With a suddenness only equalled by that of its starting the vast slaughter machine of the capitalist world has come to a standstill as far, at least, as the chief opponents are concerned.
While the strain imposed upon Germany became apparent to all when it was seen that she was unable to spare men or material to help Bulgaria, the strict censorship, combined with the skilfully conducted retreat of her armies on the Western front, prevented outsiders from realising how near the breaking-point had been approached internally.
Innumerable rumours are flying about concerning the conditions in Germany, but the amount of reliable information is small possibly due as much to the English censor as to the lack of correspondents on the spot.
In some aspects the experience of Russia in 1917 is seemingly being repeated in Germany. A so-called Socialist cabinet has been formed consisting of three members of the Social-Democratic Party— Ebert
, and Landsberg
—and three from the Independent Socialist Party—Haase
, and Barth
. The last is claimed by some papers to be a member of the “Spartacus” group of the “Independents,” but other papers deny this.
It would appear that a conflict is already raging as to whether a Constituent Assembly shall be called or a Soviet Parliament on the model of Russia shall be set up.
That the Scheidemann group should have seized the opportunity to take office is quite in line with their previous actions. In outlook and conception of social forces and developments they stand on about the same level as the Labour Party of this country, who have always been ready to assist the capitalist parties and hope for offices in return. Thus the Scheidemann “Socialists” gave their whole-hearted support to the prosecution of the war by the German capitalists, just as the Labour Party here placed its “whole services and party organisation” at the disposal of the English capitalists for the prosecution of the war by them.
The position of the “Independents” is not quite so easy to follow. That Bernstein and Kautsky should have “wobbled” on this question of taking office in such a Cabinet is not surprising, though it completely stultifies their action in withdrawing from the Social-Democratic Party during the war. But it certainly seems strange that Franz Mehring, Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Liebknecht, and the like should have agreed, as they appear to have done, to this step being taken.
As far as can be judged from the information to hand, the only grounds upon which Socialists in Germany could take office at the present juncture would be for the purpose of arranging for a general election to be taken as soon as possible, based upon adult suffrage without property qualifications. In such an election the Socialists would, of course, stand solely for the establishment of Socialism and so would apply a real test as to whether the working class desired to establish Socialism.
If they desired to do so then a majority of Socialists would be returned. Failing this it would be quite clear that, due either to apathy or ignorance, the majority desired to retain capitalism. It would show the need for further Socialist propaganda being carried on until a sufficient number became convinced of the need for, and set to work to establish, the Socialist Commonwealth.
Socialism, that is a system of society based on the social ownership of the means of life, cannot be established till those who produce and distribute the wealth of society decide that it shall be produced and distributed socially for the benefit of all. Any attempt on the part of a so-called Socialist Cabinet to use the positions the peculiar circumstances of the moment have placed in their hands, for the purpose of establishing “Socialism” from above must end in a fiasco.
And greater than this internal question stands the huge powers outside. It would be the height of folly to suppose that the two greatest capitalist countries in the world, America and Great Britain, entered into this gigantic struggle to abolish capitalism. On the contrary, it was to maintain and extend that system that the unparalelled slaughter has taken place, and these nations will take all the steps necessary still to be taken for the achievement of that object. Let the working class attempt to take possession of the means of production, even in the indeterminate manner that they have done in Russia and as soon as they can be spared armed forces will be sent to ”restore order” and “establish peace.”
The significant terms of the Armistices granted to Austria, Turkey, and Germany show clearly the end in view. Turkey is to be allowed to retain sufficient forces to “preserve order” in Armenia. The cold-blooded cynicism of this arrangement after all the howling of the capitalist Press about “Armenian massacres by the Turks,” shows to what depths of foul hypocrisy the capitalist class can descend.
Austria is to retain twenty divisions under arms, While we are not told the number of men assigned to a division, a moderate estimate would give over 300,000 men under this clause. The people of Austria have thrown over their royal family and its relations, and the Allies are afraid that in the confusion existing there the working class may fail to appreciate properly the beauty and benefit of fully-developed capitalism. So the 300,000 are left for the purpose of persuading them to adopt a right view. In the case of Germany, while the Allies have demanded the surrender of sufficient guns and munitions to render the reopening of the war by the German army against the Allies quite hopeless, that army is allowed to retain as much of the war material remaining as they can carry across the Rhine inside the period of the Armistice. Here again the need for “preserving order” and “safeguarding property” is the reason behind the “concession.”
The formation of Soldiers’ Councils by the men stationed in various parts of the country is already arousing anxiety among the master class. The capitalist Press calls upon these councils to exercise a “moderating” influence upon the extremists, who are said to be “Bolshevist agents.” Doubtless we shall soon hear of Russian gold being used to corrupt the Germans!
According to the correspondent of the “Daily News” (25.11.1918)—
“Order may be preserved in Germany if the troops can be got to their homes quickly and disarmed, and if the respective federated Governments have courage and energy to master the Soldiers’ and Workmen’s Councils.”
