Should Socialists Support Federal Union?

June 14, 2011

Report of a Debate Between Federal Union (Mrs. Barbara Wootton) and The Socialist Party of Great Britain (Mr. E. Hardy)

Chairman Mr. R.G.W MacKay

Debate held at Conway Hall, London: May 6th, 1940

THE CHAIRMAN, in opening the proceedings, said the debate had been arranged jointly by the organisation known as Federal Union and by the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Mrs. Barbara Wootton would answer the question, “Should Socialists support Federal Union?” in the affirmative, and Mr. Hardy would answer it in the negative.

Mrs. Wootton would first speak for thirty minutes and then Mr. Hardy would speak for thirty minutes, after which they would speak in the same order for twenty minutes and then for ten minutes. There would be no speeches or questions from members of the audience.

Mrs. Barbara Wootton was well known as a Socialist thinker and writer, and Mr. Hardy was also well known, as a nondescript member (as he preferred to be called) of the Socialist Party of Great Britain.

The subject of the debate was an exceedingly important one, and the question of what was to be done at the end of the war in order to organise a better world was no doubt a question that was very much in the mind of everyone present that evening.


First speech for Federal Union

MRS. BARBARA WOTTOON: There is one thing about which I hope Mr. Hardy and I are going to agree, because if we do it will probably save us a little time and prevent those who are present here this evening from feeling they have been cheated out of the money that they give to the collection! I hope Mr. Hardy and I are going to agree to some extent about what a Socialist is. I am not sure we are going to agree all the way, but I think we are going to agree far enough to enable us to go along some sort of common track in this discussion as to whether a Socialist should also be a supporter of

Federal Union. I am going to make four statements about a Socialist, hoping that Mr. Hardy will endorse all of them, even if he wants to add a few others of his own.

First, a Socialist is a person who thinks that the economic resources of the world should be used to provide a good living for the population of the world. A Socialist is primarily a person who believes in the organisation of economic life for the satisfaction of human needs. That proposition alone is not quite enough, because almost everybody, Socialist and non-Socialist alike, I suppose, would agree that that is what ought to be done. The non-Socialist or capitalist would, or could, say that that is what capitalism does, and the Socialist would say that that is what Socialism would do. Therefore, I am going to add to that proposition three other propositions.

My second proposition is that a Socialist is a person who puts equality, particularly social and economic and political equality, very high in his scale of social values. A Socialist is a person who not only thinks that ordinary people ought to have enough, but also thinks that the other people, also ordinary, ought not to have too much, and who believes that equality is of value in itself.

Thirdly, a Socialist is a person who believes that it is very unlikely that we shall get equality and very unlikely that we shall get the use of the world’s economic resources for the needs of the common man, unless there is collective ownership and collective operation of those resources. A Socialist, therefore, is a Collectivist, a person who believes in it because he thinks that common ownership is a necessary condition for equality.

My fourth proposition – and in this I want to go as far as I possibly can to meet Mr. Hardy – is that most Socialists are people who think that in the world in which we live, the English world, this kind of equality, this use of resources for the common man, is prevented by something that we would call a class system, by which I think we would both mean a system under which a minority of people, not because of merit or
superior intelligence or even superior training, but because of their possession of economic power, exercise far more than their due share of influence on the political, social and economic policies of the community. I think we would agree we could produce tangible evidence of the existence of some such class system. I am not sure we would define it in exactly the same way – I rather think we would not – but I think we would agree that a Socialist is a person who conceives that class system as something which stands between him and the objectives of equality and the use of the world’s resources for the common need, which I defined as the Socialist’s objectives.

