1920s >> 1920 >> no-189-may-1920

Locarno and Fred Kano

Of course we shall scoff; that is expected of us. What else can one do with shams and hypocrisies? Besides, it is refreshing. It is a mistake to analyse laboriously and logically every exhibition of human folly. So we shall just scoff. Has it not been said that all enemies of the League of Nations will rejoice at its discomfiture. We are not among its enemies. One does not hate what amuses. But who could take seriously an aggregation of predatory rapacity calling itself a League of Nations? What a sight for the Gods ! What a spectacle for men ! Imagine these rulers of ours, with centuries of bloodshed and. massacre behind them, striding through, their latest hecatomb, trampling over the bones of their latest twenty-million victims, making for the quiet little town of Locarno. Why did they choose Locarno? Possibly because there, their ears were not deafened with the hammering in the shipyards, where the Labour Party’s six cruisers were nearing completion. Possibly to be out of earshot of the rumbling of tanks, the thunder of guns, and the clatter of troops engaged in the Autumn Manoeuvres, busily getting ready for the next difference of opinion. Possibly so that their deliberations would not be disturbed by the drone of aeroplanes practising the bombing of cities; or so that they would be free from the importunities of inventors, with the latest and most excruciating form of poisonous gas. Possibly because the other Continental holiday resorts were rather crowded, or perhaps with an eye to the appropriate, because Locarno reminded them of Fred Karno, England’s one-time prize comedian. But anyhow, they got there. There to do what? There presumably, to lay the foundations of a secure and permanent peace. How nice ! How laudable ! Yes ! and they were successful. Oh yes ! Mr. Austen Chamberlain ordered a new “bowler.” They told him he would be known as Sir Austen instead of Mr. Austen in future. Church bells were jangled, big drums were thumped, armament manufacturers shot themselves. Admirals jumped overboard and Generals went on the Labour Exchange. So you will see there is some sadness in all joymaking. As usual, the Admirals and Generals had been too precipitate. There was a further Conference to come. The Locarno spirit was to be supplemented by the Geneva spirit. The Locarno Conference had been marred by the absence of the dear friends with whom Sir Austen, when but a plain Mister, had drained a “loving-cup.” Geneva was to remedy that. The “loving-cup” was to be furnished with additional handles, that all who would, might drink to everlasting peace and amity. So deeply did these delegates of free peoples realise their duty to their respective democracies, that it was thought advisable to hold their meetings in secret. We, with our narrow, restricted views on what constitutes democracy, look upon secrecy with suspicion, but there; are we not impossiblists?

However, the Harmony Kings disappeared behind their curtain, and the world hoped for the best. Alas ! Alack the day ! Sounds utterly unlike peace came through the veil. Groans and maledictions rent the dove-cot within, and the plain-work-a-day world outside was grieved to hear unmistakable sounds of strife proceeding ‘from the Temple of Peace. What was wrong? Nobody knows. The Press has released a farrago of jargon upon us, on the Scandal of Geneva; the Fiasco of Geneva; the Menace of Geneva, and so on, all about as useful as the Gin of Geneva. Questions of permanent and semi-permanent seats, Germany’s entry and Brazil’s veto, Spain’s claims and Sweden’s attitude, have been so bandied about that it is to be feared the average person has turned to the football results with a certain feeling of relief.

We will say it as modestly as we can—we thought as much. It is always a safe remark—after the event. Do not misunderstand us; we are not cynical. The horrors of another war like the last, are such as would justify almost any attempt to prevent it. It is the workers who have to suffer; we know that well enough. But to expect capitalism to abolish war, is like hoping for tigers to turn vegetarian. “It is their nature to” conquer and prey.

