1930s >> 1939 >> no-424-december-1939

Here and There: New Words for the Old

New Words for the Old
It is a cynical world, a brutal world, particularly for idealists. A few years ago millions placed their hopes for peace in the League of Nations and all that it was supposed to stand for: the “rule of law” in disputes between the national capitalist groups and the “independence” of small nations. The great hopes which were centred in the League have foundered on the rocks of reality. The test of experience showed that the “rule of law” was applied in a quite arbitrary fashion; that it was interpreted quite differently in different cases. Abyssinian “independence” was apparently a small matter compared to the ‘‘independence” of Poland. The latter, to the British capitalists, is worth incalculable risks in money and working-class lives. The truth is, of course, that the suppression of Polish “independence” expressed a growing dominance of German capitalism and a threat to the dominance of France and Great Britain. Hence the importance of Polish “independence” to the latter powers. Circumstances alter cases. And the circumstances which influence the greater powers of the world are those which affect their own interests. The fact that Germany swallowed certain small powers which were set up by her enemies under the Versailles Treaty is in itself evidence that the independence of those small powers was part of the defence policy of the powers who imposed the Versailles Treaty. It suited the interests of Franco-British capitalism to support “independence” for these small powers. The constitution of the League of Nations gave the appearance of support for the equality and independence of all nations as a general principle. The strain which the rivalries of the various capitalist groups imposed upon the League in recent years exposed that myth. Consequently, the “idealists” who pinned their faith in the League suffered bitter disillusionment.Some show signs of having learned from the events of the past twenty years: others are chasing new panaceas. One such is the proposal for Federal Unionism. Several prominent people are toying with it. The basic proposals are world government on a federal basis. One writer (W. B. Curry) instances the Federal Government of the U.S.A. as an example of the form the proposal might take. If the governments of the world could enter a federal union and accept the authority of the Federal Government much in the same way as the states which comprise the U.S.A. accept the authority of their Federal Government, then world peace would be secured. The limitations to the application of the idea are enormous. And to do them justice many of the authors of it are not unaware of some of them. The baffling task, for example, of persuading nations with different traditions and in varying stages of development to be. bound by Federal decisions is met with the suggestion that the Federal Union should at first include Great Britain and its self-governing dominions, France, the U.S.A., and the smaller “democracies.”

What the supporters of Federal Unionism do not realise is that the proposals contain no principle which has not already broken down very pathetically in the League of Nations. It would not be difficult for all capitalist governments to accept “the rule of the law” as a form of words. It would be in the interpretation and application out of which the conflicts would arise. There could be no guarantee that those nations which refused to accept the “Federal Government’s” decisions would not break away and form alliances opposed to it, as happened in the League of Nations.

To expect the capitalists of the world to accept the judgments of a Federal Government regarding their rivalries is romanticism. What decisions would a Federal Government make different from those the League of Nations made on the Manchuko, Abyssinian and Spanish disputes? None whatever. What law would compel a nation in the Federal Union to go to the assistance of a “victim of aggression” when that nation sympathises with the aggressor and not the victim? Advocates of Federal Unionism would argue, of course, that these difficulties would not arise. That the markets of the world and raw materials would be open and available for all capitalists, that the resources of colonies would be pooled. In short, those capitalist powers who have the dominance and the power to use it would share their advantages with the weaker powers.

We can imagine the great capitalist powers accepting a form of words which gives the appearance of that rosy picture. But giving reality to the fiction is as conceivable as Unilever sharing its advantages with a village soap-boiler.

The authors of the Federal Union proposals suggest that Great Britain should take the initiative in starting the new Federal era. Unconscious humour? Perhaps. Anyhow, Mr. W. B. Curry, in particular, might try his arts of persuasion on the gentleman who recently broadcast for the British Government and boasted that Great Britain had been at peace for only a few weeks in the past three hundred years!

