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Dwight Macdonald

Labor Action Bookshelf

(May 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 21, 26 May 1941, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

War by Revolution
by Francis Williams
Viking. 158 pages. $1.50

Everybody talks about revolution these days. Hitler talks about it, Bevin refers to it often. Petain uses the term almost daily and over here the liberal weeklies – like their colleague in London, the New Statesman and Nation – are constantly slinging the word around. The Man from Mars might think world revolution was at hand.

This kind of “revolution.” however, is strictly an export commodity. The idea is that if you can get the other side in the war to take your “revolutionary” talk seriously, it will be easier to win. This is the real basis of this little book by Francis Williams, a British Labor Party brain-truster who left the editorial staff of the party’s paper, the Daily Herald, to go into politics. According to the publisher’s blurb, he is “considered to be one of the coming men” in England today. His book, published in England several months ago and now reissued over here, is said to have created quite a stir in Labor Party and Liberal circles in London.

Mr. Williams’ thesis is that if this war “is fought as a national war for the victory of Britain and the established interests of Britain, it will in the end be lost. If it is fought as a war of democratic revolution in Europe it can be won.” He goes on to demonstrate in convincing detail that the conservative old order in England will never be able to meet the political drive and demagoguery of the Nazis and that there is slight military possibility of the Anglo-American alliance making headway against Hitler on the Continent by military means. He sees the only hope in the fostering of revolutionary movements in the occupied countries. Furthermore, he argues that the former European ruling classes cannot be depended on to lead these revolutions, since the Nazis can easily immobilize them (and are doing so) either by making small concessions to them as the price for political “cooperation” or by simply removing them from the posts of power. Hence it must be to the working class of Europe that any revolutionary appeals must be addressed. And in order to appeal to them, he continues, it is not enough to say that England is fighting for “freedom” or to promise them a restoration of the old world of pre-1939, since this was a world which meant poverty and insecurity for most of them.

An Admirable War Program

So far, so good. Most readers of this paper would agree with these points. And when the author comes to set down what he calls a “rough draft” of the war aims he urges the Churchill government to proclaim, we find such excellent sentiments as these:

“The British people ... pledge themselves in the war to fight for the establishment of a free Europe which shall give to all men and women within its territories security from poverty and avoidable distress.

“They affirm that all men and women have an equal right to share in the products of the wealth produced by their joint efforts ... and that the satisfaction of these claims must be the first consideration of all governments, taking precedence over all such interests, profits and privileges us have been common to inequalitarian societies in the past ...

“As an earnest of their intentions and of their determination to set aside all imperialist privileges the people of Britain further announce their readiness to assist forthwith in the establishment of a free and independent government of India answerable only to the people of India ... They undertake, farther, to renounce all imperial claims in their colonial possessions ...”

— Which Is Worth the Paper It Is Printed On

These are big and bold words. Needless to say, no such aims have been proclaimed. So what does Mr. Williams suggest should be done so as to persuade or force the present Churchill government to raise the banner of revolution – or if, as seems highly probable, this government refuses to do any such thing, to replace that government with one that will carry out his program? Mr. Williams gives us at great length his program for revolution OUTSIDE ENGLAND. But what about the revolution INSIDE ENGLAND which will be necessary before the other program can be carried out? Or doesn’t he think such a revolution will be necessary?

Apparently not, for in the whole book there is no hint – beyond the most general kind of exhortations – of what political measures must be taken in England itself. The book seems to be simply and purely an appeal to the good sense and humanity of the politicians now in control of the British government. Already it is clear that the appeal – as might have been predicted – has had no effect. The Churchill government has become steadily more right-wing in its composition, the Labor Party politicians who entered it last spring have been steadily reduced to the impotent and servile status of a Ramsay Macdonald (with the single exception of Bevin) and there have not been the slightest signs that Churchill is interested in freeing India, stating any war aims, or promoting any working class revolutions on the Continent.

Mr. Williams’ fine words have borne no fruit because he is asking of his liberal friends an impossibility – to wage a revolutionary war against Hitler (with the balance of power shifting steadily, as it always does in such cases, toward the Tories). I have no doubt he is sincere in his advocacy of working class democratic revolution, but he wrote his book on the wrong subject. What he should have discussed is how to bring about a revolution in England FIRST, as a preliminary to the revolutionary war he advocates.

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