Arm the workers!
The only guarantee against Hitler’s invasion
By Andrew Scott
[Youth For Socialism, Vol. 3 No. 4, February 1941]
Once more the campaigning season approaches. Spring is on its way, and the preparations of the rival imperialists for further redivisions of the earth are reaching fever pitch. Industrial production is being speeded up throughout the world; diplomacy is clearing roads for the advance of tanks, guns and soldiers; strategists are at work planning attacks, invasions, conquests.
The winter has been one of comparative military calm. It has been broken, certainly, by the nightly bombing of cities and by the advance of the British troops in Libya. But in spite of that it closely resembles the previous winter in the fact that there have been no major engagements between the British and German forces. It also resembles last winter in the fact that Germany has been making the same thorough preparations for attack, and the British leaders have been making almost exactly the same plans for defence.
A year ago, the Allied strategists sat comfortably behind their Maginot line waiting for Germany either to attack and batter itself to death against the “wall of steel” or to refrain from attacking and die an economic death through the blockade. Meantime, they were actually mad enough to make preparations to take on Russia too!
Today, the British generals are sitting comfortably behind their new Maginot line, the sea, boasting as they did a year ago that their defence is impregnable, and dreaming of their future invasion of the continent. How they are going to accomplish this with their maximum 4 million soldiers against the 10 million which the Berlin-Rome Axis has already trained and armed they do not reveal.
As the days pass, the similarity of the present position with that of a year ago becomes more pronounced. The principal preparation of the French ruling class for the alleged “war against Nazism” was the banning of working-class newspapers, the outlawing of the Communist Party, the Trotskyists, and other left wing groupings, the jailing of thousands of militants, the intensification of the exploitation of the workers.
Today in Britain, this process has already started, and the plans are ready for its extension on a gigantic scale. The Daily Worker has been banned and the next step will inevitably be the banning of the Communist Party. Then will follow the economic offensive against the workers’ conditions and the arrest of every militant who protests. All the parties and groups of the left will be suppressed. The British ruling class, with the assistance of the Labour leaders, has set out on the road of totalitarian repression and there can be no going back for it.
In France the result of this method of “fighting Nazism” was that the German army simply walked into the country and took over Paris within a few days. The capitalists of France showed themselves more ready to fight the workers than to fight Hitler. The Labour and trade union leaders, who had actively supported the moves against the workers found themselves either in the dungeons of the Gestapo—or those of Pétain.
In Britain the results will be no different. The capitalist class is not fighting Hitler’s fascism. They are only fighting his plans to relieve them of their Empire.
The only way in which Paris could have been defended and France saved from invading fascism was by the arming of the workers. Only an armed people, a nation in arms, could have held up Hitler’s advance. If that had been done, then every town would have become a fortress, every village a tank trap, every house a front line trench. The masses would have rallied then to stop the advance of Hitler’s machine. Willing hands would have been ready to make grenades and petrol bombs by the million and throw them under the tanks.
But the French capitalists dared not arm the workers. Certainly they armed that section which was under their own control—in the army. But to have armed the masses of the workers would have been to risk those arms being used against themselves. Rather surrender to Hitler, they thought, than take the risk of being defeated by the workers.
It was not the workers of France who left the way open for Hitler’s advance. It was the Pétains and Weygands, who were more afraid of the workers having arms and control of them than they were of Hitler’s conquering France. Until the very last moment they swore they would defend Paris street by street—only to hand it over intact to Hitler, together with a full police force to keep the workers in order.
The French ruling class revealed how lying were all their claims to be defending democracy against Hitler. The suppression of the workers, allegedly in the interests of conducting a struggle against Hitler led directly to his victory and to the possibility of the Pétain gang turning into agents of Hitler and imposing a [missing word] caricature of his regime on France.
So much for their love of democracy and freedom. Only the working class is willing to fight to the death against all forms of reaction both at home and abroad. As Bevin emphasised in a speech some months ago, the fifth column is not to be found among the workers—it is “higher up”. But now Bevin finds himself supporting the “higher-ups” in their campaign against the alleged “fifth column” among the workers—a campaign which is in reality against the independence and rights of the entire working class.
