The Healing of Nations and the Hidden Sources of Their Strife
by Edward Carpenter
Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

A certain amount of friction arose. The Germans at one time, knowing the English reputation for cutlery, marked their knives and razors as "made in Scheffield." The English retaliated in what seemed an insulting way, by marking the Fatherland's goods as "made in Germany." With Germany's success, commercial jealousy between the two nations (founded on the utterly mistaken but popular notion that the financial prosperity of the country you trade with is inimical to your own prosperity) began to increase. On the German side it was somewhat bitter. On the English side, though not so bitter, it was aggravated by the really shameful ignorance prevailing in this country with regard to things German, and the almost entire neglect of the German tongue in our schools and universities and among our literary folk. As an expression (though one hopes exceptional) of commercial jealousy on our side I may quote a passage from a letter from a business friend of mine in Lancashire. He says: "I remember about a fortnight before the war broke out with Germany having a conversation with a business man in Manchester, and he said to me that we most certainly ought to join in with the other nations and sweep the Germans off the face of the earth; I asked him why, and his only answer was, 'Look at the figures of Germany's exports; they are almost as high as ours!' All he had against them was their enterprise—commercial jealousy."

On the other hand, the head of a large warehouse told me only a few days later that when travelling in Germany for his firm some fifteen years ago he had a conversation with a German, in the course of which he (the Englishman) said: "I find your people so obliging and friendly that I think surely whatever little differences there are between us as nations will be dispelled by closer intercourse, and so all danger of war will pass away." "No," replied the German, "you are quite mistaken. You and I are friendly; but that is only as individuals. As nations we shall never rest till we have war. The English nation may well be contented because they have already got all the good things of the Earth—their trade, their ports, their colonies; but Germany will not allow this to go on for ever. She will fight for her rightful position in the world; she will challenge England's mercantile supremacy. She will have to do so, and she will not fail."[16]

Thus the plot thickened; the entanglement increased. The Boer War roused ill-feeling between England and Germany. The German Navy Bill followed in 1900, and the Kaiser announced his intention of creating a sea-power the equal of any in the world. Britain of course replied with her Navy Bills; and the two countries were committed to a mad race of armaments. The whole of Europe stood by anxious. Fear and Greed, the two meanest of human passions, ruled everywhere. Fear of a militarist Germany began to loom large upon the more pacific States of Europe. On the other hand, the fatality of Alsace-Lorraine loomed in Germany, full of forebodings of revenge. France had found a friend in Russia—a sinister alliance. Britain, convinced that trouble was at hand, came to an understanding with France in 1904 and with Russia in 1907. The Triple Entente was born as a set-off against the Triple Alliance. The Agadir incident in 1911 betrayed the purely commercial nature of the designs of the four Powers concerned—France, Spain, England, and Germany—and a war over the corpse of Morocco was only narrowly avoided. Germany felt quite naturally that she was the victim of a plot, and thenceforth was alternately convulsed by mad Ambition and haunted by a lurking Terror.

And now we come to the last act of the great drama. So far the relations of Germany with Russia had not been strained. If there was any fear of Russia, it was quite in the background. The Junkers—themselves half Slavs—had supplied a large number of the Russian officials, men like Plehve and Klingenberg; the Russian bureaucracy was founded on and followed the methods of the German. The Japanese War called Russia's attention away to another part of the world, and at the same time exposed her weakness. But if Germany was not troubled about Russia, a different sentiment was growing up in Russia itself. The people there were beginning to hate the official German influence and its hard atmosphere of militarism, so foreign to the Russian mind. They were looking more and more to France. Bismarck had made a great mistake in the Treaty of Berlin—mistake which he afterwards fully recognized and regretted. He had used the treaty to damage and weaken Russia, and had so thrown Russia into the arms of France.

A strange Nemesis was preparing. The programme of German expansion—natural enough in itself, but engineered by Prussia during all this long period with that kind of blind haughtiness and overbearing assurance which indeed is a "tempting of Providence"—had so far not concerned itself much about Muscovite policy; but now there arose a sudden fear of danger in that quarter. Hitherto the main German "objective" had undoubtedly been England and France, Belgium and Holland—the westward movement towards the Atlantic and the great world. But now all unexpectedly, or at any rate with dramatic swiftness, Russia appeared on the scenes, and there was a volte face towards the East. The Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913 broke out. Whatever simmerings of hostility there may have been between Germany and Russia before, the relations of the two now became seriously strained. The Balkan League, formed under Russian influence, was nominally directed against Turkey; but it was also a threat to Austria. It provided a powerful backing to the Servian agitation, it was a step towards the dissolution of Austria, and it decisively closed the door on Germany's ambition to reach Salonika and to obtain a direct connection with the Baghdad Railway. Germany and Austria all at once found themselves isolated in the midst of Europe, with Russia, Servia, France, and England hostile on every side. It was indeed a tragic situation, and all the more so when viewed as the sorry outcome and culmination of a hundred years of Prussian diplomacy and statecraft.

Why under these circumstances Austria (with Germany of course behind her) should have dictated most insulting terms to Servia, and then refused to accept Servia's most humble apology, is difficult to understand. The only natural explanation is that the Germanic Powers on the whole thought it best, even as matters stood, to precipitate war; that notwithstanding all the complications, they thought that the long-prepared-for hour had come. The German White Book puts the matter as a mere necessity of self-defence. "Had the Servians been allowed, with the help of Russia and France, to endanger the integrity of the neighbouring Monarchy much longer, the consequence must have been the gradual disruption of Austria and the subjection of the whole Slav world to the Russian sceptre, with the result that the position of the German race in Central Europe would have become untenable"; but it is obvious that this plea is itself untenable, since it makes a quite distant and problematic danger the excuse for a sudden and insulting blow—for a blow, in fact, almost certain to precipitate the danger! How the matter was decided in Berlin we cannot at present tell, or what the motives exactly were. It seems rather probable that the Kaiser threw his weight on the side of peace. The German Executive at any rate saw that the great war they had so long contemplated and so long prepared for was close upon them—only in an unexpected form, hugely complicated and threatening. They must have realized the great danger of the situation, but they very likely may have thought that by another piece of bluff similar to that of 1908-9 they might intimidate Russia a second time; and they believed that Russia was behindhand in her military preparations. They also, it appears, thought that England would not fight, being too much preoccupied with Ireland, India, and other troubles. And so it may have seemed that Now was the psychological moment.

Austria opened with war on Servia (28th of July), and the next day Russia declared a considerable though not complete mobilization. From that moment a general conflagration was practically inevitable. The news of Russia's warlike movement caused a perfect panic in Berlin. The tension of feeling swung round completely for the time being from enmity against England and France to fear of Russia. The final mobilization of the Russian troops (31st of July) was followed by the telegrams between the Kaiser and the Tsar, and by the formal mobilization (really already complete) of the German Army and Navy on the 1st of August. War was declared at Berlin on the 1st of August, and the same or next day the German forces entered Luxemburg. On August 4th they entered Belgium, and war was declared by England against Germany.

* * * * *

Looking back at the history of the whole affair, one seems to see, as I have said, a kind of fatality about it. The great power and vigour of the German peoples, shown by their early history in Europe, had been broken up by the religious and other dissensions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It fell to Prussia to become the centre of organization for a new Germany. The rich human and social material of the German States—their literary, artistic, and scientific culture, their philosophy, their learning—clustered curiously enough round the hard and military nucleus of the North. It was perhaps their instinct and, for the time, their salvation to do so. The new Germany, hemmed in on all sides by foreign Powers, could only see her way to reasonable expansion and recognition, and a field for her latent activities, by the use of force, military force. A long succession of political philosophers drilled this into her. She embarked in small wars and always with success. She became a political unity and a Great Power in Europe. And then came her commercial triumph. Riches beyond all expectation flowed in; and a mercantile class arose in her midst whose ideals of life were of a corresponding character—the ideals of the wealthy shopkeeper. What wonder that, feeling her power, feeling herself more than ever baulked of her rights, she cast her eyes abroad, and coveted the imperial and commercial supremacy of the world?

In this she had the example of Britain before her. Britain had laid land to land and market to market over the globe, and showed no particular scruple in the matter. Why should not Germany do the same? It was true that Britain always carried the Bible with her—but this was mere British cant. Britain carried the Bible in her left hand, but in her right a sword; and when she used the latter she always let the former drop. Germany could do likewise—but without that odious pretence of morality, and those crocodile tears over the unfortunates whom she devoured. It was only a question of Might and Organization and Armament.

