File No. 763.72119/1155

The Consul General at London ( Skinner) to the Secretary of State

No. 5384

Sir: I have the honor to enclose a statement on behalf of the Parliamentary Committee of the Trade Union Congress, the Executive of the Labor Party, and the Co-operative Representative Committee, setting forth in terms of cordial approval their views on the President’s speech on war aims. This unreserved approval of the British Labor organizations should be noted as a matter of great political importance.

The statement was made public on January 10, 1918.

I have [etc.]

Robert P. Skinner
[Enclosure]

Statement Published by British Labor Organizations, January 10, 1918

A joint meeting of the Parliamentary Committee of the Trade Union Congress, the Executive of the Labour Party, and the Cooperative Parliamentary Representation Committee yesterday afternoon issued the following statement:

We warmly welcome President Wilson’s authoritative declaration of Allied war aims. Within the last few days the whole international situation has been transformed, first by the speech of the Prime Minister to the Conference of Trade Congress Delegates, and secondly by the great pronouncement of President Wilson. The moral quality and breadth of vision exhibited in the latter’s address to Congress are particularly evident in the declaration that the peace negotiations, when they begin, must be absolutely open and that they shall involve or sanction no secret understanding of any kind. This is the only kind of diplomacy that the democracies of the world can tolerate. Humanity has had to pay dearly for the secret covenants entered into by governments, and we rejoice that Mr. Wilson has so decisively proclaimed the democratic doctrine of open diplomacy. The leaders of revolutionary Russia, as Mr. Wilson recognizes, [Page 33]have initiated new methods of diplomacy, the results of which are apparent not only in the knowledge we have of the negotiations at Brest-Litovsk, but in Mr. Wilson’s frank approval of the claim that the Russian representatives have acted wisely and justly in insisting upon the conference being held with open doors and with the whole world as audience.1

British Labour will also welcome very heartily Mr. Wilson’s expression of sympathy with Russia’s agonized effort to achieve full freedom. He has responded, as we believed he would, to Russia’s appeal for countenance and support by earnest affirmation of the heartfelt desire and hope that some way may be open by which we may be privileged to assist the people of Russia to attain their utmost hope of liberty and ordered peace. Let us take care that this message reaches the ears of Russia. The British democracy desires nothing more earnestly than that the Russian democracy shall be convinced that the whole of the Allies are with them in their struggle for peace and freedom, and in their effort to conserve the beneficent fruits of the Revolution. In our judgment, these two declarations of President Wilson, in favour of open diplomacy and support of revolutionary Russia, will make the Congress speech one of the classic utterances or Allied statesmanship during the war. In the detailed programme of world peace outlined by Mr. Wilson we find no point upon which there is likely to be any disagreement among the Allied democracies.

The reference to the “freedom of the seas” is to be welcomed on the ground of its lucidity and breadth of definition. It embodies the doctrine of freedom of navigation both in peace and war, except so far as it may be necessary to close the seas in whole or in part by international action for the purpose of enforcing international obligations violated by any nation. With that interpretation of the doctrine of the freedom of the seas, to which the Central Powers attach so much importance, we all freely agree; and the Central Powers cannot challenge it, if, indeed, they are sincere in their repudiation of aggressive intentions. No other formula that we have seen meets so fully the stipulation that an island power like Great Britain is bound to make to ensure its safety and that of the Empire in time of war. It seems to us to be a natural corollary to the League of Nations that freedom of navigation must be denied to any nation that violates international covenants for the maintenance of peace.

We welcome, too, President Wilson’s assertion of the moral issues involved in the claim that Belgium must be evacuated and restored. No other single act, as he justly says, will do more to restore confidence among the nations in the integrity and sanctity of treaties and the obligations resting upon all nations, individually and severally, to maintain inviolate the principles of international law. Mr. Wilson’s pronouncement in favour of equality of trade conditions among all the nations consenting to the peace, and the abolition of economic barriers, is a step in the direction of universal free trade, which Cobden insisted was a necessary condition of universal peace.

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Russia, in the midst of negotiations which at the moment seem to be a menace to the integrity of her national patrimony, will be strengthened by Mr. Wilson’s demand that Russian territory must be evacuated, and all questions affecting her must be settled in a manner that will ensure her an unhampered and unembarrassed opportunity to determine her political development, and a sincere welcome into the society of free nations. That is the test of the full faith of governments in democratic principles—that they will be willing and eager to recognize the fact of, and the effect of, the Russian Revolution, and be ready to give her every kind of help she needs to consolidate the Revolution and to establish a true democratic self-government in accordance with her own peculiar genius for freedom.

Finally we may say in a sentence that President Wilson’s programme is in essential respects so similar to that which the British Labour Party has put forward that we need not discuss any point of difference in detail. The spirit of this historical utterance is a spirit to which democracy all over the world can respond, and if it reaches the people of the Central Powers we believe it will reinvigorate the popular movement towards peace in those countries now under the yoke of Prussian military autocracy, and give their demand for peace a weight and authority that cannot be denied. In fact, we may say that peace negotiations have now begun, and that the world waits for the proof that the Central Powers are sincere in their desire to carry them to a conclusion which will be acceptable to the peoples of the world.

The statement is signed by Mr. C. W. Bowerman, secretary of the Parliamentary Committee, Trades Union Congress; Mr. Arthur Henderson, for the National Executive of the Labour Party; and Mr. H. J. May, secretary of the Cooperative Parliamentary Representation Committee.

  1. For papers concerning the Brest-Litovsk negotiations, see Foreign Relations, 1918, Russia, vol. I, pp. 404 et seq.