Now, if that is the kind of person that a Socialist is, and if that is the kind of thing a
Socialist wants, I think one other proposition has to be added, that is, that any kind of
Socialist who is going to hold up his head in public does not want equality or
prosperity for the people of one nation alone. In Socialism there is a strong and
honourable tradition of internationalism. I am going to suggest to you in a moment
that there are a great many Socialists, people who would be Socialists according to my
four propositions, and people who would call themselves Socialists, who are very poor
internationalists at the present time; but I am also going to suggest to you that every
Socialist who has sold his internationalism, as most of them have, is at the bottom of
his heart, very uncomfortable and very much ashamed. The Socialist does not want
equality and prosperity for the people of one state alone, but he wants them for the
widest possible community over the whole area of this planet. I do not know if it is
altogether accidental that it was the year 1866 that the First International, the first
international working men’s association, held its first conference, and that it was after
and not before that date that the word “internationalism” first appeared in print in the
English language. The Socialist movement has had a tremendous influence, and a very
honourable influence, in creating the tradition that we know as the international
tradition. All Socialists are ashamed of themselves when they are not internationalists,
and all Socialists as we recognise them will blush to the roots of their hair if they lay
themselves open to the charge of being called National Socialists.
Socialism is an international doctrine by tradition, and what is the situation that we see
in the world today? There are Socialist parties which have retained their
internationalism. Mr. Hardy’s party is one of them. What is its membership? It may be
he will tell you. What has happened to the big Socialist parties? What has happened to
the big Socialist internationals? The large Socialist parties, the great majority of
people who call themselves Socialists, have abandoned their internationalism. They
were exhorted to unite across the whole world. They still pay lip service to the idea
that it is the business of the workers of the world to unite, and they do unite; they unite
behind the Maginot Line and behind the Siegfried Line, and that has now become the
conception of unity of the workers of the world, not for the first time within the
memory of many who are present in this hall this evening. Only the smallest minority
of the Socialist parties have retained the international tradition. The international
tradition has been largely lost, and I am going to ask Socialists to give their support to
Federal Union as one way of bringing back into the Socialist movement the
international tradition, the loss of which I think everyone of us bitterly mourns, and as
one way of solving the appalling problem that faces us at the present time, when we
have two alternatives: either we give way to tyranny, to a movement which suppresses
everything for which Socialists have stood, or the workers of the world unite in mutual
Now, why has the international tradition been lost? It has been lost, first, because of
the fear of war and then because of the fact of war, and one cannot discuss Federal
Union without saying something about the causes, first of the fear of war and then
because of the fact of war.
I think that, when there are a great many things that people can fight about (and there
are), the first cause of war is the absence of any kind of international machinery for
preventing and restraining it, of any effective international order. There are, after all,
more things than the mind can imagine, economic and non-economic, which lead to
disputes, both in the national and international field. Mr. Hardy and I are prevented
from settling our dispute by the most primitive methods by the fact that if we were to
get together and fight it out we would be stopped by the police. In the international
field there is no such means of prevention, and, in the absence of any kind of effective
international order, all the causes that make for war, some of which are economic and
some of which, I think, are not economic, do, in fact, result in war. Federal Union
offers a simple, a workable and, I think, an effective means of settling the kind of
dispute that leads to international war within the area of the Federation.
That is one reason for the existence of war – the fact that there is nothing to prevent it.
Then there is a second reason. I know that amongst many Socialists it is the
fashionable to decry as a cause of war anything that has not a strictly economic origin,
but I think it is very difficult to interpret the history of our own time exclusively in
economic terms. Recall for a moment the history of this century since 1914. In the
third week of August, 1914, the Second International was going to hold a conference
to decide on the measure which the workers of the world should take to prevent
international war. That conference was never held, and the reason why it was never
held was that national sentiment swayed the workers of the world far more powerfully
than their belief in the unity of the workers. Their allegiance to their own flag, their
belief in the necessity of fighting German militarism, their belief in the necessity of
finding a place in the sun, prevailed against their belief in their unity as common
decent people. That happened in 1914, and, as you very well know, it happened again
in 1939. For militarism in 1939 we substitute Nazism and, having acquired a little
education in the interval, for a place in the sun we substituted the word lebensraum,
showing that we now know German. All this has happened because national sentiment
has been too strong. Federal Union is simply a political device for obliterating national
sentiment, and at the same time providing machinery for dealing with aggressive
persons. It obliterates national sentiment because the people within the area of the
Federation are not citizens of Great Britain or citizens of France or citizens of
Germany, but become citizens of a wider community. The final objective of Federal
Union is that that area should be as wide as the confines of this planet. I do not think
many people believe that that would happen immediately, but we do believe that, if we
could combine in one Federation and common citizenship the peoples of Germany, of
France and of England, we might prevent one major war, and if we prevented one
major war we might save the lives of millions of workers whom it is the business of
the Socialist movement to unite.
The first thing that Federal Union offers, then, is a quite limited, but still important
means of establishing international order and of combating national sentiment; and the
second thing that it offers is a means of dealing with aggression which does not place
people in the awful dilemma that faces every sincere person at the present time. Every
sincere person in the country at the present time is faced with this: either he must say,
“Nazism shall have its way,” or he must say, “I shall go out and destroy those whom I
know to be my comrades.”
Within a Federation force is brought to bear not against whole groups – the State of
Germany or the State of France – but force is brought to bear, when force is used at
all, against aggressive persons. Within a Federation responsibility is individual. The
member of a Local Council, the member of a State Legislature, the Governor of a
State, who breaks the Federal Constitution is personally responsible and personally
liable to be brought before the courts; but within a Federation the whole people of the
State are not charged with one man’s guilt and are not made to bear the burden which
is optimistically known as collective security, but which is really collective
Once a political union is obtained, all experience shows that the contacts of the
Socialist workers of the world are made easier, their union is made more workable and
not more difficult. The minority Socialist parties today have retained their
internationalism, but they retain it chiefly on paper, and that is not their fault; no
blame is due to them for that. They retain it on paper for a reason. They know that
they have comrades within the Third Reich and they know they have comrades within
the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics, but can they get to them? Can they unite with
them? Can they get visas? Nobody will be more surprised than the members of this
audience when the Secretary of the Socialist Party of Great Britain gets a visa to
Cologne to visit his opposite number in the Third Reich or his opposite number in the
Union of Socialist Soviet Republics. Because these are independent States, because
they are independent members of the anarchic community of nations, all of them are
interested in keeping out traitorous persons like the Secretaries of Socialist movements
in other countries.
We have not yet a federation with France, but we have a very long alliance which is
supposed to be a courtship for a federation, and already it is becoming apparent that it
is a very great deal easier for the British workers’ movement to make contacts when
there is a close political union, as is the case with France, than it is to make contacts in
a State to which we are not bound by those ties of alliance and political amity. After
all, if you want to go and consult your opposite number in Yorkshire you can go,
because you live under the same political union, but if you want to go and consult your
opposite number anywhere outside this country, even in France, you have to fill up
about a dozen forms before you can get across the Channel. Those things are quite
small things, but they are signs of the greater ease with which associations of workers
can be formed once there is a common flag and a political organisation.
I have based my case on the danger which war offers to the Socialist movement, and
on the greater ease of association that obtains when there is a common citizenship and
a common political organisation, and I am quite sure that Mr. Hardy will say that that
shows a complete misconception of the causes of war. I am therefore going to an
argument which I have heard many times from Socialists. They say that what I have
argued would be all very well if I was right about the causes of war; but that what we
have to do is to get Socialism first, country by country, and then all international
problems will solve themselves; that we shall not get rid of the causes of war until we
get rid of capitalism here, there and everywhere else; and that the destruction of
capitalism, like charity, begins at home. I want to call your attention to one or two
points which, I think, suggest that the argument is not really so well founded as it
seems to be.
First of all, on the general proposition that capitalism is the cause of war, the record of
human history goes back for several thousand years, and it is estimated that during
perhaps a few hundred of those several thousand years there has been peace in the
world. It therefore looks as if war antedated capitalism by quite a long time.
The second argument is very tragic and very plain to see. What happens when one
country establishes Socialism and lets the rest of the world go hang? I think you can
see, from the history of the last twenty years, what happens when Socialism is started
on a national basis. There was something called Socialism in one country, and then
there was something called National Socialism. A great many people thought they
were completely and utterly opposed to one another and had nothing in common, but
then they discovered that the two could be very effective allies. A Socialism which
looks only to its own country degenerates, being undermined by the strength of the
national sentiment, into something which is dangerously near to National Socialism –
a combination of words which I suppose all good Socialists abhor.
I am one of those who think (I do not know whether Mr. Hardy will agree with me)
that during the inter-war period very real progress was made in this country towards
laying the foundations of the Socialist order, and that the only reason why we did not
get further was that Socialists suffered from an obsession that they were not strong
enough, although their power was probably greater than we imagined. Then the war
came, and all foundations that had been laid, and all civil liberties on which our