So far Germany seems to have had a perfectly good case; and though we in England might not like her ambitions, we could not reasonably find fault with motives so perfectly similar to our own. We might, indeed, make a grievance of the frank brutality displayed in her methods and the defence of them; but then, she might with equal right object to our everlasting pretence of "morality," and our concealment of mercenary and imperial aims under the cloak of virtue and innocence. One really must confess that it is difficult to say which is the worse.

But if the crystallization of Germany round the Prussian nucleus was for the time the source of Germany's success, it is a question whether it is not even now becoming something quite different, and the likely cause of a serious downfall. It would seem hardly probable that the amalgamation between elements so utterly dissimilar can permanently endure. The kindly, studious, sociable, rather naively innocent German mass-people dragged by the scruff of the neck into the arena of militarism and world-politics, may for a time have had their heads turned by the exalted position in which they found themselves; but it is not likely that they will continue for long to enjoy the situation. With no great instinct for politics, nor any marked gift of tact and discernment, unsuccessful as a rule as colonists,[17] and with no understanding of how to govern—except on the Prussian lines, which are every day becoming more obsolete and less adapted to the modern world—the role which their empire-building philosophers set out for them is one which they are eminently unfitted to fulfil. It is sad, but we cannot blame them for the defect. They blame the world in general for siding against them in this affair, but do not see that in most cases it has been their own want of perception which has left them on the wrong side of the hedge.

Bismarck, with his "Blood and Iron" policy, made a huge blunder in not perceiving that in the modern world spiritual forces are arising which must for ever discredit the same. He emphasized the blunder by wresting Alsace-Lorraine from France, and again by crippling Russia in the treaty of 1878—thus making enemies where generosity might have brought him friends. The German Executive in July of last year (1914) showed extraordinary want of tact in not seeing that Russia, rebuffed in 1908 over Bosnia and Herzegovina, would never put up with a second insult of the same kind over Servia. The same Government was strangely unable to perceive that whatever it might tactically gain by the invasion and devastation of Belgium would be more than lost by the moral effect of such action on the whole world; and notwithstanding its army of spies, it had not the sense to see that England, whether morally bound to or not, was certain, at all costs, to fight in defence of Belgium's neutrality. So true it is that without the understanding which comes from the heart, all the paraphernalia of science and learning and the material results of organization and discipline are of little good.

But however we choose to apportion the blame or at least the responsibility for the situation among the various Governments concerned, the main point and the main lesson of it all is to see that any such apportionment does not much matter! As long as our Governments are constructed as they are—that is, on the principle of representing, not the real masses of their respective peoples, but the interests of certain classes, especially the commercial, financial, and military classes—so long will such wars be inevitable. The real blame rests, not with the particular Foreign policy of this or that country but with the fact that Europe, already rising through her mass-peoples into a far finer and more human and spiritual life than of old, still lies bound in the chains of an almost Feudal social order.

When the great German mass-peoples find this out, when they discover the little rift in the lute which now separates their real quality from the false standards of their own dominant military and commercial folk, then their true role in the world will begin, and a glorious role it will be.


[13] "A German," he said, "could not live long in the atmosphere of England—an atmosphere of sham, prudery, conventionality, and hollowness"! See article on "Treitschke," by W.H. Dawson, in the Nineteenth Century for January 1915.

[14] The influence, however, of Bernhardi in his own country has been somewhat exaggerated in England.

[15] It seems that the same remark is made about the Germans in the U.S.A., that they take little interest in politics there.

[16] This attitude is exactly corroborated by Herr Maximilian Harden's manifesto, originally published in Die Zukunft, and lately reprinted in the New York Times.

[17] Though this is only, perhaps, true of their State colonies. In their individual and missionary colonizing groups, and as pioneer settlers, they seem to have succeeded well.



It is quite possible that the little rift within the lute, alluded to in the concluding paragraph of last chapter, may widen so far as to cause before long great internal changes and reconstructions in Germany herself; but short of that happening, it would seem that there is no alternative for the Allies but to continue the war until her Militarism can be put out of court, and that for long years to come. There is no alternative, because she has revealed her hand too clearly as a menace—if she should prevail—of barbarous force to the whole world. It is this menace which has roused practically the whole world against her. And there is this amount of good in the situation, namely, that while with the victory of Germany a German "terror" might be established through the world, with the victory of the Allies neither England, nor France, nor Russia, nor little Belgium, nor any other country, could claim a final credit and supremacy. With the latter victory we shall be freed from the nightmare claim of any one nation's world-empire.

But in order to substantiate this result England must also abdicate her claim. She must abdicate her mere crass insistence on commercial supremacy. The "Nation of Shopkeepers" theory, which has in the past made her the hated of other nations, which has created within her borders a vulgar and unpleasant class—the repository of much arrogant wealth—must cease to be the standard of her life. I have before me at this moment a manifesto of "The British Empire League," patronized by royalty and the dukes, and of which Lord Rothschild is treasurer. The constitution of the League was framed in 1895; and I note with regret that positively the five "principal objects of the League" mentioned therein have solely to do with the extension and facilitation of Britain's trade, and the "co-operation of the military and naval forces of the Empire with a special view to the due protection of the trade routes." Not a word is said in the whole manifesto about the human and social responsibilities of this vast Empire; not a word about the guardianship and nurture of native races, their guidance and assistance among the pitfalls of civilization; not a word about the principles of honour and just dealing with regard to our civilized neighbour-nations in Europe and elsewhere; not a word about the political freedom and welfare of all classes at home. One rubs one's eyes, and looks at the document again; but it is so. Its one inspiration is—Trade. Seeing that, I confess to a sinking of the heart. Can we blame Germany for struggling at all costs to enlarge her borders, when that is what the British Empire means?

Until we rise, as a nation, to a conception of what we mean by our national life, finer and grander than a mere counting of trade-returns, what can we expect save failure and ill-success?

Possibly in the conviction that she is fighting for a worthy object (the ending of militarism), and in the determination (if sincerely carried out) of once more playing her part in the world as the protector of small nations, Britain may find her salvation, and a cause which will save her soul. It is certainly encouraging to find that there is a growing feeling in favour of the recognition and rehabilitation of the small peoples of the world. If it is true that Britain by her grasping Imperial Commercialism in the past (and let us hope that period is past) has roused jealousy and hatred among the other nations, equally is it true that Germany to-day, by her dreams of world-conquest, has been rousing hatred and fear. But the day has gone by of world-empires founded on the lust of conquest, whether that conquest be military or commercial. The modern peoples surely are growing out of dreams so childish as that. The world-empire of Goethe and Beethoven is even now far more extensive, far more powerful, than that which Wilhelm II and his Junkers are seeking to encompass. There is something common, unworthy, in the effort of domination; and while the Great Powers have thus vulgarized themselves, it is the little countries who have gone forward in the path of progress. "In modern Europe what do we not owe to little Switzerland, lighting the torch of freedom six hundred years ago, and keeping it alight through all the centuries when despotic monarchies held the rest of the European Continent? And what to free Holland, with her great men of learning and her painters surpassing those of all other countries save Italy? So the small Scandinavian nations have given to the world famous men of science, from Linnaeus downwards, poets like Tegner and Bjoernson, scholars like Madvig, dauntless explorers like Fridthiof Nansen. England had, in the age of Shakespeare, Bacon, and Milton, a population little larger than that of Bulgaria to-day. The United States, in the days of Washington and Franklin and Jefferson and Hamilton and Marshall, counted fewer inhabitants than Denmark or Greece."[19]

In all their internal politics and social advancement, Switzerland, Holland, Denmark, Norway and Sweden, Finland (until the paw of the Bear was on her) and Belgium (till the claw of the Spread-Eagle) have been well to the fore. It is they who have carried on the banner of idealism which Germany herself uplifted when she was a small people or a group of small peoples. It is they who have really had prosperous, healthy, independent, and alert populations. How much more interesting, we may say, would Europe be under the variety of such a regime than under the monotonous bureaucracy and officialism of any Great Power! And to some such scheme we must adhere. It would mean, of course, the alliance of all the States of Western Europe, large and small (and including both a remodelled Germany and a largely remodelled Austria) in one great Federation—whose purpose would be partly to unite and preserve Europe against any common foe, from the East or elsewhere, and partly to regulate any overweening ambition of a member of the Federation, such as might easily become a menace to the other members. A secondary but most important result of the formation of such a United States of Europe would be that while each State would probably preserve a small military establishment of its own, the enormous and fatal incubus of the present armaments system would be rendered unnecessary, and so at last the threat of national bankruptcy and ruin, which has of late pursued the nations Like an evil dream, might pass away. But in that matter of finance it cannot be disguised that a terrible period still awaits the European peoples. Already the moneylenders sitting on their chests form a veritable nightmare; but with fresh debts by the thousand million sterling being contracted, there is great danger that the mass-peoples beneath will be worse paralysed and broken even than they are now—unless, indeed, with a great effort they rouse themselves and throw off the evil burden.

