On the death of Arthur Henderson, the entire daily Press mourned the loss of one, who, they claimed, was a fighter for humanity. His death, they said, was a great loss to suffering mankind. In Henderson was embodied the greatest virtues. He was an arch-apostle of peace, and the champion of the oppressed working class. Even the Daily Worker, mouthpiece of the Communist Party, dropped a a reverent sigh, and gently remarked “that sometimes (our italics) Arthur Henderson had found himself in a contradictory position ”—this, incidentally, after years of the bitterest abuse, in which he was called a “lickspittle of the bourgeousie” and “social Fascist.” None of them mentioned his war record except in terms of the highest praise. We, however, consider his stand for “National honour” and his opposition to a “premature peace” to have been a gross betrayal of the working-class interests.
On the outbreak of war, in 1914, Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, because of his opposition to the war, was forced to stand aside, and allow Arthur Henderson to assume the chairmanship of the Labour Party. Henderson was made a Privy Councillor in 1915. After this he became President of the Board of Education, 1915-16, Paymaster-General and Labour Adviser to the Government in 1916, and a member of the War Committee of the Cabinet, 1916-17. In 1916 peace moves were being made in very powerful and influential circles, and Lord Lansdowne and Mr. A. J. Balfour circulated memoranda to the Cabinet. Mr. Henderson would have none of this, for, to quote Lloyd George, he threw in the “whole weight of his great influence with organised Labour, against a premature peace.” (War Memoirs, Vol. 2.) Lloyd George says that Henderson’s words are worth quoting. We agree.
The war has gone on too long for some of the people of this country. It is possible . . . that we may become war-weary, and I want to warn everyone of the danger (our italics) of a premature peace. I am as strong for peace as any man or woman can be, but I must be satisfied that the peace we expect places us, above any doubt, beyond the recurrence of such a catastrophe. . . . We want not a dishonourable peace, but a lasting peace, peace based upon national right and national honour, and I say these two words in spite of the fact that one of my own colleagues has described them as platitudes. (Vol. 2, page 888, War Memoirs, Lloyd George.)
Thus, Uncle Arthur.
But let us see what this “danger of a premature peace” really was. A few months before this “Peace with Honour” effort, a Major Carter had been asked to report on the conditions of the soldiers in Mesopotamia. The following is an extract from the report which was delivered to the Government of which Mr. Henderson was a member. Even Lloyd George cannot quote this report without “apologising for its repulsive horror.”
“I was standing on the bridge,” reports Major Carter, “ in the evening when the Medjidieh arrived. She had two steel barges without any protection against the rain as far as I can remember. As this ship . . . came up to us I saw that she was absolutely packed, and the barges, too, with men. . . . When she was about 300 to 400 yards off, it looked as if it were festooned with ropes. The stench when she was close was quite definite, and I found what I mistook for ropes were dried stalactites of human faeces . . . This is what I then saw. A certain number of men were standing and kneeling on the immediate perimeter of the ship. Then we found a mass of men huddled up anyhow—some with blankets, and some without. . . They were covered with dysentery and dejecta from head to foot. With regard to the first man I examined . . .” (Lloyd George omits “ this still more terrible passage ” of Major Carter’s report. Page 820.)
Since the peace which finally came did not place us “beyond the recurrence of such a catastrophe,” it is only fair to assume that the only danger attending a premature peace was the danger that horrors such as these might cease. Or perhaps there was a danger of Henderson losing his job in the War Cabinet on the arrival of a “premature peace.” Mr. Henderson admitted that his words had been described by one of his colleagues as platitudes. They were worse. They were deliberate deceit, used in order to hoodwink those workers who may have been growing tired of being cannon fodder for the ruling-class.
Peace Work or Piece Work ?
Lest it be thought that Mr. Henderson, by his chairmanship of the useless Disarmament Conference was atoning for his past, and was now opposed to war, it is necessary to bring evidence proving quite the contrary.
While Henderson was a member of the Labour Government British war-planes bombed and killed 700 natives of Iraq in defence of the interests of British oil magnates. Again, at the Labour Party Conference of 1925, Mr. Henderson opposed a resolution pressing for disarmament. He said: —
If France continued in the frame of mind she was now in, had they to overlook the possibilities of defence? Could they afford to ignore this question of defence. (Report of Conference proceedings, page 232.)
When the Labour Party came to office, with Mr. Henderson one of the leading members of the Cabinet (first as Home Secretary, and then as Secretary for Foreign Affairs) it maintained, and in certain cases, increased the defence forces of the country. It also began the construction of five new cruisers, in spite of the opposition of the Liberals.
In spite of his war record, and in the face of his peace record, Henderson was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, valued normally at £5,000. His friends and relatives feared to tell him, during his last illness, of the commencement of hostilities in Abyssinia, lest the shock should prove too great. But what could have shocked him so greatly? He had once before helped in the prosecution of hostilities, and the fact that people were being blown to pieces to satisfy the ruling-class could hardly, therefore, have frightened him very much. For had he not taken part in leading the workers to the shambles of 1914? Had he not, by his stand for “national honour” and against a “premature peace,” signified his willingness to make the world safe for capitalism? What, then, could have shocked him?
The career of Mr. Henderson is yet one more illustration of the dangers of leadership. It is not merely the failure or costly mistakes of an individual leader, but the uselessness of leadership itself to the Socialist movement and the working class.
Kaye and Scrutator