Why do we have to spend so much time in criticising other people? Why don’t we go our way and let them go theirs? Surely all the political wisdom of the age is not miraculously enshrined in the ranks of the Socialist Party! Surely all these people so disinterestedly engaged in the immediate problems of the day are not charlatans, or simpletons! How shall we answer?
To answer in a phrase is neither easy, nor desirable. An instance, a typical instance, is better. A question for obvious reasons very much to the fore at the moment is that of war. Possibly no greater calamity could happen to civilisation than another Great War. If that is agreed then it follows that any efforts devoted to averting a common disaster are worthy of sympathy and support. Unfortunately, the sequence is not quite so simple as that. Our dreadful habit of criticising comes in and insists upon our examining the efforts in the light of the problem attacked. To go into more detail. Viscount Cecil is very closely identified with efforts to avoid war by means of the League of Nations. He contributed a short but pointed article to the “Listener” of November 13th, wherein he touched on the relations of Germany and her neighbours in the immediate future. He candidly admitted that the League Disarmament Commission passed a resolution last spring saying, in effect, that it was impracticable to limit the material of armies, their guns, rifles, tanks, etc. “If that decision remains,” he said, “disarmament becomes little better than a farce.” Very rightly, he concluded that the position is serious, but he added, “it can be met.” These are his proposals:—
Let it be our part to lead the nations once again along the path of progress and civilisation, as we may claim to have done so often in the past. Let us send our representatives to the future Disarmament negotiations authorised to take whatever steps may be necessary in order to produce that general reduction and limitation of armaments to which we are pledged by Treaty, and without which there is no hope of permanent peace.
All which, we respectfully admit, boils down to the equivalent of nothing. It is the sort of flatulent rhetoric that Lloyd George has made his own. When have we led the nations along the path of progress and civilisation? Any school history will inform us that Britannia rules the waves, and does so because we defeated the French, walloped the Dutch, spanked the Spaniard, routed the Russian, smashed the German, and so on. We do not think the nations want any leading along that path. Another point, who are the “we” that he speaks of so glibly. Does he mean you and me who have to hire ourselves out by the week to a master, or does he mean the class, of which he is one, to whom we are compelled to hire ourselves out? Viscount Cecil may claim that his “We” meant the whole nation, but we should know such a claim would be purely rhetorical. The very cleavage of society into two antagonistic classes, his, the class of privilege, and ours, the class of work and poverty, makes his “we” inadmissible.
But is the point a small one? Could he not urge that he recognised no such cleavage, that his efforts were directed to using such leisure and opportunity as his privileged position gave him, in the common interests of humanity? He could, but we would remind him of his speech at the Pilgrim’s Dinner. In the absence of a printed record, we must rely upon a pencil note made when the speech was delivered over the radio on November 22nd. After speaking of the dire and calamitous results of appealing to arms for the settlement of international disputes, he said :—
Some other means must be devised to achieve the same results.
Read that over slowly. Is it necessary to ask you to analyse so simple a statement? Perhaps it is: and to ask you further to follow up its implications.
What is the object of war? It is not to kill the greatest number of people in the shortest space of time. It is not to starve, cripple and inflict the maximum misery short of death upon women, children and invalids. It is not to destroy ships, factories, railways, oil-wells and as much of the machinery of living as possible. And yet all these things happen. The object of all war is that one nation or group may impose its will upon another. Then the first thing to find out is why one nation or group should seek to impose its will upon another. We say that the reason in all recent wars (and possibly in all wars) is an economic one, and is inherent in the structure of society. Look at the daily papers. Every day we are told of the necessity of capturing foreign markets, of beating our rivals, of defeating their attempts to capture ours. We are told to buy British goods and decline to purchase those of the foreigner. We as workers are urged to accept as small a wage as possible so that our goods will sell cheaper than those of the foreigner. The foreigner is represented to us as a person who is content to live on a microscopic wage and yet work uncomplainingly for hours longer than we: one who produces avalanches of tremendously cheap commodities and seems endowed as a commercial traveller with the knack of beating the honest Briton wherever he can get his nose in. In short, the talk is constantly in terms of economic rivalry. National marks are introduced so that the goods produced by our fellow human beings in other countries may be shut out.
Rivalry, or competition as it is called, is the keynote of Capitalism. Prosper yourself and ruin your rival is its economic creed. Man struggles with man for job, firm struggles with firm for trade, combine struggles with combine for markets, and nation struggles with nation for world trade. When the struggle becomes acute and nation is opposed to nation, then follows war; one competitive nation seeks to impose its will upon another competitive nation. The machinery of murder piled up during the years of peace is then used for the purpose for which it was designed.
To speak, therefore, of the general reduction and limitation of armaments as a hope of permanent peace is deplorably muddle-headed. To ask for “some other means . . . to achieve the same result ” is, not to use too hard a phrase, simply stupid. It is reasoning so grotesquely unrelated to the facts as to be farcical. Bootleggers defend their property with guns. Customs officers use guns to overcome the bootleggers’ reluctance to let go their property. People like the Viscount suggest that a limitation of guns by mutual agreement is going to eliminate bloodshed in their occasional encounters. The lesson is obvious. Wars will cease when rivalry between nations ceases. But we have seen that international rivalry is but a logical extension of rivalry as a principle within each nation. Rivalry is a medal with two sides, on the one side is success, on the other defeat. Whilst competition is the law of economic life, prosperity for one party involves the ruin of another. “Some other means . . . to achieve the same result ” as war is pathetic piffle.
The noble lord is not alone in his delusion. Captain Hashagen, the German submarine commander appeared on the same public platform as the British officer he captured during the war. Crowds of thousands applauded the spectacle and thousands of readers of the daily newspapers felt that war was becoming something very remote. When the deadly enemies of yesterday could fraternise on a public platform, surely we have moved far. It is a pity, but if the papers are right, Capt. Hashagen is credited with saying that war was a ghastly mistake and between Germany and her neighbours unthinkable, providing she could obtain the place to which her power and prestige as a great nation entitled her. So you will see how far we have travelled. Viscount Cecil would abolish war if by some other means we can achieve the same result. Capt. Hashagen would abolish war if we achieve the same result by some other means. But the workers can be sure of one thing. If the companies in which Viscount Cecil has invested his money, achieve prosperity by ruining the companies in which Capt Hashagen has his, and the process is sufficiently widespread as to be national, it will be guns and gas for it again and the working men of each country as the victims.
Our remedy is the abolition of competition, national and international, and the substitution of co-operation. We ask all intelligent people to read our literature, study our suggestions for re-organising society, and take a definite hand in the ordering of things. Cease to be led up the blind alleys of reform, cease to be humbugged by superficial thinking, cease to be the plaything of specious appeals to the emotions. Rivalry under Capitalism means death and ruin to the weakest. Socialism means the co-operation of all men, without distinction of race or colour, to use this earth as a common store-house, owned in common and worked for the common good. War is the normal outcome of Capitalism. In it the workers have nothing to lose but their lives and nothing to gain but a change of masters, a continuance of their slavery, or an intensification of their poverty. If fighting could achieve anything Socialism would be the one thing worth fighting for. Has it not been said, you have nothing to lose but your chains, you have a world to win.
W. T. Hopley