J. T. Murphy

The European Crisis and British Labour

Source: The Communist Review, October 1923, Vol. 4, No. 6.
Publisher: The Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

“ONLY a miracle can save Germany from another revolution,” announced Edo Fimmen during his remarkable speech to the Trade Union Congress at Plymouth. “If my Government falls I will be the last bourgeois chancellor. Should that happen, not only Germany but a large part of Europe will become Bolshevik,” declares, Stresseman, the new German Chancellor.

Meanwhile, Mussolini scornfully snaps his fingers at the League of Nations, kicks Greece into submission, and threatens to blow up the Balkans.

Truly the political philosophy of the orthodox Labourists, making for Gradualism, is being sorely tried.

The crisis in Germany brings to a focus all the contending policies with far less excuse for misunderstandings than ever before. From the moment the Armistice was signed in 1918, the process of capitalist disintegration has been continuous and accelerated.

With the Armistice, all the antagonisms within the victorious countries, as in the defeated, were released. On one thing only was there unity and that was opposition to the Bolshevik revolution. In this campaign victor and defeated alike joined in the common attack upon the workers of Russia. But the release of “peace” has been even more fatal to internal order and development in any of the countries. The war for profit, as is now well understood, did not create the will to face obligations on the part of the profit-mongers. As a matter of fact, in every capitalist country there grew up the phenomenal revolt against the State control of property and vested interests occasioned by the war. Private property and vested interests no longer saw in the State a means of profit but only an instrument to secure payment for debts; to free private interests from taxation and to maintain social order. The first led to a policy of colonisation of Europe by the victors, the second to de-control in regard to economic and industrial life in all countries, the third to the introduction of democratic smoke screens as cover for the vigorous prosecution of the class war.


At no moment could the capitalists ignore the class war. How deeply they considered it is now openly revealed by the publication of Mr. Lloyd George’s secret memorandum to the Versailles Council, in which we see the basis of the imperialist policy now being applied to Europe.

The victors were victors and proceeded arbitrarily to impose their war burdens upon the defeated, only, however, to intensify the determination of the capitalists in the defeated countries to refuse to face State obligations. At the same time a howl was raised against State burdens of taxation from the capitalist fraternity in the victorious countries.

The more the capitalists of the defeated countries dodged the State the more the State had to turn to the inflation of currency. The more currency declined in value the richer became the capitalists, who transferred their money into foreign currencies and paid wages and internal debts in worthless paper.

Its immediate result in the defeated countries was to weaken the Government and encourage the desire on the part of the property owners for the preservation of their property, intensify the sufferings and poverty of the working class, middle class, intellectuals and small peasantry, etc., and sharpen the class antagonisms. The reaction in the victorious countries was to undercut the market prices and produce unemployment on a large scale, especially in the industrial countries, and lead to an onslaught on wages and conditions of the masses and to an intensification of the campaign for the de-control of industry.

The logic of the process is obvious. More aggression in the policy of colonisation on the part of the victors, scrambles for economic private agreements on the part of the industrialists, the bankruptcy of the democratic States and the impoverishment of the population. So far has this process gone in Germany that the Government has practically lost control even of the currency, and the capitalists have no time for the State except as an instrument of coercion for the masses and a mouthpiece for the surrender of the people of Germany and the country as an economic colony to the Allies. Even as an instrument of coercion the democratic State is ceasing to be of value and their alternative is the armed force of the Fascisti.


Who says “A” in the alphabet of imperialism must say “B.” It was thus not surprising to find the Labour Party and its international counterparts is transfixed by the proposals of President Wilson in 1918 and 1919, and proceeding through their adapted alphabet as crisis followed crisis in the debacle of capitalism. Having accepted the “inevitability of gradualness” their fate became bound up with the preservation of capitalism.

The problems of imperialists became their problems and ear section of this hybrid international became the trumpeters of the difficulties of the respective groups of capitalists and more and more remote from the solution of the difficulties of the masses of the population. As the Governments called for “reparations” they called for “reparations.” As the employers demanded “more production” they did likewise, and so on successively from “industrial peace,” “arbitration,” “League of Nations,” to “grand coalition,” all of which has postponed the creation of workers’ and peasants’ governments.

When the revolution of Germany swept the Kaiser from power in 1918, it was the Social-Democrats of Germany who led the popular movement and immediately assumed the responsibility for the defence of capitalism.

From the moment “order” was secured, the capitalist parties began to manœuvre the Social-Democrats from power and to carry out measures of avoiding the State obligations, at the same time manœuvring the popular feeling and securing economic agreements. Only again when the consequences produce political instability do they come back to the seats of government in 1923, in the ranks of the “grand coalition” of parties for the preservation of capitalism.

But 1923 is not 1918. In 1918 there was no Communist Party only the voices of Liebknecht and Luxemburg, whom, be it remembered, the Social-Democrats murdered. In 1923 there is a Communist Party hundreds of thousands strong with influence amongst millions of workers. The five years between has weakened the prestige and power of the Social-Democrats. These five years present a classic example to the world of a nation struggling, with the aid of the Social-Democrats, to avoid revolution.

It was obvious from the moment the armistice was signed that the consequences of the war could only be faced by the State securing the maximum of real values in its hands. But that meant an attack on private property. In 1923 it is clear in every one of the countries, and none more so than Germany, that reparations and reconstruction, etc., ought to be met by the capitalists of all countries and by a policy of confiscation by the State of real values.

