Socialism and War. Is the Present War Justifiable?

There are worse things than war. The vast tragedy of the slow starvation in times of “glorious peace” of one-third of the population, is not spectacular: it is sordid. The wholesale and ever-present stunting of the minds and bodies of the toiling millions, in order that wealth and leisure may be the lot of the few, does not provide striking headlines or sensational articles in the unspeakable Press. These things are taboo. They are dangerous. But they exist, and in real horror, extent and importance, they transcend manifold all the suffering in even the war of the nations.

We who drag these hateful truths into the light of day, and reap thereby a harvest of opprobrium from the wealthy and comfortable, do so solely to make our fellows conscious of the existence of that greater war—the class struggle—in the prosecution of which, indeed, the workers will find no Geneva Conventions observed by the enemy.

But is the present war justifiable ? Has war, indeed, at any past period been anything but a curse ? The answer will, perhaps, be in the affirmative, yet it is possible that war has at an early period played no unimportant role in quickening social development.

Before commerce developed its relatively modern power of sweeping before it the whole of civilization’s industrial activity, history treats almost exclusively of communities that were practically self-contained and self-supporting. And the further back into the dawn of history that one peers, the more independent and isolated were the social groupings, and the fainter the influence of exchange or other peaceful means of intercommunication.

How then, to take an illustration, did the chipped flint tempers, rough hammer-stones and grinding pebbles of paleolithic times, give way over such vast areas to the vastly superior worked polished stone axe-hammers, mortars, knives and spear-heads of the neolithic age ? How were these again displaced by bronze ? How were those discoveries that led to hunting being supplemented with pasture, and this with agriculture, propagated so widely. There is no doubt that nomadic intercourse and barter played no unimportant part even here, but it is in the highest degree probable that one of the chief agencies was war. Certainly the various discoveries which facilitated the obtaining of the means of subsistence fostered an increase in the power and numbers of the favoured social groups. Thence came again the need for migration and the opportunity for plunder ; and this entailed war upon other groups and the absorption of many of the weaker into the more advanced social stream. Well into comparatively recent times it is noticeable that war has played a similar part. The great colonising expeditions were sometimes examples of this. But from the 16th century onward it is obvious that trade had become the chief means of modifying the social institutions of the world, and securing the prevalence of the more efficient economic methods of production over feudal and individual forms. It was commerce that gradually disrupted antiquated social forms and laid the foundations of the world-wide capitalist system, in which, if the thieves now quarrel, it is solely about their share of the plunder of the world’s workers. Trade, augmented by advancing powers of production, has specialised labour, localities, nations, and even hemispheres, in the supply of the material needs of society, until to-day every nation is really a dependent unit in a haphazardly developed world organisation of industry. Commodities, and the laws of their being, now govern all men. Each nation, each man and woman, is dependent for many of his simplest wants upon the activities of others at the farthest places of the globe. Thus the world, despite its conflicts—and no longer because of them—is swept along in one stream of evolution, having identical problems in every region, and with hostile interests only because mankind’s activity is governed by a brigand class scrambling for the lion’s share of the world’s plunder.

Even if justification of any sort could be found for war in the distant past, none could be found to-day, except for war against the system that now engenders needless hatred, carnage and poverty. What are the facts ?

Stimulated by the rivalry of commerce, the productive capacity of the nations has multiplied manifold. Productivity has, indeed, grown to such an extent that it has outstripped the capacity of trade to dispose of the products in the markets. Trusts, Cartels and Rings are formed to increase profit by limiting production ! Clearly the political system based on trade has also outlived its utility. It is now an obstacle to social and industrial advance, and no longer an agency of progress. Production is for profit, not for use ; and therefore a superabundance of produce now brings want in its train ! The producers must starve because they have produced too much ! Never in previous ages could abundance have had such an anomalous result. Famine or war were formerly the causes of want, but now-a-days this is completely reversed, and a plethora of wealth gluts the markets and causes starvation among the producers, while it is war and waste that bring about a factitious prosperity !

