The outbreak of the second Great War prompts the question: What are the prospects for Socialism when the war comes to an end? While the last war was dragging on, Socialists, as may be seen from the columns of the Socialist Standard at the time, took an optimistic view. Seeing the gigantic senseless slaughter and knowing that the capitalist promises of a brave new world would never be fulfilled, Socialists held that the workers of all countries in vastly increased numbers would soon be brought to see the impossibility of any reconstruction, except on the basis of Socialism. It was too optimistic a view, as events proved.
Though disillusioned with pre-war Liberalism and Toryism, Kaiserism and Czarism, the workers found new illusions to keep them from the path to Socialism. Labourism, Bolshevism and Fascism occupied the void left by the collapse of the old parties and institutions. Must we, then, argue from this that optimism now is equally mistaken? Must we take the view that all is as it was and no progress has been made? That would indeed be a shattering blow to the Socialist movement and the principles on which it is based. Without self-deception it can be answered that the working class have made very real advances in understanding since 1914, and a moderate optimism now has a firm foundation.
No Enthusiasm for War
What are the grounds for optimism? One that first compels notice is the small amount of enthusiasm for the glories of war. Except perhaps among the young, there is now none of the intoxicated eagerness for battle and conquest that was in evidence in the warring countries in 1914. For years we have witnessed the Governments – particularly of the Dictator States, and not excluding Russia – using all the devices at their disposal to inculcate in the minds of the population an unthinking readiness for war and sacrifice, and a worship of the martial glories. Children of 10 years, and even younger, were being drilled and regimented and trained in the use of arms and taught that war was the supreme vocation of man. Yet the outbreak of this war has shown that the populations of all countries, without exception, prefer peace to war. The people of Italy, who were supposed to have been turned by the Fascists into a solid block thirsting for war and conquest, heaved a great sigh of relief that they were to remain out of the war at least for a time. All newspaper correspondents, in all countries, have agreed that the great mass of the men and women of Europe do not share the bellicose sentiments of the Hitlers and Mussolinis, and their counterparts in the democracies. In short, the great mass propaganda has been a colossal failure, and that fact is of importance, even though, with the progress of the war, it may later on be submerged as the tide of passion is inflamed by the slaughter of loved ones.
All Socialists Now
The other great change compared with 1914 is that the workers are seeking something better and different from the things they sought then, and are noticeably less easily fobbed off with promises merely to carry on capitalism on the old lines Dr. Goebbels, in one of his closer approximations to the truth, has said of the Germans that they are now a “politically-minded nation.” It is an exaggeration, perhaps, but the workers in all countries are, in the mass, more interested in fundamental political and social questions than they were 25 years ago, less attached to capitalist theories and more ready to give ear to anything which can even appear to be Socialistic. All those whose real purpose is to maintain the fundamentals of capitalism have had to take note of this change of working-class outlook. If hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue, “National Socialism” and kindred new disguises under which capitalism masquerades, is the tribute capitalism pays to Socialism. The workers will no longer vote, work or fight contentedly for capitalism, naked and unashamed, so the capitalist apologist must needs clothe his aims in Socialist phraseology. Hence the vague references in the speeches of British politicians to the need for building a new world after the war, and the plausible Labour Party argument that democracy must be safeguarded by winning the war in order that Socialism may in due course be achieved. Hence the Communist and Russian propaganda in defence of the Russian-German Pact, which represents it as a “victory for Peace and Socialism.” Hence the Nazi propaganda broadcast .over the wireless to the French workers which “attempts to convert the French listener with talks about social reforms in Germany and the necessity of ‘true Socialism’.” (Times, October 21st, 1939.) Hence the move by Hitler’s Government to allow Nazi speakers in Germany to promise radical reforms on the Bolshevik model, and the “suppression” of capitalism (Evening Standard, October 20th, 1939).
Only the very simple will conclude from this that Europe’s rulers have suffered a change of heart and become converts to Socialism. They are adapting themselves to the workers’ growing disillusionment with capitalism and hope in Socialism. They did not seek this change, but they could not prevent it. They have delayed it and are now using all their ingenuity and that of the tools and dupes to delay it still and side-track it into ends harmful or useless to the workers. They will fail, and the war they have now engaged in will hasten the eventual complete enlightenment of the working class. Robbed of the progress we expected after the last Great War, the Socialist movement can count on reaping a full harvest when peace comes again, no matter what course the war may take.