Ted Grant

Labour leaders back Vansittartism

Shameful resolution passed at Conference

Written: July 1943
Source: Socialist Appeal, vol. 5 no. 14 (July 1943)
Transcription: Lisi 2004
Markup/Proofread:: Emil 2006

[Editor's Note: Vansittartism (named after British diplomat Robert Vansittart) is the doctrine that the German people are innately belligerent.]

A shameful resolution which smacks of Vansittartism was carried at the last Labour Party Conference. A resolution which violates all the principles of International Socialism to which the Labour and Trade Union leadership has paid lip-service in the past. As if to underline these cowardly and shameful concessions to chauvinism, the Labour Party did not allow fraternal delegates from Socialist parties of “enemy” countries to be represented at the Conference. The resolution lays the responsibility for the Hitler regime and its crimes onto the shoulders of the German people. It says that the party

“recognises that there are Germans who are opposed to the policy of their Government but believes that these Germans are in a very small minority,” and,

“that the Nazi Government would not have remained in power or have been able to conduct a total war but for the support it received from the overwhelming mass of the German people. It declares that no permanent peace will be possible unless Germany is completely disarmed in accordance with the provisions of Article 8 of the Atlantic Charter and the spirit of aggressive nationalism entirely eradicated.

“It therefore welcomes any steps that may need to be taken for the re-education of the German people, so that they may play their part in the creation, of a democratic, peaceful and secure world.”

Speaking in favour, and representing the attitude of the Trade Union and Labour bureaucrats, Charles Dukes, general secretary of the Municipal and General Workers’ Union, made a vile attack on the German workers:

“Between the Weimar Republic and the rise of Hitler to power he had seen the overwhelming majority of German trade unionists go over to Nazism.” (Daily Herald, June 18th, 1943)

Thus the Labour and Trade Union leaders repeat the lies and slanders of the capitalists against the German people. It is an eloquent comment on the position taken at the Labour Conference, that the formerly pro-fascist and pro-Nazi capitalist press such as the Daily Mail and the Sunday Dispatch enthusiastically hailed this decision of the Labour Party Conference.

The idea which is created, that the German workers must be held responsible for the crimes of the Nazis and for the coming to power of Hitler is a deliberate travesty of history. But if the German workers are to be held responsible for the crimes of their masters, then all the more blame should be attached, not to the British workers but to their “leaders” who at the present time are supporting a government which represents the monopoly capitalists who supported Hitler to the utmost extent. It was the British capitalists who aided, armed and financed Hitler and white-washed his crimes against the Trade Unionists, Communists and Socialists, when he destroyed the organisations of the working class in Germany. They regarded all this approvingly as a means of creating a “bulwark against Bolshevism” in Germany, with Hitler as a useful and pliable tool they could use to destroy the Soviet Union. Churchill openly praised Mussolini, Hitler and Franco before the war. Amery justified the crimes of the Japanese militarists against China. The British capitalist class has always supported fascism and reaction throughout the world. Is the responsibility for these crimes then, to be laid at the door of the British working class? Are the British workers to be held responsible for the crimes which British imperialism is committing in India at this very moment? The majority of the population in Britain are not aware of what is taking place.

The Labour and Trade Union leaders are. But they are silent! They have the possibility to speak out without the danger of the firing squad and the concentration camp which faces the opposition in Germany and Italy. But they are silent! They thus make themselves fully responsible for the crimes of British imperialism. The British ruling class has allied itself with Sikorski, Giraud, De Gaulle, Darlan and other fascist and pro-fascist leaders and governments. They have in the recent period given Franco, one of the fascist butchers, supplies of vital materials and loans to prop up his regime! But the Labour and Trade Union leadership is silent and even supports these measures!

C.P. joins in the reactionary campaign

The Labour leaders would not have dared to so openly and shamelessly support the capitalists in their slander and defaming of the German people, had it not been for the even more despicable and nauseating campaign being conducted by the so-called Communist Party. Its organ the Daily Worker of June 10th contains an article by D. N. Pritt, headed “Germany after the War” in which he approves of the demand made in a resolution to be put before the Labour Party Conference that “Germany must be disarmed and her capacity to re-arm destroyed, so far as this is technically possible.” This would mean, if carried out, the dismantling of Germany’s heavy industry and the reduction not only of the Germans’ standard of living to starvation level, but that of all Europe whose economy in large part is dependent on that of Germany. But then Pritt proceeds:

“Together with the above measures must be tackled the problem of how to deal with the great masses of Germans who today acquiesce in the Hitler regime and its crimes. For this they cannot be absolved, and their late repentance will be suspect.”

To make their position quite definite the Daily Worker of June 24th, in an editorial declares, while hypocritically pretending to dissociate itself from the Vansittartites:

“The pacifists gaze through theoretical spectacles, blind to the corruption and degradation of the great majority of the German community today.”

