E. Belfort Bax

Socialism and the League of Nations

(3 May 1923)

E.Belfort Bax, Socialism and the League of Nations, Justice, 3rd May 1923, p.4.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Proofread by Chris Clayton (May 2007).

The First of May comes round again this year in a moment of gloom for our organisation by reason of the tragedy that has overtaken one so intimately, connected with its original founder and most energetic worker during forty years. The SDF will certainly never forget him or his devoted companion during the last seven years of his life.

May the First was fixed upon just about a generation ago by the Socialist Organisations of the world as a festival of international peace and concord among peoples. Between then and now capitalist civilisation has passed through the throes of what is the greatest war in history, the greatest, if not in duration, at least – in expansion and intensity. Its most important direct result as regards the practical realisation of the special object of the Mayday Festival, namely, the abolition of international warfare – as one of the conditions of the reconstruction of society on Social-Democratic lines – has been, I do not hesitate to say, the institution of the League of Nations. I say so, though some of my friends may disagree with me. For there are not wanting Social-Democrats who, like our late comrade Hyndman, are inclined to belittle this first step in the inauguration of an international governmental body because it is organised by, and under the domination of, the governing classes of the existing capitalistic states.

What the League of Nations Can Do Even Now

The alleged fact may to a great extent be true. But it must not be forgotten that no great and permanent revolution in society, whether the form it immediately takes be intellectual, economic or political, has ever sprung suddenly, like Athena, from the head of Zeus, i.e., completely isolated from the previous conditions out of which it arose. The important point is that in the League of Nations, even in its present very imperfect form, you have the framework of an organism embodying the internationalist principle. It tends to break down in the mind of the average man the notion of the national State as the ultimate court of appeal and absolute political organ. And it is the above notion which forms the theoretical basis for- the right of international warfare. This is in itself important on the one side.

Again, the machinery or framework of the institution itself furnishes the material basis already established as a starting-point for indefinite further development. The form being already there, the content, even though at present mainly bourgeois and capitalistic may easily become in future proletarian and socialistic.

Armed Force

The existing weakness of the League of Nations, both for its immediate purpose, the maintenance of the peace of the world, and also for its influence generally, is due to one cause, namely, its lack of an armed force to back up its decisions by compulsion. Had the suggestion of M. Léon Bourgeois, who, recognising that in the last resort “la force prime le droit” (“force dominates right”), proposed the inclusion of such a force, on the original draft of the constitution of the League, been accepted, the status of the League would have been different. But it may yet come sooner than most people think; and it should certainly be the policy of the entire Socialist and Labour movement in all countries to make every organised effort to invigorate the existing body of the League of Nations with Socialist energy for purposes of international peace.


E.Belfort Bax


Last updated on 28.5.2007