Socialist propaganda rested disappeared in a single week, and we pin our hopes to
some dim and distant day when we shall begin again – thirty years further back – after
the war is over. Some of you have seen that happen twice, and some of you have
begun to wonder whether it is any good trying to get Socialism before you get an
international political organisation, if you have to give it all up and start thirty years
back every twenty years. If you work out that sum, I wonder where you will be in a
hundred years’ time! Not quite as far on as you are now, anyhow!
All the evidence shows that political unity does help. I know the academic argument
very well – that the cause of war is the competition of capitalists. I could put that
argument to you admirably, but I have not the time to do so, and I will leave it to Mr.
Hardy. But I also know that there are capitalists in Wales and Scotland bitterly
competing in recent years with capitalists in the southern part of England, and I could
put an admirable academic argument to show you why their competition will
inevitably lead them into war; and yet they do not go to war. They do all sorts of other
very unpleasant things, but they do not go to war, and the reason they do not go to war,
I submit to you, is that they have established a political union. Political unity is of very
great help in staving off the war that puts your Socialism back, the war that breaks up
your international Socialist movement and that makes impossible and illegal your
Socialist propaganda, the war that puts your Socialists in jail.
I will tell you now three things that Federal Union is not. First, Federal Union is not
Socialism. A Socialist should support Federal Union because it is a necessary tool for
getting Socialism, but he should not be a Federal Unionist and say: “When we get
Federal Union everything in the garden is lovely.” It will not. The Socialist has to
support Federal Union simply as a piece of machinery, just as when we go to a place
by train we need an engine on the train, but the engine is not the place to which we
want to go. That is the position that Federal Union holds in relation to Socialism.
Secondly, Federal Union does not ask you to support any kind of Federation, but only
a Federation which will give an opportunity for Socialist propaganda to be carried on,
that is to say, a Federation which respects the civil liberties of the individual. I am not
here to support, and will never support, a Federal dictatorship.
Thirdly, there is the argument that Socialists should not support Federal Union because
the wrong people support it. I must confess that that is a thing about which I have
never been at all frightened. I have never been afraid to appear with anybody on what I
sincerely believe to be a sound platform. If it is the wrong person and you make it
clear to him what the platform is, he will get off it quickly enough. Federation is a
neutral instrument which you can use for good things or bad things. The way not to
leave it to the wrong people is, I think, quite simple. It is for those who are here
tonight to associate themselves with this movement for political Federation, not
because it is Socialism, not because it is Utopian, not because Federal States are lovely
paradises, but because, unless we have political Federation, we shall have 1914 and
1939 again, a little speeded up to allow for modern technique – shall we say 1953 next
time? And still you are going to try to get Socialism first!
(End of Mrs. Wootton’s first Speech.)
MR. E. HARDY: As the Chairman has told you, the subject of our debate is, “Should
Socialists support Federal Union?” Mrs. Wootton has said that Socialists should
support her organisation, which she agrees is not itself a Socialist organisation and
which does not pretend to be. I am going to oppose that point of view and to say that
Socialists should not support Federal Union, and I do so on behalf of the Socialist
Party of Great Britain. I shall say a few words about that for the benefit of those who
are not already familiar with the stand taken by my organisation, but I would say this
at the beginning. The question that matters is whether Federal Union can prevent or
abolish war, and obviously if it could be shown that, even in a capitalist world, Federal
Union could abolish war there would be an overwhelming case for Socialists to give
up their concentration on Socialism in order to support Federal Union for the purpose
of preventing war. But it is the view of the organisation I represent that capitalism
causes war. Now, if capitalism is the cause of war the position is, of course, very
different. If capitalism causes war and capitalism will go on causing war, then whether
we have a Federal Union or not we shall have war. That is our case.
At the beginning of her address Mrs. Wootton made four general statements, which we
said – and she hoped I would agree – summed up the position for Socialists. In those
statements as given there is little or nothing with which one could disagree, although
in certain respects the statements are not sufficiently precise to show exactly what
conclusions could be drawn from them. I would, however, point out one or two things
about them.
My opponent and I can agree that the world as it exists does not satisfy human needs,
but that is not the position of other members of Federal Union. Lord Lothian, for
example, who is listed as one of the prominent members of Federal Union, not only
strongly disagrees with that statement but claims that capitalism is not the cause of
poverty and inequality: that sovereignty is the cause of those things and that capitalism
has been a great success. He, naturally, has no intention whatever of doing anything to
assist the abolition of capitalism. My opponent will say, of course, that the members of
Federal Union are permitted to have their own views on questions like this, that they
come together merely because they agree about Federal Union. I will deal with that
aspect of the matter later on.
We are agreed that the economic evils that exist in the world are caused by the class
ownership of the means of producing and distributing wealth. We can also agree that
Socialists are internationalists. If a man is not an internationalist, he is not a Socialist. I
would add this, that all these things are summed up adequately in the Declaration of
Principles of the Socialist Party of Great Britain. I will not waste your time by reading
the whole of them to you can make yourselves familiar with them. I would, however,
point out one or two things about the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Our object is
this: “ The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership
and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing
wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.” One of the clauses in our
Declaration of Principles points out that “the emancipation of the working class” – that
is, the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of Socialism – “will involve the
emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.” There we have the
perfect definition of the international standpoint of the Socialist Party of Great Britain.
The last clause in our Declaration of Principles says that the Socialist Party of Great
Britain “calls upon the members of the working class of this country to muster under
its banner to the end that a speedy termination may be wrought to the system which
deprives them of the fruits of their labour, and that poverty may give place to comfort,
privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom.”
I may add one word, that as far as the question of equality under Socialism is
concerned we cannot sum these things up better than the words used by Marx a
century ago, taken by him from earlier writings on the subject, that the distribution we
should aim at should be based on this principle: “From each according to his capacity;
to each according to his needs.”
I do not think I need say anything more than that about the internationalism of the
Socialist Party of Great Britain, but for the benefit of those who are not familiar with
that organisation I would point out that it was formed in 1904 out of the experience
members had had of other organisations, and they formed a certain definite outlook on
the subject of achieving Socialism that has been retained by the organisation ever
since. They decided that the only way to get Socialism was to make Socialism their
only “ism.” The Socialist Party of Great Britain has no other “ism” than that. We hold
implicitly that Socialism is the only hope of the workers. Unlike other organisations
that use that phrase, we do not at the same time suppose that there are a half dozen
other hopes of the workers. The object of all our efforts is Socialism.
I might add that the Socialist Party of Great Britain is, and always has been,
democratic. We have always aimed at achieving Socialism by the one way in which it
can be done, that is, first, by making Socialists, and then by gaining control of the
political machinery of society. But it is, of course, a very important point that we do
not believe we can get Socialism by short cuts, by accumulations of reforms, by pacts
with other organisations; in short, we shall never get Socialism until we have
Socialists. Also we have never toyed with dictatorship, either Nazi or Communist, and
we have never adopted the pernicious view of aiming merely at power. We have never
supposed that Socialism was a question of getting rid of one ruling class in order to
put another ruling class in its place. We have always aimed at building a better world
for the people who live in it, and we have never supposed that Socialism was
something that could be forced on the world against the wishes of the inhabitants of
the world.
With regard to our definition of Socialism, we would say that there is only one
definition of Socialism: we aim at replacing private ownership of the means of life by
common ownership. We aim at production solely for use, which means the abolition of
rent, interest and profit. Further, of course, we are international. Socialism is itself an
international conception and there can be no such thing as Socialism in one country
and, incidentally, of course, since we claim that capitalism is the cause of war, we
believe that Socialism, and Socialism only, will get rid of that conflict of interest, that
drive for markets, that striving for areas of raw material and strategic points, and so
on, which are the causes of war.
There is one other thing that I must point out, and it is important, because certain of
the people who support Federal Union (Dr. Joad, for example, who has written
pamphlets for Federal Union and is listed among their prominent supporters) have
used the argument which comes up again tonight in a slightly different form, that we
shall want Federal Union whether we have Socialism or capitalism. Dr. Joad has said
that during the past twenty years, what he calls Socialist countries have existed, and
the arguments that can be applied to capitalist countries are applicable also to them.
Mrs. Wootton spoke rather similarly this evening about the progress which she
claimed had been made towards Socialism in the interval between the last war and the
present war. It is implicit in the position of the Socialist Party of Great Britain that
Socialism is not State Capitalism, that the mere State ownership and control of
transport, industries, and so on, is not Socialism; it has nothing to do with Socialism
and will not bring us towards Socialism. The only basis for Socialism is the common
ownership of the means of production and distribution and the production of goods
and the operation of services, not for the purpose of making a profit, but solely for the
purpose of meeting the needs of the population of the world. Therefore, in that sense
we cannot agree about what Socialism is. I make the statement, which the Socialist
Party of Great Britain makes, that there are no Socialist countries in existence now and
there have never been any Socialist countries at any time in the history of the human
race. Once you recognise that fact, you can see the falsity of the argument put forward,
for example, by Dr. Joad, based on the supposed experience of the countries that he
had in mind – such countries as Germany under its Social Democratic Government, or
this country under a Labour Government, or Russia, which is the other country he
mentions. None of these countries is now Socialist or ever has been Socialist.
