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New International, December 1935


Sanctions and the British General Elections

From New International, Vol.2 No.7, December 1935, Inside front cover.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


SUPPORT OF League of Nations or governmental “sanctions” – including sanctions in the form of “neutrality legislation” – is, according to Marxists, betrayal on the question of war. To many persons sincerely concerned over “peace” this attitude of Marxists seems sectarian and unrealistic. Should not the “imperialist antagonisms” be utilized by the working class, if at the moment they aid in “preventing war”?

Marxists base their position on clear and simple reasoning. For them, the general question of sanctions cannot be answered until we ask, “Whose sanctions?” Capitalist governments are the instruments of the bourgeoisie of their respective nations. The League is the instrument of the dominant imperialist member states. League and governmental sanctions are, therefore, weapons of the bourgeoisie of the sanction-involving nations. Support of League and governmental sanctions is, thus, necessarily support of the bourgeoisie of these nations. And therefore, such support meant the subordination of the working class within these nations to the class enemy – means, that is to say, as in 1914, the betrayal of the working class in the face of the war crisis.

No amount of “reservations” or “distinctions” accompanying the support of official sanctions can possibly alter the essential content of such support. This is determined by the causal relationships of the actual world of history, not by words and pious hopes.

It is, already, no longer necessary to appeal merely to theoretical analysis on the question of sanctions. The policy of support of official sanctions has already borne its first great practical fruits. We can judge also by results in the present war crisis.

The first great fruit of the policy of support of official sanctions by working class parties is: the achievement of national unity in Great Britain, and the overwhelming victory of the Conservative party in the general elections of November 14.

A year ago the British Labour party was gaining strength rapidly. From the days last summer when it formulated clearly its policy toward sanctions, it has steadily lost strength – lost it, above all, in industrial centers which could rightly have been expected to return huge Labour majorities. The masses interpreted the position of the Labour officialdom correctly. Brushing aside their reservations, what was left was only: support of British imperialism, acceptance of the policy of British finance-capital. And, with entire plausibility, Baldwin showed that if you support imperialist policy, you must also support the means to carry it out – namely, armament. The masses reasoned that if they were going to have to support imperialism by either vote, they had better give preference to Baldwin, who at least knew clearly what he was doing.

But the mere numerical, the quantitative defeat is not by any means the worst of it. The policy of support of sanctions by the Labour Party, enthusiastically seconded by the Communist Party of Great Britain, has powerfully altered the basic relationship of class forces in Great Britain to the advantage of finance-capital, has disarmed and weakened the working class. British imperialism has, with the aid of the betrayers, been put in the happy position of being able to solve the war crisis in its own way, without effective opposition. Even the Labour minority in Parliament is not a true opposition, since it too is committed to the fundamental position of British imperialism. The genuine opposition is confined to the four Independent Labour Party members, who fought the campaign on an anti-government-sanctions platform, together with those individual Labour party members whom the ILP position forced to repudiate their official party stand.

Once again are the lessons of Marxism confirmed: Compromise with the class enemy and with its state means always – capitulation to the class enemy and its state. In the present instance: Support of governmental sanctions means support of the government applying the sanctions – that is, support of imperialism. The Marxist conclusion is inescapable:

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