That the world is waking up to a recognition of racial rights—that is, the right of each race to have as far as possible its own Government, instead of being lorded over by an alien race—is a good sign; and a European settlement along that line must be pressed for. At last, after centuries of discomfort, we at home are finding our solution of the Irish question in this very obvious way; and it may be that Europe, tired of war, may finally have the sense to adopt the same principle. Of course, there are cases where populations are so mixed, as, for instance, the Czechs and Slovaks and Germans in Bohemia and Moravia, or where small colonies of one race are so embedded in the midst of another race, as are the Germans among the Roumanians of Transylvania, that this solution may be difficult. That is no reason, however, why the general principle should not be applied. It must, indeed, be applied if Europe is not to return to barbarism.

And it interests us—having regard to what I have said about class rule being so fruitful a cause of war—to remember that the rule of one race by another always does mean class rule. The alien conquerors who descend upon a country become the military and landlord caste there. Thus the Norman barons in England, the English squires in Ireland, the Magyars in Hungary, the German barons in East Prussia and the Baltic provinces, and so forth. They make their profit and maintain themselves out of the labour and the taxation of the subject peoples.

In the earlier forms of social life, when men lived in tribes, a rude equality and democracy prevailed; there was nothing that could well be called class-government; there was simply custom and the leadership of the elders of the tribe. Then with the oncoming of what we call civilization, and the growth of the sense of property, differences arose—accumulations of wealth and power by individuals, enslavements of tribes by other tribes; and classes sprang up, and class-government, and so the material of endless suffering and oppression and hatred and warfare. I have already explained (in the Introduction) that Class in itself as the mere formation within a nation of groups of similar occupation and activity—working harmoniously with each other and with the nation—is a perfectly natural and healthy phenomenon; it is only when it means groups pursuing their own interests counter to each other and to the nation that it becomes diseased. There will come a time when the class-element in this latter sense will be ejected from society, and society will return again to its democratic form and structure. There will be no want, in that time, of variety of occupation and talent, or of differentiation in the social organism; quite the contrary; but simply there will be no predatory or parasitical groups within such organism, whose, interests will run counter to the whole, and which will act (as such classes act now) as foci and seedbeds of disease and strife within the whole. With a return to the recognition of racial rights and autonomies over the world, it is clear that one great cause of strife will be removed, and we shall be one step nearer to the ending of the preposterous absurdity of war.

And talking about the difficulty of sorting out mixed populations, or of dealing with small colonies of one race embedded in the midst of another race, it is evident that once you get rid of autocratic or military or class-government of any kind, and return to democratic forms, this difficulty will be much reduced or disappear. Small democratic communes are perfectly simple to form in groups of any magnitude or minuteness which may be desirable; and such groups would easily federate or ally themselves with surrounding democracies of alien race, whereas if lorded over by alien conquerors they would be in a state of chronic rebellion. Of such democratic alliance and federation of peoples of totally different race, Switzerland supplies a well-recognized and far-acclaimed example.

* * * * *

That in the future there will be an outcry in favour of Conscription made by certain parties in Britain goes without saying; but that must be persistently opposed. The nation says it is fighting to put down Militarism. Why, then, make compulsory militarism foundational in our national life? To abolish militarism by militarism is like "putting down Drink" by swallowing it! The whole lesson of this war is against conscription. Germany could never have "imposed herself" on Europe without it. And yet her soldiers, brave as they naturally are, and skilfully as they have fought, have not done themselves justice. How could they under such conditions—forced into battle by their officers, flung in heaps on the enemy's guns? The voluntary response in Britain to the call to arms has been inspiriting; and if voluntaryism means momentary delay in a crisis, still it means success in the end. No troops have fought more finely than the British. Said Surgeon-General Evatt, speaking in London in October—and General Evatt's word in such a matter ought to carry weight: "After long experience in studying Russian, German, Bavarian, Saxon, French, Spanish, and American fighting units, my verdict is unhesitatingly in favour of the British.... What has occurred lately has been a splendid triumph of citizenship, because people were allowed their proper liberty and the consciousness of freely, sharing in a great Empire."

Besides it must always be remembered that conscription gives a Government power to initiate an iniquitous war, whereas voluntaryism keeps the national life clean and healthy. A free people will not fight for the trumped-up schemes and selfish machinations of a class—not, indeed, unless they are grossly deceived by, Press and Class plots. Anyhow, to force men to fight in causes which they do not approve, to compel them to adopt a military career when their temperaments are utterly unsuited to such a thing, or when their consciences or their religion forbid them—these things are both foolish and wicked.

If the nation wants soldiers it must pay for them. England, for example, is rolling in wealth; and it is simply a scandal that the wealthy classes should sit at home in comfort and security and pay to the man in the trenches—who is risking his life at every moment, and often living in such exhaustion and misery as actually to wish for the bullet which will end his life—no more than the minimum wage of an ordinary day-labourer; and that they should begrudge every penny paid to his dependents—whether he be living or dead—or to himself when he returns, a lifelong cripple, to his home. To starve and stint your own soldiers, to discourage recruiting, and then to make the consequent failure of men to come forward into an excuse for conscription is the meanest of policies. As a matter of fact, the circumstances of the present war show that with anything like decent reward for their services there is an abundant, an almost over-abundant, supply of men ready to flock to the standard of their country in a time of necessity. Nor must it be forgotten, in this matter of pay, that the general type and average of our forces to-day, whether naval or military, is far higher than it was fifty, years ago. The men are just as plucky, and more educated, more alert, more competent in every way. To keep them up to this high standard of efficiency they need a high standard of care and consideration.

It may, however, be said—in view of our present industrial conditions, and the low standard of physical health and vitality prevailing among the young folk of our large towns—that physical drill and scout training, including ambulance and other work, and qualification in some useful trade, might very well be made a part of our general educational system, for rich and poor alike, say, between the ages of sixteen and eighteen. Such a training would to each individual boy be immensely valuable, and by providing some rudimentary understanding of military, affairs and the duties of public service and citizenship, would enable him to choose how he could be helpful to the nation—provided always he were not forced to make his choice in a direction distasteful or repugnant to him. In any good cause, as in a war of defence against a foreign enemy, it is obvious enough, as I have said, that there would be plenty of native enthusiasm forthcoming without legal or official pressure. However, I have enlarged a little on the subject of Conscription in a later chapter, and will say no more here.

But the burning and pressing question is: Why should we—we, the "enlightened and civilized" nations of Europe—get involved in these senseless wars at all? And surely this war will, of all wars, force an answer to the question. Here, for the last twenty years, have these so-called Great Powers been standing round, all professing that their one desire is peace, and all meanwhile arming to the teeth; each accusing the others of militant intentions, and all lamenting that "war is inevitable." Here they have been forming their Ententes and Alliances, carrying on their diplomatic cabals and intrigues, studying the map and adjusting the Balance of Power—all, of course, with the best intentions—and lo! with the present result! What nonsense! What humbug! What an utter bankruptcy of so-called diplomacy! When will the peoples themselves arise and put a stop to this fooling—the people who give their lives and pay the cost of it all? If the present-day, diplomats and Foreign Ministers have sincerely striven for peace, then their utter incapacity and futility have been proved to the hilt, and they must be swept away. If they have not sincerely striven for peace, but only pretended to so strive, then also they must be swept away, for deceit in such a matter is unpardonable.

And no doubt the latter alternative is the true one. There has been a pretence of the Governments all round—a pretence of deep concern for humanity and the welfare of the mass-peoples committed to their charge; but the real moving power beneath has been class-interest—the interest of the great commercial class in each nation, with its acolyte and attendant, the military or aristocratic. It is this class, with its greeds and vanities and suspicions and jealousies, which is the cause of strife; the working-masses of the various nations have no desire to quarrel with each other. Nay, they are animated by a very different spirit.

