The growing anxiety of the whole civilised world to prevent the recurrence of such a cataclysm as recently threatened mankind with the destruction, or mutilation, of a considerable portion of the males of the white race found its immediate embodiment in the proposals of President Wilson for the formation of a League of Nations, to ensure and maintain peace. The idea was not wholly a new one. The Amphictyonic Council, so artfully manipulated by Philip of Macedon, was the first known combination of peoples for the purpose of avoiding war; and in modern times the scheme of a League of Nations was seriously proposed to Elizabeth of England by Henry IV of France.
Henry IV of Navarre was a man of such powerful character and ability that, had he ascended the throne of France at an earlier age, he might well have played with success the part which Louis XIV attempted later. Only Elizabeth of England, with Lord Burleigh at her side, was at all on the same level with himself. It is noteworthy that Henry sketched out, and to some extent filled in and submitted his gigantic plan of pacification, before he had arrived at the position which would enable him to take even the preliminary steps towards its execution. So thorough-going was the general programme laid down, and so far-reaching its inevitable effects, whether successful or unsuccessful, when attempted on the large scale contemplated, that Sully, as he himself tells us, wholly failed to comprehend what his master was aiming at. However, he gradually became convinced of the value of the project, and was thenceforth more enthusiastic in favour of it than Henry himself.
When the idea of ensuring the future peace of Europe was thus discussed and put in shape, Austria seemed as great a source of danger to her neighbours as Germany is to-day. Destruction of Austrian greatness and threatened dominance was the starting point of the entire programme. The whole campaign, military, political and territorial, was carefully thought out beforehand. Nothing less was contemplated than such an attack, or menace of attack, by an irresistible force, as would permanently cripple the House of Hapsburg. All the princes of Europe were to be enriched with what was taken from Austria, and, this being equally distributed, the League of Peace would be established on the basis of general equality.
France and England were to gain nothing in the general re-distribution except “spheres of influence,” to use a modern phrase. To Elizabeth, on this question of possible extension on the Continent in return for her support, is attributed the sensible remark that the British islands, under all their different monarchies and variation of their laws, had never undergone any serious misfortunes, except when they went outside their own little continent. So long as they looked after their own subjects only, they fared well enough.
Altogether, here was a programme for transforming the map of Europe which has never been equalled, until Prussianised Germany set to work in earnest to carry out her still greater design in 1914. Throughout, Henry IV and his coadjutors assumed that the House of Austria would be so intimidated by the formidable league against it, that the Emperor, accepting the substance for the shadow, would exchange a definite supremacy for an illusory pre-eminence, in order not to interfere with the establishment of the great League of Peace. But the main promoters of the rearrangement probably expected the Emperor would fight to the death; and Henry IV’s great scheme of permanent peace would have begun with a tremendous European war.
Further, the attack was not to be directed against Austria alone. Turkey was also to be disposed of, and posterity relieved of any concern about the Eastern Question at the same time. The Turks, in fact, were to be deprived of all their possessions in Europe and carefully restricted to Asia.
Thus, the establishment of a permanent League of Peace, which must almost certainly begin with a great wrar against Austria, was to be followed by another great war against Turkey. And, as if this were not enough, European Christianity was to be consolidated on an unshakeable basis, whose main idea was that the antagonism between Catholicism and Protestantism should be regarded as a drawn battle. The existing position was stable and not to be meddled with. Established principles were to be recognised as permanent and no further variations must be permitted: “For there is nothing more pernicious than freedom of belief.” A cynical onlooker might draw a parallel between this portion of Henry IV’s great plan and that clause of the modern League of Nations which makes all the present territorial bounds of the Great Powers, in a like manner, stable and not to be meddled with. No further national and racial variations are to be permitted.
Doubts and difficulties as to what might occur on the field of battle, and in the domain of religious opinion, easily suggested themselves to such cool, detached minds as those of Elizabeth and her great minister, Burleigh. The Queen’s own statements to Sully, though showing that she fully appreciated the great project, if it could be carried through, make it clear also that she was quite alive to the obstacles in the way of success.
In any event, Elizabeth, as she hinted to Sully, would do her best to keep out of a Continental war. But she did not point out to him that, at the end of any struggle, England would hold the balance between the two conflicting parties, and be able to throw her weight on the side most congenial to her interests.
As no portion of this vast programme was ever put into operation, owing to the assassination of its originator, it is scarcely worth while to consider what would have happened, had this great Council once been formed. That it could as easily have proved a centre for cabal and intrigue, as for peace and good-will, is apparent at once. The history of the Amphictyonic Council itself is not encouraging as a precursor of Henry’s great enterprise. A Philip of Macedon, or an Alexander of seventeenth-century Europe, could scarcely have desired a more favourable field on which to exert his influence to the advantage of his own country. And it is undeniable that such an ambitious warrior king or statesman would more probably arise in the France of that day than in any other nation. None the less, the conception of a peaceful Europe, submitting all its differences to adjudication by a League of Peace, established to hold the balance even between all parties, was a magnificent idea.