I only want to say this, that it is implicit in the position of the Socialist Party of Great
Britain that Socialism is a system of society based on common ownership, and the
mere administration of capitalism by persons calling themselves Labour or Socialist or
Communist does not produce a Socialist country and does not even lead towards it, but
it is much more likely to lead to a reaction towards Fascism and dictatorship, such as
the reaction in Germany, after years of Social Democratic government. I have heard of
cases in which directors or owners of brewing concerns have themselves been
teetotallers, but the fact that the directors or owners of Barclay, Perkins & Co., or
Watney, Combe & Co., may be teetotallers does not mean that their organisations
become any the less organisations for the purpose of making a profit and getting
people to drink alcohol. I will give you another illustration. The late Mr. Nobel, who
originated the Nobel Peace Prize, was himself an opponent of war and a pacifist, but
that did not in any way diminish the explosive character of the instruments of war
made by Nobel’s Explosives, Limited. Similarly, it is an illusion that the mere
administration of capitalism by persons who say that they do not believe in capitalism
in any way changes the capitalist nature of the social organisation. It does not even
change in an important way the day-to-day activities of the capitalist Government.
That has very important bearing on Federal Union, because I am going to show you
later that the supporters of Federal Union have a totally wrong conception of the
nature of the State. The capitalist State exists for the purpose of preventing the class
division of society from disrupting the social organisation, also for the purpose of
protecting the different capitalist groups from the activities of rival capitalist groups
abroad, and when people who call themselves Labour and who do not believe in
capitalism take on the job of administering that State machine they are the mere
instruments of the machine; they are not in control of it but they are controlled by it.
Mrs. Wootton raised the question that a number of small Socialist organisations have
retained their internationalism, but the large organisations have not done so. My
answer to that is, of course, that the large organisations never were really international.
I have attended certain congresses myself that were alleged to be international
congresses, but the national groups of delegates were so nationalistically-minded that I
thought it a very good thing they could not speak the same language, or they would
have quarrelled a great deal more than they did.
Now I come to a very important point. Mrs. Wootton says that the first cause of war is
the lack of international machinery, and that is laid down in quite a number of Federal
Union documents. Lord Lothian says it is “sovereignty and not capitalism or
Communism which is the fundamental cause of war.” I would say that that is in its
nature a quite fallacious argument. One cannot explain war by the existence or nonexistence
of a piece of international machinery. One has to find the motive behind it,
the driving force that makes the people who control that machine set it and its
armaments in motion. In the industrial field there are people who say that if there were
no trade unions there would be no strikes, but it is the drive, the urge behind it, which
both creates the machinery and sets it in motion. The class division of society is
responsible for trade unions and, of course, for employers’ associations, and it is the
class division of society and the fact that capitalist society is not a community but
consists of classes struggling with one another that brings into existence the sovereign
State and arms it. The fact is that the supporters of Federal Union have a view of the
State which is fundamentally different from the view held by Socialists. They think of
the State as an organisation brought into existence to promote the welfare of a great
mass of individuals who happen to live in a particular country; they do not recognise
that the State in the modern world is “the executive committee of the ruling class,” and
that it must perform the function of preventing the class division of society from
disrupting society, and also the function of maintaining armed forces to protect
capitalism from foreign capitalist States. Of course, when I speak of the State I am not
thinking of a mere central administrative organisation, such as would be needed in any
community and will be needed under Socialism. I am thinking of this coercive State
machine, this organisation with armaments, and so on, which exists under capitalism
and which I say is quite misunderstood by the supporters of Federal Union. When they
claim that sovereignty itself causes war they are reversing the whole position and
failing to recognise that it is capitalism which causes the sovereign State, this coercive
organisation, to come into being, and it will also cause war.
Mrs. Wootton has touched on the question as to how capitalism helps to cause war.
Production in the capitalist world has become international in this sense: capitalism
has broken across frontiers and thrust itself into backward countries, destroyed
agricultural self-supporting countries and forced them to become industrialised, and
made them dependent upon raw materials imported from abroad to supply their
machinery. But the social organisation of the world has not kept pace with this
internationalisation of production. Every country now has great industrial concerns
producing not for local consumption or consumption within its own frontiers, but
producing for markets all over the world, so they are all seeking for areas of raw
materials and they are all interested in guarding trade routes and in maintaining
strategic points, such as Gibraltar, Malta and the Suez Canal. The fact that the
capitalist must sell his product before he can reap his profit and must sell in a market
which is constantly becoming too small for the productive power of the great capitalist
industries of the world is the ultimate cause of war between countries in the capitalist
Mrs. Wootton said that there were wars before capitalism existed. That is true, but
there were also class conflicts and economic rivalries before capitalism existed. They
were not of a capitalist order, but they were just as capable of causing war. Capitalism
nowadays, in the twentieth century, is the cause of the wars that occur in the twentieth
century, and we shall never get rid of war until we have got rid of capitalism and
replaced it by Socialism, in which there will not be these class divisions and this
search for private profit.
Mrs. Wootton claimed for Federal Union that it would succeed in obliterating national
sentiment within the area of the Federal Union. But what is that area? Mrs. Wootton
went on to say that Federal Union would not in the first place be as wide as the
confines of the planet. You will notice a confusion of argument. The arguments put
forward by supporters of Federal Union are all based on what they assume would
happen if Federal Union were world-wide, but they agree that it is not going to be
world-wide. It has been pointed out by the Chairman of Federal Union, Mr. Kimber,
that a world-wide Federal Union is not a practicable proposition, and he says that in an
article in Peace for December, 1939: “To demand that it shall be world-wide at once is
to insist on the impossible.” Another supporter of Federal Union, Sir William
Beveridge, says that world Federation is “not for the present time but for the
millennium.” So that what you have got to deal with is not some hoped-for Federal
Union which is world-wide, but the Federal Union which will actually come into
being if the activities of the Federal Union supporters are successful, and which will
be confined to some smaller area. In other words, it will be a Federal Union based on
capitalism and facing other groups of capitalist forces, and it will be under the same
drive and urge towards war. True, the area of the capitalist State will be extended.
Instead of there being separate countries, England, France and a few other European
countries will be merged together, but you must remember this, that nearly all the
supporters of Federal Union want to exclude the non-democratic countries and, if the
dictatorship countries are excluded, the population of this European Federation will be
roughly equal to that of the United States of America. America is a Federal Union and
has been for 150 years, but it has been forced into wars. America was in a number of
wars in the nineteenth century. It was in the Great War of 1914 and will probably be in
the present war, and everything is drifting towards a war between the Federal Union of
the United States and Japan. Both of them are now engaged in the competitive
building of battleships for war in the Pacific at some time or other. Therefore, we are
not dealing with a world-wide Federal Union but with a limited one, which will find
itself face to face with other capitalist unions in the rest of the world. Sir William
Beveridge, who said that world-wide Federal Union was for the millennium and that
the area at the moment was to be a much more restricted one, also said this, which
may, of course, be only his personal view as a prominent member of Federal Union,
that the failure of the League of Nations has left a sort of vacuum in people’s minds,
and if we fill it with Federal Union it may help the Allies to win their war against
Germany, since the German population will have the feeling that it is not worth while
waging war against Federal Union. Therefore, in Sir William Beveridge’s mind
Federal Union has become at present time a means of winning this war. He went on to
say this: “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 – some different plan.” There is a vacuum, but as a Socialist I object very
strongly to filling that vacuum with Federal Union. The workers are despondent about
the failure of these various things put before them. I want (and Mrs. Wootton, I think,
should say she wants) to fill the vacuum in the minds of the workers, not with Federal
Union, but with Socialism.
I wish to touch further on the question as to whether Federal Union will prevent war. It
is agreed that Federal Union will not in the first place be world-wide but will be
confined to a limited area, so that there will be still sovereign States in the world.
There will be the sovereign State of this European Federal Union and of the other
capitalist areas in all parts of the world, and I claim that the search for profits, this
capitalist conflict, will drive them towards war. I want to draw your attention to a
pamphlet called The Federal Idea, by Mr. Brailsford, in which he says (p.11):
“Certainly the Federation must have a monopoly of air power, sea power and all
offensive arms. It should control such strategic positions as Gibraltar, the Turkish
straits, the Suez Canal and the entry to the Baltic.” If there are any supporters of
Federal Union present who think that Federal Union will prevent war, I can offer
them, to start with, about half a dozen possible wars – a war with Spain and Italy about
Gibraltar (Spain and Italy will be kept out of the Federal Union because they are not
democratic countries), a war with Russia over the control of the Dardanelles, a war
with Egypt and some other country, perhaps some rising nationalist country in Africa,
about the control of the Suez Canal, and a war with some country or other about the
entrance to the Baltic. Those are external wars. I should also like to point out that Mr.
Brailsford claims that “the Federation must reserve the right to suspend or expel a
Member-State for any grave or repeated offence its Constitution.” If the Federation
tries to throw out some Member-State it will probably find itself involved in war with
that State, just as the Northern States of America found itself in war with the Southern
States of the American Federal Union, although in that case it was a question not of
throwing out a group but a group wanting to secede. Another man listed as a
prominent supporter of Federal Union is Dr. Temple, Archbishop of York, and he
claims that “to secede from the Federation would be an act of war against the Union.”
Therefore, given the continued existence of capitalism, the Federal Union is likely to
find itself with a number of civil as well as external wars on its hands, and we come
