the working class of any country, we extend to our fellow workers of all lands the expression of our goodwill and Socialist fraternity . . ."
While in the February 1915 issue we said:
"We . . . declare again that there was nothing in the conditions of any country which justified Socialists voluntarily supporting either side in the war, and record our condemnation of such action as a betrayal of Socialist principles arising from lack of political knowledge and unsound political organisation."
So, with our own hands clean and our every action in accord with the CLASS struggle and the solidarity of the interest of the Working Class the world over, we bring before the international proletariat our DEMAND FOR PEACE without any change of attitude or re-adjustment of policy. We stand for PEACE without reference to terms, since the fruits of Capitalist war are the Masters', and only the pains and penalties thereof the Workers'.
The grim humour of the claim that Britain is fighting to "crush Prussian Militarism" is clearly shown by the fact that a Bill is being passed through the liberty-loving, democratic British Parliament establishing "Militarism" in a far worse form than either the present Prussian or the late Russian rulers ever attempted. Men who have crossed the seas because they refuse to accept military service are to be forced into the army of the "allied" country they may be in or brought back to serve in the army here!
To the Socialists of other countries we extend our fraternal greetings. As soon as conditions will permit us to do so we shall endeavour to join forces with our Comrades for the purpose of establishing a Socialist International Congress where Socialist policies shall be decided, where misleaders and tricksters who use the name and fame of Socialism will be exposed and denounced, where the message of Socialism will be sent forth to the toilers of all countries in clear and unmistakable terms, where the gage of battle against the Capitalist Class will be thrown down to the clarion call:
"WORKERS OF THE WORLD UNITE! YOU HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE BUT YOUR CHAINS; YOU HAVE A WORLD TO WIN."
THE EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE
THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN
20th June 1917
193 Gray’s Inn Road, London WC1