J. T. Murphy

They Betrayed Workers with a Lie

Source: The Communist International, No. 5 (New series) 1924.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2008). 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.

THEY betrayed the workers with a lie—a bourgeois lie! They told us we must defend our country and we had no country. They told us that the violation of Belgium, the “tearing of a scrap of paper” was the issue for which we must shed our blood and sacrifice the manhood of a generation. It was a lie—a bourgeois lie. They said it was to “stamp out militarism,” to “save civilisation,” to “establish the rights of small nations,” The bourgeoisie had said the same. And they lied.

We expected lies from the bourgeoisie and from the hacks of the capitalist Press, but from the leaders of Labour, from the leaders of the great multitude without a “fatherland” or “motherland,” we expected the truth and were given lies upon lies.

Mr. Tom Shaw (present Minister of Labour) said at the Labour Party Conference, 1916: “Whatever arrangements we had with France or any other country, the war was due primarily to an unjustifiable attack by Germany upon Belgium.”

Mr. J. H. Thomas at the same Conference said: “He believed that the real cause of this war was not so much the jealousy of Kings or Governments, but that the spirit of militarism had been incalculated in the minds of the people. . . . .”

Mr. Wardle, Chairman of the 1917 Labour Party Conference said in his presidential speech: “I am proud of the fact that the majority of the Labour Party threw itself into the struggle with all the ardour at its command and my one regret has been that this decision has not been unanimous (though we have the satisfaction of knowing that not even the minority desire to see the issue settled by the victory of the Central powers) and that the whole strength of the Party has not been available in a cause which in my opinion embodies every true hope for which we have ever stood and every real aspiration for peace which we have ever given our unflinching adhesion.”

Oh, the “high ideals,” the “true hopes,” the “real aspiration for peace” the “spirit of militarism”!!

1. “Alsace Lorraine to be restored to France.”

2. “The frontiers to be extended . . . inclusion of the entire iron districts of Lorraine and the coal district of the Saar Valley.”

3. “The rest of the territories situated on the left bank of the Rhine which now form part of the German Empire, are to be entirely separated from Germany and freed from all political and economic dependence upon her.”

4. “The territories of the left bank of the Rhine outside French territory are to be constituted an autonomous and neutral state, and are to be occupied by French troops until such time as the enemy States have completely satisfied all the conditions and guarantees indicated in the treaty of peace.”

5. “By the future treaty of peace, Italy is to receive the district of Trentino: the entire Southern Tyrol . . . .”

6. “Should France and Britain extend their Colonial possession in Africa at the expense of Germany, they will admit in principle Italy’s right to demand certain compensation by way of an extension of her possessions . . . in colonial areas adjoining French and British colonies.”

Need we quote more? It is one of the ironies of history that a Government drawn from the ranks of Labour, functioning as the left wing of the bourgeoisie, with the so-called pacifist MacDonald at its head, should be responsible for. giving effect to the latter demand.

If for a moment it be asserted that these leaders of Labour did not know the character of the war that was being waged, that they were victims as well as the masses, we declare that lies are being added to lies. From thousands of platforms, Socialist and Labour speakers had for years been uttering warnings of the coming war. In 1910, at the Copenhagen Conference so keen was the sense of the impending danger that Kier Hardie moved that in the event of war the International should declare a general strike. At the Basle Congress of 1912, it was obvious that war was imminent, and the famous resolutions indicating the measures to be taken in the event of war, were passed—and forgotten—except by a very small minority.

The Labour Party Report for 1916 describes the situation in the Second International during July, 1914, as follows: “It was when the attention of the whole movement was rivetted on military and industrial affairs in Ireland towards the end of July, 1914, that smoulderings of diplomatic disturbances in central Europe suddenly threatened to burst into the blaze, that arrangements were being completed for the attendance of British delegates at the International Socialist Congress which was to be held in Vienna in the following month. Suddenly the whole aspect of the situation was changed and the diplomatic and political consequences of Austria’s ultimatum to Serbia became startlingly apparent to the British people.

Realising the baleful effects that were likely to follow, the International Socialist Bureau held a special session in Brussels, when delegates representing all the European countries met and discussed the dangers that were imminent . . .”

