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Workers’ International News, May 1941


Andrew Scott

Policy of Labour Lefts Leads to Defeat


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


Either the class struggle is the imperative law of proletarian, existence also during war ... or the class struggle is a crime against national interests and the safety of the fatherland also in time of peace.”

This profound aphorism of Rosa Luxemburg is as true today as when it was written during the last imperialist war. The class struggle goes on in war-time as in times of peace. The “political truce” and the entry of the Labour and Trade Union leaders into the “National Government” does not mean that the class struggle has been ended for a time; it merely means the complete capitulation of’ the self-styled leaders of the workers to the capitalist class; it means a complete surrender of the interests of the British and world proletariat.

The policies of Labour organisations and groups reflect the struggle between the classes in war as well as in peace. The Left Labourites are no exception to this rule. Their peace-time capitulation to the Labour bureaucracy is continued in war. It is worth while examining the policies – and deeds – of that section of them who claim to be waging a “War on Two Fronts”.

The vehicle on which these “Mr. Facing-Both-Ways” of the present day pursue their course has Tribune as one wheel and Left News as the other. Bevan, Laski, Gollancz and Strachey hold the reins. In explaining the policy, Gollancz asks:

What do we mean by a war on two fronts? We mean, on the one hand, an uncompromising and enthusiastic war of defence against Hitler, and for the decisive overthrow of Hitler-fascism; we mean, on the other hand a no less wholehearted determination, to defeat reactionary policies on our own side wherever they may crop up, and whether in home affairs, in foreign affairs, or in the conduct of the war-effort itself. We deny utterly that “this is an imperialist war’’, in the sense that nothing is at stake but the “redivision of the world” among imperialist Powers: on the contrary what is at stake is whether or not the whole world is to be enslaved to a form of reaction so extreme and so wicked that Dimitrov rightly described it as “a reversion to barbarism”. But we do not deny for a moment that some people are fighting Hitler merely because he threatens their “interests” and would cease to fight him, if they were allowed to do so, directly they felt that a reasonable adjustment between their “interests” and his was practical politics: or that very many more are fighting to preserve that economic system and that sovereign independence of States which fascism, no less than socialism, menaces, but out of which fascism itself arose – and out of which, unless the war results in the “new order” of socialism, it will arise again. “Turn the imperialist war into a civil war” is the as yet unspoken slogan of a very small section of the Left: as we frequently endeavoured to show in these pages, it is a disastrous one, for if it were adopted by an appreciable section of our people the result could be nothing but the triumph of fascism. But for those who cannot get away from the word “imperialist” we suggest an alternative slogan more suited to the conditions of today: “Turn the imperialist war into an anti-fascist war.”

“Left” Social-Patriotism.

Gollancz sums up here the basic ideas which are put forward by all the various protagonists of this type of social-patriotism. What these people are saying is that in order to defeat Hitler the working class must subordinate itself to the ruling class – whether it is under Churchill or some other leader. This is the old and worn-out argument of the “lesser evil”. In fact they appeal to the example of the Popular Front which has resulted in the betrayal and defeat of the masses in France and Spain.

Gollancz, the erstwhile hero of King Street says:

“Before Narvik, it (the War on Two Fronts) clearly involved a desperate effort to get rid of Mr. Chamberlain as Prime Minister. Today, it equally does not involve any such determination to remove Mr. Churchill ... As a leader of the national resistance and the national determination to win, there is no one on the horizon who can for a moment compare with the superbly brave Winston Churchill.”

This appealing to Churchill to save the working class from Hitler is like Blum’s clutching to the coat tails of Petain or the German Social-Democrats attempting to save themselves by setting up Hindenburg as a saviour from Hitler, or the Spanish workers’ organisations relying on Azana to defeat Franco. The whole argumentation proceeds from the false idea that the struggle of the workers against Churchill and the capitalists means victory for Hitler; that in order to assure the defeat of Hitler the British workers must accept the leadership of the capitalists, led by Churchill.

The Left Labourites of Tribune are little different in their position. Here, for instance, is Aneurin Bevan in the Tribune of March 21:

When the Labour Party decided to join the Government of Mr. Churchill last Whitsun, we supported the decision. We are still of the same opinion. The co-operation of the great parties of the State is necessary to achieve the national effort required to defeat the Nazi designs. No writer in the Tribune desires the leaders of the Labour Party to withdraw from the Government, because if this happened, British resistance would soon disintegrate, and a Nazi victory would quickly occur.”

