Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, 1918, Supplement 1, The World War, Volume I
File No. 763.72/8767
The Consul General at London ( Skinner ) to the Secretary of State
[Received February 5.]
Sir: I have the honor to bring to the attention of the Department the enclosed speech of the Prime Minister, Mr. Lloyd George, delivered on January 18 at the Central Hall, Westminster, before 350 delegates representing labor organizations, and assembled for conference with the Minister of National Service, as reported in the Morning Post.
The most interesting feature of this meeting was the questioning of the Prime Minister by various delegates who enquired closely with respect to the “freedom of the seas” and other questions of present importance.
I have [etc.]
Address of the British Prime Minister ( Lloyd George ) before the Trade Union Conference at London, January 18, 1918
I am sure you will be pleased to hear that I do not propose to make a long speech, but I have come here to thank you on behalf of the Government, and, I venture to say, to thank you on behalf of the country for the spirit in which you have met the Government and its representatives—a spirit of complete frankness on both sides. That is the best way to do business—that we should speak quite openly and sincerely and frankly to each other whatever is in our minds. It is the only way to clear misunderstandings, and that is why I shall be very happy when I sit down to answer any question which you choose to put to me on any question of general policy. I had rather questions of detail in reference to the Bill should be left in the much more competent hands of my colleague Sir Auckland Geddes. I understand that the procedure with regard to the constitution of groups in these conferences was adopted by the Conference itself, and the procedure was a fair, a rational, and an equitable one, and we have adhered to it strictly without any deviation.
With regard to the proposals of the Government let me say this at the outset as to the method. There are no other alternatives for obtaining men except either raising the military age, as they have done in Austria, where it is 55, or sending wounded men back and back again into the battle line. Those are the alternatives. Now, I want to deal with the question of urgency. As to the urgency of the need, no man standing—like my colleagues and myself—on the watch-tower can deny it. Unless the need had been urgent we [Page 73] should not have brought forward this demand now. There are men in this country who honestly believe we ought to have done it months ago. There are men in this country who honestly believe we ought to do it on a much more sweeping scale. There are a few who say we ought not to do it at all, and there are some who say both things simultaneously. (Laughter.) The Government view is this: It would be folly to withdraw men from industries one hour sooner than the need arose. On the other hand, it would be treason to the State, treason to our country, treason to democracy, treason to the cause of freedom if, when the need did arise, we had not made the demand. (Cheers.) What is the position? I assume that you all here in your hearts believe that the war aims declared by the great Labour Conference represent the minimum of justice which you can possibly accept as a settlement of this terrible dispute—the minimum. If we are not able to defeat the German forces, if we are not able to resist the military power of Prussia, is there any man here in possession of his wits who believes that one of your terms—the least of them—would be enforced? (Cheers.) I am not talking about the demands of imperialists. I am not talking about the demands of extreme war men, who want to grab everything and annex the earth and all the heavenly firmament. I am talking of the moderate demands of the most pacifist souls in this assembly. Go to Von Hindenburg with them. Try to cash that cheque at the Hindenburg Bank. It will be returned dishonoured. Whatever terms are set forward by any pacifist orator in these lands—you will not get them cashed by Ludendorff or the Kaiser or any of these great magnates—not one of them—unless you have got the power to enforce them. (Cheers.)
I felt very strongly that the time had come for restating our war aims, and for restating them in a way that would carry with us all the moderate, rational opinion of this land and of all other lands. And almost simultaneously the same idea came to President Wilson, and without any opportunity of previous consultation—because there was none—President Wilson and myself laid down what was substantially the same programme of demands for the termination of this war. How has that programme been received? Throughout the whole of the Allied countries it has been received with acclaim. There has hardly been the voice of criticism except from a few men who wish I had made more extreme demands. The Socialists of France, the Socialists of Italy, as well as the Socialists of this country have, in the main, accepted them as very fair general demands to put forward. What has been the reception in Germany? I beg you to consider this: especially those who think that we are responsible for perpetuating this horror. I would not have this war for a [Page 74] second on my soul if I could stop it honourably. What has been the reception in Germany? The only comment has been “Behold, how England is weakening! Go on, and they will come down again.” There has been no response from any man in any position in Germany that indicates a desire on the part of the ruling powers in that land to approach the problem in a spirit of equity. We demanded the restoration of Belgium. Is there one man here who would make peace without the complete restoration of Belgium and reparation for its wrongs? (“No!”) Is there one man? (“No!”) I would like to see him stand up. Is there one man who would do it? What is the answer from Germany? There has been but one answer, and it came from Von Tirpitz’s soul—“Never!” There was a demand for a reconsideration of the wrong of Alsace-Lorraine. What is the answer from Germany? “Never!” When I suggested that Mesopotamia and Palestine should never be restored to the tyranny of the Turk, whatever else happened to it, what was the answer of Germany? “We will go on until they are restored.” Is there a single condition laid down by you in your Trade Union aims to which you have had any response from anybody in Germany who has got any authority to speak? Not one.
