Peter Petroff May 1938

The Growth of Class Antagonism

Source: Labour, May 1938, p. 212;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

Innumerable pens have been busy for decades trying to refute Carl Marx’s teaching that all human history was a history of class struggle.

The rapid growth of the productivity of labour led superficial thinkers to the belief that enough food for wolves and sheep would grow in the same meadow. The notorious theory of “diffusion of wealth” and the belief in the mitigation of class antagonism found adherents even in the ranks of the international Labour Movement.

These illusions were fed by the changes in the functions of the State during the last generation. The State – hitherto primarily a machine of suppression of the people in the hands of the ruling class – under pressure of the Labour Movement gradually assumed some new protective functions favourable to the working class.

However illusions disappear, facts remain. During the crisis of 1930-1935 it became obvious that private enterprise was played out, that the capitalist system was bankrupt, and that a fundamental change of the whole system of society had become essential.

Class antagonism had reached such a pitch that, in some countries, the possessing classes preferred to destroy their culture, their State, their whole precious civilisation rather than allow progress to limit their power over their fellow-men. They would rather break the machine than allow the people to use for the common weal. They put gangsters on the helm, reverting to barbarism in order to prevent the emancipation of the working class from wage slavery.

The latest developments show an appalling growth of similar tendencies among the ruling class in the Democracies. Only a few wars ago these countries were considered immune from the Fascist plague. There was horror at the lawlessness of Fascism; general hostility towards the Dictatorships prevailed; and there seemed to spring up a certain democratic unity in Opposition to Fascist aggressor States. In his country, Tories – feeling safe in the saddle after their victory at the General Election – considered that Democracy might replace outworn imperialism as the new ideal of the young generation.

Suddenly a change of scene! The attempts at democratic unity in face of Fascist aggression have broken down. The capitalist class has thrown overboard its old shibboleths of Empire and patriotism. Capital has become an international force – its magnates care no longer for the security of their country, the integrity of its territory, its strategic position. They are more concerned about the preservation of their class privileges, about the maintenance of international reaction.

The great strikes and the social reforms of the Blum administration in France, the civil war in Spain, the progress of the Labour Party in Britain have disturbed their complacency. They are throwing off their democratic mask and openly embrace the cause of Fascism.

The French as a nation need for their security a friendly democratic Spain as their neighbour. Yet the capitalist Press and the bourgeois parties of France are actively supporting Franco or wishing for his victory.

Britain finds her Empire, her own security, her free access to the Mediterranean, and her supply of food and raw materials threatened by the aggressive totalitarian States who are about to turn Spain (and Britain’s old ally, Portugal) into a basis of attack on Britain and France.

These totalitarian States are bankrupt, are in danger of internal collapse – a growing section of the British capitalist Press, of the ruling Tory party forget their much advertised patriotism in their eagerness to come to the rescue of the enemies of their country. And a curious situation arises enabling the bankrupt rotten Dictatorships to impose their will on an acquiescent Europe.

The front of the Spanish civil war rends every nation in twain. Class struggle becomes visible to the blindest eye – the international class front breaks through all national boundaries.

Lagging sadly behind their class enemies, the workers only begin to recognise the new position. Only yesterday, in the Western Democracies a united people stood ready to defend its country, its Liberty, its democratic institutions against the onslaught of Fascism. Today, a bewildered working-class finds the enemy within its own gates.

This enemy has already paralyzed the League of Nations, that instrument of collective security under whose banners the international working class hoped to defend Democracy and Peace against Fascist barbarism.

Thus confusion has been created in the ranks of the Democracies. The aggressive Dictatorships are advancing from position to position without encountering any serious resistance.

The menace of war is increasing. Peace cannot be assured by concessions to the Dictatorships, by making them sign new “scraps of paper.”

To the Fascist States war is an ideal. There the citizen counts for nothing The word of the dictators can never be trusted.

To the Democracies war is an abomination. The free citizen wishes to pursue his work in peace and liberty.

This ideological gulf cannot be bridged. Peace can be assured, Liberty upheld only by bringing about the early collapse of Fascism.

The struggle between the two ideological camps is in full swing. It need not take the form of war.

Where the democratic States, led by wavering capitalist governments, have failed, the international Labour Movement must succeed!

It is faced with the tremendous problem of arousing the peoples, enlightening them as to the grave dangers ahead, enforcing their will on the democratic governments and of enfusing the League of Peace-loving Nations with new life and vigour, thus erecting an impassable barrier against the onslaught of Fascism and War.

This is the real message of May Day 1938, to the peoples of Europe.