Ted Grant

Against “National Defence”

Written: March 1939
Source: Youth for Socialism, vol. 1 no. 7 (March 1939)
Markup/Proofread:: Emil 2007

In the recent debate in Parliament, Chamberlain announced that the loans for armaments were to be increased to £800,000,000. £1,000 a minute is being spent on arms in Britain at the present time. All the resources of the country are being squandered on building up a colossal war machine.

This war machine is for the defence of the trading interests and the colonial loot of British imperialism, for what is making for war is the intensified and sharpened struggle for markets between the different countries of the world. As the Daily Telegraph of February 20th, 1939 says in discussing the coming trade visit of R. S. Hudson, the Secretary of Overseas Trade, and Sir Oliver Stanley, President of the Board of Trade, to Germany and Russia. “…national hostilities aroused in the trading field can be all too easily inflamed till they reach the battlefield…”

The background of these trade talks will be the “export or die” policy of Germany which is leading her inevitably to financial and economic collapse. The Volkswirt, Nazi organ of economics, points out:

“…The only remaining possibility (for Germany) is an increase in exports of 25% to 30%, thus subjecting the world market to that sharp competition which was one of the most important causes of the World War.”

With this perspective on both sides of the North Sea the discussions between Germany and Britain must end in utter failure or at best put off for a short period a renewed trade war of a more intense and bitter character.

That is why one eighth of the National Income is being spent for war preparations. At the same time millions are being made by the arms profiteers in profits at the expense of the workers. The Bristol Aeroplane Co. announces a 75% bonus on shares and in addition a bonus on the stock market worth 130%. These figures are not exceptional and represent more or less the trend in the armaments industry.

That is the real meaning of “National Service”. Profits for the capitalists, service by the workers. The opposition among the rank and file of the Labour Party and the trade unions to National Service has been increased during the last few weeks. The rank and file realise that they are to be harnessed to the war machine of British imperialism and demand that the Labour and Trade Union leaders should not ally themselves with the enemy. They demand that an independent stand should be made by the working class.

The whole of the National Debt before the last War was only slightly higher than the cost of the rearmament programme: £580,000,000 for next year. All the capitalist governments bleat and bewail the crushing burden of armaments which threatens to lead to the collapse of world economy. But all continue to pile up arms for the continuance of the struggle—which is now waged by tariffs, export subsidies and diplomatic manoeuvres—to its inevitable and only outcome. To decide who is to dominate the markets of the world, the imperialists will resort to the mass slaughter of the peoples.

Chamberlain openly declared that if the armaments race were to be continued for much longer the world was heading for bankruptcy. His only satisfaction was that Britain would go bankrupt last! However, despite the admitted lunacy of the arms race, the thought of any agreement between the different countries to limit arms production was out of the question. To call a disarmament conference would only aggravate the position as it was bound to fail. No country of course had any aggressive intentions. The arms race was due to a misunderstanding! In these utterances by a leading spokesman the capitalists show their complete inability not merely to prevent war but even to prevent the ruinous and catastrophic accumulation of the weapons of destruction in every country of the world, which, since all countries join in the race, mutually cancel each other out.

In the meantime Chamberlain has hinted what the arms programme will mean to the workers. Increased taxes on food, harder work, a general attack on the standard of living. As the Times quite brutally and cold-bloodedly puts it:

“…it is clear that such conditions [rearmament] would imply that there must be a restriction of consumption all round in order that the necessary amount of capital goods and armaments could be produced.”

Instead of bread we are to make bullets, instead of clothing we are to make machine guns, instead of houses, tanks and battleships are to be built. The already low standard of living of the workers is to be cut down further in order to pay for this monstrous armaments programme, while the capitalists make super profits out of the armaments rackets.

The working class must be prepared to resist all encroachments on their standard of living made in order to pile up arms for their own destruction. The £2,000,000,000 for rearmament must be devoted to a scheme of public works, housing, roads and other schemes which will be of benefit to the workers.

All the lying propaganda that these arms are to be used for the “defence of liberty and democracy” are seen to be hollow shams concocted in order to cover up the real motive: the defence of capitalist trade interests. The hypocrisy and cant of the call to “defend liberty and freedom” by the spokesmen of the “great democracies” is clearly seen in the development of the civil war in Spain. Eagerly and with the greatest gusto Britain and France are making great haste to help Franco destroy the Republican Government and the last relics of democracy in Spain by granting him recognition even before he has completely succeeded in conquering Spain, and at the same time are withdrawing recognition from the Madrid Government. That is how much they treasure the “sacred trust” of “liberty and freedom”.

The position is clearly revealed by the actions of “the greatest democracy of all”, the United States. Roosevelt, Ickes and other spokesmen of the Government have announced their determination to stand up to the menace of dictatorship and the aggressor states. Key Pittman, chairman of the Senate, has demanded that a stand be made once and for all. He is prepared to face up to war right now: “It is better to die fighting than retreat cravenly before the destroyers of liberty.” For the purpose of meeting the menace, arms are to be supplied by America to Britain and France, sister-democracies facing up to the same threat. But the United States is not prepared to send a single gun or plane to “defend democracy” in Republican Spain!

The policy of the Communist Party and the Labour leaders in supporting rearmament for “national defence” is a betrayal of the working class. Attlee, Morrison and Co. in the House of Commons had no criticism to offer to the rearmament programme except that it should be made more efficient.

While the Daily Telegraph talks openly about the economic reasons for the coming war, the Labour and Communist Leaders still continue to deceive and sow illusions in the minds of the workers about “democracy”, “freedom”, and the “menace of fascist aggression”. The Daily Telegraph weighs up almost without concealment the chances of the trade war being turned into armed conflict. The Communist and Labour leaders demand that the National Government should take further action against their rivals in the trade war in defence of “British” (capitalist) trade interests, They demand an increase in the efficiency of arms production. They attempt to outdo the capitalists themselves in their eagerness to defend capitalist interests.

The capitalists make huge profits out of war and war preparations. We demand the confiscation of all armaments profits. Not alone “profiteering” but all profit must be taken away from the arms manufacturers. The traffic in the lives of the people must be stopped.

These preparations for war, and the mass butchery which will follow, can only bring hunger, misery and want to the workers of Britain and the world. A struggle must be waged in the Labour movement against all war preparations. We must fight against the real cause of war, and against the people that benefit from it. Our enemy is not the German, Italian or French workers. It is capitalism everywhere. Our strongest blows must be directed against our main enemy, British capitalism at home. The fight for Socialism is the fight for peace.