1930s >> 1935 >> no-374-october-1935

Editorial: Let the Capitalists Fight their Own Wars

It has been a common experience of Socialist Party speakers in recent years that, when they have referred to the support given by the Labour Party and Trade Unions to the last Great War, opponents have replied that those happenings are now ancient history, and ought, in fairness, to be forgotten. “Never again,” we were told, “would the Labour leaders and their followers fall into the trap set for them in 1914. They had learned their lesson for all time.” Of course, they had done nothing of the kind. They have learned nothing and forgotten everything. Because the bait has been presented in another way they are walking into the same trap as they did 21 years ago. The Manchester Guardian, only a few months back, gave the Government its lead in the matter by raising the question whether a war waged under cover of the League of Nations (of which “Socialist” Russia is a member), could be regarded as a “Capitalist” war. The General Council of the T.U.C. used just the same argument to fog the issue at the recent Congress, and it has been featured several times in the Labour Party’s privately-owned organ, the Daily Herald.

The League of Capitalist Governments
First let us examine the League of Nations. Its name obscures the truth. It is not a League of Nations, but a League of Governments, that is to say, it is directed and controlled by the representatives of the different sections of the capitalist class. If the importance of that is not at once apparent it is only necessary to point out that each of those Governments is occupied at home with the relentless suppression of the working class, by armed force if necessary. Never do those Governments set the armed forces in motion to promote or defend the interests of the working class, but always to protect capitalism and capitalist property rights. Yet we are asked to believe that these gentlemen undergo a surprising change on their journey to Geneva, and become representatives of the interest of humanity as a whole, or even of the working class in particular. Do our Labour Party opponents not recall that the same ridiculous spectacle was once a commonplace in the electoral held, of trade unionists voting into Parliament the very employers with whom they were engaged in bitter wages struggles?

Again, the League is an organisation of some of the Governments only, and this also is important. America, Japan and Germany are outside of it. It is dominated by France and England and is primarily an instrument for safeguarding the gains acquired by those Powers in the Great War. For a similar reason it is backed by the smaller countries, which gained territory, or whose very existence was the result of the Versailles Peace Treaty. The English League of Nations enthusiasts in Labour circles regard the League as an imperfect but highly commendable organisation. They have persuaded themselves that working class interests and League interests go hand-in-hand. They fail altogether to appreciate that their view is typically that of the Powers who dictated the Versailles and other Treaties—on friend and foe alike—and that the view of the other Governments and of the unthinking workers in their countries is a very different one. To the mass of German, Italian, Hungarian, Japanese and Turkish workers the League is regarded as nothing but the tool of Anglo-French capitalist imperialism. When, therefore, the Labour Party and Trade Unions line up and back the League they are separating themselves from the workers in those countries as rigidly as they did when they backed their capitalist Government in 1914-1918. They are destroying what is the only possible basis for securing Socialism and peace, that is the international solidarity of the working class. The only organisation which can ever hope to gain the confidence of the working class in other countries is the one which can show that it is not the direct or indirect tool of the capitalists at home. Its integrity and independence must be above suspicion.

New Bait for an Old Trap

The Trade Union leaders implore us to back the League in order to stop Fascism. “If Mussolini is allowed to win,” they say, “then Fascism will triumph everywhere.” A plausible argument, but it has a familiar odour. It stinks of 1914. “If the Kaiser is allowed to win then Prussian militarism will triumph everywhere. Make the world safe for democracy.” At the cost of millions of workers’ lives the Kaiser was not allowed to win. And now Prussian militarism, in a revised and rather worse edition, is triumphant in Germany, and democracy is almost everywhere on the defensive against Fascism. Can they not see that, in addition to the destruction and suffering that war entails, it is itself a prolific breeder of all the violence and oppression in which Fascism flourishes and in which the Socialist movement stifles? The Labour leaders may pretend that a war resulting from League sanctions against Italy or some other Power, is a war against Fascism, but the Governments which will continue to have absolute control of the League and of their own armed forces are not going to fight against Fascism. They are going to fight in defence of capitalist interests. Indeed, many of the Governments—Spain, for example—. are themselves making use of the violent repressive measures which go by the name Fascist, and if the capitalists in democratic countries find that similar methods suit their interests they also will try to use them.

The truth is that capitalism is triumphant everywhere because the working class are blind to their own class position, and are still persuaded that they have an interest in leaving power in capitalist hands. It is only a degree worse that in some countries large numbers of workers go further on the road of stupid servility, and help to place power in the hands of Fascist demogogues. The only people who can end this are the workers themselves. When they sicken of Fascism they will be well on the road to destroying it, but it can only be done from within the country concerned. Overthrowing Mussolini by war waged by rival capitalist Powers will only have the same kind of result as the overthrow of Kaiserdom had in Germany. It is the duty of each national section of the working class to struggle against their own capitalist masters, aided to the extent that is possible by the international movement. Backing a League of Nations war will not help, but will hinder the spread of understanding and organisation among the workers everywhere. It is the policy of unchaining ten mad dogs of war to deal with one of them.

Junior Partner or Doormat?


Alongside their other arguments the Labour leaders who support war under League auspices profess to believe that by lining up with the Government they will exercise great influence on the Government’s conduct of the war and on the eventual peace settlement. What does the last Great War tell us about this? The Labour Party, when it joined the war-time Coalition Government, told us it was going to see that the peace was a real and lasting peace, not the dictation of onerous terms by victors to vanquished. Some of the Labour leaders (those who were not too much choked up with vile jingoistic sentiments themselves) gave their advice accordingly. And what amount of notice did the Government take of their advice? Not the slightest as regards the main terms of the settlement. For proof ask any Labour leader if he is prepared to defend the savage terms of the Versailles Treaty; ask if he is prepared to say that the Labour Party’s advice was taken and that he stands by the result.


Again, consider the special question of the Trade Unions. They helped British capitalism to win the war. One of their spokesmen wrote a pamphlet in 1914 defending their support of the war on the ground that if the “Huns” won they would reduce English Trade Unions down to the level of the German Unions. The German capitalists did not win, but in 1926 the English capitalists made a frontal attack on the British Trade Union movement in order to help the mine-owners force down the miners’ wages. They followed it up in 1927 by legislation severely restricting the legal rights of the Trade Unions. What happened? Where was the influence of the Labour leaders on the British capitalists and their Government? What reward or consideration did they get for having helped capitalism to win the war? None whatever. Not a shred. Force, naked force, was the order of the day. The Labour M.P.s and Trade Union officials threatened and bluffed, wept and pleaded. They appealed to sentiment, patriotism, religion, to the preservation of order, and even to the interest the capitalists themselves have in exercising power with mercy. And they got precisely nothing.


Now they ask the working class to line up with British and French capitalism in defence of democracy and peace! They have learned nothing. Even the greatest war the world has ever known— yet—could not teach them.