Editorial: Government By The Press
In every case where there is a conflict of interests between the master class and the working class, the former close up their ranks and present a solid front against the latter. That they may do this in various ways does not alter in the least the unity of purpose in their actions.
Thus when a strike is threatened or takes place, say on the part of those engaged in the production or transport of munitions of war, while the Tory or Yellow Press papers may call for the direct application of military measures against the strikers and the Liberal papers appeal to them by “Open Letters” and so on, both are solid in demanding a return to work in the ‘’national” interests, or for “patriotic” purposes. And both support the use of the military against the strikers once this course is decided upon. The first method is the more open and easily understood by the workers, the last is the more slimy and deceiving.
On the other hand, there are diversities of interests and antagonisms among the capitalists themselves, of far less importance, it is true, than the struggle between capitalists and workers, but still of sufficient magnitude to call for intrigue, cheating, swindling, and dirty tactics, even to the extent of “selling out” the “national” interests for the benefit or ambition of sections and individuals.
An instance of this character was indicated in the House of Commons on the 12th February last. Mr. Lloyd George had announced that certain executive powers had been taken to itself by the Inter-Allied Council sitting at Versailles. In answering Mr. Asquith’s speech on this point he made a remark that the ex-Prime Minister took offence at and rose to protest against. According to the newspaper reports this rising was greeted with a roar of cheering, indicative of protest against the Prime Minister’s attitude.
For the present we may pass over the hypocrisy of the whole business, angrily exposed by Mr. Pemberton Billing, who stated that he would like to call attention
“to the farce which we see played by the two Front benches this afternoon. I would put it to the Prime Minister that not later than forty-eight hours ago the whole matter was being rehearsed and discussed around the dining table of Downing Street. . . . within the last forty-eight hours they” (the Prime Minister and Ex-Prime Minister) “were breakfasting together at 10 Downing Street.’’ —Official Report, 12.2.1918.
We may also leave aside the crushing indictment of the Military Command given by Mr. Lynch in the same debate, to which not a single reply was offered, and turn to a comment made in the “Daily News” 16.2.1918 by “ A.G.G.”
“The passionate outburst on Tuesday . . . was a fierce assertion of the right of Government by Parliament and a fierce repudiation of Government by the Press.”
Outsiders, of course, are unaware of the particular personal intrigues and ambitious that exist behind this “scene,” though the prosecution of Colonel Repington and the “Morning Post” while the “Daily Mail” and the “Times”’ are left alone, may give some indication of the persons concerned On the larger questions at issue the evidence is available to all. Mr. Lloyd George is merely the servant of the blatantly Imperialistic section of the master class who require the establishment and maintenance of large military and naval forces to carry out their piratical and annexational schemes. Mr. Asquith represents the section of the master class who are more inclined towards “trade penetration,’’ and who object to having to pay the huge sums necessary for the maintenance of large fighting forces. A smaller force, in their opinion, is sufficient to keep the working class at home under control and to carry out any “expeditions” abroad that seem necessary. Hence their chagrin at one of their former agents—Mr. LI. George—going over to the other side and aiding the military schemes of the Imperialists. Hence “A.G.G.’s” mild indignation against the Northcliffe Press, though it is well to remember that the Northcliffe combination run Liberal as well as Tory newspapers.
What a huge hypocrisy this “indignation” is can be shown by a few staring facts.
The most powerful measure of oppression ever passed in Parliament, and one that gave greater powers to outside bodies than any measure ever placed upon the Statute Book, is the “ Defence of the Realm Act.” Property and Person, Wealth and Life, were placed under the control of various agents without any real power of appeal or question on the part of the victims. More than this, the Habeas Corpus Act is, for the first time in English legislation, over-ridden by another Act—the D.O.R.A.—and men and women have been cast into prison, not only without trial, but without even a charge bring preferred against them. Outside the Imperialists’ own organs the Press has been muzzled; the remnants of free speech are crushed out; everyone has been registered, ticketed, and classified to a degree that must make the “Prussian’’ militarists turn green with envy.
Now this savage Act of extended slavery was passed through Parliament by the Liberal Party with Mr. Asquith as Prime Minister, without any Press agitation at all! And Mr. Asquith was Prime Minister with a Liberal majority in Parliament when the Registration Act with all its lies and the Conscription Acts with all their cruelties were placed upon the Statute Book.
Thus the “democratic” Liberals are shown to be responsible for the greatest violation of constitutional methods and procedure that has ever been known, and then their hypocritical rails against “government by the trade union,” and more particularly against “government by the Press.”
If all the crimes “A.G.G.” alleges against the Northcliffe Press were true—and we believe he understates the case—they would be but as dust in the balance against the foul crimes of the Liberals given above.
A more slimy hypocrisy, however, occurs when “A.G.G.” says:
“We will have neither Government by the sword, nor Government by the trade unions. Still less will we have that worst of all substitutes, Government by the Press.”
This statement is a deliberate lie. It is used to hide the tricks of the Liberals, who, while supporting the war, find the various jobs resulting from the war being given to their opponents. The Government have a solid minority of office-holders (the largest on record) in the House of Commons, and the majority merely indulge in intrigue and trickery to obtain these and other jobs. As one member put it, those in office and those out, instead of watching and fighting the enemy, are watching and fighting each other.
The majority in Parliament can at any moment it wishes turn out the Government. It can retain or remove any officials, military or civil, it desires. It can crush Lord Northcliffe as it can Bertrand Russell and Guy Bowman. It can suppress the “Times” and the “Daily Mail” as easily as it prohibited the export of the “Nation” and other journals. It can as easily order the dismantling of the machinery at Carmelite House as it did that of the National Labour Press and of “Freedom.” Above all it can repeal the Defence of the Realm and the Conscription Acts whenever it pleases.
Mr. Lloyd George clearly admitted all this when he said that the House of Commons could repudiate the arrangement come to at Versailles and put in another government if it wished. Mr. Asquith admitted the same thing when, after his long-winded speech in praise of Haig and Robertson, he said he would do nothing to embarrass the Government. Can “A.G.G.” deny these facts? Of course he cannot. They prove our contention to the hilt.
“A.G.G.’s” shriek against “Government by the Press” is based partly on the fact that he is the agent of one section of the master class, while the Northcliffe Press is the agent of another section, and, more importantly, on the fact that he wishes to mislead the workers as to the truth of the foul actions of the Liberal Party, which have been indicated above, and so persuade these workers to lose sight of their class interests and to take sides in the quarrel between these two sections of the master class.
The result—if his object is attained—will be that the workers thus influenced will, when an election takes place, again vote the masters into possession of political power. “A.G.G.’S” cunning attempts to deceive the workers on this vitally important point shows how necessary it is for the workers to be continually on their guard against these false friends from the enemy’s camp.
The debate in question showed not that we are being “governed by the Press,” but by a lying, swindling, pettifogging set of capitalist thieves who are ready to sacrifice what they blatantly call “national’ interests and “patriotic” ideals for the personal interests and ambitions of cliques, and the spoils of office.
Let the workers grip this fact and they will then see that it is by controlling the political machinery that they will be able to accomplish their emancipation.