This “Honours” Business
The awards of honours to prominent trade union officials, Messrs. Pugh, Citrine and Edwards, is of sufficient importance to call for comment. It mirrors the attitude of mind of the trade union movement on the one side and of the ruling class on the other. It is a by-product of the crisis and of the uneasiness of our masters in face of international difficulties.
When war broke out in 1914 the British capitalists knew that they were facing a situation full of danger for themselves. If the German capitalists’ appeal to arms were to succeed the flow of wealth derived from the exploitation of the black, yellow and white workers of the Empire would be re-directed to the advantage of the German capitalist victors.
To overcome the danger the British Government had dire need of the unstinted support of the working class. To secure it they called in the trade union and Labour leaders, gave them office, pay, honours and flattery, and got in return a sufficiently docile working class, content to die for capitalism and be enthusiastic about it. There was, of course, a minority who were never misled, but the majority was large enough to serve the capitalist purpose. Shortly after the war, in 1921-22, there came another crisis for capitalism—an economic crisis. Again the trade union officials and Labour leaders played their part in smoothing things over and restraining their followers. Then, in 1924, a Labour Government was allowed to function on a short lead, as an instrument for securing an adjustment of foreign relationships, particularly with Germany. When that was finished, out it went. In 1926 the workers, against the advice of their leaders, came out on strike as a spontaneous gesture of sympathy with the miners. This time capitalism preferred fighting to negotiation, so the labour leaders were not wanted, and were hardly even allowed to save their faces.
A few years later, in 1931, capitalism had another economic crisis. Again it was necessary to have the workers won over, or, failing that, to have them confused and divided.
MacDonald, Snowden, Thomas, etc., responded to the capitalist call for aid and enabled capitalism to solve its problem cheaply and expeditiously. Now we come down to 1935 and the distribution of knighthoods to the trade union inner circle. What is capitalism’s problem now? and why does it not continue to make use of tried and trusty turn-coats like MacDonald? The answer to the second question is a simple one. To be of use to the other side a leader must be a man of commanding influence and popularity, otherwise his defection will not serve the desired purpose of destroying his party. But once the desertion has taken place, the influence and popularity steadily diminish. MacDonald and Thomas in the past four years have become less and less influential with the working class. So the exit of MacDonald from the premiership coincides with the advancement of his former associates—who are now his opponents—to the honour of titles.
And what is the crisis for which capitalism requires working class aid this time? The answer is no doubt to be found in the re-arming of Germany and her demand for the restoration of colonies. If the British Government should want to take a strong line in the councils of the international capitalist banditry it may again require the support and sacrifice of the British working class, so again it uses the time-honoured device of seeking to nobble the leaders.
Doubtless the men concerned do not see it that way. They either do not see anything—although one would have supposed that Mr. Citrine for example could realise the helpless position in which he is placing himself—or else they honestly believe it is their duty to support English capitalism against Nazi capitalism. It matters little which attitude is really theirs. The result is the same in either case, and it spells disaster for the working class. Working class interests require that the workers shall line up as one solid body against capitalism and capitalist Governments everywhere, and for Socialism at all time times and in all places. Even on the short view, looking only at the question of the danger of war, the international standpoint is the soundest common sense. The Governments in every country, when seeking the support of their own working class for some policy of national defence and war, invariably stress the alleged unity of workers and capitalists abroad as an excuse for strong armaments at home. The only answer to that is for Socialists to seize every opportunity of making known their own untarnished independence and loyalty to Socialism. Nothing will so dishearten internationally-inclined workers in Germany, France and elsewhere as the impression that Socialism in Great Britain has sold out to the capitalist class. And nothing will so hearten Socialists in Germany as absolute confidence that in no circumstances whatever will Socialists in Britain ever desert Socialism, no matter what specious argument is advanced by Socialism’s enemies and false friends.
The Socialist Party of Great Britain is able to assure the workers of all countries that there will be no compromise with capitalism as far as we are concerned. We are and will remain Socialists, independent of and hostile to capitalist parties of all kinds.
So far from helping capitalism to tide over its difficulties the working class should adopt and alter the slogan of the old Irish nationalists and avow that capitalism’s extremity is Socialism’s opportunity.