Socialists are not pacifists. Yet ever since the Socialist Party of Great Britain was formed in 1904 it has opposed all wars. Our members have suffered imprisonment and persecution rather than fight—and the members of our companion socialist parties have done the same in other parts of the world.
Why is this? It is because we recognise that under capitalism wars arise when rival powers fall out over the control of markets and supplies of raw materials, or over the domination of trade routes and spheres of influence. It is this struggle between rival capitalist states which compels countries like Britain and America to maintain armed forces wherever they have interests. And the same pressures act on the state capitalist powers such as Russia and China.
But in these struggles the working class have no interests at stake. Workers are people who, because they own no factories or other means of producing wealth, are forced to sell their mental and physical energies for a wage or salary. Working men and women throughout the world have a common interest in getting rid of the capitalist system which gives rise to wars and many of the other problems which confront us. By a united effort we could replace capitalism by a new way of organising the world. We call this Socialism or Communism (not to be confused with Labour-administered capitalism in Britain or the brutal state-capitalist dictatorships in Russia and elsewhere). Socialism will be a world community completely without frontiers and based on common ownership and democratic control of all the means of producing wealth. In a socialist world production would be solely for use and enjoyment—not for profit.
When the first world war broke out the vast majority of those who called themselves socialists were soon swept away by patriotic hysteria. In Britain the Socialist Party was alone in explaining the internationalist position which socialists must adopt under conditions of peace or war. We issued a manifesto which ended with the following statement:
“Having no quarrel with the working class of any country, we extend to our fellow workers of all lands the expression of our good win and Socialist fraternity, and pledge ourselves to work for the overthrow of Capitalism and the triumph of Socialism.”
Over fifty years later we still adhere to this position. In fact, our comrades in the World Socialist Party of the United States recently reprinted the extract above in their paper, the “Western Socialist”, to explain their attitude towards the war in Vietnam.
We do not appeal to you merely as people who think that war is senseless and want to see an end to it. We appeal to you as working men and women whose interest lies in establishing a world socialist community. We do not ask for your support, for you to accept us as new leaders; rather we need your comradely help in working to achieve Socialism.