Detestable years

Earth is sick
And heaven is weary of the hollow words
Which states and kingdoms utter when they talk
Of truth and justice.

The rough, black years tower over the nations and no man can escape their might. Whatever our work or inclinations we cannot be free of the net of this war. The old man shut in his house is caught in the mesh, just as the young man who battles for a noble cause in public. Old occupations are away, old impulses are put to sleep, old schemes, wishes are battered and injured ; good sentiments are rare and broken. Malice, fraud, cruelty and ambition are feeding fat, while misery follows misery close as thunder clouds when there’s rain and lightning,

Yet it seemed as though the transition from quietness to bloodiness was only a matter of hours. It seemed scarcely an hour before this shadow fell on Europe that the lands were sparkling with new hopes : from end to end of this kingdom the workers listened in contentment to the sweetness of the parliamentarians, to the masses of clerics, and to the sovereign officials of trade unions. For there had come a leader among men, one above all, one with a gentle, sorrow-sodden heart in which he kept ancestral Celtic fire. I have heard that he was a Welshman. We were told that every fibre of his body thrilled with the misery of the poor, whose mourning was as an everlasting dirge in his sympathetic ear ; we learned that a sweeter heart, more in unison with the poor, never beat in old England. Over the land there was hope, and, despite the fact that his Celtic wit looked stale and cold in print, that acres of corn were too largely introduced into his speeches, that there was a superabundance of stars and too many unnecessary rainbows in his answers to questions, he must be given credit for a most astonishing thing. It is this. Although on the introduction of his Health Insurance Bill the vast bulk of the heavenly angels were indifferent to it, he did manage to interest in his proposals one Angel of Light with a less stern heart than his or his companions in Paradise. Forthwith this celestial spirit, on the invitation of the Cabinet Minister, arrived on a sudden at Kings X, incognito, and was about to start on a tour of the slums, when the world shook in the fever of war and the traffic in metals and men started. Ever since the election of the Liberals we had awaited the coming of this luminous visitor, so it was a pity that, when the diplomats let slip the dogs of war and the clownish thwacking of the drums commenced, the burning guest should spend the night, among old friends, in a rent-collector’s office. The angel’s host, the gentle Welshman, has become War Minister.

The war seemed to happen in a moment of noble indignation against the crimes of Germany. It seemed so, yet it was not so. Long before the war’s outbreak stealthy preparations were being made for the carrying on of the war with Competitor Germany. The first thing to be done was to inspire the people with confi­dence in the politicians. So certain gentry were boomed and praised in all ways so they might use their inflated prestige, on behalf of the masters, during any crisis. Principally through the means of sneaking newspapers virtuous reputations were gained, and are at this moment proving of value to the capitalists. It would seem that so long as a man is a reactionary with influence it does not matter what his other characteristics are. If he is ignorant then he is named sound and democratic ; witness Will Thorne. If he is cruel and unflinching then he is praised as unbending in the people’s cause ; witness Kitchener. If he is a chatterer then he is an orator ; witness the Welshman. If he is silent then it is the quietness of strength ; witness the Prime Minister. With several newspapers at his back, with a thousand lies ready at hand, the most foggy idiot, the worst shivering coward may gain a reputation for soberness, dignity, wisdom, truth, and courage.