I will tell you another fact which is very significant. There has been no civilian answer at all. (“Hear, hear!”) I spoke here a fortnight ago. President Wilson’s speech was delivered a few days after that. Both speeches have been thoroughly discussed in the German papers. But no civilian Minister has said a word. There have been conferences hurriedly called together. Generals Hindenburg and Ludendorff were brought back from their armies in a great hurry to Berlin, but Herr Kühlmann has not been allowed to speak. Why? If it means anything it means this: that the Prussian military power is dominant. The answer which is to be given to civilisation is an answer which will be given from the cannon’s mouth. Do not let us harbour any delusions. It’ would be a mistake to do it. Let us talk quite freely here among ourselves. You might as well stop fighting unless you are going to do it well. If you are not going to do it with all your might it is real murder of gallant fellows who have stood there for three years. (“Hear, hear!”) Unless we are going to do it well let us stop it. There is no alternative. You have either got to put your whole strength into it, or just do what is done in the Russian Army, and tell those brave fellows that they can go home whenever they like, and that no one will stop them. There is no other alternative. Believe me, if there are men who say that they will not go into the trenches, then the men who are in the trenches have a right to say: “Neither will we remain here.” (“Hear, hear!”) Supposing that they did it, would [Page 75] that bring the war to an end? Yes, it would. But what sort of an end? When the Russian soldiers ceased fighting and fraternised and simply talked great ideals and principles to the German Army, what did the Germans do? Did they retreat? No, they took Riga and the islands. The fraternisation did not prevent them from marching forward, and if Petrograd had been nearer they would have had that too. The Channel ports are not so far from the fighting line, and unless we are prepared to stand up to the whole might of the people who are dominating Germany now, and will dominate the world to-morrow, if we allow them, you will find that Britain and British democracy and French democracy and the democracy of Europe will be at the mercy of the cruellest military autocracy that the world has ever seen.
Now, I should like to ask you this. I have suggested it before. If we were not prepared to fight, what sort of terms do you think we would get from General Hindenburg? If you sent a delegation to him I know the answer. If you said to him: “We want you to clear out of Belgium,” I know his answer. He would just mock you. He would say in his heart: “You cannot turn me out of Belgium with trade union resolutions.” No, but I will tell you the answer which you can give him. “We can and will turn you out of Belgium with trade union guns and trade unionists behind them.” (Cheers.) They have broken his line already, and if we endure with the spirit of our fathers and the spirit that has made the greatness of this land, that has made its power, its prestige, and its honour, that has made it great in the past, and that will make it greater in the future—if we do that we shall yet be able to carry to conviction, carry to triumph, carry to reality, carry as an essential part of the story of this world, the great aims that you in your own language, that the Government in their language, and that President Wilson in his noble language have been proclaiming in the last few days. But let us harbour no delusions. We must take the world as it is, and the story of democracy is this. No democracy has ever long survived the failure of its adherents to be ready to die for it—(“Hear, hear!”)—and my appeal to you is this. Last night this measure was carried in the House of Commons without a dissentient voice. (“Hear, hear!”) What is democracy? Democracy, put into plain terms, is Government by the majority of the people. (“Hear, hear!”) If one profession, one trade, one section, or one class in a community claims to be immune from obligations which are imposed upon the rest, that is a fundamental travesty of the principles of democracy. (Cheers.) That is setting up a new aristocracy. You and I in the past have been fighting against privilege. I hope that we shall be fighting on the same side again. We are fighting now [Page 76] against the privilege claimed by a military caste. Democracy, if it means anything, must mean that the people of all classes, all sections, all trades, and all professions must merge their privileges and their rights in the common stock. (“And wealth!”) Certainly. Now what I want to say in conclusion is this: If any man standing in my place can find an honourable, equitable, just way out of this conflict without fighting it through, for Heaven’s sake let him tell me. My own conviction is this, the people must either go on or go under. (Cheers.)
