E. Belfort Bax

War and the League

(14 June 1923)

E. Belfort Bax, War and the League, Justice, 14 June 1923, p.8.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Some years ago, at the International Socialist Congress held at Zurich in 1893, a resolution was tabled by Jean Allemane, representing a small group of French Socialists who had separated themselves from the “Possibilist” Socialists, of whom Dr. Paul Brousse was the recognised leader. The first article of this resolution was “La guerre est abolie.”

The notion of war being abolished in this way by resolution at the stroke of the pen caused considerable hilarity, not only among the Philistines, but among many of our own comrades. At first sight this hilarity at the attempt to effect what looked like a miracle might appear to be justified. On closer consideration, however, I think one may regard the hilarity as not so obviously justified as it would seem to be at first sight, the apparent irrelevancy of the resolution being due to the abrupt nature of its expression.

The Law of Nations and a State of War

The “state of war” in the past and up to the present time has been a recognised part of international law. War, no less than peace, has always been recognised as a normal condition of every independent community. Later, in the present day, the independent township, the province, feudal lordship, etc., having ceased to exist, the National State is the organ of the only separately independent community recognised, and, therefore, to the National State, as represented by its Government alone, accrues the right of waging war. But to the sovereign National State it still accrues by the Law of Nations and the rules of international comity.

Now one of the first objects of the League of Nations is avowedly to maintain the permanent peace of the world. But is this possible so long as the nation, or the National State, is sovereign and independent in its action as the Law of Nations recognises it now? As things are every nation has the right to declare itself in a state of war, followed by acts of war, with any and every other nation it chooses. To those who are earnest in their desire that the League of Nations should succeed in its objects, one would think it must be obvious (1) that the absolute sovereignty of the independent Nation State must gradually succumb if the influence and power of the League of Nations are to be effective, and (2) that the first and most natural act would be the abrogation of the present Law of Nations which recognises the declaration of war as a national right. “La guerre est abolie” would then mean that the right of war on the part of individual States is no longer recognised, and that war itself thus becomes a criminal act, irrespective of the rights or wrongs of the question that is made its excuse.

The Natural Evolution

Let us hope the League of Nations, in a democratically developed form, which it is only very imperfectly at present, will, in future, become endowed with the material force sufficient to inspire respect for its mandates, as police forces are in civilised comment communities at present. And it must not be forgotten that this is a natural evolution. In the Middle Ages the feudal lord and his retainers originally had the right of waging private war, as it was termed, with the lord of any other manor. Similarly the independent township or independent province had the same right. But this right towards the close of the Middle Ages was abolished in various parts of Europe and in all cases lost its former efficacy until the rise of the modern Nation State saw its definitive extinction. There may, and doubtless will, be other developments of the power of the Internation, as represented by the League of Nations, in the future. But the abrogation of the right of National States to wage war, I take it, should be the first, as being the most natural authority on its part.

Let us never forget, however, we repeat, that the possibility of making this, or, for the matter of that, any other far-reaching decision on the part of the League of Nations effective, tests ultimately on the possession by the latter of an armed force in its service.

E. Belfort Bax


Last updated on 28.5.2007