Editorial: On the Cause of War

A few years ago the Sociological Society published some papers by J. S. Stuart-Glennie on “Some General Historical Laws,” designed to establish, among other things, that a “periodic law” operated to bring into inevitable conflict the East and the West, the Mongol races and the Aryan races at intervals of half a millenium. The Russo-Japanese War seems to have happened most opportunely for the purposes of the argument, and was hailed by our author as a palpable fulfilment of his prophecy: “Thus as, long years ago, I predicted from this periodic law, there has occurred in this twentieth century another of those great European-Asian conflicts which, at intervals of approximately half-a-millennium, have marked the age since the upbreak of the truly ancient civilisations in the sixth century B.C.”

The order of the events which culminated in this last upheaval are given thus: “The first epoch opened the Grasco-Roman half-millennium which culminated in the world conquest of Alexander . . . and of Aristotle. The second, that of Julius and Augustus Csesar and the establishment of Christianism by Constantine. The third, that of Mohammed and the first conquests of Islam, opened the Medieval half-millennium of the Byzantine empire and the barbarous Western anarchy only temporarily abated by Charlemagne. The fourth, the Asiatic conquests of the Turks and the first Crusades opened the Feudal half-millennium. The fifth opened the modern Industrial half-millennium of access to and attack on Further Asia, and the establishment of the Crescent for the Cross in Asiatic Europe.” The sixth epoch was punctuated by the Russo-Japanese War and—there you are ! The Russo-Japanese War was clearly ordained by the Fates about the time the crust of the earth was solidifying, and couldn’t have been otherwise.

The Revelations of General Kuropatkin

Clearly, therefore, General Kuropatkin’s idea that the whole cause of the trouble was merely a dirty financial deal in which the Russian Royal House was engaged, has not taken into account the whole of the case. The Russian Royal Family doubtless wanted the timber wealth of Manchuria and were quite prepared to ride rough-shod over all the undertakings ever made in the name of their country ; they were prepared to drench a continent in blood in order to put money into their own pockets, and, on the showing of Kuropatkin, did it. These, however, were mere accidental causes only. Actually, on the hypothesis of “periodic law,” the war was, like the salvation of the soul of the hard-shelled Baptist, foreordained before the foundation of the world.

We fear, however, few students of history will be able to subscribe to Mr. Stuart-Glennie’s thesis on the evidence adduced. They will be far more ready to accept Kuropatkin’s plain statement of the immediate causes of the war, the more particularly as all wars can, with a high degree of certainty, be connected with approximately similar causes. Mr. Stuart-Glennie’s “periodic law” could not apply unless the conditions, at the expiration of the half-millennium time limit, were favourable to war between the races concerned. If a forest fire had swept Manchuria free of timber a year or two before the outbreak between Russia and Japan, the “periodic law” would have been punctured, if, as Kuropatkin asserts on indisputable evidence, it was the fact that the timber land was the bone of financial contention. The “law” that depends upon so small and accidental a thing as a bonfire, is not one to base large calculations upon.

Some Cant and a Lesson

Once again, then, it is established that wars are in general the outcome of conflict of economic interests. And once again we are brought up against the rant or the cant that the moralist newspaper gentlemen, who are pleased to do our thinking for us, and who are concerned to ascribe, as far as possible, other causes to wars in order that the truth may be obscured, retail for our consumption. Where, as in the case of the Russo-Japanese War, the “gaff has been blown” so thoroughly by a man in a position to speak with absolute authority as Kuropatkin, it is difficult to disguise the brutal, sordid facts. The only thing possible, therefore, is to speak as though the case were quite exceptional. At this sort of game the Daily News is always first class. In its leading article upon the subject it delivers itself thus : “We had known that a Royal Family’s greed played a considerable part in this horrible business ; we now know that it was the moving cause, and that, but for the greed of the St. Petersburg Court circle the war would never have occurred.” And again : “Deliberately to bring about one of the most terrific wars of history in order that a worthless set of royal relations, hanging about a court, may handle a little more gold than they had before, is a development that may suit a commercial age, but adds a new shame to the history of mankind.”

“New shame !” There is nothing new in it. It doesn’t make a difference in the “shame” because the persons standing to benefit are a royal gang of financiers and not a gang of professional bucket shop keepers, or capitalists in quest of new markets. It’s the old “shame,” as old as wars are old, and the only “moral” there is to it, is the lesson it offers for working-class learning, that the capitalist class control the State, because they dominate politics, and are prepared to use all the power of their control in their own interests, whether they lie in the direction of using the weaponed arm of the State for the purpose of cracking the heads of native workmen who manifest discontent, or in the direction of carrying on an aggressive policy abroad for the markets of the world and the benefit of their own banking accounts. In either case the remedy lies in the workers capturing political control in their own interest —the interest of the useful section of society.

Hell in the Clouds

Discussing the further question of the development of aerial navigation and its possible relation to war, the organ of the “Prince of Peace” pursues its dull and melancholy way:—

“To drop various explosives down upon large objects like cities would not be difficult, but, after all, there are such things as Hague Conventions against the random destruction of private property.”

“Fool and slow of heart, who hath bewitched you?” Verily, the faith of the Daily News in Hague Conventions is of the brand that ought to move mountains. But faith never yet moved a mountain and there is no reason to suppose it will be more efficacious in the future than in the past—not even when the object to be moved is a mountain of stupidity or fraud such as the Hague Convention undoubtedly is. The question is, can the Hague Convention prevent the conflict of national commercial interests ? If it can, and when it does, it may stop wars which are, every one, the outcome of capitalist rapacity. But as it doesn’t try to stay the war of capitalist commerce, and could not effect it if it did, it follows that the interference of the Hague Conventions will stop wars when wars are impossible ! Just then.

But, say the peace-makers, the Hague Convention, we know, cannot stop wars, but it can by agreement, humanise them. It could, for example, rule out airships, or at any rate, prevent their use in the discharge of explosives from above and so on. Yes, it can—as it ruled out expanding bullets, and the inhuman practice of smoking out the enemy who had taken refuge in caves, and all the rest of it. But its ruling would not affect the matter worth tuppence for all that. It did not in South Africa.

The way of Peace

You can’t humanise war. If you could it would not be war. While we have wars we must have inhumanity. And we must have wars until Socialism. Because even assuming the possibility of the present development of capitalism toward monopoly, reaching the universal trust stage, wars between sections of the working class and the dominant power would still continue, and probably be far more bloody than now. Even now we have our Right Honourable John Burnses and others of the “humanity-mongers” calling for the use of the deadliest weapons in industrial struggles.

The immediate object of war is to dispose of the opposing forces. To do that, if they won’t cave in, “you must kill ’em, and kill ’em, and kill ’em blooming dead” as somebody said somewhere. And you don’t kill ’em with humanity either. You use explosives and steel. The idea is to get as much explosive matter pumped in as possible in order that the opposition may be crumpled up the quicker. And that’s where the balloon may come in. If it can be used in that way to suit capitalist purposes it certainly will be; and would be the day after the signing of a Hague Convention, by all concerned, prohibiting it.

The only power that can stand between the people and the inhumanity of war is the organised working class of the world. The only hope that the intelligent peace-makers have against the possibility of serial machines dumping murder upon them from the clouds, is in the working class of the world organising themselves before the navigation of the air has reached the stage of the efficiently practical. Their only hope, that is, is Socialism. An for the peace-makers of the Daily News order, they merely howl “peace” when there is no peace— nor can be.

(Editorial, Socialist Standard, October 1908)

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