Social Democracy, the First World War and the Working Class in Britain

The Working Class and the First World War: It is still Nation v. Class

Given this year’s barrage of state-sponsored propaganda over the First World War — a barrage which is set to continue long beyond the hundredth anniversary of its outbreak — we are republishing a document which has been long out of print. Originally published in Internationalist Communist Review in 1993, it was written at a particularly bleak time for the working class, especially in the long-established capitalist heartlands. Here ruthless economic restructuring had already pulverised whole sections of the industrial working class. The ‘new economy’ was already dominated by services and a new generation of flexible wage slaves brought up to believe that a working class with its own distinct interests opposed to those of capital was an outlandish notion left over from a bygone past. This triumphant capitalist ideology was of course reinforced by the collapse of the state-capitalist Russian bloc which ended the Cold War and which in the popular mind meant the defeat of ‘socialism’. The level of capitalist jubilation was summed up by one Francis Fukuyama whose 1992 book coined the term “the end of history”. His message that capitalism and Western liberal democracy marked the end point of human history was seized on and popularised by the media, at any rate in the West.

But history, as Marx was well aware, has no vital goal of its own. History is the product of class society and class struggle and its outcome is not preordained. No sooner had the end of history been proclaimed than the world began to realise that even when capitalism holds sway throughout the globe this does not mean the exclusive domination of ‘liberal democracy’ (i.e. the United States), much less the disappearance of the profitability crisis which had beset the world since 1971 and certainly not the disappearance of imperialist tensions and rivalry. First came the destruction of the Twin Towers and the unlikely challenge of Islamic jihadism from those who had been erstwhile allies of the US, a challenge which was used as the excuse for the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, an act above all designed to secure US control of oil flows and the consolidation of the dollar as the instrument for its international trade. Then, in 2008 came the spectacular bursting of the financial bubble fuelled by banks and financial fund managers borrowing against unimaginable amounts of fictitious capital. Since then the capitalists’ confidence in their bankrupt system (not just the banks) has been maintained by the illusion that state intervention to provide even more fictitious capital will keep the good times rolling, even as investment in the creation of new value continues to decline. Yet it is not the capitalists who are bearing the brunt of the crisis. As always it is the wage working class who are being told to work harder for less reward, to expect less and less in the way of welfare benefits; to accept that more people will be left without the means to live; in short to put up with everything that capitalism throws at them because this is the best of all possible worlds.

Meanwhile, as trade in today’s globalised capitalism flows more freely than at any time since before the First World War, ‘capitalism with Chinese characteristics’ has grown to challenge the supremacy of the USA, particularly in the Pacific. The parallel between the rise of Germany and the increased economic weight of the United States which threatened Britain and her empire before the First World War is being increasingly drawn. It is not the only comparison that is being made. Today the gulf between the richest and the poorest in the ‘advanced’ capitalist world is bigger than at any time since 1914. Without over-extending the parallels, the contemporary world situation resembles the run-up to 1914 in several key aspects. First, a global profitability crisis for capitalism which demands the destruction of capital values on a scale far beyond even the most dramatic domestic restructuring. Second, the sharpening of old and new imperialist rivalries. Third, the diminishing share of ‘national wealth’ accruing to the working class, a fact which accounted for the “repeated outbreak of serious strikes” (Arthur Marwick), not just in Britain but in all major capitalist states in the run-up to the First World War.

Of course this latter point begs the question as to why so many workers supported the war when it broke out. The powerful hold of social democracy over broad layers of the working class can hardly be over-estimated. The 2nd International had resolved to oppose a European war should it break out. The article here is an attempt to explain how social democracy’s support for the war (and here we include the Labour Party) was not an inexplicable act of treachery towards the working class but a consequence of its inability to understand that the capitalist state represents the interests of capital which are fundamentally opposed to the interests of the working class. Today, as yesterday, attempts to ‘democratise’ capitalist state institutions only foster illusions and throw obstacles in the road towards workers recognising that they owe no allegiance to their ‘nation state’. On the contrary, the only way to resist the increasing sacrifices that the state is demanding of the working class is solidarity with workers everywhere to overthrow the existing world order. In 1914 this might have seemed an unrealistic goal. By October 1917 the working class in Russia held out a revolutionary way out of the nightmare of capitalism’s first global war for workers in the rest of the world. That project found only a dim echo and ultimately failed. The isolation of the Russian working class not only destroyed that revolution but for ever afterwards has spawned the lie that Stalinism was socialism. But the fact remains that the option of taking the revolutionary road was presented to the world’s workers. Revolutions, strikes and mutinies broke out across Europe and the wider world from Seattle to Shanghai. It was enough to make the capitalist classes tremble but not enough to bring them down. Against the tide of propaganda telling us that despite all its horrors, ‘The Great War’ is justified because without it we would not be ‘who we are today’, we should remind ourselves that history has no predetermined outcomes. With capitalism offering us only more austerity, and with imperialist rivalries once again on the rise the same question posed at the start of the last century is still with us. “Socialism or barbarism” is the historic choice confronting humanity still.

Social Democracy, the First World War and the Working Class in Britain

For Marxists the 1st World War marks a watershed in capitalism’s history. Unlike previous wars this war encompassed the entire globe. It was a direct outcome of the imperialist rivalry amongst the ‘great powers’ — a rivalry which was not simply the result of bellicose policies on the part of particular governments but an inevitable consequence of the process of capital accumulation. By the beginning of the 20th century the concentration and centralisation of capital had reached monopoly proportions and the ‘purely’ economic competition between firms inside national boundaries was more and more becoming competition between national capitals where the lines between economic, political and military interests merged into a single interest: the interest of the state.

In short, as Lenin was the first to point out, capitalism had reached a new stage in its development from which there could be no going back. With its economic laws now operating on a world scale the system’s cyclical crises could no longer be resolved by the old means of bankruptcies, shut-downs and take-overs. Henceforward a much more massive devaluation of capital would be required; the kind of devaluation that can only come with the wholesale destruction and rundown of constant capital associated with modern warfare.

For the working class too the 1st World War also marks a watershed. For those who had eyes to see, it proved the impossibility of capitalism being peacefully and gradually transformed into socialism. The absurdity of the idea that the same expansionary forces which had led to capitalist imperialism would go on to usher capital towards some sort of centralised world system where war was a thing of the past was staring the workers’ movement in the face. Few chose to face up to this. On the contrary, when war finally broke out in 1914 the 2nd International collapsed as the majority of its affiliated parties abandoned any pretence at proletarian internationalism. In truth though, despite its pledges to wage “war on war” in the run up to 1914, the 2nd International had never been able to reach agreement on what the international working class should do in the increasingly likely event of an inter-imperialist war.

