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Workers’ International News, February 1941


Arm the Workers!


From Workers’ International News, Vol.4 No.2, February 1941, pp.1-5.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Germany has conquered Europe. The Channel bars her from the vista of adding, Africa and Asia to the vast domains already conquered. But the German ruling class, no more than in the winter of last year, can afford to stand still. Despite the vast territorial conquests, they cannot say “enough!” As thoroughly as they prepared the conquest of France, they are preparing to settle accounts with imperialist Britain which now bars the way. For the first time since 1066 the prospect of invasion has to be faced as a serious possibility.

During the winter months the German military machine, as thorough and efficient as German industry, has been making its preparations down to the last detail. For Germany, a successful invasion of Britain would solve the immediate problems facing German imperialism. For British imperialism, of course, it is a question of fighting against being reduced to the position of another Poland from the previous heights of domination of half the world.

Under these conditions British imperialism is determined to resist to the very end. But the young brigand who so confidently and ruthlessly bludgeoned his way to overlordship of a great empire is now old and palsied. Basing itself on the profits gained from the exploitation of the colonial peoples, the British ruling class has grown parasitic. There has been no incentive to greater efficiency and the little improvement of industrial technique. This backwardness [1]

The preparations which the British bourgeoisie is making to meet Hitler’s invasion are little better than the preparations of Chamberlain & Co last winter.

Their resistance would not be as feeble as that of the French bourgeoisie because of the advantages they possess the morale of the people, an island position, a strong navy, etc. But as is now well known, the French ruling class surrendered not because it was impossible to defend the country, but because it was impossible to do so without placing the masses in a position, by arming them and mobilising, where they would not only have driven back the German invaders but could have easily ousted the French bourgeoisie as well. The spectre of the Commune hung over France in the days of June.

Churchill and the British capitalist class sympathised with the painful dilemma in which the French rulers were placed. Then had no objection to Reynaud, Petain, Weygand & co. sending the French workers to the school of Hitler to teach them a lesson in obedience. This was made quite clear by the fact that they were quite prepared to see the surrender of all France: all they demanded was that the French Fleet should either be placed at their disposal or remain in a neutral port.

The howls that the whole of the British press set up against the traitors who had sold France into bondage were merely rage at the failure of this gang to come over to the side of British imperialism. The spurious indignation had its cause in this and this alone.

Although Churchill and the British bourgeoisie generally knew well the character of Weygands and Petains, they praised them to the end. How spurious was their rage is shown by their recent manoeuvres. Owing to the unexpected resistance of Britain the Vichy crew have had the possibility of manoeuvring for concessions between Hitler and the British Government.

The spread of the war to the Mediterranean lends importance to the French ports, and the French fleet would be of great assistance in Germany’s invasion plans. This allows the prostituted French capitalism to raise its fee to the German customer.

But the British ruling class is not above vying with the Germans for the favours of Petain. Forgotten are the recriminations. Petain is no longer a traitor, but once more the Grand Old Man of France. They are prepared to “overlook” the placing of the whole French nation into bondage to Hitler and the transformation of unoccupied France into a feeble imitation of Nazi Germany, with democracy officially declared dead. Churchill & Co. fawn upon this repulsive clique who have demonstrated before the eyes of the whole world that “democracy”, liberty etc. at any rate have no place in their scheme of things.

As if to underline the hollow nature of the pretence that this is a war for the destruction of fascism, we have the appeal of Churchill to the ruling class of Italy to throw Mussolini overboard as a scapegoat and come over to the side of England. This single act of atonement would mean the ignoring of the crimes of Italian fascism which the British capitalists are willing to accept with equanimity since it serves their purpose. The fact that the Italian ruling class, and probably those of France and Spain, will be compelled to support Germany will at a later stage lead to the revival of propaganda about the actual horrors and bestialities which fascism has perpetrated. The press, pulpit, wireless, etc. will be beside themselves with rage when cataloguing the crimes of the dictator and slave states.

But Churchill and the ruling class have revealed that they are anxious to do a deal with any fascist gang on the terms of British ruling class supremacy. It is the fascist gangs which have refused the outstretched hand of friendship. In the case of Greece, this is clearly demonstrated by the attitude adopted to the regime of Metaxas which is as bloody and repressive as any to be found in Eastern Europe. We can look in vain in the columns of the British press or the speeches of the politicians, including the Labour leaders, for any remonstrance at the crimes of the Greek dictatorship.

The inevitable active intervention of American imperialism in the war – the war has resolved itself mainly into a conflict between Germany and America for world supremacy – forces the Germans to make haste. If Britain can hold out long enough, the inexhaustible resources of the American continent can be organised to build a military machine which will outstrip even the gargantuan efforts of Nazi Germany. But what is required for this is time: 12 to 24 months or so. This makes an invasion attempt to crush the British Isles even more urgent for German imperialism.

Everything is at stake for the British capitalists. The Empire, the very existence of Britain as a world power, is placed in the balance. The British capitalist class is making as hurried and frantic preparations for resistance as it possibly can. We will suffer the fate of a modern Carthage if we are beaten is their agonised appeal for resistance.

