Fools learn by experience. And so do other people
What We Have Left Behind
It was the custom, but a short while ago, to attribute to savage life a setting of perennial violence and promiscuous murder. It was the custom, in days yet no further from us than their rose-scents endure, and their laurels keep their freshness, to acclaim our exalted civilisation, and to gasp at the completeness of our conquest of ourselves by ourselves, and our triumph over external conditions—with the aid of God, and of parson, and of men like Mr, Lloyd George, and Lord Kitchener, and Mr. Berry, the celebrated hangman, of course. It was the custom to search the world for the Molochs of other worships and the Juggernaut cars of other civilisations, and to use them as pin-flags to mark the course we have followed and the giddy heights we have achieved above them.
Who does not remember for what bloody butcheries and devastating conquests excuse has been found in the tyranny of native rulers and insecurity of native life ? The “poor black” could never be sure, when he put his head out of his kraal in search of his morning paper, that some earlybird with a highly developed sense of humour and a capacious knife was not going to tumble that head into the milk-can. And it was suspected that, hidden away in the fastnesses of primitive forests, woolly-headed, dusky Campbells and Booths and other bogey-men were mixing up the trade of restraurateur with that of juggler, and administering the Communion with such grim realism as rendered superfluous the pronouncement “This is His flesh.” Such offences against the nostrils of “our common humanity” invariably called aloud for expeditions composed mainly, after its human components, of those well-known civilising agents, bullets, bibles, and booze (three out of the famous “Four B’s” of Christian pioneering—the missionary was the fourth).
Love’s Labour Lost
Many an expedition, armed to the teeth for butchery, has left our shores on the pretext that the barbarities of little-known people shock the world and are a danger to civilisation ; many an expedition, reddened to the ears with butchery, has justified its orgy of rape and murder by grim tales of mountains of skulls discovered in some dusky potentate’s backyard. Civilised ruling classes have been touched to the tenderest cores of their tender hearts by savage brutality, and have expended much blood and treasure to correct the idiosyncrisi.es of the Mahdis, and clear up the messes of the King Coffees,
And now what a spectacle the Christian rulers of Christian lands present to the astonished eyes of savagedom !
All former hates and blood-lusts pale into insignificance compared with the consuming passions that run riot through the breasts of “civilised” men ; all former wars become mere local disturbances by comparison with this ghastly struggle which is turning countries into cemetaries and civilisation into an instrument of bloodshed; all former barbarities, whether of African despot or Asiatic ravager or European money-hunter, are eclipsed by the callous brutaliiy of the means by which all the combatants alike seek to put out the lifespark of men in this last great crime which reveals the true visage of capitalism.
What irony survives the shock of events ! It was the complaint of multitudes, when we Socialists delivered the Socialist message in the pre-war days, that any attempt to establish society upon a basis of common ownership must lead to bloodshed. The fear of such a contingency has closed to our message the ears of many whose logical faculties could permit no other escape from the general truth of our conclusions, but who had not yet appreciated the veracity of Mr. Churchill’s dictum : “There are worse things than bloodshed.”
If Blood be the Price—
But to those who feared so much the giant figure behind the Socialist banner what has capitalism presented—and what has it yet to present ? In the first year of war about 85,000 British lost their lives in operations by land and sea, and a month later a military member of the House of Commons told us that “we have hardly yet wet our shoes.” A Paris journal. “L’Oeuvre,” in an estimate widely quoted by the Press of this country, states that up to the end of last February, that is when the war had been in continuance only half the time that it has now. France had lost in killed alone 304,000 men, Russia 850,000, Germany 975,000. Austria 1,400,000, while the total losses in killed of all the belligerents exclusive of Turkey were 3,689,000.
If we had not wet our shoes in September we had not even soiled them in February. Since then there has been colossal fighting on the eastern front and terrible work and suffering in Gallipoli ; since then there has been a costly attack and advance in France, while in addition Italy has entered the arena and made some progress in running up a tragic bill. What, then, must be the appalling death-roll now, with this second seven month’s lighting added to the first ?
Nor is it only in this direction that the war is robbing Socialism of its terrors. Many people in the past have stumbled over the idea that it is only the free play of capitalist competition that makes the world go round, and that without this stimulus to endeavour the means of production, wonderful as they are, would not suffice to support the race, and chaos and ruin would at once overtake us. But what do we find ; where does the war demonstrate the truth to be ?
It is revealed in practice that military strength —which to-day more than ever resolves itself into the largest, and therefore the most economical output of wealth—is in inverse ratio to the free play of capitalist competition. It is seen that, so far from true is it that the ordinary private enterprise of interested capitalists, spurred on as it is by an unparalleled opportunity for gain, means efficiency, that it means, on the contrary, misdirection, waste, and chaos which must prove fatal to those foolish enough to rely upon it.
The Failure of Private Enterprise
It is here that the scientific German has scored heavily over the short-sighted fools who have fondly imagined that private enterprise under the stimulus of competition would suffice for nearly all things in peace and in war. For years the German rulers have had arrangements made for a wide abandonment of the competitive processes of production in event of war. At the annual military manoeuvres a large number of German factories have been put under State control and run for a fortnight under war conditions. Whatever miscalculations the Germans made as to the requirements of modem warfare, they may, at all events, take credit for recognising from the first, and long before the outbreak of hostilities, the truth of the Socialist contention that the boasted private enterprise, under the stimulus of the competition generated by the lust for profit, is a drag upon production and a fertile source of chaos and inefficiency.
