Saturday, February 6, 2016

THE NEW YEAR OUTLOOK. (1915)

Editorial from the January 1915 issue of the Socialist Standard

We write on the eve of a New Year. It is no fault of ours that the strings we touch respond with doleful note. Only hypocrisy can furnish at such a time as this the light words which are considered seasonable and appropriate to the completion of another round of the calendar. Even the thoughtless mob, into whose pates it is so difficult to get an idea, take on the gloomy mental tone which the wholesale butchery now in progress everywhere impresses, and find escape in judicious circumspection from the obviously ridiculous. Thus by general consent the customary "Merry Christmas" of our greeting has been reduced to a "Happy," and we are wishing and being wished the ominously qualified "Brighter New Year."

Alas! the "vanity of human wishes"! Any discerning mind can see that, black and lowering as is the visage of the year departing, that of its successor is infinitely more threatening still. All the fighting and bloodshed of the past four months, terrible as it has been, has not in effect been a part of the main struggle, but only the fight for the field whereon the main conflict is to be decided. The real butchery us yet to come. Not for such preliminaries as have so far been worked out have the resources of nations been strained for half a century; not for such military child's-play as has comprised the war up to now has invention been added to invention in the making of the instruments of mechanical slaughter. For the full exploitation of these the ground had to be prepared by long and strenuous toil. The late fighting has been no more than a cover for this preparation It is left for the New Year to provide that appalling welter of blood in which the awful efficiency and progress of modern armaments are about to prove themselves.

On the eve of such a catastrophy every sound must he a note of mourning, and the very atmosphere must lie heavy and stifling with the presence of Doom. Tho air in charged with ruin for victor and vanquished alike and millions of working-class homes this unhappy Now Year will pay in blood and tears for capitalist greed and working-class ignorance.

To tho Socialist, however, every capitalist operation, however foul and bloody it may he, has some element of working-class good in it. The present tragedy is no exception to the rule. The workers will learn from the conflict many things which tho “fog of war,” together with tho fog of our pastors' and masters' lying and deceit, cannot obscure. Thoy will learn, for instance, just tho value of working class lives in tho estimation of those who have grabbed the world. They will learn— those who come through it alive, whose interests they hate really been fighting for. They will learn many other useful lessons also, which will readily suggest themselves to the mind of the initiated.

In a matter more directly connected with our propaganda, too, the war will certainly have the beneficial effect of clearing the atmosphere. It has for long been the habit of the Labourites and others in this country, and those occupying a similar position abroad, to boast that they held in their hands the instrument which would make it impossible for the ruling class of Europe to carry on a great war. This instrument was the General Strike. We all know how persistently it was stated that the organised workers of the various countries would, immediately on the outbreak of war, paralyze the war mongers by “downing tools"! Yet where is there to be found a single instance, in the whole vast war- stricken expanse, of this "heroic” policy coming to fruition ?

The "fog of war,” we are aware, hides many things from our view. Wo know, for instance, that we have not been told the truth with regard to the attitude of tho German Social-Democratic Party in relation to the war. Hence we are chary of criticism in cases where we may possibly not be in possession of all the facts. This, however, is obvious: If any attempt was made in Germany to put the policy of tho General Strike into operation, that attempt, in its utter failure to even so much as become an item of news, is as destructive to the theory as would be the failure to make the effort. But with regard to tho advocates of the General Strike as an anti war measure in this country we are not in tho dark. Mr. Keir Hardie, for example, one of the more prominent of those at home who have toyed with the idea, has written to tho Press denying that he has told the workers not to enlist, adding : “I know too well what is at stake.” It is not out of this frame of mind that anti-war strikes are developed.

In this direction, as in many others, events have proved the truth of what we have consistently contended, namely, that the political conquest is the essential preliminary to any action involving the defeat of the present controllers of tho political machinery. No wild words or frenzied ravings about "taking and holding” on the one hand, or “general striking” on the other, can replace political control. At the very outset this is shown in the adoption of martial law. more or less stringent according to the necessity of the case, by every country involved in the war. By this simple means the ruling class, through their servants the “heads of State” can deprive the people of every constitutional right if they so desire—can compel them, even, to go into the field of battle and there offer their bodies to the bayonets of tho "enemy.”

What sheer rubbish, then, the war has proved all this talk of anti-war strike to be. To its advocates the opportunity came, and it found thorn powerless to avert war. The reason of the failure is easily seen. No matter whether the proletariat proceed against the master class by way of General Strikes or political conquest this one condition is essential to the carrying out of the operations—knowledge of working class interests, or, as we say, class consciousness. Only this can save the workers from being swayed by national sentiment when war is let loose. For this reason it is impossible, quite apart from the question of whether the step could be successful, to initiate a General Strike against war.

The only thing that can undermine the power of the ruling class is working-class political knowledge; the only way in which the political control can be wrested from the ruling class is by political action based sternly upon sound working-class political knowledge. The spectacle of the impotence of the so-called Socialist parties of Germany, Austria, and France, has proved this, whatever splits and quarrels may be revealed with the passage of time, and it is for us to drive home this further lesson of the war.

Meanwhile, the capitalist Press is travestying the position of the Socialists. Aided by treacherous reactionaries of the M Beer type, our masters’ newspapers play tho game of pretending that the Macdonalds in this country, and the Vanderveldes and Bernsteins on the Continent, are the Socialists. We hope next month to issue a strong repudiation of the actions of these men.

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