Imperialist War and the 2nd International

Only a minority — associated with the figures of Lenin and Luxemburg — actually regarded such a war as an opportunity for the working class to overthrow capital. In 1907 for example, they had managed to get a further paragraph added to the resolution on war adopted by the International Socialist Congress which met at Stuttgart. It read as follows:

In case war should break out anyway, it is their (the working class’) duty to intervene in favour of its speedy termination and with all their powers to utilise the economic and political crisis created by the war to rouse the masses and thereby to hasten the downfall of capitalist class rule.(1)

Yet, as the opening words of this sentence imply, the majority of the 2nd International were not seriously considering the possibility of war actually happening, much less the possibility of the working class seizing the opportunity to “hasten the downfall of capitalist class rule”. A predominant aspect of social democratic thinking was the belief that the democratising of existing society would inevitably lead to the proletariat gaining political power (since it was assumed that the working class would be the majority in an advanced capitalist society) and thereby to socialism. The advent of socialism was seen as the logical follow-up to the democratic revolution. And inside the stronghold of social democracy, the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), this was a ‘revolution’ which an increasing number of social democrats assumed would come via the ballot box. This, despite the fundamentally undemocratic system of Germany under the Kaiser. In fact there was compelling evidence that sooner or later those holding political power in Germany would have to take account of the electoral strength of the working class — or else go under. By 1912 the SPD could boast that it had 110 seats out of 397 in the Reichstag — the result of 4.5 million votes at the polls. But it is one thing for capital to be pressurised into conceding political reforms, it is another for the working class itself to take hold of political power and overthrow capitalism altogether.

Yet what today seems glaringly obvious was not so apparent to those who lived under autocratic regimes such as Wilhelmine Germany or, even worse, Tsarist Russia. The institution of bourgeois democracy — some sort of parliamentary system with possibly a constitutional monarchy — would have involved a revolution in the political make-up of these states. Whilst such a revolution was inconceivable in Russia with the forcible overthrow of the Tsar, in more capitalistically advanced Germany the peaceful transformation of the capitalist state came to be seen as a distinct possibility by the ‘revisionist’ rightwing of the SPD. Strictly speaking this did not involve a direct split between reformists and revolutionaries, at any rate from the standpoint of the proletarian revolution. The issue at stake was the bourgeois democratic, not the socialist revolution. Kautsky, for example, did not suppose that the political system of Wilhelmine Germany could be peacefully transformed and in this sense he was an anti-revisionist. Yet he came to theorise that the centripetal forces of international capital would eventually lead to a ‘supra-imperialist’ capitalist world where wars would be unnecessary and which would furnish the basis for international socialism. By implication of course international socialism would be instituted piecemeal and peaceably, but the full import of this was not clear. For the present — that is until 1914, the distinction between the long-term maximum programme (socialism) and the minimum programme (immediate reforms) enabled social democrats to hold on to the illusion that revisionists, reformists and revolutionaries alike were all working for the same ultimate goal.

Illusion it was though; an illusion fostered by the apparent unanimity of the forces of the 2nd International against war and their very real ability to mobilise workers in anti-war demonstrations. During the first Balkan War (1912) the International Socialist Bureau (ISB) issued an anti-war manifesto which recognised that “the Balkan conflict can at any time become a general conflict” and appealed to the proletariat of Europe to “take action against war and against the spread of the Balkan conflict … with its whole organisational might, with mass action.” Even before the manifesto was published on 29th October, 1912 there were massive demonstrations in Germany. On 20th October 150,000 workers had demonstrated in Berlin alone and mass demonstrations spread throughout Europe. On 17th November — following the request of the SPD — large-scale protests were organised in all European capitals where there were parties affiliated to the International.

On this occasion representatives of various socialist parties, Jaurès and Renner in Berlin, MacDonald, Vandervelde and Scheidemann in Paris, spoke up and warned governments that ‘they shall not set Europe ablaze with impunity’ … In Pré-Saint-Gervais near Paris over 100,000 people demonstrated. ‘We are not powerless’, the whole socialist press said again and again, ‘because the rulers will not wage war if they realise that the people do not want war.’(2)

Against this background an extraordinary Congress of the ISB was held at Basle. In the words of Jean Longuet (French right-wing Socialist), it was intended to be “a powerful demonstration of the unity of the socialist movement in the anti-war struggle, a harmonious expression of the power of the International”. Yet, despite the rhetoric and heady atmosphere generated at Basle, the social democrats were further away than ever from agreeing a concrete strategy in the event of war actually breaking out. The overwhelming emphasis at the Basle Congress was the prevention of war by putting pressure on governments. Alexandra Kollontai (then a Menshevik) recorded her impressions of the Congress in a letter,

One felt the need to frighten Europe, to threaten it with the ‘red spectre’, revolution, in case the governments should risk a war. And standing on the table which served as a platform I did threaten Europe … It was tremendous, you know, the protest of the peoples against war, and Jaurè’s marvellous voice, and the wonderful and hoary old head of my beloved Keir Hardie, and the great organ, and the revolutionary songs, the meetings … I am still dizzy with all I have lived through.(3)

Not only did the majority regard the prospect of proletarian revolution as a means of threatening governments rather than something to be directly worked for, at Basle the ISB resolved to step up the anti-war campaign by “ever more energetic propaganda, by ever firmer protests” which would be extended to include the middle class and pacifists in general alongside the working class. In other words, working class action against war was to be limited to demonstrations and turned into a populist movement. Any notion that imperialist war was intrinsic to capitalism was quietly rejected. The establishment of a peaceful capitalism via disarmament, not socialism via revolution was now the International’s express aim. Accordingly the ISB rejected out of hand Luxemburg’s proposed amendment on mass action to the draft Basle manifesto. This read as follows:

This action must be strengthened in form and in intensity as the threat of war increases so that in the event of the ultimate calamity it can culminate in decisive revolutionary mass action.(4)

Similarly, opposition by Pannekoek, Radek and Lensch to the working class aligning itself with middle class pacifists went unheard, as did their critique that the International’s policy of urging capitalism to disarm was utopian. Although the ISB continued to call for socialists to organise meetings and demonstrations right up to the beginning of the war, once this policy of threatening governments with revolution had inevitably failed and war finally broke out, nationalism proved to be the strongest sentiment within the ranks of social democracy.

The ruling classes’ fear of a proletarian revolution as the sequel of a world war has proved to be a real guarantee of peace.

Basle Manifesto, 1912

When the war finally did begin, amongst the social democratic parliamentary representatives of the belligerent countries only the Serbians voted against war credits while in Russia the Menshevik and Bolshevik deputies (to Lenin’s anger) abstained. As Schorske has put it for German Social Democracy:

The slogan ‘To this system, no man and no penny’ was finally abandoned for the slogan which had competed with it since 1907: In the hour of danger we shall not leave the Fatherland in the lurch.(5)

In France, Guesde and in Belgium, Vandervelde — leader of the Socialist Party and President of the ISB — joined capitalist war cabinets soon after the war began. Labour stalwarts, Arthur Henderson and J.H. Thomas in Britain joined Lloyd-George’s Cabinet in May 1915.