In an interesting article published by the German Socialist paper Vorwaerts, on September 27, 1914, and reproduced in our Press, occurred the following passage, in which the war is traced to its commercial sources: "Germany has enjoyed an economical prosperity such as no other country has experienced during the last decade. That meant with the capitalist class a revival of strong Imperialist tendencies, which have been evident enough. This, again, gave rise to mistrust abroad, at least in capitalist circles, who did their best to communicate their feelings to the great masses, ... and so the German people as a whole has been made responsible for what has been the work of a small class.... The comrades abroad can be assured that though German workmen are ready to defend their country they will, above all, not forget that their interests are the same as those of the proletariat in other countries, who also against their will were forced into the war and now do their duty. They can rest assured that the German people are not less humane than others—a result to which education through workmen's organizations has greatly contributed. If German soldiers in the excitement of war should commit atrocities, it can be said that among us—and also in other circles—there will not be a single person to approve of them."

Reading this statement—so infinitely more sensible and human than anything to be found in the ordinary Capitalist Press of England and Germany—one cannot help feeling that there is practically little hope for the future until the international working masses throughout Europe come forward and, joining hands with each other, take charge of the foolish old Governments (who represent the remains of the decadent feudal and commercial systems), and shape the Western world at last to the heart's desire of the peoples that inhabit it.

"The peoples of the world desire peace," said Bourtzeff, the Russian exile[20]—and he, who has been in many lands, ought to know. But they also—if they would obtain peace—must exercise an eternal vigilance lest they fall into the hands of class-schemers and be betrayed into that which they do not desire. The example of Germany—which we have considered above—shows how easily a good and friendly and pacific people may, by mere political inattention and ignorance, and by a quasi-scientific philosophy, which imposes on its political ignorance, be led into a disastrous situation. It shows how preposterous it is that Governments generally—as at present constituted—should set themselves up as the representatives of the mass-peoples' wishes, and as the arbiters of national destinies. And it shows how vitally necessary it is that the people, even the working masses and the peasants, should have some sort of political education and understanding.

In that matter, of the political education of the masses, America, in her United States and Canada, yields a fine example. Though not certainly perfect, her general standard of education and alertness is infinitely superior to that of the peoples of the Old World. And some writers contend that it is just in that—in her general level and not in her freaks of genius—that America's claim lies to distinction among the nations of the earth. If you consider the peoples of the Old World, whether in England, Scotland, or Ireland, in France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Austria, Russia, or farther East and farther South over the earth, you will find the great masses, on the land or in the workshops, still sunk in vast ignorance, apathy, and irresponsibility. Only here and there among those I have mentioned, and notably among the smaller peoples of Western Europe, like Switzerland, Holland, Denmark, and Sweden, are the masses beginning to stir, as it were, towards the daylight. It can only be with the final opening of their eyes and awakening from slumber that the rule of the classes will be at an end. But that awakening—with the enormous spread of literature and locomotion and intercommunication of all kinds over the modern world, cannot now, one would say, be long delayed.

* * * * *

Meanwhile, and until that era arrives, we can only insist (at any rate in our own country) on a different kind of foreign policy from what we have had—a policy open and strong, not founded on Spread-Eagleism, and decidedly not founded on commercialism and the interests of the trading classes (as the Empire League seem to desire), but directed towards the real welfare of the masses in our own and other lands. If our rulers and representatives really seek peace, here is the obvious way to ensue and secure it—namely, by making political friends of those in all countries who desire peace and are already stretching hands of amity to each other. What simpler and more obvious way can there be? "We hail our working-class comrades of every land," says the Manifesto of the Independent Labour Party. "Across the roar of guns we send greeting to the German Socialists. They have laboured unceasingly to promote good relations with Britain, as we with Germany. They are no enemies of ours, but faithful friends. In forcing this appalling crime upon the nations, it is the rulers, the diplomats, the militarists, who have sealed their doom. In tears and blood and bitterness the greater Democracy will be born. With steadfast faith we greet the future; our cause is holy and imperishable, and the labour of our hands has not been in vain."

Yes, we must have a foreign policy strong and sincere—and not only so, but open and avowed. The present Diplomatic system is impossible of continuance. It has grown up in an automatic way out of antiquated conditions, and no one in particular can be blamed for it. But that young men, profoundly ignorant of the world, and having the very borne outlook on life which belongs to our gilded youth (67 per cent. of the candidates for the Diplomatic Corps being drawn from Eton alone), having also in high degree that curious want of cosmopolitan sympathy and adaptability which is characteristic of the English wealthy classes (every candidate for the Corps must have at least L400 a year of his own)—that such a type should be charged with the representation of the United Kingdom in foreign affairs is to-day a hopeless anomaly, and indeed a very great danger. The recommendations just published of the Royal Commission are in the right direction, but they need urgent reinforcement and extension by the pressure of public opinion. And if in the present-day situation of affairs we cannot refer every question which arises directly to the nation, we must at least do away with the one-man-Secretary system, and have in his place a large and responsible committee, representative, not of any one party or class but as far as possible of the whole people. [At this moment, for instance, as far as we know, the terms of settlement of the present war may actually be being arranged over our heads, and yet that may be taking place quite apart from the approval and the wishes of the most weighty portion of the nation.]

Another thing that we must look to with some hope for the future is the influence of Women. Profoundly shocked as they are by the senseless folly and monstrous bloodshed of the present conflict, it is certain that when this phase is over they will insist on having a voice in the politics of the future. The time has gone by when the mothers and wives and daughters of the race will consent to sit by meek and silent while the men in their madness are blowing each other's brains out and making mountains out of corpses. It is hardly to be expected that war will cease from the earth this side of the millennium; but women will surely only, condone it when urged by some tremendous need or enthusiasm; they will not rejoice—as men sometimes do—in the mere lust of domination and violence. With their keen perception of the little things of life, and the way in which the big things are related to these, they will see too clearly the cost of war in broken hearts and ruined homes to allow their men to embark in it short of the direst necessity.

And through the women I come back to the elementary causes and roots of the present war—the little fibres in our social life which have fed, and are still feeding, the fatal tree whose fruits are, not the healing but the strife of nations. In the present day—though there may be other influences—it is evident enough that rampant and unmeasured commercial greed, concentrating itself in a special class, is the main cause, the tap-root, of the whole business. And this, equally evidently, springs out of the innumerable greed of individuals—the countless fibres that combine to one result—the desire of private persons to get rich quick at all costs, to make their gains out of others' losses, to take advantage of each other, to triumph in success regardless of others' failures. And these unworthy motives and inhuman characteristics again spring obviously out of the mean and materialistic ideals of life which still have sway among us—the ideals of wealth and luxury and display—of which the horrors of war are the sure and certain obverse. As long as we foster these things in our private life, so long will they lead in our public life to the embitterment of nation against nation. What is the ruling principle of the interior and domestic conduct of each nation to-day—even within its own borders—but an indecent scramble of class against class, of individual against individual? To rise to noisy power and influence, and to ill-bred wealth and riches, by trampling others down and profiting by their poverty is—as Ruskin long ago told us—the real and prevailing motive of our peoples, whatever their professions of Christianity may be. Small wonder, then, if out of such interior conditions there rise to dominance in the great world those very classes who exhibit the same vulgarities in their most perfect form, and that their conflict with each other, as between nation and nation, exhibit to us, in the magnified and hideous form of war, the same sore which is all the time corrupting our internal economy. The brutality, and atrocity of modern war is but the reflection of the brutality and inhumanity of our commercial regime and ideals. The slaughter of the battlefields may be more obvious, but it is less deliberate, and it is doubtful whether it be really worse, than the daily and yearly slaughter of the railways, the mines, and the workshops. That being so, it is no good protesting against, and being shocked at, an evil which is our very own creation; and to cry out against war-lords is useless, when it is our desires and ambitions which set the war-lords in motion. Let all those who indulge and luxuriate in ill-gotten wealth to-day (and, indeed, their name is Legion), as well as all those who meanly and idly groan because their wealth is taken from them, think long and deeply on these things. Truth and simplicity of life are not mere fads; they are something more than abstractions and private affairs, something more than social ornaments. They are vital matters which lie at the root of national well-being. They are things which in their adoption or in their denial search right through the tissue of public life. To live straightforwardly by your own labour is to be at peace with the world. To live on the labour of others is not only to render your life false at home, but it is to encroach on those around you, to invite resistance and hostility; and when such a principle of life is favoured by a whole people, that people will not only be in a state of internal strife, but will assuredly raise up external enemies on its borders who will seek its destruction.