The idea behind this suggestion is not difficult to discover. Evidently the capitalist class is hoping that a sufficient number of officers and soldiers may be found still holding “patriotic” and “nationalist” views, who can be persuaded to take orders from the master class for the purpose of “saving society.” If these “loyal” troops can be selected quickly, and if— as the “Daily News” correspondent suggests—the others can be rapidly returned home and disarmed before serious conflicts arise, the capitalist class of Germany may hope to steer through the troublesome times ahead without disaster to themselves. And if they fail ?
The answer can be seen in Russia. Allied troops have entered both on the Eastern and the North-Western frontiers. Further detachments are now being sent to the latter district from the Western Allies, while according to the “Daily Telegraph” (25.11.1918) the Japanese are claiming “recognition of the Japanese necessity to preserve order in Siberia to protect the integrity of Japan.” In August 1914 the Socialist Party of Great Britain issued its War Manifesto, which was published in the September issue of the Socialist Standard. Therein we stated :
“The capitalists of Europe have quarrelled over the question of the control of trade routes and the world’s markets, and are endeavouring to exploit the political ignorance and blind passions of the working class of their respective countries in order to induce the said workers to take up arms in what is solely their masters’ quarrel.
“These armed forces, therefore, will only be set in motion to further the interests of the class who control them—the master class—and as the workers’ interests are not bound up in the struggle for markets wherein their masters may dispose of the wealth they have stolen from them (the workers), but in the struggle to end the system under which they are robbed, they are not concerned with the present European struggle, which is already known as the BUSINESS war, for it is their masters’ interests that are involved, and not their own.”
The S.P.G.B was the only party in Great Britain who laid down the Socialist position when the war began and told the working class the truth about the situation. We have been the only party to maintain that position through the four and a quarter years of slaughter.
Overwhelming proof of the correctness of our attitude is now available in the terms of the “secret treaties” that have been published, quite apart from those known to exist but whose terms are still secret, in the action of the Allies in seizing the German colonies, in the various peace terms that have been formulated, in the declarations of “economic war after the war,” and in the claims now being made by the various countries of the Allied group upon territories and “spheres of influence.” Deceived by the delusion so sedulously spread by the master class that their “national existence was in danger,” that “civilisation trembled in the balance,” and so on, the workers have slaughtered each other by millions—and for what ? That the chains of wage slavery may be more firmly rivetted upon themselves the world over.
This applies as much to the victors as to the vanquished. While the capitalists have made huge fortunes out of war contracts the workers, despite “bonuses,” “allowances,” and increased rates, have been worked longer hours driven harder, and exploited to a greater degree than in the time of “peace” preceding August 1914. Speeding up of machinery, improved methods of organisation, greater “hustle” in the works and factories, further sub-division and “dilution” of labour processes, premium bonus schemes and extension of piecework, have resulted in a greatly increased output during the war.
On the return of “peace” conditions these methods will be extended and elaborated, resulting in still greater “driving” and intensification of toil with its consequent increased profits for the master class and greater misery for the workers. The urge of “patriotism” and “helping the boys in the trenches,” will be replaced by the more deadly, if more stealthy, whip of hunger. Schemes have been prepared and discussed for this purpose, and one set of such schemes has been critically examined and analysed in the Socialist Standard for April and May, 1917, under the heading “Promises and Pie Crust.”
The vast army of demobilised workers—from both military service and munition works—will supply a staggering number of unemployed which the masters can use to beat down wages and to impose stricter conditions of employment. The reconstruction of industry and the re-building of shell-shattered towns in the war area will afford but a relatively short, and by no means complete, respite from the operation of these conditions. Their application will be world-wide, affecting “new” as well as “old” countries where capitalism rules.
The contradiction and antagonism between the increasing powers of wealth production faced with a relatively decreasing capacity, under private ownership of the means of life, on the part of the majority of society to absorb the products, will grow greater year by year. This growing antagonism, coupled with the inability of the capitalist class to control the effects of this vicious system, will drive the workers to realise that not national boundaries but class barriers are the matters for them to study. Then they will see the sound and impregnable truth of the closing lines of our War Manifesto, where we say—
“Having no quarrel with the working class of any country, we extend to our fellow workers of all lands the expression of our good will and Socialist fraternity, and pledge ourselves to work for the overthrow of capitalism and the triumph of Socialism.”
Make no mistake about it; the capitalist nations of the globe will unite to form a solid phalanx in defence of their properties and interests the world over. The huge war just finishing is rapidly being overshadowed by the vaster CLASS war, moving into the last phases of the greatest of all struggles the world has ever, seen—the war over the ownership of the means of life ; the war to decide whether the producers shall be SLAVES OR FREEMEN.
In the great war now closing various races— black and brown, white and yellow—were marshalled against each other by the master class. In the final phases which we are approaching, of the greater war between the classes, race, colour, and sex barriers will be swept aside, and humanity as a whole will line up for the last great struggle of the human race—the struggle for the emancipation from Capitalism—for the establishment of the Socialist system.