50 Years Ago: The Liberal Government’s Peace Campaign of 1911

It is significant that no hope is held out of a “peace treaty” except with America—a country with whom all serious differences have already been composed, against whom, in addition. Britain would hurl her might in vain, and who could inflict damage, where they can inflict it all, with impunity. They could starve us out by stopping their own and Canadian wheat at the granaries. It is admitted that on the day when the States and Canada join hands the “mother country” has got to submit. On that day the treaty becomes in all eyes what from the first it must be in reality—waste paper. It is easy for two nations who cannot fight to make a treaty that they wont.

But the ease is different with, say, Germany. No responsible person suggests a treaty with that country— yet it is Germany that has made a British Liberal Government increase its annual Naval Estimates £14.000,000 in five years. No, derision waits the Minister who dares suggest such a treaty, for the farce would be too apparent. Just as a treaty with America brings peace no nearer because the two could not fight, treaty or no treaty, so a treaty with Germany would bring peace no nearer because, in the face of conflicting interests (without which they would not fight in any event), the treaty would not be worth the cost of its inscription. The humbug, therefore, of the cry of “Peace” and “Disarmament,” is apparent.

And while the British Liberal Government are making the remote corners of the earth echo and re-echo with the empty nothing. ”Peace !” they are voting the enormous sum of £75,000,000 for war—on the principle that they’ll have peace if they have to fight for it.

Strange, is it not, that in all this cry of “peace” but one incentive shows itself? “The burden of armaments. It is the treasure, not the blood, that causes the capitalist head to ache. No wonder—for treasure is the master’s, while the blood is the workers. £75,000,000 in a year is a mighty drain, and the Government that is forced to exact it is in a precarious position. So they scream ‘‘peace” by way of a soft answer to turn away wrath—and also in the certain knowledge that the result will demonstrate that peace, even as the capitalist understands it, is possible only at the cost of crushing armaments —or national extinction.

Exactly one-half of the Labour Members in Parliament came up to scratch to save the face of their party by voting against the Liberals’ immense Naval Estimates. The other half (save two who voted FOR them!) stood out of it to oblige the Liberals!

Keir Hardie says the party were bribed, the Osborne Bill being the price of their defection, and he should know. But we wonder how many would have opposed the Estimates had they been really in danger. How many would dare have gone back to their Liberal constituencies with the confession on their lips that they had helped to defeat a Liberal Government ? Not many, we venture to guess.

From the editorial, ‘Why we oppose this “Peace Movement”,’ SOCIALIST STANDARD, April 1911.

[The “Osborne Bill,” which Keir Hardie says was the Liberal Government’s bribe to get Labour M.P.s to vote for increased armaments, became the Trade Union Act, 1913, legalising the political activities of trade unions.]

Leave a Reply