E. Belfort Bax

The League of Nations

(22 June 1922)

E. Belfort Bax, The League of Nations, Justice, 22nd June 1922, p.2.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Proofread by Chris Clayton (May 2007).

On Saturday next, June 24, the League of Nations Union has announced a great mass demonstration in Hyde Park. We wish it every success. It is high time that the League of Nations, so much vaunted during the discussions after the Peace of Versailles, should “leave its damnable faces” and begin good solid work in the organisation of international unity which will render international conflicts of a military character impossible in future.

We would not, of course, be too hard on the League of Nations as at present constituted. In the first place, the difficulties attending the institution of an entirely new epoch of international life ought to be given due weight in any criticism of the body formed as the outcome of ex-President Wilson’s initiative. These difficulties are many and should be obvious to any reasonable person who considers the matter from an impartial standpoint. In the second place, there are one or two fatal defects – fatal, that is, as regards any immediate results of far-reaching importance – in the present constitution of the League of Nations. Chief among these is undoubtedly the lack of any material power behind and at its disposal for enforcing its mandates. What would the state of a nation be in which laws were passed in the shape of recommendations to be followed by the citizens, but which the State had no coercive force – police, military, or what not – to make its decrees and ordinances effective against recalcitrants? What, for instance, would be the use, to take a very simple case, of a law against burglary if the would-be burglar knew that there was no “power behind the throne” to prevent his burgling except his own right feeling?

The Defects of the League of Nations

If I am not mistaken, it was M. Léon Bourgeois who, of all others among those originally concerned with the scheme for the League of Nations, showed himself most in earnest in this matter and persistently pressed upon his colleagues the necessity of some sort of military establishment behind the League of Nations and under its control. Still, the defects of the League as at present constituted, owing to the comparatively paltry results that it has accomplished up till now, do not of themselves suffice, as some otherwise well-meaning people seem to think, to give cause for despair for its ultimate success. Under any conditions of its organisation to-day it must remain predominatingly an organ of capitalist government. Our dear comrade Hyndman was fond of pointing this out with special reference to Sir Eric Drummond, a reactionary diplomat of the old style, who had been appointed its secretary. This, of course, might be an argument against its immediate efficiency for the ends of international progress. But, after all, it is a mistake to exaggerate the importance of a fact of this nature. What, after all, does one man matter except, perhaps, for the moment? His place might be changed by resignation or death, or what not, from to-day till to-morrow. What is this, and many other minor drawbacks attending the present constitution of the League of Nations, as compared with the fact that you have got a framework, that you have a new machinery established as a part of the legal organisation of the world of international politics, and that for the first time in the world’s history?

The League of Nations and Socialism

Not only so. Rome was not built in a day. No political or social system of any kind has so far in the world’s history come into being perfect and fully developed like Athena from the head of Zeus. Granted that the objects of the League of Nations may seem easier to accomplish than the transformation of the civilisation of the present into the Socialism of the future. Yet, though they differ in degree, there is an undoubted analogy between the two cases. The last years have given us only too glaring an example of the disastrous failure in the attempt to effect the Social Revolution overnight, or even between Saturday afternoon and Monday morning. Soviet Russia is a terrifying example of the monstrosity to which such an attempt gives birth. All political and social change is facilitated when there is a framework within which the elements of change may nest themselves under cover of older and already established forms, even though this framework was meant by its originators to harbour quite other elements and to subserve quite other ends to those animating its later developments. The old feudal institution, the States-General of France, became the seed ground of the French Revolution. Out of the hastily called Council of Simon de Montfort in due course came the parliamentary institutions of Great Britain. Within the framework of the earlier trade unionism modern Socialism was enabled to bring about the birth of the Labour Party, notwithstanding that the earlier trade unionists were anything but Socialists.

As Social-Democrats, therefore, if we are at once far-seeing and consistent, we cannot fail to welcome even the present imperfect institution of the League of Nations and its zealous propagandist body, the League of Nations Union, as institutions destined, we may reasonably hope, to become powerful instruments for the cause of progress, and at the very least to usher in an era of universal peace for the world under the aegis of which in the course of one or two generations, the Social-Democratic society of the future will be inaugurated.


Last updated on 28.5.2007