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Paul G. Stevens

In the World of Labor

(10 November 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 86, 10 November 1939, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Voices Against the War on the Increase in England

It is cheering to learn that right in the midst of the war, the revolutionary internationalists of the British Militant Labour League have decided to transform their excellent little paper, the Militant, from a monthly to a fortnightly. Our comrades from the M.L.L. remain as before the clearest voices in the consistent socialist struggle against war there. The fact that they have combined political clarity with a practical knowledge of how to function from day to day in the official Labour movement augurs well for the future progress of revolutionary internationalism in England.

In the current issue of the Militant they define their stand in an article entitled Working Class Attitude to War as follows:

“This present war is a thoroughly reactionary war. The British capitalist class have embarked upon it in order to preserve their own colonial possessions, their own foreign investments against the growing menace of German imperialism. The working class have no possessions in the colonies, no investments. They have nothing to defend except their living standards and their democratic rights which are threatened by the war, and these must be defended against the capitalists who are already attacking them. The enemy is in our own country, it is our own ruling class. The only victory which can bring any benefit to the working class is the victory over the exploiters. Only the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of socialism can end wars, exploitation and poverty for all time.”

Contrast this unequivocal presentation of the internationalist working class stand against war with that of the centrists in the Independent Labour Party as expressed in the latest issue of its paper, the New Leader, to reach here. That paper carries as its main head: Will Revolution in Germany End the War. The headline itself could just as easily be the lead in the Conservative Times. As a matter of fact, the entire capitalist press of Great Britain features revolution ... in Germany.

The article in the I.L.P. paper takes up most of its space with a description of the possibilities of an overthrow of the Hitler regime. Only towards the end does it remind itself that “we must strive to secure than when this war ends (is it presumably to end only in one way, by revolution in Germany? – P.G.S.) the system of capitalism which causes poverty and war ends with it, and that here, too (well, well – Ed.) we begin to build a Socialist Britain and a Socialist World.”

The I.L.P.’s “internationalism” has always been strangely coupled with a peculiarly nationalist behavior of its chief parliamentary spokesman, James Maxton. Here is an example of Maxton presenting the I.L.P. position, so to speak, at a time when anti-Munich sentiment ran high in the Commons:

“I am not a fighting man. I am not bellicose. I am reasonable and rational. Great Britain (!) never disarmed, never without great resources of men, money and materials, could surely face up and say something definite (!) to the powerful dictatorial nations of Europe.”

His speech greeting Chamberlain’s efforts at Munich itself created a scandal which is still remembered. The social patriots used it to great advantage in Great Britain today. Thus, the Lord Provost of Glasgow, whom we mentioned in a recent column, in the course of an article in Forward: “Even James Maxton, the chief spokesman of the pacifists in Parliament, has admitted that the Prime Minister did everything possible to avert the catastrophe.”

The difference between the I.L.P. stand and that of the Militant Labour League is the difference between opportunists to whom program is a matter of indifference and revolutionists who approach every problem precisely from the point of view of their fundamental program.

* * *

John McGovern, another I.L.P. parliamentarian, whose politics are not much better than Maxton’s, nevertheless occasionally rises to a far higher level of moral courage. The British press tells this story:

On September 2, when the declaration of war was being debated in the House of Commons. Arthur Greenwood, the leader of the Labour Party got up to make an impassioned speech pledging the support of the social patriots to the Chamberlain government. His ringing jingoistic phrases were greeted by “members of all parties” with cheers and cries: “Speak for England!” Greenwood reached the peak of his oratory with this sentence:

“If we march I hope we shall march in complete unity, and march with France.”

Suddenly, the papers report, “there was a dramatic intervention by Mr. John McGovern.”

“Turning round and facing the crowded Socialist benches, Mr. McGovern shouted: ‘You people don’t intend to march, not a damn one of you!’”

The press attacked McGovern’s remarks as “in bad taste.” He was not polite enough to refrain from reminding the war-mongering Labour generals behind the front that their generous pledges to “sacrifice all” were to be taken out exclusively from the hides of the millions of their trade union followers. Greenwood and Co., as is well known, are amply provided with soft berths in the administration at the rear.

* * *

McGovern’s commendable “rowdyism” in the House of Commons is about the high point of the I.L.P.’s contribution to the struggle against war. While we admire McGovern’s sense of the dramatic we cannot refrain from pointing out that even such completely middle class politicians as the elder LaFollette in the United States Senate have in their time shown a similar disregard for the amenities on occasion with similar personal courage – without thereby furthering the ultimate struggle against war appreciably.

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