War and the International Outlook
When war broke out in 1914 the S.P.G.B. issued a Manifesto which reiterated our warning of years that it is the economic rivalries of the capitalist system that contain within themselves the ever-present danger of war and which had caused that world conflagration. We affirmed that the interest of the working class of all nations is not in deciding which nation or group of nations shall have dominant control of trade routes and the world’s markets, but in ending the social system based on private ownership by the capitalist class of the means of production and distribution. Our Manifesto ended with the words :—
“Having no quarrel with the working-class of any country, we extend to our fellow workers of all lands the expression of our goodwill and Socialist fraternity, and pledge ourselves to work for the overthrow of capitalism and the triumph of Socialism.”
In October, 1939, we published in these columns a statement re-affirming the Socialist attitude to war. We said : —
“With the increasing international tension of recent years we have again and again pressed home the undeniable truth that as long as the world is organised on a capitalist economic basis the never-ceasing rivalries will continue to produce conflicts ranging from mere diplomatic crises to gigantic armed struggles spreading over the oceans and continents of the world. The S.P.G.B. re-affirms that the interest of the world working-class—on whom the untold misery and suffering of war inevitably falls—lies in abolishing the capitalist economic system.”
At our 1940 Annual Conference a statement was formally adopted which briefly reviewed the arguments for supporting war, re-affirmed our Socialist opposition, and held that “the consequences of modern wars are such that we cannot envisage circumstances arising which would justify Socialist support for war.”
We are aware that this attitude, unpopular in the last war, is equally unpopular now, particularly in face of the widespread belief that war is the only means of stemming the spread of Fascism and of safeguarding democracy. There are many who would say that they entirely agree with the broad statement that capitalism is the breeding ground of war, but who put forward the argument that military defeat is the way of overthrowing the dictatorships. Briefly our answer to this is that though military defeat may have that immediate result—as indeed it did in 1918—the existence of democracy depends in the long run on the degree of enlightenment of the working-class, and that one of the consequences of modern war is that the nationalist feeling and hatreds engendered by war hinder the growth of working-class internationalism and enlightenment. On this latter point there can be no question. The growth of nationalism in the ranks of the workers and of theories based on the assumption that the whole German nation, including the German workers, are incapable of rising above the barbaric traditions of the German military and big business cliques is proof of this.
We affirm that that way lies despair and disaster for the working-class movement and the human race. The need of the hour is to re-kindle the former flame—weak and uncertain though it was—of internationalism based on the slowly growing recognition that the interests of the world working-class of all nations are one. It is easy and plausible to say that internationalism is unreal and must be abandoned in face of the past unwillingness of workers in Germany and Italy to line up behind their aggressive ruling class dictatorships. Our view is that the decision of the British and other Labour movements (in 1914 and again in 1939) to ally themselves with the Governments of capitalism inevitably weakened the hands of those in other lands who were willing to resist the capitalist-nationalist fever around them. We hold that hope for the future lies in the direction of trying to keep alive independent Socialist organisation free from the chaige of having lost its belief in the working-class. We hold that it is the duty of Socialists here to continue their work of spreading Socialist knowledge confident that Socialists in every other country will be doing what they can in face of the difficulties that beset them. At a time when the international fraternity of the working-class is drowned by the roar of guns, we re-affirm our faith that only through international, Socialist action can the future peace and well-being of the working-class be attained.
EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE, S.P.G.B.