Meltzer: What’s all this about Revolution?

By Albert Meltzer
War Commentary, April 1941
”The Left & World War II: Selections from the Anarchist Journal War Commentary 1939-1943″

Apparently the reactionary press so fears the approach of a genuine revolution that it strives to divert us with the date of the British Revolution one day last week! Everything from added wartime restrictions to trade-union leader and Royalty get-togethers have been hailed as heralding the millenium. This boulderdash does not impress any one in this country, of course – though it enjoys a certain vogue in America, where British propaganda falls between two stools – one, persuading American opinion that ‘class distinctions’ have been abolished; two, persuading it that Britain is not ‘going Socialist’.

Apart, however, from propaganda in America, there are a lot of people here persuading themselves that there will be a ‘better world after the war’: these are the social-democrats, pinning their hopes on a transformation of the government (having ceased to believe in the class-struggle) or on a declaration of peace aims by the present government. This is their idea of a ‘revolution’. Mr J. B. Priestley put it,

”They (the ruling class) did not like my Sunday night broadcast because I was trying to warn the people that this is no war like the last war and that when it is over there will be no going back to 1939. They did not like my suggestion that this is as much a social revolution as a war and that it must be met in that way.” (cf. Daily Herald, 13th March 1941, report of Mr Priestley’s speech to the National Trade Union Club the previous day).

Mr Victor Gollancz, whose Left Book Club was once the wooden horse of Troy for the Stalinists in the Popular Front days, has declared that the aims of the LBC now are identical with those of the Daily Herald (i.e. of Transport House) ”in logical continuation of its pre-war campaigns”: in short, that the policy of the left fringe of the Labour Party represented by Gollancz and Cripps (the Tribune pro-war socialists) is identical with the right-wing – it wants to win the war and establish a Labour Government similar to all other social-democratic governments that have proved traitors in the past. Thus do they not only announce their refusal to face the class struggle now: they also admit their logical continuation of their present policy afterwards, for the aim of the Daily Herald is nothing more than a government of Attlee, Bevin, Morrison and Co. (all in the present government) without co-operation with the Tories and Liberals.

Normally we need not listen too much to the advice of the Liberals – noo-one pays much attention to financial advice given by a man three times bankrupt. But the Liberal policies are all being trotted out again, and in many cases – owing to the lack of anything concrete offered by the Labour movement – are coated with a socialist veneer and adopted by the rest of the Left.

They began with a typical Liberal scheme of Federal Union, the League of Nations rehashed, which lost much of its popularity when Herr itler expropriated it. Mr H. G. Wells too, who coined the phrase ‘a war to end war’ last time, was rash enough to re-coin another slogan this time ”A Declaration of the Rights of Man”, formulated in the newspapers. This set the ball rolling, and Sir Richard Acland began ‘Our Struggle’ – a similar idea of declaring the peace aims of the government for it.

The Communist Party finds itself nearer sections of the liberals than anywhere else – fine ‘liberalism’ that finds itself allied with Chekists! In its People’s Fronting days it threw out all the remnants of its proletarian past, save those who recanted, and filled itself with bourgeois-minded followers of Deans and Barristers. As a result, when Stalin changed his mind about supporting the war he had got his followers to urge for – the Communist Party was unable to re-adapt its old pseudo-revolutionary policy. It probably intended to at first – the wistful plea ‘We have not studied our Marx and Lenin sufficiently’ will long be remembered – but its ‘People’s Convention’ episode shows it is still hankering for the People’s Front’: in spite of returning the last People’s Government’ it agitated for (Churchill, Attlee and Sinclair) it now wants another one, the most important feature of which will be ‘friendship with the Soviet Union’. Its alliance with second-hand liberals who want Russia to join the war so it can be won more easily was made clear by the declarations of the banned BBC artists – to take two typical cases, Guy Verney and Michael Redgrave, who both issued public statements that they were not opposed to the ‘national war effort’ but wanted to strengthen it and their participation in the People’s Convention was in their mind consistent with that end.

