Editorial: The Champions of Civil Liberty

Lest we be misunderstood, let us preface the remarks we are about to make concerning the smashing-up of the Civil Liberties Conference at Cardiff, with the emphatic statement that we have no shred of sympathy with the organisers of that conference, either in respect of their objects, or with regard to the fate which overtook their attempt to express themselves. We discern in the activities of the National Council for Civil Liberty precious little concern for any civil liberties but their own. Among their number are men who have betrayed away every civil liberty almost that the working class of this country possessed. It was due to such men as these that the strongholds of the organised workers, such as they were, were undermined and fell without a struggle. It is due to those men who boast of the recruiting meetings they have attended, the strikes they have prevented, the surrenders they have plotted and planned and counselled, that the workers have now no tattered rag of civil liberty left for the ghouls to bargain away for jobs, and no power of resistance which may be made to yield their “leaders” a traitorous penny.

That is where the shoe pinches. The labour leaders have parted with their stock-in-trade—their living, and some of them think that an agitation on the score of “civil liberties” might bring them back something of what they have sold in order that they might be in a position still to have something to sell.

Nothing more is needed to show the nature of the position the Labour Members—whether they be supporters or opponents of the Civil Liberties agitation—find themselves in, than to quote the resolution Mr. Thomas told the House of Commons that he moved at the disturbed conference. It was :

“That this conference holds that military compulsion has already involved industrial compulsion, and endangered industrial conditions, and demands that this invasion of the rights of labour at once cease, and that guarantees be given for its non-recurrence.”

The truth of the implication in the first part of this resolution is patent to all. But who have the workers to thank for it more than such very men as he who mouthed this resolution of simulated protest ? At the very beginning those who took the path that Mr. Thomas and his colleagues chose took the path that led inevitably to the grave of all civil liberties hitherto attaching to the working class. The first assent to war necessarily involved all the rest. Every fool ought to have known that, to say nothing of the rogues.

That Mr. Thomas understood this is made clear by his “exposure” in the Commons debate of Capt. Tupper for that

“he himself wrote to the National Transport Workers and asked them to send their Secretary to Cardiff to threaten a strike against the shipowners for the employment of Chinese labour.”

and his retort to Mr. Will Thome’s interjected “Perfectly justified.” The Official Report tells us that Mr. Thomas replied :

“‘Perfectly justified,’ my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham says. What becomes, then, of this claim of his burning patriotism to save the country?”

Yes, Mr. Thomas knows all about it. He knows that grant the right of “patriotism” to tear working men from their homes in order to compel them to slaughter their fellow working men, and to make widows of their follow worker’s wives and orphans of their tender children, there is nothing that “patriotism” may not justifiably do-with the working class. He knows that there is no “civil liberty” of the working class which, being threatened, and he daring to champion, could not be trodden under foot, and himself be stricken dumb with his own retort: “What about your burning patriotism ?” He knows that, the first outrage of war being perpetrated upon the working class, with his assent and assistance, making them butchers of their kind, he could not logically defend even a threat to strike against the importation of Chinese labour. The depth of his devotion, then, to the cause of civil liberty, as far as it affects the working class, may be judged from these facts, and the same remark applies all those behind the “Civil Liberties” movement.

But there is another aspect attaching to this meeting. Apart from the bona fides of its conveners it cannot be denied that it had possibilities the reverse of welcome to those responsible for, and to those supporting, the Government policy. It might have given some sort of lead to the undoubtedly large body of opinion which can find no opportunity to express its hatred of the senseless butchery which is destroying the flower of the working class of Europe. Shut out from the Press, hounded from the streets and open spaces, some timorous whisper might have made itself heard in this hall, and struggled forth—a straw showing the way of the wind. Clearly, then, it was a case for suppression, and the only question was the manner of its suppression. This could be done either by police action or by the “black hundreds” method, or by a combination of the two—which last appears to have been the course chosen.

The humbug of the official excuses, from the Home Office down to the Cardiff police, is nauseous. Mr. Samuel stated that he refrained from suppressing the conference because “the British Government throughout the world would have been declared to have been imitating the policy of its enemies, and preventing any freedom of expression of opposition to its policy.”

Very high-minded this sounds—albeit the right hon. gentleman contradicted himself soon after by saying that he had no power to interfere. However, we of the Socialist Party know all about this suppositions freedom of expression we are told we still enjoy. It is meant to impress neutrals. But there are alternate methods of depriving the feline offender of its nine vital sparks besides trying to pull it through a keyhole. In the early days of the war the speakers of this party were arrested by the police on lying, trumped-up charges, lodged in gaol, and fined, whilst our meetings were smashed up by “black hundred” hooligans, often in khaki. That is how it is done.

Of course the authorities disclaim all responsibility. But what soldier dares to walk the streets without his cane, or with a button of his tunic undone ? Yet what soldier, doing the masters’ work of smashing up hostile meetings, has ever been punished therefor ? Oh, the shameless hypocrisy of this statement that our masters have left us the right of freedom of speech !

The fact is, of course, that the minor authorities can always be depended upon to secure the suppression of such activities as are either obnoxious or inconvenient to the higher authorities, and to do it in such a way as to leave the myth of “freedom of expression” still undispersed. That is what is wanted by our very democratic rulers. They want, while hedging us about with regulations under which no shred of liberty remains, and under which no word of criticism may be uttered save at peril, to claim that they have maintained democracy and civil liberty all through. It would be handy during the war, and in the elections after the war.

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