International Situation.

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 1st November 1938.

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Photo of Mr John McGovern Mr John McGovern , Glasgow Shettleston 12:00 am, 1st November 1938

I cannot help feeling, in relation to this Debate, which is a continuation of the previous one of a few weeks ago, that it reminds me of a settlement in relation to an industrial dispute. During the period of a strike which has gone on for a long period men become financially exhausted and those within the home and the industry are keen on some form of settlement, until the position reaches a stage when almost any settlement would be welcome in order that people might get the economic means to purchase the necessities of life. In these circumstances the leader of the men finds himself in a position where he has not only to bargain but almost to accept the dictation of the employing class. When he has concluded a settlement which everybody is glad to have, an inquest begins and the workers discover, after the strike has been brought to an end, that they could have made a much better settlement. They then condemn the leader and for a period he is subject to attack because of the settlement which everybody had welcomed.

In relation to the peace which was made at Munich, I should like to say that I never consider that any peace is a perfect, satisfactory peace, and I never consider that any war is a justifiable war, because I have come to the conclusion that within the realms of capitalism war is a product of rivalry between groups. In the situation that developed a few weeks ago, when war seemed imminent, people said to me at meetings and in different parts of the country that if we had stood up to Hitler he would have succumbed. I am quite prepared, as I have always been, to reason that out. I believe that war would have taken place. If Hitler did not cower before the threat but shook his fist in return and said that he was going to invade Czechoslovakia come what may, then I want to know what the situation would have been. Were we to gamble with the lives of millions of human beings, were we to throw them into the struggle? I put that question to a Member of this House when he said that our attitude to this question was wrong. I asked him whether in those circumstances he was prepared to join up and help to push Hitler's armies out of Czechoslovakia. He said: "You are asking me a very pertinent question. I have views that a public representative ought to be immune from service of that kind." He was a member of the Labour party. I said, "It is a new philosophy to me that we have to order men on the means test, in the mines and factories to go on to the battlefield and sacrifice their lives in a struggle of our making."

The Prime Minister was faced with a situation fraught with the possibility of grave disaster. I believe that war would have taken place, and, further, I believe that France and Great Britain would have been defeated in that war. Hitler has so mobilised his forces in Germany in the way of labour service, the "strength through joy" movement, labour camps and military service, that he can put into the field 9,000,000 to 10,000,000 men. From the evidence I heard on the Continent I believe that he has at least 8,000 front-line bombers with a 20,000 striking force, and if war had taken place we should not have been debating this Agreement except under the threat and terror of bombing raids conducted by hundreds of aeroplanes. That war would have been one of the greatest terrors that mankind has ever known. It would have been conducted with the utmost terrorism in every way in order to bring the population to plead for an end of the war. The Prime Minister knew this. Whatever may be my views, I say frankly that the Prime Minister knew that the planes were not in this country; he knew that we were not prepared for war. He knew that the arms and guns to conduct that war were not there. He was faced with the possibility of losing his Empire, the Empire of the ruling classes. Therefore, because of these three reasons, first the unpreparedness of the country to meet an attack, secondly the danger of the loss of the Empire, and, thirdly, the terrifying prospect of war itself, he concluded an agreement with Hitler.

I am opposed to Hitler. I have all the antagonism which any man can have who believes in being allowed to use his mind in an intelligent way and who sees all the cultural, intellectual and spiritual desires of the people of Germany put into cold storage and subordinated to the will of the Fuhrer. I object to Hitler and to the rule of Hitler, but the Peace Treaties which were forced upon a Germany on her knees at the end of the last War were unjust and imposed in the same way as Germany has imposed her will on Czechoslovakia within the last few weeks. It has been argued on almost every Labour platform in this country that the Peace Treaties were wrong and that modifications should have taken place. It has been said that hundreds and thousands of Sudeten Germans who were in Czechoslovakia ought never to have been incorporated in the mixture of a State which was set up. The only argument to-day against a modification and rectification of boundaries is that Hitler is in power, not that it is unjust to hand over certain tracts of land to Germany, but that Hitler being a dictator, being brutal and not allowing freedom of thought or expression of opinion, we should prevent his getting any modification of boundaries.