This is true. The fate of Ireland haunts the imagination of the British bourgeoisie. Ireland which was systematically despoiled and plundered and converted into an agricultural colony in the interests of British imperialism in the last century; Ireland where they deliberately organised famine and forced the emigration of a great part of the population – America has 20 million Irishmen, Eire only 3 million. It is the impossibility of reconciling the interests of British capitalism with those of German capitalism which compels that “fight to a finish” into which the war is resolving itself. For British imperialism there has been no other choice except that of acting as satellite of her mightier rival across the Atlantic.

But despite the tremendous jeopardy in which they are being placed the speech of Hitler in which he boasted of the thorough preparations of the German army has probably a solid foundation – we see the British capitalist class refusing to take the one course which would doom any invasion, however formidable, to inevitable futility and defeat: the arming, mobilising, and organising of the entire working-class for resistance, factory by factory, street by street, house by house.

No more than the French ruling class dare the ruling class of Britain place the working class in a position where it would be possible for them to play an independent role. A thousand times rather accept the possibility of Hitler occupying Britain than risk a workers’ revolution by arming the workers is the dominating thought of the ruling clique.

Nevertheless, in defending their imperialist loot they are compelled to appeal to the anti-fascist sentiments of the masses. The overwhelming majority of the working-class hate fascism and do not wish to be placed under the heel of Hitler. They do not wish to be in the position of Poland, France, Holland and the other countries under the Nazi jackboot. This is the sentiment which the ruling class is using for its own ends.

Under these circumstances the position of the Labour leaders is quite clear. Utilizing the hatred of the masses for Hitlerism, they have betrayed the interests of the workers by entering the Government and justifying all attacks on the workers by the necessities of the conflict. But in spite of these attacks the working-class for the time-being continues to stand, albeit critically, behind their leaders.

By itself, all the propaganda in the world explaining the real aims of the ruling class could not move the working-class one inch from this position. It is on this rock that the Communist Party has at the present time shattered itself. The working-class, especially after the events of the last months, is determined to resist to the uttermost any incursion from Nazi Germany.

This attitude of the masses must be the point of departure from our propaganda. The way to win them over is not by the sterile repetition of the Marxian axiom that only the Socialist revolution can solve the problems of the working-class. It is to convince the masses of this by their day to day experiences. The main task of the Revolutionary Socialist is to separate the workers from their leaders who place them behind the capitalists. This can only be done by showing them the absolute contradiction between their interests and those of their mortal enemy.

Taking the argument of the capitalists that every resource must be exploited in order to vanquish the coming invasion, we must emphasise that the capitalists have a greater hatred and fear of the working masses at home than of their imperialist enemy abroad. The damning fact stands out that the only advice given by the Government as to any action to be taken by the broad masses in the event of invasion is to “stay put.” This despite the experience of France where the terrified and helpless civilians materially assisted the Nazi invaders in their advance. This decisive fact must be burned into the consciousness of the masses.

The Labour leaders have used this anti-fascist sentiment of the masses to enter into a coalition with the capitalists in order to “wage war against Hitlerism.” But the elementary precautions which would guarantee victory over a fascist invasion from abroad or a coup like that of Petain at home are not being advocated or prepared by the Labour leaders. Taking them at their word, we demand that they immediately struggle for the putting into operation of the following measures: the arming and organising of the workers under their own control; the election of officers by the workers; control of production by the workers to end the chaos in the war industries; the immediate nationalisation of the armament industry, mines, banks, railways, and big industry; the granting of freedom and self-determination to India and the colonies and a Socialist appeal to the workers of Germany and Europe.

Only by measures such as these can the country really be defended in the interests of the masses. Launching a campaign on a programme of demands as outlined above cannot but get the Labour leaders the overwhelming support of the masses. The alternative policy is that of capitulation to British imperialism which is not in the least interested in the struggle against fascism, and which cannot but lead either to a victory for Hitler or that of a British Hitler.

We see steps in the direction of reaction being taken at the present time. Bevin as Minister of Labour, under the pressure of the bourgeoisie, has introduced the militarisation of labour, which works to the benefit of the bourgeoisie only as they draw colossal super-profits at the expense of the workers. Morrison has introduced compulsory fire-fighting, and again the main burden is borne by the toilers. The rationing, high prices, etc. place the whole burden of the war on the shoulders of the workers and lower strata of the middle class. Naturally the masses, although passive at first through fear of doing anything that might aid Hitler, will sooner or later react violently against these monstrous impositions on the part of the ruling class.

If power continues to rest in the hands of the capitalists they will wage not a war against fascism but one in defence of their profits, a war waged with even greater ferocity against the workers than against their capitalist enemy. If capitalist control is to continue it must mean the speedy extension of the totalitarian methods, which can only end in a complete obliteration of all the rights of the working-class. The suppression of the Daily Worker is the first significant step in this direction. It marks the twilight of bourgeois democracy in Britain. The methods of the Labour leaders in “fighting Hitlerism” lead directly to the destruction of the organisations of the working class and to concentration camps.