The working masses and the peasants, whose lives are in the great whole honest—who support themselves (and a good many others besides) by their own labour—have no quarrel; and they are the folk who to-day —notwithstanding lies and slanders galore, and much of race-prejudice and ignorance—stretch hands of amity and peace to each other wellnigh all over the world. It is of the modern moneyed classes that we may say that their life-principle (that of taking advantage of others and living on their labour) is essentially false[21]; and these are the classes which are distinctively the cause of enmities in the modern world, and which, as I have explained above, are able to make use of the military class in order to carry out their designs. It can only be with the ending of the commercial and military classes, as classes, that peace can come to the world. China, founded on the anti-commercial principles of Confucius, disbanded her armies a thousand years ago, and only quite lately—under the frantic menace of Western civilization—felt compelled to reorganize them. She was a thousand years before her time. It can only be with the emergence of a new structure of society, based on the principle of solidarity and mutual aid among the individuals of a nation, and so extending to solidarity and mutual aid among nations, that peace can come to the Western world. It is the best hope of the present war that, like some frightful illness, it marks the working out of deep-seated evils and their expulsion from the social organism; and that with its ending the old false civilization, built on private gain, will perish, crushed by its own destructive forces; and in its place the new, the real culture, will arise, founded on the essential unity of mankind.


[18] Reprinted by permission from the English Review for January, 1915.

[19] Lord Bryce in the Daily Chronicle, October, 1914.

[20] In a letter to the Times, September 18, 1914.

[21] There is no reason in itself why Commercialism should be false. Commerce and interchange of goods is of course a perfectly natural and healthy function of social life. Indeed, it is a function which should have a most beneficent influence in binding nations together. It is when that function is perverted to private gain that it becomes false. But of course without this perversion there would be no distinctively commercial class with interests opposed to those of the community.



Many Socialists and sympathizers with the Labour movement over the world belittle Patriotism, and seem to think that by decrying and discouraging the love of one's country one will bring nearer the day of Internationalism.

I do not agree. Of course we all know there is a lot of sham and false Patriotism—such as, for instance, Pressmongers magnify and make use of in order to sell their papers, or such as comfortable, well-to-do folk with big dividends do so heartily encourage among the poorer classes, who can thus be persuaded to fight for them; we know, indeed, that there is a good deal of very mean and unworthy Patriotism—the flag-waving variety, for instance, which we saw in the Boer war—exultant over a small nation of farmers defending their homes, and whipped up deliberately by a commercial gang for their own purposes; or the narrow-minded, lying, canting variety which blinds a people to its own faults, and credits itself with all the moral virtues, while at the same time it gloats over every defamation of the enemy. There is a good deal of that variety in the present war. And it is easy to understand that many people, sick of that sort of Patriotism, would go straight for a ready-made denial of all frontiers and boundaries.

Still, allowing to the full all that can be said in the above direction, one must admit also that there is such a thing as a true Patriotism, and I do not see why—however socialist or cosmopolitan we may be—we should not recognize what is an obvious fact. There is a love of one's own country—a genuine attachment to and preference for it—"in spite of all temptations to belong to other nations"—which after all is very natural, and on the whole a sound and healthy thing. There may be some people whose minds are so lofty that to them all peoples and races are alike and without preference; but one knows that the vast multitudes of our mortal earth are not made like that. "If a man love not his brother whom he hath seen, how shall he love God whom he hath not seen?" It is certainly easier and more natural to make an effort and a sacrifice for the sake of your own countrymen whom you know so well and with whom you are linked by a thousand ties than for the sake of foreigners who are little more than a name—however worthy you may honestly believe the latter to be. It is more obvious and instinctive for a man to work for his own family than to give his services to his municipality or his county council. Charity begins at home, and the wider spirit of human love and helpfulness which passes beyond the narrow bounds of the family hearth has perhaps to find an intermediate sphere before it can unfold itself and expand in the great field of Humanity among all colours and races.

Personally, I am probably more International by temperament than Patriotic. I feel a strange kinship and intimacy with all sorts of queer and outlandish races—Chinese, Egyptian, Mexican, or Polynesian—and always a slight but persistent sense of estrangement and misapprehension among my own people. Flag-waving certainly, does not stir me. Still, I feel that, whatever one's country may be, the love of it has value and is not to be scoffed at. The Nation is bigger than the Parish; and to a man of limited outlook it is a means of getting him out of his own very narrow and local circle of life; to rob him of that in order to jump him into a cosmopolitan attitude (which to him may be quite empty and arid) is a mistake. It is easy enough to break the shell for the growing chick, but if you break it too soon your chick, when hatched, will be dead.

If you look at the great majority of those who are enthusing just now about our country and patriotically detesting the Germans, you will see that notwithstanding lies and slanders and cant galore, and much of conceit and vanity, their patriotism is pulling them together from one end of Britain to another, causing them to help each other in a thousand ways, urging them to make sacrifices for the common good, helping them to grow the sinews and limbs of the body politic, and even the wings which will one day transport that body into a bigger world. Really, I think we ought to be very grateful to the Germans for doing all this for us; and the Germans ought to be grateful to us for an exactly similar reason. You will see plainly enough that the great majority of those who are at this moment giving their thoughts and lives for their countrymen and neighbours either in Germany or in England could not by any manner of possibility be expected to act with similar self-surrender and enthusiasm in an International cause. They are not grown to that point of development yet, and it is better that they should learn helpfulness and brotherhood within somewhat narrow bounds than perhaps not learn these things at all in the open and indiscriminate field of universal equality. After all, to stimulate love and friendship there is nothing like a common enemy!

It is an old story and an old difficulty. There comes a time when every institution of social life becomes rotten and diseased and has to be removed to make way for the new life which is expanding behind it. Broadly speaking, we may say that the institution of Patriotism is approaching this period—at any rate over Western Europe. The outlines of an International life are becoming clearly visible behind it.

What we have to do is to help on that international life and spirit to our best, and certainly clear out a lot of sham patriotism that stands in its way; but this has to be done with discrimination and a certain tact. People must be made to see that "my country, right or wrong," is not the genuine article. They must be made to understand how easily this sort of slapdash sentiment throws them into the hands of scheming politicians and wire-pullers for sinister purposes—how readily it can be made use of directly it has become a mere unreasoning instinct and habit. If a war is wanted, or conscription, or a customs tariff—it may be merely to suit the coward fears of autocratic rulers, or the selfish interests of some group of contractors or concession-hunters—all that the parties concerned have to do is to play the patriotic stop, and they stand a good chance of getting what they want. Just now there is a good bit of fleecing going on in this fashion—both of the public and the wage-workers. Even in its more healthy forms, when delayed in too long, patriotism easily becomes morbid and delays also the birth of the larger spirit which is waiting behind it. The Continental Socialists complain that their cause has hitherto made little progress in Alsace-Lorraine and Poland for the simple reason that political circumstances have over-accentuated the patriotic devotion in both these regions.

Thus we have to push on with discrimination. Always we have to remember that the wide, free sense of equality and kinship which lies at the root of Internationalism is the real goal, and that the other thing is but a step on the way, albeit a necessary step. Always we have to press on towards that great and final liberation—the realization of our common humanity, the recognition of the same great soul of man slumbering under all forms in the heart of all races—the one guarantee and assurance of the advent of World-peace.

That we are verging rapidly towards some altered perspective I quite believe; and the day is coming when in the social and political spheres International activity will make excessive patriotism seem somewhat ridiculous—as, in fact, it has already done in the spheres of Science and Industry and Art. Still, I also do not see any reason why the two tendencies should not work side by side. The health of local organs and members in the human body is by no means incompatible with the health of the whole organism, and we may understand the great map of Humanity all the better for its being differently coloured in different parts.



November, 1914.

I sometimes think the country-folk round about where I live the most sensible people I know. They say with regard to the War—or said at its outset: "What are they fighting about? I can't make out, and nobody seems to know. What I've seen o' the Germans they're a decent enough folk—much like ourselves. If there's got to be fightin', why don't them as makes the quarrel go and fight wi' each other? But killing all them folk that's got no quarrel, and burnin' their houses and farms, and tramplin' down all that good corn—and all them brave men dead what can never live again—its scandalous, I say."

