Supporting a Capitalist War for Freedom
A correspondent (S. H. O., Highgate) puts the following question : —
“Suppose, in the recent crisis, one had to choose between a certain suppression of freedom of expression and association (as, for example, is at present enjoyed by the S.P.G.B.) and fighting in a capitalist war, with, nevertheless, a chance of preserving such freedom, what should the Socialist decide to do?
“N.B.—I am not implying that such was the choice; I am asking you to suppose it was.”
Our correspondent’s letter well illustrates the difficulty of giving a satisfactory reply to a ques-tion based on a hypothetical case. What line Socialists should follow in a given situation must depend upon a consideration of all of the important factors, but in any hypothetical case some important factors are not stated, and the situation itself may be one which, in the opinion of the Socialist, could not happen.
In the present case our correspondent tries to give the hypothetical situation actuality by instancing the recent crisis; but this is not a legitimate parallel, for the recent crisis was not a situation in which the assumed choice of alternatives presented itself.
Our correspondent does not explain how opposition to a capitalist war could make certain the suppression pf freedom of expression, etc. Does he mean that defeat in war by Germany would make that result a certainty? If so, we must reply that there can be no certainty about it. The German capitalist class (like their British counterparts) are interested in the acquisition of colonies and markets, and in weakening the armed forces of their rivals. It is impossible to say what their wishes about the form of Government of Great Britain would be. One guess is as good as an¬other. If a victorious German ruling class shared Mr. Winston Churchill’s view about dictatorship they might even use their influence to prevent it in this country.
Mr. Winston Churchill: “I have always said that if Great Britain were defeated in war, I hope we should find a Hitler to lead us back to our rightful position among the nations.” (Daily Telegraph, November 7th, 1938.)
Actually, it is the attitude of the working class which is in the last resort decisive. If Fascism arose in Britain, with or without war, it could only be because the British capitalists wanted it and the workers supported it or were apathetic.
Our correspondent does not mention, and may have overlooked, that the line to be followed by Socialists is not one for British Socialists alone but for all Socialists. His proposal can, therefore, be tested by its application in other countries.
The British-French capitalists would be waging war in defence of their class interests, in alliance with one or more of the Russian, Polish, Turkish, Yugo-Slav, Italian or Rumanian dictatorships. Socialists in those countries would be in a position of having to support their own dictatorships and thus give up their own struggle for “freedom of expression and association.”
But if it is desirable for Socialists to fight in a capitalist war because of the chance of preserving freedom of association in one country, it must logically be equally desirable to fight in a capitalist war because of the chance of gaining such freedom in another country. Consequently, the Socialists in those dictatorship countries would be considering helping the “enemy” group (Germany and her allies) against their own Governments, because defeat of their own Governments might assist the establishment of a democratic or, at least, a weaker Government, and give them freedom of association. (This line was followed by some alleged Socialists in 1914.) Then the Socialists of the world would be fighting each other, all on the basis of the principle contained in our correspondent’s question!
As against such opportunism we say that Socialists must maintain the independence of the Socialist movement and its international solidarity, recognising that the preservation of freedom of ex¬pression depends ultimately on the degree of class-consciousness of the workers, and war weakens that class-consciousness.