Whither Britain?

Before the War, the Labour movement of this and other countries had come to regard the progress of democracy as something inevitable. In spite of the lean time democracy has gone through since the suspension of hostilities, both Labour leaders and ruling-class politicians still successfully manage to create the myth that, in England, at any rate, democracy is still the order of the day. Democracy here is said to provide a striking contrast to the totalitarianism of Hitler and Mussolini; indeed, the chief task of our politicians to-day is to maintain that illusion above all others in the minds of people. But the view of the Socialist has always been that, although the growth of capitalism necessitates certain democratic features, anti-democratic elements are also bound up with its continuation. In spite of feverish appeals to defend democracy, signs are not wanting that, behind this façade, the ruling class are getting ready to march along a path similar to that of Hitler’s Germany. There is no doubt that the development of capitalism in recent years has modified much of the normal workings of the system and has thrown up, as a result, new and more complex problems to be solved. The attempts to solve these problems, as always, endanger working-class interests. It is true, of course, that the basis of capitalism is the two-class nature of society, with its contrasts of riches and poverty, and the contradictions which arise from the ownership by a small section of society of the means of wealth production. Nevertheless, the working class should become aware of these changes and what they entail in democratic England as well as Fascist Germany. It is childish to assume that what is happening in Germany is independent of the remainder of the capitalist world. The problems confronting the ruling class in Germany are in the last analysis the problems that confront the capitalist class of the rest of the world. What are these problems? They are the furtherance of the interests of the national sections of the capitalist class in order to maintain or secure what is euphemistically called “a place in the sun,” or, more brutally, to satisfy the insatiable quest for profits. The task before the German ruling class is to secure for itself a privileged position, but it can only do so at the expense of its brother, the English capitalist class.

Thus Fascism is not only bound up with world capitalism but is itself a product of it. The defeated ruling class in Germany, stripped of its former colonies, its territory in Europe annexed, and weighted down by reparations, was forced into a desperate position. The Social Democracy, along with the other political parties, though trying to rebuild German capitalism, had been unable to continue doing so, because they lost working-class support and therefore ceased to be a fitting instrument. The conditions of the working class had not improved, as the Social Democrats promised they would. The task of Fascism became then one of restoring German capitalism to its pre-war strength and at the same time gaining the confidence of large sections of the working class, peasants and middle layers of the population, by promising to free capitalism from the anomalies that ordinarily affect it. The demagogue Hitler promised to provide work for all, to establish economic and national security and to balance out the periodic fluctuations and crises associated with capitalism. Thus, the first task of Hitler on attaining political power was to provide work of some kind for the six million unemployed. It was useless to produce consumption goods depending for their sale upon an increased purchasing power of the people. What was needed was a type that would not be thrown upon an already saturated market. New roads, land improvement schemes, military equipment, such as barracks, guns and aeroplanes, can be produced independently of the income of the masses. It is even possible under those conditions to produce a growing volume of these goods while wages are being steadily reduced. A gigantic programme of rearmament allowed Hitler to revive German industry, to put Germany back on the political map, and further, to fulfil his promises to the masses, through the grim formula of “guns instead of butter.”

So, to-day it can be said that unemployment in Germany is practically non-existent, and the “work for all” slogan has been realised. For gradually the rearmament industries have expanded and unemployment has fallen; indeed, many workers from other branches of industry have had to be drafted into this field of production. To finance this huge programme, methods have been adopted which have horrified our orthodox capitalist and Labour leader alike. They view with dismay the stringent Governmental control and regulation of profits and prices, and of wage rates and supplies of labour. A picture of the state of present-day Germany, from a capitalist standpoint, can be obtained from the following quotation from Lloyds Bank Monthly Review (July and August, 1937): —

“In the National Socialist State all economic activity must serve the interests of the community. Business interests in Germany must, therefore, regard themselves as subordinate to the general policy pursued by the State. Early in 1937 the German people were told that all activities will be governed by the law that the nation does not live for the benefit of the economic system, nor the economic system exist for the benefit of capital, but capital serves the economic system and the economic system the Nation. . . . With regard to the individual, the National Socialists claim that they must put an end to class differences in order to secure national harmony. Individual and class differences are subordinate to those of the national community. Under a Government with full and supreme power of enforcing its will, even to the point of overriding established law, one of the practical results of this theory has been the suppression of strikes, lock-outs and wage disputes generally.”

