The Post-War Mirage
Turning aside from the horrors of the present, people are thinking about the world that is to be when the war is over; or, more accurately, a few people are telling the others what kind of world is being prepared for them. Socialists welcome this interest, but are alive to its dangers. It is so easy for those workers who are not experienced in political and economic questions to be taken in by proposals that are useless or worse than useless, and what is at once obvious to the Socialist in all these proposals is that none of them are even fresh—all have been tried before and found wanting.
The inquirer may, however, reply to this criticism by pointing out that many of the public men who support these various schemes claim to be Socialists. This claim need not detain us for more than a moment. Don’t stop to study what the salesman says about himself; look rather at the article he is trying to sell. Is it the genuine thing or is it a cheap and nasty substitute? And just give a thought to the question, whether you have been caught once before by buying the same spurious product from this man or another.
Is it true that capitalism, with its private ownership of the means of life, its rent, interest and profit, its buying and selling, and its system of wage-labour has been abundantly proved to be a wasteful, callous, and out-of-date form of social organisation? Is it not true that only Socialism can meet the needs of our age and abolish once and for all poverty and war and the other products of capitalism? If this is true, and it is, then anything other than Socialism is not what is needed. There is no half-way house. If the world does not go over to socialism it will remain under capitalism.
The Politicians Who Run Away
Judged by this test, all of the social reform proposals, pledges and promises filling the speeches of Liberal, Labour and Conservative leaders, bold as they are claimed to be, may be only ways of evading the plain issue1: “Shall socialism be introduced or shall capitalism remain in being?” The position of the Conservative who says that capitalism is on the whole satisfactory, and is certainly necessary, but that legislation about unemployment, housing, old-age pensions, etc., must be made more comprehensive, is understandable. We know that he is wrong, but we have the satisfaction of knowing as well exactly where he stands. The same cannot be said of those who profess to agree that socialism alone will solve the problem, but who go on to rely upon everything except socialism.
In this group is the Labour Party. “Socialism comes to the City,” says the retiring City Editor of the Daily Herald (December 31st, 1940), but when we read his article it is only to find that what came to the City was “Government control of foreign exchanges, of the new investment market, and of almost all the commodity markets.” Very interesting to those who are concerned with the financial apparatus of capitalism but nothing whatever to do with socialism.
“We are never going to move back to pre-war 1939,” says Mr. Attlee (Daily Herald, January 16th, 1941). “We have got to move forward into a new world.” “Never again must we have unemployment and poverty in the distressed areas.”
Again very interesting, but those who know that socialism alone can solve these problems are entitled to ask Mr. Attlee to state plainly whether his new world is to be socialism or not. After all, Mr. Attlee claimed in his speech to be speaking for “the British Socialist movement.” The answer he gave was not a very plain one, but its meaning cannot be mistaken. The Daily Telegraph, in its report of the same speech, contains a passage omitted from the report in the Daily Herald: —
Mr. Attlee, Lord Privy Seal and leader of the Socialist party, speaking at a luncheon of the Labour Book Service and the Fabian Society in London yesterday, said: “We are never going back to pre-1939. We have got to move forward into a new world.”
He and his colleagues were working with people who disagreed with their Socialist ideas, and “we disagree with many of their ideas.” They had to work together. National unity was not attained by one lot of people putting all their ideas aside and accepting somebody else’s. (Daily Telegraph, January 16th, 1941.)
It is as certain as the rising of the sun that after Mr. Attlee has come to an agreement with people who disagree with socialism, the product of their joint labours will not be socialism.
Look, too, at Mr. Bevin’s declaration that social security and not profit should be the motive of our national life. Some Conservative newspapers attacked Mr. Bevin for his speech, and the Daily Herald, official organ of the Labour Party, came to his defence. The Herald did not show any of the boldness it is always urging upon other people, but hastily repudiated all idea that Mr. Bevin was proposing to abolish the capitalist system of society. Here is an extract from the Herald’s editorial (November 25th, 1940):—
. . . Mr. Bevin is sharply rebuked by a Tory newspaper. He is told, in a patronising tone, that profit must go on playing a part in our lives and that social security is already one of the great objectives of political effort.
But in that case why quarrel with Mr. Bevin, who admitted that all profit could not be abolished?
Now, why cannot the timid leader-writer of the Daily Herald show some courage and sense of responsibility and say outright that he does not believe that the introduction of socialism is practical politics? Why cannot he quit shuffling and say in a way his readers will understand that the Labour Party believes the only possible new world after the war is a world based on capitalism, shorn of some larger degree of its worst evils?
We, as Socialists, are all for honesty and clarity in politics, and would be interested to hear from the Daily Herald why the profit-making system must be retained, how it is to be curbed, and what results are expected to flow from curbing it. Nazi Germany claims to have restricted capitalist profit to 6 per cent., and Fascist Italy to 7 per cent., while Bolshevik Russia has suppressed profit, while retaining the wages system (with vast inequality of incomes), and a growing burden of bondholding and interest payments to bondholders. Socialists are not at all impressed with any of the three forms of State capitalism or State-controlled capitalism.
The Soldier Who is Not Afraid
While the so-called “Socialists” in the Labour Party are busy repudiating any belief in the practicability of socialism, a touch of boldness sneaks into the columns of the Daily Herald from another quarter in an article by Captain Liddell Hart, described as “the world-famous writer on military affairs.”
At the end of an article on winning the war, he writes: —
. . . Our new order should combine a guarantee of economic security, based on the free provision to everyone of the material necessities of life, with the largest possible measure of individual freedom outside the economic sphere. (Daily Herald, January 7th, 1941.)
Captain Liddell Hart may or may not have considered what would be the consequences of his proposal. It would at one stroke end the profit system. It could only be carried out by instituting socialism, the system of society based on common ownership, advocated for 36 years by the S.P.G.B.
Apart from a letter written to the Daily Herald by Mr. F. Montague, M.P. (January 11th, 1941), the implication of Captain Liddell Hart’s proposal appears to have passed unnoticed by the Labour Party and its organ, the Daily Herald. (It would have been appropriate if Mr. Montague, when he claimed that he had advocated this “for years, without much support,” had added that the S.P.G.B. had consistently preached socialism throughout its existence.)
So much for the bold planners and reformers and builders of new worlds. The new world will be socialism, or it will be remarkably like the old one in all essentials.