E. Belfort Bax

Socialism and the League of Nations

(31 May 1923)

E. Belfort Bax, Socialism and the League of Nations, Justice, 31 May 1923, p.8. (letter)
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Dear Comrade, In spite of Captain Thomas’s courteous and optimistic letter in Justice of May 17, I am bound to join issue with him and maintain the contention of my May Day article – which was that the League of Nations will never be really effective until it has in the background a material power sufficiently strong to enforce its decisions against recalcitrant nations. If it is to be an international legislative body or an international court of justice, it must be able to overawe, by a coercive organisation, those who treat its decisions with contempt, just as the modern State has a police, and if need be, military power behind it to compel respect for civil order on the part of the individual citizen. Public opinion and persuasion alone are not enough as the world is at present in either case.

The instance, to the contrary, adduced by Captain Thomas, I submit, proves nothing. What interest or influence is likely seriously to exert itself in opposition to any proposal aimed at the so-called “white slave traffic”? It is, of course, always possible that persons may be found who object, rightly or wrongly, to certain specific measures proposed to this end, as unsuitable or undesirable, but in the face of the overwhelming force of feminist and sentimental public opinion with which the subject is involved such criticism is not likely to be seriously, still less effectually, maintained. No, the real test would be a point touching what was deemed “national honour” or involving the essential interests of important groups of financial and capitalist interests, its advocacy machined by those well versed in the art of “wangling” public opinion by using “national honour,” patriotism and other cries as their stalking horse. This would show the real effectiveness of a materially impotent League of Nations. And, I fear me, the League would come out very much second best. The threat of machine guns and bayonets is still a more powerful argument in this world than considerations of justice, right and humanity, however persuasively and unanswerably urged. If, as some of us hope, the League of Nations is eventually to become the Internation dominating the existing national states as they do the local divisions (provinces, countries, etc.) within them, then it must be able to apply its sanctions as against recalcitrant national states. The mere knowledge that a force exists, a power behind the decisions of the League of Nations, would tend to become quite sufficient to deter national states from war, just as the knowledge that there is a police and military force behind the national Government to-day deters the bulk, even of the criminally disposed, from criminal actions. – Yours fraternally,


E.Belfort Bax


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