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Militant Labour League—‘Peace Alliance’: The Road to War—1938

Starkey Jackson

‘Peace Alliance’: The Road To War

Scanned, prepared and annotated for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

A pamphlet published by the Militant Labour League, 52 Alexandra Road, London NW8. It is undated, but internal evidence indicates that it was published in the summer of 1938. The MLL was set up in November 1937 by the Militant Group, a Trotskyist organisation, as a broad group working within the Labour Party. It was banned by the Labour Party leadership in 1940, and its members were thus barred from party membership.

Starkey Jackson entered left-wing politics whilst a teenager, was victimised for his activities during the General Strike in 1926, and subsequently left the Labour Party League of Youth for the Young Communist League, from which he was expelled for opposing the ultra-leftism of the Third Period. He became very active in the Trotskyist movement from the mid-1930s, and was a member of the leadership of the Militant Group and subsequently the Revolutionary Socialist League, the British Section of the Fourth International. He was killed when the troopship on which he was travelling was sunk by a U-boat in February 1943.

This pamphlet gives a clear portrayal of the politics of one wing of the Trotskyist movement in Britain during the run-up to the Second World War. One peculiarity of the RSL was its opposition to the Proletarian Military Policy, which was promoted in Britain by the Workers International League, and an indication of that is shown by the demand to oppose the government’s Air Raid Precautions, which led the group to oppose the building of air-raid shelters.


I: Introduction

On 11 March, Hitler’s legions crossed the Austrian frontier. For forty-eight hours the peace of the world hung in the balance. The following week, Mr Sydney Elliot, the Editor of Reynolds News ,[1] published an article in that paper advocating the formation of an alliance of working-class and capitalist parties which were opposed to the National Government. Such an alliance, he claimed, could overthrow the Chamberlain Government[2] and return to power a parliamentary majority pledged to the maintenance of peace and to social advance.

The proposal found immediate echoes throughout the working-class movement. The Communist Party recognised the ‘Peace Alliance’ as the peculiar British brand of their Popular Front policy; the Cooperative Party[3] and the Shop Assistants Union at their Easter Conferences endorsed the proposal; the Distributive Workers followed a few weeks later.

In opposition to the proposals we find ranged together the National Executive of the Labour Party, the Labour Women’s Conference, the Cooperative Union[4] conference, the Railway Clerks and several other unions, together with the Independent Labour Party[5] and other small left-wing groups. The rejection of the Peace Alliance plan by the National Executive of the Labour Party and by the Congress of the Cooperative Union has had the effect of causing a temporary abatement of the campaign in Labour circles. It is, however, quite certain that we have not heard the last of the proposals, and although the immediate issue of the Peace Alliance may be dropped by its Cooperative sponsors, the ideas underlying it will undoubtedly be brought forward again in this or other forms. The decisions of these two important Labour bodies do not therefore release us from the duty of studying the ideas on which Mr Elliot’s proposals were based.

It is, moreover, clear from the bare facts given above, that the Labour Movement is deeply divided on the issue. Its importance cannot be overestimated. The acceptance or rejection of the ideas of the Peace Alliance can decide not only the question of peace and war, but the fate of the working-class and Socialist movement for many years to come. It is necessary for the workers in the Labour Movement to understand fully the consequences of their actions, for history will compel them to follow those consequences to their logical conclusion, be it bitter or sweet.


II: The Claims of the ‘Peace Alliance’

The advocates of the Peace Alliance claim that the present situation, nationally and internationally, demands a revision of our tactics. The peace of the world, they state, is menaced by the aggressive acts of a few states with a fascist form of government. Of these states, Italy has committed an act of wanton aggression against Abyssinia, Germany has destroyed the independence of Austria and menaces that of Czechoslovakia, while Japan is carving out an empire from the heart of the Chinese Republic; Germany and Italy unite to assist the Spanish fascists to overthrow the democratically-elected government and establish a dictatorial regime.

The Western democracies, on the other hand, have pursued a cowardly policy of surrender to the demands of the fascist powers. Consequently, the latter become ever bolder and will soon menace the existence of the great democracies themselves.

It is necessary, Mr Elliot tells us, for the democratic powers and the USSR to come together in a firm alliance which will cry halt to the aggressors and, by its overwhelming power, compel them to cease their campaign against peace.

But in the way of this plan stands the British Government of Chamberlain. So far from attempting to consolidate the democracies, say the Peace Alliance advocates, he is assisting the fascist powers in their plots. To achieve peace, it is therefore necessary to throw out the National Government, and to replace it by a government pledged to the defence of democracy. Up to this point the advocates of the Peace Alliance and the leaders of the Labour Party find little over which to quarrel; but here they part company. This aim—the overthrow of the Chamberlain Government—says Mr Elliot cannot be achieved by Labour standing alone. It is necessary for the Labour Party to form an alliance with the Liberals, such ‘progressive’ Conservatives as can be induced to come in, the Communist Party, the ILP, and all ‘lovers of peace’. Such an alliance, he claims, can defeat Chamberlain and unite the majority of the British people behind a policy of peace and the defence of democracy. He goes on to tell us that such a policy in no way implies the abandonment of socialism, but is intended to preserve the democratic institutions which make the achievement of socialism possible.

Let us examine these claims in detail.


III: The Nature of the Peace Alliance

In order to assess the claims of the Peace Alliance advocates at their true value, we must not only examine the potency of the medicine they propose to use, but also the causes of the ills they propose to cure.

It must be emphasised strongly that there is nothing new in the Peace Alliance except the name. The policy advocated by Mr Elliot. and the Communist Party has been known for years in the Labour Movement under various aliases—Lib-Lab coalitions, industrial peace, Mond–Turnerism.[6] It can be summed up with the generic term of class collaboration. It means that the workers agree to cooperate with, instead of fight against, sections of the capitalist class, and in return hope to get certain immediate benefits.

The policy of such an alliance is always pro-capitalist. This is inherent in its very nature. Under no circumstances would a capitalist party agree to work for a socialist programme, for to do so would be to sign its own death warrant. A Popular Front programme must aim at the strengthening and maintenance of the capitalist system, otherwise the capitalist parties will not come in. The working-class parties which adhere to such a programme are compelled in practice to give up all struggle against capitalism, otherwise the capitalist parties will not stay in.