And, again, Laski writes in Tribune of:

The way to win America is to build Socialist Britain. That is what Clem Attlee and Ernest Bevin, Arthur Greenwood and Herbert Morrison, ought to be telling Mr. Churchill every day.”

And while they are lulling the masses with mild, impotent protests and appealing to Churchill, monopoly capital gathers the whole of national economy into its own control and places the workers and the biggest strata of the middle classes in an iron vice. That same clique of British finance capitalists who helped Hitler into power and assisted him with all the means at their disposal to build and organise his military machine, still hold the fate of the nation in their hands. Chamberlain represented their interests very well when they were banking on using Hitler as a tool in their own interests.

When the Frankenstein they had created tricked them and they were compelled to wage war for the self-same interests which had dictated their support for Hitler, Churchill better served these interests at the head of the Govt. That is all that this change of leaders signified.

Churchill the Saviour

The “Two-fronters” attempt to “reason” with Churchill and the interests he represents (Churchill in this period like Lloyd George in the last war, is the most ruthless, finished and consistent representative of monopoly capital that the bourgeoisie could find). They are in effect appealing to Beelzebub against Satan. To ask Churchill who has openly stated that he prefers Nazism to Communism if compelled to choose between the two to accept the position where he “would prefer a victory over Hitler even by and for Socialism to the perspective of stalemate or defeat,” is to set a trap for the masses and lead either to the victory of Hitler or some British Hitler.

The Lesson of France

These “two-fronters” who reject as “Utopian” the ideas of Lenin as applied to the present situation and regard themselves a; “realists” have learned nothing from the experience of the masses in other countries. The fate of France with its dire warnings of the results of “national unity in order to fight Hitler” teaches them nothing. As well hope to convince Reynaud and Petain as hope to convince Churchill that in order to defeat Hitler it is necessary to adopt Socialism. As realistic would be the hope of persuading Hitler that “in order to beat Churchill” he should adopt Judaism.

It is no accident that in France these petty-bourgeois supporters of the “Two-front” idea laid their hopes in Reynaud and the sections of finance capital which he represented. The Tribune of March 29th, 1940, before the catastrophe and the shameful betrayal of France wrote in regard to the formation of the Reynaud government:

“The new combination is headed by M. Reynaud, who is a sort of French Churchill – that is, a Conservative who has always been an anti-appeaser and who has increasingly displayed a sense of social justice and respect for democracy.”

Reynaud increasingly displayed his “sense of social justice” and “respect for democracy” by most movingly and eloquently duping the masses and handing them over, betrayed, to Petain who in turn handed them to Hitler.

Role of British Imperialism

The role of the Blums, Paul Faures and other social-patriotic traitors is too well known to be repeated here. But the same fatal policy which was pursued in France is being put forward today. The main argument that is being put forward to justify this is that the victory of Hitler would be a catastrophe for all mankind. Certainly this is true. But a victory for Churchill and British imperialism would be no less catastrophic for mankind. The British bourgeoisie like Hitler, are waging war for the defence of their profits-markets, colonies and raw materials. They are defending their right to exploit the tens of millions of slaves in Africa, Asia, Europe and Britain. The claim to be fighting a war for democracy is as much a sham as it was in the first imperialist world war and victory for the British bourgeoisie would have even more disastrous consequences in the present slaughter. This road cannot lead to the defeat of fascism. On the contrary the same elements which released the Nazi genii from the bottle are in power today and have not the slightest intention of restoring “democracy” to the Continent of Europe. Nazi bayonets are to be replaced by those of British and American imperialism, that is all. The Quislings are to be puppets of British and American capital, instead of German. This was shown clearly in Churchill’s appeal to the King, the General Staff and the ruling clique of capitalists in Italy. A British “gauleiter”, not a German one, was the theme of his speech. In East Africa we see the preparation of the imperialists to annex the whole of the former Italian Empire under one guise or another.

Social Chauvinism

The chauvinism underlying the conception of these people breaks out in an article of Margaret Cole in Tribune of March 21st. Dealing with the question of what may happen to unemployed youth after the war, she says:

“It may be, it may quite possibly be British Fascism sponsored by the British equivalents of Thyssen and Stinnes, and acquiesced in by millions of British workers and their leaders, who think it preferable to German Nazism (which it would be) and infinitely preferable to a post-war slump, which would leave a third or a quarter of them on the dole.”