Not by curtailing the power of the workers in the factory and the army—but by organising workers’ control of industry and arms can [there] be a guarantee of victory not only over Hitler but over the fifth column gang of capitalists at home.
The workers of Britain must learn the lesson of France! Hitler is planning to invade this country just as he invaded France. The ruling class here has the same interests, the same fear of the workers, the same leaning towards fascism as the ruling class of France. And they are holding back arms and the control of arms from the workers in exactly the same way. They refuse to take the only step that can guarantee certain defeat for any attempt of Hitler to invade this country—the arming of the entire working class. The Home Guard, which they pretended for a time was a sort of arming of the nation, is being brought more and more under control of the chiefs of the regular army. Now that the Home Guard is to a certain extent armed, the government is bureaucratically imposing full-time officers from above. They must have complete control of all arms for their own purposes.
The workers of Britain support this war for the purpose of fighting fascism. But the ruling class will not allow them to do this. The ruling class is fighting German imperialist expansion—not fascism—and if in the course of the struggle it finds itself faced with the choice of defeat or the arming of the workers to avoid defeat, then it will choose defeat. For the arming of the workers would be the arming of the revolution, and that would be a hundred times more hateful to them than a Hitler victory.
Invasion is on the way. Yet we see the ruling class implacably refusing to arm and organise the working class in factories, streets and villages. This elementary measure would doom to extermination any force, however great, that Hitler might hurl against these islands. The easy victory of the Panzer divisions in France was made possible by the helplessness of the masses, unorganised and unarmed, who were compelled to flee in face of the Nazi advance.
An army can be destroyed, but it is impossible to fight a nation. Britain’s island position, with a nation organised for resistance, would render any invasion threat ludicrous. Yet the ruling class has not armed and organised the workers for defence.
The Labour leaders have justified the terrible “sacrifices” made by the workers by the necessity of overthrowing the barbarism of the Nazis. Why have not the Labour leaders issued a call for the only measure which would not only paralyse any assault by Hitler, but would be a guarantee that “those in high places” with a hankering for Pétainism would be rendered completely powerless?
The working class is saturated through and through with a hatred of fascism. The arming of the workers would be a guarantee against any treacherous threat from within as well as from without. Yet the blind Labour leaders leave control to rest in the hands of those who would destroy them. The first need for a struggle against fascism is not even considered by the Labour leaders. The acid test for the bleatings of the ruling class that they are fighting Hitlerism, the acid test for the Labour leaders lies in this: are they prepared to organise, train and arm those who have always shown their unwavering determination to settle with Hitlerism forever?
The Labour leaders profess that they are eager to fight Hitler’s fascism. But they do not press forward and fight for the only measures which can really defeat Nazism and really defend the “democracy” of the workers here. Bevin and company know all about the chaos in industry caused by capitalist anarchy and the struggle for profits, which is sabotaging production a million times more effectively than all the “agitators” in the country. But instead of struggling for workers’ control, they are helping to increase capitalist control. They, as well as we, have seen the lesson of France—that the working class must be thoroughly armed and have control of those arms if Hitler is to be held up and defeated. But though they are willing to leave all the fighting to the workers, they are content to leave control in the hands of the ruling class. They claim to be leading a struggle for “democracy” but already the Statute Books of the government in which they are working are full of anti-working class, anti-democratic legislation which is already being used against the workers. They are fighting for the “rights of small nations”. And yet they make no protest against the continued rule of Britain over a whole series of nations—small and large.
How can a real struggle against Hitler be waged under a banner so besmirched and tawdry? How can a genuine appeal be made to the masses of Europe to join in such a fake struggle. Their fear of another Versailles is great, and it is only when that fear is removed that they will feel free to turn their guns against Hitler and the German ruling class. Only the workers of Britain can free them of that fear. And they can only do that by turning the present imperialist brawl into a real struggle of the workers against Nazism.
