R. Palme Dutt
Source: The Communist, November 18,1920.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: David Tate
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
It is now two years since open warfare in Western Europe ceased. For two years the rulers of the Entente have been free to mould the world to their will. We may now survey, their handiwork.
What was the position when they began? Ten million men had been killed. Areas lay devastated. Industry and production had been diverted for four years to the work of destruction. Shortage and underfeeding and disease were sapping the populations of whole countries.
In so desperate a situation it would have seemed plain common sense to set production going as fast as possible to supply the world’s needs.
But to talk of common sense is to forget capitalism. The object of capitalism is not to supply the goods that are needed but to make a profit. If a bigger profit can be made by smashing rivals and creating shortage, then that profit will be made, and capitalism is blind to the consequence.
The moment of power was with the rulers of the Entente. The rulers of the Entente used their moment of power to smash their rivals and create word shortage.
Through all the implications of the Treaties, that is the continuous guiding thread. The first object was to smash Germany as an industrial nation. The four pillars of a modern industrial nation are coal, iron, shipping and, railways. The Treaty exacted from Germany one-third of her coal, three-fourths of her iron, nine-tenths of her shipping and five thousand locomotives. The four pillars of German Industrial organisation were shattered to the ground, and to prevent any restoration a fantastic tribute was imposed.
But the work went further than that. The second task was to shatter the Central European economic system. The whole system was broken to fragments into a crazy pattern of petty quarrelling states. To achieve this the gaolers of Ireland espoused the cause of every nationality they could exploit, and where that failed them the boundaries were ruthlessly carved out even in defiance of nationality. The Central European economic system was hamstrung. That was the second achievement of Versailles.
The third and crowning work was to extend the war-weapon of the blockade with the period of “peace and reconstruction.” That most scientific weapon of cruelty to the weak, a weapon compared with which the strike is child’s play, was employed for five months in full force and for fourteen months in all against Germany after the armistice, for ten months against Hungary until the Soviet Republic was overthrown, and all the time up to the present day against the vast territories of Russia. Against all possibility of recovery of trade and industry, the blockade fell like a bludgeon.
In this way Central Europe was paralysed and Eastern Europe cut off. And then the rulers of the Entente went home to urge upon their peoples the claims of more production. And prices rose and rose.
This is the system which Capital offers to the world to-day. It is a system built upon the speculation profits of tribute or of shortage. It is a system based on the subjection or boycott of two-thirds of Europe, in addition to the subjection of the continents of Africa and Asia. Such a system can only be maintained by force. And so the end of the war to end war finds larger armaments, heavier burdens, garrisons and armies of occupation all over the earth, revolts and suppressions, wars innumerable of every size and stale, and ever and again the massacres of militarist terrorism at Amritsar or Balbriggan or in Somaliland. Meanwhile vast profits for the moment are made out of the shortage by clever speculators or manipulators of the exchange. British coal is sold to Allied France and Italy at merciless prices. German and Austrian industries are bought for a song. Austrian skilled workers are employed at a rate issued lent to 2d. hour. Prospectuses are issued of alluring invitation to the new fields of plunder. In the wake of the lion and the tiger follow the jackals. The Chilian Government instructs its Minister to Berlin to hire some cheap German labour for the Chilian mines. And meanwhile prices rise and rise.
The situation becomes serious. The capitalist Governments meet in alarm, and the Brussels Financial Conference reviews the situation. What does the Brussels Conference find? It finds that the external debt of the European States has risen ninefold, that of the vast expenditure of the modern leading States, one-fifth to one-third goes to the service of debt that of that same expenditure a further fifth goes on armaments, that deficits are revealed in the Budgets of every State reviewed but two (and in these two the deficit is only concealed), that every country in Europe is suffering from an adverse balance of trade, and that the cost of living has risen from three-fold to sixfold even in the more prosperous States, and is now, in time of peace, rising even more sharply than it did in time of war.
What has the Brussels Conference to offer to cope with this impending catastrophe? Platitudes on economy and more production! By the very terms of its reference it could do no more. By the terms of its reference it was not allowed to review the Treaties. Capitalism finds itself caged and confined by its own laws and its own work, and looks vainly for an exit. There is no exit save to break the bars of the cage. The Brussels Conference was the supreme attempt of capitalism to find a remedy for its dilemmas within the capitalist system: its failure marks the passing of an age.
The Brussels Conference recommended the cutting down of war and military expenditure. How can they do it? The whole system of unnatural subjection is based on force and war, covert or open; remove the force and the whole system falls to the ground.
The Brussels Conference recommended the removal of subsidies and all expenditure on social reform. How can they do it? The sops of social reform are their one temporary insurance against revolution. Shall the Italian Government remove the bread subsidy and face a starving people? Shall the British Government remove the unemployment dole and look to see the incidents of Downing Street a hundred times enlarged?
The Brussels Conference recommended heavier taxation to bring down the growing debts and make income meet expenditure. How can they do it? The new capitalists, with their sudden fortunes and reckless living in the present, will not hear of heavier taxation. They rise in a phalanx of indignation even against the excess profits-tax, and call for its withdrawal.
They cannot do it. There is no escape for capitalism save the escape of death. Do what they may, they cannot get out of the continual circle of ever-rising prices, piling debts, unemployment, war and threats, of war, and all the time the rising tide of the anger of the people at home and in the subject countries abroad. It is their knowledge of this which inspires their panic fear of Bolshevism, even when the actual movement is as weak as a child; until by the very noise of their panic they help to create what they are seeking to destroy. It is their knowledge of this which is making them fight with all the ferocity and violence of a trapped animal. They are in panic because they know their failure; they are violent because they know they are not strong. And it is this same knowledge, which gives the confidence of absolute assurance to the Communist struggle. The proof of Communism does not lie in a theory; it lies in the facts of the world around us.