The Great War and the Greater Wars that are coming
Since the world turned wearily from the battlefield there has been a gradual slump in the literature of war, and the tide has set towards the “Problems of the Peace.” All who could wield a facile pen have rushed to their ink-pots and boldly covered reams of white paper with explanations of why the New World that was expected to follow the war looks so dreadfully like the old one. Most people can see that the rich are still with us, and apparently richer than ever. None will deny that the poor are still here, and relatively if not absolutely, poorer than ever. What has happened? Fortunately the scribes will tell us this also. Unhappily, they have so many explanations of the same phenomena that a process of cancelling out takes place, and the only voice that emerges is that of the one who tells us to get ready for another war. Certainly the facts seem to support that view. There are more bayonets and more armed preparations in Europe to-day than ever before. Recourse to the League of Nations has simply added to them. Every barracks is full of soldiers, drilling and training for the next great struggle. Fleets are being overhauled and provided with deadlier guns than ever. Every week we are informed of a new development in aerial terror, whilst placid bands of assiduous chemists have added seventy new poisonous gases to the weapons of the next war. The joke about the “War to End War” has become too hackneyed for repetition, but few seem to have learned the lesson.
The latest addition to the literature of the Peace is a two volume, 1,400 page work, entitled “These Eventful Years: The Twentieth Century in the Making, as Told by Many of its Makers.” Rather a mouthful, isn’t it? Such an expressive title ! obviously chosen for its slight poetic flavour. These Eventful Years ! One can almost hear it being mournfully intoned to the evening congregation. And thus it is called a Pisgah book. This is possibly more apposite than the originators thought. They have intended, doubtless, to convey that they were surveying the world and its affairs from a sublime height. Why Pisgah, and not the Matterhorn or Everest should have been chosen is not clear. We can only assume their choice was influenced by the knowledge that Pisgah stands near the head of the Dead Sea.
It remains but to add that the price of the work being only a paltry fifty shillings, there can be little excuse for non-possession. Think of the contributors, too ! Von Tirpitz and H. G. Wells, Sir Oliver Lodge and Phillip Snowden, Lady Rhondda and Wellington Koo, Admiral von Scheer and Admiral Jellicoe, Ludendorff and Bertrand Russell; and seventy others including J. L. Garvin. We do not intend to review this stupendous work, owing to our having been unfortunately overlooked on the free list. J. L. Garvin, with that native modesty that so well becomes him, has partially remedied this by using up three columns of his “Observer” (August 24th) in boosting his own contribution to the book.
He explains that he was asked to contribute the first four chapters entitled a “Introduction to the History of Our Own Times,” and they trace the steady approach of the war through the preceding twenty-five years. Their measure may be taken when one notes that the fall of Bismarck is taken as the catastrophic starting-point, and that the interval is filled up with proper names. The Kaiser and the Tsar, variously referred to as William II and Nicholas II, or the German Emperor and the last of the Tsars, are the villains of the piece. What those two men have to answer for ! Curiously enough, the name George the Fifth nowhere appears. This seems to be a grave omission. Surely if our late redoubtable antagonist and our former ally were epitomised or symbolically expressed in the occupant of the throne, a like service should be performed for our own monarch. And we all know what he did in the Great War. If the Kaiser lost his war, obviously George the Fifth won it. Let justice be done.
But to resume. The story of the war itself occupies 50 pages. He suggests the temper of that account by a brief extract describing the turning point of the conflict, July 18th, 1918. It is a forceful piece of writing, quite in the vein of the militant arm-chair strategist. “Machine guns flashed over the standing corn”; troops “gathered under those far-ranging tree-tops”; the French force “thrust like a sword” into the “flank of the exposed German salient”; the enemy “lost 15,000 prisoners, 300 guns and broad positions that were vital,” etc., etc. But not a word of a dead man. The monarchs previously so much in the limelight also appear to have been elsewhere.
And then we get to the Peace. It is recognised and admitted that the Peace is a frost.
“What the Germans forgot in 1871, the Allies did not remember at the end of June, 1919.” Yes, the Peace is a frost. And what will happen when the thaw sets in?
“Europe is slowly drifting towards another catastrophe.” The map of Europe as re-drawn under the Peace Treaties cannot endure. The existing League of Nations is described as utterly inadequate. The exclusion of Germany is described as “one of the most fantastic travesties of human purpose”; the banning of Russia as timid and parochial.
And what is the lesson mankind is to learn from all this? What practical steps are formulated that we may avoid another Armageddon? What must we do to be saved?
Mr. Garvin’s own summary may do him less than justice, but apparently there are but two things to be done to avert the threatened holocaust. First revise the Peace Treaties by peaceful means, and next enlarge the League of Nations by the inclusion of Germany and Russia, followed later by America.
Is it possible that a man of education, and some width of outlook can fob his readers off with that stuff? Does he really believe it himself? Unfortunately there is no reason for doubting it. Mr. Garvin and those of his school look upon the present system of society as final, and for all useful purposes, eternal. Modification there may be, but fundamental change—no. Just as slavery was justified and defended in former times, even by men of culture and feeling, so wage-slavery under capitalism is justified and apologised for by those who profit by it. This attitude may result from a lack of imagination, but more probably from a comfortable feeling that the working class is a special dispensation of Providence, designed to do the necessary work of the world, in order that a smaller aristocratic class may cultivate the finer side of life.
With this view of human society it is not to be wondered at that the re-drawing of frontiers appears to them as epochal; that the stage-play of international leagues assumes a solemn profundity. When the working class realises its true position, it will view an arbitrary line drawn across a country as of equal validity with a chalk mark across the Atlantic. If Alsace were restored to Germany to-morrow, the Alsatian would still remain a peasant or a worker. If the Germans, Austrians, Poles, Rumanians, Czechs, Tyrolese, etc., were all re-shuffled to-morrow, the workers of those areas would still remain workers. Differences of comfort or amenity, custom and language there might be, but working men would remain working men, and that is the essence of the matter. The Irish workers are finding out that a difference in political bosses is not such a vital matter as they once thought. Where capitalism is, there is wage-slavery, and the colour of the flag that floats over the factory makes no real difference to the worker. The great nations of the world are capitalist nations. The League of Nations can be nought else but a league of capitalists. Capitalists live solely and entirely upon the robbery of the working class. How then can we get enthusiastic over a league of our exploiters?
The working class will organise itself to expropriate those who live parasitically upon it. It will link itself with the workers of every country, to achieve this internationally, when the workers understand their class-interests.
W. T. H.
(Socialist Standard, October 1924)