This at the outset. But afterwards, when the papers had duly explained that the Germans were mere barbarians and savages, bent on reducing the whole world to military slavery, they began to take sides and feel there was good cause for fighting. Meanwhile almost exactly the same thing was happening in Germany, where England was being represented as a greedy and deceitful Power, trying to boss and crush all the other nations. Thus each nation did what was perhaps, from its own point of view, the most sensible thing to do—persuaded itself that it was fighting in a just and heroic cause, that it was a St. George against the Dragon, a David out to slay Goliath.

The attitude of the peasant, however, or agriculturist, all over the world, is the same. He does not deal in romantic talk about St. George and the Dragon. He sees too clearly the downright facts of life. He has no interest in fighting, and he does not want to fight. Being the one honest man in the community—the one man who creates, not only his own food but the food of others besides, and who knows the value of his work, he perceives without illusion the foolery of War, the hideous waste of it, the shocking toll of agony and loss which it inflicts—and if left to himself would as a rule have no hand in it. It is only occasionally—when ground down beyond endurance by the rent-racking classes above him, or threatened beyond endurance by an enemy from abroad, that he turns his reaping-hook into a sword and his muck-fork into a three-pronged bayonet, exchanges his fowling-piece for a rifle, and fights savagely for his home and his bit of a field.

England, curiously enough, is almost the only country in the world where the peasant or ordinary field-worker has no field of his own[22]; and I find that in the villages and among the general agricultural population there is even now but little enthusiasm for the present war—though the raid on our coasts at Scarborough and other places certainly did something to stimulate it. Partly this is, as I have said, because the agricultural worker knows that his work is foundational, and that nothing else is of importance compared with it. [At this moment, for instance, there are peasants in Belgium and Northern France ploughing and sowing, and so forth, actually close to the trenches and between the fighting lines.] Partly it is because in England, alas! the countryman has so little right or direct interest in the soil. One wonders sometimes why he should feel any enthusiasm. Why should men want to fight for their land when they have no land to fight for—when the most they can do is to die at the foot of a trespass-board, singing, "Britons never, never shall be slaves!"

If the War is ever finished, surely one of the first things to be insisted on afterwards, with regard to England, must be the settlement of the actual people (not the parasites) on the land. Else how, after all that they have gone through, can it be expected that they will ever again "fight for their country"? But that this vast landless population in the villages and country districts—hungering as it is for some sure tenure and interest in the soil—should actually, as now, be berated and scolded by superior persons of the "upper" classes, and threatened with conscription if it does not "come forward" more readily, is a spectacle sufficient to gratify the most hardened cynic.

Certainly it is remarkable that such numbers of the great working masses of this country (including villagers) should come forward in connexion with the war, and join the standard and the ranks of fighting men—as they do—and it is a thing for which one must honour them. But in that matter there are not a few considerations to be kept in mind.

In the first place a large number are not really very enthusiastic, but simply join because pressure to do so is put upon them by their "masters." The press-gangs of old exist no longer, but substitutes for them revive in subtler form. Many large landlords, for instance, have given notice to a percentage of their gamekeepers, gardeners, park employees, and the like, to the effect that their services are no longer required, but that if they enlist in the ranks now they will be reinstated in their masters' service again when the war is over ("if still alive" is, we presume, understood). Large numbers of manufacturing and other firms have notified their workmen and clerks in similar terms. This means pretty serious economic pressure. A man in the prime of life, suddenly ousted from his job, and with no prospect either of finding a similar job elsewhere or of learning any new one, is in a pretty fix. His only certain refuge lies in the fact that he can be taught to use a rifle in a few weeks; and in a few weeks perhaps it becomes clear to him that to accept that offer and the pay that goes with it—poor as it is—is his only chance.

There are others, again—perhaps a very large number—who do not care much about the war in itself, and probably have only the vaguest notion of what it is all about, but for them to join the ranks means adventure, comradeship, the open air—all fascinating things; and they hail the prospect with joy as an escape from intolerable dullness—from the monotony of the desk and the stuffy office, from the dreary round and mechanical routine of the factory bench, from the depressing environment of "home" and domestic squalor.

I must confess—though I have no general prejudice in favour of war—that I have been much struck, since the outbreak of the present one, by the altered look of crowds of young men whom I personally know—who are now drilling or otherwise preparing for it. The gay look on their faces, the blood in their cheeks, the upright carriage and quick, elate step—when compared with the hang-dog, sallow, dull creatures I knew before—all testify to the working of some magic influence.

As I say, I do not think that this influence in most cases has much to do with enthusiasm for the "cause" or any mere lust of "battle" (happily indeed for the most part they do not for a moment realize what modern battle means). It is simply escape from the hateful conditions of present-day commercialism and its hideous wage-slavery into something like the normal life of young manhood—a life in the open under the wide sky, blood-stirring enterprise, risk if you will, co-operation and camaraderie. These are the inviting, beckoning things, the things which swing the balance down—even though hardships, low pay, and high chances of injury and death are thrown in the opposite scale.

Nevertheless, and despite these other considerations, there does certainly remain, in this as in other wars, a fair number of men among those who enlist who are bona fide inspired by some Ideal which they feel to be worth fighting for. It may be Patriotism or love of their country; it may be "to put down militarism"; it may be Religion or Honour or what not. And it is fine that it should be so. They may in cases be deluded, or mistaken about facts; the ideal they fight for may be childish (as in the mediaeval Crusades); still, even so it is fine that people should be willing to give their lives for an idea—that they should be capable of being inspired by a vision. Humanity has at least advanced as far as that.

I suppose patriotism, or love of country—when it comes to its full realization, as in the case of invasion by an enemy, is the most powerful and tremendous of such ideals, sweeping everything before it. It represents something ingrained in the blood. In that case all the other motives for fighting—economic or what not—disappear and are swallowed up. Material life and social conditions under a German government might externally be as comfortable and prosperous as under our own, but for most of us something in the soul would wither and sicken at the thought.

Anyhow, whatever the motives may be which urge individuals into war—whether sheer necessity or patriotism, or the prospect of wages or distinction, or the love of adventure—a nation or a people in order to fight must have a "cause" to fight for, something which its public opinion, its leaders, and its Press can appropriate—some phrase which it can inscribe on its shield: be it "Country" or "God" or "Freedom from Tyranny," or "Culture versus Barbarism." It must have some such cry, else obviously it could not fight with any whole-heartedness or any force.

The thing is a psychological necessity. Every one, when he gets into a quarrel, justifies himself and accuses the other party. He puts his own conduct in an ideal light, and the conduct of his opponent in the reverse! Doubtless if we were all angels and could impartially enter into all the origins of the quarrel, we should not fight, because to "understand" would be to "forgive"; but as we have not reached that stage, and as we cannot even explain why we are quarrelling—the matter being so complex—we are fain to adopt a phrase and fight on the strength of that. It is useless to call this hypocrisy. It is a psychological necessity. It is the same necessity which makes a mistress dismiss her maid on the score of a broken teapot, though really she has no end of secret grievances against her; or which makes the man of science condense the endless complexity of certain physical phenomena into a neat but lying formula which he calls a Law of Nature. He could not possibly give all the real facts, and so he uses a phrase.

In war, therefore, each nation adopts a motto as its reason for fighting. Sometimes the two opposing nations both adopt the same motto I England and Germany both inscribe on their banners: "Culture versus Barbarism." Each believes in its own good faith, and each accuses the other of hypocrisy.

In a sense this is all right, and could not be better. It does not so much matter which is really the most cultured nation, England or Germany, as that each should really believe that it is fighting in the cause of Culture. Then, so fighting for what it knows to be a good cause, the wounds and death endured and the national losses and depletion are not such sad and dreadful things as they at first appear. They liberate the soul of the individual; they liberate the soul of the nation. They are sacrifices made for an ideal; and (provided they are truly such) the God within is well-pleased and comes one step nearer to his incarnation. Whatever inner thing you make sacrifices for, the same will in time appear visibly in your life—blessing or cursing you. Therefore, beware I and take good care as to what that inner thing really is.

Such is the meaning of the use of a phrase or "battle-cry"; but we have, indeed, to be on our guard against how we use it. It can so easily become a piece of cant or hypocrisy. It can so easily be engineered by ruling cliques and classes for their own purposes—to persuade and compel the people to fight their battles. The politicians get us (for reasons which they do not explain) into a nice little entanglement —perhaps with some tribe of savages, perhaps with a great European Power; and before the nation knows where it is it finds itself committed to a campaign which may develop and become a serious war. Then there is no alternative but for Ministers to repair to a certain Cabinet where the well-dried formulae they need are kept hanging, and select one for their use. It may be "Women and Children," or it may be "Immoral Savages," or it may be "Empire," or it may be "Our Word of Honour." Having selected the right one, and duly displayed and advertised it, they have little difficulty in making the nation rise to the bait, and fight whatever battles they desire.