Imperialist War and the British Working Class

Revolutionary Marxists have tended to explain mass working class support for the 1st World War in terms of the betrayal of socialism by the leaders. Clearly this has more than a little bearing on the situation in Germany where thousands of young recruits went off to war singing social democratic songs, having been assured by the SPD leadership that this was a war of legitimate national defence against attack from the bête noir of the International, reactionary Russian Tsarism.

In Britain however the Labour Party, as distinct from the Independent Labour Party (ILP), was composed largely of trade unionists who generally made no claim at all to be socialist or else Fabians who rejected outright the idea of proletarian revolution and supposed that socialism had something to do with the extension of state (i.e. the capitalist state) control over society. In any case the Marxist conception of socialism coming about through class struggle was anathema to Labourites who, in the words of Engels, acted politically as the tail of the Liberal Party while the thought that “workers have no fatherland’ (Communist Manifesto) never entered their heads.

Amongst this working class which “think about politics in general the same as the bourgeois think” (Engels, 1882) there was no shortage of cannon fodder for British imperialism. Only five weeks into the 1st World War 175,000 men had responded to Kitchener’s Call to Arms. In all the voluntary system lasted until the end of 1915 and brought 2.5 million recruits. The majority were working class and many left relatively well-paid jobs to go to the war front. In the coal industry, for example,

…191,170 trade unionists, almost a fifth of the total labour force, had joined the armed forces by February 1915.(6)

In the early days, at any rate, there was undoubtedly popular enthusiasm for war, an enthusiasm which was encouraged by trade union and Labour leaders who not only agreed to suspend the class struggle during the war but encouraged workers to risk sacrificing their lives by urging them “to rise to the national crisis”.

The widespread support for the war amongst the working class cannot be explained simply in terms of a desire for adventure and a change from the monotony of work and life at home. Nor is unemployment a satisfactory answer. Working class volunteers did not come exclusively from the ranks of the unemployed. With 20 per cent of the male population of prime military age (20-35) voluntarily responding to appeals “to help your country at this critical moment”, it is clear that patriotic values pervaded the British working class as much as the rest of society.

Imperialist ideology also penetrates the working class. No Chinese Wall separates it from the other classes.

Lenin, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism

And patriotism was part of imperialist ideology: an ideology which, as Lenin later put it, “also penetrates the working class. No Chinese Wall separates it from the other classes”. (Imperialism, The Highest stage of Capitalism.) Today this may appear obvious. It was not so obvious in August 1914. In the first place, despite Lenin’s use of the "workers have no fatherland” slogan to emphasise the betrayal of the 2nd International, there had by no means been an established anti-patriotic principle within Social Democracy. If anything, it was assumed that the interests of the working class represented the interests of the nation (i.e. in the sense of the majority of the ‘people’), no matter that ‘the nation’ was increasingly identifying itself with the imperialist state. Thus, Rosa Luxemburg could still couch her attack on the German Social Democrats’ failure to oppose the war in terms of their “desertion of the fatherland”.

Yes, Socialists should defend their country in great historical crises … the highest duty of the Social Democracy toward its fatherland demanded that it expose the real background of this imperialist war, that it rend the net of imperialist and diplomatic lies that covers the eyes of the people. It was their duty to speak loudly and clearly, to proclaim to the people of Germany that in this war victory and defeat would be equally fatal, to oppose the gagging of the fatherland by a state of siege, to demand that the people alone decide on war and peace, to demand a permanent session of Parliament for the period of the war, to assume a watchful control over the government by parliament, and over parliament by the people, to demand the immediate removal of all political inequalities, since only a free people can adequately govern its country, and finally, to oppose to the imperialist war, based as it was upon the most reactionary forces in Europe, the programme of Marx, of Engels and Lassalle.
That was the flag that should have waved over the country. That would have been truly national, truly free, in harmony with the best traditions of Germany and the international class policy of the proletariat.(7)

Here in a nutshell is the Social Democratic conception of internationalism: a coming together of distinct nations or peoples, not the overcoming of nationalist sentiments within the working class through a common struggle against capital which of necessity extends beyond national frontiers. It was a conception which had its roots in radical democracy and in Britain, in an even earlier period of capital’s development. Here too, but particularly in England, there had been a tradition of radical patriotism inside the working class.

It was a tradition which reached back before the French Revolution and incorporated populist myths such as the liberty enjoyed by the English people in Saxon times, under “Good King Alfred” before the imposition of the “Norman yoke”; and variations of the “God is an Englishman” idea invoked by a strand in radical Protestantism from the English Revolution onwards. By the 18th century the radical patriot would probably have defined himself as a “freeborn Englishman” who had a constitutional right to liberty; a right which was being usurped by a corrupt and tyrannical government in favour of an aristocracy which hailed from abroad. As the century progressed ‘patriotism’ became so much identified with radical opposition to government, especially extra-parliamentary opposition, that it was no longer regarded as a respectable attribute by the establishment. In the 1755 edition of Samuel Johnson’s dictionary, for example, a ‘patriot’ is described as “One whose ruling passion is the love of his country”. Twenty years on, after mounting calls for a radical reform led by figures such as John Cartwright (who wrote a pamphlet whose demands prefigured those of the Chartists), this definition was replaced by the famous aphorism that “patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”.— A ‘scoundrel’ presumably being someone who took the struggle for a representative parliament and against corrupt government to the populace as a whole. By the time of the French Revolution there was a thriving radical movement ready to absorb Paine’s ideas on the Rights of Man and the Revolution’s notions of democratic government.

The freeborn Englishman merged with the bourgeois democrat in a popular movement for radical parliamentary reform. The artisans and wage labourers who were at its head articulated their political aims through Corresponding Societies and clubs like the Manchester Patriotic Society, comprising “mechaniks of the lowest class”. The calls for the restoration of “Ancient Liberties” mingled with declarations about being “Citizens of the World”. This particular blend of English radical democratic patriotism survived in working class political life through until Chartism, when:

Once again there were Patriotic Societies and Patriotic newspapers. Chartist leaders, particularly if they had suffered imprisonment, were the "distinguished patriots” , "the noble-minded patriots”, the “liberated patriots" (McDouall and Collins), “one of the greatest patriots the world ever saw” (0’ Connor), "one of the most unflinching patriots of the world” (Fletcher) or simply the "PATRIOT LOVETT”.(8)

Yet it was a concept which never belonged exclusively to the radical democrats and which was always ambiguous. The ‘true patriot’ was just as likely to invoke images of the Roast Beef of Old England (which tune was played at the Manchester dinner to celebrate the release of imprisoned Chartists McDouall and Collins) as the internationalism espoused by Harney and the Fraternal Democrats. Both sets of imagery could and were absorbed by the existing parties of the political establishment as part of the process of undermining the threatening aspects of the radical movement. Liberalism, for instance, took over the old working class internationalism with its campaigns against autocracy and tyrannical government abroad. The Tories, on the other hand, skilfully used the sort of patriotism espoused by Cobbett or O’Connor as they peddled the image of England as the home of freedom whose benefits should be spread to less fortunate nations.