The Price of Class Collaboration: In all forms of class collaboration, the dominating role is played by the capitalist section. This is inevitably the case, for the very purpose of any class collaboration is to maintain and defend the existence of the capitalist system. The Popular Front is no exception to the rule. In order to retain their capitalist ‘allies’, the working-class parties are compelled to make continual concessions; not only do they give up their own programme and line up behind a capitalist one, but they are also compelled willy-nilly to discourage and suppress any working-class activity which might antagonise the capitalist elements of the alliance. There is no limit to the concessions which the capitalist parties demand as the price of their allegiance to the cause of ‘democracy and peace’. The capitalist tail, in truth, wags the Popular Front dog. The price, therefore, of the Popular Front is the abandonment of the struggle against capitalism. One cannot at the same time fight against capitalism and be allied to its chief representatives.

The advocates of the Popular Front claim that the present serious position justifies making these concessions to the capitalist class, in order that the present menaces to peace and democracy may be warded off. Let us see whether an alliance of capitalist and workers’ parties can secure the results claimed for it.


IV: Can the Peace Alliance Prevent War?

The chief and most seductive claim of the Peace Alliance advocates is that it can prevent war. The method it proposes to use is the creation of a bloc of democratic states whose overwhelming might will force the fascist ‘aggressors’ to hold their hand. Is fascism the cause of war? If so, it is difficult to explain why great wars were fought long before fascism was dreamed of. Socialists have taught for generations that war is inherent in and inseparable from the capitalist system of society. The rise of fascism has not altered this fact as a brief analysis will show.

The root cause of the present crisis is the urgent need of every capitalist nation to expand. The surpluses or profits obtained from the labour of the working people can only be reinvested in the home country up to a limited point. For the past seventy years or more, the major industrial countries of the world have been compelled increasingly to find spheres of investment, sources of raw materials, and markets for their goods outside their own countries. This iron necessity for capitalism led to the division of the world among the great imperialist powers.

Up to the beginning of this century, this division was comparatively peaceful, that is to say, it involved only small wars against the inhabitants of the colonial countries, and not wars among the great powers. There was still profitable territory on the surface of the earth which could be taken by one or other of the imperialist powers without directly injuring another. Britain and France, because of their earlier national development, were the first in the field and divided the fairest and most profitable regions between them, Britain getting the lion’s share.


Epoch of Imperialist War:

But this process of expansion has obvious and defined limits. By the beginning of the century, the world had been parcelled out between the various powers either in the form of colonies, protectorates, semi-colonial countries, or ‘spheres of influence’. Further expansion of any one power could only take place at the expense of another. But the very mechanics of capitalism demanded that expansion should continue if the system was to survive. This meant that the era of peaceful imperialist division of the world was at an end. Further expansion of one power could only take place at the expense of another, and since no imperialist power will willingly yield one inch of its territory, the question could only be settled by war.

The Great War of 1914-18 was precisely this type of conflict. Germany, late in consolidating herself as a nation and developing capitalist industry, found that the best parts of the world had already been snaffled by Britain and France. The war was fought for a new division of the spoils. Germany lost, but she did not lose the necessity of expanding which is rooted in the very nature of capitalism.

It will be seen from this brief analysis that war is not the result of evilly disposed persons, nor yet of armament manufacturers, but is the logical and inevitable continuation of imperialist policies. ‘Aggression’ does not commence with the ‘firing of the first shot’, but is inherent in capitalism, whether at ‘peace’ or at war. Inter-imperialist rivalries always exist. They are carried on in peace-time by commercial and economic wars, by tariffs, price-cutting, quotas, etc. When such means are no longer able to meet the needs of imperialism, open war is resorted to. It does not matter two hoots ‘who fired the first shot’, for the aggression is mutual and is rooted in the relations of one imperialist nation to another.


Who Are the ‘Aggressors’?

It is obvious, moreover, that the states with the large resources, that is, those which have accumulated the lion’s share of the plunder, are in a strong position to manoeuvre their less fortunate rivals into making the first openly ‘aggressive’ act.

This is precisely the position today. Britain and France emerged from the Great War with great increases in territory and new fields for exploitation. Germany, defeated and stripped of her colonies, is compelled by the very mechanics of capitalism to make the running, to demand the re-division of the imperialist loot, to appear as the only ‘aggressor’. Britain and France, on the other hand, anxious to preserve the booty they conquered during the war, appear as guardians of the status quo, of things as they are, as ‘peace-loving nations’ as opposed to the fascist warmongers. They thus endeavour to surround their imperialist possessions with all kinds of moral sanctions. Such a weapon in their hands is, for instance, the League of Nations, which exists to enable the victor powers of the Great War to maintain the provisions of the robber Treaty of Versailles and the tremendous plunder it divided between them.

It is obvious from our analysis that the antagonisms between the various imperialist powers in the world are not of an ideological character, that it is not a question of a struggle between democracy or fascism. The struggle is an inter-imperialist one for the re-division of the colonies. Nor is this struggle the result of specific ‘aggression’ from the side of the fascist powers alone, but has been prepared by a long series of aggressive acts on both sides since the guns stopped firing in November 1918. The fascist powers are ‘aggressive’, but so are the ‘democratic’ ones; the very nature of an imperialist state compels it to be aggressive, otherwise it could not survive.

It will be seen from this that the attempt to divide the world into ‘peace-loving’, democratic powers and warmongering, fascist powers, conceals the true nature of the conflict, which is one between rival imperialisms. This deception is the true motive of the Popular Front—and indeed of the Labour Party leadership. Its object is to line up the workers of Britain behind their own capitalist class in wartime.


