An I.L.P. “belief”

“The Independent Labour Party believes that the war was caused by the breakdown of class government in Europe. The peoples had no voice in policy before the war, and when they suddenly found themselves faced with “enemies” they had to fight.”

This statement contained in No. 1 Leaflet “The I.L.P. and the War” is not supported by facts or evidence of any kind ; it is merely a belief. Though whether the word “believes” applies to the first sentence only, or to the whole paragraph, it is impossible to say, nor does it matter much. The first sentence, expressing the belief that the war was caused by the breakown of class government in Europe, if it is truly the belief of the I.L.P., is by far the most important statement, not only in this paragraph, but in the whole leaflet.

The writers fail to justify their belief. The master-class would ridicule it, and the Socialist would laugh at their self-inflicted credulity. What would be the attitude of the capitalist politicians ? First they would deny the existence of class government. Secondly they would claim that government was vested in the representatives of the people, was therefore democratic ; that government had not broken down, nor was it in the slightest danger of doing so. If the I.L.P. never anticipated this attitude it is politically sightless. If the capitalist position—so often expressed by its agents and spokesmen—was present in the collective mind of the I.L.P., they should not have been satisfied with the mere expression of a belief ; they should have shown in definite and unmistakable language that, in spite of capitalist boasting of the democratic nature of their system, class government exists. Moreover, they should have justified their statement that it had broken down.

They have done none of these things, it is, therefore, left to the Socialist to show the absurdity of their beliefs. In no country of Europe was there any government, at the outbreak of war, that showed signs of collapse. In every country of Europe—and the world—there was poverty and suffering, always on the increase, among the working class. There was discontent everywhere, but the suffering and discontent of the workers does not in itself mean the breakdown of capitalist government, on the contrary, it is proof of its power—and confidence in itself—to exploit and subjugate. At the outbreak of war, we are constantly being told, the Central Powers were organized and equipped for the struggle. That is to say, the working class of those countries were fully controlled and disciplined by the governing class. Obviously, class government had not broken down in those countries, but, on the contrary, had reached a high degree of perfection. In those allied countries where conscription was in vogue the military authorities, at the instigation of those who controlled the political machinery, gave orders for mobilisation and were obeyed almost to the last man. In this country the process was slower but just as sure. Everyone knows how the masters co-operated with their representatives in Parliament by “releasing” men fit for active service. But it is not everyone who knows how dexterously Mr. Asquith and his government, on behalf of the capitalist class of this country, engineered towards conscription. Had he been satisfied with having achieved his object and not boasted of his political dexterity, the workers would have been left to think that the Government had simply blundered from one pledge to another until conscription was accomplished, as much to their own surprise as other people’s. But the competition for ministerial portfolios often compels Ministers—however modest they may wish to be thought—to construe their actions in such a way as to gain them credit for acumen and foresight. Thus Mr. Asquith claimed that his government, by devious methods, had gained “compulsion by consent,” in the following utterance:

“Next, in the earlier stages of the war more men came in than we could effectively train and equip, and it was not until the beginning of last Autumn that the shortage of men, actual or prospective, became a serious problem. Compulsion, whatever may be said of its abstract merits or demerits, is alien to British traditions—(cheers)—and its introduction would have been viewed with the greatest suspicion in the absence of a proved case of absolute necessity by the vast bulk of Liberals, by a large body of Conservatives, and by practically the whole of organised labour. (Cheers.) I have consistently maintained ever since the recruiting problem became urgent that compulsion could only be practicable and made effective when at each stage of the road it was accompanied by general consent. That is exactly what has happened. Everyone who knows anything of our political life must be aware that such measures as have been passed by enormous majorities in Parliament this spring would even a year ago have encountered the most strenuous opposition, with most dubious prospects of survival.”

Whether this boast is true, or whether such a complexion had been given to a series of blunders, or whether the Government was dragged or forced along the road to conscription by the governing class, the result was the same and was never in doubt. The ruling class with their agents preserved their authority and achieved the same degree of power over the working class here, as the Allied and Central Governments exercised at the commencement. Clearly class government had not broken down in this country.

But possibily the I.L.P. intellect will object that these facts only apply to the period of the war, and that the outbreak of war placed the Government once more on their feet, or braced them for the struggle. But they cannot take this attitude in view of the concluding sentence in the paragraph quoted. “The peoples had no voice in policy before the war.” Quite so. The Government conducted the business of the ruling class in utter disregard and contempt for the working class, until they called upon them to defend “their” country—their country, who’s?-and the credulous—or should it be shuffling and treacherous ?—I.L.P. babble about the people who “suddenly found themselves faced with enemies they had to fight.” Had the people—that is the working class—understood their class position they never would have waited for the master class to choose enemies for them. But thanks to the I.L.P. and the rest of the parties and organisations that serve the master class, the workers have had but little chance of learning who are their real enemies. Had the workers of every country understood the nature of capitalist society and their own slave position, the governing class in each country would never have succeeded in persuading them that the workers of other lands could be their enemies. There is no possible ground of antagonism between the wage-slaves of one capitalist State and another. The antagonism that exists is entirely between the different groups of the governing class. When these groups fell out they knew that the workers under their control and domination could be relied upon to do the fighting in their interest. Had they entertained any doubts as to the docility of their wage slaves they would have hesitated before plunging into war. A working class really antagonistic to its rulers would use such an occasion to further its own object : they would face the enemy their experience pointed to ; not the enemies of their enemy.

Once again the real Socialist position must be emphasised. The I.L.P. complain that “the peoples had no voice in policy before the war.” Would there be any difference if they had? Without knowledge the workers can be led to support any policy that happens to be in the capitalist interest. We have seen the workers in the past—plastic as clay in the potter’s hands—led to conflict against those who are “their allies” to-day ; or fighting on the side of those who are designated as their enemies, and through all the sanguinary wars engendered by capitalist production and distribution they have remained a slave class under the domination of those, for whom they fought. Before wars can cease the workers must gain the knowledge that will enable them to prosecute the class war to a successful conclusion ; until that time arrives their lot must be to work the factory machine, or the machine gun, at the instigation and in the interest of the governing class.

F. F.

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