This notion of patriotism was easy to tie in with John Bullish, ‘little Englander’ Toryism. Like all historical processes, the ideological undermining of radicalism was not a clear cut affair but there was a turning point somewhere in the 1870s when, round about the same time as the Workmen’s Peace Association was entreating the Foreign Office, “... to use your utmost influence in Favour of Neutrality in the horrible War between Russia & Turkey, and alsow against any increased expendeture on our armaments”(9), G.H. MacDermott was launching what would become known as the ‘jingo Song’ round Britain’s Music Halls (by this time a potent source of Tory propaganda). This became the most well-known of a host of similar patriotic songs which expressed the Tories’‚ pro-Turkish policy (i.e. the fear that Russia might gain naval access to the Mediterranean) in popular form. It ran as follows,

We don't want to fight, but by jingo if we do,
We've got the ships, we’ve got the men, we’ve
got the money too.
We've fought the bear before, and while we’ re
Britons true,
The Russians will not have Constantinople.(10)

Well before 1914 patriotism had become inextricably bound up with an imperialistic world view which was by no means the exclusive preserve of jingoistic Toryism but which extended across the political spectrum and throughout society. Already, in 1881 Lord Roseberry was countering the Liberals’ traditional antipathy to imperial aggrandisement by redefining ‘imperialism’ as ‘patriotism’. (“I mean the greater pride in Empire which is called Imperialism, a larger patriotism.”) During the 1895 election campaign, Roseberry declared himself a ‘Liberal lmperialist’, defined as:

First, the maintenance of the Empire; secondly, the opening of new areas for our surplus population; thirdly, the suppression of the slave trade; fourthly, the development of missionary enterprise; and fifthly, the development of our commerce, which so often needs it.(11)

Whether cast in terms of militaristic territorial expansion or the reluctant shouldering of the white man’s burden, the Empire had come to be regarded as almost an intrinsic part of Britain. By 1914 patriotism and imperialism were interdependent. A new ideological consensus had been forged in response to the changing international economic and political context in which Britain and her Empire found itself. Increasingly capitalist competition was becoming rivalry between states. Imperialist ideology was not just about hanging on to or even extending Britain’s existing overseas possessions but, as with all the other ‘Great Powers’, involved identification of the nation with the interests of the state. In the early years of the twentieth century this dominant ideology came more and more to be associated with Empire loyalty.

It was not just about patriotism but involved militarism, the cult of royalty and national heroes, and social Darwinism. After the Boer War in particular imperialist ideology became bound up with statism and national efficiency: the need for a strong economy to combat foreign commercial and industrial competition; the need for a strong army and navy to combat the growing military strength of rival states; and the need to reduce infant mortality since the birth rate was now seen as a matter of national importance. Children were a “national asset”, “the capital of a country” on whom “the future of the country and Empire” depended. It was a world view many of whose aspects were shared by Conservatives, Liberals, Liberal imperialists, Fabians, as well as a large number of trade unionists, Labourists and socialists.

By the late 19th century patriotism had become a key aspect of the ideology of the imperialist state. The weight of that ideology over the working class was immense. Empire propaganda permeated almost every aspect of workers’ lives — from the school text book to cigarette cards and imperial exhibitions which linked British capitalism’s success to imperialism; from the mass circulation popular press to music hall turns and songs; from children’s literature to everyday advertising and commemorative knick-knacks. It was an ideology that was sometimes unconsciously, but often consciously propagated amongst the working class as an antidote to class conflict: a world view which assumed unity of the ‘national interest’ and where individuals, not classes stood in equal relationship to each other and the state. The ease with which this ruling class ideology was transmitted through the bulk of the working class is undoubtedly linked to the development of a commercial, mass culture — part of a process more complicated than simply the ‘bribery’ of the upper strata of the working class with some of the material rewards of imperialism. The consolidation of the bourgeoisie’s ideological hold over the working class through the eradication and replacement of relatively autonomous elements of popular, working class life was not simply the result of technological advance. Rather, the latter stemmed from the necessity to maintain profitability by producing for ever-wider markets. Before the mass market came into being the more autonomous aspects of the popular press had to be either destroyed or absorbed and redefined. For example, the launch of the first mass circulation newspaper, the Daily Mail (which reached a circulation of 700,000 in four years) in 1896 was only possible once the old radical press had disappeared or been marginalised.

The ideas of the ruling class are, in every age, the ruling ideas…

Marx, The German Ideology

After the defeat of Chartism this was accomplished not so much by State repression but by the abolition of stamp duty and allowing free reign to the establishment of a commercial capitalist press. In the 1850s more perceptive representatives of the capitalist class, such as Milner-Gibson, president of the Association for the Repeal of the Taxes on Knowledge, had realised that,

… a cheap press in the hands of men of good moral character, of respectability, and of capital [would give them] the power of gaining access by newspapers, by faithful record of the facts, to the minds of the working classes.(12)

Free speech, one of the pillars of popular radicalism, was thus one of the weapons taken up and used by capital to eradicate it. The commercial and political interests of capital complemented and reinforced each other. This, not just with regard to the establishment of a popular capitalist press, but to virtually every aspect of what was to become the ‘leisure and entertainments industry’. The result was a culture organised by capital for the working class. With this came capital’s imperialist ideology as an intrinsic aspect of it.

This is not to deny that there was implicit antipathy towards the imperialist state based on class solidarity from a minority of politicised workers. Nor does it mean that workers in general were prepared to forsake their immediate material interests in the years immediately before the 1st World War when, as Challinor argues, “Industrial strife at times verged on civil war”. However, the working class political press associated with that strife remained a marginal aspect of everyday reality for the majority of workers. The Syndicalist, for example, achieved a monthly circulation of 20,000 at its height in 1912 — a far cry from the daily circulation of the commercial press. In keeping with their emphasis on industrial struggle, a broader anti-imperialism was not central to syndicalist propaganda, although anti-militarism was. Amongst socialists in general, few saw a contradiction between supporting the ‘national interest’ and the goal of a socialist future. This was not just in the case of the Blatchfords with their Merrie Englands and the Hyndman’s peddling England For All — i.e. those who openly supported British imperialism. Socialists like Ramsay MacDonald and Keir Hardie (both ILPers) who regarded themselves, and were regarded by others, as anti-imperialist, fell in line on the outbreak of world war. Nation was now unambiguously put before class. Here is Hardie, for instance, the man who supposedly died of a broken heart as a result of the 1st World War and only four days after taking part in an anti-war demonstration in Trafalgar Square, speaking to his Merthyr constituents:

A nation at war must be united with the boom of the enemy's guns within earshot the lads who have gone forth to fight their country’s battles must not be disheartened by any discordant note at home.(13)

Similarly, MacDonald's pacifism did not prevent him from offering his services to his country or from recommending that the working class do their duty:

Should an opportunity arise to enable me to appeal to the pure love of country — which I know is a precious sentiment in all our hearts, keeping it clear of thought which I believe to be alien to real patriotism — I shall gladly take that opportunity. If need be I shall make it for myself. I want the serious men of the Trade Union, the Brotherhood, and similar movements to face their duty. To such men it is enough to say ‘England has need of you’.(14)

Compare this to Lenin whose first public utterance on the war (made in Switzerland to a group of Bolsheviks in September, 1914 shortly after his extradition from Austria) was to condemn “The betrayal of Socialism by a majority of the leaders of the 2nd International (1889-1914) [which] signifies an ideological and political collapse of the International.”(15) Far from collaborating with governments and bosses to ensure social peace, the task of revolutionaries was to work for the continuation of the class struggle during the war. Inevitably this would mean coming up against the state but if this involved the mass of the working class a civil war situation would be created — i.e. a potential revolutionary struggle between the working class and the capitalist class. Clearly such a tactic meant that revolutionaries must be prepared to adopt illegal methods of work. An important part of this work would be in the armed forces where revolutionaries must advocate, not pacifism and disarmament, but the turning of soldiers’ and sailors’ weapons against their immediate class enemy.

The slogans of Social-Democracy must now be: First, an all-embracing propaganda of the Socialist revolution, to be extended also to the army and the area of military activities; emphasis to be placed on the necessity of turning the weapons, not against the brother wage slaves of other countries, but against the reaction of the bourgeois governments and parties in each country; recognition of the urgent necessity of organising illegal nuclei and groups in the armies of all nations to conduct such propaganda in all languages; a merciless struggle against the chauvinism and patriotism of the philistines and bourgeoisie of all countries without exception.(16)

It was these principles and tactics which were behind the concept of revolutionary defeatism adopted by the Bolshevik Party and later incorporated into the programme of the Zimmerwald Left. They formed the only coherent basis for revolutionary opposition to the war.

The Response of Socialists in Britain

The split which occurred within Continental Social Democracy over the issue of support for the war only had a faint echo in the British socialist movement. For the Labour Party as a whole, which made no claim to be socialist — and which had only been admitted to the lnternational in 1908 by means of a special resolution — there was never any question of whether or not to oppose the war. Any debate which did occur therefore tended to be out of the main frame of the labour movement and reserved for the meeting rooms of the socialist sects, out of earshot of the majority of workers. Even worse than their political isolation though, was the muddle-headedness of the majority of British socialists, brought up in their own peculiar Lib-Lab radical tradition and for the most part without even a token adherence to Marxism or the necessity for the political overthrow of capitalism. In short, the ingrained nationalism and reformist mentality of the majority of the British left ensured that issues such as the nature of the war and the possibility of a class struggle against it for the most part escaped them.

The Independent Labour Party

There was thus no talk inside the Labour Party proper about “betrayal of the elementary truth of Socialism expressed long ago in the Communist Manifesto , that the workers have no fatherland” (Lenin). However, the ILP had been part of the 2nd International sine its early days and its representative at the 1910 Congress of the ISB, Keir Hardie, had been in favour of a general strike as the best way to “prevent and hinder war”.” What then was the ILP’s official response to the war? — Basically a middle of the road, pacifist one. It was in favour of a negotiated peace and on 11th August, 1914 the Party’s National Council issued the following anti-war statement which is clearly couched in national, not class terms.

Our nationality and independence, which are dear to us, we are ready to defend: but we cannot rejoice in the organised murder of tens of thousands of workers of other lands who go to kill and be killed at the command of rulers to whom the people are as pawns.(17)

In practice, though, even this mild anti-war statement was not complied with by many ILP leaders. Out of seventeen ILP councillors in Glasgow only two opposed the war in 1914, while twelve ILP MP3 had signed a declaration in defence of the war by October 15th.”(18) By February, 1915 the ILP had organised a Congress of socialists from the Entente powers (to which the Bolsheviks were not invited) where it agreed to resolutions describing the war as a war of ‘liberation’. The inconsistency of this position does not appear to have struck ILPers like MacDonald, Glasier and Snowden who continued to propagandise against the introduction of conscription while the Labour Leader published sympathetic reports on the fraternisation of troops in January, 1915. Clearly the Party was confused and it is untrue to say that it “had not supported the war” or even that it was “unashamedly pacifist”.(19)

Moreover, the pacifism which did exist within the ILP could not provide the framework for developing a revolutionary defeatist position. The ILP did not regard the quest for peace as anything to do with socialist revolution and had no conception of utilising the wartime crisis to develop the class struggle at home. For the ILP to have done this would have necessitated a break with its loyalty to the British state. This it was far from doing. Despite the anti-war sentiments and anti-militarist propaganda made by some of its members, this was made in the tradition of the ‘freeborn Englishman’ and the old radicalism rather than the standpoint of proletarian internationalism.”(20) Thus ILPers joined with Liberals in December, 1914 to form the Union of Democratic Control which aimed to secure a negotiated peace and open diplomacy on the part of the British government. In the same month ILPers also helped to form the No Conscription Federation which, needless to say, did not prevent the introduction of conscription in 1916.

At the same time the ILP maintained its Labour Party links (for example, sending delegates to the Labour Party Conference in 1916) and often worked with it on various committees set up by the Government. In short, it was an umbrella organisation only capable of spreading confusion. What’s more, unlike the SPD or the PSI in Italy, there was no organised minority striving for revolutionary clarity which could have split from the social democratic framework of the organisation.

It is sometimes charged against the ILP that it has never formulated its theory of socialism. That is true, and therein lies its strength.

Keir Hardie, The ILP and All About It

The British Socialist Party

Unlike the ILP, the British Socialist Party (BSP), with its origins in the Social Democratic Federation, claimed to have a Marxist basis. However, this had not prevented Hyndman and other SDF leaders from taking an expressly nationalist position during the Boer War, resulting in dissension within the party which was never resolved politically. By the time of the first BSP conference in May, 1912 the Hyndmanites found themselves in a minority on the newly-elected Executive. With the endorsement of a resolution by Zelda Kahan beginning,

Recognising that the armies and navies of modern capitalist states are maintained and employed only in the interests of the capitalist classes of those states; recognising further that so far as the workers are concerned there is nothing to choose between German and British imperialism and aggression, the executive committee of the British Socialist party dissociates itself from the propaganda for increased naval expenditure…(21)

BSP official policy at once made a U-turn and came into line with the resolutions of the 2nd International. While the internationalists remained the majority in the Party by 1914 the Hyndmanites were once more in control of the executive while the crucial question of the party's attitude to the war remained unresolved.