Nevertheless, the bourgeoisie has to move cautiously. Without the support of the Labour leaders they could not carry through such measures. But the Labour leaders themselves are in a contradictory position. They cannot destroy the foundation on which they rest without destroying themselves. British totalitarianism has not a solid foundation. While the Trade Unions, and especially the shop-stewards etc., continue to exist it is impossible to carry through anything but a military dictatorship. There is no mass support to back up anything else. With a big percentage of the workers called up in the Army, and the main mass of the army stationed in Britain and in contact with the civil population, the army is in closer contact with the toilers than at any time in history. The big bourgeoisie, even more than in the last war, is dependent on the services of the Labour leaders to keep the masses in check. They rest primarily on the acceptance by the masses of the yoke of privations as an inescapable necessity in the cause of the “destruction of Hitlerism,” The British bourgeoisie rules much more by deception than by force. Without the Labour bureaucracy they would be in a precarious position. The entire stock-in-trade of the Labour bureaucracy consists in the “fight against Hitlerism at all costs.”

The road to the masses lies in showing them a real alternative, a genuine struggle against the danger of a victory of Hitlerism from abroad and at home. Accepting the argument of the Labour leaders that it is necessary to fight Hitlerism, we must point out that it is impossible to do this under the leadership of the capitalist class which must inevitably lead to the victory of Hitler or of a British Hitler or Petain. The ground can be cut from under the feet of the Labour leaders by demanding that they take power on the programme of demands listed above. First on that list must come the arming of the workers against Hitler and the capitalist Fifth Column at home.

Accepting the coalition with the bourgeoisie leads the Labour bureaucracy naturally to the imposition of repression to force the masses to accept the privations which this involves. The position in which Blum, Jouhaux & Co. found themselves in France was almost identical. But suppression leads naturally to an enhancing of the power of the capitalist clique of bankers and generals. Blum helped to suppress the workers in the “sacred” cause of anti-fascism – only to find himself unceremoniously pitched into jail by his colleagues of yesterday who, incidentally, embraced the Nazis in the same act, Morrison-Bevin, despite tremors of anticipation (the speech in which Bevin denied that there could be a Fifth column among the workers, and asserted that it always came from the “higher-ups”) are compelled by the inexorable logic of events to travel the same road as their French brethren. Collaboration with the capitalist class cannot mean anything else. This is the fatal path against which we must warn the workers. Hitlerism cannot be fought by a cowardly attempt to use homeopathic doses of Hitlerism at home. Moreover, once started, it would require bigger and bigger doses of the same medicine to keep the masses in check. If repression most be used, let it be used by the workers against the root of all Hitlerism and Fifth Columnism – big finance and big business.

Nevertheless, it is significant that the suppression of the Daily Worker, a preparation for the coming invasion and an onslaught on the working-class, has been accepted by the masses of the workers, if not enthusiastically then passively. Morrison’s whole argument was the accusation that the Daily Worker helped Hitler by the propaganda which it put forward.

This charge could not but meet with acquiescence by the masses owing to the propaganda developed by the Communist Party in the last few years. First the demand for a capitalist Popular Front Government (Churchill, Attlee, Sinclair) to “stand up to Hitler.” Then actual support for the war. Then “Stop the War” on terms which would have meant victory for German imperialism. And now the vague, ambiguous “People’s Government” and “People’s Peace” which are meaningless to the main mass of the workers, who continue to support the Labour leaders. Previously they deceived the workers into believing that fascism could be fought under the leadership of a capitalist (Popular Front) Government. Now they have no programme for the workers on how to fight invading fascism – or for that matter, fascism at home; the two problems are not separate but identical and simultaneous.

Now that The Worker is suppressed we find the Communist Party, in a desperate attempt to rally the workers, compelled to appeal for support on a caricature of the policy outlined above. There cannot be any other policy which would have the slightest hope of securing the support of the masses in their present mood. But the Communist Party appeals in a way which cannot lead to an independent mobilisation of the workers round their own programme and their own banner. It is of absolute significance that the slogan of the arming of the workers which was put forward for an incautious fortnight last June by the Daily Worker has never been revived in any form whatever. This demand is an elementary and fundamental one which goes right to the heart of the needs of the masses, especially with invasion but a few weeks or months ahead. The Communist Party leadership always sows demoralisation and confusion within the ranks of the working-class.

With the programme of demands outlined above, the Revolutionary Socialists can raise the question of power in a way which can be easily understood and welcomed by the masses. The problem of a genuine revolutionary war against Hitlerism, which can only be solved by the working-class conquest of power, will then appear in its correct perspective, as the only programme of salvation for our epoch. The Fourth International alone has such a banner and such a programme. Once they adopt it the masses will be unconquerable. For the struggle against Hitlerism only Socialism can suffice!


Note by Transcriber

1. This bad typo is in the original – ERC

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