Book Review: Ropes of Sand
“A WAY TO PREVENT WAR,” by Allan L. Benson. 180 pp. Cloth, 1 dollar. Appeal to Reason, Girard, Kansas, U.S.A.
“If the people were in favour of war, the way to end war would be to convert the people to peace. This book is devoted to the task of showing that since the people are opposed to war the logical way to end it is to take the power to declare war from minorities who misuse it and vest it in the people who may be depended upon not to use it at all.” Thus does the author of the volume under review open his preface.
The busy reviewer who takes up a book for the purpose of criticism, and finds the key to his labours in the first paragraph, is a lucky man. “Since the people are opposed to war” ! “What an assumption to build up a 180 page tome upon ! Had the writer lived in England in August 1914 ; had he taken part in the perils of our outdoor propaganda soon after the outbreak of hostilities ; had he mounted the public platform in any of the belligerent countries last autumn, when the British bulldog was a gnashing of his teeth, and the French poodle and the Russian bear were tying themselves up in true lovers’ knots in their patriotic frenzy, and the German two-headed eagle was doing the porcupine act with his neck feathers, and only the Dutch cheese maintained his customary sanity (because he wasn’t a belligerent)—had he, the author of “A way to Prevent War,” taken the platform then and tried to tell the people that they “are opposed to war,” he would have experienced experiences that might have prevented him rushing into print on such a flimsy ground as the conception that the people would never use the power to declare war at all.
Mr. Churchill has told us that there are worse things than bloodshed, and it is true. Mr. Churchill, of course, meant that there are worse things than the shedding of other people’s blood, and thus put even fewer dissentients will raise voice against the statement. But if we are to believe Mr. Benson, there are no conceivable circumstances, no wrongs and oppression, which could urge the people to resort to arms if the option of peace and war lay with them.
Well, I for one say not so, and fervently hope not so. Bad, indeed, as this welter of blood is—and its horror vibrates not less strongly through the Socialist fibres of the reviewer than through the reformist fabric of his author—it is not so bad. by a very long chalk, as that the working class, if the power to make war was vested in them, could “be depended upon never to use it at all”—merely because, under Mr. Benson’s scheme, those who voted for war would be the first to be sent to the front.
The present futile and deplorable struggle, with all its appalling waste of life and all its stupendous agony and suffering, is not so bad as that other condition because it indicates that the workers are not lacking in the “animal” courage necessary for the achievement of their emancipation from wage-slavery, while on the other hand, if they would never resort to armed conflict at all under the condition that those who voted for war would be the first to be called upon to serve, that would simply indicate that they have not the courage to strike the blow which they must strike in order to aet themselves free.
Mr. Benson says : “The world is tired of war.” This may be true enough now ; and anyway it is pretty certain to be true before the war is finished. That does not mean, however, that in a decade or so the world would decline to resort to force of arms again should circumstances similar to those which caused the present conflagration then obtain. No one, in all probability, will be more heartily tired of the war before it is finished than the capitalist class, who have got to pay for it ; yet even our author would not deny that it would be idle to expect the capitalist class to abolish war. Anyway he says that his program “will not be installed by the capitalist class,” (Page 4.)
What better reason has Mr, Benson for maintaining that the people (by whom he seems to mean the working class) need but the referendum on war in order to abolish war ?
The bottom of the argument is knocked out by the author’s own admission (p, 77) that “It is unfortunately true that scheming diplomatists and jingo journalists have the power so to inflame peoples that they desire war.” What, then, is the use of talking about giving the people the “direct vote on tha war” ? To bamboozle them into desiring war is to bamboozle them into voting war ; and to lay the voter under the penalty of having to fight if he votes for fighting is simply to challenge his courage. These things are patent to everyone save the crank who thinks hae has discovered a short cut to the millenium.
The very fact that it is true that “scheming diplomatists and jingo journalists have the power to so inflame peoples that they desire war” shows that it is not so much the referendum on war that the people need as knowledge. Knowledge alone can save them from the wiles of the “scheming diplomatists and jingo journalists” interested in stirring up race hatred and exploiting the cowardice of those who have not the courage to face the charge of the white feather lancers. Granted that Mr. Benson, as a part of his scheme, provides the same penalty for those who advocate war through the Press or on the platform as for those who vote for it in the ballot, but the capitalists, with their unlimited means of inducing men and women to take personal risks (as witness the system of espionage existing in all capitalist countries) would find this very little deterrent to the people being so inflamed as to desire war.
Knowledge is the only safeguard against the workers being dragged into wars that do not concern them—knowledge that is, which has found its consummation in the capture of the machinery of government. This knowledge must be Socialist knowledge. It must be knowledge of the unity of interest of the workers of all countries, and the antagonism between that interest and tha interest of the capitalists of all lands.
And mark this, that knowledge itself, while it precludes the possibility of the workers being inflamed for capitalist war, must on the other hand inflame them against the capitalists in the bitterest of all wars—the class war. As opposing interests are the cause of all wars, unity of interest is the only absolute safeguard against war. The Socialist recognises this and acts accordingly ; the pseudo-Socialist does not recognise it, and he acts accordingly also.
Hence we find Mr. Benson telling us (p. 101) “The advocates of the war referendum plan declare that if diplomacy were democratized and the war-making power vested in themselves, no war could be begun for which the people had not voted”—which, of course, is not less fatuous because it is true, if the people can be inflamed to desire war.
And hence also we find Mr. Benson arguing the question (p. 102) “whether the Socialist plan of ending poverty and war or the war-referendum plan is, in its nature, most likely to lead in making its way into the public understanding” and deciding (as a Socialist !) against the Socialist plan.
Another mistake of the author which residence in any of the belligerant countries might possibly have prevented him from making ia the claim that women, if given the vote, “would vote overwhelmingly against war.” One who proclaims that “We Socialists take nothing for granted” might at least have spent some pains upon substantiating this claim. He might have endeavoured to show that the Socialist theory of the domination of material interests over human actions applies only to the male sex.
There are many other points of error in Mr. Benson’s book, only one particularly grave one can be mentioned here. This is the statement that the power for peace and war rests solely in the hands of a few politicians. Says our author: “134 men in Congress and one man in the White House have all of the power . .” (p. 11). This exposes a lamentable ignorance of the true facts of the case. The politicians are the servants of the master class, acting in their interests under such cloaks of hypocrisy and cant as they can devise.
The book is not without one merit. It brings before the public notice many of the wiles with which the diplomatists and politicians have carried out their masters’ work. The Bismarckian instances are very interesting reading though not altogether new to Eiglish readers. The events leading up to the Spanish American War are also worth perusal, and in particular the story of the “Maine.” How the American Government resisted for ten long years every demand to have the sunken warship raised from the slime of Havannah Harbour, and how it was eventually raised, taken out to sea, and sunk in order to destroy for ever the evidence of the falsity of the pretext for war which ten years previously it had provided, tell their own tale of Cultur, as unmistakably as certain other incidents related tell theirs of Culture and Kultur.
A. E. J.