The war did not come upon the Labour movement like a thief in the night. They saw. They knew. Nor does the situation change even after the publication of the secret treaties. Had they been under the influence of illusions and misled as to the nature of the war, the treaties would have come upon them with a great shock. But, although they were published by the Russian Soviet Government in 1917, and reprinted in the British Press immediately, the Labour Party Conference met in January, 1918 and declared through its chairman, “The Labour Party at its conference has declared by resolution their desire to see the war fought to a successful conclusion, and now that they have made clear what they were aiming at, now that the United States have laid down the principles upon which they are prepared to negotiate, the onus of responsibility for continuing the war lies with the central powers. If they do not accept them we shall see clearly their designs, and I believe the Labour Party will make the firm declaration that the war must continue until victory is assured.”

Only MacDonald mentioned the secret treaties. He said: “These secret treaties were not in accordance with Labour’s war aims (Labour’s war aims, if you please), nor with the pledges given to the men who joined the colours they (the Allied Governments) must revise those secret treaties and publish a joint declaration in accordance with the resolution . . . .”

And we have seen what MacDonald has already done. Did he revise the pact with Italy? Did he even protest? Ask Mussolini, the other renegade Socialist and read the Hansard records of the Labour Government.

* * * * *

We repeat, they saw the war coming. They knew the character of the war and the whole British Labour Movement became divided into three sections. First, there were the Shaws, the Thomas’s, the Clynes, the Wardles, the socialpatriotic leaders who do not wish to abolish capitalism, who are the faithful allies of the capitalists and traitors to the workers in every crisis of capitalism. Second came the word spinners against capitalism who deliver dignified sermons and stifle the mass revolts of the workers, who urge the workers to retreat in a “gentlemanly way” before the will and power of the capitalists whether at war or peace. These are the MacDonalds, the supporters of the Independent Labour Party. Third, comes the very small groups who took their stand upon the fact that “The war was not started by the sinister will of the robber capitalists, although it is fought in their interests, and is not enriching anybody else. The war was the consequences of the development of international capitalism in the course of the last fifty years of its endless combinations and ramifications.” Hence to drop the class war because the capitalist governments desire to continue their politics by military measures is to surrender the working class for the slaughter and perpetuate the rule of capitalism. This they refused to do, and by continuous propaganda, they denounced the war, exposed its character and purpose, seized every opportunity of discontent amongst the workers to lead them into the struggle through strikes and demonstrations as a means of developing the class war out of the imperialist war. Through the activities of the Socialist Labour Party of that period and a section of the British Socialist Party, their activities led to the creation of a mass movement in the form of the Shop Stewards’ and Workers’ Committees. These constituted the sum total of the class war fighters against the Imperialist war, and out of them came the present Communist Party. They saw. They spoke. They translated their words into deeds.

But they had not the control of the Labour movement. The social-patriots of the Labour Party and the word spinners of the Independent Labour Party were in control. They had their differences, but their deeds had the same result. How can there be any differences in deeds between those who openly support capitalism and those who only oppose capitalism with sermons and moral hysteria? Let the records speak!

On August 5th, 1914, the Executive Committee of the Labour Party passed the following resolution: “That the conflict between the nations in Europe in which this country is involved is owing to Foreign Ministers pursuing diplomatic policies for the purpose of maintaining a balance of power; that our own national policy of understandings with France and Russia only was bound to increase the power of Russia both in Europe and Asia, and to endanger good relations with Germany.”

The capitalists showed no sign of worry at this pronouncement. It did not mean anything to them. No doubt a record was taken to show no ill feeling.

The next resolution said: “That Sir Edward Grey, as proved by the facts which he gave to the House of Commons, committed without the knowledge of our people the honour of the country, to supporting France in the event of any war in which she was seriously involved, and gave definite assurances of support before the House of Commons had any chance of considering the matter.”

The capitalists did not even say, “What about it?” They knew quite well that the situation had developed so far that it did not matter twopence whether the House of Commons knew more or less. But again it raises no challenge, so why need the capitalists worry?