again to the original point, that in the view of the Socialist it is capitalism which sets
up the sovereign State and arms it and drives it to war. By extending the area, we may
avoid minor wars, in the same way as the League of Nations did, but at the best all I
can see is that we shall have “fewer but larger wars” if we extend the area which the
capitalist sovereign State , whether a Federal Union or not, happens to dominate.
The Federal Union is wrong historically in claiming that we cannot have unity without
sovereignty. That is stated in all its literature. The true position is that, if Governments
or other organisations have mutual interests and a common outlook, there can be unity
without sovereignty and, conversely, even if there is a Federal Union and a central
Government with power over all the area within it, if there are conflicts of interest and
outlook the mere existence of an international machine, even with a strong armed
force, will not prevent parts of the area from quarrelling with each other and going to
war. You may say, as Federal Union does, that they would not have the armed forces to
enable them to do that, but they will find them. There can be a civil war which verges
on an international war. Such a war occurred in the United States of America. They
had Federal Union in 1861, but they engaged in a civil war in which 600,000 men
were killed or died of wounds or disease. This is a greater number than were lost by
France in the whole twenty-two years of the Napoleonic Wars, it is about four times as
many as were lost by France, Great Britain, Piedmont and Turkey in the Crimean War,
it is about four times as many as were lost in the Boer War. It is an illusion to think
that the existence of a sovereign State extending over a certain area gives freedom
from the clash of capitalist interests within that area.
(End of the first speech for the S. P. G. B.)
THE CHAIRMAN said it seemed to him that the issue between Mrs. Wootton and Mr.
Hardy was as to whether capitalism or sovereignty was the main cause of war, and he
hoped that in the second round of the debate further enlightenment would be obtained
on that point.
He would like to ask Mrs. Wootton whether the Federal system in other parts of the
world, such as the United States, Canada and Australia, had been for the benefit of
Socialism or against it, and he would like to ask Mr. Hardy whether, if there had been
48 capitalist sovereign States in America, he thought there would have been more or
less war than there had been. At the end of the present war the practical problem of the
re-organisation of Europe would have to be faced. Was it better to have a Federation or
to have no organisation at all?
Second Speech for Federal Union
I am in somewhat of a difficulty now. Mr. Hardy has quoted Lord Lothian.
Fortunately, Lord Lothian has been appointed Ambassador to the United States, so he
cannot make any more political statements. Then Mr. Hardy also quoted Sir William
Beveridge and Mr. Brailsford, and there are many other people whom I was afraid he
would quote and who said much less orthodox things than those he has mentioned, but
he was very gallant and chivalrous and did not do so. Now, here is my difficulty. I
cannot find any heretics in the Socialist Party of Great Britain to quote against Mr.
Hardy. Apparently more uniform views are expressed by the members of that party
than by the members of Federal Union. I do not know whether that is altogether an
advantage. There are, of course, other parties that call themselves Socialist that could
beat Federal Union in the matter of searching out heretics, but I think perhaps we had
better not pursue that.
The supporters of Federal Union hold varied views on capitalism, pacifism, national
defence, and the present war, just as, if I may revert to my original comparison, the
people who ride in a railway train have varied views on capitalism, Socialism, and the
causes and policies proper to the present war. But, when the train comes to a stop
between the stations they are united in a common determination that the train shall be
got going by hook or by crook, because they want to reach their destination, in order
to get on with the war or to defend the exploited or to overthrow the exploiters or to
grind the faces of the poor more effectively. Just while they are in the train with the
broken-down engine they are united in trying to get the one thing that is essential to
them. In my judgement, Federal Union happens to be just the one thing that is
essential to us now – nothing grand, nothing full of romance or idealism, but a very
practical piece of machinery, like a railway engine, for taking us to the place we all
want to reach, in order that, when we get there, we may deal with all these various
Mr. Hardy told you a great deal about the Socialist Party of Great Britain. He told you
that they have retained their internationalism, while a great many other so-called
Socialist parties have abandoned it. That is true. He also told you that his party made
Socialism there only “ism,” and that, judged by their standards, there were not and
there never had been (I held my breath, wondering whether he was going to add, “and
there never will be,” but he did not) any Socialist countries in the world. To my
astonishment, a greater part of the audience greeted that statement with loud applause.
The supreme achievement of the Socialist Party of Great Britain (not of the European
Federation), which is greeted with applause, is that there are not, and never have been,
any Socialist countries in the world! I think that there is something wrong there. It
seems to me a very odd statement to applaud, unless it was applauded by those who do
not want to see any Socialist countries in the world, which I do not think is possible in
this audience.
Mr. Hardy went on to tell you that the Socialist Party of Great Britain did not aim at
power, and I did not think that statement very surprising. After all, one must have
some kind of sense of proportion, and a party which is apparently further away from
its objective than it was in 1904 has hardly cause to congratulate itself that it has not
aimed at power.
I do not want to say things that are sarcastic about the Socialist Party of Great Britain,
because in all sincerity (and I hope Mr. Hardy will accept this, as a very genuine
statement), I do admire their steadfast adherence to internationalism. I think it is their
greatest single tenet, and I do admire the way in which they have stood by it when
others have abandoned it. But I am appalled at their lack of success, and at their
apparent complacency at the lack of Socialist countries in the world. It is just on that
account that I ask myself whether they have not omitted something which they ought
to have included so that they might get some Socialist countries in the world, so that
they might even aim at power, and so that they might no longer have to applaud the
statement that they have failed in their objective.
That brings me to what I think was the main point in Mr. Hardy address, and what I
think is really the substance of our differences. He very gallantly said at the beginning
that, if the Socialist Party of Great Britain could be convinced that Federal Union
would stop war, its members would give up concentrating on Socialism and would
transfer their energies to supporting federal Union. Now, Mr. Hardy gave me there a
great deal more than I would ever have asked for. I hope he will be convinced that
Federal Union is a very important measure to prevent war, and I hope you will be
convinced of that, but I also hope that, if you are, you will not do what Mr. Hardy said
you should do. I do most sincerely hope that you will give up your concentration on
Socialism, leaving the Socialist Party and coming into Federal Union, because if you
do you will be doing half a job instead of a whole one. The whole burden of my case
is this. The Socialist wants Socialism, international Socialism, and in order to get it he
must get political Federation. If he goes and works for political Federation and lets his
Socialism hang, then let him take what is coming to him. If he concentrates on
Socialism, and ignores political Federation, let him take the national Socialism that is
coming to him. What the Socialist wants in order to make his full programme, and to
leave no vacuum, is Socialism and political Federation. To make the background, to
make the framework within which he can work, he needs political Federation, and
unless he has that he is going to fail; he will be knocked back every twenty years, and
perhaps more frequently, by a major international war, and he will see his fellowworkers
in other countries give way to the appeal of national sentiment as something
stronger than their unity as common human beings and common working people. Mr.
Hardy took the view, as I understood him, the national sentiment is a quite
unimportant thing, that it is not the cause of war except among the capitalist classes;
so I was astonished when he said he had been to international conferences where he
found himself quite relieved that the delegates could not speak the same language,
because of the appalling differences which separated them! As they could not speak
the same language they were not able to have a first class row; by the time there
remarks had been translated, I suppose, things had got a little eased off. Why were
there these tremendous national differences? I cannot think that Mr. Hardy went to
capitalist international conferences, where he might have expected to find these
differences. I think he must have gone to Socialist international conferences, and when
he got there he was appalled by the profundity and sharpness of national distinctions,
so he went home to the Socialist Party of Great Britain and said: “We will work for
Socialism first.”
What are the causes of war? That is the most serious question that faces everybody
living at this time. Mr. Hardy admits that war is very ancient, but he says it has always
been due to class conflict – not always capitalist class conflict, but some kind of class
conflict. It would take a very long time to look at all the wars in history, but that does
seem to me to be a quite fantastic reading of history. The wars of Carthage against
Rome, of Athens against Sparta, of Persia against Greece, of the American Colonists
against the British mother country – it is extraordinarily difficult to explain all those
wars, century after century, in terms of an internal class conflict within the warring
States. There are, surely, plenty of causes of war; sometimes they are economic and
sometimes they have to do, I think, with things that are even more fundamental in
human nature than economics; I think they have to do with the very fundamental
desire to get out and hit something. I mean that quite seriously. I do not think we will
get very far until we emancipate ourselves from that slavery to economic ideas which
was part of the Victorian materialism, until we see that there are some fundamental
psychological things which have played a very big part in history, just as economics
have. There are economic causes of war, and there are bellicose people, like Mr. Hardy
and me, longing to go for one another, because they want one another’s money or
because they are just that kind of person. Something has to be done to restrain them,
and it astonishes me when people, living in a real world at a real time, say that
machinery has nothing to do with stopping conflict. It is conceivable that anybody
who looks at actual conflicts, conflicts within one community or international
conflicts, can really think that machinery to stop conflict makes no impression on
conflict at all? I do not think Mr. Hardy believes that, and I think he let the cat right
out of the bag, so that it leaped right across to the gallery, when he said that what was
wrong was that social organisation in our time had not kept pace with technical
development. Thank you very much Mr. Hardy; that is the best argument that I know
for Federal Union. Social and political organisation have not kept pace with technical
development, with the invention of the aeroplane, with the unity of the new world.
Political boundaries have stayed put, and the political units of the sixteenth,
seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries have remained as they were, while
the world has gone far ahead of them. Every good Marxist knows that political and
social organisation is the reflection of the technical conditions of his time, and the
technical conditions of our time are conditions which demand, and imperatively
