A Letter to American Workers

MORE than a year ago the American people, true to their faith in the great and enduring principles which govern human life, intervened in the world-conflict which has proved to be the Calvary of humanity. To-day the British and American working classes are united in a common task; and whatever may be the result of the war, I am convinced that the new spirit of comradeship and cooperation fostered under its dark shadow will survive in the happier days of peace that are to come. We have laid the foundations of a new fellowship of peoples that will not be dissolved when the treaty of peace is signed.

At no period in its history as a free people has the American nation occupied a more outstanding and influential position in world-politics than it occupies to-day. No people ever accepted the enormous burdens, the terrible sacrifices, of war with more purely disinterested motives. America seeks nothing for herself: her people are fighting for the birthright of all peoples —justice, freedom, and security. Her government cherishes no secret designs of aggression, annexation, or domination. Its aims are unselfish. The sanction of its military action is the common benefit of the whole race.

Herein lies the secret of President Wilson’s preeminence in international affairs. He has the faculty of expressing, in language of classical simplicity, the thoughts and purposes of democracy. He is not simply the chief spokesman of the American people: he is the recognized diplomatic leader of the free democracies, and he commands the support of the Allied peoples, not merely because of his own remarkable personal qualities as a statesman, but because the policy which he advocates is more nearly the policy of the Allied working classes than is the official policy of any of the Allied governments.

A good deal of misapprehension exists in America with regard to the policy which the working-class parties in the Allied countries have formulated in the Memorandum on War-Aims adopted at the recent Inter-Allied Conference in London. I have no doubt that there are many American working people who do not fully comprehend the policy to which we are committed. It unfortunately happens only too often, when nations are at war, that a public man who uses the word ‘peace’ is willfully and unscrupulously misrepresented; and a party which speaks of its peace-aims rather than of waraims is frequently accused of wanting peace at any price. Such an accusation, so far as the British Labor movement is concerned, is utterly devoid of truth. No section of the British people has been more loyal or patriotic throughout the war than the working classes. The value of their contributions in life and labor, in money and time, and in the sacrifice of dearlybought liberties and rights, both political and industrial, cannot be overestimated. In war, the cumulative burden of sacrifice and loss which falls upon the working classes far exceeds that which is borne by any other section of the community. British Labor has borne this enormous burden, not only without complaint, but with a degree of willingness which the nation’s leaders have frankly and cordially recognized. Surely, then, Labor has a right to define its war-aims, and to state clearly what it is ready to fight for, without being libeled as a party that seeks peace at any price.

British Labor is fighting — to use President Wilson’s own famous declaration — ‘ to make the world safe for democracy.’ Its first condition of peace is the restoration of Belgium to unrestricted independence, with adequate compensation for the losses she has suffered as a consequence of Germany’s military aggression. On this point there is no room for compromise. We claim for Belgium the same freedom, independence, and security which we desire for ourselves and which we demand for the other nations that have been destroyed by the invading armies. To all the territorial and political questions that the war has raised, British Labor seeks to apply the principle of national self-determination which underlies the policy of the Allied working classes as a whole. We desire neither forcible annexation of territory, economic dominion, nor political supremacy. We are opposed to the infliction of punitive indemnities and the inauguration of a policy of commercial and economic boycott after the war. We seek to destroy the spirit of militarist imperialism, not only in Germany, but in all other countries; and we want to put an end to the costly burden of competitive armaments and the system of compulsory military service, which are in themselves a menace to peace.

Equally important are the constructive proposals put forward by organized Labor for the purpose of maintaining the peace of the world. We advocate the establishment of a league of nations as the only practicable suggestion which has been made which will guarantee the security of people and promote unity among them. We realize that the final guaranty of peace docs not lie in the machinery of arbitration and conciliation, however cunningly devised, but in the spirit of international good-will of which the League of Nations will be the embodiment. Its establishment will be a dramatic declaration of the fact that the nations of the world have learned that they form one family, and that war is a family quarrel which humiliates every member of it and destroys the happiness and prosperity of the whole. It will keep before the eyes of all peoples the truth that peace is the greatest of human blessings, and that a government or a dynasty bent on war is the enemy of the human race and must be restrained by the common will.