At the conclusion of the Prime Minister’s speech, questions were invited.
A delegate asked if the Prime Minister did not think it was advisable to enter into negotiations with the Germans when they were alleged to be whining and squealing for peace.
Mr. Lloyd George : The Germans have always been ready for peace at their own price, but that is not a price we are prepared to pay them. We have not been prepared to pay it in the past, and we are not prepared to pay it now. That, I am confident, is the opinion of the people of this country. The moment the Germans show a disposition to negotiate peace on equitable terms—the terms have been stated and they are terms which the Labour Party itself in substance adopted—then there will be no reluctance to enter into peace negotiations.
A Delegate: Is not the best way to get at the opinion of the German people to allow representatives of this nation to meet representatives of the other Powers at Stockholm or elsewhere?
Mr. Lloyd George : The representatives of the German nation would, of course, be chosen by the German Government. (A Delegate: Not necessarily.) Believe me, do not let us really deceive ourselves with a delusion. You can only make peace with a government. If the Government does not represent the people of Germany let them change their Government, and if this Government does not represent the people in this country they can change it. (A Delegate: Give us an opportunity.) We have given you the best opportunity that has been given for a long time, because this Government has introduced a franchise bill which added eight millions to the electorate. You can have your opportunity any time you like. It is not the Government which shrinks from it. (A Delegate: On the new register?) The new register is not ready. How can you have an election on a new register which is not ready? You must either have your election on an old register or a new register. The new register is not ready. Do you want your election on the old? (A Delegate: No.) Very well.[Page 77]
The Delegate: If the German people decide upon a similar government to that which is now in existence in Russia, will this Government recognise their representatives?
Mr. Lloyd George : We will recognise the representatives of any government set up by the German people whatever it is.
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A Delegate: Has the Government any objection to representatives of working class organisations taking part in an international meeting apart from governments altogether, and, if so, what are the objections?
Mr. Lloyd George : I have already stated those objections in the House of Commons. It has been a matter for discussion. It has first of all been a matter for discussion between the various countries, and they came to the conclusion unanimously that, in their judgment, whatever negotiations are conducted must be conducted between the representatives of the governments in each country That is the view which was taken by President Wilson, who certainly represents the greatest democracy in the world. It was the view taken by the French democracy. Those two great Republics took: that view. Italy took that view, and we took that view. We do not believe that negotiations ought to be conducted between sections of the people. Here, again, it is a fundamental misconception of democracy that any section, however powerful, really represents the whole of the people. Whoever goes there to speak and to negotiate must-represent the whole of the country and not merely a part of it.
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A Delegate: Do I understand the Prime Minister to state that the acceptance of the Allies’ terms of peace is a necessary condition of calling a peace conference, or am I to understand that it is the function of the peace conference to receive a statement of peace from each of the belligerents, and from those statements to plan a policy or scheme that all countries can listen to and give a decision upon?
Mr. Lloyd George : It is a very difficult problem for any government to decide the moment at which it is desirable to enter into a peace conference. You may enter into it at one moment and find you have put your head into a noose. That is a position which the responsible heads of the governments in all these countries will have to consider very carefully. My own personal view is that it is not desirable to enter into a peace conference until you see that there is a fair chance of emerging out of it with a satisfactory settlement. I am firmly convinced from the attitude of the leaders of the German Government at the present moment that if you entered a peace conference it would not result in anything like an equitable understanding. [Page 78] In that case it would aggravate matters instead of improving them.
A Delegate: In view of the admitted influence which the statement of the Blackpool conference and the subsequent statement of Labour war aims has had here upon the Government’s war aims cannot we reasonably conjecture that if the Labour forces of this country were allowed to confer with the Labour and Socialist forces of Germany, together with those of other belligerent and neutral powers, it is reasonable to assume that similar pressure will be exerted by the Socialists and trade unionists of Germany to modify Government policy there? As Mr. Lloyd George said that we cannot expect that Ludendorff and Hindenburg will cash the cheque written by the Labour Party, cannot we reasonably expect that if they will not cash our cheque, Scheidemann and Liebknecht will?