demand, larger political units. That is really the whole burden of my case. Machinery
does do something. It does not make us all loving little angels. It does not eliminate
the economic causes of war; you have to have Socialism for that. But it does help to
prevent the causes of war that exist from breaking out into actual war.
With regard to the United States of America, which were quoted by Mr. Hardy, the
Chairman put a very awkward question to me. He asked me whether I thought that the
United States of America or Canada, both of which have Federal systems, were for
Socialism or against it. I should have to give a very guarded answer, because I think
that Federal Union is very important but a limited thing. What I would say is this, that
I think that, so far as the Federal system in those States has prevented internal war, it
has made the path of the Socialists within them a great deal easier, because of the
United States of America once, and in Canada not at all, have they had to see all their
Socialist efforts destroyed in a single night because they had to set to work to fight one
another. It is true that the United States of America had a civil war, and it was true that
the United States of America engaged in international war, but I ask you to look at the
history of Europe in the nineteenth century and at the history of the United States, and
to compare the damage and misery that have been caused by international war and the
very much more limited story of civil war. I ask you, when you have done that,
whether you do not think it is worth doing a great deal to make all war civil war rather
than international. Civil war can be terrible and very bloody when it happens, but it is
very much more rare, because every child is brought up to think that international war
is something that is honourable; every child is brought up to think, even if he
afterwards rejects the idea, that when he is a grown man he may be called upon to
fight for his country, he will be doing something of which he has cause to be proud. It
is all very well to laugh, but you know perfectly well that there is a vast tradition
behind that, and it is that that makes international war easy. These who have not come
to laugh at that – and there are millions – find international war easy and terrible,
honourable and hateful, and they undertake it. But nobody is brought up to think that
civil war is right and honourable, and that means that the odds against civil war are
enormously greater than the odds against international war. It can happen, but it is
Mr. Hardy said that we had one terrible civil war on the American continent in the
nineteenth century. That is true, but we had far more international war on the
European continent. I make no apologies for the American civil war, but I do say this,
that since civil war is so rare, a Federation eliminates international war within its
boundaries has a very good chance of saving, at the very least, one war. If Mr. Hardy
thinks, as I gather he does, that 600,000 lives are worth saving, he will agree that a
Federation, which saved only one war, would be a thing worth working for with all the
energy that we have. Just one war between England and Germany, just one war
between England and France – I do not care what war it is – and you have not come
here for nothing tonight.
The difficulty is that Mr. Hardy brings up all sorts of possibilities and I cannot answer
him. There is not a Federal Unionist in this room who can answer him. You see, we
accept the risks. We know that a Federation might fight against some other country, so
long as it is not worldwide, and we have no hope that it will be worldwide
immediately. Well, you have that situation, anyhow, haven’t you? We know there
might be secessions. We know there are all kinds of possibilities. We do not say we are
going to give you everything, and if we did we would be liars. We take a much more
modest standpoint. Mr. Hardy says because we do not give you everything we had
better get out. His party promise to give you everything, and they remain where they
were. We are giving you one little thing, and that one little thing is a very greatly
diminished risk of war within the area of the Federation. Putting it at the minimum,
that one little thing might save one war and one million of lives. How many times the
membership of the Socialist Party of Great Britain is that? It is on that ground that
Federal Union is valuable, though a limited thing, we support it.
(This ended the second speech for Federal Union.)
Second Speech for the S.P.G.B
MR. E. HARDY: I will commence by answering the question put to me by the
Chairman, as to whether I think there would have been more or less war in the United
States had there been 48 separate States instead of the States being combined in a
Federal Union. Like Mrs. Wootton, I must be very guarded in my answer. What I can
say definitely is this, that America in a Federal Union has been engaged in six eternal
wars and in a civil war, which resulted in the loss of 600,000 lives. There might
possibly have been 48 little wars had the States not been combined in a Federal Union,
and they might or might not have resulted in the loss of 600,000 deaths. I would say
this that had there been no Federal Union there would not have been a civil war about
the right of seceding from the Federal Union.
I might add, as it is rather to the point on this question, that, as I said before, if there is
a common outlook and a common aim, even if the aim is merely mutual self-defence
against some other Power there can be unity without sovereignty.
The supporters of Federal Union claim that it has been a success wherever it has been
operated, and they name South Africa, where the Boers and the English combined in a
State, which is a Federal Union. One of the men particularly well able to watch that at
work is General Smuts, and he, instead of having been convinced that Federal Union
is a thing to be aimed at, takes precisely the opposite point of view. In a speech that he
made in the Union House of Parliament in 1928, dealing with this subject, he pointed
out that the British Empire there is no sovereign State, no written constitution, no
central Government with the written power or the armed force able to coerce all the
Member-States in the British Empire, and he says that is something superior to this
idea of common sovereignty. In other words, he maintains that if there is a common
aim and a common outlook there can be unity without sovereignty.
There is a still better example of that in the Socialist Party of Great Britain and its
companion parties in other countries. The Socialist Party of Great Britain and its
companion parties in America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, do not have to
have a written constitution and a central authority able to coerce the member-parties.
They have the same principles, the same basis, the same aim and the same outlook.
And, of course, when we have Socialism, when we have Socialism, when we are
sufficient Socialists to be able to make that a practicable proposition, they will not
need to be coerced into agreeing with each other. They agree with each other now
when they are small, and they will do so when they are large.
There is one correction that I want to make. Mrs. Wootton obviously misunderstood
something that I said. I did not say, or intend to say that the Socialist Party of Great
Britain did not aim at power. What I pointed out was that they had never adopted the
pernicious doctrine of wanting power for its own sake – power to throw out one ruling
class and to put another in it its place. We want power, but only for the purpose of
introducing Socialism.
We do not deny that national sentiment exists, but we say that it does not cause war.
To give an illustration, if national sentiment, national differences and national friction
were the cause of war, we should probably find the English at war with the Welsh,
instead of the English and Welsh being at war with the Germans. National sentiment
exists, like national tradition, although national tradition is largely fictitious, being
based on falsified history. National sentiment is something which is deliberately
provoked and exploited by the States of the world.
With regard to the remark I made about a so-called international conference, it was not
an international conference of Socialists, but an international conference of people
brought together in various ways because they thought, like Federal Unionists, that if
there is a machinery of international organisation one can by that machinery create
unity. That is wrong. Unity does not exist because the machinery exists. The
machinery cannot make unity exist. Unity is something arising out of a common aim
and a common purpose, and when they exist there is no need to worry about
machinery to make them effective.
I said that there never had been and were not now any Socialist countries, and there
was some applause. Mrs. Wootton said she was surprised at the applause. The people
who applauded did not mean by their applause that they were pleased that there never
had been any Socialist countries, but they recognised the truth of this, that it is
lamentable that so much time has been wasted by people who had a wrong idea about
Socialism and who thought that, by having capitalism administered by people who
called themselves Socialists, some progress would be made towards Socialism.
It is true that this party has had little success. The main hindrance to Socialism is the
entrenched position of the capitalist class, with their wealth, their control of the
political machinery and their power over propaganda, but an additional cause of the
lack of progress of Socialism is the lack of comprehension on the part of various other
people, who have not understood that there is only one way to get Socialism. The
whole field of Socialist propaganda has been confused by people who have said and
got others to believe, that the administration of capitalism by Labour people or people
calling themselves Socialist or Communists is Socialism. That confusion has made
Socialist propaganda doubly difficult.
Mrs. Wootton accepted my quotations from Lord Lothian and Sir William Beveridge
but rather explained them away by implying that the authors of those quotations were
heretics. I would point out, however, that they have not been repudiated by Federal
Union, and their names are given on Federal Union leaflets as “prominent supporters”
of Federal Union. They cannot be repudiated by Federal Union, because Federal
Union disclaims responsibility for what it calls the details of Federal Union. It says in
effect: “As long as you are agreed with the principle, you can have what form you
like; these things are for your own judgement.” Federal Union wants to have the
advantage of that irresponsibility, and, having got the advantage of that irresponsibility
and having attracted a certain membership by saying, “You are free within certain
limits to say what you like,” it cannot at the same time claim the advantage of
repudiating those people when they take advantage of the right given to them Federal
With regard to the illustration of people travelling in a train and all wanting to reach a
certain destination, that may sound all very well, but I would like to point out that this
is not the first time we have had this illustration put before us. Twenty years ago many
people whose names are listed as prominent supporters of Federal Union had another
immediate object for which we were supposed to suspend all our Socialist activities.
They wanted us then to support the League of Nations. They said: “Put aside
Socialism and support the League of Nations, in order to prevent another war.” The
people who listened to them have wasted twenty years on League of Nations
propaganda and they have not prevented another war. We Socialists do not want to see
another twenty years wasted on Federal Union propaganda.
Mrs. Wootton referred to the question of appearing on the same platform with the
wrong people and said it was a weak argument. I want to remind you that the Federal
Union has views not only on war and the prevention of war, but also on Socialism, and
these views are anti-Socialist views. It claims in principle that it is neutral on the
question, that it takes no sides in the controversy between Socialism and capitalism. I
would say it is not neutrality, but what Mussolini calls “temporary non-belligerency.” I
would quote from Lord Lothian’s pamphlet, The Ending of Armageddon (pp. 6 and 7):