Colonial Workers Betrayed:

Let us pursue this argument a little further. The fact that the workers enter into a coalition with capitalist parties to ‘defend democracy’ against the attacks of the fascists, implies that they must also be prepared to defend the British Empire. This is the number one concession which the capitalist ‘ally’ demands. It is obviously impossible to defend Britain against Germany or Italy and not defend the British possessions. To encourage the colonial workers to struggle for their independence would be to weaken Britain and, consequently, her power to defeat Germany. The main strength of Britain lies in her vast colonial resources; without them the great re-armament plan would be unthinkable. There is no need to labour this point; it is self-evident. Moreover, the advocates of the Popular Front have made it quite clear in their public declarations that they will also defend the British Empire. The Labour Short-Term Programme, which is supported by the Communist Party and by all the Peace Alliance supporters within the Labour movement, declares that: ‘A Labour Government will unhesitatingly maintain such armed forces as are necessary to defend our country and to fulfil our obligations as a member of the British Commonwealth and of the League of Nations.’[7]

We can ignore the euphemism which terms the immense, autocratically-ruled British Empire a ‘Commonwealth’. The principal fact to remember is that the most dangerous enemies of the British Empire consist not of the German and Italian fascists but the millions of colonial workers and peasants who are sweated and exploited within its borders. The colonial peoples have no illusions about democracy. British democracy is represented to them in the form of bombs and ruthless exploitation. It will be difficult for the African native to distinguish between the compound of British Imperialism and the concentration camp of German Fascism. They cannot be taken in by twaddle of this sort, and they will undoubtedly take advantage of a war situation to struggle for their freedom from British rule.

The Popular Front Government would be compelled to attempt the crushing of their struggles. This is not merely theory, but history. The two Labour Governments which have held office in this country, and were Popular Front Governments in effect, since they relied upon Liberal support, both distinguished themselves by the ruthless means they employed to crush the struggles of the workers and peasants of the colonial countries. The Popular Front Government of France has drowned the struggles of the North African people in blood, has opened concentration camps for the native nationalist and trade union leaders, and has consistently upheld the exploiters of the colonial people. This is not because the French Popular Frontists are any worse than our own, but simply because if you agree to administer capitalism, no matter how ‘progressive’ your intentions may be, you are forced in practice to identify yourself with the aims and desires of the capitalist class.


Real Nature of Imperialist War:

It will be seen then that the sacrifices which the working class is asked to make for the sake of peace are large ones. They involve not only the abandonment of their own struggle for socialism, but also the betrayal of the colonial peoples. Even if we grant that this sacrifice is worthwhile for the sake of peace, which we do not, can it actually achieve its purpose? The answer lies in our analysis of the nature of imperialist war.

We have shown that the conflicts between the great powers are not ideological ones, that it is not a struggle between a democratic form of government and a fascist one, but between national capitalist states seeking to expand at one another’s expense. Neither democracy nor fascism can alter this fundamental need of capitalism. It follows from this that war is an inevitable and logical part of the capitalist system. From the point of view of the relations between imperialist states, it is of no consequence what type of government they may possess; both democratic and fascist forms have the same objective, that is of maintaining and extending the imperialist possessions of the capitalist class. A Popular Front Government administering capitalism would be compelled actively to assist this process, even if it meant war.

‘Peace Alliance’ is War Preparation: War and capitalism are inseparable. From this it follows that the struggle against imperialist war is part and parcel of the general struggle against the capitalist system. The Popular Front by its very nature is quite incapable of conducting such a struggle. On the contrary, in order to retain the support of the capitalist elements in the Front, it must restrain the workers, must hold them back and seek to divert their desire to fight against capitalism into innocuous channels; innocuous for capitalism, that is, but deadly for the workers.

The real object of the Popular Front or Peace Alliance is not to preserve peace, but to make it easier for capitalism to go to war. The only real obstacle to the war plans of imperialism is the organised might of the working class; the Popular Front not only removes this obstacle, but actually seeks to mobilise the workers behind their own capitalist class in time of war. In order to do so, they use the same slogans which were worn threadbare during 1914-18—the ‘defence of democracy’, ‘the protection of small nations’, together with a few new ones equally meaningless, ‘collective security’, and similar twaddle.

With the working-class movement inside the strait-jacket of the Peace Alliance with capitalism, imperialism can proceed with its war plans assured not only that they will receive no opposition, but that on the contrary, they will get the vociferous support of the working-class leaders.

So far from guaranteeing peace, the Popular Front leads directly to war.


V: Can the Peace Alliance Defeat Fascism?

The ushering in of the period of inter-imperialist conflicts for the re-division of the world had important consequences on the relations between the social classes in society. Capitalism had brought into existence an industrial working class which, as time went on, became increasingly conscious of its own exploitation, and increasingly desirous of obtaining a larger share in the increased wealth of the world. There arose from this not only a trade union movement fighting for better wages and hours, but also socialist parties aiming at the complete overthrow of capitalism. So long as imperialism was able to expand, it was in the position to buy off the workers by making concessions to them, not only in the way of better conditions, but also permitting them to play a part in the actual government of the country. Parliamentary democracy was the method by which imperialism diverted the struggle for socialism into a struggle for social reform. While capitalism was expanding the system worked. The workers won a share, although by no means a proportionate one, in the increasing national wealth.

But when imperialism was no longer able to expand, but on the contrary was forced by the fierce inter-imperialist conflict to retrogress, the situation became quite different. So far from being able to grant further substantial or permanent concessions to the workers, it had to begin taking back the concessions already granted. Up to this period, parliamentary democracy had played a useful role. Capitalism had been able to conceal its thieving and predatory nature and to rely upon the Social-Democratic parties to lead the workers behind reform movements within the framework of capitalism. The Social-Democratic reform movement provided capitalism with its social basis. But when capitalism began to attack the concessions which the workers had already won, Social-Democracy began to lose its appeal to the workers. This process was intensified by the fact that the Labour leaders during the years of capitalist ascendancy had identified themselves with the needs of the capitalist system; they no longer talked of the overthrow of capitalism, but of its peaceful and gradual reform.

