Editorial: The I.L.P., its Statements and its Attitude
“To secure this military victory—to draw the young men of the nation into the trenches to kill or be killed with the object of securing victory—press, pulpit, and every political party, with the exception of the Independent Labour Party, have united and mobilised their forces to justify the war and glorify Great Britain’s share in the responsibility for its pestilential presence.”
For several reasons this statement, made by Mr. F. W. Jowett in his presidential address to the 23rd Annual Conference of the I.L.P. (see “Labour Leader,” 8.4.15), merits some examination and comment.
The Socialist Party of Great Britain is a political party, and is therefore included in the above-quoted condemnation ; but since we would waste no time even in “justifying” our own actions, it is easy to understand that we have wasted none in “justifying” the actions of the British Government—to which the I.L.P., through its affiliation with the Labour Party, is allied.
However, in return for the misrepresentation of our attitude toward the war that we have ever since its outbreak termed a thieves’ quarrel, we propose to tell the truth about the attitude of the I.L.P. in relation to the conflict. Since the I.L.P. has had to complain repeatedly of misrepresentation, the following facts, which are all beyond controversy, will be appreciated the more.
The I.L.P. claims to ba a Socialist organisation, and also claims to have worked for peace. Yet from the time of its formation, and more especially since the outbreak of the war, it has adhered to the policy of spreading confusion as to the cause of war, and consequently as to the means of its prevention. Let us see how.
Although the different sections of the capitalist class can and do act together, or at any rate on the same lines, for the purposes of the class struggle, this class itself is divided as far as the struggle for markets, concessions, control of trade routes, and the like are concerned. Since in this struggle, as well as in the class struggle, might is right, and since the only forces that can be used by the contending sections are the armed forces of the different States, the resulting armed conflicts take on the character of national wars. In view of the facts that modern wars have their origin in tendencies that will last as long as capitalist society itself, and that these wars are fought only in the interests of different groups of the master class, it is easy to see what attitude toward them must be taken up by a political party of the working class acting in the interest of that class.
The line of action to be taken by such a party is to work consistently for the overthrow of the system of society that makes war necessary, and for the establishment of that other system of society, Socialism, in which the conflict of economic interests is impossible, and in which, by consequence, classes have no place. And this line of action includes the pointing out to the workers that for them the only war worth fighting in is the class war.
But has the Independent Labour Party pointed out the cause of the war ? Quite on the contrary it has endeavoured persistently to hide it. In the speech already quoted from, for instance, we find the following :
“But having ineffectually warned the nation of the dangers of secret diplomacy, and against what John Bright describes as a ‘foul idol,’ viz., the Balance of Power, and the armament ring, we cannot turn round now and justify the war which these things have produced.”
This is taken from the report in the “Labour Leader” of the 8th April, 1915, the italics being ours.
In the leading article of the same paper for April 15th, 1915 occurs the following :
“Before the war we warned the public that the foreign policy of the Government was committing us to act with France and Russia should hostilities break out in Europe ; we opposed that policy and the secrecy in which it was being pursued ; we condemned the rivalry in armaments between the nations and the machinations of the armament firms which intensified this rivalry ; we declared again and again that a continuance on these lines would inevitably cause a European conflagration ; we urged the workers to build up a powerful international organisation to prevent this colossal tragedy occurring. Our warning and appeal were not heeded. The war broke out. What could we then do ? Could we describe as righteous and justifiable a war which resulted from policies we had constantly denounced ?”
Again the italics are ours. Having regard to the official nature of these pronouncements we do not think further quotation on this point necessary. Secret diplomacy, in other words the collection of secret discussions, disputes, and threats which arises from the conflicting economic interests of the capitalists of different nations, is put forward by the I.L.P. as one of the causes of the war. It would be just as correct to say that strikes and lock¬outs have their origin in the secret negotiations between employers’ representatives and trade union leaders ! The negotiations between the agents of the different States are just as much the result of conflicting economic interests as are the negotiations between trade union leaders’ and employers’ representatives.
