Book Review from the May 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard
War: Its Nature and Cure by G. Lowes Dickinson (Allen & Unwin, 4s. 6d.)
“War: its nature, cause and cure,” is the title of a book by Mr. G. Lowes Dickinson (Allen & Unwin, 4s. 6d.), which opens in a promising manner, but concludes in a manner decidedly disappointing, by reason of its utter lack of logic. A few remarks upon it, however, may serve to illustrate the. Socialist view of a problem of vital importance to practically every member of the working class.
Mr. Dickinson brings out, in his terse, vivid style, the sheer senseless horror of modem warfare. He shows clearly and emphatically that its mechanical character leaves no room for the chivalrous sentiment which was supposed to find a place in the conflicts of the mediaeval and ancient worlds. Indiscriminate slaughter and destruction, aided by all the resources rendered available by science, limited only by the limits of the productive forces controlled by the warring units, respecting neither age nor sex, recognising no distinction between “combatants” and “civilians,” logically tending towards the complete exhaustion and annihilation of the human race itself—such is the picture the author draws for us. And who, remembering the four years from 1914- 1918, and faced with the facts that the powers that be are arming to an ever-increasing extent and show no signs of settling their differences by any other methods, can say that this picture is overdrawn? Airships, submarines, poison-gases and liquid fire have made war a reality to the stay-at-home individual as it has never yet been in history. There is no escaping the issue; we must either end it, or it will end us. That is Mr. Dickinson’s contention, and so far the Socialist has no quarrel with him.
Equally well can the Socialist agree with him over the cause of war, which he defines as “the greed of individual states for power, territory and markets” on the one hand, and the susceptibility of the working class to bellicose excitement on the other.
At the psychological moment the ruling class play upon the blind passions of their slaves in order to secure the necessary support in the pursuit of their political ambitions, arising out of their economic interests. Yet, left to themselves, the workers have no more desire for war than they have actual interests at stake therein. It is simply their ignorance concerning their interests which renders them pliable tools in the hands of their exploiters.
Mr. Dickinson deals with the recent conflict in the light of these facts. He shows how each power manoeuvred to try and make its enemies appear in the light of aggressors, in order to influence its own subjects with the false idea that they were fighting a purely defensive battle. He outlines the history of the Entente, and shows how it arose from the failure of the British Government to carry their negotiations with Germany to a successful conclusion. The German was proved to be the most dangerous manufacturing and commercial rival of Britain; hence the latter’s policy of isolating him.
A secondary cause of the actual conflict Mr. Dickinson considers to be the existence of armaments. No armaments, no war, of course; but as the will to construct and use them precedes their existence, we are compelled to fall back upon the interests and ambitions of the class which controls the machinery of government as the prime and sole sufficing cause of war under present conditions.
To the logical mind it must appear that the cure for war lies in the removal of the cause, and this is where the Socialist parts company with Mr. Dickinson. His cure is not the removal of the cause, but rather that the cause itself shall somehow act contrary to its own nature. He proposes disarmament, and the League of Nations as the solution to the problem. The capitalist class are expected to surrender the only weapon they possess to protect their interests simply out of respect for the general welfare of humanity.
This shows clearly that the author does not fully appreciate the nature of the system of which war, as he deals with it, is the inevitable outcome. The capitalist state, no less than the capitalist individual, is compelled to avoid extinction by ceaseless expansion at the expense of its competitors. Markets are not things which can be utilised or dispensed with at will. They are the essential necessity to capitalist production. “Sell, or go out of business ”— that is the law! And when all the various sections of the international capitalist class have more goods to sell than they can find purchasers for, what then, Mr. Dickinson? Will the League decide which section is to go bankrupt? If so, how will it keep order in the dominions of the bankrupt power without armaments when the starving out-of-works are clamouring for maintenance?
No! Peace under Capitalism is a chimera! Even could the rival groups of financiers come to terms, it would only be in order to crush more firmly their rebellious slaves. It would be but an indication that war had changed its form and that the class struggle had at last overshadowed, in urgent and immediate importance, the sectional struggles of the masters. Armaments then would be more in demand than ever, for the masters never have dealt, and never will deal, with the workers in kid gloves. Force is the mainstay of their rule; without it they vanish.
Does Mr. Dickinson wish them to vanish? Nowhere does he face this plain issue. He disregards the fact the capitalist class control, through their political power, the economic vitals of society, and that nothing short of their removal from this dominant position will destroy the influence of their ambitions upon political affairs. Nothing less than the social revolution can make peace possible, for nothing less can abolish the competitive character of the existing mode of production which is at the root of all wars.
Mr. Dickinson gives no evidence that he understands what the social revolution means. He regards it as a danger, for which “foreign war” is the readiest cause. He has in mind events in Russia, and suggests that similar events in Western Europe can only have similar results. Thus, he evades the issue which is not: “Shall the workers of the West imitate those of Russia?”; but rather: “Shall they organise as a political force to convert the socially necessary instruments of labour into common property? ”
“Constituencies,” says the author, “determine policy . . . it is, therefore, to the electors that I have addressed these pages.” But the electors are left in the dark as to what policy they are to pursue even to gain the limited aims of their adviser. The political party which is to achieve the latter remains unmentioned. One can only infer that the author pins his faith to the Labour Party, since that Party is the loudest in its support of these aims. And what is the history of the Labour Party?
When the great call, “To Arms,” in defence of British capitalist interests arose, the “party of peace” echoed the call, and later shared the plums of office in Coalition with the other parties of the bosses! Do not forget that fact, fellow-workers! If you want a peace which is of any use to you, study Socialism; all else is illusion!