In the early days of the war Hyndman spoke on one of the three anti-war platforms at the anti-war demonstration in Trafalgar Square organised by the British section of the ISB. Nevertheless, by 13th August he was writing in Justice that “everybody must eagerly desire the defeat of Germany”. A month later the Party executive (which now included members with anti-war views) issued a manifesto stating that since,

...the national freedom and independence of this country are threatened by Prussian militarism, the party naturally desires to see the prosecution of the war to a successful issue.(22)

This was followed by a manifesto advising party members to take part in the Government’s recruitment campaign which evoked protest from several London branches and from Pollockshaws in Scotland, where John Maclean was a member. Yet although this further revealed the extent of the BSP’s disunity it was not the signal for a decisive stand against national defencism by the majority. Instead, the old factional skirmishes for control of the Party’s executive organs began again.

John Maclean’s Stand

Only in Scotland did John Maclean and a few of the BSP local branches oppose the executive’s line from the start. On 17th September, 1914 Maclean denounced the war as an inevitable result of capitalist imperialism and went on:

It is our business as Socialists to develop a ‘class patriotism’, refusing to murder one another for a sordid world capitalism. The absurdity of the present situation is surely apparent when we see British socialists going out to murder German socialists with the object of crushing Kaiserism and Prussian militarism. The only real enemy to Kaiserism and Prussian militarism, I assert against the world, was and is German social democracy. Let the propertied class, old and young alike, go out and defend their blessed property. When they have been disposed of, we of the working class will have something to defend, and we shall do it.(23)

Maclean immediately began to pursue an independent course of propaganda against the war in Glasgow but he remained aloof from the opposition’s attempts to oust the warmongerers from the Party’s executive. This was in keeping with is attitude throughout the internal struggles which had been going on since the Boer War. It illustrates the lack of significance he placed on political organisation. Maclean was a teacher who placed great emphasis on Marxist education classes as a means of developing the class consciousness of workers on an individual basis. His ideas of how the working class as a whole would become revolutionary were vague however and he placed little importance on the creation of a programmatically coherent and unified party which could give a clear political and organisational lead to workers.

One implication of Maclean’s views on organisation, or rather lack of them, was that he made little attempt to argue his case inside the Party. He had no intention of leading a national split from the BSP to create an alternative organisation firmly based on opposition to the war. Unlike Lenin and other revolutionaries like Gorter and Pannekoek, Maclean did not see that an ideological break with national defencism implied an eventual organisational split with social democracy. By the end of 1914 Lenin was already writing that:

Internationalism consists in coming together (first ideologically, then in due time also organisationally) of people who, in these grave days, are capable of defending Socialist internationalism in practice, i.e. to gather their forces and "to be next in shooting” at the governments and the ruling classes of one’s own ‘fatherland’ because it is not an easy task, it must be done in company with those who only wish to do it, who are not afraid of a complete break with the chauvinists and with the defenders of social chauvinism.
...only through the policy of a most decisive break and rupture with the first current, with all those who are capable of justifying the vote of appropriations, ‘the defence of the fatherland’, ‘submission to martial law’, the eagerness to use legal means only, the renunciation of civil war. Only those who follow such a policy do in practice build a socialist international.(24)

In the early years of the war Maclean did not share this conception. He didn’t find it necessary to break from the BSP whose official mouthpiece, Justice, supported the British Government’s war aims; whose right-wing attacked other members as “acting under instructions from Berlin”, who attacked Maclean’s own anti-war activities and plotted and campaigned for the arrest of fellow-BSPers who were opposed to the war. Like Luxemburg, Maclean seems to have thought that social democracy could be ‘revolutionised’ from within. Also like Luxemburg, Maclean took the view of the majority at the Zimmerwald and Kienthal conferences — i.e. for ‘peace without annexations’ and not revolutionary defeatism. Even so, his principled stand meant that by 1916 he was much closer to a revolutionary position and the editorial in the first edition of Vanguard presaging the founding declaration of the 3rd International three years later.

Nothing but socialism will do. This monstrous war shows the day of social pottering or reform has passed we shall oppose all national wars as we oppose this one. The only war worth waging is the class war, the workers against the world exploiters, until we have obtained industrial freedom.(25)

In effect this was calling for the “defeat of one’s own government” but without preparing the working class for using the opportunity to overthrow the system in the crisis that followed. As we have said, Maclean had not reached this conclusion in 1916 but he was to change his mind when news of the Russian Revolution broke in 1917. Meanwhile, though there was no organised revolutionary opposition inside the BSP. The majority continued to vacillate between a position somewhere to the right of the Zimmerwald majority and outright national defencism. When Vanguard ceased publication in 1916 after the arrest of Maclean and his followers there was not even the embryonic basis for the development of a revolutionary fraction inside the BSP. This, despite the exit of the Hyndmanites in June of that year.

The Socialist Labour Party

With about two hundred members in 1914, the Socialist Labour Party (SLP) was much smaller than the other socialist organisations. Like the BSP it had its origins in the SDF from which it had split in1903 over the latter’s increasing opportunism. Like the BSP the SLP claimed a Marxist base for its politics and, at least during its early years, demanded much greater political agreement and understanding from its members.

A party which has undertaken the work of revolutionising society must be dominated not only by a common purpose but also a common plan of action. A revolutionary socialist party ... must present not only the appearance but the reality of an intelligent disciplined unity.(26)

Challinor has rather dubiously (given the SLP’s undoubted syndicalist-style abdication of broader political work in the strikes of munition and engineering workers during and after the war) pointed to the similarity of outlook between the SLP and the Bolsheviks on the role of the revolutionary party. However, on the extent of social democracy’s opportunism in 1914, the SLP was more Bolshevik than the Bolsheviks. Until the outbreak of war Lenin had shared the view of the SPD as the “jewel in the crown” of social democracy as a whole. As early as 1903, however, the SLP saw the seeds of the SPD’s downfall as a revolutionary party in its success at the polls. Commenting on Eisner’s explanation that the SPD had polled three million “republican, democratic, socialist, anti-military votes”, the SLP retorted:

This lumping of opinion and diversity of interest is to our mind the beginning of the undoing of German socialism … the revolutionary party in Germany … fed and nurtured on the revolutionary tradition, has become the ghost of its former self. The mere mass of constantly increasing supporters at the polls is the most dangerous ground that a revolutionary party can accept … Regarded, then, from this point of view, the German socialist party has ceased to be revolutionary and has become reformatory … We in England of the Socialist Labour Party must learn the lesson of mere political success, if we desire in England there be formed a real militant class conscious working class.(27)

Given this analysis, the SLP had no trouble seeing the capitulation of social democracy to national defencism as a direct consequence of revisionism nor did it share the centrist view of many in the ILP and BSP that the war could be ended by ‘open’ diplomacy. The SLP saw the war as an inevitable result of imperialist competition. The political conclusions were drawn in The Socialist,

Our attitude is neither pro-German nor pro-British, but anti-capitalist and all that it stands for in every country of the world. The capitalist class of all nations are our real enemies, and it is against them that we direct all our attacks.(28)

The SLP was apparently also amongst the small number of revolutionaries who in 1914 supported Lenin’s view that a new International had to be formed.(29) In January, 1915 The Socialist’s view that the war could open up a revolutionary situation was in keeping with the resolution of the Left at the 1907 Stuttgart Congress.

