From the April 1915 issue of the Socialist Standard
To-day we are being told that this is the last war — the war that is to end war. The world that emerges from this inferno, we are given to understand, will never be as in the past. We are wading through a sea of blood, but it is to a New Jerusalem, and a system where antagonisms between nations and classes will have disappeared and rivalry in armaments will have gone for ever. There is to be an enduring peace, in which the legitimate purpose of our lives—“production, and buying and selling"— will go on uninterruptedly—especially the buying and selling of the workers. So say all the capitalist hacks, political, religious, and philosophical.
The war that will end war is the capitalist excuse for war —for what even they are ashamed of. Because they are ashamed the rulers of each country endeavour to fix the blame upon their opponents. So long have they preached the blessings of peace and commended themselves for its lengthy duration (as if anybody but they desired to break it), that no words are strong enough to describe their provocation. “The rights of small nationalities"; “Scraps of paper," and outrages—without which no war has ever yet been prosecuted—are daily recited with melancholy repetition in the capitalist Press, that they may sink into the minds of the workers, become part of their thoughts and loom large in their conversation, and appear to them as reality—as substance, instead of shadow—as something that matters to them.
In order that the flow of recruits may continue, unstinted praise is lavished on those who have joined. They are all good fellows and the brainiest of fighters now, though but a few short months ago many of them were “just poor creatures without initiative or ability." But the ruling class wants them to-day because they are strong and can be trained to fight.
So, in the columns of the Press, they fall upon their necks, woo them with colour posters, and whisper to them of “our" common nationality. We are all brothers to-day, they plead; one nation, one class, one interest, and one purpose. What grandeur there is in the thought that all our differences have been swept away and we are absolutely united against our common foe! Never can there be a relapse. When, in the future, differences arise and class antagonisms—but there, that is unthinkable—are we not one!
How beautiful they all read —the fairy promises of those who need your help! The gaudy futurist pictures of those who are stricken with the deadly fear that they may lose some of their wealth, or that their power to exploit you may be curtailed or purloined by the capitalists of another nationality. They may well commend you for your patriotism, for it is their country you are fighting to preserve to them— their country, and they hold the bonds, the scrip and the gilt-edged securities.
Would you have your country, they plead, ravaged by the foreign invader as France and Belgium have been ravaged ? Will you submit to slavery, outrage, and murder at the hands of the Germans, or will you bring your “strong right arm" to bear against our common enemy and preserve unsullied, our glorious nationality from the deadly peril of German Militarism?
These are words on their lips; but business is in their minds, though they dare not speak the whole truth. If they did they would say: We are at war with the capitalists of Germany for markets, in order that we may increase our trade and profits. Our share in the earth is at stake; our land, mines, railways, and factories may be lost to us, or tribute may be levied upon them by the invader, as has been done in the case of the property of the Belgian capitalists. Keep the German out, or you will be his slaves instead of ours.
According to Sir Edward Grey and Mr. Harcourt, “forced labour for private profit amounts to slavery." This definition exactly describes the condition of the working class in every capitalist country, England included. For every worker being divorced from the means of life is forced to labour for the profit of some capitalist or capitalists.
So the workers in all capitalist lands were slaves before the war. How, then, can they be made slaves by the Germans? But their slavery can be intensified, it may be retorted. True, but not necessarily by reason of a change of masters. Conditions for the workers must intensify as a result of capitalist development, by the simple process of replacing men with machinery, and with women and children, thereby increasing the unemployed and furnishing the capitalists with the necessary power to reduce and to speed up their workers
The economic whip, the spur of the “sack," is far more effective as a slave-tickler than was over the lash of the ancient slave-driver. The capitalist has the experience of history behind him; he goes by results, and knows that the wage slave, driven by the fear of hunger, is more effectively under his control, more amenable to discipline, and has less independence and spirit, than chattel Slaves and serfs. Docility and efficiency are the attributes of the slave, and the wage-slave possesses these in a fuller measure than slaves nave over possessed them all down the steps of time.
When society has once passed out of the stage of chattel-slavery there can be no general return to it. Those trifling exceptions affecting comparatively small numbers in different parts of the world —such as peonage, indentured labour, and the forced labour of the Belgians who receive rations for work performed —these forms only go to show the similarity of conditions for those subjugated—a mere subsistence, under any form of slavery, including capitalism. It is impossible for the workers to be inflicted with something they already suffer. But can the war remove the infliction?
One writer of some standing says: “Whatever the result, the world that will emerge when the deluge of blood has subsided will be a world that will be new and strange." But those who understand the system, who analysed it before the war and have seen the anarchy and greed of the capitalists, even while they were calling upon the workers to make sacrifices for them and their country —those who understand the nature of capitalism, expect no fundamental changes.
There will be, no doubt, delirious and fanatical expressions of joy, with, perhaps, a universal holiday—as when a king is crowned —on the proclamation of peace. But capitalism, with all its horrors, will remain to us. Miners will go down to their death in mines known to be dangerous; workers in every town, sunk in poverty, will continue to breed consumption in reeking slums. The un-classconscious workers will still be goaded by the wretchedness of their conditions to strike, and they will suffer all the penalties of daring to dispute with their masters. The confusionist will still be engaged poisoning the minds of the workers with every kind of superstition that can possibly keep them in ignorance and subjection. The outlook of the worker cannot change as the result of war; while the philosophy of the capitalist—which begins and ends with profits —will remain the same in all the countries concerned. The workers of no country need fear to have slavery imposed upon them, for there is no form of slavery, tried or untried, that can mean deeper poverty, toil, and degradation for them.
The “better time that is coming "can only be the result of the workers’ own efforts, after they have fought the class war to a finish. For this is the only war that concerns the working class — that can open up a new world for them. We, who understand this, continue the struggle even in the midst of national strife, because the quarrels of the capitalist rulers of the different countries—no matter how many millions of workers are involved—are as dust in the balance compared with the quarrel we have with the ruling class. We therefore call upon the workers of all lands to make an effort to understand Socialism. that they may be fully equipped for the last war—and their emancipation.