The pacifists are merely dragged into this argument as a shield to conceal the real aim of the Stalinist renegades. This was indicated some time back when Moscow Radio broadcast the aims of the “Union of the Polish Patriots” for Poland after the war. Silesia, East Prussia and Danzig are to be taken from Germany and handed back to Poland. The Daily Worker printed a report of this broadcast with approval. Although previously they had shown fake indignation at similar suggestions put out by a group of Tory M.P.s for the dismemberment of Germany.

They were responsible for Hitler

What does all this attack on the German workers amount to? Thousands and tens of thousands of the underground opposition continue the struggle against Hitler, despite the terrible risks and penalties, and other tens of thousands fill the concentration camps or have been executed. Nevertheless, it is true at the present time that the German workers and the German people generally, while not supporting Hitler, have continued to tolerate the rule of Hitler during the war. But they do so because they do not see any other way out. Stalin offers them no alternative except support for Churchill and Anglo-American imperialism. Hitler points to the results of the defeat of Germany in the last world war. The “democratic” states stripped Germany of her resources. Even after the armistice, the blockade of Germany was continued and a million German babies died for lack of milk. Goebbels, in his propaganda points out that if British and American imperialism win the war, a terrible fate would befall the German people. This is perfectly true. And the Labour leaders and Stalinists, by supporting the ruling class, paralyse and confuse the working class in Germany. Forced to choose between support for Churchill and the ruling class, and victory for Hitler, the British workers naturally would support the former. The German workers, while they do not see any other path, naturally enough tolerate the latter. The way out of this dilemma lies in the workers in Britain fighting for power on a revolutionary Socialist programme. Faced with a workers’ government in Britain making an international socialist appeal, Hitler could not last for more than a few weeks or months at most. But, the Labour leaders and Stalinists, by supporting the ruling class in Britain, aid and give support to Hitler, who [?] then uses the argument that the Labour movement in Britain stands for Vansittartism.

But what is absolutely shameless in this cynical attack on the German workers is that the actual responsibility for the coming to power of Hitler rests not on the shoulders of the German workers, but precisely on those gentlemen of the Stalinist and Labour bureaucracy and their brothers in Germany who have the audacity to point the accusing finger of scorn at the German workers. In spite of the lies of Dukes the overwhelming majority of the German workers, and trade unionists especially, never supported Hitler. When in 1918 the German workers made a revolution and overthrew the Kaiser it was the German Social-Democrats who saved capitalism and prevented the workers from taking power. The rise of Hitter was due to the slump of 1929-33 when the failure of the Socialist and Communist Party to show a way out, led the bulk of the middle class, not the workers, in sheer despair and frenzy to throw themselves behind the Nazis. But Hitler could still have easily been defeated. The Social-Democrats told the workers to trust Hindenburg as a bulwark against Hitler, just as the Stalinists and Labour leaders ask the workers to support Churchill today. Both the Social Democrats and the Stalinistics [sic?] refused to have a united front against Hitler which would have sealed his doom. The “Communist” party in Germany even voted together with the Fascists against the Socialist Government in Prussia. By splitting the ranks of the working class and paralysing their forces both the Stalinist and Social-Democrats bear responsibility for the victory of Hitler. 8,000,000 German workers supported the Social-Democrats; 6,000,000 German workers supported the Communist Party. Millions of the German workers were armed; they were anxious and eager to crush the monster of fascism. But the leadership betrayed the struggle. They were incapable of waging a real fight. Trotsky and the Fourth International waged an international campaign for four years from 1930-33, demanding that the German Labour and Communist Parties enter into a united front to crush Hitler. But these traitors refused to do so.

The C.P. declared, even after the first year of Hitler’s rule, that the Coming to power of fascism was a victory for the working class, as it aggravated the class struggle; that Hitler would not last very long! The trade union leaders in Germany and the Socialist Party even voted for Hitler after he came to power! And what is important to note, the Labour and Trade Union bureaucrats in Britain attempted to justify the policy of their counterparts in Germany. At the T.U.C. Conference in 1933, Citrine justified the refusal of the Trade Union leaders to call a general strike which could have overthrown Hitler, because it would have led to civil war! And now these arrant hypocrites blame the German workers.

Hitler’s regime has endured ten years. He has piled agony upon agony on the German people and now the people of Occupied Europe. But already the ground is shaking under his feet. The German workers are beginning to stir. They will overthrow Hitler. But the British workers must help them in their difficult struggle by continuing the fight for workers’ power and socialism and extending the hand of friendship and comradeship to their German brothers. Do not let the British and American capitalists intervene against the coming German revolution. The Labour and Stalinist leaders do not represent the views of the rank and file British workers. Together with the German workers we will build a new world out of the blood and chaos of capitalism. Not for a Treaty of Revenge but for the Socialist United States of Europe!