Actually British fascism if ever it were to be established in Britain would, in order to keep the masses in check, put into the shade even the crimes and bestialities of the Nazis in Germany. And this would not be because of differences in character between the Germans and the British people which is implied in the article, but because of the more industrialised character of Britain and the preponderating weight of the workers in British society.

Actually the distinction between a victory for German or Anglo-American finance capital is meaningless. The victory of one would be as harmful to the workers of the world as the victory of the other.

The Question of Power.

Nevertheless, once having rejected the meaningless distinction between the victory of one gang of imperialists or the other, the problem still remains – what policy should be adopted by those who remain true to the banner of internationalism as Lenin did in the last war.

The war, the terrible suffering of the masses, the crisis of world imperialism, the bankruptcy of bourgeois democracy pose sharply the question of the regime.

Gollancz, Strachey, Bevin, Laski and others assure us earnestly that all they desire is a victory for the cause of Socialism and internationalism throughout the world with “a no less whole-hearted determination to defeat reactionary policies on our own side wherever they may crop up” and to “turn the imperialist war into an anti-fascist war “. But this praiseworthy aim serves merely as part of the plans of the imperialist bourgeoisie. While these Lefts are duping and fooling the masses, both internal and foreign policy are decided by the class which holds power. Bourgeois Democracy, Trotsky once said, consists in everybody being able to say what they like, while the real power rests in the hands of finance capital. The Left Labourites by making a noise over what ought to be the “policy of the Government,” act as a cover for what remains the real policies. And their noise is necessary if the capitalists are to continue their work and get the support of the masses. The masses would never support the real aims of the ruling class but are duped by the Labour leaders and especially the left-wing into believing that their aims and desires are what is being fought for.

The decisive question is – how are these laudable aims to be achieved, how can the imperialist war be “transformed into an anti-fascist war”? By asking the carnivorous imperialist lion to adopt the policy of the vegetarian left-Labourite lamb? This policy has been tried often enough in the past but sad to relate has merely resulted in the disappearance of the lamb. Churchill and the ruling class, as they themselves have shown by words and deeds, like the French ruling class, have much more in common with Hitler than with the working class. It is impossible for finance capital to operate any other policy than that which works for their own interests – The lion cannot become a vegetarian.

In order to have a genuine “anti-fascist war” it is necessary, not to make cringing appeals to the better nature of the capitalists, but to overthrow them. The ruling class are defending their profits, markets etc. and nothing else. If these were endangered in any way by the working class, they would capitulate to Hitler immediately like their brothers in France, Holland, Norway, Belgium etc. in order to save at least a part of their property under the “protecting” heel of Hitler.

What Is Revolutionary Defeatism?

But, protest our horrified petty-bourgeois Lefts, “to break national unity” would mean victory for Hitler! This is the policy of Lenin! – revolutionary defeatism! – Turn imperialist war into civil war!

What exactly does this terrible idea of “revolutionary defeatism” mean? Does it mean working consciously or unconsciously for the victory of Hitler? Nothing of the sort! All that it means is to carry on the class struggle as ruthlessly and implacably in war as in peace (as the capitalists do) instead of disarming and demoralising the workers in the face of their mortal enemy; it means really a “wholehearted determination to defeat reactionary policies on our own side wherever they may crop up, and whether in home affairs, in foreign affairs, or in the conduct of the war-effort itself,” and to carry this consistently and unwaveringly to a finish – that is, to the overthrow of the ruling class even if this means civil war. If the Left social-chauvinists object that this would mean the immediate victory of Hitler, because he would take advantage of the dissensions in the “democratic” camp, we would point out that this does not follow at all. Such a policy could only be operated once the majority of the workers in uniform and in overalls had rallied to the standard of the revolutionary internationalists. And in a country like Britain in which the proletariat forms the overwhelming majority of the population and has a crushing social weight, they would draw behind them the middle class as well. Nine-tenths of the job consists in “patiently explaining” to the workers that their interest can only be served by the overthrow of the completely rotten and corrupt ruling class. Once they had been won, given leadership of a revolution party, the revolution need not be of a violent and sanguinary character. If the ruling class would make way for the workers without a show of force, all the better ! But this same ruling class which has supported Hitler and Mussolini, Franco, the militarists of Japan and every reactionary and fascist group throughout the world in defence of capitalist interests, and which is prepared to lay waste all Europe, indeed the entire world, in defence of their profits in the present war would do exactly what the French Churchills have done, and invite Hitler in to save them. In Germany during the last war the revolution cost only 18 lives! In the Russian revolution only about 250 people were killed in Petrograd. Compare these sacrifices with the mountains of corpses piled up in the imperialist slaughter. It is true that in the civil war in Russia after the seizure of power by the workers, hundreds of thousands of workers lost their lives. But this was only because of the help given by Churchill and the British capitalists and the 21 armies of intervention. Neither the Russian workers or the Bolshevik party under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky were responsible for this. And anyway we see the results of the program of the German, British and other “Socialists” – Hitler!!! Their present policy cannot have any more radiant consequences if they succeed in imposing it on the working class. If Churchill and the ruling class continue in power millions of workers’ lives will be lost, the war will extend to continents, destruction, misery and havoc, will be the lot of the people of all countries. The war will go on and on indefinitely. The German people support, or rather accept, Hitler and the war for fear of a new Versailles which Churchill and the ruling clique would certainly impose on them. The conquest of power by the workers, a Socialist Britain, would mean the end of Hitler in Europe and in Germany. The shackled peoples would rally to the standard of liberation and prepare the fraternal unity and solidarity of all peoples. Only in this way can Hitler progressively be fought. The way of the Two-Fronters leads inevitably to the victory of world reaction and world fascism.

