How Not To Save Democracy
“Candidus,” who writes for the Daily Graphic, had an article on October 6th on the need for all the friends of democracy to unite and save the world from Communism. His theme is that the Communists are and always have been against democracy and free speech; whereas “Tories believe in liberty. So do capitalists,” and so do “bogus socialists” (meaning the Labour Party) and “genuine socialists” (meaning the S.P.G.B.). After some flattering remarks about our pamphlet, ‘‘Russia Since 1917“ (referred to elsewhere in this issue), he summed up thus:—
“A fact which the democracies have got to face is that the world is now divided into two camps—the Communist and the anti-Communist. All true Socialists should range themselves with the anti-Communists, for if Communism should ultimately prevail, Socialism (genuine or bogus) would be among the first casualties.”
In these troubled times we shall be hearing a lot of propaganda on these lines, so it is worth while to examine it.
“Candidus” chides his readers with having short memories or else they would, he says, remember “that in the elections of 1929, 1931 and 1945 the Bolsheviks made a point of breaking up Tory meetings if they could. The Socialists looked on benevolently.”
The reference here to “Socialists” is meant to refer to the “bogus” ones, not to the S.P.G.B., as we think “Candidus” knows that we do not break up any meetings. It is also worth mentioning that it is very rare for any of our opponents (including Communists) to interfere with our meetings, and for a reason worth noticing. Because we are not in favour of suppressing any point of view in any circumstances, and because we act up to it by inviting questions at our meetings and allowing our opponents to state their case on our platform, the good sense of the audience is usually sufficient to discourage any who may intend to interfere with the meeting.
On this question of good memories, may we remind “Candidus” not of 1929 and 1931, but of 1933 to 1939 and of 1941 to 1945. In the first period, though all moderately well-informed people knew that the Fascists and Nazis stood for a brutal totalitarianism, there was quite a widespread conspiracy by public men and the Press to whitewash those enemies of democracy, and they used as one of their excuses the need to save the world from the Communists. In the second period a slight change had taken place, and there was an almost universal conspiracy of public men and newspapers to hail Russia and the Communists as men and brothers, and as good democrats standing side by side with Britain and America in the struggle to save democracy from the Fascists and Nazis. Now we are being asked to return again to the earlier phase.
We do not charge “Candidus” personally with having shared in these somersaults, as we do not know, but we can confidently predict that if the anti-Communist crusade progresses it is not unlikely that white-sheeted ex-Fascists may be found sharing in the honour of saving democracy once more.
There are two things wrong with “Candidus” and those who think like him. One is that they believe that class conflicts and wars between the nations are caused by “ideologies.” The second is that they do not see where the real danger to democracy lies.
Wars occur because trade rivalries, inescapable from Capitalism, give the ruling class groups something real and important to fight about, important to them, that is. They do not fight about ideas though they find them useful to stir up enthusiasm. As soon as one enemy is defeated the Powers immediately start regrouping to fight the never-ending conflicts all over again, and if that involves appealing to some different set of slogans and lining up with former detested enemies, well, so be it And if some thick coats of whitewash are required the politicians and the Press are always there to lay it on.
And here we may emphasise the point by referring to something published in the Socialist Standard in November, 1914. (“Candidus” will appreciate this because he compliments the S.P.G.B. on its longsightedness about ’Russia). At that time, before Germany was defeated, before the Czar was overthrown (his autocracy, by the way, was then the good ally in the fight for democracy), before the man in the street had heard of the Communists and several years before the British Communist Party was formed, the Socialist Standard prophesied that when Germany was defeated we might expect to see Russia elevated to the position of principal commercial and territorial menace to British capitalism. The S.P.G.B. did not foresee the rise to power of the Bolsheviks, but it did, that early, recognise that Russia was on the way to becoming a powerful rival to British capitalism, and it is out of that development that the war threat arises, not out of the political philosophy of the Communists.
The second error touches all those who think that democracy is something that can be saved if its self-proclaimed friends all get together. Democracy is not in danger from the numbers of convinced Communists or Fascists in this country, or from their theoretical case for dictatorship. What puts democracy in peril is the discontent of the mass of the workers with the kind of existence to which they are condemned. The evils that create their discontent are the unescapable outcome of the capitalist system, and because the workers do not clearly comprehend this they might, as in Russia. Germany and Italy, express their discontent by giving their support to some group or other that promised a seemingly different programme. For the friends of democracy to unite with each other to run capitalism —that is the only basis on which they could unite— is just the way to drive the despairing workers into the hands of the avowed enemies of democracy. The S.P.G.B., by continuing its independent work for the achievement of Socialism, really does help democracy, in a way no other party can.
Workers who doubt the value of democracy when it appears to them merely as a cloak for Capitalism do not doubt its value when they come to understand the need for Socialism and perceive that democracy is necessary as a means to Socialism.