The Party In Wartime
‘I AM OPPOSED TO WAR’. A phrase uttered by hundreds of thousands, including the handful of Socialists — members of the SPGB. To the many an emotive reaction, and empty words when the crunch came. To the few, a logical stand from their Socialist convictions, and as valid in time of war as in peace.
The Socialist Party of Great Britain since its formation has been opposed to war. Opposition because war is the normal development of capitalism. A system based on a market economy; on competition; on a quest for raw materials and outlets for finished products. As we are opposed to capitalism in all its forms, we are opposed to war. A review of the Socialist Standard, particularly during the war years puts on record our attitude. Meetings were held — yes, during the war — putting our point of view. A masterly pamphlet The Socialist Party and War is available from our literature department. No one can doubt our stand.
But what of the individual members? In 1914-18, pro-war hysteria, blatantly whipped up by the Government, Church, etc, rebounded on our members with their “unpopular views”. Many went on the run, Some ended up in prisons. Our organization was stretched to its limits. But we came through determined more than ever to uphold the Socialist cause.
In 1939-45 most members of military age registered as conscientious objectors. We argued our case at the Tribunals — a political objection to war. Not the namby pamby attitude of the pacifist or the hypocritical stand of the religious. Our was not an easy task. Tribunals often found it impossible to accept the Socialist objection to war, and so again, members refused to obey the Courts.
Some went to gaol; others on the run — no identity cards, no ration books. Some finished up as land workers. The fields of East Anglia were the scene of many a discussion between our members and the traditional agricultural workers. Again, not an easy time for the Party organization. A bomb put paid to our Head Office and we moved to a temporary home in the plushier W.1 district. Those members still around carried on with indoor and outdoor meetings. The Socialist Standard never missed an issue. Some members were killed — bombs have no respect for political commitment.
In this special issue a few personal reflections. A spell in Wormwood Scrubs Prison; two other party members also in residence but in a different wing — no communication. Outdoor meetings at Beresford Square, Woolwich, where 75 per cent. of the audience were in uniform, listening sympathetically to the Socialist case and this included our attitude to war. A screaming bunch of Communists in Hyde Park, voicing their opposition to the war. They had not heard the radio announcement of Hitler’s invasion of Russia, and the consequent change of policy by the Communist Party, now in favour of prosecuting the war with all speed. Meetings in Hyde Park brought to a sudden halt by the sirens and bursts of gunfire. The use of Lyons Corner House (unknown to the management) for many a meeting of the Propaganda Committee.
We all have our stories to recount. But above all the SPGB never wavered in its opposition to WAR. And its opposition to the greater problem — capitalism. The only voice for Socialism was heard loud and clear.