“Unemployment and poverty are the inevitable results (of sovereignty). This is equally
true whether nations maintain an individualist or a Socialist economy. We are not
concerned, as Federal Unionists, to take sides in the controversy.” Mr. Streit makes a
similar claim. He says that “Federal Union will end the insecurity and economic
warfare now ravaging the whole world.” Lord Lothian also gives an illustration of
what he claims that the Federal Union has done. In addressing an American audience
last October, he said that the nineteenth century was an era of marvellous prosperity in
England, which came to an end in 1914, and he said the reason why it came to an end
was that Europe did not adopt the Federal Union as America had done. Now, if
Federal Unionists believe that sovereignty is the cause of poverty, unemployment and
insecurity, what are Socialists doing in the ranks of an organisation like that? It is
fundamental to the Socialist case that capitalism is the cause of poverty,
unemployment and insecurity, and that those things cannot be abolished unless
capitalism is abolished. If Socialists join an organisation which says: “We are neutral
on this matter; sovereignty is the cause of war and of all these evils,” they will make
Socialist propaganda infinitely more difficult than it would otherwise be. For a
Socialist to be in an organisation like that, which repudiates the very basis of Socialist
propaganda, is detrimental to Socialist propaganda.
There is one curious thing that I should like to mention. When Lord Lothian claimed
that capitalism had been a great success in England in the last century, which covered
the hungry ’forties and the depression in the ’eighties, and so forth, he went on to say,
speaking to his American audience, that the era of prosperity came to an end because
Europe did not adopt Federal Union, implying that if Federal Union is adapted there
will be prosperity. But I can notice a discrepancy. That kind of propaganda is quite
useful in England provided the audience accepts the view that America is prosperous,
but in an American publication of the Federal Union I find they do not say, “You have
Federal Union and you have prosperity in America.” They say, if you did adopt
Federal Union including America and other countries, “good times would come back
to America.”
Mrs. Wootton claims that Federal Union is in line with the needs of the modern world.
In my opening speech I said it was not, and I want to develop that point of view. A
man whose name is constantly appearing in connection with Federal Union is
Alexander Hamilton, who is described as the father of the American Federal Union
Constitution, and I claim that Federal Union ideas are not of the twentieth century, but
back in the eighteenth century, along with Alexander Hamilton, who died in 1804.
senator Borah, who died in January of this year, was a lifelong admirer of Alexander
Hamilton, and in an obituary notice about Senator Borah, published in The Times
(January 22nd, 1940) I find the following: “The America which he wanted to see was
the America which was in the hearts of the Fathers of the Constitution – a country of
free citizens each owning his own farm or his own business, independent both
economically and politically, able and ready to stand up for his own rights and his own
interests against any pressure from others.” Then The Times goes on to say: “It is,
however, an ideal which during the last quarter of a century has been rapidly losing
any correspondence with reality. Even before the last War there had been great
amalgamations in the oil, steel, packing, and railway industries, and the movement has
developed in a remarkable fashion within the last twenty years. The independent
citizen owning and running his own business has been to a large extent eliminated in
favour of vast organisations, the ultimate control of which, through an intricate
network of holding companies and subsidiaries, is vested in small financial groups in
New York.”
I want to point this out that Alexander Hamilton, who organised the Federal Union
Constitution, had in his mind the late eighteenth century world of small producers and
farmers, and that world no longer exists, though Federal Union believes that it exists.
If you read Federal Union literature on the State you will find it gives the reason for
the existence of the State in the following terms: “The State exists to promote the
happiness of the individuals who make up the nation.” The supporters of Federal
Union see an organisation promoting the happiness of those individuals but I say that
that is an optical illusion. They peep behind the State and think they see the
individuals, whose happiness is being promoted by the State, but what they really see
are economic classes with conflicting interests, great companies and combines,
representing massed wealth and massed power. That is what exists behind the State,
and when you have got Federal Union you will not have a sovereign State at the centre
supported by masses of individuals, but you will have what exists in America, a
country in which it is claimed by Mr. Harold Ickes, the Secretary of the Interior, that
some 60 families, “through 200 corporations, control half of America’s business and
the people of the United States of America.” When you have got your Federal Union
you will not have got a union of individuals but a union of great corporations and
combines, such as J.P.Morgans, which by directorships, controls corporations with
total assets of some 20,000,000,000 dollars. This is the world you live in, and not the
world that Alexander Hamilton saw in the late eighteenth century and which the
supporters of Federal Union believe still exists at the present time.
Federal Union claims that it will safeguard democracy, but at the same time it is not
committed to getting rid of capitalism. It recognises the importance of maintaining
democracy and proposes to exclude undemocratic countries, but it has overlooked this
fact, that capitalism is never really safe so long as capitalism exists. It has been widely
admitted by students of the rise of Nazism that the great depression of 1929 to1930
played a great part in sending Hitler to power, just as it played a great part in this
country in putting the National Government into power. What is Federal Union going
to do when the next great economic crises comes? How it is going to prevent it
provoking again the rise of anti-democratic movements? I read in the report of a recent
address by the Secretary of the American Federation of Labour, that President
Roosevelt, with his New Deal, promised prosperity and security in America – things
which were embodied in the Federal Union Constitution that Alexander Hamilton
helped to promote – and he goes on to say: ”Instead, we find, labour torn into warring
camps, industry depressed, capital ‘on strike’; we find ten million unemployed, youth
discontented and age discouraged.” (Evening Standard, February 5th, 1940.)
We, as Socialists, say that wherever there is capitalism there will be permanent
poverty and periodical depressions. In America there is always this condition – large
numbers of unemployed, “youth discontented and age discouraged.” In other words,
there is always a fruitful breeding ground for movements like Hitler’s and Mussolini’s
which will seek to overthrow your democratic institutions and send you on the road to
Federal Union cannot prevent war. Nor can it even safeguard democracy, as it claims
to be able to do, by keeping undemocratic countries outside, while it keeps inside the
capitalism that causes poverty and war and discontent, and leads to dictatorships.
(End of the second speech for the S.P.G.B.)
Final Speech for Federal Union
MRS. BARBARA Wootton: There is very much that I agree with in what Mr. Hardy
has said, but I think there are one or two points that we have to get straight, even in the
last round.
First of all, I must put right the matter of the heretics. I do not suppose any of these
gentlemen who have been quoted are heretics from the Federal Union point of view. I
think they probably all take the view of Federal Union that I take, namely, that it is a
necessary tool with which to make a number of other things. I hope that when we get
Federation those of them who are not Socialists will be very much in the minority; I
have done my best to make them so, and I hope that the many other Socialists will
come into Federal Union for the same purpose. Some people say that Federal Union is
a necessary step to make the world safe for Socialism. Suspicious capitalists say it is
to make the world safe for Socialism, and suspicious Socialists say it is to make the
world safe for capitalism. I myself have a very strong suspicion that it is neither of
these things, but a device to make a part of the world safe. After that you can go on to
decide whether it is going to be a Socialist world or a capitalist world, and then we get
to grips with these gentlemen who do not agree with us about that.
Let us also get right this point about prosperity. All of the last part of Mr. Hardy’s
peroration I should very much like to have said myself, because I agree with it all. I
agree with all he said about poverty, unemployment, trade depressions and
mismanagement, and the present misery, waste and exploitation of the poor. I would
go so far as to say a very great part of what Mr. Hardy said about the business of the
State being to keep down those who were down and to keep those who were up. We
shall not get rid of those things, in my view and Mr. Hardy’s view, until we get
something, which we would both call the Socialist order, but we shall not begin to get
the Socialist order until we get a breathing space, and we shall not get a breathing
space until we get some kind of international political security. We must have a
breathing space to enable us to attack those appalling economic evils, which are
themselves exaggerated by the existence of political insecurity The ridiculous
economic policy that separate States pursue this fantastic business of growing things
in places where it is very uneconomic to grow them, of keeping comrades and friends
and neighbours out of your State so a to protect yourself against the menace of their
competition – that is all part of international anarchy and it is all making your
economic problems worse. Political insecurity makes your economic problems worse,
and you never get a chance to tackle them, because every so often you have to put
down all your Socialist tools, and to take off your Socialist overalls, and put on your
uniform and go out and fight your comrades. Then, when it is all over, you go back
and start your international Socialist propaganda all over again, about half a century
further back that you were before.
Mr. Hardy pointed out that of recent years the English and the Welsh have not engaged
in war with one another, and he shows that nationalism is not the force that some
people think it is. I think that illustration might very well be taken to show something
else. The Welsh are very Welsh and very full of Welsh nationalism, and the English
are very English and so full of English nationalism hat they forget to notice that
anyone else is not English. But, in point of fact, they do not now engage in war with
one another, and I submit that one of the reasons is that they have grown accustomed
to a common citizenship and living under a common political unit. I want to see the
French and English and Germans (and everybody else I can get, but let us have them
for a start if we cannot get anybody else) with the same appreciation of differences of
national culture that is shown by the English and the Welsh, and the same absence of
military aggressiveness.
Mr. Hardy said that some people who support Federal Union supported the League of
Nations, and had not done much good with that. That is not true. I am not one of those
people, as I think it is a wrong principle. But if some are to be judged by the standard
of success they attain then I think we should all be judged by it, and I do not think any
of us – neither the Socialist Party of Great Britain nor the League of Nations – have
been very successful in preventing war. We have not been able to prevent the present
I now come to something that surprised me very much. Mr. Hardy opened his second
round by pointing out that if we have a common outlook we do not need all this
paraphernalia of Federal Union and machinery and written constitutions. I am quite
prepared to agree with him up to a point, but I very nearly fell down flat in a faint