It is from this great anomaly of production for sale that modern war chiefly arises. It is a result of the increasing difficulty of disposing, through trade, of the overwhelming mass of products that capitalism creates. The forces of production are straining at their capitalist bonds. Every increase in man’s productive power, every advance that provides more wealth with less labour, should mean more leisure and more of the good things of life to all who produce. The fact that another community offers a larger surplus of products in exchange for a less quantity of our own should mean likewise more wealth and leisure to all. Yet capitalism produces the exact contrary. It makes the increased output a weapon to beat down wages and increase toil on the one hand, and to create unemployment and starvation on the other. It makes, in the same way, the increased wealth production of the nations an instrument of international strife and suffering, instead of a blessing to mankind.

It is this super-productivity of labour, therefore, turned blindly against humanity by capital, that is the forcing-bed of militarism, Imperialism and war. The home market is choked ; the producers are too poor to buy back their produce, and the rich are surfeited ; therefore the surplus must be dumped at the best price available on the world-market, there to result, not in the feeding, but in the starving of the foreign worker. Other countries act likewise, and the world-market also is choked with unsaleable wealth. Hence we get the struggles over colonies, treaty ports, open ports, spheres of influence, protectorates, tariffs, Zollvereins, and “most favoured nation” clauses, all of which are so much inflammable material in dangerous proximity to the torch-brandishing national rivals scuffling for first place on the world-market. Foreign trade, it has been said, is the safety-valve of capitalism; but that has been choked up years ago, and from being the safety-valve it became the chief source of danger.

For how many dismal years did we not hear the fearsome story of the great German menace? Continental rivals dared challenge the domination of the champion thieves of Europe. They dared to claim also a “place in the sun.” Thenceforth the sleepy, old firm, still recumbent on their laurels, set themselves to thwart them, diplomatically at first, since that was easiest. Thwarted diplomatically, and seeing that force would only yield to force, seeing that only successful war could enlarge the outlet for their goods upon the world-market, and silence and crush the proletarian menace at home, the continental rival increased and perfected its military forces. Meanwhile the old firm, with one eye on its rival and the other on its own working class, increased and perfected its fighting force. This was done amicably in the sacred name of peace. Nevertheless, they both foresaw that war was inevitable. Let profits be maintained, they said, though the world be deluged with our workers’ blood ! The race for armaments became the dominant pursuit of Europe. The Hague Conference was to set the pace. But in the fulness of time hell scorched through the brown paper that divided it from “peace,” and became visible to every peace crank.

And what excuse do they now offer for the war ? The true one ? Not—likely! They all profess to fight for the “rights of small nations,” for the “sanctity of treaties,” for the “freedom of Europe,” for the “freedom of the seas,” and last, but by no means least, for “honour” ! Napoleon cynically said in his correspondence that one can do anything with a man by playing on his sense of honour ; and truly, all the present belligerents have taken his advice. The use of that magic word is made the incentive to dishonour, the word “freedom” becomes an inducement to rigid slavery, the “rights of small nations” are made the hypocritical compensation for the destruction of the worker’s own. Thus capitalism’s Blessed Words mask the war’s ugly object, which is, on each hand, to destroy the other’s power to add to the world’s wealth. “Crush German trade for ever,” said Mr. Runciman on Jan. 10th, “and never give her the chance of reconstructing her economic machinery.” Thus the enemy’s productive power and man power are to be annihilated, solely for the furtherance of the home capitalist’s trade and profit. Is it not therefore plain that capitalism is completely played out as an agent of economic and social progress ? It now heads directly toward the suicide of civilization. The future of humanity necessitates the end of this system, which, because another State makes available to the world a multitude of useful things for less expense, makes that the astounding basis of a world war ! Thus does the wages system turn economic progress against mankind, making the blessing of the wonderful and growing producing power of the workers of the world a curse to humanity.