Nor does the final resolution which reads: “That the Labour movement reiterates the fact that it has opposed the policy which has produced the war, and that its duty now is to secure peace at the earliest possible moment on such conditions as will provide the next opportunities for the re-establishment of amicable feelings between the workers of Europe.”

Having “opposed the policy that has produced the war” it surrendered to the war and gave into the hands of the capitalists also the means of making the peace on their own terms. A novel way of securing peace is surely that of surrendering to war and throughout refusing to do anything which will challenge those in charge of the war. The resolutions are pious words meaning—just nothing.

That was the beginning of the surrender along the, whole working class front, and throughout there was little to distinguish the right wing and the centre. The right wing said, yes, we surrender, and are at your service. The centre said it isn’t proper to know, but we are at your service all the same. On August 7th, both accepted the war credits.

On August 24th both agreed to an industrial truce.

On August 29th they agreed not only to an industrial truce as if all the class antagonisms had been removed, but also to an electoral truce, the field upon which they think all differences should be fought.

On the same date, the right wing agreed to join the recruiting campaign. This the others did not oppose, although they did not become active participants, except Mr. MacDonald, whose recruiting letter to the Mayor of Leicester we cannot forget. Then the whole trade union movement was advised to abrogate all its rules and regulations that might interfere with production, and were promised that suspension of these rules and practices would be made good after the war. With this lie they swindled the workers into a retreat along all fronts. No industry was more vitally affected than the engineering industry, and the 1924 conditions proclaim how greatly they lied. Wages are lower, conditions are worse, the open shop is predominant, the competition for jobs more severe.

But let the record proceed. In May of 1915, Henderson, on behalf of Labour, entered the bourgeois Cabinet. In. July came the Munitions of War Act, resisted only by the miners who by direct strike action in South Wales kept the miners free from this pernicious piece of legislation throughout the war. Early in 1916 came the suppression of the revolutionary Press and arrest of those on the Clyde who were in opposition to government policy and dare show it. In April came the Easter rising in Dublin, when Connolly led the Irish workers and Nationalists in revolt. And Labour in the Cabinet represented by Henderson, the Labour Party secretary, remained silent whilst the bourgeois Cabinet ordered the murder of the wounded Connolly. Betrayal of the working class? The pages reek with lies, treachery and cowardice.

In January, 1916, the Labour Party Conference decided against conscription. They talked and talked and talked. Mr. Thomas thought it a very serious proposition. So did MacDonald, and so did they all. But words are words, and deeds are deeds. The Government acted. Labour talked. Conscription came.

When Mr. Lloyd George became Prime Minister, the Labour Party plunged still further and sent its quota to the Cabinet. There appeared no limits to the betrayal. Defence of the Realm Acts made no difference. Capitalism could go ,on laying the foundations of social hell and slaughtering its millions, but so long as it was done in the name of the war nothing must be done. But Labour could talk and Labour formulated what it called its War Aims! And its attitude was as follows: “Please, gentlemen, we were not responsible for war, and we know it is not our place to appear rude or in any way to think above our station in life, but, please, will you give consideration to our hopes, our ideals, our war aims when you make the peace?”

Mr. Wilson told them he thought he had expressed the aims of everybody in the war in much better terms in his Fourteen Points. And they answered, “Yes, Mr. Wilson, you. are right.”

Suddenly their was a call to an international Socialist Conference at Stockholm. Twice they decided that Labour would be represented—with the kind permission of the Government. The Government said No. And not having a majority in Parliament they could not do anything. To travel illegally and break the bourgeois regulations on behalf of the workers was unthinkable. The war went on.

The peace came, and Labour did not make it. The Imperialists made it in the form of the Versailles Treaty, and the Labour leaders have become its administrators.

1919-1924. Ten years, in which the social-patriots and pacifist leaders of British Labour have proved to be always of the imperialists and the propagators of the lie—that capitalism can be conquered by words and not by deeds, by the plausible tongue and not by might. It cannot. Capitalism demonstrated on August 4th, 1914, that it will fight to the death with every weapon at its disposal to settle its sectional differences. The intervening years have proven that there are no moral limits to the application of its forces when attacked from any direction. To tell the workers other than this truth, and to fail to prepare an answer in similar terms was to betray them with a lie—a bourgeois lie.