E. Belfort Bax

The Helpless League

(13 September 1923)

E. Belfort Bax, The Helpless League of Nations, Justice, 13 September 1923, p.1.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
Proofread by Chris Clayton (May 2007).

We think no well-wisher of the League can deny that the course of affairs in the recent, or rather present – for it is not ended yet – dispute between Italy and Greece has abundantly justified the opinion expressed by the present writer three months ago.

My critic, who maintained the sufficiency of moral force to enable the League to materialise its decisions, could apparently only furnish one concrete example in support of his argument. That example was the successful carrying through, as it seems of some peddling point the League had decided upon anent the ‘White Slave Traffic’. I ventured to point out at the time that this was of no significance whatever as against my contention. The much betrumpeted “White Slave Traffic,” which is only too plainly three parts a puritanical and feminist ‘stunt’ is not a question which can be worth the while of any Power great or small to raise trouble about. On the contrary, any measure which was alleged to tend to suppression of that “traffic” would be only too readily adopted, whether in itself good or bad, by any power seeking an easy way of showing its virtue.

The Real Test for the League

I maintained in my letter in Justice of May 31 last, in reply to Thomas, the question he gave was no test; the real test would come when a great Power, anxious to stir up a quarrel ultimately with a view to its own aggrandisement, was in the position of having its game spoilt by the League in performing the duty for which the latter had been created by the Covenant. Now we have it. The very first case of the kind which has arisen has resulted in the League being flouted by an aggressive power. Another body of no judicial standing in the matter, the Conference of the Ambassadors of the Allied Nations – including Italy, one of the Parties to the dispute – has, at the demand of Italy, taken the matter out of the hands of the League of Nations.

What can the poor League do to assert its authority and guard its prestige from insult? Nothing at all. Had it a powerful backing in the shape of an armed force to be mobilised when necessary, Signor Mussolini would have thought a good many times before he acted as he has done, I am aware that the matter is not ended so long as Corfu remains occupied, and I am therefore fully prepared to await this event before final comment on the situation. However, I may say this. I hold it quite within the bounds of possibility, and perhaps even of a certain probability, that Mussolini may order the evacuation of Corfu within the next few weeks. But if he does so, it will not be out of any respect for the League of Nations or its decisions, but for other reasons, e.g., the desire not to have diplomatic difficulties with England, or possibly owing to the suasion of M. Poincaré, who may be glad to use this question as a means of distracting attention from the Ruhr occupation and regaining to some extent English good opinion. It is not impossible, either, on the analogy of “Philip drunk and Philip sober” that Signor Mussolini, after his recent attack of jingoism, may himself begin to have his doubts as to the wisdom of risking war with the Little Entente backed up by the sympathies of large sections of European and American public opinion.

The League Must Have a Force

But whatever happens, I think events have sufficiently shown that however well intentioned and however superior in ability its leading men may be, relying upon the armour and weapons of spirit alone, and utterly devoid of material force behind it, the League of Nations is hopeless for practical purposes on all great issues. It may still continue to regulate the “White Slave Traffic,” the importation of cocaine and such like questions; but for larger questions involving peace or war and the international status of nations, I submit that, as matters stand at present, it will prove helpless and hopeless, and will, in fact, inevitably suggest, the bold hero that uttered the fateful words:

“Who dares this pair of boots displace,
Shall meet Bombastes face to face.”

E. Belfort Bax


Last updated on 28.5.2007