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Workers’ International News, November 1939


Labour in Wartime


From Workers’ International News, Vol.2 No.11, November 1939, p.6.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Since the outbreak of war local labour parties and affiliated organisations have received from Transport House a number of circular letters. All of these have emphasised, in language full of abstractions such as “democracy”, “a just peace”, “social justice,” etc, the necessity for the labour movement to remain independent of the war machine and the determination of the Parliamentary Labour Party to do so. Equally insistent are the circulars that Labour, Party membership should be increased, that the regular collection of subscriptions should continue and that the electoral machine should be kept in perfect working order, so that, at the end of the war, Labour should be in a position to take advantage of the General Election, gain a parliamentary majority and impose a “just” and lasting” peace, which, they suggest, will be the forerunner of a new social order.

The spectacle of Messrs. Attlee, Greenwood, Morrison and Co, as architects of the now social order, dependent as they are for very existence on the maintenance of capitalism, is one which might cause workers amusement, were there no more sinister motive behind it. The labour bureaucrats have learned some faint spark of a lesson from the upheavals which followed the last “War to end war.” Conscious that similar social conflicts are inevitable with the progress of the struggle, they hope, on the basis of their present sham “independence” to place themselves at the head of any militant movement of the workers and divert it, not in the direction of a “new social order” but back to the safe, respectable channels of capitalist exploitation.

But, to such an extent are they tied hand-and-foot to the capitalist state, to such an extent are they caught helplessly in toe contradictions of their own devising – “independence” one minute, collaboration with the Government the next – that these degenerate labour leaders are incapable of carrying out successfully their own declared tactic. This was strikingly illustrated in the recent debate on the EPA, when workers witnessed the disgusting spectacle of the labour leaders crawling on their bellies at the tail of the Liberal Party in a mock “defence” of the democratic rights of the workers. It is quite apparent that the Parliamentary Labour Party had no intention of opposing seriously the regulations relating to curfew, the prohibition of magazines, periodicals, etc., until compelled to do so by the amendment moved by Mr. Foot in the name of the Liberal Party.

The fact that these traitors could, if they wished, put up a real, and, to some extent, effective, opposition is amply proven by the result of the debate on the Old Age Pensions. On this occasion, Mr. Attlee, using, for him, really strong, language, warned the Government that they would disregard the feeling, in the country “at their peril.” The result was that a “concession” was made, in that investigation into the possibility of a pensions increase was “promised.” We have no illusions about the value of such a promise; but it is obvious that a fighting Working Class: opposition could force some concessions from the Government on questions of day to day importance to the workers.

The miserable treachery of the Labour Opposition” is beginning to cause considerable fluttering in certain labour dovecotes. The National Committee of Constituency Labour Parties has issued to its affiliated bodies a circular of tremendous significance. The statement that “while a truce exists between political parties for the present, there is much necessary and vital work to be done in safeguarding the rights and liberties of the people” is an indication of the concern caused in some quarters at the too obvious treachery of the Labour leaders.

In a further section the circular states:

“... If this conflict is allowed to be merely a contest for supremacy between rival imperialisms, then whatever happens in the field, imperialism will again be the conqueror, and after another truce will again blaze forth into further conflicts ...”

The official leadership has not suggested – and dare not suggest – that the present conflict is imperialist in character. The National Committee of Constituency Labour Parties is a body much more influenced by rank-and-file pressure than is Transport House. It is obvious, therefore, that there is widespread opposition throughout the movement to the blatant treachery of the parliamentary leadership.

The circular continues:

“It is at sinister significance that whilst the government has consented to liaisons being established with the Opposition in the departments responsible for fighting the war, the autocracy and secrecy of the Foreign Office remains undisturbed. In this department during the last war was hatched that evil brood of secret treaties that made a decent peace impossible and resulted in the present, conflict.”

Superficial as the analysis is, militants within the Labour Party should take advantage of it. The authors of the circular do not dream of carrying the argument to its logical conclusion. We shall do it for them. Down with secret diplomacy! Open the diplomatic archives! Publish the secret treaties to the world! These are the slogans which must be raised throughout the working class movement.

Not satisfied with this already flagrant breach of official policy, the circular, having bemoaned the “sabotage of the League of Nations” and the “betrayal of Czechoslovakia,” goes on to state,

“We must exert all our power to remove the present government, and to replace it by one that will wage this war in order to free the peoples of Europe from tyranny. Such a government would prove beyond doubt to the German people that our cause is their cause; such a government could forge an enduring peace.”

Here at last the real significance of the circular becomes apparent. The leaders of the National Committee of Constituency Parties are no more concerned with the real interests of the proletariat that are the official party bureaucrats. Both desire the continuation of the war. The apparently fundamental contradiction – the demand for the removal of the present government in contradistinction to the election truce agreed to by the parliamentary leaders – is an unscrupulous manoeuvre to befool the masses. Through the constituency parties, the reformist and traitorous labour chauvinists attempt to divert the mass discontent among the workers with the present war. To the obscurantist references to the “peoples of Europe” we counterpose the slogan of international solidarity with the workers of Europe and of the world. Side by side with our condemnation of the official leadership’s betrayal must stand our condemnation of the equally treacherous stand of the Constituency Parties’ sham opposition. Nevertheless, militants can take advantage of the differences between the two leaderships to pose the correct class attitude to the present conflict.

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