The other brilliant discovery of the I.L.P. is that rivalry in armaments is also a cause of the war. What would be said of a man who should claim that the truncheons of the police and the rifles of the soldiery on the one side, and the bricks and earthenware furniture on the other side, are the cause of riots ?
But this astonishing profundity of the I.L.P. that so cleverly mistakes effects for causes, must not be misunderstood. The capitalist class is now, and will be in the immediate future, in need of all the support that can be rendered by pseudo-Socialist organisations. Is this the time, then, for the I.L.P., which to the full extent of its powers has misled the working class of this country for upwards of twenty years—is this the time, we repeat, for the I.L.P. to lay bare the cause of the war and the rottenness of capitalist society ? Assuredly not !
As the above-quoted leading article in the “Labour Leader” puts it, “as a party we could not turn our backs upon our tradition and our faith.”
And what are “our tradition and our faith” ? Mr. J. Ramsay Macdonald, the idol of the I.L.P., shall answer:
“Moreover, you must not imagine that the Socialist simply stands for Labour. That is the profound mistake so many of you make. We are the greatest friend the capitalist has got.” (Debate on Socialism, May 11th, 1908, published by the Haslemere Branch of the I.L.P. Italics ours.)
We have shown that for the working class the only war worth fighting in is the class war. So, with a knowledge of the tradition and faith of the I.L.P. we are not surprised when we find that Mr. Keir Hardie, a prominent member of the organisation, in an article in the “Pioneer” (Merthyr) stated as follows : “I have never said or written anything to dissuade our young men from enlisting. 1 know too well all that there is at stake.” (Quoted in the “Manchester Guardian,” 28th November, 1914.) Still less are we surprised to find the following in a letter written by Mr. Ramsay Macdonald for the benefit of a recruiting meetting : “I want the serious men of the trade unions, the brotherhoods, and similar movements, to face their duty. To such men it is enough to say ‘England has need of you’ and to say it in the right way.” (“Daily Chronicle,” September 14th, 1914.)
In the report of the I L.P. Conference (“Labour Leader,” 8th April, 1915) we find the following :
“Mr. Eastwood drew attention to the statement in the N.A.C. report that such matters as enlistment and the urging of recruiting are matters for the individual conscience.
“Mr. Jowett said that each man must answer to his own conscience in this respect.
“Mr. S. Reeves (Liverpool) said if a man had to answer to his own conscience he had also to answer to the party he had betrayed.
“Mr. Bruce Glazier said as a Socialist organisation we could not recruit, and no man could recruit as a Socialist. The N.A.C had dissociated the party from the campaign, but he appealed to the delegates to allow freedom of conscience. We didn’t want to drive those who differed from us on this question out of the Party. (Applause.)”
This pleasant little talk should be compared with the recruiting appeal and with the extract from the presidential address quoted at the beginning of this article. If at first sight there should seem to be a lack of harmony in these different views it should be remembered that all sections of the party are carrying on in one way or another the work that is calculated to be of so much use to the master class and so detrimental to the interests of the workers.
To sum up, the Chairman of the I.L.P. Conference states that every political party, with the exception of the I.L.P., has united its forces to draw the young men into the trenches to kill or be killed. The I.L.P., however, remains affiliated to one of the parties so condemned—the Labour Party. The latter has taken an active part in the recruiting campaign, and members of it who are also members of the I.L.P. have shared these activities and informed the I.L.P. that they intend to continue such work. (See, for example, the letter from J. Parker, M.P., in the report of the Conference.)
The I.L.P. retains them in its ranks. Thanks to the “freedom of conscience” thus allowed, the one set are using their energies to “draw the young men of the station into the trenches to kill or be killed,” while the other set are devoting themselves to the task of misleading the workers as to the cause of the war. Thus the I.L.P. is able to act up to its traditions, and that is why Mr. Jowett’s condemnation should have included the I.L.P. instead of excepting it.
In contrast to the treacherous policy of the I.L.P., the attitude taken up by the Socialist Party toward the war has been one of clear and definite opposition, and this fact gives the lie direct to Mr. Jowett.