when I heard the example he quoted. In the British Empire, he said, we do not need all
this machinery, because we have a common outlook in Great Britain, Canada,
Australia and New Zealand; we British understand one another and we do not need
machinery; we do not go to war with one another. In fact, we even have Socialist Party
of Great Britain paralleled in the British Dominions, but not I think, in other countries.
What has happened to the argument about the economic causes of war? The
competition between the capitalists of Great Britain and Canada is very fierce
competition, and the same is true of the competition between the capitalists of Great
Britain and Australia, but, because they have a common outlook (just what I was
saying); away go all the economic causes of war, and they all live happily ever after! I
do not think the argument that the causes of war are strictly economic will stand up
against the illustration that Mr. Hardy himself has given us. It astonished me to hear
the British Empire quoted as an argument by the Socialist Party of Great Britain.
There we see that a common outlook is of great importance, but do not you know
cases in which you are sure there is a common outlook and you cannot get it? You
cannot get to the man who wants to extend his hand; you cannot get to him, although
you know he thinks as you do and you know he has no more stomach for this game
than you have. What do you have to do to get him at present? You wait until he comes
over in an aeroplane, and when he does that you do your best to kill him. You shoot at
him when he is twenty thousand feet up, and you go on shooting at him when he is ten
thousand feet up, and even when he is only a foot off the ground. Then he crashes and
touches the ground, and you come down to him and you get out of your aeroplane,
rush up to his plane, help him out and give him a cigarette and say: “It is a bad
business, but here we are; we will do the best we can for you; we know that you feel
as we do about it.” You know he has a common outlook with you, you know you have
common sentiments and impulses with these people against whom you are fighting,
but you cannot get to them because you have not provided the simple and necessary
machine by which you can do it, you have not provided the machinery by which force
can be exercised not against groups but against aggressive individuals. Your anger
against Hitler can never reach its object, and you are condemned to engage in war
against millions of people who have only one thing in common, that is that they are
not Hitler. That is why machinery is important. Machinery provides a means whereby,
through a common citizenship, the common sentiments that are now frustrated can
find an outlet. Then you can get on with your work of making a Socialist society. It is
a question which you are going to get first, Socialism or internationalism. Mr. Hardy
says Socialism, but I say that is not how it is going to be; it is going to be
internationalism or death.
(End of final speech for Federal Union.)
Final Speech for the S.P.G.B.
MR. E. HARDY: Mrs. Wootton has again made the point that Federal Union is not a
Socialist organisation. It is, in her view, a necessary tool for Socialists, and she used
the illustration that it would provide a breathing space in which Socialists can get on
with their work. The Socialist Party of Great Britain has been in existence, as I said,
since 1904, and in every year since 1904 and almost everyday on our platforms and
elsewhere we have had people telling us that if only we would give up our propaganda
for some other most important thing at the moment it would help smooth the way to
Socialism, and give us opportunities and breathing spaces. We know from experience
that all those things have been illusory. They have taken effort away from Socialism
and confused the mind of workers who might otherwise have been interested in
Socialism, and they have been of no use to us as Socialists at all. But there is another
even greater illusion behind this idea of breathing space. At the back of it there is no
notion that if we do something or other with capitalism we can steady the boat and
prevent it from rocking. But while we have capitalism, that is to say, while we have
rival classes within the State opposing each other and capitalist groups coming
constantly into conflict with each other about their markets, their raw materials, their
strategic points, we cannot have stability or calm the storm in order to get on with
something else. Always new crises will occur and new sources of conflict will appear,
and if it is not between individual countries, as now, it will be between Federal Union
Mrs. Wootton says that with Federal Union we may have wars, but that things will not
be any worse then than without Federal Union. There are two things to be said about
that. Even if we should have wars without Federal Union I do not want to waste, and
see other Socialists waste, twenty years on supporting Federal Union, as they wasted
twenty years on the League of Nations, only to find in the end, of course, that they
have not advanced Socialism at all, but have, in fact, taken energy away from Socialist
propaganda that might otherwise have been devoted to it. Seeing the world as it really
is, we know that we shall have wars, whether the world is divided up into the existing
nations and groups of nations or whether there is a Federal Union in Europe as there is
in America and the U.S.S.R. We shall have these groups brought into conflict with
each other, because the capitalist basis will remain.
I quoted Mr. Brailsford’s words about the Federal Union controlling the entrance to
the Baltic, and Mrs. Wootton said that many supporters of Federal Union have written
things for which she would not like to accept responsibility, but it does not matter
whether that is a view held only by Mr. Brailsford and some other group inside
Federal Union or not; it is the logic of the case. A Federal Union of Europe must have
boundaries and it must have an armed force. It will be faced with the usual necessity
of capitalist States. Capitalism makes them come into conflict with each other. When
Hitler said of Germany, “We must expand or explode,” he was laying down the law for
capitalism. Therefore, the Federal Union of Europe must try to control the Suez Canal,
the Dardanelles, Gibraltar, the entrance of the Baltic, and anything else that will enable
it to maintain its own position and prevent other capitalist States from encroaching on
its position.
Mrs. Wootton referred to all organisations being judged from the point of view of their
success, and mentioned that the Socialist Party of Great Britain, a small organisation,
was not able to prevent war. But there is a difference between it and the supporters of
the League of Nations. The Socialist Party of Great Britain was never under any
illusion about the matter. It recognised from the beginning that while capitalism exists
there will be this drive to war. We know that we shall not abolish war until we have
abolished capitalism, and we cannot do that until we have got Socialists, so that, in our
view, the prime purpose of a Socialist organisation is to preach Socialism and to make
Socialists. That is where all these other organisations have failed. Many supporters of
Federal Union do not want to preach Socialism and do not want us to preach it. They
are, therefore, not merely not helping Socialism, but hindering the work of making
Socialists. Had the efforts been devoted to making Socialists, the Socialist movement
would have been stronger than it is now and far better able to avoid war.
Mrs. Wootton seized on my reference to the British Empire, but I think she rather
misunderstands the point. I am not holding up the British Empire as the model of
economic organisation, but as an instance of the basic wrongness of the basic principle
behind Federal Union, that there can be “No unity without sovereignty.” One of the
admirers of Alexander Hamilton, his biographer, Mr. F.S. Oliver, held the view of no
unity without sovereignty, and pointed out in 1906 that the British Empire had no
sovereignty, therefore, its unity was fictitious and it would collapse under strain. But it
did not collapse under strain of the war of 1914. I hold that the principle of Federal
Union, that one cannot have unity without sovereignty, is wrong. There can be unity
without sovereignty if there is a common purpose and a common outlook, even if the
common purpose is merely defence against external Powers, that is, other States in the
capitalist world. That has nothing to do with Socialism, but it does show the
wrongness of the Federal Union principle that there can be no unity without
With regard to the companion parties of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, they are
not confined to the Dominions of the British Empire; there is one in the United States
of America.
There are one or two further points that I want to make in conclusion. When one is
looking at an organisation like Federal Union one is entitled not merely to ask what
are its principles and policy, but to look at the people in it and ask what are their
credentials and whether they inspire confidence Mrs. Wootton will say, as she has said,
that Federal Union does not claim to be Socialist and, therefore, its members are not
confined to Socialists. I look down the list and I find Liberals and Tories, people who,
like Lord Lothian, claim that capitalism has been an outstanding success and that
sovereignty and not capitalism is the cause of poverty. Our answer to all those people,
those Liberals and Tories, is that they have always been wrong on the major problems
facing this country and other countries. We look at the other Federal Union supporters,
people who believe in the administration of capitalism by those who call themselves
Labour and Socialist. We said that experiment would not be useful, and in the event
we were proved right. We were right about the war in 1914. Many of the present
supporters of Federal Union claimed for the last war that it would make the world safe
for democracy, but the S.P.G.B. said they were wrong. Those people supported the
League of Nations, but we said:” Do not waste your time; the League of Nations will
not prevent war; it will not make the world safe for democracy,” and we were right.
Can those people say: “We deserve your confidence, because we have always been
right”? The utmost they can claim for themselves is this: “We are bound to be right
this time, because we have been wrong so often before.”
What is the Socialist alternative to Federal Union? I have pointed out to you that the
supporters of Federal Union cannot offer you a worldwide Federal Union and,
therefore, all their main arguments go by the board. It will be a limited Federal Union,
which will be faced by the capitalist rivalries that exist at present. Socialists have one,
and only one, alternative. They say that capitalism causes poverty, unemployment and
crises, and those three things taken together make it uncertain that democracy will
ever be safe in a capitalist world. We say further that capitalist rivalries drive towards
war, that until you get rid of capitalism you will not get rid of war and poverty, and
that you will not get rid of capitalism until you make Socialists. Therefore, the only
certain way to rid the world of war is to get rid of capitalism, and the only way to do
that is to win over the majority of the population to Socialism. That is the work of the
Socialist Party of Great Britain, and it cannot be the work of the Federal Union, as
admitted by Federal Union supporters. The whole tenor of Federal Union propaganda
– such as the statements of Lord Lothian that capitalism has been a success and that
sovereignty is the cause of war, unemployment, depressions and poverty – is anti-
Socialist, and the only answer to it is the propaganda for Socialism carried on by the
Socialist Party of Great Britain.
(End of the final speech for the S.P.G.B.)
THE CHAIRMAN, in proposing a very hearty vote of thanks to Mrs. Wootton and Mr.
Hardy, said he hoped the members of the audience would bear in mind the good points
and the bad points that had been made by both speakers and would not accept
everything that had been said by either speaker without criticism and consideration.
The vote of thanks was accorded acclamation, and the meeting concluded with a vote
of thanks to the Chairman, proposed by Mr. Hardy.

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