T. H. Wintringham

The War and the Social Democrats

Source: Labour Monthly, May 1932, Vol. XIV, No. 5, pp. 290-296
Transcription/HTML 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.

“WHEREAS the League of Nations has for its object the establishment of Universal Peace, and such a peace can be established only if based upon social justice . . .” Those are the first words of Part Thirteen of the Treaty of Versailles. The superstitious may think the phrasing was unlucky. Certainly it is a rash beginning. For, reading those words, everyone who knows why there are wars and social injustice in the world of to-day will expect the sentence to continue: “ . . . the signatories to this Treaty agree that capitalism, exploitation, and imperialism must be ended.” Instead of which the actual clause goes on to establish the International Labour Office!

This clause, from the brutal and despicable Treaty that gave legal sanction to the starvation, the vastly increased exploitation, the cruelties and ruin of post-war Europe, is quoted because it is typical of the policy and propaganda of all those who talk of peace and social justice while opposing the militant struggle of the working class.

This clause establishes an organisation which helps to rationalise capitalism. The International Labour Office helps also to bring the trade unions of the working class into “close co-operation” with (really, service to) those who live by profits sweated out of the working class. In these two ways, and in others, the office established by Part XIII. helps the imperialist war-makers to keep alive a little longer the cracking, unsteady system of their power. And under cover of the League’s “Universal Peace” we have had war after war against the colonial peoples, the Black and Tans, Amritsar, Sholapur, Shanghai, and now stand at the beginning of a new and more terrible world war.

That is the use and outcome of all the “peace” talk, whether put forward by governments or by pacifists, by Labour parties of the present or by those who have used Labour politics as a way to power—for themselves. And this pacifist propaganda holds the workers back from action against war.

The struggle against war is therefore first a struggle against pacifism.

There is a wide and real horror and fear of war, deeply burned into the working class. This the pacifists and Labour parties use and direct towards their own ends. They secured nine-and-half million signatures for their women’s appeal to the Geneva Disarmament Conference.

The Labour and Socialist parties, before 1914, were pledged to a working class struggle against war. They betrayed that struggle when war broke out. To-day they have betrayed the struggle before war has fully begun. They are the advocates and the organisers of war, as well the disorganisers of the workers through peace talk.

In the March A.E.U. Journal, the Editor (Mr. A. H. Smethurst, of the General Council of the T.U.C.) wrote:

Those representing the various governments should not lose sight of the fact that ceasing to manufacture war material . . . must inevitably make more acute the problem of unemployment. . . .

At the close of the Great War hundreds of thousands of men on returning home found there was no work to which they could return. . . .

In the event of partial or total disarmament we venture to suggest no country in the world would be so hard hit, from an unemployment point of view, as our own. . . .

Increased preparations for war mean regular and steady employment for the workpeople (in armament firms) and satisfactory dividends for the employers, and this is the fact that must be faced. . . .

We urge a policy of gradualness in disarmament.

Could the argument that “war meant work” be more openly put? Mr. Smethurst, of course, covers his “gradualness” with “full sympathy” for the “religious bodies” that are asking for disarmament. But the whole article, stripped of this hypocritical verbiage, is an open plea for big armaments—in the interests of “satisfactory dividends,” as well as of work for engineers.

The Labour parties in each capitalist country vote the money for the troops and tanks. The Labour Government built or began many of the cruisers which are at Shanghai; the Labour Government began the re-equipment of the Air Force with machines of high speed and increased range. At Geneva the leader of the Labour Party; as Chairman of the Disarmament Conference, works in the spirit of the Treaty of Versailles to make that Conference a “success” for imperialism.

Mr. Lees-Smith, Minister of Education in the Labour Government, has put up the fullest and frankest defence of Japan’s invasion of Manchuria.

This defence of Japanese imperialism has been echoed by Blum and other French socialists.

Mr. Lansbury has suggested that the Japanese fight the Chinese in some other place than Shanghai—exactly the policy of British Imperialism.

All the Socialist parties support the next war step: the development of the war into an attack on the Soviet Union.

In the Parliament of Bucarest, King Carol’s Prime Minister recently supported a deluge of press lies with a diatribe about alleged “massacres” by the Soviet authorities, of Moldavian (Bessarabian) refugees fleeing across the border to Roumania. The Socialist Miresco followed him—to defend the workers’ republic? Of course not. To back up this corrupt prostitute government, and to state that his party was asking the Labour and Socialist International to protest against these “barbarow acts” of the Soviets.