Between the war-aims of the British Labor movement and those of the American workers there is little or no substantial difference; but there does appear to be a measure of difference between them regarding the methods by which these aims shall be attained. American Labor, in the first flush of enthusiasm, has apparently determined to concentrate all its efforts solely on the aim of securing a decisive military victory in the field. British Labor, on the other hand, is not prepared to forego the real conditions that may accrue from a wise and discriminating use of the political and diplomatic weapons to supplement the efforts of the armies in the field. We do not advocate a substitution of political activity for military operations, but we do say that no method of influencing popular opinion in the enemy countries ought to be neglected; and we believe that, if by direct appeal to the reason and conscience of the German people it is possible to shorten the war by a single day, the attempt is well worth making. We seek an opportunity to convince the German people that they are as much interested in the defeat and destruction of militarism and imperialism as the peoples of the Allied countries, and that the early establishment of an enduring peace, based upon the principles of international right and essential justice, is as much their concern as ours. Our aim is to prove to the German people, through the German Socialist leaders, that the Allies are fighting, not for selfish aims, but for the common rights and common interests of all the nations; that the grasping policy and lust for dominion of their government prolong the war; that the annexationist peace terms imposed on Russia have deepened the hostility of the Allied democracies and postponed the conclusion of peace; and that upon the vital principles of national self-determination and no annexation there can be no compromise. We seek an opportunity to show the German people that we are concerned, not merely with the rights and interests of the western democracies, but also with those of revolutionary Russia and the democracies of the Central Empires.

While the working classes in the Allied countries refuse to lend their countenance to any imperialist designs on the part of their governments, they are equally resolved to continue the struggle until Prussian militarism is destroyed, and will not sacrifice the rights of mankind to satisfy German imperialism. What we aim at is a new international system, in which all the nations can dwell together in freedom and peace, without fear of molestation or spoliation. We want to appeal to German social democracy to-day to do its part in the great work of reconstruction, the corner-stone of which is a righteous and enduring peace.

In pursuit of this policy, British Labor, in conjunction with the working-class parties of the Allied countries, advocates the holding, under proper conditions, of an international congress of Labor and Socialist organizations at the earliest possible moment. The purpose of this congress is to assist in removing misunderstandings which block the path to peace. It is an essential condition of such a congress that all the organizations to be represented therein shall put in precise form, by a published declaration, their peace terms, in conformity with the principles, ‘no annexations or punitive indemnities, and the right of all peoples to self-determination’; and that they shall work with all their power to obtain from their governments the necessary guaranties to apply these principles, honestly and unreservedly, to all questions to be dealt with at any official peace conference.

These conditions are clearly laid down in the Inter-Allied Memorandum on War-Aims. They as clearly show that Allied Labor is not weakening in its determination to secure a just and lasting peace. It does not seek a peace based upon compromises and concessions on one side or the other. It does not advocate a policy of surrender. It stands for a policy of peace by conciliation. Labor believes that the cause to which it has dedicated itself in service and sacrifice can be advanced by political effort and discussion supplementing military operations. It remains true to its faith in the principles and ideals of democracy. It believes that the attainment of a speedy international peace is the common aim of all real democrats.

I therefore urge the American working-class movement to join with the other Allied Labor and Socialist movements in supporting this policy of international conciliation. It is perfectly true that a barrier has been erected between the democracies of the Central Empires and those of the Allied countries. This barrier must be broken down. On both sides, efforts are being made to remove it. In Germany and in Austria a new political consciousness is slowly but surely finding definite expression. It is our duty to stimulate rather than to destroy the nascent peace-spirit in the German people.