Since this project of Henry and Elizabeth was put before Europe, no leading European monarch or statesman has ventured to promulgate similar notions. Philosophers and economists, however, seeing no prospect of reducing their theories to practice, have been bolder. William Penn and his fellow-Quaker, John Bellers, at the end of the seventeenth century took up the tale, and have been followed by St Simon, Owen, Kant and Mazzini, as well as by St Simon’s pupil, Comte. They all advocated a United States of Europe, as a provision against war and an aid to general progress.
It has been the work of Germany to revive the projects of the sixteenth and beginning of the seventeenth century in a more or less practical shape, by forcing all nations to consider some means of averting for the next generation, and future generations, such a cataclysm as that which she brought upon mankind in the twentieth century. During the stress of war, all the European Powers felt that some kind of a League to Enforce Peace was necessary to their very existence; and President Wilson in his important address of 22nd January carried forward, in the manner best calculated to attract the attention of the world, the propaganda of such a League.
The proposed League of Nations, of which Mr Wilson’s predecessor, Mr Taft, was president, held its preliminary Conference in June, 1915, at Philadelphia, and its first Congress in Washington on 26th May 1916. At the dinner which closed this Congress, President Wilson delivered the final speech that was practically an official rehearsal of the address of 22nd January to Congress. He opened on this occasion in the following terms:– “It is right that I, as spokesman of our Government, should attempt to give expression to what I believe to be the thought and purpose of the people of the United States in this vital matter.” And he went on to formulate on behalf of the nation, as its chief citizen, what its thought and purpose was: “We believe these fundamental things: First, that every people has a right to choose the sovereignty under which they shall live ... Second, that the small States of the world have the right to enjoy the same respect for their sovereignty, and for their territorial integrity, that great and powerful nations expect and insist upon. And, third, that the world has a right to be free from every disturbance of its peace that has its origin in aggression, and disregard of the rights of peoples and nations.”
He concluded by saying: “In every discussion of the peace that must end this war it is taken for granted that peace must be followed by a definite concert of the Powers, which will make it virtually impossible that any such catastrophe should ever overwhelm us again.” How sadly events have belied these hopeful words! Now, two years after the end of war, a very large section of the peoples in all the belligerent countries, if not the majority of them, have returned to their old belief that mankind has not yet arrived at the point where universal peace can be secured. Hating war, they still can see no means whereby it is to be definitely averted.
Unfortunately the “Convention,” as it was called, which gave precedence to the League of Nations before the conclusion and ratification of the Treaty of Peace, has done much to wreck the whole plan. If peace had been promptly and equitably secured after the Armistice, the League of Nations, following thereupon, could have been modified to accord with the views of the various nations brought together in friendly combination. But now the refusal of the United States to be in anyway responsible for the arrangement, as it stands, has rendered the League almost useless. For America is not only the most important agricultural and industrial, as well as the wealthiest nation in the world, but she is also the most formidable single Power of all.  Her absence from the League, and the apparently growing disinclination of her people to accept any permanent responsibility which might drag them into further worldwide complications, outside their own definite interests, puts the whole scheme on a very different footing from that contemplated by President Wilson, when he pressed his personal convictions upon the Peace Congress of Paris. The mere fact that at present the League, or so much of it as subsists, is wholly powerless to impose its decisions by force upon any recalcitrant member, and its incapacity for the same reason to accept any “mandate” for the reorganisation and rule of a chaotic region, such as Armenia, proves that, excellent as the ideas which animate its advocates may be, they themselves are quite unable to carry them out.
Obviously, also, there are serious objections to the entire form of the League so far designed. Not only are the workers of the various countries which constitute the League completely excluded from direct authority over its proceedings, by elected delegates, or otherwise, but the domination of each nation over the territories it holds outside its own nationality is assumed to be permanent, upon the lines decreed by the Treaty of Peace. Thus India and Ireland, to say nothing of Mesopotamia, Persia and other regions, are to remain under English rule, regardless of the principle of self-determination. Tonking, Cochin-China, Madagascar, Tunis, etc., are guaranteed to France, Korea and Shantung to Japan, the Philippines to the United States, the Dutch East Indies – Java, Sumatra, etc. – to Holland, Tripoli to Italy, and so on. Therefore the League of Nations begins by recognising the supremacy of the white man over hundreds of millions of peoples of a different colour; and goes on to accord similar rights to Japan over the people to whom she owed her civilisation in the past. This, then, is an Imperialist and Capitalist, not, assuredly, a Peoples’ League. And the General Secretary appointed to carry on the work of the League of Nations is Mr Arthur Balfour’s ex-secretary, the Hon. Sir Eric Drummond, who brings with him to his new office all the traditions of the English Foreign Office, in matters of diplomatic intrigue and secret agreements.
Anxious, therefore, as all who have experienced the horrors of the recent war must be, to accept and work for any organisation, national or international, which can prevent a still worse upheaval in the future, something very different from the present combination is needed to ensure peace in our time. Peace, in fact, can only be made certain by the determination of the peoples themselves to resist, by pressure at home, all attempts of the governing class in any country to enter upon hostilities. This cannot generally be brought about until the workers themselves are organised, nationally and internationally, to act upon agreed lines in their own interests.
