Reflections in War Time
Somewhere around six thousand years ago, according to report, mankind started upon its civilised career. The years between then and now have largely been a record of wars. Civilisation and war—these words are twin brothers. Avarice and fear has kept the warlike spirit alive. Every war has its “demands” and every victory its “reparations.” In the main the “great” names of history are the names of war-lords: Pharaoh, Lysander, Alexander, Caesar, Charles the Great, Frederick the Great, and so on up to our own times. Every child knows the names of Napoleon, Wellington, Nelson and Kitchener, but how many can give the name of the inventor of the sewing machine or the harvester?
One problem certainly has never had a place in the causes of war or the terms of peace, and that problem is the abolition of poverty. And yet it is the one problem that vitally concerns the mass of the world’s population. No sooner has war broken out than nations, that for years have professed themselves too impoverished to pay their workers a decent wage, find themselves in a position to pour out the energies of multitudes of people on munition work. Wealth suddenly appears that is so great that hundreds of thousands of people can be kept out of production as soldiers or producing things that have no other object than destruction.
In spite of the claims that we are all in this war on an equal footing the happenings of every day tell a different story. The result of the chasm between rich and poor is still plainly visible. When the poor man’s home is destroyed he has no banking account to fall back upon to help him over his difficulties. When the necessaries of life become dear or scarce the rich can still eat well while the poor have difficulty in providing for the barest needs. While one reads of cocktails drunk in comfortable deep shelters by well-to-do people, one sees the crowds of poverty-stricken with their bundles besieging the shelters and tubes, and the appalling conditions under which multitudes of people spend the greater part of their time in the underground stations have to be seen to be believed.
The papers urge the workers to keep at it during raids and risk their lives to keep the war machine going, yet the privileged sections of society are much better able to keep out of harm’s way. While everyone who can is supposed to be giving all their money and time to their war effort, one still reads advertisements for servants for houses where two or three wealthy people have a body of menials to minister to their needs. While the needs of life are hard to come by for some the wine flows freely for others.
Long ago we were assured by the upholders of capitalism that one of the dire calamities that would befall society under Socialism was the impending break-up of family life. In these days that doleful wail has become laughable when we witness not only the break-up of families by evacuation—some even seeing their children going thousands of mile away from them—but even the complete disappearance of the poor homes they got together with such infinite trouble and sacrifice. And this is true not only of the average working man, but also of that section of the working class, the professional group, so prone to look down on all efforts to improve the conditions of the workers.
Doubtless there are some adherents to Socialism who, seeing the appalling state of the world to-day and suffering the nightmare of the beleaguered city, are inclined to despair of the future and feel that the prospect for Socialism is wearing thin. It is understandable that such ideas should take root as it is so difficult to tear one’s mind away from the maelstrom in which we are living and take a dispassionate view of events.
Yet in this miserable hour the future is by no means as dark as it may appear. The movement for Socialism is of necessity only a trickle for a long lime, and this partly deludes people into the belief that little progress is made when in reality great progress has and is being made. The mass of people move as a mass. That is to say their political knowledge grows slowly but steadily at an even pace and it is in a mass and not by ones and twos that the great body of the workers will come to the conviction that in Socialism lies their social salvation. In fact the progress is more real than apparent.
One personal statement lest anyone is deluded into believing that the above is mere idle optimism. The view set forth is the considered opinion of the present writer who has had over thirty years intimate association with the Socialist movement, and is only too well acquainted with the heartbreaking feeling of hope deferred. So be of good cheer, my brothers; in this blackest hour the hope of the future is neither faded nor fading. It still urges us to carry on with a stronger conviction of fulfilment than ever.