Since the early beginnings of the human race we can perceive the same processes in operation. We can almost guess the grade of advancement reached among primitive tribes by simply taking note of their totems. These were emblems of the things which held the mind of the tribe, as admirable or terrible, with which it was proud to identify itself—the fox, for instance, or the bear, the kangaroo, or the eagle. To be worthy of such ideals men fought. Later, every little people, every knightly, family, every group of adventurers, adopted a device for its shield, a motto for its flag, a figure of some kind, human, or more often animal. Even the modern nations have not got much farther; and we can judge of their stage of advancement by the beasts of prey they, flaunt on their banners or the deep-throat curses which resound in their national anthems.

But surely the time has now come—even with this world-war—when the great heart of the peoples will wake up to the savagery and the folly perpetrated in their names. The people, who, although they enjoy a "scrap" now and then, are essentially peaceful, essentially friendly, all the world over; who in the intervals of slaughter offer cigarettes to their foes, and tenderly dress their enemies' wounds; whose worst and age-long sin it is that they allow themselves so easily to be dominated and led by, ambitious and greedy schemers—surely it is time that they should wake up and throw off these sham governments—these governments that are three-quarters class-scheming and fraud and only one-quarter genuine expressions of public spirit—and declare the heart of solidarity that is within them.

The leaders and high priests of the world have used the name of Christianity to bless their own nefarious works with, till the soul is sick at the very sound of the word; but surely the time has come when the peoples themselves out of their own heart will proclaim the advent of the Son of Man—conscious of it, indeed, as a great light of brotherhood shining within them, even amid the clouds of race-enmity and ignorance, and will deny once for all the gospel of world-empire and conquest which has so long been foisted on them for insidiously selfish ends.

An empire based on brotherhood—a holy human empire of the World, including all races and colours in a common unity and equality—yes! But these shoddy empires based on militarism and commercialism, and built up in order to secure the unclean ascendancy of two outworn and effete classes over the rest of mankind—a thousand times no! That dispensation, thank Heaven! is past. "These fatuous empires with their parade of power and their absolute lack of any real policy—this British Lion, this Russian Bear, these German, French, and American Eagles—these birds and beasts of prey—with their barbaric notions of Greed and War, their impossible armaments, and their swift financial ruin impending—will fall and be rent asunder. The hollow masks of them will perish. And the sooner the better. But underneath surely there will be rejoicing, for it will be found that so after all the real peoples of the earth have come one degree nearer together—yes, one degree nearer together."


[22] In Servia, for instance, which many folk doubtless regard as a benighted country, more than four-fifths of the people are peasant farmers and cultivate lands belonging to their own families. "These holdings cannot be sold or mortgaged entire; the law forbids the alienation for debt of a peasant's cottage, his garden or courtyard, his plough, the last few acres of his land, and the cattle necessary for working his farm." [Encycl. Brit.] In 1910 there were altogether five hundred agricultural co-operative societies in Servia.



December, 1914.

While protesting, as I have already done, against forced military service, it must still be admitted that the argument in favour of it retains a certain validity: to the extent, namely, that every one owes a duty of some kind to his own people, that it is mean to accept all the advantages of citizenship—security, protection, settled conditions of life, and so forth—and still to refuse to make sacrifice for one's country in a time of distress or danger. It is difficult of course for any one to trace all the threads and fibres which have worked themselves into his life from his own homeland—as it is difficult for a child to trace all the qualities of blood that it owes to its mother; but there they are, and though some of these native inheritances and conditions may not really be to a man's liking, yet he can hardly refuse to acknowledge them, or to confess the debt of gratitude that he owes to the land of his birth.

Granting all this, however, most fully, there still remains a long stretch from this admission to that of forced military service. The drawbacks to this latter are many. In the first place compulsion anyhow is bad. A voluntary citizen army may be all right; but to compel a man to fight, whether he will or not—in violation, perhaps, of his conscience, of his instinct, of his temperament—is an inexcusable outrage on his rights as a human being. In the second place it is gross folly; for a man who fights devoid of freewill and against his conscience, against his temperament, cannot possibly make a good fighter. An army of such recusants, however large, would be useless; and even a few mixed with the others do, as a matter of fact, greatly lower the efficiency of the whole force associated with them. In the third place compulsion means compulsion by a Government, and Government, at any rate to-day, means class-rule. Forced military service means service under and subjection to a Class. That means Wars carried on abroad to serve the interests, often iniquitous enough, of the Few; and military operations entered into at home to suppress popular discontent or to confirm class-power. To none of these things could any high-minded man of democratic temper consent. There are other drawbacks, but these will do to begin with.

On the other hand, if we reject enforced militarism are we to throw overboard the idea of "national service" altogether?

I think not. The way out is fairly clear and obvious. Let it be understood that there is such a thing as national or public service, to which (within the limits of individual conscience and capacity) every one is bound to respond. Let it be understood that at a certain age, say from sixteen to eighteen (but the period would no doubt be a movable one) every one, boy or girl, rich or poor, shall go through a course of training fitting him or her for healthy and effective citizenship. This would include first of all bodily exercises and drill (needed by almost all, but especially in the present day by town workers), all sorts of scouting-work, familiarity with Nature, camp and outdoor life; then all kinds of elementary and necessary trades, like agriculture in some form or other, metal-work, wood-work, cloth-work, tailoring, bootmaking; then such things as rifle-shooting, ambulance-work, nursing, cookery, and so on. Let it be understood that every one, male or female, rich or poor, learned or ignorant, is expected to qualify—not in the whole programme, but first of all and as far as humanly possible in the primary condition of physical health and development, and then after that in some one, at any rate, of the above-mentioned or similar trades—so that in case of general need or distress he can do something of use. That would at least be an approach to a valuable and reasonable institution.

As things are it is appalling to think of the abject futility and uselessness of vast classes in all the modern nations of to-day,—but perhaps especially in our own nation. Think of the populations of our drawing-rooms, of our well-to-do clubs, of our universities, of our commercial and professional offices, whose occupations, whatever they are, are entirely remote from the direct needs and meanings of life; or again of the vast masses who inhabit the mean streets of our great towns, ignorant, ill-grown, unskilled, and in a chronic state of most precarious and uncertain employment. What would these populations do in any case of national crisis—say in a case of serious war or famine or huge bankruptcy of trade or multitudinous invasion by Chinese or Japanese, or of total collapse of credit and industry? With a few brilliant exceptions they would collapse too. They could not feed themselves, clothe themselves, or defend themselves; they could not build shelters from the storm, or make tools or weapons of any kind for their own use; they would be unable to nurse each other in illness or cook for each other in health. A tribe of Arabs or a commando of Boer farmers would be far more competent than they.

But the said deficiency, which would be painfully illustrated by a serious crisis, is there equally in ordinary humdrum times of peace. The crippled and idiotic life which would bring disaster then is undermining our very existence now. Is it not time that a sensible nation should look to it that every one of its members, when adult, should at least be healthy, well-fed, and well-grown, and that each should not only be decently developed in himself or herself, but should be capable of bearing a useful part of some kind in the life of the nation? Is it not time that the nation should place first of all on its programme the creation of capable and healthy citizens? Can a nation be really effective, really strong, really secure, without this? I do not seem to doubt a large willingness among our people to-day for mutual service and helpfulness—I believe a vast number of our young women of the well-to-do type are at this moment deeply regretting their inability to do anything except knit superfluous mufflers—but was there ever in the history of the world such huge, such wide-flooding incompetence? The willingness of the well-to-do classes may be judged from their readiness to come forward with subscriptions, their incompetence from the fact that they have nothing else to offer: that is, that all they can offer is to set some one else (by means of their money) to do useful work in their place. They cannot themselves nurse wounded soldiers, or make boots for them, or build huts or weave blankets; they cannot help in housing or building schemes, or in schemes for the reclaiming and cultivation of waste lands; they cannot grow corn or bake bread or cook simple meals for the assistance of the indigent or the aged or the feeble, because they understand none of these things; but they can pay some one else to do them—that is, they can divert some of the money, which they have already taken from the workers, to setting the latter toiling again! But what use would that be on the day when our monetary system broke down—as it nearly did at the commencement of this war? What use would it be on some critical day when a hostile invasion called every competent man and woman to do the work of defence absolutely necessary at the moment? What use would it be in the hour when complete commercial dislocation caused downright famine? Who would look at offers of money then? Could the nation Carry this vast mass of incompetents and idlers on its back then; and can it reasonably be expected to do so now?