That is the attitude which created Hitler. It is the attitude which refused to modify and rectify the wrongs of the Peace Treaties. It is the attitude which refused the hand of friendship when Germany was pleading for a reconsideration of the Peace Treaties. It is the attitude which said that we must keep our feet on the neck of the German people; they must stand and deliver coal and war reparations, and must endure the Peace Treaties which they were terrorised into agreeing with in 1918. Therefore we come to a situation in which we ask ourselves this question: Are we going to war with Germany to smash Germany as is in the minds of a large number of people? A man, a Communist, said to me, in the City Hall, Glasgow, about a week ago, "Why should we not have gone to war with Germany so that there might be a hope of the Jews and Socialists and Communists emancipating themselves from the rule of Hitler by world revolution?" I said, "We have it nakedly now," although it has been kept in the background throughout the campaign to stand by Czechoslovakia. For ulterior motives we must gamble with the lives of 20,000,000 workers. The philosophy to-day is that in order to free German workers we must murder German workers.

Are we going to gamble with the lives of the people? An hon. Member has referred to the aid of Russia. If Russia is able to give such tremendous aid why is she not defeating Japan? Why is she not defeating Franco? Is the struggle in Spain less a working-class struggle than the struggle of Czechoslovakia against Germany? I am not prepared to gamble with the lives of 2,000,000, 3,000,000 or even 5,000,000 of the working classes. There are men on these benches who came into political power because of their denunciation of war. They were conscientious objectors. Although I am not a conscientious objector, never having been a pacifist, I have the greatest admiration for every man who is a pacifist and who refuses to kill human beings at the behest of the employing class. To-day, these men are enunciating a doctrine and philosophy that clamours for war and makes them a warmongering party in this country. It is a shocking state of affairs when Labour men tell me that if there were a General Election they would vote for the Tories rather than for the Labour party, because the Labour party would have led us into war. That is a shocking state of affairs for the working-class movement to get into.

Hon. Members opposite professed to have faith in the League of Nations, but when the League was broken they passed it on to the Labour party, and left them with it. After they had got the country into a mess, the Conservatives began to say, "They are the people who want war; we are the people who want peace." The Government did not go to war, but I am under no delusions. They hand over Czechoslovakia. In fact, one hon. Member suggested that we should give Germany, not the colonies which she wants, but some composite tract of land, and one hon. Member near me said, "Give her France." That is the outlook of the ruling class of this country. They would sell their grandmothers. They will give away everybody else's property, but they will not give away their own. If it comes to a final "showdown," if Hitler in his aggression says, "Stand and deliver part of your own territory," the dogs of war will be out, and the peace party of to-day will be the war party in defence of their own investments in India, Africa, and elsewhere.

I am told that a blush of shame comes to the cheeks because of the way poor little Czechoslovakia was surrendered. A blush of shame comes to my cheeks when I know that Indians are plundered by the people of this country, when I know that the people of Trinidad have been subjected to shocking treatment and exploitation, living lives not fit for the brute beasts of the field, in order to give certain prominent Scotsmen, the Duke of Montrose and others, fabulous profits at the expense of the poor. A blush of shame comes to my cheeks when I am told that I belong to a nation that denies democracy to the people of Newfoundland and puts a small agricultural and fishing community under the heel of four or five financial dictators because the interest was not forthcoming to the Park Lane parasites. Somebody said that certain rich people in Germany and in this country have Fascist tendencies. All rich men have Fascist tendencies. They are prepared to tolerate democracy as long as their interest is paid regularly, but if their interest, their profit or their rent is menaced, then democracy is an illusion and has to be smashed in order to protect that which is dear to their hearts.

We are told that we must prepare for war. I say to certain Members of the House, not in an unfriendly way, that if they believe in an Empire and are prepared to defend it, the way to defend it is to get guns, to get planes, to get the men. It means embracing conscription and doing away with the working-class rights. If I believed that it was in defence of the nation and our freedom, I would be prepared even to hand away my individual liberty, because anything would be justified for that end. I come now to the crux of the situation—the struggle between two sections, Hitler and Mussolini, and France and Great Britain. One hon. Member said that he would not hand away any colonial territory to Hitler. Some hon. Members talked about democracy and plebiscites for Sudeten Germans. Do they believe in extending that democracy to India? You could not hold India if you applied to it the self-determination of Munich. You could not hold Africa if you allowed the natives to determine whether they would be in or out of the Empire. These glib phrases about democracy are easily used when they suit the purpose of those who use them.

