1940s >> >> no-463-march-1943

Socialism, Pacifism and Politics

Like many other problems thrown up by capitalism, war has produced a group of people intent upon solving or ending it within capitalism, not recognising that this and other problems are inevitable under the present social order. The tenor of many pacifist arguments is that we can do nothing constructive until this war is ended, and that it would be better to sink any differences in domestic politics and be prepared to agitate for a negotiated peace. Typical of these views was the following statement in a letter to Peace News (11/12/42):

“The pacifists’ efforts should be directed towards ending the war by compromise and negotiation; . . . Any sort of negotiated peace is obviously better than perpetual war.” Some, however, do realise that lasting peace is not possible without change of some description, but their limit is: “Pacifism is not enough. It must be allied with some constructive programme of social and economic reform.” (Peace News, 18/12/42).

It has even been suggested that “especially is there need for a lessening of pacifist bias against the idea of dictatorship, as the right kind of dictatorial control could achieve a greater measure of individual liberty than is anywhere found in the world to-day.” (Peace News, 11/12/42).

It can be seen from these few extracts the confusion on social problems that prevails in the pacifist movement. We have always maintained that those who advocate the reform of capitalism can be made the tools of capitalist politicians. This applies equally to the pacifist movement. Crises reveal the weaknesses of reformist organisation. In 1932/3 Hitler received the support of considerable numbers of the German people, many of whom for years had supported “progressive” reforms, but now wanted “the right kind of dictatorial control.” Similarly, people who advocate “any sort of negotiated peace,” “social reform” and dictatorship can very easily be drawn into support of political parties of a definite non- or anti-Socialist character. The pacifist faith of which they talk so glibly will not necessarily stand them in good stead when the war is over and the period of reconstruction begins. Their confused views will lead them into all sorts of movements except the Socialist movement. We shall endeavour to show that their views as to what Socialism implies run counter to the Socialist viewpoint.

An editorial of Peace News (27/11/42) in which the following views were stated probably expressed the general standpoint of the pacifist movement:—

  All but the most fervid enthusiast will admit that Socialism by consent is pretty remote. If we have to wait for its world-wide establishment before we can have peace, our case is miserable. Furthermore, though Socialism is a very vague term, most forms of it depend upon a considerable extension of the powers of central government. . . . A pacifist may just as legitimately be a Conservative as a Socialist in domestic politics.


While the Socialist’s immediate task is to impart Socialist knowledge to the working class, the pacifist’s immediate work as shown is to attempt, by any means, to end the war. Their views arise, in general, from looking at the war in isolation and not realising that peace of any description, as it will leave the capitalist basis of society intact, will carry with it the seeds of a future war. They ignore the fact that so long as we have capitalism,.with its competitive struggle over commercial matters, such as trade routes, sources of raw material, control of relatively undeveloped areas of the world, so long will we have war.

While the working class lack Socialist knowledge and support capitalism they will support the wars that occur; this support is given because war, at the time of crisis, appears to them as the only possible policy for “their” government or country to pursue. We know that this war will end before we have Socialism, but lasting peace cannot be gained without Socialism. The question of its being remote is therefore entirely irrelevant. As we have shown, Socialism is an urgent necessity, a practical and immediate policy for to-day, and we have yet to be shown how by deferring it until some future date the working class can benefit.

It is not true that Socialism is a vague term, nor is it true that it depends upon an extension of the powers of government; no one has any excuse for such inaccurate and misleading assertions. The S.P.G.B. made it clear at its foundation just what Socialism meant, and has continued to do so since.

Briefly, it means that the means of producing and distributing wealth will be commonly owned and democratically controlled. It does not mean that we shall extend the powers of government. The State is the public power of coercion and exists where there are widely diverging class interests amongst the people; its laws are, in general, property laws. Its law courts, judges, the judiciary system as a whole, together with the coercive powers such as police and armed forces exist to defend the private property institution. It is the organised might of the dominant class in society, and enables them to impose their laws and regulations upon other classes.

To-day we have only two classes in society, the capitalists, who live and derive their incomes from their ownership of the means of living, and the working class, who have to sell their energies to the capitalists for wages. Between these classes there is a struggle over the ownership of the means of wealth production. The modern coercive State is adapted to the needs of the capitalist class in order to defend capitalist interests, and will not be necessary under Socialism. Socialism based on the common ownership of the means of living implies a classless society, where the economic interests of all people will coincide.

Finally, the contradictory position of the Conservative pacifist should be shown. Implicit in the conservative platform is retention of the present social order and the Empire. “We mean to hold our own.” As we have shown, war and other social evils are the inevitable outcome of the present competitive social order. Our conservative pacifists want and support the system that gives rise to these evils, and, in effect, by opposing the war are opposing the logical outcome of their own political activities. Frankly, their position is one of self-deception and useless to all except reactionary movements. When the war is over, they will support policies that have for their avowed object the continuation of capitalism.

Capitalism can last only as long as the majority of the workers are prepared to preserve it, and as long as it lasts the so-called abnormal periods of economic blizzards and wars will continue. These crises are normal to capitalism, and it is the duty of pacifists and other workers to grasp this fact and work to end this system. Mere resistance to war is insufficient as it cannot even achieve its purpose—peace—because it cannot rid the world of capitalism.

The social problems we are troubled with to-day can be solved only when everyone has free access to the means of life; when goods are produced solely for use and freely distributed amongst the members of society. Socialism offers all that is worth-while to the workers. It is an historical necessity, and it is in their interests, and we earnestly ask them to give serious thought to it as the solution to their problems. Only from the workers’ class-conscious political activities can Socialism be achieved, and war, want and insecurity be banished from the earth for ever.

L. J.