Organised workers throughout the country must demand that the Labour leaders immediately wage a campaign for full power. They must take power on a programme which can mobilise the masses of Britain. The first point on that programme must be the arming of the workers against the threatened fascist invasion and against their capitalist enemy at home. Control of the army must be taken out of the hands of the reactionary officer class and put into those of the workers. The resources of the country, the land, mines, factories, railways, banks, etc. must be taken from the capitalists without compensation and controlled by the workers. The oppressed masses of India and the colonies must be freed. British imperialism grinds them under its heel as viciously as the Nazi jackboot tramples on the workers of the continent. Labour must give them full self-determination.
On such a programme of socialism the toilers of Britain could be mobilised for the struggle against Nazism. Hitler’s bombers, his parachute troops, his sea-borne invaders would be beaten back by a nation which had not only arms but also something to fight for. And they could make a genuine appeal to the workers of Germany and all Europe to join them in the struggle against Hitler. The response to that appeal would be such as no appeal from Churchill can ever achieve. It would sweep Hitler into oblivion.
A victory for British imperialism in the war would be as harmful to the people of Europe and Britain as a Nazi victory itself. But how would this be obtained? Already the workers are being driven to incredible exertions and sacrifices while the big monopolies continue to pile up fabulous profits. The weariness and resentment of the masses when they see this contrast cannot but lead to explosions. In readiness for this, capitalism is making preparations to protect its profits.
The British capitalists did not want to fight Hitler; they only took up the cudgels regretfully when they found themselves compelled to safeguard their profits and empire. And already the thin end of the wedge of repression and dictatorship is being introduced even at a period when the capitalist class feel comparatively secure. But repression has a logic of its own. It cannot stop with the suppression of the Daily Worker. As the war proceeds the capitalists will turn more and more in a reactionary direction. A threat of overthrow from the workers—and they would call in Hitler tomorrow. The ruling clique of British bankers and generals are already preparing to install a reactionary dictatorship for Britain on the morrow. What they have in store for the continent has been hinted at by the Dean of St. Paul’s. After the collapse of Germany, he has said, millions of British troops will have to hold down all Europe. The workers of Europe will have changed the yoke of Hitler for that of British imperialism.
But what will be happening at home? A continuation of what is already happening. Morrison is taking the road of Blum. He is sawing the very branch on which he is sitting. He is knocking away the very foundation on which he rests—the organised working class. Blum, too, was used by the French capitalists against the workers, and he attempted to justify himself by talking about “national unity”. After he had helped to suppress the workers, he himself was put in jail by those with whom he had “national unity”.
The victory of British imperialism would lead to fascism, not to its overthrow. There is only one road for the British working class. To fight Hitler we must take power into our own hands. The road of the Labour leaders is leading to destruction. If we do not wish to suffer the fate of our French comrades we must act in time.
We cannot fight Hitlerism under the control of the capitalist class. To attempt this is to make inevitable the victory either of Hitler or of some British Hitler. In order to wage a genuine revolutionary war for the liberation of the peoples of Europe and for the defence of the rights of the British working class, it is necessary that power should be in the hands of the workers.
The elementary immediate need for self-preservation demands that the workers should not be left helpless and unarmed in face of the coming Nazi onslaught. British “democracy” can be rendered impregnable against the attacks of Hitler or of a British Pétain if the working class is armed.
This is the only way for the masses. Any other way will lead to disaster. The road taken by Blum and Jouhaux led to catastrophe in France. Bevin and Morrison are at present leading the British workers at the same fearful position. If they refuse to carry out this programme of socialism they will be exposed to the masses as the same sort of traitors as their French counterparts, and it will be made clear that only the revolutionary socialists can lead the way to a future of socialism and peace.
Labour to power on the following programme:
- Disarm the capitalists and arm the workers for the struggle against Nazism and the capitalist fifth column at home.
- Take over the land, mines, factories, railways and banks without compensation.
- Give freedom and self-determination to India and the colonies.
- Repeal all anti-working class legislation.
- Appeal to the workers of Germany and all Europe to support the socialist struggle against Hitler.