As revolutionary socialists, we are bound to make the most of whatever opportunities present themselves for carrying our revolutionary principles into effect, and this war, involving as it does the working class of the leading countries in Europe in common disaster, may prove a blessing in disguise by providing them with the opportunity of throwing off the yoke of their common oppressor.(30)

Clearly these views put the SLP ideologically in the camp of the revolutionary defeatists. There is some evidence too that the organisation took practical steps to implement such a policy whose practical implication was not for socialists to conduct an idealistic campaign for workers to refuse to serve in the army, but to agitate within the armed forces. In November The Socialist claimed the SLP had been disseminating literature inside several regiments and quoted an internal document which stated “we shall do all that can be done towards stirring up insurrection in the army.”(31) However, there is also evidence to suggest that the SLP’s position was not so clear-cut as Challinor would have us believe. It is certainly the case that the Party rejected national defencism immediately (the editor of The Socialist, John Muir was obliged to resign in 1914 for advocating such) but it’s not so clear whether the official policy of “active opposition to the war” finally adopted at the April, 1915 Conference was one in line with revolutionary defeatism or with the Centrists and pacifists who wanted a negotiated peace without annexations. There was a difference. As Lenin put it in his report on the 1915 Zimmerwald Conference,

…if we are really and firmly convinced that the war is creating a revolutionary situation in Europe, then it is our bounden duty to explain to the masses the necessity of a revolution, to appeal for it, to create befitting organisations, to speak fearlessly and in the most concrete manner of the various methods of struggle and of its technique.(32)

The SLP may not have been so clear-sighted about this as Challinor makes out but of all the socialist organisations in Britain at the time it was ideologically closest to the Bolsheviks. In terms of capacity to influence masses of workers though it was, like all the other socialist groups in Britain, in the position of a sect with the great wall of the Labour Party and the trade unions preventing wider access to the minds of the working class.

Some Concluding Remarks

As we said at the beginning of this article, the 1st World War marks a historical watershed for both capital and labour. As to why the majority of workers in Britain saw no reason to oppose it, we have to look further than the treachery of social democratic political leaders. A sell-out can only occur when established principles are thrown overboard. Despite its relationship with the ILP, the Labour Party did not stand for socialism. As part of an alliance of trade unionists still engaged in deals with the Liberals to prevent Tories being elected in working class constituencies, most Labourites were not interested in the formation of a socialist party of any description. The reason for this must be sought in the material situation and precise history of the British working class. Marx and Engels had put down the “political nullity of the English workers” (Engels) to the relatively high standard of living they enjoyed as a result of British capital’s domination of the world market. The net result was that workers in general tended to associate their own interests with those of the imperialist state. In 1883 Engels said (in a letter to Bebel) that this situation would continue so long as British capital’s world monopoly remained. Likewise, until there was a spontaneous movement against falling living standards by the working class which socialists could get control of, socialism would remain “a hotch-potch of confused sects, remnants of the great movement of the forties, standing behind them, and nothing more”.(33) However, Engels did not reckon on the Labour Party, that peculiarly British form of reformism whose existence pre-empted the formation of an independent working class party with a substantial working class base.(34)

Given the 2nd International’s collapse in 1914 and the fact that revolutionaries today are not part of a mass ‘socialist’ movement but isolated from the bulk of the working class, whichever country they happen to find themselves in, it might be asked what bearing the absence of a clear-cut social democratic period in British working class history has for us today. In a general sense of course it’s true that revolutionaries today are all in the same beleaguered boat, waiting for a change in the tide of working class passivity in the face of capitalism’s economic crisis. However, each ‘national’ section of the global working class has its own historical legacy. That legacy in Britain is a Party which has never done anything other than defend the wider interests of the British state as it followed the coat tails of the avowedly capitalist parties (First Liberal, then Tory). Yet it has managed to define itself as the legitimate ‘labour movement’, outside of which there are only sects. Labour’s failure to act in the interests of those who work for a wage is not new: it is just more obvious today. Today Labourism and the narrow-minded trade unionism that goes with it are still barriers to workers in Britain reaching a clearer view of where their real interests lie. This was a hundred times more the case during the time of the 1st World War and the revolutionary upheavals which came in its wake. This is not just because the Labour party could appear to be something it wasn’t as a result of its umbrella-like inclusion of ‘socialists’ like the ILP but because the very absence of a mass social democratic party in Britain meant that the political issues which were discussed in front of the whole working class elsewhere were simply not an issue for Labour, and as often as not that included the ILP as well.

This is not insignificant. The absence of wider political debate helped to reinforce Labourism and the low level of political awareness in general amongst the working class in Britain. Though revolutionaries were always a minority in all the important debates inside the lnternational: on whether socialism could be achieved gradually and whether they could justifiably enter capitalist governments; on the difference between mass political strikes and trades unionism; on the nature of a revolutionary working class political organisation; on the question of how to oppose imperialist war itself; at least these issues were reported and discussed in front of a wide working class audience. Not so in Britain where, as we have said, would-be revolutionary political fractions were left in the position of sects. Elements from these socialist sects did respond to the workers’ movement which rose as the material hardships of war increased, and when the example set by the Russian Revolution inspired even workers in Britain to look beyond Labour, leading eventually to the formation of the Communist Party of Great Britain. Yet Labour remained the ‘workers’ party’ in the minds of the majority of the British working class while the relatively tiny Communist Party became an apparently easily adaptable mouthpiece of the Comintern as the counter-revolution took hold in Russia. It is striking too how that Party took up again the banner of popular radicalism in the Thirties and Forties whilst the Communist Party Historians’ Group led by Dona Torr and comprising people like Christopher Hill produced a whole host of works under the heading of ‘people’s history’, ‘our history’, ‘the common people’ to reinforce the idea that the class struggle is a people’s and therefore a national struggle. The theory of the Norman Yoke was revived to show that the task of the English working class was, in the words of Dona Torr, “to win the battle of democracy”, a battle which stretches in an “unbroken English revolutionary tradition from John Ball to Tom Mann” while Christopher Hill explained to readers of a volume entitled Democracy and the Labour Movement that:

Marxism has subsumed what is valuable in the Norman Yoke theory — its recognition of the class basis of politics, its deep sense of the Englishness of the common people, of the proud continuity of their lives, institutions and struggles with those of their forefathers, its insistence that a propertied ruling class is from the nature of its position fundamentally alien to the interests of the mass of the people.(35)

He went on to argue that the working class must stand as a defender of the nation. Very convenient as a justification of the popular front antics of the Communist Party in the Thirties and its call on workers to participate in the 2nd imperialist world war under the banner of a people’s struggle against fascism. For revolutionaries today the significance of the 1st World War remains — all such talk of ‘people’s struggle’ of ‘defence of democracy’ or the like is so much bilge. The British working class is part of a world working class and ‘our history’ teaches us that we have no interest in sacrificing ourselves for imperialism.