How profoundly pathetic it is to contemplate the thousands of well-meaning, earnest people pinning their hopes upon this phantasm, this illusion, this dream of the muddle-headed, the League of Nations. These are hard words. Many will read them with pain. We hope they will add to that, patience. For listen :

Here we have a system based upon robbery. You don’t agree ! You don’t like the word “robbery” ! That is simply because custom has blinded you to realities. Robbery is taking something from another without an equivalent. Even when the robbed is willing but is the victim of a trick, it is called robbery, even by capitalist law. The land was taken from the people by simple robbery. The wealth is taken from them to-day by a little more intricate robbery, but it is robbery just the same. They may tacitly agree with the robbery, but that is because they are unaware of the process. They are the victims of a trick. They are made to believe they are paid for what they do. They believe their wages are an equivalent to their work. It is not so. In simple language, we say that the whole working class produce each week a huge cake of wealth. Out of this cake, a slice is cut sufficient to keep the workers going for a further week. The difference between the slice and the cake is the extent of their robbery. Now in any given country, the size of this cake is becoming a source of embarrassment to its owners. Time was when they could exchange what they did not want at home, for some different kind of cake from other countries. But latterly the other countries have established capitalist bakeries of their own, and having exchanged portions amongst themselves until they are full up and running over, they each find they have large portions left. Here is a quandary. If they wait until ordinary usage has consumed the cake, two or three weeks may elapse. It is useless making cake with so much on hand, the masters say, so the working class must cease working until there is again a demand for cake. But the working class can only live by making cake. What is to be done? Experience has brought many expedients. First there is the device of colonies, and then that of trading with undeveloped races. These serve for a time, but obviously, when both the colonies and the backward countries proceed to produce cake for themselves, and later experience the same embarrassment in disposing of the surplus, the process becomes an urgent problem. Stoppages of the working class become more frequent and more prolonged. Portions of cake are crumbled off and grudgingly distributed under the various names of charity, Poor Law, insurance benefit, etc. It is easy to see that without such doles, the working class would not starve quietly in the midst of an abundance, kept under lock and key.

And then there are the foreign markets. What a scramble there has been for these ! Here the robbery has been open, crude, and undisguised. The so-called backward races have been invaded, their lands stolen, themselves massacred, the remnants enslaved. To what end? Primarily that their lands might furnish cheap ingredients for the cake, and next that they might become customers for the finished cake. It is in this struggle for markets, as it is called, that we find the genesis of modern capitalist wars. The first nation to reach the colonising, market hunting stage, of capitalist development was England. Each nation that has reached the stage where colonies and foreign markets were a necessity of further expansion, has found England first and later competitors blocking the way. Hence jealousy, competition, friction, warfare, bloodshed. Every struggle, even the last so-called war for democracy, has been followed by a re-apportionment of the earth’s surface. Now, without being by any means exhaustive, sufficient has been said to prove beyond reasonable doubt, that war is the logical outcome of capitalism. But capitalism is being com¬pelled to realise that warfare is subject to the same laws of growth as all human institutions. Beyond a certain point its further expansion is at the expense of the rest of the organism. Modern powers of destruction tend ever more and more to involve victors and vanquished in a common doom. The day is quite near when one solitary aeroplane will be able to wipe out a town. Capitalism has endowed a giant with enormous strength, but like Samson in the Temple, the same act that destroys his enemies destroys himself. So capitalism pauses. Capitalists are human, like the rest of us; death is death whether one wears a silk hat or a cloth cap. So capitalism pauses. It confers. It recognises that expansion is the law of its being. But it recognises that expansion means war; and that war means destruction ; and that destruction may be universal. Here is a dilemma. The League of Nations is an attempt to find a solution. We wish them luck. Our great hope is that the form of their disillusionment may not take the shape of another war, but that they will realise that the cause of war is capitalism, and that the way to abolish war is to abolish the cause. We sadly fear that as so many supporters of the League are also ardent supporters of capitalism, they will take the bloodier road. The true League of Nations will be an International Socialist Party. Its aim will be to make the whole earth a common human possession, not a congeries of railed off portions, defended one from the other by bayonets and poison gas. Its beginning is here, here in Great Britain. The Socialist Party simply awaits your help and membership before joining with similar parties in all parts of the world, to achieve the release of mankind from the curse of toil, slavery, poverty, massacre and war. Is not the object a worthy one? Is not that worth a little sacrifice and effort? Then why wait, why drift, why let the years go by? Socialism is possible now, to-day. Make it a certainty by joining the Socialist Party to-day.


(Socialist Standard, May 1926)

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