Under cover of a bland impartiality the French Socialist Rosenfeld, in the last week in March, not only supported but “improved” on the press lies about these non-existent massacres. He was without “precise information,” he said, as to the events in Roumania, but “assassinations are usual on all the Soviet frontiers”! For this he blamed “the inhuman policy of Stalin.” Could any Locker-Lampson, any Bottomley, be more adroit in calumny against the Soviets, or more useful in the preparations for war on the U.S.S.R.?

Towards the end of the recent extraordinary session of the Japanese Parliament, the Socialist Kamei, in the name of the Japanese section of the Labour and Socialist International, renewed his party assurance of respect and loyalty to the Japanese Emperor. Tracing the activity of his party during the past few months, he boasted that “Social-Democracy had combatted Communism with all energy and struggled for the re-establishment of industrial ‘peace.’”

This was the Socialists’ achievement while Japanese armies were conquering Manchuria and burning Chapei!

The struggle against Communism referred to includes a struggle against the growing working class movement of revolt against the war, which is blazing up in Japan.

The Monarchist newspaper, Japan, has claimed without contradiction that “the Social Democratic Party has once and for all gone over to the side of those who defend our rights and interests in Manchuria and Mongolia.”

The general secretary of the Social-Democratic Party of Japan (the Siakai Minsei-To) has said:

The intervention in Manchuria is not of an imperialist nature, because even socialist Japan will have to fight for the necessary raw materials for its industry.

The journal of the Social-Democratic League of Women, Minsui-Fudzin, wrote on December 25, 1931:

Our (Japanese) rights and interests in Manchuria and Mongolia, conquered at the cost of great sacrifice by the proletariat, must of course be given only to the proletariat.

The Japanese Labour Party has nothing to learn in the art of covering up its imperialism with socialist phrases!

And the “Left” wing of the Social-Democrats, the Rono Tai Suto, sent its leader to Manchuria to “examine events.” In Mukden this gentleman, Matsudani, said: “the events in Manchuria do not comprise an ordinary capitalist war but the solution of a national problem.”

Internationally the “Left” Social-Democrats specialise on turning attention to the League of Nations and on other distractions from the issue of how to fight war.

The Independent Labour Party has made it difficult to rouse the working class to a realisation of the need for immediate struggle against war in several ways. One way is by simply ignoring the Manchurian invasion.

This invasion occurred in September, 1931. During October, when the Japanese armies were overrunning the three provinces, the New Leader gave this news one paragraph. An article in the issue of November 6 on the “War Danger on Armistice Day” did not mention the war begun in Manchuria.

Another paragraph in the same issue, however, did refer to this war—as “developments . . . which threaten the peace not only of Asia but of Europe.”

That is a position the I.L.P. has kept up on the Manchurian question all along: it is not a war but “a threat to peace.”

The next sentence in the same paragraph reads: “Japanese troops have invaded Chinese territory and have declined to withdraw at the request of the League of Nations.”

This sentence includes, by implication, two lies: that it was the Japanese army (not the Japanese Government) which was responsible for the war in Manchuria; and that the League of Nations’ request for withdrawal was something more than an impudent pretence.

By a further paragraph, the New Leader helped to confuse the issue still more: “hen we criticise Japanese aggression we are under no illusions about the character of the Chinese Government. It is a brutal dictatorship, which has executed its ‘Left’ opponents by the thousand.”

This implies that the war is primarily one between Japan and the Chinese Government—in fact a war between two oppressors. This is not even formally true: the Chinese and Japanese Governments are not at war.

The Chinese Government is a collection of very ordinary capitalist politicians, with some “war lords.” The statesmen, like other capitalist commodities, are for sale or hire. The cheaper qualities among them can be bought retail or by private treaty. The more refined products can only be bought by a powerful section of the ruling class. In this “The best lie stands in the shadow of the truth,” says a Spanish proverb. The I.L.P. know it.

In the New Leader for March 4 there is an article calling on the workers to stop the war. “There is one effective step we can take—stop any further munitions going to Japan. . . . In 1920 the London dockers refused to handle munitions. . . . It would be futile to call for such action if no response is forthcoming. But it is our duty to carry on such agitation that a response will be forthcoming.”

