E. Belfort Bax

Peace or War?

(May 1885)

Peace or War, Commonweal, May 1885, p.30.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

A little while ago it seemed as though the Russian Government, having obtained from the British Cabinet all it wanted for the present, was magnanimously about to consent to the preservation of peace. Now, however, for the moment at all events, all this is changed. Both Governments are again on the war-path. More diplomacy, conciliatory dispatches, followed by “settlement” or rupture of negotiations, Russian seizure of Heart, followed by English declaration of war. Which is to be the line taken within the next few days? We do not venture to prognosticate, although were we of a sportive disposition we should be inclined to “back” the former contingency. The Cossack is not the Egyptian; if he were he would assuredly have been operated upon militarily long ere this. Russian spreadealgeism, moreover wants to complete its railway to India; and who shall say that Russian diplomatic skill will not prove effective in “hocussing” to the end, that the delay required for this may be obtained, under cover of an “arrangement”. But, as we said before, we do not prognosticate one way or the other – like Sextus Empiricus, “we suspend”.

For the rest, we have little to add to what we said last month on the question of possible hostilities between the two empires – the upshot is we imagine, as uncertain as could well be. England, it is true is isolated, but her general resources are great. Yet after all that may be said about bankruptcy, the fact remains that the military strength of Russia is also great; and be it remembered, for wars and for railways there is always money forthcoming from somewhere. Both possess irresistible attractions to the high-financing mind. On the other hand, though, the valour of the British soldier in confronting a European foe may be an unknown quantity, the rapacity of the Russian contractor, and his abettor, the Russian superior military officer, is a fairly calculable one. Brown paper soles and mouldy bread decimate an army in the long run no less effectually than hard fighting. A severe Russian defeat would probably mean revolution in Russia. Indeed, there can be little doubt that; it would. So presuming, Socialists must drink damnation to the Muscovite arms. Again, as we pointed out last month, the rout of the English forces and the invasion of India would mean the speedy setting of the sun of that Empire which was wont ne’er to set, a result which could hardly fail to gladden the heart of the true Socialist, for whom Empire is a curse. As to the alternative complications which might arise, it is impossible to foresee, or even conjecture how they are likely to affect the cause. In fine, the attitude of Socialists in the present situation must necessarily be confined to one of “expectant attention”.



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