1930s >> 1938 >> no-408-august-1938

Editorial: Socialists and A.R.P.

The capitalist class is perhaps the most harassed property-owning class that history has produced. Problems and fears press in upon it from all sides. The individual capitalist may wake up one morning and find himself dispossessed of his ownership or of his share (part ownership) in some industrial undertaking which he never saw, of whose processes he was entirely ignorant. He might be fleeced by the sharks of his own class and nationality who are the more cunning; or his investments in some distant part of the earth might be stolen from him by the growth and expansion of some new capitalist power, like Japan in China or Italy in Abyssinia. It is very distressing—for the capitalist. The distress is the more manifest when threats to their ownership press acutely upon any one national section of the capitalist class. Socialists do not share the distress of the master class. Rather do they seize the opportunity to show that capitalism’s contradictions can only disappear in Socialism.


One persistent problem for the capitalist is to ensure the acquiescence of the working-class in the property-owning rights of its masters. But capitalist interests demand much more than that. If any national section of the capitalist class is to survive in its struggles with its competitors it must have a working class willing to defend its interests. It is the perpetual concern of the capitalist class to arouse that willingness. It is a task which inevitably brings out capitalism’s contradictions. For example, there are many thousands of workers attached to various religious organisations who are opposed to war despite the assurances of Archbishops that it has the approval of the Almighty: there are many thousands of working-class supporters of the various political parties who see through the smoke screens of pretence set up by their leaders. (The Editor of “Forward,” for example, espouses an attitude to war approximating to the Socialist position despite official Labour Party policy.) These tendencies are possibly more widely spread than before the war, 1914-18. The reason is not far to seek. Modern war brings whole populations within the area of military operations. All have to be regimented and disciplined in one vast co-ordinated military machine. It adds to the problems of the capitalist class that the conditions which more and more demand loyalty to its interests at the same time makes that loyalty difficult to ensure. Nevertheless the immediate difficulties of the capitalists are perhaps not insurmountable. Attempts are being made to canalise opposition to war into channels which are linked up with the preparation for war.


Air Raid Precautions provide an example. Here the opportunity arises for many who claim to be opposed to war to engage in an activity which does not appear to be in conflict with their opinions. The situation is on a par with the conscientious objector who would agree to certain war work on humanitarian grounds, but would object to being a soldier.


The position of the Socialist Party on the question is quite clear. We are opposed to war not on humanitarian grounds, but on the grounds that wars arise out of the struggle between competing sections of the capitalists over the question of the possession of the wealth of the world and matters relating to it. Being opposed to war on these grounds we are therefore opposed to preparation for war. Moreover, we shall express our opposition to it at every opportunity. That is not to say a Socialist will never be found taking part in the prosecution of war as a soldier or in some other form of war activity. The pressure exerted in a war-mad world where the majority were against him would perhaps be too strong for resistance in some cases. But this is no argument against the correctness of the Socialist position. Our attitude on war cannot be toned down because we happen to be in a minority or because any other attitude at any given moment appears to be more consistent with the humanitarian instincts of social beings. The Socialist attitude to war and war preparations is sound because the degree to which it became accented by the workers would to that extent make war more difficult (if not impossible) for the capitalists to pursue. It does not appear likely that workers are yet in a position to accept the Socialist position on war in any great numbers. Nor would it be reasonable to expect workers who do not accept the Socialist case against capitalism generally, to understand and accept our attitude to war. Nevertheless, that provides no grounds whatever for compromise. To water down our opposition to war in any of its aspects would be to lessen the possibilities of its more general acceptance should conditions develop favourably for it.