The collapse of the 2nd International in 1914 marked the end of an era; the end of any possibility of a progressive political alliance of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. In capitalism’s imperialist epoch there are no longer any progressive capitalist wars and there is no room for popular radicalism and the patriotism associated with it. What the 1st World War also shows us is that the class struggle does not end once war is declared. On the contrary, as Lenin realised, an all-out imperialist war spells the making of a political crisis for the capitalist class while the hardships, death and destruction which accompany it provide the material impetus for the development of a spontaneous working class movement against war and the existing political order. As the third cycle of capital accumulation this century drags to its inexorable close, world war is once again on the historical agenda and revolutionaries have to face up to the need to frame a response. Certainly we cannot expect the working class to act en masse on the outbreak of war. If workers’ heads were full of capitalist ideology in 1914, how much greater and more sophisticated is capital’s thought control today? Only dreamers suppose that capital’s ideological hold over the working class can be undermined by the force of revolutionary propaganda alone. Until the existing order is undermined by the weight of its own material contradictions then the working class in general will remain unreceptive to revolutionary ideas. Despite twenty years or so of economic crisis, and despite the marginalisation of significant sections of the working class, workers in the capitalist metropoles are still relatively well off. It may be that the material impetus to revolt will once again be the deprivations of war. In any case, the response of revolutionaries will not be to suspend activities for the course of the war, to preach conscientious objection or pacifism. Their task will be to work for the continuation of the class struggle with the aim of turning the war amongst capitalist states into a war against the bosses at home in preparation for a revolutionary struggle for a new society. This is the basis for proletarian internationalism, not the pacifism of CND nor the patriotism of Labour.



N.B. Quotations in bold italic in the text above were in boxes in the printed version.

(1) From ‘Resolution Adopted at the Seventh International Socialist Congress at Stuttgart’ in Lenin, Collected Works Vol. XVIII, Martin Lawrence p.467.

(2) Georges Haupt Socialism and the Great War Oxford 1972 p. 84.

(3) Letter to T.L. Scepkina-Kupemik, quoted op.cit. p.91.

(4) op.cit. p.89.

(5) C.E. Schorske German Social Democracy, 1905-1917 Cambridge Mass. p.285.

(6) Raymond Challinor, The Origins of British Bolshevism London, p.123.

(7) Rosa Luxemburg, The Junius Pamphlet Merlin, London p.113.

(8) Hugh Cunningham ‘The Language of Patriotism 1750-1914’ in History Workshop Journal 12, 1981 p.17.

(9) op.cit. p.23. Cunningham notes that this particular petition came from Mursley in Buckinghamshire “... and was signed by fifty-three people, three of whom marked with the cross of the illiterate, and at least thirteen of whom were women. Some gave their occupations: there were fourteen labourers, two carpenters, two bricklayers, two farmers, a publican, a shoemaker, a builder, a farm bailiff, and an ‘eadgecutter’.”

(10) Dave Russell, ‘Patriotism, Jingoism and Imperialism’ in Popular Music in England, 1840-1914, M.U.P. p.114.

(11) C.C. Elridge, Victorian Imperialism, London p.180.

(12) Quoted by James Curran in ‘The Press as an Agency of Social Control’ in Boyce, Cunan and Wingates, eds., Newspaper History: from the 17th Century to the Present Day, p.60.

(13) Challinor op.cit. p.124.

(14) Letter to the Mayor of Leicester, 10.4.14., quoted ibid.

(15) Lenin, ‘Revolutionary Social Democracy and War’ loc.cit. p.61.

(16) From a resolution proposed by Hardie and Vaillant (leader of the French United Socialist Party) and voted down by the SPD as an anarchist tactic. See Haupt op.cit.

(17) See R.K. Middlemass, The Clydesiders, Hutchinson p.56.

(18) Walter Kendall, The RevoIutionary Movement in Britain 1900-21 London, 1969 p.111 and Middlemass loc.cit.

(19) As do Kendall and Middlemass respectively, thus adding to the myths about the Labour Left.

(20) For example, Bruce Glasier’s pamphlet The Peril of Conscription stresses that the author is not against ‘the fatherland' but imperialism and compulsory military service. Imperialism is typically seen in moral terms and not as an unavoidable product of capitalism’s development.

(21) Kendall op.cit. p.53.

(22) op.cit. p.86.

(23) In a speech on Glasgow Green. Quoted in Nan Milton, In the Rapids of Revolution, London, 1978, p.77.

(24) Lenin op.cit. p.97.

(25) Kendall op.cit. p.96.

(26) Quoted from ‘The SLP: Its Aims and Methods’ in Challinor, op.cit. p.34.

(27) Quoted from ‘What is a Revolutionary Party?’ SLP 1903; reprinted in Proletarian no.3, Communist Organisation of the British Isles (n.d.).

(28) Challinor op.cit. p.125.

(29) In November, 1914 The Socialist published a translation of an article by the Dutch revolutionary Marxist, Pannekoek which analysed the war as the consequence of imperialism and called for the formation of a new International. loc.cit. p.151.

(30) loc.cit. p.126.

(31) Kendall op.cit. p.75.

(32) Lenin op.cit. p.347.

(33) Engels to Bebel, August 30th 1883 in Marx-Engels Selected Correspondence Progress Publishers, p.344.

(34) Though before he died Engels did think that the formation of a Labour Party would be a step towards the establishment of a socialist party proper in Britain. However, he could not have predicted the staying power of Labourism. By the time the Labour Party officially mentioned ‘socialism’ in its programme, in 1918 — the famous clause 4 on nationalisation! — it was part of a strategy to undermine support for a genuine revolutionary programme.

(35) Quoted by B. Schwarz, ‘The “People” in History: the Communist Party Historians’ Group 1946-1956' in R. Johnson et. al. eds. Making Histories p.70.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Revolutionary Perspectives

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