In the struggle between these two sections, we are told that we must put up a fight for democracy. I believe in peace, but I would put up a fight for democracy. There are people in Germany who, if they had a decent opportunity, would put up a fight for it in Germany, just as there are people who would do so in Trinidad and India. I have met some of those people in Germany. Theye are no lovers of Hitler. During the time I was in Germany and in Vienna, there had been two strikes at factories two weeks previously. At every street corner in a working-class area there was chalked up this inscription: "Nazis, remember that we Socialists are still here." The Nazi reply was put under it: "Socialists, where are you?" Two days elapsed, and then again there were inscriptions: "Nazis, the Socialists are just under you." That is the spirit which still lives there, and that is the spirit which animates the working classes all over the world.

I am told that there are good rulers and bad rulers. That is a new philosophy to me. I believe there are only bad rulers. It is a question of the degree of the crisis under capitalism. If the workers here were surging in the streets, if there were an economic crisis and it threw up a real Socialist opposition of almost equal numbers to the Government of this country, the ruling classes would say "Democracy is ended." They would say that because democracy would be about to begin, and a working-class democracy would be coming in. Then the guns, batons, bombs and tear gas that are always in the background would be brought out in the struggle, as in Spain, to suppress the workers in the street. I can imagine the hon. Gentleman at the Box going out and saying, "We are now engaged in a fight for Christianity in this country"—a new name for rent, profit and interest. The struggle would be on that. The ruling class gives rein to the workers when capitalism is working smoothly. It allows the rein to hang loosely, it can extend the amount of freedom; but when a crisis comes, the rein is tightened, the individual feels the bit in his mouth, the rein is shortened. That is the beginning of the end of the struggle. There is no difference between Hitler and the rulers of this country.

If I believed in capitalism, I would favour the Hitler method. It is the more efficient form of capitalism. But Hitler restricts profits to 6 per cent. in industries in Germany. A.R.P. people there do not get the chance of running up sandbags at ten times the cost. They are not allowed to play fast and loose. The hon. Member for East Aberdeen (Mr. Boothby) condemns Hitler's method but in my estimation he approves of the Hitler method and without having the courage to say so, is suggesting that we must adopt the Hitler method in order to fight it. I can conceive of a great struggle for democracy. I can imagine going into such a struggle and within one week finding ourselves under a military dictatorship organised against Hitler. If I believed in capitalism, I would believe in organising this State to the last man and woman in defence of capitalism and the Empire. The Fred Karno method is not going to carry you through in the next struggle. I have heard it said "We do not dream of putting millions of men into the field." Whose men do you intend to use? Are you going to use the French soldiers? Are you going to use the blacks of Africa and the Gurkhas of India?

I saw the other day a statement by the Minister of Health—and he has sand-danced a lot since, in trying to explain it away—about armaments and social services, but he will never convince me that the question of curtailing housing and health and pensions and other social services was not discussed in the Government. You have a situation to-day in which capitalism has robbed the worker of the wealth which he produced, and the capitalists, not being able to use that wealth for their own personal needs, have invested it in India and Africa, and Hitler says, "I am for a share in this swag and this exploitation" Then the capitalists say to the man whom they have robbed, whose unpaid wages they have invested, "We will take your son who is on the means test and throw him out on to the Continent to give his blood and his life in order to defend the loot which we have stolen from his father and his grandfather. Further, in order to conduct this struggle we will take your old age pension or part of it to finance the struggle in defence of our bondholding interests." That is the stage which we have reached. Well, I am not in that struggle.

The hon. Member for East Aberdeen talked about the "pacifist speech" made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton). I interrupted at the time and tried to explain. That was not a pacifist speech. We want peace and we are prepared to ask the working class to enforce peace and not to fight in a war. Because we advocate that, when the Prime Minister makes peace, when the Prime Minister does exactly what we wanted done, even though he acted from different motives from ours, nevertheless we welcome the fact that peace has been secured. It gives the working class a breathing space, in which they may try to profit by the experience of the past. We do not want to indulge in mock heroics about going out into the streets to overthrow the system. We say to the ruling class of this country that our method is the method of getting the people of the country converted to the necessity for change. If we get a mandate, in co-operation with others, to effect that change, and if the ruling class do what they did in Franco Spain and say, "You shall not have that change," then the struggle will be forced upon us and we have democrats who are prepared to see democracy carried to its logical conclusion, when the people themselves are prepared to do it.