Germany acted upon this knowledge, and as a result our masters are forced to confess that, other things being equal, the only effective reply is to themselves abandon private enterprise for the time. In other words, they are forced to admit that capitalist production by private enterprise is a failure, and that only production organised on a basis from which the attributes of private enterprise are eliminated can enable them effectually to deal with a situation of their own making. To this extent, therefore, the evidence of the war is a triumph for Socialist theory which we shall know how to make good use of when the war has run its course.
Some further lessons
But another aspect of the same question provides a useful lesson and further vindication of Socialist claims. When the war broke, out the financiers and capitalist economists showed that it could not last longer than a year. The upheaval of finance, the disturbance of trade, the disruption of production—these potent factors were to cool the ardour of the most warlike in a matter of nine to twelve months, and bring peace because the resources of manking could not support war on the colossal scale for a longer time. By all the calculations of capitalist economists, based upon the soundest of capitalist theories, the Teutonic allies, with so much of their own manhood removed from the production of the necessaries of life, with their imports and exports almost completely cut off, should have reached bankruptcy and starvation and military paralysis long before this. Yet the prognostications of the wise men, who have imagined that the only possible basis for the activities of civilised man is money, and therefore solvency, and who have stoutly denied the Socialist assertion that an enormous proportion of the human energy under capitalism is run to waste these prognostications are pulverised by the peculiarly healthy vigour of the Austro-Gernum entity.
Of course, the seers did not realise that a country organised for war could eliminate private enterprise and profit-hunting to any extent that its government thought necessary and its capitalist element was prepared to submit to, and thus organised on a temporary basis foreign and even antagonistic to capitalism, could go on with the war in defiance of financial dictums and capitalist economic theories, to the first of which the capitalists of that country are answerable only when the normal conditions of capitalism return, and the last of which they blast for ever.
But so it has been. The rulers of the German nation have found it possible to engage over ten millions of their seventy millions population in the direct prosecution of the war in the actual fighting forces, and in the production and transport of munitions and other requisites of war. We may put the ordinary working strength of Germany—the number, that is, following any occupation (the housewife’s duties excepted)—at from eighteen to twenty millions. We find, therefore, the remarkable spectacle in a capitalist country “organised for war,” of more than one half the working population (and the most physically efficient half at that) engaged in providing the forces and means for carrying on the conflict.
It is just this that has upset the calculations of the prophets. Plain soldiers, unhampered by economic theories and financial superstitions, knew that of the conditions essential to the carrying on of war, solvency was not one. Hence they made preparations “for three years or for the period of the war.” But the theorists have had a rude awakening. It comes as a surprise to them to find that while the ordinary processes of capitalism were suspened, and to the extent that they were suspended, bankruptcy was a word without significance. It comes as a shock to them to find that the country best organised for war is forced, when up against the military resources of the greater part of capitalist civilisation. can gain additional strength only by the wider abandonment of the principles of private enterprise, and the substitution therefor of organisation on a basis which, while far as the poles asunder from Socialism, contain this celement in common with Socialism, that production for profit, with its wasteful competition, gives place to production for use, with its concomitant economical co-operation.
Thus is proved the Socialist contention that capitalist production, on normal capitalist lines, notwithstanding that such vast wealth results, is an insanely wasteful process. The very fact that the capitalists themselves are compelled at a time of stress to reject it in fields essential to the prosecution of the war speaks volumes. In this, when the war is finished, Socialist propagandists will find a powerful object-lesson to put before their fellow-workers.
It is more than possible that the war will provide even more important lessons for the working class than any here outlined so far. We all know how much the governments of the “quadruple entente” are building upon a revolt among the working class of the “enemy” countries. The contingency is not by any means remote, since it might suit the book of the Teuton militarists, should they be unable to stave off defeat in the field, as well as it would suit the purpose of our own masters and their allies. We should then probably see the erstwhile capitalist foes united in a bloody suppression having for its object the striking with terror anew the working class of the world.
But for the moment the lessons of the war are these: Firstly, that the evolution of capitalism, so far from freeing us from the bloody violence alleged to attach to savage existence, tends to make wars more colossal as the improvement in the means of production sets free a larger proportion of the workers for war, and more cruel as the conquests of science place new means of butchery at the disposal of our respective masters. Secondly, the war demonstrates how small a proportion of the energy of anv community, with modern instrument of labour, suffices to supply the necessaries of life for the whole. Thirdly, the war reveals that private enterprise and production for profit, so long and so sternly condemned by all Socialists, is not good enough even for the capitalists when the exigiencies of a vital war make it imperative for them to make the most of their resources.
These lessons of the war will go far in the hands of those who have taken up the Socialist position, when the butchers shall have decided their quarrel by the old test seeing who can pour out working-class blood the longest. They will, added to the grudging return which the capitalists of this country are already preparing for their disabled warriors, open eyes even that German bullets have rendered sightless forever. Then, with the utter wantonness of this colossal destruction of life revealed in the worsened conditions of those who are everywhere bearing the brunt of the fighting and the bulk of the suffering the working class—and with the many false friends of labour exposed and discredited for all time by their attitude during this crisis, the cause of the working class will flourish with vigour that will relieve and compensate for this dark and savage outrage upon our class.
A. E. J.