Certainly the League of Nations has endeavoured to set on foot an International Council, which shall ensure shorter hours of labour, improved rates of remuneration and better social conditions generally for the workers of all countries. That such a Council should have been already established, andjbe^able [?] to secure general official assent from many nations to the proposal of reforms recently advocated by Socialists alone – such as a maximum normal working day of eight hours – proves conclusively that the idea of national and international action to restrict the exploitation of the workers of all nations has made great way, even among the Ministerial rulers, who primarily represent the interests of the landowning and capitalist classes. This, in itself, is a great peaceful advance which will be generally beneficial if maintained.
It is possible that if the present scheme were reconstructed on a much wider foundation, and directly elected delegates of the workers of all countries had full representation – leading inevitably to control, in the near future – on the Council of the League, some efficient machinery, divorced from Imperialism and Capitalism, and relieved of the old harmful diplomacy, might be evolved. But until the workers themselves, who furnish the armies with troops and provide their supplies, have such effective power, until the League and its Council have also, by general consent, an armed force at their disposal, able, in the last resort, to give effect to their decisions, little success will be achieved. It is inconceivable that those who constitute the fighting, as they do the producing, forces of every nation can be permanently excluded from any efficient League of Nations, though their presence in sufficient numbers to give them authority would undoubtedly be opposed by the dominant class of our day, from fear of the decisive social issues which would then at once be raised.
Meanwhile the champions of orderly, organised, political social revolution are gaining ground in every European country to an extent undreamed of only a few years ago. A great, successful revolution need not necessarily be a forcible and bloody revolution. Thus in Sweden the well-known international revolutionary Social Democrat, Branting, has quite peaceably become Prime Minister. In Czecho-Slovakia President Masaryk is favourable to Social Democracy, the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs are Social Democrats; and the great agrarian revolution which expropriated the large landowners was carried through without the shedding of a drop of blood. In Belgium, the Social Democrats in the Coalition Cabinet are the most powerful ministers of the whole administration. In Italy no Ministry is permanent which does not to a large extent reconcile its views with the opinions of the one hundred and fifty-six Socialist deputies in the Chamber. In France the unfortunate Pacifism and the Bolshevism of many of the Socialist leaders, together with the improper apportionment of votes in the constituencies by the Government at the last General Election, have prevented the Socialist Party from obtaining its rightful representation in the Assembly, while its internal dissensions have weakened its influence. Yet their own growth in numerical strength, and the conclusive evidence that their political influence is the sole alternative to a constant outbreak of strikes, is convincing those who are hostile to Socialism in theory that its influence must be recognised in the practical affairs of the nation.
In Germany the struggle eventually will be between Social Democrats and reactionists. Intermediate factions are being crushed out. The Kapp coup was brought to naught by the Independent Social Democrats, and they are the principal opponents of the masked manreuvres of the Ludendorff group.
Unless, therefore, the League of Nations takes full account of the great and growing aspirations of the mass of mankind, abandons altogether its Imperialist and Capitalist policies and relations, reassures doubters of its good faith in regard to any risings of the people which may threaten the existing system of economic exploitation of the working class in the different affiliated countries, it is extremely improbable that it will attain any considerable amount of success. While the philanthropists of capitalism have been philanthropising, their fellow-capitalists have been appropriating. England in particular, in concurrence with her special ally, Japan, has pursued a policy of annexation which inevitably sows the seeds of future wars. The same with France, the same with Italy. And the newly emancipated States, as witness Poland, are not disinclined to follow in their wake. Meanwhile, to say nothing of Ireland and Egypt, nearly half the population of the planet in India and China are effectively shut out from championing their own freedom in the one case and the historic territorial integrity of their country in the other. Yet these are the very rights of emancipation from foreign control and protection from foreign aggression which, according to some of its principal working-class supporters, the League of Nations has been established to secure.
Economic causes produce social revolutions. But national antagonisms and racial oppression, as well as economic rivalry, have often brought about wars. So far, it would appear that there is nothing better calculated to usher in an era of peace in the constitution of the League of Nations than there was in the “great plan” of Henry IV of Navarre, or in the futile Conventions of The Hague. All history shows that there is no more dangerous element in human nature than misguided emotion or unreasoning zeal. Both will be at the mercy of greedy capitalism and designing militarism, already preparing, from at least two quarters, to take advantage of the opportunities for intrigue offered them in the League of Nations.
1. The following extract from a recent official document gives a fair idea of what the abstention of the United States from the League of Nations means, from the economic point of view, bearing in mind that these figures of production tend to increase rather than to diminish: “It has been estimated that, although the US represents but 6 per cent, of the world’s population, it produces 70 per cent, of the world’s copper, 66 per cent, of the mineral oil, 75 per cent, of the corn, 60 per cent, of the cotton, 52 per cent, of the coal, 40 per cent, of the iron and steel, and 25 per cent, of the wheat of the whole world.” The increase of the wealth of the Republic during the war has been quite phenomenal, and Europe is heavily in her debt.
Last updated on 7.7.2006