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The First World War

When war broke out in August 1914 the Socialist Standard had no hesitation expressing the position of the Socialist Party of Great Britain at the first opportunity. The September issue carried a front page declaration denouncing the war as a “business war” over “questions of the control of trade routes and the world’s markets” and stating that there were therefore no interests at stake justifying “the shedding of a single drop of working class blood”. It ended “The World for the Workers”.

This internationalist, anti-war position was maintained throughout the war. Socialist Party members refused to go and kill their fellow-workers and were either jailed or went on the run.

The Socialist Standard itself was not subject to censorship though it was banned from being sent overseas. Censorship did, however, have an effect in terms of the amount of information as to what exactly was going on that was available. It was because the censors did not allow too much to leak out that the Socialist Standard had very little to say about the events in Dublin over Easter 1916 and that the article on the Bolshevik seizure of power in November 1917 had to be devoted to setting out the theoretical reasons why, whatever had happened, it could not have been a socialist revolution.

During these years the main concern of socialists, both in Britain and on the Continent, was, apart from renewing international links, simply to stop the slaughter of workers. Thus the Socialist Standard, besides exposing the economic causes of the war and countering pro-war propaganda, repeatedly called for an immediate and unconditional end to the war. This was expressed not only in declarations sent to various conferences of workers’ organisations from different countries but also in reprinting anti-war appeals from such organisations in other countries, including one from Rosa Luxemburg in Germany and another, in 1915, from the Bolshevik wing of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party.

When the Bolshevik government did try to take Russia unilaterally out of the war and stop the slaughter on the Eastern Front this earned it the praise of the Socialist Standard despite the reservations about the Bolsheviks’ claims to have started establishing socialism in Russia. In a war situation, with workers dying for causes that were not theirs, stopping this slaughter was regarded as the priority for any organisation or publication committed to the working-class interest.