From Workers’ International News, Vol.2 No.12, December 1939, pp.4-7.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
Under the pressure of growing discontent and restiveness of the rank and file in the Labour Party and Trade Unions, at long last we have a pronouncement on “Labour’s Peace Aims” by the leader of the Labour Party. The war has been proceeding for only three months but already the alarm and suspicion of the masses as to the real purpose of the conflict has grown so strong that the Labour leaders are compelled to give an authoritative explanation of the policy of the party in supporting the war, if this opposition is not to get out of their control and assume proportions menacing the smooth and efficient waging of the war by the British Government.
The article in the Daily Herald of November 9th, by C.R. Attlee, is one which must be carefully studied and analysed by the advanced workers in the Labour movement to see what it is the labour leaders are putting over as their war, or as they prefer shamefacedly to suggest, their peace aims, because it is on these grounds that they justify their support for the war. He enunciates six principles which he then expands and explains.
Firstly, “there should be no dictated peace”, no revenge or punishment of the German people, but restitution to the victims of aggression. Accepting this at its face value, how is the pious principle to be carried out? Attlee in pedantic tones explains that it was “the neglect of this principle” in the treaties: after the last war which has resulted in the present conflict. There is nothing to show that the British and French Governments under their present leadership will carry out an even more vicious version of Versailles if they win the war. On the contrary the vague and nebulous declarations of their aims proves beyond a doubt that this is precisely what they intend. Churchill of 1939 remains faithful to the Churchill of 1914-1918. Labour leaders in those days were making the same vaporous declarations as today but did not influence in the slightest degree the terms which were imposed on a defeated Germany. In 1914 they acted as screen for the greedy aims of the bourgeoisie. Why do not Attlee and co if they are sincere denounce the real aims the real aims of the Chamberlain Government now instead of waiting until it is too late?
The second principle is broadly speaking the right of self determination of nations. Attlee, under pressure, is compelled to demand freedom for India as well as for Poland. But if the Labour Party cannot got freedom for India from the Government now, how can it be expected that when they can turn their full attention to affairs at home without their hands being tied by war in Europe the capitalists will be any readier to give the Indian or other peoples in the Empire their freedom? Or for that matter that freedom for the oppressed peoples in Austria, Poland, etc; is or can be in any way the concern or the aim of the National Government when they are busy plundering and oppressing the colonial peoples for the purpose of financing the present war? Incidentally the sorry record of the two Labour Governments with respect to India, when the oppression was even worse than under Conservative administration does not inspire confidence, to say the least, in the capacity of the labour leaders to get this principle adopted. It is true that they were a minority administration, but in that case, as they are a minority in Parliament now, how will this principle be put into practice when the war ends?
The third principle, “the complete abandonment of aggression and of the use of armed force as an instrument of policy ...” reveals its farcical character when considered in the background of the history of the past twenty years. The failure of the League of Nations to regulate the insoluble contradictions between different capitalist states shows clearly what the fate will be of all such “idealist” babbling within the framework of capitalism-imperialism.
The fourth principle, the “recognition of rights of national, racial and religious minorities” was recognised in the Statutes of the League of Nations. The nations which were liberated by the Allies after the last war and for whom the present war is being waged, are to be “free” once, again. Poland and Czechoslovakia were notorious for their persecution of the minorities within their borders. The futility of any such safeguards, while it is in the interests of the capitalists of the dominant races to plunder and oppress minorities, has been so clearly revealed that it requires no further elucidation.