Need one labour the point ? It is undeniable that capitalism, with its patriotism, fosters jealousy and hatred of the rest of the world. It makes one’s immediate interest depend on the ruin of his fellow. It creates unnecessary strife and wasteful competition. It sows the seed of hostility and murder in the hearts of all. At this stage of social development, does the industrial activity of men and women demand such a frightful result ? Emphatically, NO ! Since trade and class ownership are now the hindrances to humanity’s enjoyment of the abundance it creates, capitalist control and its commerce must go ! Economic evolution has laid the foundations of a saner society. Social production cries aloud for social ownership and control. Competition must give way to co-operation. Trading with its gluts and crises and anarchy, must give way to cjnsciously planned distribution. The giant social productive forces are already developed. They are already run entirely by wage workers, but for absentee shareholders. Moreover, the class-conscious intelligence of the workers is gradually awakening to these facts. Surely, then, the day of mankind’s deliverance cannot be long delayed !

And what must be the inevitable result of such a change on social international relations ? Social co-operation, by making each producer a partner with a voice in the control of the vastly increased social wealth (which the abolition of capitalism’s incredible waste of products and productive powers will provide) will give every individual a direct incentive to increase the common wealth, to promote the interest and prosperity of his fellows, and to increase the productivity and efficiency of the whole. Thus Socialism brings about a unity in the interests of all in place of the present antagonisms. A plethora of production, under such conditions, makes no victims, since all are sharers in the increased leisure, and joyful participators in the surplus wealth. Bitter competition, which makes each prosper by the ruin of his competitor, ceases entirely ; in its place arises a healthy emulation which encourages and promotes the good of others, since only by pulling together, and not against each other, can the burden of each be lightened and the prosperity of each be secured. Society ceases to be a scramble ; it becomes a harmony.

As in internal affairs, so in external ; anarchy gives place to order, and hostile and divergent interests to unity of aim. Rational exchange takes the place of the trade war. The more of the wealth of the other community is offered for part of our own, the greater will be our joy, and the greater our wealth and leisure. To-day the effect is precisely opposite. Foreign production is the enemy, and an abundance of inexpensive foreign goods spells disaster. The difference between the influence of co-operation and of competition on social relations can, indeed, hardly be emphasised sufficiently. It affects the whole of society. To-day, two bakers, who supply the same neighbourhood, each wish the other ruined and out of the way. Two journeyman bakers, seeking work from the same master, each wish the other less efficient, or dead, in order to get the job. Many are now led to silently hope that the horrible European carnage may not cease, in order that they may enjoy the “prosperity” of a livelihood making instruments of slaughter ! The existing inhuman system, in fact, causes many, who now work in an absent warrior’s place, to desire, in their fear of future unemployment, that he may never return ! To such an extent does the curse of capitalism wither men’s better nature.

But under industrial democracy all producers are led to wish rather that their numbers were greater in order to lighten the labour of each. All producers are induced to wish their fellows more efficient and productive, not less, in order to increase the good things of life made available to all. Brotherhood, national and international, will be the outcome, because in the world-wide social organism, as in each community, the interests of each will be clearly and directly furthered only by the promotion of the like interests of all. The interest of each country will cease to be the destruction or impoverishment its neighbour, but will be wholly concerned with increasing the wealth to be exchanged, and to promoting a closer world-co-operation and helpfulness. Then, indeed, war will have ceased to be possible, since its causes will have passed away.

This, therefore, is the message of Socialism. The successful termination of the class struggle must herald the end of wars and free all mankind from servitude and wasteful toil. The need of the time is for the wage-workers of all conditions to advance unitedly to the control of society, to oust the parasites, and to consciously organise production for the good of all instead of for the benefit of a few.

With the certainty of the ending of the brigand interest and its commercial and class antagonisms, who can doubt of the future of humanity ? With the inevitability of the promotion of every direct incentive to mutual aid and fraternity by Socialism, what man worthy the name, who sees these things, can hesitate to throw in his lot with the Socialist Party in their task of helping to awaken the workers to their class mission ? The Socialist aim is worthy of man’s highest efforts ; for only victory in the supreme class battle of the wage-workers can end poverty and war, and open to human kind the upward way to a healthier and kindlier social life.

F. C. W.

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