Is it possible to come to any conclusion except that these words are a “blind,” a cover for the I.L.P.’s real preoccupation: to hold the workers back and distract them from any action against Capitalism and War?

When it is a question of securing working class action against a world war in its first stages, we find an uncertainty about action among the workers. Demonstrations, strikes, refusals to make or load munitions are needed; they do not happen.

Why? Partly because of our own failures in agitation and organisation. But more because of the strength of pacifist propaganda.

Workers think: ”It doesn’t affect me. I’m never going to join up again. Me for munitions in the next war.”

Others think: “We can rely on the League of Nations. Everyone is against war now.”

Others think: “They can’t have a war; nobody will join up.”

When workers use these phrases they are not thinking along the lines of theory. But the theory behind all these reactions is the pacifist thesis: that war is a question of individual choice, not mass action, of “conscience,” not of class struggle.

To support this thesis, Bertrand Russell writes in the April New World, the organ of the “No More War” Movement: “the preservation of peace must depend ultimately upon international agreements entered into by Governments. It is clear also that governments, broadly speaking and in the long run, reflect the sentiments of their peoples.”

It is not necessary to be a Marxist in order to know that this is not true. It is one of fundamentals of Socialism that capitalist governments represent the interests of capitalism, not the “sentiments of their peoples.”

And the “No More War” Movement even goes so far in its efforts to get the workers’ attention fixed on the League of Nations, as to praise they differ in no way from statesmen in other countries, including Britain; methods of purchase are a little more open, that is all.

But the question of who is to rule China is not settled. Therefore the Nanking politicians have to obey (as well as the Chinese capitalists and landlords and war lords) the foreign powers that control China’s biggest cities, own her railways, mines, and most of her factories—the imperialists, Britain, the U.S.A., even Japan.

Certainly the Nanking Government is a brutal dictatorship. But the Japanese are not fighting this dictatorship: they are fighting the Chinese people—an oppressed “colonial” people, exploited by every imperialist power strong enough to claim a share. The Nanking Government under a pretence of struggle is helping even the Japanese, ordering the Chinese troops to surrender at Shanghai, concentrating on the war against the Soviet provinces of China. This the I.L.P. obscures.

Later the I.L.P. began to show anxiety lest the League of Nations should “fail” Mr. Brailsford wrote on November 13: “If the League cannot, with American assistance, protect a weak member from such treatment (invasion), it has no longer a title to our loyalty. . . . The League might call on its members to withdraw their diplomatic representatives from Tokyo. That would prove the solidarity of civilisation.” The League of Nations, which Mr. Brailsford here pictures as an organisation desiring to prevent aggression, but unable to do so, is a grouping of capitalist governments. It is made up, in particular, of the government of Mr. MacDonald, representing the bankers of the City, Messrs. Vickers, Baldwins Ltd., Imperial Chemical Industries, the shipowners whose profits in Chinese waters have ranged up to 100 per cent. annually, and the government of M. Tardieu (in November, 1931, M. Laval) which represents French finance-capital. (At times when French policy has clashed with British capitalism’s interests, Mr. Brailsford has explained with unrivalled authority the control of the Comité des Forges over the predecessors of Tardieu and Laval.)

These two governments dominate the League. “The solidarity of civilisation” which Mr. Brailsford invokes, is the solidarity of these governments with those of Mussolini and Wall Street—the solidarity of capitalist imperialism.

Mr. Brailsford’s picture of the League that may “fail” is a grotesque untruth, covering up the real support given to Japan by the British and French governments, and their real (though limited) clash with Japanese aims due to the desire of these great Powers and of America to prevent one of their fraternity getting an unfair advantage in the scramble for Chinese profits.

The I.L.P. Annual Conference did not find time to discuss even “the war danger,” much less the actual war that has begun.

the Treaty of Versailles! Mr. W. Ayles, an official of this Movement, writes in the February New World: “The Treaty of Versailles is a strange document. Wicked it undoubtedly is—parts; but brimful of idealism in others.”

We have ignored this movement too long. It is powerful; its influence over the workers is holding up the struggle against war.

If an open representative of the MacDonald government came to a trade union branch or co-operative guild he would—in most cases—not get a hearing. But speakers of the League of Nations Union and “No More War” Movement are heard. And their message is one of trust and support in the war-makers’ government—in its League guise. We must take the offensive against this pacifist propaganda wherever it has a grip on the minds of the workers.