The Decline of Capitalism: When capitalism got into difficulties, reasoned the Labour leaders, it was necessary for the workers to make sacrifices to enable it to recover, and not to take advantage of the position to overthrow capitalism; then when capitalism recovered, reforms and better conditions could be obtained once again. They thus completely failed to recognise the fundamental difference between the periodical crises which punctuated the upward progress of capitalism, and the decline of capitalism which is taking place before our eyes today. It is true, of course, that this decline is not a steady downhill process, but goes from crisis to crisis with periods of temporary and partial recovery in between. The difference lies in the fact that whereas in ascending capitalism, the crises were growing pains, the one step backward which preceded the huge jump forwards, today each partial recovery is at a lower level than the preceding one, and is achieved with ever-growing difficulty and by the use of the most extraordinary expedients.

But although the Social-Democratic leaders dreamed of a further era of peaceful reforms, the workers found from their bitter experiences that this golden era was a long time coming, and they were compelled to wage, often in the teeth of the opposition of their own leaders, desperate struggles to maintain their standard of life and the democratic liberties they had won. Each industrial and social struggle partook increasingly of the nature of a revolutionary struggle against capitalism itself. This meant not only that the influence of social democracy waned among the workers, but that parliamentary democracy became incapable of bridging the gap between the two main classes in society. The parliamentary arena was deserted for the open battleground of the factory and the street. Parliament was no longer able to maintain a peaceful equilibrium between the two classes. Another method had to be found.

The Role of Fascism: The remedy adopted was as drastic as the disease it was intended to cure. It was necessary for capitalism to find an alternative mass basis to the Social-Democracy which was cracking under the strain of class conflict. This basis it found in fascism. Fascism had its birth among the lower middle-class elements who had been ruined and depressed into the ranks of the proletariat by the increasing monopolistic nature of imperialism. The middle classes, an heterogeneous mass of people with divergent and conflicting social interests, are incapable of pursuing a clear-cut policy of their own as opposed to the other two classes in society. They waver continually between the two, generally supporting the capitalist class.

Fascism evolved a new technique to attract these people; it promised all things to all men; cheap food and work to the workers and unemployed; tariffs and certain markets to the farmers; cheap and plentiful credit to the small industrialist; protection from the cooperatives and the chain stores to the shopkeepers. It conducted a demagogic, anti-capitalist propaganda which often deluded the demoralised elements within the working class who were tired of waiting for the Social-Democratic leaders to fulfil their promises. Many of the points in the fascist programme are mutually exclusive, but they are combined with an intense nationalism, often, although not always, accompanied by anti-Semitism, and a philosophy of action which had an enormous appeal to backward sections of the people. The lethargy and apparent helplessness of parliament and of the socialist parties wedded to parliamentary democracy, made a bad contrast with the bold words and exuberant promises of the fascists.

The actual methods which fascism adopts differ from country to country, but although its form may alter, its content remains the same. The task of fascism is to preserve the capitalist system in decline, that is, at a much lower standard than hitherto. It can only carry out this task by destroying the means whereby the workers defend their standards and attack the capitalist system, that is the mass trade unions, the cooperatives and the political parties of the working class. After having performed this task, the destruction of the outward forms of parliamentary democracy is quite secondary, and is only carried out to prevent the illegal workers’ organisations from utilising them in any way.

How Fascism Came in Germany: It was not accidental that fascism came first in Italy and Germany. Both countries were left impoverished by the strain of the war. In Germany, the war and the inflation of the mark ruined thousands of small investors; her lack of colonies made it impossible for her to expand; reparations represented an immense overhead charge upon industry which would have come to a standstill had it not been for foreign loans. The first breath of the world economic crisis caused these to be withdrawn. German economy practically collapsed. The class struggle became so intense that parliamentary democracy simply ceased to function. For three years before Hitler took power, the German government ruled by decrees and not by parliamentary majorities. Fascism did not destroy parliamentary government; it had already ceased to function.

The war and the revolution of 1918 had left the power in the hands of the Social-Democrats. Instead of using it to achieve socialism, they preferred to join hands with the capitalist class and the militarists, crush the workers and erect a democratic republic. They thus paved the way for the rise of fascism.

The position in 1933 simply amounted to the fact that capitalism was unable to satisfy the ordinary human wants of the vast majority of the German people. The issue was not whether there should be a democratic or a fascist form of government, but whether capitalism should be allowed to continue at all. But the Social-Democratic leaders, wedded to the democracy of their own creation, were incapable of leading the masses in an onslaught against capitalism, which alone could have rallied them to defeat fascism. Instead they appealed to the capitalist ‘democratic’ state to save them from Hitler. But the democratic state was not even in the position to save itself. The German Communist Party, by its insane ultra-left policy, was unable to provide an alternative leadership.

The Failure of ‘Democracy’: The result was almost a foregone conclusion. Nurtured and prepared within capitalist democracy, the Fascists took power without any real opposition. Capitalist democracy was unable to satisfy the wants of the mass of the people, it had proved itself completely impotent in face of the crisis. No one was ready to fight in its defence, and the parties which made the defence of democracy the central point of their programme found that the masses were not interested. What they wanted was a struggle for bread and butter, that is, a struggle against capitalism. But the ‘democratic’ parties, fearful of losing the support of the capitalist elements which they valued far more than that of the working people, were incapable of leading such a struggle. The more backward sections of the workers turned to fascism, the more advanced fell back into despair and disillusionment.

We have dealt at some length with the German experience because it demonstrates with crystal clarity the utter falsity of the claim that the fight against fascism can be successfully conducted behind the slogan of the ‘defence of democracy’. Fascism is not simply a gathering of bad elements, but a movement arising out of the period of declining capitalism. Its purpose is to preserve capitalism against the assaults of the workers. Fascism arises when parliamentary democracy is no longer able to fulfil its task of diverting the workers’ struggle into channels of peaceful social reform, that is, when capitalist democracy is obsolete. Fascism and democracy are not opposites, but are complementary to one another. The aim of both systems is to maintain capitalism. Fascism arises when democracy can no longer do the job.