Trotsky swept all the rubbish concerning “revolutionary defeatism” into the dustbin long in advance when he wrote in the article Learn to Think in May, 1938. [1]

To carry the class struggle to its highest form – civil war – that is the task of defeatism. But this task can be solved only through the revolutionary mobilisation of the masses, that is, by widening, deepening and sharpening those revolutionary methods which constitute the content of class struggle in “peace”-time. The proletarian party does not resort to artificial methods such as burning warehouses, setting off bombs, wrecking trains, etc. in order to bring about the defeat of its own government. Even if it were successful on this road, the military defeat would not at all lead to revolutionary success, a success which can be assured only by the independent movement of the proletariat. Revolutionary defeatism signifies only that in its class struggle the proletarian party does not stop at any 'patriotic' considerations, since defeat of its own imperialist government, brought about, or hastened by the revolutionary movement of the masses is an incomparably lesser evil than victory gained at the price of national unity, that is, the political prostration of the proletariat. Therein lies the complete meaning of defeatism and this meaning is entirely sufficient.”

Defeatism of the Bourgeoisie

We see how in France the French Churchills etc. revealed that they were not defending an abstract “country” but their profits and privileges and were prepared to sell out to Hitler in order to do so. The bourgeoisie carries on the class war even if it means surrender to the foreign invader. The British capitalists faced with the same situation would capitulate to Hitler tomorrow. So that regardless of the situation at the fronts the capitalists carry on implacably their struggle against the working class. The workers must become as class conscious as the capitalists. The capitalists are not in the least interested in a crushing of “Hitlerism” or “aggression” or the “defence of the fatherland”. They are defending their profits and nothing else. To support Churchill or any other capitalist politician is to ensure the victory of “Hitlerism” either of the German or the British variety. Churchill has openly stated that the British Government does not publish “war aims” because it would destroy “national unity”. He means, of course, that the workers would realise that they are being duped and that the aims of the ruling class are the same as in the last and in all wars – a programme of national cannibalism accentuated by the further decay of the capitalist system, a super Versailles, which would strangle the peoples of Europe and of the whole world.

For Workers’ Power

So long as the capitalists retain control of the state, the aims of the war (war is the continuation of politics by other means) remain reactionary ones, and to support the war is to support these aims.

Therefore the task of those who stand for revolutionary internationalism is to put forward a “workers’ program for war”. The betrayals (including those of the Two-Fronters) of the mass workers’ organisations led to the paralysing of the workers’ struggle to overthrow capitalism and to the inevitable outbreak of the present imperialist war. This war can only be ended by the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the taking of power by the working class. “But that will lead to the victory of Hitler!” exclaim our frightened philistines. On the contrary only thus could the war be shortened and a guarantee found not only against the victory of Hitler but against the victory of a British Hitler. Only in this way can a progressive war against Hitler be fought which would be in the interests of the British workers of the German workers and the workers of the entire world.



1. The question of revolutionary defeatism is of vital importance and will be dealt with exhaustively in coming issues of WIN. We can only touch on it briefly here.

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