1920s >> 1928 >> no-288-august-1928

Editorial: Keir Hardie and the World War

In the July issue of the Socialist Standard, we remarked, in passing, that Keir Hardie supported the world war in 1914.
Forward (July 14th), in reply to a correspondent says “This is nonsense.” As it is the fashion among communists, and “left wing” Labourites to pretend that Keir Hardie was essentially different from the men with whom he associated in the Labour Party and the I.L.P., we give below the evidence on which our statement is based.
With regard to Keir Hardie’s attitude in general, it would be interesting to learn from the Communists and others who now worship him, why he continued to work with the Labour Party and the I.L.P. if he differed fundamentally from their advocacy of reforms of capitalism. The only important difference between Keir Hardie and MacDonald and Henderson is that he is dead and they are not.
The Socialist attitude to capitalist wars is simple. We seek the abolition of capitalism, of the wages system. In Germany and England the workers were wage-slaves before 1914, and are wage-slaves still. They are wage-slaves in victory and in defeat. Capitalist nations go to war because capitalist interests are at stake. The workers stand to gain nothing, and they risk losing life and limb. There was, in 1914, no interest at stake justifying the sacrifice of a single worker’s life.
Keir Hardie, Ramsay MacDonald and the Labour Party generally, held the view that the workers have something else at stake which is worth defending, i.e. their country. They hold the same view now. They still urge the workers to defend “their” country, although the “country” belongs, not to them, but to their exploiters.
Not being Socialist?, MacDonald and Keir Hardie and their associates never at any time took up the Socialist attitude to the war. They decided the question in the light of their view of the duty of the workers to defend national independence.
Thus in the Labour Leader (official organ of the I.L.P.) for August 6th, 1914, Keir Hardie, in an editorial, wrote as follows:—
Many of us hoped, though some of us feared, x that the Government would remain steadfast to the end, and refuse to be drawn into the conflict unless our interests as a nation should be directly attacked.
So Keir Hardie was prepared to support war if “our interests as a nation should be directly attacked.” The attitude of the Socialist is quite different. We ask not about “our interests as a nation” (which means in practice the interests of those who own and control the nation, i.e., the capitalist class), but about our interests as workers. We knew then quite well, and we think Keir Hardie also knew quite well that the capitalist class do not go to war because someone or other is directly attacking the interests of the working-class.
Keir Hardie went further a few months later. In the Merthyr Pioneer (August 21st, 1914) he said: —
Any war of aggression against the rights and liberties of my country I would persist In to the last drop of blood in my veins.
It seems that he soon became convinced that “our interests as a nation” had been directly attacked, for in the “Merthyr Pioneer” on November 27th, he wrote:—
I have never said or written anything to dissuade our young men from enlisting; 1 know too well all that there is at stake . . .
and not only did he give an assurance that he had not tried to discourage enlistment; he boasted that his efforts at recruiting had been more successful than those of his Liberal opponent.
The same article (Merthyr Pioneer, November 27th) goes on:—
If I can get the recruiting figures for Merthyr week by week, which I find is a very difficult job, I hope by another week to prove (Keir Hardie’s italics) that whereas our Rink meeting gave a stimulus to recruiting, those meetings at the Drill Hall at which the Liberal member or the Liberal candidate spoke had exactly the opposite effect.
We see, therefore, that Keir Hardie held that the workers ought to fight for national independence, and in defence of “national interests” and he urged them to join the army for that purpose. Forward (which itself throughout the war allowed regular contributors to carry on propaganda in its pages in support of the cause of the Allied capitalists) describes our original statement as “nonsense.” In face of the evidence, will the Editor of “Forward” admit his error, or allow us to give the evidence in his columns?

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