An easier task for him would be to get to grips with the implications of the Socialist case: that the rivalries and wars between the various groups of capitalists in the modern world are conflicts which arise out of the competitive private property basis of capitalist society and can only finally disappear with the abolition of capitalism and the introduction of common ownership in the means and instruments of production and distribution.
Mr. Brockway Learns

 

 “The Labour Party are defending capitalist interests in this war, not working-class rights. They are failing completely in their duty to the nation now and to the memory of the men who, in the past, fought, were imprisoned and banished, and who died to secure us the right of democratic representation.
“This Bill (Government Bill, suspending local elections) is thoroughly reactionary. rockwTwenty years ago I would not have believed that I would live to see a Labour Party agreeing to a measure for the defence of the ruling class in war.
“The right of the electors is a safeguard that ought to be retained, unless the Government wants to drive the people and their discontent into channels of insurrection.”

 

Life must be full of painful surprises for Mr. Brockway. We should hate to add to them deliberately. But we must remind him that the Labour Party did agree to measures for the defence of the ruling class little more than twenty years ago. And little less than twenty weeks ago the I.L.P. were negotiating with the Party that does not defend “working-class rights” the conditions for the re-affiliation of the I.L.P. and Labour Party.

 

Nasty? Well, Mr. Brockway, it somehow does not seem to square.

 

The “Real” War

 

Mr. Alexander, City Editor of the Evening Standard, has no illusions about the cause of war: —

   How goes the war behind the war? Most of us know that real wars, with their gunfire and bombs and bloodshed, are due largely to the breakdown in our commercial arrangements to secure a proper exchange of goods and services between nations. Normal trade itself is not war.
It is only when the failure to exchange persists for a considerable time that trade takes on the nature of war. . . .
More than that. We must carry the trade offensive into the enemy’s former territory . . .    Where shall we strike with this weapon, deadlier than any secret one that Hitler holds? Let us go through those German trade returns! Let us find out where they sent their chemicals and their machinery, their iron and steel goods, and then go into those markets in such a way that every ship that leaves these shores will be packed with British goods—and if needs be under a merchant captain who also knows how to sell. (Italics are Mr. Alexander’s.).—Evening Standard, November 2nd, 1939.

 

Enthusiasts in the fight for democracy and against aggression might do worse than letting the implications of the above really sink well in.

Squaring the Circle
The following, reproduced in the New Leader (October 27th), is a copy of a memo, issued by the Central Committee of the Communist Party dealing with that Party’s recent support of the war policy of the Government: —

   Actual practice proved that the “struggle on two fronts” was a contradiction in terms. The only way of carrying on the struggle on the front against Hitler was by supporting the military measures of the Chamberlain-Churchill Government. How could we support those military measures and at the same time fight Chamberlain?
Those contradictions quickly landed us in difficulties which resulted in the weakening of the fight against Chamberlain, shown markedly in the fact that (a) the Party lagged behind in the struggle of the workers against the capitalist offensive in Britain which quickly assumed enormous proportions; (b) no fight was waged against the Imperialist aims of the Chamberlain Government and the Party propaganda even tended to support the Churchill group, the exponents of the war to the knife policy.

We like that “ . . . even tended to support the Churchill group, the exponents of the war to the knife policy.”

Very delicately put. But it was the Communist Party which, only six months ago, wanted Churchill in the proposed Popular Front Government.

Anyway, most observers would say that it was the Communist Party who set the pace, not Churchill. In Communist Party propagandist jargon it is always they who formulate the correct line; others merely follow.

Mr. John S. Clarke on Revolution
Mr. Clarke, in Forward (October 14th), brings Marx into a controversy in support of the British capitalist class. The Labour Party, he says, “has followed the dictum of Karl Marx—to fight side by side with the bourgeoisie when it acts in a revolutionary way” (Mr. Clarke’s italics).

With Marxism and Christianity to inspire them, the British ruling class certainly appear to have a wide moral support.

However, Mr. Clarke amplifies his argument: —

   When the late Herbert Spencer wrote his memorable attack upon Socialism, “The Servile State,” even he did not foresee the full horror of a Nazi regime. He did not foretell the utter malignancy of the “Socialist” bureaucrats—the padlocked tongue, the family divided against itself, the imprisoned conscience, the tortured body, the concentration camps with their electrified barbed-wire entanglements, and the hangings, shootings and beheadings for political peccadilloes.

One can understand the point of view, though it is difficult to understand Mr. Clarke sharing it.

Mr. J. S. Clarke might ponder the question: Will the sacrifice he and others call upon millions of young workers to make achieve its purpose ?

At least he ought to be sure!

Harry Waite