The issue before the world today is not ‘democracy or fascism’, but socialism or capitalism. To struggle for democracy means, in effect, to struggle for capitalism. It means, moreover, that since capitalism is unable to satisfy the wants of the mass of the people, the working-class parties fighting for democracy are compelled to attack the standards of the workers in order to preserve the existence of democracy. They thus assist the fascists by enabling them to point out that democracy means sacrifices on the part of the working people. If the working-class parties identify themselves with capitalist democracy, the discontented workers and middle-class elements will have to look elsewhere for their leadership. In the absence of a revolutionary party fighting for socialism, the more backward elements will turn to fascism as they did in Germany.[8]


Popular Front Aids Fascism:

This is the great danger inherent in the Peace Alliance, or indeed in any movement which identifies the struggle against fascism with the defence of democracy. To promise the middle classes, as the Popular Front does, a series of reforms, without at the same time struggling against capitalism, will lead inevitably to defeat and disillusionment. Capitalism in its decline is unable to grant any lasting or real concessions. It may give way temporarily, as it did in France in order to avoid worse things, but as soon as the immediate danger is over, it finds methods to take back what it has been forced to give. Note that the concessions won in France were obtained by direct class struggle, by the mass stay-in strikes, and not by the Popular Front Government which only legalised what the workers had already won. Moreover, since these gains, the government has actively assisted French capitalism to take them back, by means of inflation of the franc and by the partial destruction of the forty-hour week.

Fascism has not yet come in Britain because of the tremendous resources of our capitalist class. Because of their colossal colonial investments, the British capitalists can still afford the luxury of democracy, but even here it has been curtailed. It is important to note that capitalism does not resort to fascism until it has exhausted all other methods. Fascism is a costly and dangerous way out. In the last analysis, democracy in Britain depends upon the retention of the British Empire. If this cracks, the whole basis of capitalist democracy in this country will be destroyed. Those who wish to fight for democracy will also have to fight against the break-up of the British Empire, that is, they will have to help the crushing of the struggles of the colonial peoples.


French and Spanish Experiences:

The Popular Front in both France and Spain has shown itself quite incapable even of carrying out its own programme with regard to the suppression of fascism. The first French Popular Front Government made the Fascist Croix de Feu illegal. It promptly reappeared as the Social Party and cocked a snook at the government. The famous ‘hooded men’ conspiracy proved too strong a test for the Popular Front. Today most of the arrested ‘hooded men’ have been released from prison and are free to resume their anti-working-class activity. In Spain the position was even worse. The Popular Front Government did not even pretend to suppress the fascist organisations. The fascist generals were not dismissed from the army, but, on the contrary, were given posts of great strategical importance. Franco, for instance, was sent to Morocco and thus provided the Popular Front with a secure base[9] from which to launch his attack on the Spanish workers and peasants.

The fact that the Popular Front makes no real attempt to suppress the fascist organisations is not surprising once one understands the capitalist nature of a Popular Front. The capitalist elements may be prepared temporarily to cooperate with the workers, but they are conscious of the fact that they may yet need the assistance of Fascism against the demands of the working class. They are not going to suppress what may be their last means of defence. But even if they really wanted to suppress the fascists, they would be unable to do so, for fascism is not accidental but an urgent necessity of capitalism. So long as capitalism remains, we shall be faced with the menace of fascism; suppressed in one form, it will arise in another.

To defeat fascism it is necessary to attack the system which gives it birth. This is precisely what the Popular Front is unable to do. So far from doing this, it must hold the workers back from struggle, it must defend capitalistic democracy, and thus open the door to fascism. The Italian and German experiences have provided tragic but abundant proofs of this assertion. Heedless of the warnings of history, the Socialist and Communist Party leaders today pursue the same fatal course in Spain, in France and in every industrial country of the world.


VI: The Popular Front and the Present Crisis

We have dealt at some length with the theoretical aspect of this question. It is now necessary to apply this to the concrete situation which exists in the world today. Germany and Italy are ‘revisionist’ powers, that is to say, they want the provisions of the Versailles Treaty altered in their favour, so that they can acquire markets and spheres of investment. The Western powers, Britain and France, the main beneficiaries of the Peace Treaties, want to keep things as they are and are certainly not prepared to sacrifice any of their territory. It would seem that there is a deadlock between these forces. But in actual fact there is a third way and Britain has eagerly seized upon it. The main danger comes from Germany; Italy after all is only a second-rate power. Germany wants colonies; Britain and France have them but won’t give them up. The obvious solution is for Germany to be satisfied at someone else’s expense. This is precisely the solution which the National Government (Eden[10] as well as Chamberlain) has adopted. The central point of British foreign policy is the creation of a four-power pact between Britain, France, Germany and Italy, by which Germany’s attention would be diverted from the British and French colonial empires to the rich plains and mines of the Soviet Ukraine. Italy would probably be given small concessions in Africa and Asia Minor.

Drive For the Four-Power Pact: There are obvious difficulties in the way of this plan. An important one is the existence of the Franco-Soviet pact which arose out of the almost hysterical fear of the French capitalists at a revival of Germany. It must be remembered in this connection that this pact was signed not by the Popular Front, but by the reactionary Laval Government.[11] It will be a difficult job to convince France that she would be safe from German attack, but a British guarantee will probably be given. In addition, the agreement between this country and Italy has had the effect of isolating France and will probably induce her to come in. Italy was easy meat. The German occupation of Austria badly frightened Mussolini, and induced him to come to terms with Britain. When Germany rattled the sword at Czechoslovakia, she met with unexpected resistance from the Western powers and obtained no support at all from her partner in the Axis. Chamberlain had played his hand well and succeeded in isolating Germany, which will probably be forced to come into the Four-Power Pact on the British terms.

The essential point to be noticed about the trend of British and French foreign policy is that neither power cares two hoots about the ‘defence of democracy against fascism’. What both are concerned with is the defence of their colonies against the attacks of all comers. This fact is underlined by the attitude of Britain and France towards the Spanish Civil War. In the onslaught against Chamberlain, it is often overlooked that the infamous policy of non-intervention was actually initiated by the French Popular Government, headed by Léon Blum,[12] the socialist leader, and supported for the first vital months by the Soviet Government. This policy, which seems so inexplicable to those who take seriously the claims of the Popular Frontists, is, in actual fact, quite in keeping with its nature and tasks.