The fifth principle, that of “European federation” is a recognition of the fact that mankind has long outgrown the old national boundaries which are now a fetter on the further development of civilisation. “Europe must federate or perish” contains a certain kernel of truth. But under capitalism such a proposal “is either impossible or reactionary” as Lenin retorted to the phrase-mongers who put this forward in the last war. England and France might agree to some sort of “federation” as a form of joint Franco-British domination of Europe. One of the reasons why Britain paralysed the resistance of France to German rearmament was to destroy the French hegemony of Europe which had been established by Versailles. Hitler’s rearmament which led to the present war was carried out with the full support of British imperialism precisely for this purpose among others. It is true that the imperialists do not want to repeat the “mistake” of Versailles. Simultaneously British imperialism wishes to settle with its German rival forever (the present conflict must not happen again), and at the same time make sure that their “dear ally” France does not secure a decisive position on the Continent once again. In so far as federation could be realised under capitalism, it would merely be a cloak for the plundering of the peoples of Europe by the Bourse and the City of London jointly. That is the meaning of the support for this proposal, cloudy and undefined, which emanates from Whitehall.
The sixth principle, the “abandonment of imperialism” is a worthy crowning of the whole structure of Labour’s peace aims. Without the overthrow of capitalism, squaring the circle would be a comparatively easy task compared to the suggestion so glibly put forward by the labour programme. To expect capitalism to exist without its inevitable consequences – imperialism and war – is like expecting the magnetic mines that have caused so much indignation in the labour press, not to be attracted by the steel hulls of ships, simply because of the moral disgust expressed. Physical and economic laws work themselves out, given the requisite basis, irrespective of the desires and wishes of people who are affected thereby.
The publication of this world shattering document, in reality a stale plagiarism of the empty programme of labour in the last blood-bath, has not aroused any trepidation whatsoever in the gentlemen who rule the destiny of the French and British Empires. The Times assures its readers, “in no essential particular is there any divergence of opinion” between Attlee and the declarations of Lord Halifax spokesman of the British Government.
The same division of labour proceeds an in the last war. In order to keep the working masses welded firmly to the war machine of British-imperialism the bourgeoisie indulgently allows the labour leaders to prattle their fairy tales of how the prince lived happily ever after into the ears of the workers. In the meantime behind the scenes the “wicked fairy”, prepares for the accomplishment of the real aims of British imperialism. The labour leaders reveal their true role by soothing the masses and holding their resistance in check while in practice continuing their co-operation with the National Government. Attlee finishes his speech by declaring
“... we are ready whenever we are called upon to take responsibility for the government of the country, to do our utmost to get these principles accepted and put into effect.”
Here exactly is the heart of the problem. Millions of British workers are passively, supporting, or rather acquiescing in the war because they believe it is a just one being waged for the overthrow of Hitlerism, is to reassure these masses that Labour’s Peace. Aims have been published. It is a programme designed to appeal to them.
But after proclaiming these utopian principles for which the war should be fought, the labour leaders step back and aid a government which by its very nature cannot and does not want to fight for such aims. The Chamberlain Government has itself proclaimed that, the war can only be carried on with the “support of organised labour”. Without the help of the trade union and labour leaders the national government could not carry on the war for a single day.
We demand that the labour leaders break off all relations with the National Government. For them to say they are ready, when called upon to take over the government is not enough. If they sincerely believe in the programme which they have announced, let them take steps to see that it is implemented by the only means possible, the taking over of power by labour. Making a political and industrial truce with the capitalist enemy is a flagrant betrayal. An irreconcilable campaign against the National. Government must be waged on the Home Front. Labour must take power! That is the slogan which must be carried to the workers in every corner in Britain.
The refusal of the labour leaders to take this road, indicates the extent to which they believe their aims to be practicable. The workers will be convinced by their own experience, either in the realisation of the Labour Government itself or in the struggle to win a labour majority, that reformism can lead only to disaster; it will be exposed in all its hollow futility.
Then the workers will understand that the overthrow of capitalism is the only road to a “Just peace”, to “social advance”. The cadres of the Fourth International stand shoulder to shoulder with the masses in the fight to realise these aims. Only the building of the Fourth International, indissolubly bound up with the needs, experiences and aspirations of the masses can lead to victory, to the establishment not of a “federal union”, but of the Socialist United States of Europe as the sole means of securing a lasting peace.
Last updated on 17.11.2005