Thus the Fascists have created a machine which in time may have repercussions throughout world capitalism. Already it would appear that the threat of a rearmed and highly organised German capitalism is compelling British capitalism to adopt similar drastic measures. An article in The Banker (April, 1939) raises certain issues, largely, it is true, from the point of view of the capitalist class, but issues which vitally affect the working class. The writer commences by pointing out that the Government will be a borrower in the capital market of between £350 and £400 million, and the effects of a single borrower, such as the Government, taking such a large amount from the capital market and distributing it amongst a relatively small section of industry, namely, the rearmament industry, will be grave. The demand for workers in these industries will greatly increase; in fact, the writer of the article thinks that the whole of the unemployed may be re-absorbed into industry. This may well be so, when we remember that, even at the present time, there is a shortage of this type of skilled labour, and that, in addition, an increased number of men are required in the armed forces and other defence preparations. As a result of the large sums paid out in the form of wages following on the increased employment and the substitution of full-time for short-time workers, a greatly increased demand for consumers’ goods may be expected. The Government, if it is to keep at the head of the armaments race, will be forced to increase its expenditure, the money being raised either by borrowing or by taxation. In either case, it will be forced to exert a greater control over the capital market. Manufacturers of consumers’ goods will be faced with an increased demand for their products, and at the same time a shortage of the necessary capital and labour to effectively expand production. Prices will tend to rise and the standard of living of the workers fall unless they are successful in securing higher wages, a demand which will be strenuously opposed by the manufacturers and Government alike, for higher wages mean an increased cost of rearmament. The City Editor of the Manchester Guardian says (April 6th, 1939): —

“Unless the Government then assumes the direct control of industrial production and investment the arms output will be curtailed and a general rise of prices will ensue.”

This rise in prices can be offset in three ways, all at the expense of the working class. The social services may be reduced on the plea of economy, the working day can be lengthened without raising wages, as in France, or the standard of living of the workers can be reduced by allowing prices to rise more rapidly than wages. This attack upon working-class standards has begun. The Press reports to-day the strike at an aircraft factory caused by the employment of unskilled girl labour. Workers’ memories may be short but they still remember the dilution that took place during the last War. As is commonplace nowadays, the men have gone on strike without Union recognition, thus losing strike pay, but they already have the support of the workers in another of the company’s factories, from whom they have received a big collection and a weekly levy on their wages until the dispute is over. All workers should realise that this is only a prelude to a general attack upon working-class conditions and democratic rights. There are not wanting signs that British capitalism will require the working class here to follow in the footsteps of the German working class. By specious pleas of patriotism and emphasis on the horrors of Fascism, an attempt will be made to render the trade unions innocuous and to persuade the working class to be drilled and dragooned. And, needless to say, the trade union bureaucracy and Labour leaders will perform the same service for capitalism now as in 1914—note already the discussions between trade union leaders and the Government on the steps to be taken in an emergency war situation.

Although trade union leaders are paying lip service to voluntary effort as opposed to conscription, they are prepared once again to place the movement at the disposal of the State. Mr. Bevin himself agrees that prices must be controlled and profiteering cease, thus fitting in easily with capitalism organised on a war-time basis.

Now, more than at any other time, is it necessary for the workers to think and act along the lines of their own class interests. Safeguarding working-class interests is the best and only way of safeguarding working-class existence. And the action of the working class here may yet, by its example, have a stimulating and regenerating effect upon the working class of all other countries.

Sound working-class action will still prove to be the greatest impediment to the threat of war. Without this action, we must agree with the Manchester Guardian (April 11th, 1939):—

“War apart, it would be idle to predict either the form or the degree of that Governmental control of finance, employment, prices and profits that may be found necessary as borrowing and spending are increased.”

Already three Conservative M.P.s, Mr. L. S. Amery, Sir Edward Grigg and Lord Wolmer, have placed a resolution on the order paper of the House of Commons (Manchester Guardian, April 17th, 1939): —

“That this House is in favour of the immediate acceptance of the principle of the compulsory mobilisation of the man, munition and money power of the nation.”

In a circular to M.P.s, the sponsors state: —

“We feel it opportune that as many members of the House of Commons as possible should assure them (the Government) that we are ready to proceed to all lengths in pursuance of their policy. The time for half measures is past. We believe that all the resources of the nation should be mobilised now against every eventuality. ( ! !)”

So it can be seen that the State, instead of being capitalism’s sleeping partner, is becoming, as in Germany, the active and directing agent for mobilising industry and dragooning and drilling the population along lines suitable for its purpose. In addition, we have our defence dictators, and A.R.P. closely linked with the police, veiled threats of powers extraordinary in times of emergency, e.g., the right to enter individual houses, etc. So it can be seen that Hitler and our ruling class speak the same language when their interests are at stake.

Surely at such a time the voice of the Socialist should be heeded by all thoughtful members of the working class. History has placed the solution in your hands and given you the opportunity to rid yourselves, once and for all, of the poverty and misery and grey anxiety which capitalism entails. You, the working class, are the overwhelming majority of the population. It is you who make everything possible under capitalism, including war. When this is realised in sufficient numbers, you can take appropriate action, not only to dispense with capitalism, but to build a system of society fitted to the needs of a decent existence. By becoming Socialists you will help to swell our ranks, so that, when sufficient numbers are gained, there can begin that last and greatest march of the working class out of the grey menacing shadows of capitalism into the light of a system of society based, not on the dictates of a minority, but on the needs of humanity.

E. W.

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