The Genesis of the Popular Front: The birth of the Popular Front took place not in Paris but in Moscow. The Soviet Republic, so long as Lenin was alive and his policy followed, relied for its defence mainly on the revolutionary action of the workers in the imperialist countries. While Lenin was not opposed to using the antagonisms of the imperialist nations in order to safeguard the Soviet Republic, he resolutely opposed all attempts to line up the workers in those countries behind their own capitalist class simply because that imperialist nation had concluded a temporary military alliance with the Soviets. This attitude of Lenin was neither accidental nor face-saving. It was based on the knowledge that an imperialist state will only conclude an alliance with the Soviet Republic in its own temporary interests; that it is quite prepared at any moment, if its interests so demand, to betray the agreement and attack the workers’ state. It is, therefore, necessary at all times to maintain the revolutionary opposition of the workers to their own capitalist class, not only in peacetime, but particularly in wartime.

No imperialist state has any interest in maintaining the Soviet Union in existence. On the contrary, so long as the Soviet Union lives, it provides a constant threat to the very basis of imperialism. Only the working class, struggling against capitalism, provides a constant and real defence for the Soviet Union, hence any attempt to damp down that struggle in the interests of a temporary and uncertain military alliance of a capitalist nation with the Soviet Union is, in effect, weakening the only real defence of the USSR.

But during the anxious years of the Civil War and the wars of intervention in Russia, there grew up inside the Bolshevik party and within the apparatus of the Soviet state a bureaucracy which tended increasingly to raise itself above the masses and govern the country in its own interests. The devastation of the Civil War combined with Russia’s industrial backwardness, the isolation caused by the defeats of the workers’ revolutions in the West, caused weariness and disillusionment to grow among the more backward elements of the working class. The bureaucracy, headed by Joseph Stalin, found the social base it needed among these elements and among the peasants. It did not show its hand openly until after the death of Lenin, when Stalin for the first time enunciated the now famous theory of the possibility of ‘building socialism in a single country’. This theory meant in practice that the building of socialism in the USSR was something separate and distinct from the class struggle in the rest of the world. Everything must be subordinated to the defence of the Soviet Union while it was constructing socialism.

The Role of the Soviet Bureaucracy: The governing bureaucracy had, however, lost all faith in the ability of the workers in the outside world to defend the USSR against imperialist aggression. Instead it turns to the imperialist powers and seeks military alliances. The price it offers to the imperialists is the cessation and strangling of the class struggle. This is the genesis of the Popular Front, the means whereby the struggle of the workers against capitalism is changed into its opposite, the struggle for its defence; this is the explanation of the non-intervention policy and the open and the later concealed support of the Soviet Union for this policy.

The various Communist Parties of the world have been transformed from revolutionary instruments into the chief propaganda machines for alliances between the workers and their capitalist enemies. They use their revolutionary traditions and prestige to stifle the class struggle and bind the workers of the allies and prospective allies of the Soviet Union to the war machines of their capitalist class. French Imperialism feared the creation of a fascist military state in Spain, but far more it feared the emergence of a Spanish Workers’ Republic. Hence ‘non-intervention’, which is in reality aid for Spanish Fascism. The Soviet Union and the Communist International strove with might and main to crush the real revolutionary elements in Spain in order to convince French and British Imperialism that there was no danger of socialism arising in the peninsula.

The Defence of the Soviet Union: The results of this disastrous policy can be seen today. The Soviet Union is virtually isolated in a world of potential enemies. The Franco-Soviet Pact is being undermined by the drive for a Four-Power Pact; the Spanish Republic, deserted by its fellow democracies and by the USSR, is on the verge of destruction. Faced with the terrible but inevitable results of its policy of class collaboration and counter-revolution, the Communist International becomes ever more desperate in its attempts to win the support of imperialism. But in vain, for the more the policies of the Third International disorient and paralyse the working-class movement, the less need the capitalists have of the Soviet Union, and today they begin to combine as they have never combined before to wipe it off the face of the earth.

The workers must defend the Soviet Union, but they must not subcontract the job to imperialism. On the contrary, they must recognise that the main enemy of the USSR is the capitalist class, be it democratic or fascist, that if they wish to defend the Soviet Union from attack, they must fight and weaken their own capitalist class. This is precisely what the Popular Front cannot do; on the contrary, it must prevent the workers from fighting capitalism and must endeavour to strengthen it, that is, must strengthen the enemies of the Soviet Union.


VII: The Immediate Tasks of the Working Class

The present situation in the world does not permit us to content ourselves with sterile opposition and criticism. Many workers in the Labour movement are supporting the Peace Alliance because to them it represents action in place of the incredible passivity of the Labour Party leadership. The revolutionary left must give the workers an alternative policy.

The fight against the Popular Front and against the class collaborationist policies of the Communist International in no way means a line-up with the right-wing leaders of the Labour Party. The policy of Transport House[13] differs in no vital respect from that of the Peace Alliance. Attlee and Bevin[14] also wish to line up the workers behind British Imperialism, also wish to lead them to war in the name of the ‘defence of democracy’. Both the Labour leaders and the Communist Party leaders are prepared to sacrifice the class struggle for socialism to this end. Their differences are not in their policies but in their tactics, and they arise from the varying interests which they represent. The Labour leaders are completely subservient to the interests of British Imperialism, whatever those interests may be; the Communist Party is subservient to the day-to-day needs of the Soviet bureaucracy. Attlee & Co are quite prepared to come to terms with Hitler if British Imperialism so desires. They have made this fact quite clear in their speeches and in the Daily Herald .[15] Moreover, they have no wish to embarrass British Imperialism, or injure its arms plan, by rousing a mass movement even behind the spurious slogans of the Popular Front.


Transport House and the Peace Alliance:

The Popular Frontists certainly have no intention of doing this but, unfortunately for them, although they may not take their own programme seriously, the workers do. This was proved by the experience of the great strikes in France after the election of the Popular Front Government. The leaders of the Front, including the ‘Communists’, had to rush round trying to make the workers give up their struggle and rely upon the government. They succeeded only after much difficulty. The present dangerous situation of British capitalism does not permit the Labour leaders to take this risk. This is the basis of the opposition of the principal Labour leaders to the Popular Front; they do not say that the Popular Front programme is unrealistic and treacherous, for it is their programme, too; they are not opposed to class collaboration for they are practising it every day, but they are fearful of the risk of rousing the workers and the movement getting out of the hands of the Labour and Communist supporters of British Imperialism. Of course, suspicion of the ‘sincerity’ of the Communist Party also plays a part in the minds of the pundits of Transport House, but this is a minor affair and would easily be overcome, had British Imperialism a real need for the Popular Front.

Our policy must therefore be directed against class collaboration in all its forms, whether open, as in the case of the Popular Front, or partially concealed, as in the case of Transport House. We must develop the class struggle in every sector; we must put the whole force of the Labour movement against the arms programme and war plans of British Imperialism, we must actively assist the struggles of the colonial peoples for complete national independence.


For a Third Labour Government:

The immediate task of the Labour Movement is the overthrow of the National Government. The only practical alternative is a Labour Government. But we must realise and tell the workers that a Labour Government will try to administer and defend the capitalist system. Side by side with our fight for a Labour Government, it is therefore necessary to build up a revolutionary leadership around a programme of class struggle for the overthrow of capitalism. The struggle within the Labour Movement against the treacherous policies of class collaboration, whether pursued by the Labour leaders or by the Popular Frontists, cannot be conducted by individuals standing alone. The revolutionary left must unite in a strong organisation, which will fearlessly and consistently expose false policies and leaders and endeavour to gain the leadership of the working class.

This task cannot be performed in a vacuum, but must be linked up with the immediate struggles of the workers. It is obvious that the main emphasis of the workers’ struggle must be placed on the war danger. The revolutionary left cannot afford to be satisfied with the abstract formula that war is inseparable from capitalism, but must endeavour consciously to direct the struggle of the workers towards the overthrow of capitalism. Nor does this imply that war cannot be postponed. On the contrary, the working-class struggle can force capitalism to hold its hand.


How We Can Stop War:

In 1920, the British workers prevented Lloyd George’s[16] Coalition Government from going to war against Soviet Russia. While the League of Nations stood by and blessed the undertaking, while the ‘Progressives’ and ‘Democrats’ supported the Coalition Government and its war plans, the working-class movement abruptly thrust itself in the way and, by the threat of using its industrial and political power, stopped the war. The workers’ movement by its direct and ‘unconstitutional’ intervention achieved something that the whole pretentious League of Nations, all the mumbo-jumbo of collective security, Kellogg Pacts[17] and the like, has failed to do—it stopped one of the strongest imperialist movements of modern times from going to war.

It was able to achieve this great victory because it acted as a class, because it proclaimed that it had no interest in helping British Imperialism in its war plans. We must recapture the spirit of 1920 and proclaim our irreconcilable hostility to imperialist war. The fight against war then must be a fight against the capitalist system itself, and must be waged not only in the parliamentary arena, not only with mass demonstrations, but primarily on the industrial field. The engineers and other workers on armaments must be mobilised to resist dilution and speed-up; the workers in every branch of industry must advance claims for better conditions. Every blow struck in this way is a blow at the very heart of capitalism and makes it more difficult for it to go to war.

Similarly, the whole strength of the Labour movement must be mobilised against the government’s threats of conscription. The ARP schemes[18] which endeavour to draw the workers into national defence must be fought and exposed. Above all, the Parliamentary Labour Party must be compelled to abandon its attitude of shameful acquiescence in the armament plans of British Imperialism, and the General Council of the TUC must be made to withdraw from its conversations with Chamberlain on the same issue.


Class Struggle in Wartime:

And if, in spite of the struggle of the workers, war comes, we must not abandon that struggle. On the contrary, we must intensify it and work for the defeat of British Imperialism and its overthrow by the workers. The working class has no interest in the victory of British Imperialism, but when we have overthrown it, we will defend the British Workers’ Republic against all comers. Our enemy is at home, and this fact is not altered if Britain goes to war against Nazi Germany. Let Palme Dutt,[19] one of the leaders of the Communist Party, bear witness to this fact:

Must we then let the Nazis ‘walk over us’? demand the trade union leaders with great heat. Must we not ‘defend our country’ against fascism? Is not pacifism in such conditions equivalent to fascism? The revolutionary answer is clear. We hold nothing in common with the pacifist position. We do not for a moment exclude military defence against fascism—on one condition and on one condition only, namely that we have a country to defend. We shall defend Workers’ Britain, as an integral part of the World Workers’ Republic, of the future World Soviet Union, against fascism with every means in our power… But until then we shall fight our own exploiting class; we shall not let ourselves be dragged into warring for one set of masters against another; we shall raise the slogan of fraternisation with the German workers and soldiers. Is this ‘unpractical’? On the contrary, it is the only practical line. For such fraternisation, such fight of the British workers against British Imperialism will more rapidly undermine the shaking Nazi regime in Germany, will hasten the German Revolution, than any ‘union sacrée’ of the trade union leaders with British Imperialism, which will not only strengthen the Nazi hold, confirm the Nazi propaganda of the vanity of working-class internationalism and prolong the war. This is the Leninist line which remains the only line for the working class in any imperialist war.

He wrote this in the Labour Monthly of January 1935, two years after Hitler came to power. He has now been compelled by his taskmasters of the Communist International to swallow his words. Nevertheless, they remain true today. Providing the British workers are prepared to fight against British Imperialism, we can rely upon our comrades in Germany to settle accounts with Hitler, but if we line up with our own capitalist class and fight for British Imperialism, how can we blame the German workers for doing likewise?

The fight against war and against fascism is inseparable from the onslaught against capitalism. For this to be successful, the working class must act as a united whole. ‘Unity’ in itself is not enough. The important fact is not being together but acting together. If we come together behind a Popular Front programme of conciliation with capitalism, then we are doomed to see the workers’ movement go down in the bloody welter of fascism and war. No amount of ‘unity’ will save it. The workers’ united front must be built up around a struggle for simple immediate needs, for better conditions for employed and unemployed, for the abolition of the means test, for the defence of the democratic liberties of the workers, against conscription, and so forth. The revolutionary left has the task of consciously directing these immediate struggles towards the objective of the overthrow of capitalism.


