Max Shachtman

In This Corner

(23 May 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 35, 23 May 1939, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The question of the war danger dominates all the other problems of the labor movement. Any working class organization, any working class leader, that fails to pass the test of war, isn’t worth a cent. Big talk, even militant talk, and the most solemn resolutions, have none but a deceptive meaning unless they are translated into the daily practise of a consistent fight against imperialist war and the war-mongers.

Next to revolution itself, war is the greatest and most difficult test to pass. Even before it breaks out, the whole weight of organized bourgeois pressure is brought to bear upon all the varieties of war opponents. Cajolery and threats – the latter to an increasing extent – are employed to shatter the resistance of the masses, to deprive them of articulate spokesmen. The chauvinist lash is swung to whip the masses and their leaders into line, and for those who remain unyielding in their opposition, there is the mailed fist of brutal and unconcealed persecution.

How It’s Done

The varieties of pressure used to convert opponents of war into active or passive patriots, are infinite in number. One is tipped off that opposition to war means the suppression of the organization which he and his comrades spent so many hard years to build up. Another is made to feel the increasing frigidity of “social” ostracism, and there are, alas, marry “labor leaders” who wince at the thought of being snubbed by “respectable society.”

Still another is assured that he would be surprised to learn how friendly the government and the army are to his radical views, but that they simply find themselves forced to take military measures because a “critical national emergency” has supervened. Some are simply bribed; others are blackmailed or browbeaten. At the crucial moment, their opposition collapses and then begins a series of the most pathetic explanations for the turn-about-face.

A case in point is the political degeneration of the Independent Labour Party of England on the eve of the war. The party leadership has been talking loudly for some time against the war and war preparations. At the same time, in contrast to our “sectarianism,” the party has continued to tolerate not only in its ranks but in the leadership a collection of parliamentary politicians who have demonstrated over and over again that they have nothing in common with revolutionary politics and that they would never stand up in time of crisis

The test – a preliminary but quite decisive test – of this leadership and this policy was made last September. Chamberlain came flying back from Germany with the results of his “appeasement” policy, triumphantly offering England that imperialist “peace” which is at once mere interlude between two wars and part of the preparations for the one that is to come.

“Solving” a Serious Problem

Now the real leader of the I.L.P. in England is James Maxton, member of the House of Commons. This “representative” of the revolutionary working class rose in Parliament to express his solidarity with the Prime Minister of British irr perialism! He did not, as Karl Liebknecht would have done, use the national tribune for the purpose of unmasking the whole dirty imperialist gang anc’ above all, its spokesman, Chamberlain. On the contrary, he used it to summon the working class to get behind Chamberlain.

The scandal was too outrageous to remain without repercussions in the I.L.P. National Secretary Fenner Brockway, aware of the truly anti-war and anti-imperialist spirit of the membership, solved the problem very simply. He issued a personal statement politely dissociating himself from the position taken by Maxton. That’s all! No use creating bad blood between comrades, you see, and above all, no sense in offending your parliamentary leaders.

But the rottenness revealed by the Maxton speech could not so easily be passed over, and the whole affair came up for review at the recent national convention of the party. And it was there that the complete hopelessness and worthlessness of the I.L.P. was crudely revealed.

The party leadership, in its report, coolly endorses Maxton’s speech and there is a motion to congratulate him! The radical rank-and-filers, a minority, quite correctly and consistently demand Maxton’s expulsion. A third point of view proposes a repudiation of Maxton. A fourth motion timidly proposes to refer back that part of the leadership’s report which endorses Maxton, that is, tacitly, a “rebuke.”

All motions are defeated! The reference back is voted down by 65 to 43, the motions to repudiate to congratulate, to expel, are voted down in turn. In a word, things remain exactly as they were.

Principles Don’t Matter

How can such a thing happen? Are the members, or even the delegates, for Maxton’s position? Obviously not, as is indicated by their refusal to congratulate Maxton on his speech. But why then did they not at least condemn him for it, if not expel him? Because they are poisoned by the policy of Lovestone’s darling, Fenner Brockway.

The Maxtons and McGoverns have merely to hint that a critical resolution will mean their departure from the party, and Brockway capitulates! The Leader must not be offended. Principles? The struggle against war? That’s all right for holiday occasions, for ceremonial rites, but not for everyday struggle. Those are phrases with which you feed the ranks, but not rules that are imposed upon the “leaders.”

To make Maxton toe the line, even the thin, trembling line of the I.L.P. – that would be “Trotskyist sectarianism.”

It should not be hard to judge, from Maxton’s speech in September and from the way the I.L.P. convention dealt with it, how serious a force against imperialist war the centrist I.L.P. will be when the war has actually broken out.

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