E. Belfort Bax, The Present Situation, Justice, 28th November 1918, p.2.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Proofread by Chris Clayton (May 2007).
It was a favourite thing in the autumn of 1914 to sketch out fancy schemes for the re-construction of Europe after the defeat of the Central Powers, an event which was then thought to be much nearer than it afterwards proved. This, as was suggested at the time, reminded one of the proverbial division of the bear’s skin before the bear himself was taken. Now, however, the aspect of affairs is very different, and the question of the political reconstruction of Europe has acquired an actuality and an urgency which before the last few weeks it lacked. The complete collapse of the Germanic Powers, the proclamation of the Republic in Austria-Hungary – not to speak of the Russian Revolution of a year and a half ago – have raised the question at this moment to one of primary importance.
Early in the war I pointed out in Justice that the annexation of the other States of the north and south confederations by Prussia and the Prussian king, which was what the German unity of Bismarck amounted to, meant really the domination of those States by a Power which was racially half Slav. Bismarck, the creator of this so-called united Germany, was, as he himself confessed, before all things a Prussian, and, as he further admitted, he cared little for the rest of Germany, his main aim being the aggrandisement of the monarchy on the Spree. With this object in view, Bismarck was careful to exclude from his new political construction perhaps the most important of the Germanic countries – to wit, German Austria, which by its historical prestige and importance otherwise would, he feared, effectively overshadow the Prussian monarchy. This did not, however prevent his satellites from trumpeting forth this Prussian imposture as the realisation of that political unity of the Germanic peoples which patriots had dreamed of for generations. The naïve and silly true Germans, Thuringians, Saxons, Swabians, and even Bavarians, fell into the trap, drunk as they were with their victories of ’70 under the leadership of the Prussian military chiefs, and joyfully acquiesced in the policy of their local kings, princes and grand-dukes in placing them under the jackboot of the Prussian king and his Junkers. The power thereby acquired by the latter over their moral and material destinies we have seen in its results in present-day Germany and in the changed and demoralised character of the German people.
Now if this war has shown anything it has shown the still existing strength of the sentiment of national or racial solidarity and its tradition. It has also proved the fallacy of the theory that economic conditions alone dominate all historical changes. The years of the war have given evidence that, just as religious beliefs have done before so racial sentiment, national aspirations, etc, may even now-a-days for the time being eclipse economic interests as factors in the making of history. That this sentiment, like others before it, is destined unquestionably to die out and give place to the ideal of Internationalism, or even cosmopolitantism if you will, I have no doubt whatever, but meanwhile it is a force to he reckoned with.
The first step towards undermining it as a noxious influence may well be the Society of Nations so much talked of at present. But to attempt to establish the Society of Nations without the eighty millions of the Germanic nations of Central Europe, if not precisely like the celebrated performance of Hamlet with the part of the Prince of Denmark left out, certainly very nearly approaches it. I have been as strong as any against all truck with the old Imperialist Prusso-Germany. I was always opposed to the pacifist “peace by negotiation” with the late rulers of Germany. These men, from the Kaiser downwards, were from our point of view criminal aggressors, and one does not negotiate with criminals of the Bill Sikes description, or worse, in the case of individuals, nor should we do so with criminal Governments. In both cases one should “down” them if one can. Such was the situation until quite recently. Now, however, the aspect of affairs has entirely changed. The revolution has laid hold of Germany from end to end. Republics have been already established throughout all the principal States. The old rulers have been overthrown, deprived of power, and in some cases driven out of the country. The German people has entered into its own. Hence I contend any further persistence in the rabid journalese abuse of the Germans as a whole, and without distinction of race or of class, is only detrimental to the aims all democrats and Socialists profess to have in view.
Before we can quite know how we stand, we have, of course, to wait the definite establishment of the Republic of federated Germany through the election by universal suffrage of a National Convention or Assembly. From this Assembly we are justified in expecting a clear pronouncement of democratic aims, a clear repudiation of militarism in all its forms, and above all a denunciation of the authors of the war of 1914 and of any semblance of their policy. This proving satisfactory, any justification or the creation or exacerbation of race-hatred by language, of which, not without some excuse perhaps, we have heard so much during the last four years, would be done away with. Insist as much as you will on the exemplary punishment of all those responsible for the declaration of this war and for the infamous manner in which it has been carried on, but for the sake of humanity and even of common decency spare us diatribes of hate against the German people as such. They may have been demoralised by Prussian domination and military discipline, but let us not forget what they have been, what they have done, and what they may do again for humanity.
I conclude this article with a passage from a book I wrote in the autumn of 1914 (German Culture, Past and Present, page 280), which seems to have special applicability to the present time:–
“With the great intellectual powers of the Germanic people devoted, not to the organisation of military power and of national domination, but to furthering the realisation of a higher human society; with the determination on the part of the best elements among every European people to work together internationally with each other, and not least with the new Germany, to this end, and the great European war of 1914 will be looked back upon by future generations as the greatest world-historic example of the proverbial evil out of which good, and a lasting and inestimable good, has come for Europe and the world.”
Last updated on 28.5.2007