Under Martial Law
Those of our friends who lend support to our outdoor propaganda meetings will be aware that for the past week or two those meetings have been suspended. Also, readers of this issue will notice that the Lecture List which until this date has appeared on the back page of this our official organ, has now been withdrawn. These occurrences demand some few words of explanation, which are offered here.
When the war broke out in August the Socialist Party unfalteringly proclaimed the Socialist position in relation to it. From our platforms and, at the first opportunity, in the columns of our organ we took up the clear and definite attitude dictated by Socialist principles and working-class politics. This attitude, it is quite needless to say, was neither popular nor free from peril. It drew down upon us on the one hand the hostility of the rampant jingo hooligans of the streets, and on the other hand the “patriotic” fury of certain parasites “dressed in a little brief authority.”
Our object was not to bid defiance to a world gone mad, but to place on record the fact that in this country the Socialist position was faithfully maintained by the Socialists. With this object in view we placed our backs against the wall and fought. Our platforms were smashed up and our members injured by mobs egged on by bourgeois cowards who, as usual, had not the spunk to do their own fighting for themselves. Not this only : one of our speakers was arrested and imprisoned, while others were dragged before the magistrates and “bound over to keep the peace.” In some instances the proceedings were rounded off by the victims being discharged from their employment by their “good, kind masters” for daring to hold political opinions of their own.
We fought this fight long enough to achieve our purpose. In the columns of the last four issues of the SOCIALIST STANDARD stand recorded our actions in this crisis, showing to the working class of the world that the Socialist Party in this country, acting in accordance with its declared principles, kept its hands clean in this, the most momentous crisis of its history. That is an asset to carry forward to the time when the war is finished.
But now we are faced with a new situation. On the 28th of November last were issued Orders in Council (Defence of the Realm [Consolidation] Regulations) which render the prosecution of our propaganda a work of extreme peril. The following extracts from the Regulations will serve to show the nature of the impediment we are up against.
27. No person shall by word of mouth or in writing or in any newspaper, periodical, book, circular, or other printed publication spread false reports or make false statements or reports or statements likely to cause disaffection to His Majesty or to interfere with the success His Majesty’s forces by land or sea or to prejudice His Majesty’s relations with foreign powers, or spread reports or make statements likely to prejudice the recruiting, training, discipline, or administration of any of His Majesty’s forces, and if any person contravenes this provision he shall be guilty of an offence against these regulations.
57. A person found guilty of an offence against these regulations by a court-martial shall be liable to be sentenced to penal servitude for life or any less punishment, . . .
In face of these restrictions and penalties the Executive Committee of the Socialist Party decided to suspend propaganda meetings for the time being, and called a meeting of Party members, at which meeting their action was endorsed.
We are aware, of course, that we lost an unique opportunity of indulging in heroics. We shall be told, perhaps, that we ought to have gone on in defiance of the powers that be till we went down in a blaze of fireworks. Our view, however, was the sane one dictated by our avowed principles. We have always held that the supreme power is in the hands of those who control the political machine. The most we could hope for by going on was to prove that contention. But it is not for us to prove our contentions by acting in opposition to them.
There was no question of fighting for Socialism or Socialist principles. The Regulations were not, as far as we could judge, in the nature of anti-Socialist legislation. They were merely the precautions ordinarily resorted to by countries embroiled in a serious war. For this very reason we had nothing to gain by running counter to the Regulations, for just as the temper of the working class is, at the moment, such as to prevent them benefiting from our propaganda, so it would prevent them learning anything from our victimisation or martyrdom. Clearly, then, it was our tactics to place ourselves in such a position that only by the Regulations being strained to the point where they would become obviously anti-Socialist could we fall victims to them. These tactics demanded, in view of the risk of having our spoken words twisted and distorted in the Courts, that we suspend propaganda meetings for the time, and confine our activities to such forms of propaganda as would secure us from any attack that did not reveal the deliberate intention of our opponents to crush us under the cloak of the present situation.
THE EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE