Workers’ Blood and Capitalist Profit
The spectre of another World War is haunting Europe—war bringing unimaginable horrors which will fall chiefly on the working class.
Bitterly recognising its limitations, yet confident of ultimate success in its appeal to the reason of the great mass of workers, the Socialist Party of Great Britain, as in 1914, sets out its attitude to the threatened war.
The lessons of 1914 have so far been but faintly grasped by the worker. The meanness of the governing clique, their low intrigues against each other, the incompetence of brass hats and their furious jealousies, have been told in a vast and ever-increasing number of war volumes; there is some satisfaction that these people are so ready to give each other away; the amazing thing is how little of this seeps into the minds of the worker.
Let us call Lloyd George to the witness stand —a cunning politician, but author, nevertheless, of a brilliant piece of journalism, “War Memoirs.” Insist upon your public library getting copies, and at least read references indicated hereafter (numbers refer to pages in the cheaper edition; after page 1067, Volume 2). Mr. Lloyd George deserves the thanks of the governing clique of Britain, at any rate; his “apology” leaves little doubt in the mind of the reader that he staved off disaster for the class he served.
The recounting of the feeble folly of the Greys and Asquiths comes as no surprise to a moderately- informed student of history; the low intrigues and bitter personal animosities of politicians run through all written history.
The mentality of the class which viewed the common soldier as so much “cannon-fodder” is revealed on page 115: “Kitchener stalked into the Cabinet with his most military stride . . . he exclaimed in husky tones, charged with suppressed emotion, ‘Oh, it is terrible—terrible!’ ‘Were the casualties very heavy ?’ we enquired anxiously. ‘I’m not thinking about the casualties,’ replied Kitchener, ‘but for all the shells that were wasted.’ ”
The tale of Haig’s incompetence is probably incredible to those whose knowledge of British military history is limited to highly coloured accounts of the few geniuses this country has produced in the killing line; read the whole of Chapter 73 for the tragedy of
What were the factors which led to this nightmare, when thousands of soldiers perished, choked to death in a bog of blood and mud, a bog which Haig never took the trouble to visit? “No general in the War was expected to visit No Man’s Land until the battleground had been made safe for Brass Hats”(1322). The chief factor was Haig’s determination to score a personal victory by “smashing through”; to this end, the Cabinet was deliberately deceived as to the real state of affairs, downright cheating was resorted to in at least one case, when selected German prisoners were shown to Lloyd George (1316).
A long quotation is justified here; Lloyd George quotes Liddell Hart (1308): “A highly-placed officer was on his first visit to the battle front—at the end of the four months’ battle. Growing increasingly uneasy as the car approached the swamp-like edges of the battle area, he eventually burst into tears, crying, ‘Good God, did we really send men to fight in that?’ To which his companion replied that the ground was far worse ahead.”
Great fun, Old Bill, wasn’t it? Who will be the funny cartoonist to grin through the hollow eye of death in the next war ?
To continue the quotation:
“Artillery became bogged, tanks stuck in the mire, unwounded men by the hundreds, and wounded men by the thousands, sank beyond recovery into the filth. It is a comment upon the intelligence with which the whole plan had been conceived that, after the ridge had been reached, it was essential part of the plan that masses of cavalry were intended to thunder across this impassable bog to complete the rout of a fleeing enemy. For months, hundreds of thousands of British troops fought through this slough. They sheltered and they slept in mud-holes; when they squelched along, they were shot down into the slush; if wounded, they were drowned in the slime: but the survivors still crept and dragged onward for four months from shell-hole to shell-hole, with their rifles and machine-guns choked with Flemish ooze; it was a tragedy of heroic endurance, and the British Press rang with praises of the ruthless courage of the Commander-in-Chief! It was not the fault of the newspapers. The truth was carefully eliminated from Press dispatches; there was a relentless and clever censorship exercised.”
A word here on those who have a real, solid stake, in the shape of land, which can well enable them to claim that they have a “country.” On page 784, a significant sidelight is thrown on what Lloyd George calls the “Strike of the Junkers.” Imminent stark starvation (chronic under-nourishment is, of course, the normal lot of a huge number of working-class men, women and children), due to submarine warfare chiefly, threatened the country; powers were accorded to local authorities to use private property in land for growing food; our patriotic landowners grumbled, “the grumbling became a growl, and at last a snarl with bared teeth.” One landowner (why no name, Mister George?) interviewed our author. He was “scarlet with fury,” and announced his intention of refusing to comply with the law.
To resume Passchendaele. Among several letters to the author quoted, the following are worthy of note:
Ex-Captain: “The generals responsible for prolonging the fight should have been shot.”
No general was even court-martialled; at the end of the War, fulsome adulation was ladled out to Haig, and (Lloyd George consenting, holding the gee-gee’s bridle)
was voted by a grateful country to keep the wolf from his door and to facilitate his further ominous work in organising the reactionary British Legion, which has more than a distant resemblance to bands which were of signal service to Hitler and Mussolini. In connection with this grant, let it be remembered that Lloyd George telegraphed hearty congratulations to Haig after Passchendaele.
“An Old Contemptible” (1354) writes: “Passchendaele was an absolute crime, and if we have another war the same thing will happen again. I once passed a casual critical remark about Haig, and an officer who overheard me said, ‘That’s mutiny; I suppose you know you could be shot for that?’ ”
. . . You are invited by Liberal and Tory, by “Labour” and “Communist” (the loudest bagpipes of the squealing train) to be on the alert to “Fight Fascism,” to “Conserve Democracy.” Pause to think, to think hard; it’s your business, fellow worker.
“Fascism” is a red herring, as “Poor little Belgium” was in 1914. Lloyd George puts an unerring finger on the real cause of war then, as it will be now if war comes. “Our international rivals were forging ahead at a great rate, and jeopardising our hold on the markets of the world” (21). All the good intentions in the world, well-meaning Dick Sheppards and peace-loving George Lansburys notwithstanding, the threat of war remains while capitalism, insatiate in its search for markets, persists.
And, once war is upon us, goodbye to civil “liberties,” to relative freedom of speech—the “profiteer” will flourish; again the rule of police in civil life and the iron tyranny of Brass Hat and brutal Sergeant-Major in the army. Already ominous indications are not lacking. A twelve-year employee has been dismissed for refusing to take part in A.R.P. drills. (The Star, March 31st, 1939.)
The record of the Labour leaders during the last War makes one wonder which to marvel at most—the gullibility of the worker, or the brazen effrontery of the Labour Party. Both Asquith and Lloyd George found in these leaders pliant tools. G. N. Barnes (Pensions Minister) openly stated that he would resist pensions for disabled soldiers who had slipped through too big meshes of the medical net, and consequently proved unfit to fill a hero’s grave.
“Workman’s Cottage to Windsor Castle,” by the Right Hon. J. Hodge (full title on cover!); reveals the Labour leader at about its worst. It takes a strong stomach to read this blatant Labour leader’s own account of the royal lick-spittling: “The Queen does look queenly; though a Queen she is a woman and a mother; just look at the children hanging on to their mother’s skirt ” (page 184). There was “Labour trouble” at Liverpool: “My staff mixed with the strikers, giving stable tips, straight from the horse’s mouth, that all the shop stewards would be apprehended and prosecuted, or probably deported” (page 170). Winston Churchill will hardly be accused of being violently friendly to the working class. Hodge (page 175) scolds him for according a small bonus to engineers against his advice; he is scandalised that “the scavenger in every urban district got it, and” (crowning infamy) “retained it for many years after the War was over.”
Do you really think that the Labour leader would not run true to bias in another World War?
Let us repeat the message of the S.P.G.B. to workers in all lands in 1914. It stands to-day. Capitalism is essentially the same as it was in 1914. Read our pamphlet, “War and the Working Class” (2d.), where the full text of our message will be found on page 24: —
“Having no quarrel with the working class of any country, we extend to our fellow workers of all lands the expression of our good will and Socialist fraternity, and pledge ourselves to work for the OVERTHROW OF CAPITALISM and the TRIUMPH OF SOCIALISM.”
. . . Turn now to our “Declaration of Principles”—eight plain, straightforward statements of FACT, and expression of Policy.
It’s your business!