A terrible and serious crisis, as I have already said, awaits us—even when the War is over—a crisis probably worse than that which we are passing through now. We have to remember the debts that are being piled up. If the nations are staggering along now under the enormous load of idlers and parasites living on interest, how will it be then? Unless we can reorganize our Western societies on a real foundation of actual life, of practical capacity, of honest and square living, and of mutual help instead of mutual robbery, they will infallibly collapse, or pass into strange and alien hands. Now is the critical moment when with the enormous powers of production which we wield it may be possible to make a new start, and base the social life of the future on a generous recognition of the fellowship of all. How many times have the civilizations of the past, ignoring this salvation, gone down into the gulf! Can we find a better hope for our civilization to-day?

It is clear, I think, that any nation that wants to stand the shock of events in the future, and to hold its own in the vast flux of racial and political changes which is coming on the world, will have to found its life, not on theories and views, or on the shifting sands of literature and fashion, but on the solid rock of the real material capability of its citizens, and on their willingness, their readiness to help each other—their ingrained instinct of mutual service. A conscript army, forced upon us by a government and becoming inevitably a tool for the use of a governing class, we do not want and we will not have; but a nation of capable men and women, who know what life is and are prepared to meet it at all points—who will in many cases make a free gift of their capital and land for such purposes as I have just outlined—we must have. Personally I would not even here—though the need is a crying one—advocate downright compulsion; but I would make these things a part of the recognized system of education, with appropriate regulations and the strongest recommendations and inducements to every individual to fall in and co-operate with them. Thus in time an urgent public opinion might be formed which would brand as disgraceful the conduct of any person who refused to qualify himself for useful service, or who, when qualified, deliberately refused to respond to the call for such service, if needed. Under such conditions the question of military defence would solve itself. Thousands and thousands of men would of their own free choice at an early age and during a certain period qualify themselves in military matters; other thousands, men and women, would qualify in nursing or ambulance work; other millions, again, would be prepared to aid in transport work, or in the production of food, clothing, shelter, and the thousand and one necessaries of life. No one would be called upon to do work which he had not chosen, no one would be forced to take up an activity which was hateful to him, yet all would feel that what they could do and did do would be helpful to the other ranks and ranges, and would be solidaire with the rest of the nation. Such a nation would be sane and prosperous in time of peace, and absolutely safe and impregnable in the hour of danger.



Christmas, 1914.

People ask what new arrangements of diplomacy or revivals of Christianity—what alliances, ententes, leagues of peace, Hague tribunals, regulation of armaments, weeks of prayer, or tons of Christmas puddings sent into the enemies' camps—will finally scotch this pestilence of war. And there is no answer, because the answer is too close at hand for us to see it.

Nothing but the general abandonment of the system of living on the labour of others will avail. There is no other way. This, whether as between individuals or as between nations, is—and has been since the beginning of the world—the root-cause of war. Early and primitive wars were for this—to raid crops and cattle, to carry off slaves on whose toil the conquerors could subsist; and the latest wars are the same. To acquire rubber concessions, gold-mines, diamond-mines, where coloured labour may be exploited to its bitterest extreme; to secure colonies and outlying lands, where giant capitalist enterprises (with either white or coloured labour) may make huge dividends out of the raising of minerals and other industrial products; to crush any other Power which stands in the way of these greedy and inhuman ambitions—such are the objects of wars to-day. And we do not see the cause of the sore because it is so near to us, because it is in our blood. The whole private life of the commercial and capitalist classes (who stand as the representatives of the nations to-day) is founded on the same principle. As individuals our one object is to find some worker or group of workers whose labour value we can appropriate. Look at the endless columns of stock and share quotations in the daily papers, and consider the armies of those who scan these lists over their breakfast-tables with the one view of finding some-where an industrial concern whose slave-driven toilers will yield the shareholder 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 12 per cent, on his capital. Undisguised and shameless parasitism is the order, or disorder, of our days. The rapacity of beasts of prey is in our social life but thinly veiled—thinly veiled indeed by a wash of "Christian" sentiment and by a network of philanthropic institutions for the supposed benefit of the very victims whom we have robbed.

Is it any wonder that this principle of internecine warfare and rapacity which rules in our midst, this vulgar greed, which loads people's bodies with jewels and furs and their tables with costly food, regardless of those from whom these comforts are snatched, should eventuate ultimately in rapacity and violence on the vast stage of the drama of nations, and in red letters of war and conflict written across the continents? It is no good, with a pious snuffle, to say we are out to put down warfare and militarism, and all the time to encourage in our own lives, and in our Church and Empire Leagues and other institutions, the most sordid and selfish commercialism—which itself is in essence a warfare, only a warfare of a far meaner and more cowardly kind than that which is signalized by the shock of troops or the rage of rifles and cannon.

No, there is no other way; and only by the general abandonment of our present commercial and capitalist system will the plague of war be stayed.[23]


[23] When these hundreds and hundreds of thousands of men return home after the war is over, do we expect them to go meekly back to the idiotic slavery of dingy offices and dirty workshops? If we do I trust that we shall be disappointed. These men who have fought so nobly for their land, and who have tasted, even under the most trying conditions, something of the largeness and gladness of a free open-air life, will, I hope, refuse to knuckle down again to the old commercialism. Now at last arises the opportunity for our outworn Civilization to make a fresh start. Now comes the chance to establish great self-supporting Colonies in our own countrysides and co-operative concerns where real Goods may be manufactured and Agriculture carried on in free and glad and healthy industry.



The economics of the statement that "commercial prosperity means little more than the prosperity of a class"[24] may be roughly indicated by the following considerations: International trade means division of labour among the nations. There is certainly a gain in such division, a margin of advantage in production; and that gain, that margin, is secured by the trading class. That is all.

Let us take an example, and to simplify the problem let us leave out of account those exotic products—like tea or rubber or raw cotton—which can only be produced in one of the exchanging countries. Let us take the case of Germany and England, both producing cutlery and both producing cloth. There is no reason why each country should not produce both articles exclusively for its own use; and as a matter of fact for a long time they did so. But presently it was found that the cost of production of certain kinds of cutlery was less in Germany, and the cost of production of certain kinds of cloth less in England. Merchants and dealers came in and effected the exchange, and so an intertrade has sprung up. The effect of this on the workers in England is simply to transfer a certain amount of employment from the cutlery trade to the cloth trade, and on the workers in Germany to transfer an equal amount from the cloth trade to the cutlery trade. This may mean dislocation of industry; but the actual number of persons employed or of wages received in both countries may in such a case remain just the same as before. There is nothing in the mere fact of exchange to alter those figures. There is, however, a gain, there is a marginal advantage, in the exchange; and that is collared by the merchants and dealers. It is, in fact, in order to secure this margin that the merchant class arises. This is, of course, a very simple and elementary statement of the problem, and the exceptions to it or modifications of it may be supplied by the reader. But in the main it embodies the very obvious truth that trade is created for the advantage of the trader (who often also in modern times is the manufacturer himself). What advantages may here and there leak through to the public or to the employee are small and, so to speak, accidental. The mere fact of exchange in itself forms no index of general prosperity. Yet it is often assumed that it does. If, for instance, it should happen that the whole production of cutlery, as between Germany and England, were secured by Germany, and the whole production of cloth were secured by England, so that the whole of these products on each side had to be exchanged, then doubtless there would be great jubilation—talk of the immense growth of oversea trade in both countries, the wonderful increase of exports and imports, the great prosperity, and so forth; but really and obviously it would only mean the jubilation and the prosperity of the merchants, the brokers, the railway and shipping companies of both lands. There would be an increase in their riches (and an increase in the number of their employees). It would mean more merchant palaces in Park Lane, bigger dividends on the shares of transport companies; but after that the general position of the manual workers in both trades, the numbers employed, and their rates of wages would be much as before. Prices also, as regards the general Public, would be but little altered. It is only because this great trading, manufacturing, and commercial class has amassed such enormous wealth and influence, and is able to command the Press, and social position, and votes and representation on public bodies and in both Houses of Parliament, that it succeeds in impressing the nation generally with the idea that its welfare is the welfare of the whole people, and its prosperity the advantage of every citizen. And it is in this very fact that its great moral and social danger to the community lies.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse