Both at the Trades Union Congress and the Inter-Allied Conference the question of the war and its aims was discussed by the representatives of the workers organised in trade unions.
While the Defence of the Realm Act prevented a full and free discussion on the question, yet the debates, so far as published reports give us any information, were conducted on a level that showed a complete failure on the part of the delegates to grasp the actual situation of the working class in modern society, with the result that resolutions were accepted and passed that did not contain a single sentence voicing the real interests of the workers, or giving any clear guide for them to follow.
Thus at the Trade Union Congress Mr. Havelock Wilson
led a small group in favour of the “Knockout blow” who are willing to shed the last drop of somebody else’s blood to beat the Germans.
Colonel W. Thorne
and Mr. B. Tillett
were the spokesmen of a section who desire a “fight to the finish with Prussian Militarism”—in the meantime doing all they can to extend British Militarism.
Mr. J. H. Thomas
and Mr. B. Turner
carried the banner of the Party out for “Peace by Negotiation” —after the Germans are out of France and Belgium.
The two latter sections agreed upon a composite resolution, containing things neither side wanted, that Colonel Thorne in seconding said “was a great mistake.” Mr. Wilson opposed it because no reference was made to Russia. In other words, he wishes the war to continue till the Allies can “annex” Russia as well as beat the Germans. His jibe against Thomas & Co. for “sitting on the fence” fell flat, as the other side sat there as well, and both Thorne and Tillett went to considerable lengths to explain how strongly they were in favour of peace. Minister G. H. Roberts
pleaded for a unanimous vote for the resolution, pointing out that as it deferred “negotiations” till the Germans were out of France and Belgium, this obviously meant that Germany would have to be defeated before negotiations could begin. He then called upon the “negotiators” to state how they were going to give effect to their own resolution and assist in driving the Germans out of those two countries.
Now it was distinctly unkind to Mr. Wilson that the resolution should have been carried by a large majority. A large majority of the delegates had attended the free Lunch, with liberal supplies of champagne, that he had done so much in organising, and yet they failed to support him in open Congress.
The “Boycott” resolution met with a similar fate. A delegate of another seaman’s union—Cotter, of the Ships’ Stewards—stated his belief that Wilson’s motive was a political, and not a sympathetic one. Robert Smillie
pointed out that others besides Germans murdered British seamen and referred to Plimsoll’s charge of “coffin ships,” and Thomas gave an unkind cut by quoting from Wilson’s own speech at the Conference of Firemen and Seamen held shortly after the sinking of the “Lusitania,”
where Wilson had opposed a similar resolution on the ground that the boycott would result in the replacement of British sailors by Germans after the war.
The resolution was shelved by the carrying the “Previous Question.”
At the Inter-Allied Labour Conference a resolution was presented stating, among other things that the Conference recognizes :—
“In this world war a conflict between autocratic and democratic institutions, the contest between the principles of self-development through free institutions and that of arbitrary control of government by groups or individuals for selfish ends. —”Daily Telegraph,” Sept 9th, 1918.
The stock phrases of the Liberals here and the Democrats in America about “democratic institutions” is sheer cant. What are “democratic institutions”? We are not told. Now, if the phrase means anything, it surely is intended to convey that the majority of the people rule in society. Yet both in Britain and America millions of men have been forced into armies and navies to slaughter their fellow-workers by these ”democratic” governments without the people being consulted in any way. Nay, more—the powers of D.O.R.A. and other Arts have been used to prevent any expression of opinion these governments did not wish to be spread over the country to a degree and in a manner quite equal in severity to that used by any “autocratic” government.
, of the I.L.P., protested against the resolution, and stated that
“the secret treaties of the Allied Governments made it clear that the purposes of the Allied Governments is the same as the Governments of the Central Powers,”—”Daily Telegraph,” Sept. 21, 1918.
Will Mr. Kneeshaw, then, explain why he remains a member of an organisation whose M.P.’s have in some cases accepted jobs from the Government, and in all cases have voted for the war credits?
Kneeshaw’s remarks, of course, drew forth protests from the supporters of the government like Sidney Webb, J. Sexton
, and J. H. Thomas, the latter describing it as “a most unfortunate speech.” Like his fellow-countryman Lloyd George, Mr. Thomas delights in trotting out old lies with an impressive air, as when he claimed to meet Kneeshaw’s statement with “one cold hard fact,” namely, that the British nation were not ready for war. By “British nation” Mr. Thomas, of course, means the “British Government,” and that they were ready is proved by the fact that the British Navy bottled up the German Fleet and swept German commerce from the seas far more rapidly and much more effectively than the German army was able to progress in the warfare on land.
The great fact standing out in these conferences, and the resolutions passed, is the utter darkness in which the organised workers are groping about, a darkness due to their ignorance of their own place in society. Through the scores of years that the workers have been organising on the economic field to debate the price and conditions of the sale of their labour-power, despite the desperate struggles they have fought and the forces they have seen the masters use against them, they have clung to the stupid superstition that the real interests of the masters and the workers are the same, that it is only the “bad” masters who are responsible for the rotten conditions under which the workers live, and that if only all the masters became “good masters” and were satisfied with a “fair” profit, the world would be a haven of happiness for all.
It is this appalling ignorance, so carefully fostered and perpetuated by the agents of the master class in Press, pulpit, and on platform, that allows the master-class to continue their savage domination.
The workers must first study their own position in the modern world ; must ask themselves why, with powers of production growing at an enormous rate, with the workers slaving harder than ever, with women and children swept into the whirlpool of capitalist industry, their actual situation grows steadily worse, while the insecurity of life becomes more pronounced than ever.
Right at their own door will they find the answer. When a worker goes to work it is always for somebody else. Why ? Because he cannot obtain the raw material, cannot use the machinery, cannot carry out the processes or move the finished articles without the permission of someone else. When the worker looks around he can see the fact existing in every branch of production and distribution. The general situation thus revealed is that in society the section who perform all the work— useful or other—are shut out from any control of the means of producing wealth, that is, from the means of living itself. The other section, performing no necessary function in society, own and control these means of life. But if one section in society owns the means of life, the other section must necessarily be slaves to those owners.
And this is exactly the great essential fact the organised workers have failed to grasp. Once they do understand it the superstition of common interest between master and slave will be dropped, and taking its place will be the recognition of the fundamental and unbridgeable antagonism between the two classes while capitalism lasts. Then will the organised workers start to fight the master class in earnest and build their organisation upon a class basis instead of splitting up into crafts, industries, or any other anti-working-class division. Understanding also that the masters’ centre of power rests in their control of the political machine, they will enter the ranks of the Socialist Party for the purpose of capturing political power from the masters and establishing Socialism in the place of slavery.