Therefore it is not a question of pacifism. It is, if you like, a refusal to serve in a capitalist war, but in the last extremity there are people who are prepared to serve in the working-class struggle for power, if it is backed by the will of the people of this country. I say frankly that if a fight for Czechoslovakia would have been right, then the fight for Belgium was right. It would have been the same struggle. That was a struggle to "down the Kaiser." That was the excuse. It was a struggle to smash German militarism. It was a struggle for small nations. We opposed it, and a large number of people in the Labour party opposed it.

What do we find to-day? When I came over from Germany, I stood in Whitehall and I heard a shout of "Stand by Czechoslovakia." I am always sorry to see any form of brutality against any section of the working classes, but when you say "Stand by Czechoslovakia" what does it mean? If there had been war over Czechoslovakia there would have been no Czechoslovakia to-day. It would have been overrun. The Czechs would have been murdered. Even if those who shouted "Stand by Czechoslovakia" had been willing to join the British Army, there would have been no Czechs left by the time they had been trained. Probably the Communists would have been seeing us off at Victoria Station and carrying on the struggle on the home front. No. I am not gambling in that kind of struggle either for world revolution or for the chance of smashing Germany—because behind all this there is the feeling of a large number of people who say "Go out and smash Germany. This is the opportunity." That is the spirit which has continually led the working class into disaster. It is the spirit of revenge and hostility.

I have been told, even by people in Germany, that the only way to get Hitler to modify his policy is to try every means of bringing him within the ambit of the civilised Powers of the world, to bring him into touch and relationship with the other nations. I asked Jews in Germany whether, if war came, they would not welcome it as a chance of getting out of the hideous nightmare in which they lived, and they said "No, if war comes we will be the first victims. Every disaster will be blamed on us and before the war has gone on for very long, between beatings and shootings and imprisonments we will suffer even more than we do now." I say that Hitler with all his intolerance of mind has the ruling class grouped around him. You have Fascism in Germany under Hitler but the Indian worker is under British Fascism. The worker in Trinidad and the worker in Newfoundland are under the dictatorship of the money-bags of London.

That is the same financial dictatorship and the same ruthless brutality that has existed in the past against the people in the British Empire, and I am not prepared to fight for that Empire and I am not prepared to defend that Empire. If Montagu Norman or the Duke of Sutherland or the Marquis of Bute want to defend their possessions, let them get on their kilts and get out their guns and go out to the front. I am not going to defend them. I want to take possession of this country. I want to free the working class, and the German people are the people who have to free themselves from Hitler. It is not to be done by the people of this country. We have our own job. I heard a man the other day—it almost made me sick—who came to me with a means test case. He had 17s. a week and had a house to keep. He was a widower and he could not even get clothes. He was almost "down on his uppers," but after we had discussed his case for a while he asked me, "What about these poor Czechs?" Here was a man reduced to the lowest standard of poverty and he was thinking in terms of somebody who was, he thought, worse off than himself. That is the humane spirit of the worker but it does not affect the ruling classes. You would expect to use a man on the means test, driven out of his father's home, without an income, to defend your gold mines in South Africa. If he was an intelligent man he would say to you, "Defend your own gold mines." That is my attitude. I welcome peace because it gives us a breathing space, but you are coming up against one of the most difficult problems that you ever imagined.

I can find nothing inconsistent in the Prime Minister saying, "We will negotiate with Hitler but at the same time we are preparing for armament so that, if the hand with the glove on is not effective, there is always the mailed fist in reserve." That is the policy of capitalism, and it is consistent. We shall not encourage that struggle, but we hope it will present an opportunity to end the nightmare of war by ushering in a humane and civilised system. If we could muster in this country an anti-war working class who would refuse to subscribe to the policy of war and who would be prepared to attack the Government hip and thigh, they could be driven out of office in six months. The strength is not the strength of their own position but the weakness of the opposition. They have manoeuvred the working-class movement into the position of being a war party. I welcome the peace, but you are drifting towards a more dangerous period when you will not he able to hand away the property of your friends but will be asked to stand and deliver some of the goods that you own, and then will come a terrific howl from the hon. Baronet the Member for Bournemouth (Sir H. Croft), the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) and others. In that struggle we say to the German and Austrian workers and to the workers of the world, "Try to develop, even by illegal and underground methods, a working-class movement, a discontent, an intelligence which will rise in revolt against the Hitlers and the Montagu Normans and overthrow their systems and collectively own and control the raw materials and the means of life and distribute them according to the service given by the workers in a community which will communally produce and distribute the goods of life, and when you have rid the world of the economic causes of war you will have ushered in the foundations of lasting peace and a decent order of society."