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Paul G. Stevens

In the World of Labor

(23 December 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 94, 23 December 1939, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Australian Labor Bucks Conscription
for War in Europe

Resistance to the dragooning of youth for imperialist slaughter goes on in one form or another in all the belligerent countries. It is only rarely, however, that censorship allows a glimmer of the true situation to break through to see the light of day.

In Australia, for instance, our comrades of the Communist League (Fourth International) carried on a vanguard struggle against the so-called National Register, long before the war started. They explained patiently that the registration of all man-power by the government was merely a prelude to conscription. All the opposition parties, including the Labor Party and the Stalinists, supported the government then, and ridiculed the idea that Australia was preparing to conscript youth for war overseas.

When the war broke out, the Menzies Government finally proclaimed its intention to put conscription into force. However, the Sydney Sun, pro-Government organ, explained on October 23:

“They (the conscripts) will not bleed for Imperial ambitions or capitalistic advantage. They will simply learn how, if an enemy attacks their own country, Australia, to put up a good fight against him, instead of being pitched, untrained, into massacre.”

Now we learn that this last shred of deception has been dispensed with and that an Australian Imperial Force is to be raised and “would proceed overseas early in 1940.” This was the announcement made by Prime Minister Robert G. Menzies in the Australian House on November 29.

After going along for months in support of the government measures on the ground of their purely defensive character, the Labor leaders find themselves hard put to go the whole hog when the naked imperialist content of the war preparations is revealed.

The New York Times of November 30 reports:

“A motion by the leader of the Labor Party, John Curtin, that Parliament go on record as opposing the dispatch of an Australian Imperial Force to fight in Europe was defeated today in the House of Representatives. The government defeated the Curtin motion by only 33 to 28.”

The strong vote for the Curtin motion is indicative of the tremendous unrest which serves as pressure from the ranks upon the Labor leaders. The laboring masses have boycotted the National Register from the first. The voluntary recruitment system initiated by the government at the outset of the war was a flop.

Whether the Labor skates in Parliament and in official control of the unions will be able to stem the tide, whether the government will be able to make use of the pro-Hitlerite treachery of the Stalinists to derail the workers, is still a matter of conjecture. In their bi-weekly paper, the Militant, our Australian comrades wind up their exposure of conscription in the following words:

“Menzies’ conscription can be defeated. The workers are willing to follow a militant lead, as was shown by the National Register boycott. It is necessary that their opposition be mobilized and expressed by the medium of mass meetings, demonstrations and above all, by the enunciation of a clear-cut anti-capitalist policy.” (The Militant, November 11, 1939).

That the Australian Fourth Internationalists are doing their bit toward mobilizing the workers in this direction is evidenced clearly by their paper and by the successful mass meetings in Sydney and Melbourne, which they carry on incessantly despite the war regime.

Comrade Franz Meyer Imprisoned in Antwerp

At the beginning of September, our comrade Franz Meyer, member of the International Communists of Germany (I.K.D.) was arrested in Antwerp, Belgium.

Comrade Meyer was charged with furnishing anti-war cartoons to the weekly paper of our Belgian Revolutionary Socialist Party, La Lutte Ouvrière, under the name of Holz.

Here is an example of the “justice” meted out by the so-called “Socialist” Minister of Foreign Affairs, Paul Spaak, to a man whose alleged crime is that he puts his art in the service of the struggle against war. Is Belgian “democracy” really in such a poor state of health that it has to resort to the use of police measures against cartoonists and caricaturists? Is Spaak’s conception of the “democratic right of asylum” one in which a refugee artist from Hitler’s Germany is to be subjected to the same type of persecution as in Nazi Germany?

Meyer has been imprisoned since September. What is the accusation filed against him? Why is he being held incommunicado? What intentions does the Spaak government have with respect to this refugee revolutionist? Is this rebel artist to be deported and turned over to Hitler’s hangmen?

Every class conscious worker, every upright writer and artist has the right to demand an answer from the Belgian “democracy” on the case of Franz Meyer.

Swedish Section of “International Front Against War”
at Head of Reaction

Stalin’s invasion of Finland has called forth a tremendous reaction in Scandinavia. Sympathy with the attacked Finns reaches deep into the workers circles. The reactionaries are utilizing the situation for an attack on civil liberties. In Sweden the Communist paper Ny Dag has been banned and the government has ordered the press distribution bureau, which has a monopoly over the sale of papers on the streets and at the kiosks, to stop the distribution of the paper. Instead of protesting against this unheard-of coup of the government, the representative in parliament of the Swedish Socialist Party, Flyg, has become the advocate of even stronger measures. In a speech at the Riksdag session of December 2, he declared that it was “absurd” to grant Swedish democratic rights to the “agents of a foreign power” and demanded more appropriate measures on the part of the government. This adaptation of Flyg to the moods of reaction is not only cowardly but stupid. For, it is clear that the attacks of Swedish reaction against freedom of the press will not be halted at the doors of the Stalinists. Already, the weekly of Ture Nemann, Tross allt (In Spite of Everything), has been confiscated because its criticism of the Hitler regime is “too sharp.” Nermann has been hauled into court for that. Flyg is simply digging his own grave.

Flyg’s party is a member of the “International Front against War,” the successor of the London bureau. What attitude do Lovestone, Brockway and Pivert take towards the actions of their Swedish confrère?

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