The Only Way:

It will be seen from this that our programme is ambitious. It involves the mobilisation of the entire working class in a direct fight against the capitalist system. A virile, militant working-class movement such as we envisage would not only draw in millions of working people who today stand on the sidelines, but would also encourage the best sections of the lower middle class to throw in their lot with us.

The way we have pointed out leads to victory. It is not an easy way. We make no deceptive promises to the workers but proclaim, with Karl Marx, that the emancipation of the working class is the task of the working class itself, and can be achieved in no other way. There are no short cuts to peace or to socialist democracy. The road of working-class struggle is an arduous one, but it is the only one. The Popular Front and any other form of class collaboration leads direct to war and the defeat and dispersion of the workers’ organisations.

It must be emphasised in conclusion, that the immense tasks we have outlined can only be achieved by the building up of a revolutionary organisation, based on the teachings of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, enriched by the vast heritage of working-class struggle, and having its roots deep in the Labour Movement.


The Militant Labour League:

In this country, the Militant Labour League is the nucleus of such a body. It attempts to rally the forces of the left within the Labour Party around a real revolutionary programme, to fight against the treacherous leaderships of the open rights and the sham lefts. It is part of a worldwide movement aiming to rally the workers of all lands for the common struggle for socialism.

The Militant Labour League demands no more of its members than they should accept its programme and be prepared to work for it in a disciplined and organised manner within the Labour Movement. The building of the MLL is a fundamental need for the future of socialist achievement.

The Militant Labour League calls upon all Labour Party workers, on all militant trade unionists, on disillusioned and discontented Communist Party members, and on all workers who desire to avoid the horrors of another imperialist war, to join with it in its revolutionary struggle against capitalism.

Down With British Imperialism!

Class War Against Imperialist War!

No Popular Front! No Class Collaboration!

Build the Militant Labour League!

Workers of the World Unite!



1. A Sunday newspaper that ran from 1850 to 1967. At first Liberal in outlook, it was acquired by the National Cooperative Press on behalf of the Labour Party [MIA note].

2. Neville Chamberlain (1869-1940), a Conservative, became the Prime Minister of Britain in 1937, and headed the coalition National Government which subsequently declared war on Germany in September 1939 [MIA note].

3. The Cooperative Party was formed by the Cooperative Union (qv) after the latter voted in 1917 to be represented in Parliament. An agreement with the Labour Party in 1927 ensured that its candidates for national and local elections do not stand in opposition to Labour candidates, and they usually stand under the label of Labour Cooperative [MIA note].

4. The Cooperative Union was formed as the Cooperative Central Board in 1869 in order to campaign for, organise and assist workers’ cooperative societies. It still carries out these and other related activities as Cooperatives UK [MIA note].

5. The Independent Labour Party was formed in 1893, played a key role in the Labour Representation Committee, and affiliated to the Labour Party when it was formed in 1906. It provided much of the Labour Party’s individual membership, and many of its MPs. It disaffiliated from the Labour Party in 1932, and continued as an independent organisation until it returned to the Labour Party in 1975 [MIA note].

6. A programme for dampening down class struggle in Britain, named after its proponents, the industrialist Lord Alfred Mond and the trade union leader Ben Turner [MIA note].

7. In the statement of the Communist Party to the National Peace Congress on 28-29 May (published in the Labour Monthly for June), all mention of national independence for the colonies is omitted from the list of demands. The ‘democratic’ demands, which do not include the withdrawal of British troops, are openly advertised as an inducement to the colonial people to ‘give the fullest support to the League of Nations and Collective Security…’.

8. Naturally this does not mean that the workers should not resist the encroachments of fascism. It is necessary to resist strenuously every attack on the democratic rights and organisations of the workers, not in order to preserve capitalist democracy, but in order the more easily to overthrow it.

9. Sic: this perhaps should have read ‘and thus was provided by the Popular Front with a secure base…’ [MIA note].

10. Anthony Eden (1897-1977) was a Conservative, and was Foreign Secretary during 1935-38, 1940-45 and 1951-55, and Prime Minister during 1955-57, retiring shortly after the Suez fiasco. During the late 1930s, he was critical of the Chamberlain government’s ‘appeasement’ policy towards Nazi Germany [MIA note].

11. Pierre Laval (1883-1945) was Prime Minister of France during 1931-32 and 1935-36, signing a mutual defence agreement with the Soviet Union during the latter term. He was Prime Minister in the collaborationist Vichy regime during 1942-44, for which he was subsequently tried and executed [MIA note].

12. Léon Blum (1872-1950) was Prime Minister of France during June 1936 to June 1937, March-April 1938 and December 1946 to January 1947 [MIA note].

13. Transport House, in Smith Square, London SW1, served as the headquarters of both the Labour Party and the Transport and General Workers Union [MIA note].

14. Clement Attlee (1883-1967) was Leader of the Labour Party during 1935-55 and Prime Minister during 1945-51; Ernest Bevin (1881-1951) was the right-wing leader of the TGWU, and Foreign Secretary during 1945-51 [MIA note].

15. The Daily Herald was a newspaper that reflected the views of the Labour Party leadership [MIA note].

16. David Lloyd George (1863-1945), a Liberal, was Prime Minister from 1916 to 1922, during which he headed Britain’s wartime Cabinet and that which oversaw Britain’s involvement in the Wars of Intervention against the Soviet republic. During the 1930s, he veered between a positive attitude towards Hitler and advocating a Popular Front against Nazi Germany [MIA note].

17. In August 1928, Frank Kellogg, the US Secretary of State, and Aristide Briand, his French counterpart, signed a pact renouncing war as an instrument of foreign policy [MIA note].

18. Air Raid Precautions [MIA note].

19. Rajani Palme Dutt (1896-1974) was a founding member of the CPGB and its main theoretician. He edited Labour Monthly from its inception in 1922 until his death, and was a member of the party’s Executive Committee from 1923 to 1965. He remained loyal to the Soviet Union when the CPGB leadership started to distance itself from it in the late 1960s [MIA note].


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Last updated on 6 January 2008