Just as the Communist Party has never forgotten the People’s Front, so the Right cannot forget its eulogies for Hitler. Even now the majority of them, while detesting him for being the leader of the Germans, have pains to conceal ttheir admiration of ‘what he had done’, which is shown in their admiration of the British Government’s emulation of its policy.

The more intelligent section, however, realise which side their bread is buttered, and have dropped their pro-Hitlerism in outvying the left in talk of ‘revolution’. Thus Lord Beaverbrook’s press, which during the Spanish War was notorious for its pro-fascist yellow journalism now takes up the cudgels for ‘left wing revolutions in Europe’. (For the benefit of American readers, when an Englishman talks of ‘Europe’ he does not include England!) This section of the Right has shed its fascist skin with the rapidity of a snake: readers of the London Evening Standard may compare the present series of ‘democratic revolution’ articles by Michael Foot with the lies and distortions against Spanish democrats and revolutionaries alike by Manuel Chaves Nogales of an earlier date.

We have often wondered why some enterprising American Nazi did not distribute some of the past arguments of certain British newspapers against intervention in European affairs! Some equally enterprising American Rooseveltian might then distribute forgotten German and Italian defences of interventionism!

But apart from these people who have apparently changed their mind, and who represent the Tory line of Churchill, there is a solid phalanx of (Chamberlain) Tories who are desperately opposed to the fear of playing with fire. The Imperial Policy Group in the House of Commons, for instance, warns its Colleagues against tampering with revolution in Europe, in spite of the fact that this is the only method by which Hitler can be overthrown. These are identical with the anti-change men – in particular the Army ruling clique.

The real Tories are not at all anti-Nazi, only anti-German: this is proved by the broadcasts of Sir Robert Vansittart, breathing across the ether the insiidious poison of racial hatred: talking of the Germans as Julius Strecher talks of the Jews, Pierre Laval of the English or Oswald Rirow of the Negroes.

But while the Tories may hate the Germans while the Left is only supposed to hate the Nazis, in effect it comes to the same thing. It makes not the slightest difference that the Laski-Acland-Wells theories are for supporting the war for ‘internationalist’ motives whereas the Captain Margessons support it for ‘patriotic’ reasons. The Left keeps ‘its workers’ in order, and the Right allays the doubts of the City of London. There is no doubt – in spite of some persiflage by Leftists about ‘winning the war by and for Socialism’ (Gollancz) – that the war will be won or lost by a combination of all the pro-war sections, each working in their own sphere, with occasional tiffs such as all coalitions are bound to occasion (especially when it comes to sharing Governmental positions).

But if the war is won by coalition, can that coalition be broken down immediately afterwards? There are too many obvious difficulties in the way. The quarrels over the Peace Treaty should one section want to build a federation of Europe and the other to smash Germany and her allies are obvious. But more than that: the war itself is bringing great changes, which cannot be wiped off by a stroke of the pen the day after the Armistice is signed. The war is bringing us nearer the totalitarian state: every new decree is a step in that direction. The Labour leaders have no objection to it: it turns out (as the Anarchists have always predicted) that the bureaucratic state is their real ideal. Fascism, without the brutalities often attendant on it, is in reality the Fabian-Socialist theory elaborated before Hitler was born. But what of the Tories? Have they any objection to the bureaucratic state, so long as they do not sacrifice their position under it? n the contrary, the more intelligent of them realise it is their only chance of survival, and others of them realise that what they admired in Hitler before the war was precisely the measures being adopted by the government today. The capitalists may have to sacrifice something, but the German and Italian experience shows them it is worth their while.

It seems likely, then, that the totalitarian state will be the next step in British politics. The liberals, foreseeing it, seek for declarations and promises that the individual’s rights will be respected, and that there will be some form of popular franchise. That apart there is no real difference on war aims: those who want to go back to 1939 capitalism realising that there must be some stabilising factor, those who want ‘socialism’ really having identical views on the co-operation of capital and labour. Internally, then, there will be no disagreement, externally, there may be considerable differences on European policy.

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