Mr. Lloyd George : Herr Liebknecht has been put in gaol. That is what happened to his attempt to cash peace cheques in Germany, and I rather guess that Herr Scheidemann will find himself in the same place if he attempts a similar operation. The first thing the Socialists of Germany have to do is to impose their terms on their Government. Mr. Williams seems to think he has imposed his terms on this Government. Let Herr Scheidemann do the same thing in Germany and then we might discuss terms.
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A Delegate: I want to ask a different question of general interest. In President Wilson’s speech there is a reference made to the freedom of the seas. I want to ask if the views expressed by President Wilson are the views of our Government, or if not, will the Prime Minister kindly let us know what are the views of the British Government on this expression of President Wilson’s?
Mr. Lloyd George : I want to know what freedom of the seas means. Does it mean freedom from submarines, and does it mean starvation for this country? After all, we are in a very different position from America or Germany or France or any other continental country. We are an island, and we must scrutinise with the very greatest care any proposal which might impair our ability to protect our lines of communication across the seas. Freedom of the seas is a very elastic term. There is a sense in which we would rejoice to accept it, but we must guard very carefully against any attempt to interfere with the capacity to protect our shores and our shipping that has alone enabled us even to exist up to the present moment.
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A Delegate: Will the Prime Minister state, in view of the declared unanimity of the Allies with the war aims of this Government, that [Page 79] steps will be taken to consolidate those respective war aims of America and the Allies in order to present a unified front to the Germans?
Mr. Lloyd George : I think there is a good deal to be said for that suggestion. We did hope to be able to do it at the great conference in Paris which was held about two months ago. Representatives of the Russian Government were coming over, but accidents happened to them meanwhile. The Government was turned out of office, and there was a period of anarchy and confusion there, and civil war, and at the time the conference was held we had no one there to speak on behalf of Russia. It was quite impossible to attempt to co-ordinate the war aims of the Allies without having representatives of the Russian Government present, and that was the reason we did not enter upon the discussion. A good many of our difficulties arose from the demands which had been put forward by previous Russian Governments. Constantinople was a case in point. We could not have dropped Constantinople as a war aim without the assent of the Russian Government. I agree with our friend that if there were any doubt at all about the war aims of the Allies which have been stated by President Wilson and myself it would be desirable that we should meet, but so far we have had nothing but complete assent.
A Delegate: Will the Prime Minister briefly explain what he means by the reconsideration of the position of Alsace-Lorraine?
Mr. Lloyd George : I stated the view of the Government, I think, quite clearly last time. My view is that the people of this country will stand by the people of France. It is a question for them to decide. You must remember this is really not a question of territory to them. It has been a question of vital principle. It has been like an open sore in their side for nearly fifty years. They have never been able to live in peace during the whole of that time, and their view undoubtedly is that you cannot have peace in France until you have settled this question once and forever, and if you cannot have peace for France you won’t have peace in Europe, and you must settle this question unless you are going to have a series of wars in Europe. Therefore our view is that the people of France, who are primarily concerned, are the people who have to determine what they regard as fair, and in this respect the determination of the Government is to stand by the democracy of France in their struggles.
A Delegate: Is it the people of France or the people of Alsace-Lorraine who are complaining of how they are situated?
Mr. Lloyd George : The people of Alsace-Lorraine have never ceased to complain, but you must remember what has happened [Page 80] there. A very considerable proportion of the population of Alsace-Lorraine have been forcibly expropriated by the Germans. Some of them have been driven out of the country, and if you take the real population of Alsace-Lorraine there is absolutely no doubt at all that the overwhelming mass of them are in favour of being restored to the French flag. Allow me to recall a personal incident. I remember once crossing over the Vosges into Alsace-Lorraine. It was late at night, and we stopped at a little inn on the French side. Just a mile or two beyond was the German frontier, and the old people who kept the inn told us that every Sunday working people and peasants came from the German side over to the French side merely in order to spend Sunday under the French flag.
A Delegate: Will the Prime Minister give an immediate undertaking that in the event of the terms of settlement being arrived at as indicated by him, compulsory military service in this country will be immediately withdrawn?
Mr. Lloyd George : It is my hope, and that is really what we are fighting for, that we will establish conditions that will make compulsory service unnecessary not merely in this country but in every country. Unless we succeed in establishing those conditions I personally shall not feel that we have achieved one of the most important of our war aims. We want to make this sort of thing impossible again ever. It is not a question of whether you are going to stop it in this country. You must stop it in other countries—otherwise you cannot stop it here. We must defend ourselves here, and the first thing for us to do is to put an end to militarism throughout the world.
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