Comparisons are odious,” says the proverb. They may, nevertheless, be informative. Marx avers that history repeats itself, the first event being tragedy, the second farce. Occurrences in the political world—especially in parties claiming to speak on behalf of the working-class, here and abroad, since the outbreak of the second World War of 1939, will evoke Homeric laughter from posterity.
World War No. 1, despite the flood of imperialistic enthusiasm it released, also produced a certain amount of luke-warm opposition from the officials of the Labour Party and T.U.C. On Sunday, August 2nd, 1914, these gentry were to be found on the historic plinth at Trafalgar Square haranguing a considerable crowd, who subsequently passed a resolution, declaring their common interest with workers of other nations and calling on British workers to maintain neutrality.
The war had not been long waged before signs of a vigorous anti-war, pacifistic tendency appeared; a mish-mash of religious and moral reformers. Quakers, dissident Churchmen, humanitarians, side by side with the numerous sentimentalists of the I.L.P. One of their activities was to found the Union of Democratic Control, which played some part in moulding public opinion in regard to the war.
The situation in Germany was similar. A definite anti-war wing of the German Social-Democracy had established itself. Karl Liebknecht had already attained prominence, eliciting a considerable response from German Labour.
On May 1st, 1916, despite the official prohibition of the Berlin Police President, a multitude assembled to welcome his return from the Front.
Neither should the presence of numerous political refugee groupings in Switzerland—Lenin and the Bolsheviks, Polish, Hungarian, Italian, and other elements who maintained regular contact with both sides of the war fronts, and supplied much valuable material and information, be overlooked.
Therefore, though Labour leaders had joined the Government quite early in the war, the Labour Party tended, during 1916-1917, to profess internationalism, drafted war aims calling for a Peace Conference, and demanded the introduction of a Capital Levy.
Following the staggering Russian example. Ramsay Macdonald and Philip Snowden signed their appeal for the convoking of a Workers’ and Soldiers’ Council, which was subsequently to be their ticket of admission to the House of Lords and 10, Downing Street, respectively.
We now have official confirmation in the innumerable volumes of memoirs by all the “Big Shots’” involved, that these movements expressed the growing dissatisfaction of the people during the War of 1914-18. In fact, they were elevated in Germany to the height of the “explanation” of the Fatherland’s defeat; subsequently becoming the infamous “stab- in-the-back” theory of the Hitler Party, and his main justification for dealing harshly with politicians “who had betrayed Germany.”
Mention must be made, also, of one of the most remarkable developments of the post-war world, viz., the formation of the Communist Party, by the fusion of the British Socialist Party, Workers’ Socialist Federation, South Wales Socialist Society, and Socialist Labour Party.
Despite the speciousness of the “unity” plea, the S.P.G.B. remained true to its declaration of principles and steadfastly refrained from participation.
The second World War finds a different situation. Far from showing any interest in working-class internationalism, the Labour Party has called for war to free the German worker from Hitlerism; while the child of the last war, the Communist Party, celebrated its coming-of-age by publishing Pollitt’s sanguinary phillipic on “How to Win the War.”
This has confused more than one sincere worker. Many, to whom the mere mention of Churchill, or even Bevin, is anathema, accept the jingoistic appeals to Mars at face value, when they bear the signature of Mr. Pollitt.
The fact is, however, that any party claiming to represent the workers’ interests which calls upon workers to support their masters’ wars, thereby surrenders its rights to an independent existence and eventually finds itself superfluous.
This was perceived by the leaders of the C.P., who, under leadership from Moscow, then started a circuitous retreat back to pre-war policies, which ended with suppression of the Daily Worker. Whereupon the clowns of the Communist Party promptly don the garb of “Defenders of a Free Press.”
We may draw two conclusions, from a consideration of over twenty years’ experience, between two World Wars, of value to enquiring workers.
It is impossible for a Socialist Party to tamper or flirt with any “Anti-War.” “No Conscription,” or similar temporary pro-capitalist organisation of the fleeting moment. Experience has shown that such organisations are non-Socialist, spread confusion, and do more harm than good, dissipating energies and raising false hopes.
The Socialist is concerned with the abolition of capitalism, without which war cannot be eliminated.
That is why the future is bright for the S.P.G.B., because experience has shown that its policy has been sound. Numerous organisations have arisen during these years, only to pass into limbo. The Socialist Party has been proved correct.