J. T. Murphy

Ten Years Ago and After

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.

A DECADE has now gone since the imperialists let loose the first world war upon the unready millions. Not a single statesman is left at the helm of state affairs in any of the countries involved in the great catastrophe, who had anything to do with the making or conduct of the war. Capitalist civilisation has been shaken to its foundations. The nightmare horrors and sufferings of millions of people have destroyed their belief in its durability. The intoxicated passions that were aroused by the statesmen, leaders and lackeys of imperialism, have given place to a profound scepticism which challenges their veracity and demands of the criminals a statement of the degree of their complicity.

Sensing the disillusionment that was coming into the minds of the masses through the misery of the war and the unfulfilled promises, one after another have stepped forward with their war memoirs, their personal explanations, their histories. And, the more they speak and explain, the vaster becomes the tragedy, and the deeper and more criminal is seen to be the hypocrisy which dominated the days of August, 1914, when the millions of workers were mobilised to spill their blood upon the plains of Europe. “Imagine” cries the British General, Sir Ian Hamilton, at Crewe, on January 14th, 1924, “Imagine if the British Cabinet of July-August, 1914, vacillating as we know they were, had been vouchsafed a prophetic vision of us here, upon the plinth of Crewe’s memorial, inscribed with so many names you can hardly stick a pin between them—what would they have done then? Would John Burns and John Morley have been the only two to shrink back from the suicide of a generation?” When generals of an imperial army speak in this spirit of revolt and talk of the suicide of a generation in public places, the depth of the change of feeling in the minds of the millions who feel they have been betrayed, is vast and deep.

But there are those who have no regrets. The general’s doubts and fears as to the British Cabinet are unfounded. The same people pursue the same course ten years later, with the same unctuous righteousness as in the days of July and August, 1914. And what a galaxy they are Grey, Asquith, Lloyd George, Winston Churchill, Chamberlain, and Co.

On August the 3rd, 1914, Grey stepped into the British House of Commons and told a tremendous lie behind a technical truth. He stated that the question of war depended on two things—naval attack on the coast of France, and the invasion of Belgium. He told the House it was free to decide, and he knew it was not free. He had waited with his colleagues until their policy had culminated in a situation from which there was no escape, which narrowed the choice and determined its character in such a way that his listeners were made mobile in his hands. His decision would be their decision. He knew that. He and they knew that the raising of the curtain in the House of Commons on August the 3rd, was only a side show, a peep into the great drama of Imperial conflict waged with unceasing viligance for thirty years. Here was no accidental situation. Here was a predestined hour to which they knew they were driving.

On August 2nd, 1914, Bonar Law wrote to Asquith as follows, on behalf of Chamberlain and the Unionist leaders:

“Lord Lansdowne and I feel it our duty to inform you that in our opinion, as well as that of all the colleagues whom we have been able to consult, it would be fatal to the honour and security of the United Kingdom to hesitate in supporting France and Russia at the present juncture, and we offer our unhesitating support to the Government in any means they may consider necessary for that object.
Yours very truly,


There is no question here as to naval attacks on France or the invasion of Belgium.

On August 5th, Asquith said: “If I am asked what we are fighting for, I reply in two sentences. In the first place, to fulfil a solemn international obligation—an obligation which, if it had been entered into between private persons would have been regarded as an obligation, not only of law, but of honour, which no self respecting man could have repudiated. Secondly, we are fighting to vindicate the principle that small nationalities are not to be crushed, in defiance of international good faith, by the arbitrary will of a strong and overmastering Power. I do not believe any great nation ever entered into a great controversy with a clearer conscience and a stronger conviction that it is fighting not for aggression nor for the maintenance of its own selfish interest, but in defence of principles vital to the civilisation of the world.” (Cambridge History, Foreign Policy, p. 506.)

Splendid! Splendid! Until we know the fate of the German colonies in Africa and the fate of Mesopotamia, etc.

But let Mr. Lloyd George have his say on the platform of “honourable gentlemen.” “But this I know is true—after the guarantee given that the German Fleet would not attack the coast of France, or annex any French territory, I would not have been party to a declaration of war, had not Belgium been invaded; and I think I can say the same thing for most, if not all, my colleagues.” (Mr. Lloyd George and the War, p. 92.)

Mr. Lloyd George would do better for himself if he spoke less frequently. As it is, what he says one day he can guarantee to contradict the next. On August 7th, 1918, he had totally forgotten his first story as to the cause of the war and stated in the House of Commons:

“We had a compact with France, that, if she were wantonly attacked, the United Kingdom would go to her support.”

Mr. Hogge: “We did not know that.”

Mr. Lloyd George: “If France were wantonly attacked.”

An Hon. Member: “That is news.”

Mr. Lloyd George: “There was no compact as to what force we should bring into the arena. In any discussion that ever took place, either in this country or outside, there was no idea that we should ever be able to supply a greater force than six divisions. . . .” (Hansard.)

Later he touched this up a little and adopted Asquith’s “obligation of honour.”

In 1923, Mr. Asquith published a book on “The Genesis of the War,” in which it is perfectly clear that Germany and Britain had been watching each other’s every move for generations. Read Asquith’s chapter on pre-war preparations, and Grey’s “You are free to decide”—sounds like the voice of mockery from the depths of hell. After describing the work of a sub-committee under Lord Morley, inquiring into the military requirements of the British Empire as affected by India, in 1907, and the work of another committee appointed at the instance of Lord Roberts as to the possibilities of sudden invasion, he says:

“Then followed another inquiry, over which I presided, into the military requirements of the Empire as affected by the Continent of Europe. As the result of this the General Staff were allowed to work out their plans on the assumption that an expeditionary force might have to be sent to the Continent. Meanwhile, inquiries had taken place, under Lord Morley, into the military needs of the Empire as affected by Egypt, and into our position in Southern Persia and the Persian Gulf with special regard to the Bagdad Railway.

“All the above inquiries were finished by August, 1909. It would not be an unjust claim to say that the Government had by that date investigated the whole of the ground covered by a possible war with Germany—the naval position; the possibilities of blockade; the invasion problem; the Continental problem; the Egyptian problem.

“After August, 1909, we entered upon a new stage in the task of preparation . . . . treatment of neutral and enemy merchant ships . . . seizure of enemy ships in port . . . . control of railways . . . . question of supplies . . . Meanwhile, all sorts of complementary and subsidiary investigations had taken place. A counter-espionage bureau had been set up in the War Office. The questions of Press censorship, postal censorship, and the treatment of aliens, started in 1909, dragged on in seemingly interminable discussions which were completed between 1912 and 1914. The protection of our own cables and the attack on enemy cables was thoroughly examined, as were aerial navigation and its laws; the defence of the Suez Canal and of Hong Kong; the strategic position in the Pacific and the Mediterranean . . . ”

And the war came upon us like a thief in the night? And the “Nation was free to decide”?

But lies are their stock-in-trade. Unable to speak the truth as to why they led the masses of the nation to war, it is not to be expected that they would speak the truth as to their aims in the war. The slogan sounded throughout the length and breadth of the land—“freedom and self-determination for small nationalities” (except those under the British flag). And while the orators thundered and howled this slogan, demanding single men first and then scaling the age limits—the Greys and Asquiths, Georges and Co., were busy with the secret war aims.

Had it not been for the proletarian revolution in Russia in November, 1917, these treaties would not have seen the light of day. And what Treaties they were! Treaties for cutting and carving a continent. Treaties on raising loans and controlling the Churches from intervening on the side of peace. Treaties to divide Europe and share the spoils of war. Coalfields and ironfields, ships and equipment, railways and machinery, money and again money while the millions spilled their blood for ideals. The mob could dream its dreams and chant its songs and think it was doing wonders in the service of idealism, but the treaty-mongers were busy laying deep their plans to plunge their talons into the material fabric of Europe and Africa.

When all these plans were disclosed by the revolution, there was a great silence. Not one of these “honourable gentlemen” had a word to say, but quietly they prepared a greater lie. They prepared a campaign to prove that these disclosures must be wrong. Not by direct denial, but with new broadsides of democratic phrases calculated to stimulate illusions and make the people forget. A new ally was secured—Wilson—the “peacemaker” hovered over Europe. A charter of Fourteen Points was announced as the embodiment of the aims of the war and peace.

Again the voices were false and the charter lied. It was only for public consumption along with the dreams of a new social order the war was to bring. It was as real as the “Homes for heroes,” the great “reconstruction plans” and the “work for all” schemes. The imperialists had not departed one jot from their real predatory aims. The fighting stopped. The Allies had won their military victory. The terms of settlement came and the Versailles Treaty made public for all to see that the Secret Treaties spoke the truth as to the real aims of Grey and Asquith and George, and all the gang who declared that the issue of the war was Belgium.

Everyone of them are unashamedly associated with this Treaty of Plunder, demonstrating that the war was the continuation of their imperial politics by military means and that the peace is the continuance of the war in the domain of politics and economics.

They called to the workers—“civilisation is at stake.” “Your homes are in danger.” “Belgium must be freed.” Follow, us and we will lead you to the country of your dreams. Every promise has proved a fraud. Every idealistic utterance an empty noise, meaning nothing. A million of the working class of Britain were killed. Millions carry on their bodies the scars of war. The wheels of social life grind more harshly than ever before. Unemployment and misery walk abroad by night and by day . . . “For the liberation of small nations.”

Ten years have gone since the “right” wing of the bourgeoisie swept forward on the tide of imperialism into the first world war. History does not stop. The “left” wing of the bourgeoisie in the form of a Labour Government holds the reins of Empire. Under the banner of Liberalism the deeds of the imperialists made war inevitable in 1914. In 1924 the same imperialists are bespattering the banner of Labour and using the leaders of labour to perpetuate deeds which lead inevitably to the next world war.

The Treaty of Versailles and its corollary, the Dawes’ Report, accepted by the Labour Government of Britain are not the instruments of peace, but of war. A terrible perspective. But those who refuse to do battle against capitalists are the tools of capitalism.