But the “grand coalition” in Germany recoils from such a course. In approved Labour Party style, this “grand coalition” introduces more stringent taxation which the capitalists politely avoid. An object lesson indeed to the British Labour Party, which proposes to purchase property by hanging the burden of debt around the necks of the population.


British Labour leadership can present no better record than the German Social-Democracy during this period. Both went into the war with the same ideas of national defence. Both come out of it to continue their function of stabilisation. British Labour backed, and backs to-day, the Wilsonian programme even when Wilson himself has long since abandoned it.

Officially in favour of a General Strike, it is actually opposed to it at every step. Pledged to strike if the Ruhr was invaded, it budged not an inch. At no moment has it mobilised the opinion of the workers in favour of assisting the revolution in Europe, but throughout it has consistently played the diplomacy of Imperialism. From Wilson to Baldwin sums up the achievements of British Labour in this struggle, towards social revolution.

Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, leader of His Majesty’s Opposition in the British Parliament, following the lead of Mr. Baldwin, on July 20th, on the reparation crisis, says, “I thought as I listened to sentence after sentence, how much more fortunate our country would have been had that policy been adopted months ago,” whilst later, in the House of Commons, he said “It was as desirable to prevent Germany going into the hands of the Communists as into the hands of the German Fascisti.” It only remains for us to take note of the “Daily Herald” (the official Labour organ) declaration that “the nation is behind Mr. Baldwin at this moment,” and to listen to the rambling gibberish of Mr. Brailsford in the “New Leader,” to understand the utter remoteness of the leadership of Labour in this country from a real working class policy.

On August 31st,1923, Mr. Brailsford wrote in the “New Leader,” “If the democratic republic collapses, the alternative is either a Monarchist or Communist Workers’ and Peasants’ Germany. That also I think impossible, but it might just be possible as the last and maddest invention of red strategy—some sort of alliance, however temporary, between left and right.” Add to this Mr. Thomas’s affirmation at the Trade Union Congress in September, that in the event of an Italian-Greco Balkan war, it would be impossible for “us” to keep out, and the complete subordination of Labour to the leadership of Imperialism along with the refusal to understand the strategy of the class war, and the picture is complete.


Starting from a fundamentally different estimate both of the historic rôle of the working class and the character of the epoch ushered in by the war, the Communist International has pursued a policy in flat contradiction to this philosophy of “gradualism” so beloved of our Social Reformists. In opposition to the policy of adaptation to the war, the Communists urge its transformation into the class war as a means to end imperialism. Instead of regarding the Russian revolution as a national revolution it saw in it the beginning of the proletarian world revolution. In opposition to capitalist reconstruction, the Communist regarded this military orgy as the epoch of capitalist collapse and social revolution, and set before the workers as the supreme task of the moment the conquest of political power.

Contrary to all assertion that the Communists believe in revolutions by what the Germans call “Putsch Methods,” the policy pursued by the Communists, both through the Russian revolution and from the first days of the Communist International has been the exact opposite. It has followed a policy of successive concrete measures in keeping with the historical development of the struggle and within the grasp of the masses of the proletariat and the forces required as allies in the conquest of capitalism. The application of this policy to Europe after Versailles has been to insist upon reparation claims being placed upon the backs of the capitalists of all countries, all of whom were responsible for the war.

Applying this principle to Germany it can only be carried through by strengthening the power of the State over the capitalists, confiscating property and seizing real values. Naturally the capitalists have opposed, and it is now obvious that only a workers’ and peasants’ State would put such measures into operation. Any alternative policy could only result, as has actually happened, in reduced wages, increased rents, increased prices, so involving workers, peasants, middle class, intellectuals, etc., in extreme poverty and ruin. In practice this has meant strikes and political revolts against the profiteers and the Government. The Communists have no option but to support and endeavour to lead such strikes and revolts.

The middle class and peasants, intensely conservative in their resentment against degradation, become the recruiting ground of the monarchists who lure them on with the memory of what their conditions were under the Kaiser. The Communists have to reveal the illusory character of these dreams of democrats who are the real enemies of the nation. But this does not mean an alliance with the “right” as foolishly described by Brailsford, but a direct challenge within the ranks of the “right” as to the real enemies of the people, the winning of the masses from the leadership of the “right” exactly as the C.P. here has to win the masses away from middle class leadership of the Labour Party.

The character and direction of the policy thus being made clear, it follows that the Communist International is neither coquetting with the “right” nor amusing itself with the so-called centre when it sets before the masses of Europe the slogan of a United States of Europe composed of workers’ and peasants’ Governments into whose hands alone should be concentrated all the real values and power of the countries of Europe for their reconstruction on a Socialist basis. The slogan of a workers’ and peasants’ Government is the only alternative to chaos and untold misery. If the British Labour Party would avoid the fate of the German Social Democrats there is still time to turn from the Baldwin policy. The starvation, misery, and anguish of the tortured workers as well as the ghosts of the murdered in Flanders and Mesopotamia demand of the British Labour Party as of the Communist Party the immediate withdrawal of British troops from the Ruhr; for all the forces of the working class to join hands in rousing and preparing the British workers to render aid to the oncoming revolution in Germany and become parties to the campaign for the Workers’ and Peasants’ Governments of Europe as the only way out.

But will they do it?

The Communist Party is ready.