The virtues of the hierarchy having been, planted, nourished, and a false impression of them established in the minds of the people, the politicians could turn their attention to other items of preparation. Before this war the Socialist enlightened the workers as to the worst which capitalism can do. It was not the worst to deal you out shillings from the pounds you earned, or to defraud you in the workshop or domineer over you there, or to tire your body, or to exhaust your brain. The level of life was bad but the level of life was not the worst. While you took your shillings contentedly, and derided the Socialist for fighting phantoms of evil of his own creation, other forces were sleeplessly and silently working towards this volcanic carnage on the Continent. Middling folk with power were forming treaty on treaty which have now contributed to this wreck of the nations, this modern mockery of civilisation. The worst Russians were unearthed to do vile business abroad, the most sugary Japanese too. Greedy eyes were wandering over the mines of the world : they were listed in secret catalogues. Constantinople has been secretly valued ; the riches of Morroco have been estimated ; Albania and Montenegro figure in the hidden sheets ; the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine are totalled in the chronicles ; Finland and Persia have wealth which cannot be overlooked by the avaricious. There are diamonds here, salt there, mines elsewhere. Ports, coasts, mountains, rivers and valleys of value to the masters of one land are exploited, guarded, and locked by the ships and guns of alien authorities. All the lands concerned in this war were filled with growth and rush, avarice, hate, and rotting commodities. That is the natural result of the principles of competition in modern societies, and they are the reasons for the present clash of arms. All this chatter of liberty and honour, of which we are sick, is like fat wrapped over the old skeleton of profit.

Each of the fighting nations prepared for the inevitable conflict by a combination of forces similar to that of England’s. Each erected barriers of soldiers and floated nets of ships, and in each country the workers have been cunningly engulfed to effect an interchange of vineyards and mines, cities and seas, which will in no way change their condition of wage slavery.

These then were the martial circumstances and commercial facts with which the war opened. During the early days of the campaign we might have expected that the avarice of the masters would have been redeemed by some show of skill, and their scoundrelism equalled by their judgment. It was not so. They were bigoted in their ideas and stuck to their hum-drum, traditions. In the more noble occupations of life men of genius are not trammelled by tradition. Shakespeare disregarded almost all the laws of Athenian Drama and sang his own mighty plays to perfection. In France, rough Francois Millet was unworried by any remembrance of the smooth Italian. Primitives Walt Whitman was not troubled in his mind over the metres of the past poets. Neither is the Socialist to-day deceived by the conclusions of Ricardo, or Mill, or Ruskin. In all such work vast ideas, find new vast expression. It is always so with true genius. It has not been so with the main men in this war, for they have not even the evil spark of military genius, but are prompted, solely by ambition, which mimics talent and is separable from it. Their strategy has been as befogged as their motives are villainous. It is sufficient for such contemptible folk that the Sea of Mamora is held by the opposition forces, that its waters lead to the rich markets of Constantinople, in order to send hostile vessels into it. The peaks and dells of Gallipoli are similarly owned so they must be scaled and stormed. Every effort where prudence was needed has been marked by stupidity ; every hostility where, from their point of view, vigour was required has been marked by idleness and waste.

None of our eyes are closed to the terrible things around us and yet we remain hopeful. We proceed with our work and hope in it. The masters may imprison and murder our comrades but they can never destroy our principles ; for the principles of Socialism are not the fruit of our lives but are the fruit of those forces of capitalism to which they are eternally opposed. No matter how many of our comrades are shot, no matter how many Welshmen speak, no matter how many wars are waged, our principles remain indestructible. For the Socialist at least, then, despair does not exist apart from hope ; though suffering is here it is not separated from joy. For the Socialist there is one hope, one joy, and one annihilation. None of us will suffer a miserable death till our immortal principles are dragged to an impossible grave. Meanwhile we look with hope and joy to the time when the workers will acknowledge and establish the principles of Socialism ; to the time when nation on nation will be rescued from the littleness of nationalism ; to the time when manliness, womanliness and brotherhood will develop and this painful wilderness of war, of cold faiths, and watery charities be destroyed. Then every waggon which knits the hamlets together will carry other messages than those of sadness ; every centre of throbbing looms, every acre of corn, every accumulation of houses, will help in our fight against cold and hunger. We shall be free of the profiteers, so every ship which sails will elsewhere deliver happiness, while each new ship which visits us will deepen our wealth. These, then, are some of the beauties and benefits of international co-operation, upon which we look and know well. Yet the deeper we penetrate into our philosophy the more the lovliness of our prospect increases. What we know of Socialism is worthy of our life-long devotion, but depending from such principles of Liberty must be great comradeship and calm which we know not of, of which we may sit and dream, and before which the visions of Bunyan seem garish and Milton’s golden dreams grow pale.

H. M. M.

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