Defence.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 9th March 1936.

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Photo of Mr John McGovern Mr John McGovern , Glasgow Shettleston

I will only say in passing that commitments have been made by the leaders of the trade union movement in the country that they are prepared to support the Government if the Government are driven to war. They speak on behalf of the Labour movement, industrially and politically, when they say that they are committed to support the Government in war. Here is the statement relating to defence on page 16, para 49: What we have to do is to carry through, in a limited period of time, Measures which will make exceptionally heavy demands upon certain branches of industry and upon certain classes of skilled labour, without impeding the course of normal trade. This will require the most careful organisation and the willing co-operation both of the leaders of industry and of Trade Unions if our task is to be successfully accomplished. But the Government have every confidence that these conditions will be fulfilled. Does any hon. Member dare to tell me that the Government would speak in an authoritative manner like that of the cooperation of a trade union leader unless they had received a promise from the leaders of the trade unions? Moreover, it has been stated by representatives of the Labour party that they stand to support the Government in every emergency in case of war. Let me give a quotation from a speech made just before the formation of the National Government by a right hon. Gentleman who sits on the Labour Front Bench. It is taken from the "Daily Telegraph" in August, 1931: Brighton., Friday night.Co-operation for national safety on the part of the three political parties of our country was the formular which Mr. J. H. Clynes, the Home Secretary, gave in a speech here to-night as the remedy for the economic dangers that beset us. It was far from being true he said, that this country was down and out or nearly so. Our internal resources were still enormous and we had the means and ability to face the dangers confronting us. But those dangers could only be faced by the development of an essentially national spirit. Parties may act separately in normal times but they must act co-operatively when the nation was faced was a financial crisis or of any other kind. There are many young men growing up who know nothing whatever of what it was like in the later years of the War, but I ask that they should give their closest and undivided attention to what I expect will be the lead given by the unity of political parties in this country in the face of the crisis, which has to be overcome. That was before the National Government was formed. Evidently the right hon. Member for Platting (Mr. Clynes) anticipated joining the National Government. Sir Walter Citrine has declared that the movement will support the Government in the event of it being driven to war in defence of collective security. If it is to be collective security surely it must also be collective rearmament in order to be able to use power in the interest of capitalist collective security, which is the road upon which we are being driven. I have been informed, I hope it is not true, that the man to be in charge of national defence is Sir Walter Citrine. If that is true then I want to press the claims of Ernest Bevin, who I think is a much more capable man. He has greater dictatorial power, which he uses at the Trade Union Congress by holding up cards representing 400,000 trade unionists. If the Government are considering a man as Minister of Defence Ernest Bevan is the man. In the last War the Secretary of State for the Colonies was not in the Coalition Government, but the right hon. Member for Platting was. To-day the positions are reversed, and if a national emergency takes place, if war ensues, then surely we shall have national unity on behalf of the collective security system and it is not too much to expect the right hon. Member for Platting to join the National Government and thus complete the circle in order to defend the system of collective secuity. If it is right internationally, then logically it is right nationally.

If war comes there is bound to be a tremendous cleavage in the Labour movement, as there was in 1914 when the Independent Labour Party were compelled to take their stand against the War and when over 3,000 of its members went to prison against it. The great trouble, so far as the present position is concerned, is that the working-class forces are so weak that they could not take the stand of refusing to admit those who had gone over to the Coalition during the War. I can see this crisis in the Labour party developing as plain as anything. I can see the Labour party not knowing which way to go. They back the collective security system, the League of Nations, but when the Government say that it is necessary to mechanise our Army, that a more modern Air Force is desirable and that we must re-equip our Navy and lay down larger battleships and destroyers, then the Labour party are afraid to take the plunge and try to evade the logical responsibilities of their policy. Like a drowning man they snatch at any straw and use the Order Paper of this House to put down the Motion for rejection they have to-day. The Labour party is bankrupt of Labour class leadership. It does not know where it stands. No single member of it, if war came, would take a share in the Army, Navy or Air Force, but they will speak on behalf of millions of people down in the gutter who are struggling with adversity and poverty.

My job is to say to the workers in my division and throughout the country that capitalism is leading them to a desperate crisis in which every country is going headlong into national bankruptcy or into war, and that their duty is not to be used by the ruling classes in order to defend the interests of the ruling classes. Their duty is to defend their own country, and if the ruling classes place weapons in their hands it is their duty to use those weapons for winning power for the working classes in Great Britain; and that it is the duty of the working classes in Germany to remove Hitler and Goering and Goebbels in order to establish working-class power in Germany. The youth of the nation does not need to cross seas or frontiers; their enemy is within their own country, and if the Labour party were true to the principles of the class struggle they would be conducting a clear-cut fight in this House against capitalism and driving capitalism before it.

When the Armaments Bill passes this House no Member of this party is prepared to become a bargaining agent for the Government, no voice will be raised for diabolical instruments of war to be provided in our areas. I would rather see the workers, poor though they may be, without their hands staoned with the blood of millions of human beings. I say to the Government: get on with your armaments and the creation of your forces in this country, with the collaboration of your kept men in the trade unions. The workers in every country, in China, Japan, Germany, Australia, France and Great Britain, are being driven by force of circumstances to revolt and in the end will bring down the capitalist system and establish in its place a civilised system of society. We say that the Government if they did the intelligent thing would call, as we suggest, a world conference representing all countries and would say to them: "Look here, the game is up. In order to establish peace and security in the world we ought to bring the system of capitalism to a close and instead of private ownership and the rule of the gangster establish a system of common ownership of the means of life as the basis of civilisation." The Government are attempting to kidnap the youth of the nation for the purposes of destruction. We shall tell die workers that they have no part or lot in it.